2017 NFL Draft Prospects: Wide Receiver

williams-picThis post covers my preliminary rankings of the top wide receivers entering the 2017 NFL Draft. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).

PROSPECT RANKINGS:
1. Mike Williams (Clemson) | 6’3 225 (+)
2. Corey Davis (Western Michigan) | 6’3 215 (++)
3. John Ross (Washington) | 5’11 190 (++)
4. Juju Smith-Schuster (USC) | 6’2 220 (++)
5. Curtis Samuel (Ohio St) | 5’11 200 (+++)
6. Chad Hansen (California) | 6’1 195 (++++)
7. Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma) | 5’11 175 (+++++)
8. ArDarius Stewart (Alabama) | 6’0 205
9. Amara Darboh (Michigan) | 6’1 215
10. Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech) | 6’1 190
11. Zay Jones (East Carolina) | 6’1 200
12. Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) | 6’2 215
13. KD Cannon (Baylor) | 5’11 180
14. Malachi Dupree (LSU) | 6’2 190
15. Josh Reynolds ( Texas A&M) | 6’3 195
16. Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky) | 6’0 195
17. Chris Godwin (Penn St) | 6’1 205
18. Ryan Switzer (UNC) |
19. Trent Taylor (LA Tech) | 5’8 175
20. Stacy Coley (Miami) | 6’1 190
21. Artavis Scott (Clemson) | 5’10 190
22. Darreus Rogers (USC) | 6’1 215
23. Kenny Golladay (Northern Illinois) | 6’4 215

(+) The slow start in the National Championship game notwithstanding, Williams ability to consistently out-body Alabama’s physical corners and come up with crucial catches in the 4th quarter of the game only reinforces that he is the #1 WR prospect in this class. Of course, forty times can have a big impact on draft stock and I don’t expect Williams to light up the radar gun (his 40 time estimate is likely between 4.45 and 4.60). However, I see an elite possession receiver– a prospect who has a unique combination of size, strength, body-control, agility and focus to be a reliable chain-mover and red-zone threat even against the toughest secondaries. In a league filled with playmakers who shrivel up in tough matchups against physical secondaries, Williams’ skillset will prove to be an underrated commodity at the next level. If he can run under 4.6, he should be a Top 15 pick and receive heavy consideration to go as high as No. 5 to the Titans.

(++) Davis, Ross and Smith-Schuster round out the group of receivers standing a good chance to be selected in the first round. Currently, Davis is my #2 receiver given his strong combination of size, agility, strength, route-running and feel for space, hands and breakaway speed… Smith-Schuster, who possesses a similar build to Dez Bryant at 6’2 220, exhibits star quality attributes. After a monster sophomore season (89 catches for 1454 yards and 10 TDs), he appeared to be building a resume to be an eventual top 10 draft pick. However, reduced production his junior season (70-914-10) has apparently tempered expectations to the point where many draft prognosticators peg him as a second or even third round pick. More work has to be done on watching Smith-Schuster, but I’m inclined to believe that circumstances (playing with a redshirt Freshman at QB who liked to spread the ball among a talented WR group) and his arguably best-in-class size/strength/agility combination causes a WR-needy team to pick him in the mid to late first round. If not, he may be this draft’s Michael Thomas… Ross lacks the size of Davis and Smith-Schuster. However, Ross–arguably the best deep threat in this draft class–combines a strong and compact build with excellent agility and speed to exhibit advanced route running and dangerous after-the-catch capabilities. He also displays good hands but is prone to occasional drops caused by apparent lack of focus.

(+++) There will be some debate whether Samuel is best characterized as a WR or RB given his versatile use at Ohio St. I view his potential to be a dangerous slot receiver capable of being moved around in a variety of ways  designed to get him the ball in space. There’s risk with drafting these types of players because of the development that needs to take place with route-running. But Samuel’s the type of athlete that seems to be as good a bet as any to find a home and produce in adaptable NFL schemes. In that regard, a comp for Samuel might be Randall Cobb– although Samuel is a better pure athlete.

(++++) A Sterling Shepard comp could be made for Chad Hansen, with Hansen being a better vertical threat and Shepard being a better route runner between the two. Chad Hansen is arguably the best receiver (i.e. most technically-gifted and agile) in this draft class.

(+++++) As a prospect, Westbrook is Phillip Dorsett with much better productivity coming out of college. To the Colts at least, that’s worthy of a first round selection. For most teams, however, his slender frame should justifiably raise questions whether he has the potential of being more than an explosive complimentary player at the next level. Moreover, Westbrook has been arrested twice for domestic violence. This fact seriously clouds his chances of being selected in the first three rounds of the draft.

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