We’re entering our second week of positional draft breakdowns. After talking about the best running back and linebacker prospects, it’s time to highlight the wide receivers and cornerbacks, once again starting with the offensive side of the ball.
Right off the bat, I cheated a little bit, by having two guys tied at number ten, but this time I didn’t add some names that just missed the cut, but rather decided to mention a wildcard name at the end. As always, this is 90 percent based on film study, with advanced statistics and testing numbers helping me make my case or just separate names, which I had very closely bunched together.
Similar to what we’ve seen in recent years – and a trend that will continue, thanks to all the youth passing camps and wide open college offenses – this receiver class is very deep and I could have mentioned about 30 names here that I look at as draftable players. However, in order to not just list off names, I broke down the twelve guys I already referenced and then put just a few as the “next names up”, that I think are in that next tier. Currently I have first-round grades on five of these and six more in the top-75 or so.
Here’s the list:
1. Drake London, USC
6’4”, 215 pounds; JR
A four-star recruit in 2019, London came to USC as an all-state football and basketball player and dressed up for the Trojans on the court for a few games. He was primarily used as a big slot receiver until 2021, when he fully committed to football transitioned more to the outside. Through his first 14 games (two years), London hauled in 72 passes for 1069 yards and eight touchdowns. He surpassed those numbers in just eight games last season (88-1084-7), before getting knocked out with a fractured ankle.
This dude looks more like a move tight-end out there and he was deployed that way almost in up to last season, often lining up as a detached number three in trips. However, he proved that he has enough juice to consistently win on the outside in 2021. London doesn’t need much of a runway to get into his routes and threatens vertically off the snap. His basketball background is apparent when he’s setting up quick routes, where it looks like he’s doing a quick shuffle and then makes a baseline cut, such as on flat routes/screens. And you can watch him defeat inside shades cleanly with quick feet and that burst out of V-releases. However, when he is stemming downfield, he can break off or bend his routes without having to slow down a whole lot. He understands how to set up defenders and beat them across their face with body-language and footwork, as well as widening his path on curl routes against sinking defenders, forcing them to pivot around by more than 180 degrees. When working out of the slot, London fluidly was able to tilt away from contact against seam/hook zone defenders. Yet, at the same time I’ve seen him run over guys, who got in his path as well.
London was nearly impossible to stop on quick in-breakers and spot routes from those inside alignments, because defenders weren’t able to reach around him even if they got there on time. He displays excellent concentration, to make catches through contact and stay focused in crowded throwing windows. And he has no issues despite his height with plucking underthrown passes off the turf. London led the nation in contested catches last season with 19, despite appearing in only nine games. He showcases an innate feel for working the scramble drill and running himself open. And once again, having that experience on the court, to get that late position for the rebound or box guys out so to speak can really shine. In 2020 he ran a lot of deeper routes over the middle on longer downs, because he got safeties to back up with attacking vertically in the first place, but also being able to make a play on the ball with bodies in the area.
The USC stud shows good awareness for where defenders nearby are when he turns his back to them and he immediately gets vertical after the catch. He is a tank with the ball in his hands, who I’ve seen punch at the chest of a defender and ride him for several yards, and even when he’s tripped up, he can carve out some extra yardage, as he kind of stumbling forward. London makes a lot of those smaller DBs look like kids, trying to wrestle him down. Against UCLA in 2020 he pretty much carried four or five defenders for the last 15 yards, to get into the end-zone. The Trojans threw him plenty of quick screens, but they even get him involved on some fly sweeps. Against Utah in ’21, they threw him about ten different variations of screen passes and he seemingly made something happen every single time. Last season he had one yard more after contact than Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, who played the whole year and is looked at as arguably the premiere YAC threat.
London brings a passion and pride as a blocker. There’s some force behind his punch, he keeps those legs driving and I’ve even seen him bury some linebackers. I like how he gives his teammates a clear indication of where to go and shields defenders from the play by establishing proper position early. And he likes to get involved into the action late, where he helps push the pile and drive the ball-carrier forward. London was actually put inside to seal edge defenders and spring his running back out to the sideline a few time. I mean, they had him sift behind the O-line and kick out edge defenders on split runs a couple of times. That’s all you really need to know here.
On the negative side, London doesn’t have great explosion out of his breaks or that extra gear to actually pull away from defenders on routes down the field. There were a bunch of fades on tape, where corners were able to stay stride-for-stride with him, even if he wasn’t really the designated target. You saw London drop more passes than you’d like when he has to chop his steps a little bit and he lacks the focus to frame the ball before his eyes transition downfield. Overall he had eight of 96 catchable passes slip through his hands this past season. And then of course, having had ankle surgery, I don’t know his exact medicals and there are no combine numbers on him.
I know a lot of people don’t love these tall, prototype X-receiver body types, because of how many guys with that athletic profile we’ve seen struggle to separate at the next level. However, London has the loose lower half and body control to win as a route-runner, he’s a problem to bring to the turf and his blocking is at an A+ level. He won’t necessarily be somebody who scares defenses with just running by people, but because of how dominant he is in contested situations, his quarterback can still lay it up there for him when working down the sideline or seams. And just about think how much better he can still get with full focus on football.
2. Jameson Williams, Alabama
6’1”, 180 pounds; JR
A top-100 overall recruit for Ohio State in 2019, Williams transferred over to Alabama two years later, due to having to play behind Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson – along with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who’ll probably go the highest among them next year. Yet, despite a loaded room of receiver in Tuscaloosa, he turned himself into the number one over John Metchie, catching 79 passes for 1572 yards and 15 touchdowns during the Tide’s National Championship run, which turned the wrong way once he left the game with a torn ACL. That made him a first-team All-American member
Williams presents a vertical component that makes him extremely dangerous. You saw Bryce Young look his way quite a bit on go routes even when basically doubled against two-high, if the deep man sat on it a little bit too much. What I really like to see in that regard is home he goes from even to a step behind, while combining it with an effective swipe-down. When Williams gets matched up with safeties between the hashes and numbers it becomes very scary, because he can take them vertically and break the structure of the defense to some degree. I’ve seen him literally split safeties in two-high alignments, by literally running right through the middle of them and dusting whoever they had on him in the slot. He also does a great job of setting up double-moves and once he creates that separation on the secondary break, he usually doesn’t give it up anymore. Williams really opened up the Bama offense and allowed them to score over 40 on a historically great Georgia defense in the SEC championship game, while the unit looked rather stagnant once he had to exit in the Natty. And he posted an FBS-best 11(!) touchdowns of 30-plus yards in 2021.
