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2014 NFL Combine: Who are the wide receivers to watch

Steve Keim and the Cardinals brass have talked about adding speed at the receiver position, but based on Arians past drafts, it's not just speed.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone has a type, someone specific they like for reasons only they understand, but typically they are reasons everyone is aware of.

Look at your buddy’s dating habits. Usually there’s a pattern. Usually there’s a singular attribute, if not more, that your buddy finds attractive in their significant other.

Bruce Arians is no different. Arians has a type, something he likes about specific players that goes beyond their actual play on the field, that makes him see something.

Over the next couple of days at ROTB and at Arizona Sports, we’ll take a look at those traits, and what Arians will be looking for at the Combine for those specific positions.

From 2007 to 2013 Bruce Arians has been the offensive coordinator or head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts or Arizona Cardinals. In those three stops Arians was unequivocally the voice in the room when it came to offensive personnel. When you look at the way the Steelers, Colts and Cardinals drafted you begin to see some trends at positions, the first of which is wide receiver.

From 2007 to 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted five wide receivers. In the first two years as OC of the Steelers it seemed like the Steelers were continuing their own tradition of big, physical receiver picks, to go along with 2006 pick Santonio Holmes. The Steelers had a tradition of one smaller, quicker receiver, Troy Edwards, Antwaan Randle El, to go with their big targets: Malcolm Johnson (6-5) was drafted in round five the same year as Edwards (5-10), Plaxico Burress was drafted a year later in 2000, Lee Mays (6-3) in 2002.

There seemed to be a search to replace the missing Burress, who left the team after the 2004 season, but then something happened. Arians and/or the Steelers decided to forgo the idea of adding height next to Holmes, yes Sweed was still on the roster, but he had all of six catches his rookie season in 2008 and one in 2009. Then in 2010, after Holmes left, they continued with the theme of smaller, faster wide receivers and double dipped again with Emmanuel Sanders, 5-11, and Antonio Brown, 5-10.

In 2012 with the Colts, Arians' voice was apparent again, taking four offensive players with the first four picks, and snapping up T.Y. Hilton, 5-10 in the third and LaVon Brazill, 5-11, in the sixth. Arians then kept that theme alive with the pick of Ryan Swope last year, allegedly 6-0.

What do all of these guys have in common? They are short and fast. Here's the evidence:

  • Mike Wallace, 5-11, 4.33 40 yard dash
  • Emmanuel Sanders, 5-11, 4.41 40 yard dash
  • Antonio Brown, 5-10. 4.4 40 yard dash
  • T.Y. Hilton, 5-10, 4.37 40 yard dash
  • LaVon Brazill, 5-11, 4.43 40 yard dash
  • Ryan Swope, 6-0 4.33 40 yard dash

There’s a type established there… isn’t there? Tommy Streeter and Marvin Jones, both over 6-2, ran in the low 4.4 range in 2012. Eric Decker (6-3) and Taylor Price (6-1), both low 4.4 guys were drafted after Sanders. You get the point, Arians likes a certain type of receiver, he likes his receivers shorter, and fast.

The Cardinals currently have no one like that on the roster -- Brittan Golden, maybe -- but he’s struggled to stay healthy. That means when the combine rolls around in two days, take note of two things about wide receivers, how big are they, and how fast they are.

This isn’t full proof. Hell, Arians could fall in love with another big, fast wide receiver, but his track record shows he’s looking for something specific and he typically is looking for it in the third round or later. Marquise Goodwin was that man last year, they wanted him in Round 4, the Buffalo Bills decided they wanted him in Round 3.

Sure there are dozens of more players to watch, but the reality is, before we start discussing a player's "fit" into what Arians likes to do offensively, you have to look at the qualifiers.

They are:

1. How fast are they?

a. Anything under 4.5 gets a star to pay attention to their pro day and if the Cardinals are present.

b. Anything under 4.4 gets an immediate, "he’s in play" tag.

2. How big are they?

a. The Cardinals have a slew of big receivers, could they be looking for something different?

b. Most big guys don’t play with the same speed on game day as they do in shorts, except for the truly special that go in the first round.

c. Arians hasn’t drafted a plus six foot receiver since 2008, but he’s been on teams that have drafted six wide receivers in the last five drafts. Once we get the numbers, then it’s back to the tape, like the team will do, and to make sure those times are not just track speed, but track speed that translates to the game.

Who are the names to watch at the combine?

  • Robert Herron, WR Wyoming 5-9
  • Josh Huff, WR Oregon 5-11
  • John Brown, WR Pittsburgh State 5-10
  • Jalen Saunders, WR Oklahoma 5-9
  • Corey Brown, Ohio State 5-11
  • Albert Wilson, Georgia State 5-9