Following up an incredible 2014 draft class, anything the receivers in the 2015 draft did would be a step back. Amari Cooper, Tyler Lockett and Stefon Diggs all made immediate impacts as rookies, but there are a lot of questions to be answered. Kevin White and Breshad Perriman were both first rounders who due to injury didn’t play a game, and players such as Dorial Green-Beckham and DeVante Parker improving could make the class look quite impressive. This 2016 crop has plenty of talent, but no clear cut top player like Cooper last year. There are plenty of options besides just these ten who can make an impact, so it will be fun to follow their progress for years to come.
1. Josh Doctson, TCU: In a class where three different wideouts could be the number option on a team’s board, it all comes down to personal preference. We all have our weaknesses that we fall for. In more realistic settings it could be something like a nice smile. For me, it’s receivers with 40” plus verticals who go up and get the ball at its highest point. So with such little difference separating them, Doctson is my guy. As pointed out, Doctson has the size and frame at 6’2” 202 pounds to go up and fight with defenders on jump balls. He also has shown the ability to win downfield, catches cleanly witth his hands and has the ability to create after the catch. If needed, Doctson isn’t afraid to get physical with corners as well.
The main concern for many will be that he is coming from a TCU offense that created plenty of space for him to operate in. Because of this, he could use some refinement as a route runner while also learning some more routes to add to his game. Granted, while they weren’t from TCU, DeAndre Hopkins didn’t exactly come from a pro-style attack either. If everything clicks, I could see Doctson becoming that type of player which would certainly make him worth a first round selection.
2. Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi: Coming into the year, Treadwell appeared to be the consensus top receiver in this class. However, with others rising and him not running as well as some would like, it’s not a sure thing he’s the top guy off the board. Despite that, Treadwell is still an impressive prospect. He has good size, catches naturally with his hands and has shown he can high point the ball over opposing defenders. Compared to some of the other top wideouts in this class, Treadwell is a more refined route runner and has shown he can break off his routes to create throwing lanes for his quarterbacks.
While it isn’t an issue for me, some will find issue that Treadwell didn’t run his forty up to expectations. However, the forty is very technique based and there have been enough very good wideouts who were overlooked due to sub-par times it shouldn’t matter anymore. Like any young wideout, Treadwell can expand his route tree and in facing press coverage against physical corners. It wouldn’t stun me if he turned into an Alshon Jeffery type who makes a team very happy in the first round.
3. Corey Coleman, Baylor: The first thing I noticed about Coleman was he played much bigger than his listed height. When first watching him, I would have guessed he was around 6’2”, but he checked in at 5’11”. Regardless, the skillset is there for him to be a star. Coleman can win vertically with his top notch speed and impressive leaping ability. On many occasions corners were unable to attempt jamming him as one mishap and he was off to the endzone. Coleman also showed excellent ability in space when the ball was in his hands and can find seems in coverage when running routes.
As many who follow college football would know, Baylor doesn’t exactly run your prototypical offense. Due to this, Coleman has essentially run a simple route tree to this point and will need refinement in many assets of that game. He is also more of a “body catcher” meaning instead of going and plucking it with his hands, Coleman will let the ball come to him and corral it by pinning it against his chest. Those things and route running can be worked on with time, so if the right team decides to bring Coleman along, they could end up with something very special.
4. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma: The next draft analyst I see who isn’t high on Shepard as a prospect would be the first. It seems ever since the process started draftniks and anonymous scouts alike have been raving about him. While it’s a lot to live up to, Shepard is the real deal. Entering the draft, he is probably the best route runner in his class with the ability to beat defenders on double moves or stop on a dime. Shepard also has experience running routes from the slot and has shown he is more than willing to go over the middle.
Some may worry that Shepard is more “quick than fast” and he isn’t as big in stature as some of the other top receiver prospects. While that could lead to routes being redirected, it is something that with coaching could be worked on. At the end of the day, Shepard can create separation (even more valuable with how defenders can’t get very physical) and just makes plays. Regardless of if he plays in the slot or outside, he should make whatever team takes him very happy.
5. Will Fuller, Notre Dame: If you’re a team looking for a deep threat, Fuller is the prospect for you. Clocking a 4.32 in the forty, he paced all receivers in the drill and it’s evident in his game. He averaged more than 20 yards a catch at Notre Dame this past season and over a quarter of his receptions went for over 25 yards. Fuller can win downfield with his ability to start off slowly but then change the speed of the route due to his fantastic acceleration. Despite most of his chances coming in open space, Fuller also displayed some nice feel around the sidelines.