With that being said, Williams is far from just a deep threat – the dude can run routes. Obviously his speed is a big factor in the way he force corners to open up their hips prematurely and create separation when sticking his foot in the ground, but he’s shifty off the line with a pretty diverse release package, incorporating shuffle-steps, in-and-out’s and other quick footwork, along with a pretty strong hand-swipe. Williams understands how to attack blind spots of defenders and he can absolutely stop on a dime. He’s really tough to read hips on, because he can come off the ball at 100 miles per hour, get to a dead-stop with his feet parallel to each other, but then is able to break effectively to the left or right, often times with a little trigger step at the top of the route, to throw DBs off. I like the way he straightens his path again after releasing from stacks and doesn’t give away where he’s going. As an indicator of his ability to create separation against man-coverage – he was contested on just three of his 36 such targets this past season.
After the catch, once he’s really out there striding, I don’t think anybody can catch him. That’s why Bama did a lot of motions to his side and threw him slip screens to three-receiver sets, as well as make him the number three off orbit motions, where if defenders aren’t hell-bent on protecting the sidelines, Williams has the juice to quickly get there and tip-toe along the white. He’s a certified angle-killer for defensive pursuit. The best indication of his pull-away speed probably game in last year’s SEC title game, when he caught a deep in-breaker at midfield against a bit of a coverage-bust, but there was a safety ten yards ahead of him with what looked like a good angle and Williams just outran him to the opposite sideline for a touchdown. He added another long one on a little stutter go later on in that game for good measure, where he ran past the corner and safety. Williams can also make guys completely miss with some filthy sideway jukes. And he took those abilities to special teams as well, where he scored two kick return TDs last season.
However, Williams does present a spindly frame and his lack of play strength comes into play when defenders were able to stab at his chest and establish that early contact. That’s why Alabama provided with a lot of free releases, which is a luxury he may not be afforded at the next level. And he’ll have to add some muscle to him, in order to bring something in contested situations, where he only came up with four of his receptions last year. As great as the receiver room at Ohio State might have been recently, catching only 15 balls during his time in Columbus is still head-scratching to me. Williams is fairly close to a non-factor as a blocker in the run game, at best taking corners off balance and occupying them with stutter releases. And then he obviously tore his ACL in the National title game and he won’t be ready for the start of the season most likely.
The word speed demon may not even do justice to what we see from Williams. Alabama has had a lot of fast receivers in recent years, including Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle in each of the last two drafts, who both reportedly run in the 4.2’s. None of them quite were able to just gain ground on defenders at full stride or defeat angles by the pursuit quite like this guy. His frame is on the fringe of what I want an NFL receiver to look like and he has to get stronger in some areas of his game, but if you’re looking to add speed to an offense, with somebody who can create big plays, but also open up stuff underneath, this is the name to look at.
3. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
6’0”, 185 pounds; JR
The number two wide receiver recruit in 2019, Wilson caught 73 passes for 1115 yards and 11 touchdowns through his first 21 games with the Buckeyes. He followed that up by putting up career-highs in 2021, with 74 touches for 1134 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 contests, which earned him second-team All-American honors. He played a big role in Ohio State going to a National title game in 2020 and helped make first-year starter C.J. Stroud a Heisman finalist.
Wilson excels at using route-stems and the eyes of defenders against them. He makes the guy across from him impatient a lot of times, by drumming the arms and stuttering his feet before committing to his release. He can be very deceptive with his body-language and get DBs turned the wrong way, to beat them across their face, especially with leaning or slightly drifting that direction. He did so beautifully in the 2021 season-opener against Minnesota on sort of a corner-post route for a long touchdown. Another one that comes to mind is a big gain on a corner route versus Penn State in 2020, where he got matched up against a safety as the number three in trips. On that one and others, he even fools me at times as I watch the end-zone angle. When he has space to approach defenders and set them up as a route-runner, you see those guys chase their tail a lot of times. And his 4.38 in the 40 at the combine will shut some people up, who thought he wasn’t fast.
Wilson consistently catches the ball away from his body. He displays elite body control and adjusts to the ball in the air exceptionally well, hauling in some big-time catches down the field. You see it especially along the sideline, where his big paws really swallow the ball and he actively taps his feet in bounds. Wilson displays great concentration with somebody at his hip, to not let the picture be disrupted and tuck the ball in instantly. And when defenders try to slow him down, he lands strong swipes, to not let that affect him a whole lot. Yet even when there is contact as he extends, he’s strong like an ox with holding onto that ball. Nobody in this class has a highlight reel quite like Wilson, in terms of the combination of making DBs look foolish as he breaks off routes and also making them look small, when he elevates for the ball.
Wilson has some crazy ability to stop and start with the ball in his hands, considering how big he can play in other areas. He does a great job of using body language and subtle nods to set up blocks by teammates and get defenders on the wrong side of those. He has those hop-steps and hesitation moves, that make defenders operate on suspicion, along with some nasty jukes. Yet, while he has those moves in his repertoire, the thing that really stands out to me in that regard is how violent he is with the ball in his hands. He lands some absolutely devastating stiff-arms, right on the face-mask of defenders, and forced a missed tackle on more than every fourth pass he caught (27.1%). Wilson also does a great job of breaking down in space as a blocker and keeping his feet moving. Yet, at the same time he knows when to let go, in order to avoid holding penalties.
Even though I believe he plays bigger than that, measuring in at six-foot flat and 183 pounds is not a glowing endorsement for Wilson as an outside receiver in the NFL. His lack of size becomes challenging when dealing with contact at the line of scrimmage at times. We saw him have issues to cleanly stem him routes against longer corners in press-alignment. And as fun as it is to watch him route guys up, his exhaustive set-up of patterns won’t really fly like that in a timing-based NFL passing attack. While I wouldn’t call it clapping at the ball necessarily, Wilson has a tendency of bringing his pinkies outside late instead of keeping that static hand position, where he can just grab it. The best indication of that is that over-the-shoulder catch he wasn’t able to haul in versus Minnesota last season.
