2017 Draft Rankings: Wide Receiver

26_4853885The 2016 receiver class was an interesting one through it’s first year. While four receivers were taken in the first round, only two (Corey Coleman and Will Fuller) saw extended playing time. However, those two along with Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell all missed at least two games whether it was due to injuries or being healthy scratches. The good news is, some of the players had impacts in their initial seasons. Michael Thomas had a monster rookie campaign, Tyreek Hill showed game breaking ability as a receiver and returner, while Sterling Shepard and Tajae Sharpe served as primary starters for their teams.

This receiver class shouldn’t see four players go in the first round, but there is plenty of talent that will be available in day two of the draft. For most, the top few receivers are set just in varying order, but after that it seems to be a matter or personal preference. While some of the recent draft classes have spoiled us with wideout depth, this one could end up turning some heads.

1. Mike Williams, Clemson: Everyone has their personal preference for receivers, and Williams has a lot of the traits I look for in the position. At 6’4″ Williams’ basketball background shows in his play as he will dominate catch points and use his frame to grab a jump ball like it’s a rebound. While he didn’t meet the expectations some had in terms of timed speed, his size and ability to track balls makes Williams a very dangerous deep threat. Despite breaking his neck in 2015, Williams has also shown he will get physical and make catches over the middle in traffic.

At times, Williams will have drops that appear to be due to lapses in concentration. This is a trait that other young wideouts have and it could be worked on over time. The team he goes to could also make an impact in Williams’ production. If he goes to a risk averse quarterback, they might be less likely to just throw a ball up to Williams so he can make a play. The comparison has been made frequently, but there are similarities to him and Alshon Jeffery. Coming out of college Jeffery wasn’t a world beater in terms of timed speed, but he has continued to do very well in terms of hauling in contested passes. Look for Williams to do the same at the next level.

2. Chris Godwin, Penn State: Compared to others, this ranking is probably  a little aggressive but I’m all in on Godwin as a prospect. Checking in at 6’1″ 209, Godwin is able to win at all areas of the field. He was one of the most productive deep threats in all of college football last season, and was also able to win in intermediate areas due to his physicality. Godwin has also shown the ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes and can make some outstanding catches as a result. On top of that, he is also a  willing blocker and tested better than expected at the combine.

Despite that, Godwin has areas to improve. Some feel he can get better in terms of creating separation from defensive backs.  Per Pro Football Focus, he also wasn’t very explosive in the open field either as he forced only nine missed tackles on his 59 receptions last season. Despite those concerns, Godwin has the ability to contribute to a team right away and the upside is there for him to become a big-time player.

3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan: Due to an ankle surgery after his season, Davis has been out of sight and out of mind through the draft process. Despite that he is still one of the top wideouts in this class. For a player just entering the league, Davis is already a strong route runner and can create separation in various ways. He is a hands catcher and very rarely do you see him catching a pass with his body. Davis has also shown the ability to adjust to the ball in the air and with experience lined up all over the field at Western Michigan, could be a very good red zone threat.

While Davis can be dangerous in the open field, to this point he hasn’t shown the ability at this time to create big plays from underneath throws. Even though we never saw his timed speed at the combine, watching his games it seems he might struggle creating separation with straight line speed. Drops were also as issue in 2016 as per Pro Football Focus he dropped 11 passes thrown his way. Davis may not become a top tier number one option, but he has the tools to be a quality starter for years to come.

4. John Ross, Washington: If you’re a believer that speed kills, than Ross is the prospect for you. While his record setting 4.22 forty time at the combine earned him attention, he’s much more than that. Ross can run all types of routes and not surprisingly is incredibly quick in and out of his breaks. His yards after the catch ability is also second to none as defenders can look foolish trying to catch him on any given play. Unlike some speed receivers, Ross also seems very comfortable catching the ball with his hands and for a smaller receiver, he was extremely productive in the redzone. So why is he only my 4th rated wideout?

That all comes down to injury history. In 2014, he tore his MCL and missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL. That he has the ability to run the way he does a little less than two years later speaks to both his commitment in rehabilitation and the advances in modern medicine. While he isn’t small, there are times that Ross can be outmuscled by opposing defensive backs or get thrown off his route. Some might fear selecting Ross due to his past medical history, but his unique skillset gives him a chance to make those teams pay in a big way.

5. Zay Jones, East Carolina: Jones received some buzz around the Senior Bowl and in my opinion, is one of the safer options in this receiver class. Leaving East Carolina as the FBS receptions leader, Jones has experience lined up all over the field  and should be able to contribute immediately. He has strong hands which he uses to catch the ball cleanly and per Pro Football focus dropped just 6 of the 164 catchable balls thrown his way in 2016. Jones is also willing to run into traffic whether it is to catch a pass or run for extra yardage. He is also able to find soft spots in coverage which is a trait that not all young receivers have.

