Since the incredibly deep 2014 draft, the results we’ve seen from receivers entering the league have been interesting to say the least. Of first round receivers the past three years, Amari Cooper is the only one who was established a track record of being productive. Others have either struggled staying healthy, getting on the field, or finding a role that best utilizes them (as Nelson Agholor did this past year). Despite that, we have seen a lot of production from receivers taken after the first round in that span.
Just last year, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cooper Kupp were both day two picks as rookie became major contributors on potent offenses. In 2016 Michael Thomas was a second round pick and has already established himself as a number one receiver for the Saints, while the Vikings spent a fifth rounder on Stefon Diggs in 2015. Essentially, while it appears teams aren’t extremely high on this year’s receiver prospects, there will be guys who are big contributors at the NFL level. Now here is the fun part of trying to figure out who they’ll be.
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama: The biggest shame about Ridley’s college career is we didn’t get to see him shine in a pass-oriented offense. For a college receiver, Ridley is very refined as a route runner but questions do arise about his age as he’s 23 despite declaring as a junior. Aside from that, Ridley plays extremely fast and can win at all levels of the field where he displays natural hands.
Despite being able to pluck balls out of the air, Pro Football Focus (PFF) charted Ridley as having dropped 9.3% of the catchable passes thrown his way at Alabama. That is a cause for concern, and for some his slender build will be as well. Even with his physique, not many wideouts in this class can separate from corners like Ridley and at the end of the day that’s what matters. In recent years, first round receivers haven’t been able to make much of an impact in year one, but Ridley’s route running and ability to take the top off defenses should help him buck that trend.
2. D.J. Moore, Maryland: Due to inconsistent quarterback play at Maryland, Moore may not be a player you heard much about during his time there. In terms of his potential at the next level though, he has plenty to like. Checking in at 6’0″ 210, Moore has a nice combination of size and speed and could likely play on the outside or slot at the next level. Due to Maryland’s quarterback issues, PFF had Moore as being targeted on a whopping 36 percent of the routes he ran this past season.
He responded well to the additional volume with the highest catch rate of his collegiate career. Moore is very slippery with the ball in his hands and has the ability to win vertically along with over the middle of the field. Moore did drop nearly ten percent of his catchable targets during his time at Maryland, so that is something he’ll need to improve on.
While it could have been due to constant change, there were instances in games I saw where Moore didn’t seem to be on the same page as his quarterbacks. Assuming he can work on those attributes at the next level and expand his usage in the slot, there’s plenty of reason to believe Moore could be a big contributor and be a better pro than college player.
3. Anthony Miller, Memphis: Miller isn’t a player I’ve seen a ton of national buzz for, but the ability is there for him to be a huge contributor at the next level. While he’s an older prospect, Miller showed during his collegiate career he can win both as an outside receiver and in the slot. A former walk-on at Memphis, Miller can win vertically with his ball tracking ability and on shorter routes where he can make defenders miss. Despite checking in 5″11″ 190, Miller also performed very well on contested throws which per PFF, led to six of his touchdowns.
The biggest area of concern for me regarding Miller is that in the past two years he has dropped nearly ten percent of his catchable targets, and also has five career fumbles. Receivers have shown us in the past that those skills can be improved at the next level. Some have risen a concern that Miller is quicker than fast, but if true that could just mean he profiles more as a slot receiver. Likely to go during day two, it wouldn’t be surprising if Miller from day one has a big role in an offense.
4. Courtland Sutton, SMU: Despite receivers continuing to get bigger/faster/stronger, Sutton at 6’3″ 218 is the only “bigger receiver” to crack my top ten this year. For his size though, he moves very well and proved it in combine agility drills. Sutton displayed at SMU that he’s willing to go over the middle while also plucking passes at their highest point. He also plays with physicality as there are times Sutton hauls in a pass like a rebound. While his agility times at the combine impressed, many seem to be wondering if that quickness translates to the field.
Sutton’s large catch radius at times can make up for him not creating much separation. At the least, the potential is there for him to be a very good possession receiver who is targeted frequently in the red-zone. If he is as quick as the combine drills showed and continues working on his route running, it would not surprise if Sutton emerges somewhere as a number one receiving option.
5. James Washington, Oklahoma State: Despite running a 4.54 forty at the combine, Washington had a knack for making plays vertically averaging over 20 yards a catch his senior year. Some had questions if Washington could beat press coverage as he didn’t see much of it in the Big 12, but he responded very well to that challenge in the Senior Bowl. Washington showed he can build up speed through his routes which at times led to him getting open on posts or go patterns. While he wasn’t targeted from there often, Washington also showed ability in the slot this past season as well.