There’s only so many receivers, who you can throw jump-balls up to, but then also hand the ball to on jet sweeps – Wilson gets the job done with both. However, he may just be the toughest guy to guard in this entire class, when defenders sit back on him and he has them at his mercy, as a route-runner. Unfortunately, the lack of play strength without the ball and answers for press-coverage lessens that trump card of his, compared to the physical dominance from USC’s Drake London or the blazing speed of Jameson Williams. So he’ll have to settle for number three in my rankings.
4. Chris Olave, Ohio State
6’0”, 190 pounds; SR
Only classifying for three stars in his recruiting profile, like most receivers going to Columbus, Olave didn’t get much work as true freshman. A lot of people got to eat in that 2019 Buckeye offense, but this huy led all receivers with 840 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air on 48 catches. His best per-game numbers came in their COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, with over 100 yards and a touchdown on average. His highest totals however he put as a senior in 11 games (65-936-13) , when he was also named a second-team All-American contributor.
This kid comes off the ball with some urgency, winning vertically and on deep over routes routinely. However, he can also put on the breaks and create separation on hitches and curls, really understanding how to affect the feet of defenders. Olave is so smooth as a route-runner and rarely loses speed. He runs some absolutely filthy deep comebacks, where he sells the fade all the way and even starts looking for the ball, before hitting the breaks and getting to the sideline, while the corner is still figuring out where he’s gone. You see him initiate contact with defenders and then flatten his routes, to take those guys off track effectively, when working across the field. And while you saw Olave get plenty of his production on those crossing routes, what stands out to me on those later-developing ones is how he actively slows down against zone coverage and doesn’t allow the hang-defender on the opposing sideline to become a factor.
He may only measure in at six feet, but Olave plays like he is 6’4” when the ball is in the air. He plays above the rim and has mossed some plenty of Big Ten DBs in the end-zone. Olave consistently plucks the ball away from his frame and he’s a master of the art of late hands, to not allow corners to swipe through his hands. His concentration downfield, with a defender right up in his face, is incredible. And looking at some of those stretched out over-the-shoulder grabs he’s made, he must have some of the strongest pinkies I’ve ever seen. Olave also makes full-extension catches in the intermediate areas look effortless, where his eyes already go the turf, if he’s in danger of running out of room, or a defender who’s charging at him. He already has some incredible feel for and footwork at the sideline, dragging and tapping in bounds just in time. Over the course of his career, he only dropped 4.9 percent of catchable targets.
Once the ball is in his hands, Olave becomes a highly competitive runner and does not shy away from finishing plays in physical fashion. You have to give Olave credit for getting onto the field right away and producing for a loaded WR room in Columbus, where Alabama’s Jameson Williams couldn’t even get snaps mostly. The craziest stat about him in 2020 was that when quarterback Justin Fields targeted him, seven passes resulted in touchdowns and only nine in incompletions. Olave has a feel for big moments and games, where at some point he got loose for a long touchdown every time I feel like. In Justin Fields’ monster game against Clemson in the 2020/21 CFP semifinal, it was number two streaking downfield on multiple occasions, with six grabs for 132 yards and a couple of touchdowns. That was one of his ten games (of 17) over the last two years with 100+ yards.
Watching the Ohio State offense, Olave is not nearly the same kind of dynamic player with the ball in his hands, in terms of making moves in the open field, as Garrett Wilson. That is backed up by only had ten broken tackles on 176 career receptions, lacking that innate feel for setting up defenders in that area like he does as a route-runner. While his speed was a major key for his success at the college level, he may not quite have that extra gear to truly break away from NFL athletes. Olave also whiffs on some blocks by not breaking down in space. And you don’t love his career progression necessarily, when you look at the raw production, without much increase since 2019 and finishing third among the team in receiving yards last season.
If you asked me for one safe bet at the receiver position in this draft, Chris Olave would probably be the name I’d give you. He may not be a bonafide number one, who can win in any way you ask of him, because he’s built rather slim and I don’t think he really scares you after the catch – unless he can just outrun people – but he’s close to an optimal Z and can work effectively out of the slot. He’s so smooth as a route-runner, he makes tough catches look effortless for the most part, his high football IQ is apparent on tape and if you leave him one-on-one for extended stretches, he will eventually run by his man.
5. Treylon Burks, Arkansas
6’3”, 225 pounds; JR
Right around the top-100 overall recruits in 2019, Burks just cracked the 500-yard mark in ten games as a true freshman. He went for nearly 900 yards and seven scores in his second season in only nine games, before setting career-highs last season, with just over 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns on 80 touches. That made him a first-team All-SEC selection, after making second-team the two years prior.
Burks was heavily deployed in the slot and moved across the formation quite a bit, with jet, orbit and return motions, catching a variety of screens and other designed touches. His usage and style of play was somewhat reminiscent of now-Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault at Colorado. And then off all that, he was used a lot to bind defenders with screen fakes and taking eyes with him when racing across the formation. Not only was Burks more involved in the offense and his numbers increased last season, but his ascent throughout the national landscape had a lot to do with the meaning on those numbers, as Arkansas won their first four games of the season and being a tough out for pretty much every team on their schedule not named Georgia.
The Razorback offensive weapon shows good explosion off the snap and moves incredibly smoothly for his size. He can stop and start with little effort, even running some stutter-fades or hitch-and-go routes, but can also easily bend off the inside foot on out routes. Arkansas had him running a bunch of slants, crossers and benders, where he could rip the ball out of the air and run with it Burks does a great job of leaning into his man and using subtle push-offs on curl or comeback routes. He really excels at hand-fighting and stacking DBs on vertical routes, before actually gaining a couple of steps on them. At the same time, he understands when to pace himself and get his head around as an alert/hot-route or just when the defenses voids an area. This past season, he averaged 3.57 yards per route run, despite how much he was used around the line of scrimmage.