While the potential is there to be a DeSean Jackson type player, there are factors where at this point Fuller more closely resembles Ted Ginn. Due to being on the skinnier side, odds are he isn’t going to be asked to run a ton of routes over the middle. His hands (which while completely out of his control are smaller than preferred) this past year were also an issue as he struggled with drops. Part of that could be attributed to him being a body catcher and not hauling the ball in cleanly. Fuller’s flaws are ones that can be improved. Many players have shown they can bulk up when in the league and also show improvement in terms of their hands. You can’t teach the skills Fuller does have, so he will be worth any risk.
6. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: Despite a collegiate career filled with inconsistent quarterback play, Boyd leaves Pitt as one of the most decorated receivers in school history. While he isn’t the fastest receiver, Boyd has strong hands to snag the ball out of the air while displaying the toughness to go over the middle and not shying away from contact. For a young wideout, Boyd is also a polished route runner so it wouldn’t be surprising if he earned playing time quickly as a rookie.
Some teams might be turned off by how Boyd isn’t much of a vertical threat. It appears more than others in this class, his route running and hands get it done for him. From the action of his I did see, it didn’t seem like he was really one to create after the catch either. However, some of that could be the fault of ball placement on the quarterback’s part. Seeing how players such as Keenan Allen and Jarvis Landry have performed with similar skillsets, Boyd is a player who might be overlooked and provide great value on the draft’s second day.
7. Michael Thomas, Ohio State: Thomas is an interesting prospect among the draft community. Some are quite high on him while others don’t think he’s anything all that special. I’m somewhere in the middle as I think with development he can be a serviceable starting option. Thomas has ideal size at 6’3” 212 pounds, catches the ball with his hands and is able to create after the catch. Ohio State didn’t really use him vertically, but there is some upside that could be tapped into in that regard.
On the downside, Thomas is very raw as a route runner. Granted, depending on what team takes him, this may not be a terrible thing as they could develop Thomas before throwing him to the fire. However, some who are very raw in terms of route running (think Cordarrelle Patterson) don’t always have a moment where it all clicks. Pay attention to Thomas’ ultimate landing spot as the situation and coaching could very well impact how his career plays out.
8. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: The most coveted Pharoh since Tutankhamun in the 1325 B.C. draft; Cooper’s stock took a hit due to South Carolina’s offensive struggles in 2015. While he didn’t have great timed speed at the combine, Cooper has shown he can play fast and is elusive in the open field. Due to his build, Cooper has some traits that remind me of Golden Tate. While he isn’t the tallest wideout, Cooper is compact and like Tate can play through contact with surprising strength.
Like other receivers mentioned, Cooper wasn’t playing in an offense with a full route tree so route running could be refined. At this point he may be more of an “offensive weapon” than wideout, but he should be able to make an impact. There is always the cliché used of general managers saying they’re looking for “football players”. Regardless of how he is used right away, that label is one that fits Cooper who could end up being a nice value in the middle rounds.
9. Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: With good size and big time production, there are a lot of things to like about Carroo. He can beat defenders with his routes, is willing to go over the middle and catches cleanly with his hands. Carroo also showed the ability to create after the catch as well and top of that, played in an offense which made sure he has experience as a run blocker.
Like many young receivers, there are concerns with how Carroo faired against physical press coverage. However the most important thing to teams will be regarding his character. This past season, Carroo was suspended two games for an assault charge that came during a domestic dispute. Considering the past few years the league has had, an incident of that nature will have him completely wiped off the boards of multiple teams. Despite the incident, a team still figures to take a shot on Carroo in the middle rounds.
10. Braxton Miller, Ohio State: Considering Miller is ranked at this spot despite playing the position for only a year speaks to how great an athlete he is. By now you probably know how he was the starting quarterback for two years at Ohio State before a shoulder injury ended his 2014 campaign. Having come back with two more quarterbacks who proved capable of starting, Miller embraced the position change to receiver. From the first snap he showed dynamic ability when the ball is in his hands.
While able to track deep balls and make big plays, Miller still needs to improve at the positions nuances such as route running. His speed and athleticism alone will likely get him selected in the draft’s second day, but at this time he is more of an “offensive weapon” than a receiver you can fully count on. The athleticism is there to be a dynamic talent, but just is as important in determining his success will be the coaching he receives at the next level.
2016 Class Grade: B