Oakland Raiders' 2010 fourth-round pick Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and caught six passes for 148 yards in a 23-20 overtime win over Kansas City in Week 9, in what was Ford's first significant action of the season.
He has excellent top-end speed so the big plays don't surprise us, and while he needs to continue to work on his ball skills Ford has shown he can make the tough catches in traffic.
Three similarly-unheralded receivers are making noise in the college ranks with their versatility and could offer good value for the teams that draft them. Here's how I break them down:
Jerrel Jernigan, Troy
Jernigan is undersized (5-foot-9, 183 pounds) like Ford and will sometimes drop passes he should catch, but Jernigan also has the same kind of top-end speed Ford exhibits. Jernigan is fast enough to get behind most NFL corners when he doesn't get slowed down at the line of scrimmage.
His ability to make defenders miss after the catch and as a returner makes Jernigan an even greater threat with the ball in his hands. He has also returned both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown this season so there's also a lot to like about his versatility in the return game. All that makes Jernigan a late-second or early-third round prospect at this point.
Ronald Johnson, USC
Johnson has been more effective on punt returns than kickoffs this year, but he's still a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. Though he doesn't have elite open-field elusiveness he is shifty enough to make the first defender miss and can turn on the jets when he gets a seam. Johnson also tracks the ball well and has the second gear to run under deep balls. He carries a late-third or early-fourth round pick right now.
Jeremy Kerley, TCU
Kerley isn't as fast as Jernigan or Johnson but he has the initial burst to separate from underneath man coverage as a receiver and hit creases going full speed as a return man. Kerley also shows above-average vision and can ruin pursuit angles by quickly changing directions/speeds when he gets into space.
It's unlikely he will develop into a starter on the outside but can be effective working out of the slot and in the return game and projects as a mid-round pick.