Those big palms of Burks really swallow that ball. He easily adjusts to it mid-flight and uses his large frame well to box out, at times literally throwing guys off himself, as well as draw some flags for pass interference. You see a bunch of high-point grabs on underthrown balls along the sideline (on purpose), where he displays amazing concentration, most notably back-to-back catches that looked almost identical in their shootout at Ole Miss last season. And he has the frame to absorb hits from the safety barreling over to him. Burks presents an attractive target on in-breaking routes, where defenders have to go through him to get to the ball and his quarterback put the ball there for him just as he entered that secondary window and he had a defender in the middle draped over him. And when the ball goes to somebody working underneath him, Burks will pivot around and try to escort him down the field.
This guy just has that extra gear once the ball is in his hands, to beat defenders to the sideline, while also packing a mean stiff-arm against the pursuit. He packs an extremely strong lower half and routinely shrugs off defenders or runs through arm-tackles as if they were turnstiles. Along with the fly sweeps and bubbles I mentioned Arkansas utilizing him on, they also put him in condensed set and almost used him like a tight-end on slide routes off run-fakes or wheeled him out of the backfield. There are more home-run calls than you’d expect from a big-bodied receiver like Burks, indicated by his 16.7 yards per grab and an SEC-leading 20 receptions of 20+ yards. He scored an 85-yard touchdown against Texas A&M in 2021 and was like one blade of grass away from making one of the greatest leaping catches I’ve seen in college football that day.
With that being said, Burks rounds off his breaks and kind of glides into routes down the field too much, rather than exploding out of those transitions. He needs to do a better job of putting safeties on their heels and then creating separation with sharper cuts. Burks has the looks of an X receiver, but 77 percent of his career snaps were spent in the slot and he faced press coverage on only 39 snaps in 2021, with no tape of him winning cleanly against it. He doesn’t always catch the ball at full extension, away from his body, but rather allows it to hit his numbers. And he has to show more urgency coming off the ball as a blocker, actually attacking the chest of his defender and sustaining contact. Burks’ combine performance did not live up to the hype, which started at measurements , where his hands were slightly below ten inches, after we were told he needed special 5XL gloves, but then his 4.55 in the 40 was way off expectation, he was bottom-ten in both the jumps and he had the second-slowest three-cone drill.
The word unique gets thrown around a lot and is overused these days, but I don’t think there’s many 225-pound human beings on the planet, who can run by some of the fastest guys on the edges of a defenses, while also being able to barrel through some of the hardest-hitting 240+ pound linebackers. Burks is not a super-refined route runner and we haven’t seen him win in more traditional ways on the outside, but with all the different methods to get the ball in his hands and how he consistently created yardage after the catch, he can be a unique piece to any offense. Teams just need to find/create that role for him.
6. Christian Watson, North Dakota State
6’4”, 210 pounds; SR
Coming out of high school with no offers and very little, North Dakota State was lucky to discover Watson, thanks to videos recorded by an assistant coach in the rain. As a freshman in 2018 he was limited to just nine catches. Then in his two full seasons with the Bison he combined for 77 grabs worth 1532 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with 28 carries for 276 more yards and two extra TDs, making back-to-back first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference, along with a couple of national championships.
This height-weight-speed prospect from the FCS showed that he has more refinement than people would have expected against top-tier competition throughout Senior Bowl, where he was named the National Team’s WR of the week, and he’s had a meteoric rise, which was continued with a combine showcase that made me call him a certified freak (4.36 in the 40, 38.5-inch vert and a combine-best 11’4” broad jump. This dude isn’t just FCS fast – he can run away from pretty much every Power-Five DBs as well. Watson consistently comes off the ball with urgency, accelerates up to top speed within a few of those long strides and he had the ball aired out to him on go and post routes routinely.
You watch those corners across from him get on their heels and keep backing up, resulting in easy separation on deep curls and out-routes. Watson has uncommon twitch for such a big body, where he can whip off one foot in eye-opening fashion. Down in Mobile, he had a couple of V-release slants against inside shades that a bunch of sub-six foot receivers would be jealous of. He doesn’t not tilt at all to give away his routes and can sort of pivot off the ball of his feet, rather than having to chop his steps, routinely presenting himself as a target over the middle of the field. Yet, he also carries his speed well through more fluid breaks. Watson can use a little chicken-wing to create some separation at the top his routes – particularly breaking inside against contact – and he has the strength to fight through contact, in order gain the leverage needed for a ball to be fit into him.
Watson has supreme confidence in his hands, to always extend away from his body when the ball arrives there. He can go up and snatch balls out of the air in jump-ball and goal-line situations. And he displays great focus when hauling in off-target throws. Watson’s speed wasn’t only a big asset on vertical routes, but the Bison coaches also put the ball in his hands on jet sweeps and reverses, where you see him slice inside of blocks in space and move at a different speed to the rest of the competition, as multiple guys desperately dive at his legs and try to trip him up. He can weave through defenses, start-and-stop to let blockers get set up, hurdle over tacklers and produce big plays if you give him room to work. Overall in his career, 57 of 180 touches went for 20+ yards (just under a third). And he averaged an absurd 4.33 yards per route run last season.
When you play for the Bison on offense, you better be ready to block, if you want to see the ball, and Watson took pride in that area of his game. He brings some thump at contact and stays engaged with guys deep into plays, at times seeing fellow receivers come all the way around the edge on reverses, whilst he’s still driving his man. As the X in that offense, he was asked to crack back or shoot inside on safeties and you see him actually be the one to spring big runs loose at times. He had one of my favorite plays of any prospect when he didn’t actually touch the ball against Albany, but rather he shielded the safety initially on an inside zone run, then as the RB bounced wide, Watson cut off the angle for the most dangerous pursuit defender and finally he accelerated past his teammate to land a crashing blow on the last defender, who would have otherwise pushed the back out of bounds and prevented the touchdown.
While it certainly built up his blocking, Watson did play in a power-run oriented offense at NDSU, where his route tree was fairly limited and a lot of his production came off play-action shots or designed touches. He almost exclusively worked in the boundary, going straight or making 90-degree breaks, with a few curls sprinkled in. And as great as he looked during Senior Bowl practices, watching his tape against FCS competition, seeing how much more physically gifted he was and how little he was challenged at the line of scrimmage, this is still a bit of a projection. I saw the ball slip through Watson’s hands a couple of times down the middle of the field, because he didn’t have them closely enough together, resulting in five drops last year.