While Jones clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine, he doesn’t appear to have that type of speed in games. Due to that, there will be questions about his burst/explosiveness or if he will be able to create separation from cornerbacks. Those same skills were also ones questioned about players such as Jarvis Landry and Anquan Boldin. Like both of those receivers, Jones will outmuscle defenders to make catches and isn’t afraid of contact. It wouldn’t be surprising if he went on to become one of the more productive wideouts in this class.

6. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma: Westbrook had some success early on in his 2016 season, but he ended it on an absolute tear and becoming a unanimous All American and won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in college football. Like the aforementioned Ross, he has plenty of straight line speed, but can win in plenty of other ways. Westbrook is very quick in and out of breaks and can run a nice assortment of routes. Westbrook was very effective after the catch and showed he can make defenders miss as well. Pro Football Focus noted that he forced 20 missed tackles in 2016. For a smaller receiver (178 pounds), he’s also willing to get physical and limits dropped passes.

While everyone carries weight differently, Westbrook looked rather skinny compared to some of his peers. That alone will raise question marks to some about if he will be able to hold up against NFL defenders. It’s also worth noting that Westbrook didn’t face much physical coverage during his time in Oklahoma, so the verdict isn’t out on how he’d fair against press coverage. While charges were dropped, there are also some character concerns that teams will look into when evaluating Westbrook further.  Due to the question marks, there is a chance Westbrook could fall further in the draft then he should and in that event could provide to be quite the value.

7. Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: Eight years ago, Urban Meyer coached a player in Percy Harvin whose unique talent in the backfield and as a receiver made him a hot commodity among teams.. He flashed both as a running back and a pass catcher at Ohio State with 97 carries and 74 receptions in 2016 alone. Chances are whoever selects Samuel will want to find a definite position and my guess is many will prefer him as a receiver. While still raw at the position, Samuel did show an ability to create some separation and he has the speed to create vertically or on throws underneath.

Of course, due to not playing just one position at Ohio State, Samuel will need to improve at some of the positions finer points like getting jammed at the line. While it will come with more reps, Samuel could also learn how to make more adjustments to poorly thrown balls. Ultimately, Samuel’s NFL projection will be determined by who picks him. If he goes to a creative team that’s willing to let him play in space as a matchup piece, there is a good chance he’ll have an impact quickly. However, if a team expects him to develop into a true outside receiver, it could take a few years before they really start seeing a true return on their investment.

8. Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky: If you’re into receivers who were highly productive in college and come up big when needed, Taylor is one for you. Taylor can win at all levels of the field and proved to be a fantastic deep threat during his time at Western Kentucky. He’s also more than willing to work the middle of the field and showed  signs that he could develop into a plus route runner.

The main downfall for me with Taylor is that he can have inconsistent hands and too often will catch passes with his body. Last season he was charted by Pro Football Focus as having eight dropped passes and that could of been part of the reason. Some will also question if Taylor will be able to adjust given he had a chunk of production from plays like bubble screens as they may not feel that’s translatable. Taylor showed he has the ability to separate from opposing corners during his collegiate career and that alone could lead to a nice NFL career.

9. Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech: In Louisiana Tech’s wide open offense, Henderson put up monster numbers as a player that was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. While he’s known for his agility, Henderson can make some contested catches and his quick feet certainly help him when creating separation.

Playing in the wide open scheme, Henderson still can expand his route tree when he reaches the next level. He also didn’t go up against a ton of physical coverage and often times was clearly the best athlete on the field which could make some question his level of competition. As someone who excels in space, Henderson could be a very dynamic “offensive weapon” or “gadget player” if he goes to a team that uses him correctly.

10. Chad Hansen, California: With only one year as a college starter, Hansen is still more of a raw talent. In that season though he showed a lot that coaches can work with. At 6’2″ 202, Hansen showed well when it came to high pointing throws in his direction and winning contested catches. He does play physically and has after the catch ability on screens when called upon. For his size Hansen also runs well and could be used as a situational deep threat.

One thing Hansen will need to refine as he reaches the pros is continuing to trust his hands. He improved as the year went on in this regard, but sometimes some passes will get to his body. Playing in an air raid offense, there are also concerns about him running a pretty simple route tree so that part of his game could be one needing refinement. Like many college receivers, many have noted Hansen struggled against press corners. With his lack of in game reps before this season, Hansen’s struggles with that might make more sense. For a team with some established wideouts in place, Hansen could make for an interesting developmental pick with the chance to pay off in a big way.

2017 Class Grade: B-

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