The biggest knock for some on Washington will be that he played in the wide open Big 12 where he saw plenty of favorable matchups. While he may already have the ability, Washington wasn’t asked to run a full route tree at Oklahoma State, so that could be an adjustment that takes time for plenty of young receivers. If he’s drafted to be a vertical threat, the deep accuracy of Washington’s NFL quarterback likely will play a role on his impact. The potential to have a bigger role is there, so for developmental purposes it will be very interesting to see where he lands.
6. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M: A highly touted recruit out of high school, Kirk had a productive three years at Texas A&M and could emerge as a nice offensive chess piece at the next level. As a receiver, Kirk did his best work in the slot as per PFF, that’s where 891 of his 919 yards came from in 2017. With a compact build of 5’10” 200 and the ability to make defenders miss, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kirk in the right system is able to contribute in ways similar to Golden Tate. Like Tate, he also has displayed that elusiveness in the return game.
Kirk was hardly used as an outside receiver this past season, so it’s unknown if he’d be able to make an impact in that regard. Like others, Kirk might also be more quick than fast but that could be a better fit when he’s already projected as a slot receiver. Ultimately, how Kirk fares as a pro will come down to the schemes he lands in. If a team knows how to utilize his strengths, Kirk could potentially contribute early on. However if a team insists on lining him up outside, that move might not be beneficial for either party.
7. Michael Gallup, Colorado State: After starting at a junior college, Gallup played two years at Colorado State and hit the ground running. He became one of the most productive receivers in college football and showed he can win at various levels of the field. Gallup possesses good size at 6’1″ 205 and can go up and high point passes but also can create after the catch. At the line of scrimmage, Gallup isn’t afraid to get physical with defensive backs either. PFF pointed out that no college receiver was targeted more when facing press coverage than Gallup and those throws resulted in 8.8 yards per attempt.
Despite all that production, Gallup still has room to grow as a player and like all the rookies learn the finer nuances of the position. In a receiver class where there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the top prospects, don’t be surprised if Gallup’s selected earlier than you might expect.
8. D.J. Chark, LSU: Despite little quarterback production, few schools have churned out wideouts like LSU. Chark is next in line and he might be the wideout who has most benefited from the draft process. After a big Senior Bowl game, Chark checked in at 6’3″ 199 at the combine and ran a 4.34 forty. That has him gaining a lot of buzz with the draft quickly approaching. An intriguing size/speed threat, Chark at LSU primarily showed what he can do vertically.
The ability is there to pluck contested throws and adjusted to poorly thrown balls and Chark per PFF had just five drops in his college career. As a route runner he is still raw, and it will need refinement if Chark is counted on to become a more all around threat. Despite the burning speed he didn’t make defenders miss after the catch often as much as you’d expect. With the right coaching, Chark could emerge as a very good all around receiver. But at the least he will be bringing big play ability to the table.
9. Antonio Callaway, Florida: On pure talent alone, Callaway is likely one of the top two or three wideouts in this class. When running routes, Callaway picks up speed quickly and has the ability to create separation against various coverages. While he can make plays vertically, Callaway due to his ability to make opponents miss could be a huge factor on slants or crossing routes. With his speed, all it could take is one missed tackle to setup a long touchdown. At Florida, Callaway was also a dynamic return man as well.
There were times were Callaway had some mental lapses catching the ball, but his biggest concerns come off the field. During his time at Florida he underwent a sexual assault trial and had to sit out the 2017 season due to a credit card fraud scheme that involved other teammates. For those reasons, Callaway might not even be on some teams’ boards. However if a team is willing to take a day three flier on him and has the right environment in place, Callaway could pay off in a big way.
10. DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: In today’s NFL, teams starting three receivers has become increasingly common. That’s good news for Hamilton who was very difficult to stop in the slot last season. Per PFF, Hamilton’s 845 yards from the slot in 2017 were eighth among all receivers on the year. While he doesn’t have the quick area burst of your typical slot receiver, Hamilton won with his advanced route running. That resulted in a large amount of his catches this past year going for first downs.
Hamilton also does a good job of tracking passes in the air and it allows him to go up and make contested catches. While he did show improvement in 2017, Hamilton did have some issues with drops at Penn State. Hopefully that is an aspect of his game he can continue to work on. With slot receivers starting to be paid accordingly (see Jarvis Landry’s latest deal), a team who selects Hamilton will have a player who figures to be an early contributor at a low cost.
2018 class grade: C+