I don’t believe there’s a college prospect, who has helped himself more or moved further up on draft board than this beast of a wide receiver. Watson didn’t put up the kind of mind-boggling numbers we’ve seen from other FCS prospects who usually get a lot of attention, but that was more due to the lack of pure volume, considering the offense he was in, and he was tremendously effective when given the chances. There will be room to grow as a more varied route-runner and he won’t be able to win as much with pure athletic tools against pro players, but I think he is a rare talent and has the potential to become a guy, who you can put on the backside of three-by-one sets and trust that he will consistently beat his man.
7. Jahan Dotson, Penn State
5’10” ½, 180 pounds; SR
A top-200 overall recruit in 2018, Dotson had to wait his turn a little bit due to the talented Penn State receiving options in K.J. Hamler and Pat Freiermuth, along with having to deal with sub-par quarterback play all along. However, he increased his production every single year with the Nittany Lions, finishing his senior season with 96 touches for 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns, which earned him a spot on the first-team All-Big Ten.
The first thing that stands out about Dotson is how he threatens vertically on every single route almost, with the way he comes of the ball. And he has won down the field to an extent where guys have to turn and run routinely. Dotson actively works through contact down the field, swiping down the reach of the defensive back, who’s trying to old him back, and he has that extra gear once the ball is in the air, to catch up to it. However, while he can widen the corner and pull away on post routes, that ability to putting defenders on their heels is what that sets up a large amount of Dotson’s routes, snapping off curls and bending inside on deep in-breakers. He may never be a great blocker, but he pulls the corner with him constantly, by showing a little hop/shake and burst, plus when he does get them on their heels, he can at least take them off balance and fight through contact.
Dotson forces defenders to stop their feet with slide/shuffle releases and explosive bursts, to create separation. And if they try to stab at his chest, he packs a good two-handed swipe to get off contact. He’s slippery off the line when guys try to get in his face and ate on quick in-breakers for that offense. Dotson runs some beautiful deep out routes, where he widens the corner and makes him anticipate the break to the post, forcing 180-degree hip turns as he ends up bending them towards the sideline off that inside foot. I really like the way he incorporates sudden bursts as well as gearing down just a little bit to make guys anticipate different break. On double-moves, he gets defenders to commit on the initial break by violently snapping his head, before making them regret doing so shortly after. Dotson’s ability to defeat man-coverage is back up by the fact he was contested just four times on his 31 targets in one-on-one matchups. And he could become a quarterback’s best friend fairly quickly, because of the way he continues to work towards open space and presents himself towards the QB on secondary routes.
I appreciate the way Dotson frames the ball as a catcher and how it allows him to focus his lower body on the sideline and identify defenders around him, which is apparent with the way he snatches it on slant routes. And he can get up there for balls that look like they’re thrown a couple of yards over his head, which is how he only was charged with two drops last year. In 2020, he made two highlights grabs back-to-back versus Ohio State’s Shaun Wade in 2020, first juggling the ball to himself and pinning it against his helmet, before making a sick one-handed snag on a throw behind him and strolling into the end-zone. Once the ball in his hands, Dotson’s start-stop quicks make him tough to get a clean shot at. He can bubble around defenders in the open field, already peaking at safeties driving down from depth, as he hauls in passes of the middle, giving a little hesitation and burst against guys who have the outside leverage. Yet, I also like that he understands when it’s time to live another day and doesn’t try to spin or juke in the middle of traffic
While you like the way he runs with his pads over his knees, Dotson can stumble a bit at times, when he gets too far ahead of himself so to speak. He has that elusiveness to him to evade press-attempts, but when guys do get into his frame, he tends to get hung up with contact pretty badly. Due to his small frame, he often isn’t able to stay in his lane and keep that space towards the sideline on fade routes if there is that initial contact. And you don’t really see him use subtle push-off to create room for himself. After the catch, there’s not much contact balance or power, to run through wraps or anything like that. So the majority of NFL teams will look at him as a slot receiver only.
While there are some obvious size concerns with Dotson, he did win on the outside and against press to some degree in the second-most physical conference in college football I would say, I’d like to see him hit the weight room a little more excessively, so he can fight through contact more consistently, and he’ll probably have to play in the slot primarily at the next level, but for a team that is looking for a vertical threat and a catch-and-run specialist, who works himself open if the initial play isn’t there, Dotson presents an excellent number two receiving option in my opinion. Came into 2021 as the clear number one option for the Nittany Lions and produced at a high level, despite frustratingly over- and underthrown by his quarterback Sean Clifford on numerous occasions and the backup QB being even worse when being pushed on the field. His per-catch numbers were also immensely held down by being “run into crowds” on designated touches.
8. Skyy Moore, Western Michigan
5’10”, 195 pounds; JR
A three-star recruit in 2019, Moore immediately contributed for Western Michigan, catching 51 passes for 802 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman (13 games). In five games of 2020 his per-week production was even better (25-388-3) and then he more than doubled his production this past season in 12 contests, with 94 receptions for 1283 yards and 10 TDs.
After primarily lining up in the slot in 2020, Moore took over partially as the X receiver in place of now-Seahawk D’Wayne Eskridge, while still being used heavily as a gadget-type inside player. He presents an interesting body composition, as a shorter receiver with a trunky lower body. Right away as you watch Moore, his burst off the line pops off the screen, without much of a back-kick. Yet he can also get corners off balance with some hesitation and burst down the sideline on the perimeter, often times jabbing inside quickly and then hitting another gear. He routinely showed the foot quickness and active hand-swipes to defeat press-coverages and produce big plays through the air in 2021. Moore gets his feet underneath his body when he breaks off on those sharp 90 degrees either way, but he’s also sudden with snapping his head when rolling off the outside off on in-breakers, often times after establishing the inside position with a shuffle release. And he can really sit in the chair and stop his momentum completely on hitches. Only five of his 31 targets in man-coverage last season were contested (16%).
Moore has those large, soft hands (North of ten inches), that almost swallow the ball. On balls coming in over his head, he reaches out at the last second, to keep defenders from swiping at it. He can high-point passes after pirouetting around and snatch them off the helmets of defenders trying to get into his frame as he has to leap up for them. At the same time, he has the flexibility to pluck the ball off his shoe-laces on crossing routes or slants, while showing the toughness to hold onto it with the safety barreling in. And he only dropped six of 176 catchable passes in his career.
Once the ball is in his hands, Moore showcases that quick burst to get away from a trailing defender. There are some plays, where you see the elusiveness, ducking underneath the initial defender, and then the physicality to drop the shoulder on somebody at the sideline at the end of it. Moore has tremendous contact balance and ability to bounce off tackles, as well as the strength to drag someone along with him, who’s wrapped around his legs. Plus, he packs a mean stiff-arm, that he’ll dish out against guys at the sideline. WMU threw him so many slants, where he just continued to fight for extra yardage after the catch. Moore led all draft-eligible receivers with 26 missed tackles forced this past season.
Without the ball, he delivers some actual blows to defenders in space as a move-blocker and is not looking to just shield guys from the ball. The Broncos motioned him into tight splits or put him at the tip of bunches and had him seal off the safety at times. As the X in that system (particularly in two-high looks), Moore was coached to identify the bigger threat and often times if the corner didn’t jump inside, Skyy transitioned to the safety, or moved onto him after delivering a bump on the outside. And he was tasked with just holding the defense on the backside with screen fakes quite a bit, because of the threat he presented as a YAC specialist.
While Moore took his game to another level this past season, when I first put on the tape from 2020 and hadn’t checked which number to look for, it was D’Wayne Eskridge once again who jumped off the screen. I don’t believe Moore has that kind of elite explosiveness or long speed. He also wasn’t asked to run overly intricate routes by the Western Michigan coaches and you can notice a gear-down when he has to make sharper breaks for the most part. A lot of Moore’s production came against DBs from the MAC, which you find too many on draft boards, and he was held to just two catches for 22 yards by the toughest competition they faced in Michigan. And while you like the aggressiveness as a blocker, he can get a little overzealous and overshoot his targets, instead of breaking down in space.
This is another guy, who put on a show at the NFL combine, running a 4.41 and being clocked by some teams with the fastest 10-yard split, being in the top-six in three-cone and 20-yard shuttle, but more so just catching the ball naturally and looking really smooth going through the on-field drills. And despite coming in a couple inches short of six feet, he measured in with the largest hands among the WR group at 10 ¼ inches. Now, I don’t see him as a de facto number one or at least I can’t call him that yet, because he hasn’t shown that ability to sit in the chair and explode out of breaks in a more varied route-tree, but I like his inside-out flexibility and play-making skills.
9. George Pickens, Georgia
6’3”, 195 pounds; JR
The number four wide receiver and a top-25 overall recruit in 2019, through his first 20 career games, Pickens caught 85 passes for 1240 yards and 14 touchdowns. As a junior he barely got to see the gridiron unfortunately, but he made a big catch down the field in each of their two games against Alabama, to give his team a spark, particularly in their national championship victory, and he’s a bit of a forgotten man in this year’s draft.
This is tall, vertical play-maker, who attacks the ball at its highest point and has excelled along the sidelines as well as the red-zone, which is indicated by 15.6 percent of his career catches resulting in touchdowns. Pickens routinely wins on back-shoulder balls, where he pirouettes around late and uses his large frame to shield the ball. The quarterbacks in Athens gave him some chances without any real advantage and 90 percent of receivers wouldn’t even be able to get a hand on the ball. He routinely nudges defenders off just as the ball is about to arrive there, displays tremendous focus and he has those super-strong hands to keep the ball away from swipes by somebody trying to come over his back. Pickens shows excellent awareness for the sideline and already is advanced in the way he can kick his toes into the turf without touching the white. He made several acrobatic, contested catches in the 2020 Missouri game. And when he’s even with defenders down the field, he can get that late step on those guys with his long strides, which was backed up by the 4.47 he ran in the 40 at the combine. While it was his only catch of the day, Pickens made an amazing diving grab at full extension on a post route in this past National Championship game. He had a few of those in his career, where he just got his fingertips on the ball.
What I really appreciate with Pickens being a receiver who has great tape of winning through contact, is how much he sells vertical off the snap, with his pads over his knees and his head down, when there’s space in front of him. He does a nice job of stemming his routes appropriately, to take advantage of leverage advantages in zone coverages, on hitches and curls especially. He can create throwing windows on quick in-breakers by slowing his feet and jabbing to the outside, before slicing underneath. And you see him split high-low stretches, along with bringing his head around and not rushing into that window. Against press-man, Pickens is the looking to bring the fight, attacking the chest of defenders routinely and throwing them off balance. However, he can also mix it up with some fake stabs or arm-swipes almost, and has some sudden footwork that’s tough to stay balanced against. Pickens is explosive in short areas, almost coming to a jump-stop and then taking off down the sideline on some fade routes against aggressive corners. Plus, at the top of his routes, he is one of the most physical receivers you will find, particularly on curls against guys who try to play stack-technique. I thought he also showed off his football IQ to realize when he wouldn’t be the designated target and he should create room for one of his teammates.
While Pickens did have to stretch his arms over his head for a lot of his catches, he instantly switches it to the right hand and twists around to gain yards. He quickly spins outside off routes snapped backed towards the quarterback and is ready to deliver a straight-arm to the corner. You don’t see him go down without battling and he consistently extends himself and the ball forward for those extra couple of yards. Pickens utilizes the actual spin move effectively to slip off tackling attempts and incorporates some back-jukes and other elusive moves in traffic. In the run game, you see him land some mean two-handed shoves off the line, to actually put some corners on the ground. He does a really good job of making the guy in front of him go backwards or get them off balance, before initiating contact, as well as sell the outside release and then get a hand under the shoulder-plate to push him by.
With that being said, Pickens does have that lanky build, which limits his ability make sharp cuts on the fly. Too often he gets off balance and slips on routes, particularly if a defender can get a hand on him in the right/wrong moment. For as physical as he is in some areas, Pickens has room to improve with his ability to stack DBs on vertical routes, since he doesn’t quite have that pure juice to detach. He could also still get better with the timing of his jumps, to maximize his length in jump-ball situations. The obvious concern for the talented Bulldog receiver however is health, as he was in and out of the lineup in 2020 (being restricted to eight games) and tore his ACL in the spring of last year, which limited him to just 35 pass plays (in four games) and he didn’t look the same outside of those two highlight catches versus Bama.
As I mentioned at the top, this is a prospect, who has come off most people’s radar it seems like. There are health concerns with Pickens and there may be some limitations with the complexity of a route tree that he can effectively execute, but if you’re looking for an outside receiver, who can haul in passes down the field over his outside shoulder, but might be even better at coming up with the ball, when it has to be placed to the back-shoulder Pickens can be a nightmare to defend. He already understands how to deal with guys in his face, but also displays good awareness against zone coverage and will fight for yardage, once the ball is in his hands.
T.-10. John Metchie, Alabama
5’11”, 190 pounds; JR
This former top-300 overall recruit from 2019 caught just four passes as a true freshman, for an Alabama offense that included four first-round receivers. When Jaylen Waddle broke his ankle in 2020, Metchie stepped in and immediately produced at a high level for Alabama’s high-powered offense, as the vertical component from a schematic sense, where a lot of times he was responsible for opening up patterns underneath. In 13 games he caught 55 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns. As a junior he nearly cracked 100 touches for 1150 yards and eight TDs, making second-team All-SEC behind his teammate Jameson Williams Arkansas’ Treylon Burks.
This young man is a patient route-runner, stutter-stepping off the line and then turning on the jets, to create separation, where he can lull defenders to sleep and then is very sudden. Metchie has a way of eliminating leverage by defenders, getting square and creating an angle for himself to get by either way. He runs some of the best hitch and curl routes you will ever see from a college prospect, because he makes it look so much like a fade, by showing the take-off down the sideline and then violently snapping it off, along with religiously working back towards the ball. Metchie understands how to step on the toes of DBs and force them to commit their hips, especially on double-breakers. He can be highly deceptive with his body-language, almost inviting defenders to drive on that initial route and regret doing so soon after, along with some head-fakes that almost make my neck hurt. Metchie’s expertise in that area is backed up by a stat, where he was contested on only eight of his 50 targets versus man-coverage (16%).
While Jameson Williams became more of the designated deep threat for the Crimson Tide this past season, Metchie has high-4.3/low-4.4-type speed to run away from defenders on crossers and vertical routes himself. He tracks the ball extremely well down the field, but he did plenty of damage between the numbers. With Alabama putting him more in the slot this past season (30.5% of snaps), just coming off the ball with vertical intention and then bending off that outside foot without chopping his feet resulted in a bunch of easy yardage on slants and other routes breaking towards the middle of the field. Something that stands out to me when approaching crowded areas especially, but really altogether, is how quickly Metchie brings the ball into his body, to avoid any swiping arms affecting him.
For a guy flirting with the six-foot and 190-pound marks, Metchie puts in good work as a blocker and shows much better physicality as a blocker than you’d anticipate, taking pride in that part of his game. With increased playing time in the slot, he was responsible for safeties on run plays and he did not back down from that challenge. Metchie also had one of the all-time great chase-down tackle and fumbles forced by a receiver I can remember against Florida in 2020. And while Jameson Williams turned himself into the biggest play-maker for the Tide in 2021, Metchie was relied upon in a lot of key situations, finding a way to get open on third downs, but also the end of the Iron Bowl against Auburn, when they couldn’t do anything offensively until late. And he managed to force 20 missed tackles last year.
On the flipside, Metchie needs to do a little better job of positioning his hands to where he can attack the ball in the air and not allow it to get into his body at times. At 5’11” with 30 ½-inch arms, his catch radius is severely limited and you see some passes where he’s sat down in a windows and you feel like he should easily be able to get it, but it goes off his finger-tips. That along with taking eyes off the ball a little early a few times last season led to eight drops on the year. And while he may be faster than people act like he is, he doesn’t have that final gear you see from number ne on on that offense, to actually pull away from defenders consistently. Metchie also tore his ACL in the SEC Championship game in December. So at best he’ll be ready to go once preseason starts probably
Considering Metchie was a top-three or so receiver prospect coming into the ’21 season, you can say he’s somewhat fallen from grace, as it looks like he’ll go at least a round later than the other Alabama receiver, looking at consensus boards. However, this is a super-crafty player, who has produced inside and out in the toughest conference in college football. And I believe because of his usage last season, people underrate his speed. If that’s what ends up happening, I will gladly grab him later on day two rather than whoever people see as WR5 at the end of the first round.
T.-10. David Bell, Purdue
6’1”, 210 pounds; JR
Just outside the top-100 overall recruits in 2019, Bell was highly involved in the Boilermaker offense right away, catching 82 passes for over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns (12 games) as a true freshman. His per-game production was even better in year two and then his yards per catch went up by a full two yards in 2021 (13.8), when he touched the ball 96 times for 1325 yards and six scores, leading to a first-team All-American selection.
This kid is really tough to get hands on off the line and has some pretty advanced footwork to release cleanly. He can lull some corners to sleep with the drumming of his arms before getting down the sideline or jumping inside. Bell is a true technician as a route-runner, displaying a lot of patience, footwork variety and pacing of his steps. While he may not be blazer on the track, he does play plenty fast and gets defenders to open their hips, as he attacks vertical initially on curl routes. And he can be physical when needed, dishing out little chicken-wings and throwing off holds. He can get a step on his defender on shallow crossers and then carry that speed through the catch, to get to the opposite sideline before turning upfield.
Bell has no issues tracking the ball over the top from steep angles and catching it at full extension. He makes some amazing grabs at full extension, leaping through the air, with great concentration as he reaches out and then hits the turf. He plays the catch-point taller than his size would tell you and he doesn’t short-arm passes into some crowded windows, where he braces himself for collisions and protects the ball as the defense converges on him. When he’s working back towards the ball and somebody’s draped on his back, he seems fairly unbothered. Bell made one of the toughest catches in college football against Notre Dame last season on a pass thrown slightly behind him, before getting blasted from the side and his head ricocheting off the turf, all while holding onto the ball, before getting carted off with a concussion. Despite the absence of Rondale Moore this past year and every defense knowing where the ball would go, Bell had his most productive year. In particular he had a monster game against Iowa, providing multiple big plays, to allow his team to upset then number-two-ranked Hawkeyes.
The Purdue standout is shifty after the catch, where he can jump-cut and shuffle sideways to navigate through traffic, but then also dip the shoulder and drive through contact against DBs. He has an extremely strong lower body, which you can see when guys slip off his hips, as well as spinning off tackles and extending forward for extra yardage. His 25 missed tackles forced last season were just one off the top mark among draft-eligible receiver. This is a highly detail-oriented player, when it comes to setting up defenders as a route-runner, positioning his hands for the catch, but also identifying the biggest threat as a blocker and stuff like that. And his effort in that last regard is excellent, at times being engaged with safeties 30-40 yards down the field.
While he does certainly bring a certain physicality to the position, Bell doesn’t present a very chiselled physique or any elite athletic traits I would say. The biggest element that is missing in his game is speed, as only one receiver at the combine ran a slower 40 (4.65) and he had the worst mark in the 20-yard shuttle (4.57), along with being below-average across the other events. On the field that presents itself in a lack of an extra gear to create late separation down the field or get away from the defense once the ball is in his hands. And it’s not like he has the range to actually reach spots defenders can’t in jump ball situation. The 11 contested catches in ’21 are impressive, but at his height, it’s tough to project those kind of results at the next level.
I believe what you see with Bell is what you get. He will always be a much better player than athlete/tester. With that being said, the lack of high-level physical tools does present itself in his game at times and the gap in pure speed will only become more apparent against pro athletes. He does play faster than he times and he went to the combine at 212 pounds, which is probably heavier than his optimal playing weight though. His ceiling may be capped, but I believe Bell is ready to produce right away as a number two with inside-out flexibility.
The wildcard – Justyn Ross, Clemson
6’3” ½, 205 pounds; RS JR
When everybody was talking about Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence back in 2019 – and deservedly so – you can argue nobody dominated the 2019 College Football Playoff quite like this former top-50 overall recruit as a freshman. Ross caught 12 passes for 301 yards and three scores on over 25 yards per grab in those two contests combined. Overall he had exactly 1000 receiving yards on 46 catches and recorded an unprecedented 4.98 yards per route run. Ross caught 20 passes more as a sophomore, but had almost 150 yards less, with a lot more screens and underneath throws. Ahead of 2020, he suffered a potentially career-threatening neck injury, but fortunately returned the following season, when he caught 47 balls for a little over 500 yards and three TDs in ten games.
Going back to Ross’ incredible debut campaign, he may have “only” measured up for exactly 1000 yards, but he needed just 46 receptions to get there (21.7 yards per catch) and converted a fifth of them into touchdowns, while breaking ten tackles and receiving the second-highest grade among all WRs by Pro Football Focus. The way Ross came up with huge plays on third down in that national title game was unbelievable, including some absolutely ridiculous grabs on balls which some of them didn’t feel like they should have even been thrown. I thought in 2019 he was somewhat limited by the Tiger offense, without as many chances to win down the field and then of course we didn’t know if he’d ever play football again with that neck injury.
Ross has experience lining up anywhere from the boundary to all three spots on the trips side. He can sink his hips very well for a tall receiver and violently stick his foot in the ground to stop his momentum. Working from the outside against corners in bail position, Ross does a nice job of widening his routes a little bit and effectively swiping that defender’s hands. Yet, then he realizes when fade routes are dead, as the corner is playing way off and he should work back towards the sideline, to make himself an option for the quarterback later into the pattern. Against press, he effectively releases to the outside by launching his feet into parallel position out of his stance and maybe adding a little head-nod to inside, before quickly getting around the corner. In the slot, he can nicely set up glance or seam routes against man-coverage, by slow-playing the release and giving a little trigger step to the outside, to gain that inside access. However on out routes, he can be equally effective by forcing zone defenders from the inside to run into him a little bit and then pushing off from that position towards the sideline.
The trump-card to Ross game is his ability to win crowded catch windows. You see him truly snatch the ball out of the air and pull it away from the defender in contested situations. And he has that innate ability as the balls is flying through the air, to position his body for it, often times back-pedaling and making defenders look bad, as he ends up high-pointing it or has it drop into his hands, while they are scrambling to make a play on it themselves. And he only dropped one pass all of last season. Once the ball is in his hands, Ross can side-step defenders in impressive fashion, but he also has impressive balance to stay on his feet and have guys slip off him, trying to wrap from the side. That’s why the Clemson coaches even put the ball in his hands on jet sweeps. He’s not a very pro-active blocker, but he will put his body in the way of safeties charging up the alley, plus he sells wide releases nicely to pull corners with him on the outside. And Ross understands when he’s not the designated target and how to just occupy defenders.
The reason I have Ross here is a wildcard is fairly obvious, once having his football career up in the air with an injury, which I’m not sure if it may ever flare up again, and the fact he has never gotten back to that freshman form. Despite being in college for four years and playing in three of those, Ross still certainly needs some refinement overall. He doesn’t always come off the ball with great urgency or really threatens DBs with his speed. With his best plays coming in contested situations, you have to question the ability to consistently separate at the next level. You see him get caught by surprise a couple of times when the ball is put a little bit off target just as he brings his head around. Ross’ pro day numbers were far from impressive, with his broad jump of 9’8” was the only meaningful number better than the bottom-ten percentile among WRs testing, as his 4.63 and 32-inch vert left stuff to be desired.
This is definitely a tricky one. Alabama fans are still haunted from what this kid did to them in that National Championship game back at the start of 2019. He looked poised to become a superstar, but now is even barely talked about in this class. With that being said, Ross’ 2021 production was heavily limited by the erratic play of sophomore QB D.J. Uiagelelei. I don’t think he will ever be a consistent separator and running in the 4.6’s speaks of that lack of speed to take the top of the defense, but I thought he showed a little more juice than that last year, he’s tough to crowd at the line of scrimmage, as well as get the ground once the ball is in his hands, and he is gifted in jump-ball situations. I want to see if a team can mold him into a productive big slot.
The next names up:
Jalen Tolbert (South Alabama), Calvin Austin III (Memphis), Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky), Khalil Shakir (Boise State), Kyle Philips (UCLA), Alec Piere (Cincinnati) & Bo Melton (Rutgers)