Back for more and this is no doubt the toughest ranking to date. There might not be a true number one receiver in the draft. There might be 10-15 number two’s. There is plenty of talent to be had and all different kinds of fits. If you missed any of the previous rankings:
To me, the NFL is still a little behind the eight-ball in overvaluing “big” receivers instead of receivers that can flat out get open. I get it. But they’re wrong. As far as traits that translate, there are too many to list today. I’m trying to keep it under 10,000 words. Let’s get into it.
Whether we’re willing to admit it or not speed matters in the NFL. Big plays after a sudden change are the norm now. Offenses need that home-run threat that can get behind the defense. Or that can take a short pass the distance. Here are the five fastest receivers I saw.
*Note, not necessarily the fastest 40, but how they play
5) Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
4) Ardarius Stewart, Alabama
3) Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
2) Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
1 ) John Ross, Washington
It was surprising to see Taylor “only” run a 4.50 40 at the combine. On the field, he glides past guys. He is an easy deep threat.
Stewart was Alabama’s gadget guy and when they got the ball in his hands he would outrun your angles. He can take a jet sweep or a screen 30 in a hurry. Stewart can scoot.
Westbrook ran in the mid 4.3’s at his pro day and that wasn’t surprising at all. He gets to top speed in a few steps and can accelerate with the best of them. He’s a walking big play.
Samuel didn’t get a chance to show off is 4.31 speed as much as most of us would’ve liked to see but when there was a crease, it was clear. When they targeted him deep, he was a few steps behind the defender. Samuel is one of the few guys that plays as fast as he runs.
There’s nothing to say about Ross that hasn’t been said. Guys that run a sub 4.4 are really, really fast. Guys that run a 4.22 make 4.4 guys look slow. That’s what Ross does.
Watch my feet
In the NFL you’re not going to be able to just out run the guy across from you every rep. You’re going to have to win in a variety of ways. Winning at the line of scrimmage is one of those ways. These are the top receivers off the line of scrimmage.
3) Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
1 ) Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
If we’re basing it on traits, Kupp has 1st round feet. He’s quick and efficient. He throws in head fakes and “rocker” or jab steps to throw the defender off.
Defenders have to overcompensate for Ross and his speed so when he sees press, a lot of times he’s winning with pure speed. But he has underrated hand usage at the line as well.
Ford reminds me of a Michael Crabtree or a Stevie Johnson off the line of scrimmage with his obnoxious fakes and cuts. He’ll lull you to sleep then fire out for good initial separation. I love how he wins with tempo at the line.
Separating at the stem
If you can’t win early you put the pressure on yourself to win later in the route. Being able to separate at the top of the route is a big deal. It makes life easier on you the receiver as well as the quarterback. Here are the top 3 receivers that create separation at the top of the route.
3) Amara Darboh, Michigan
2) Ryan Switzer, North Carolina,
1 ) Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Darboh against his rival Spartans was a great game showing his ability to find holes in zones but also use his build up speed, hand-fighting, and positioning to create separation at the top of routes.
Where the guys in the release category win with their feet at the line, Switzer wins when he’s going to break. He sets guys up by leaning into them if they’re close. If he has space he can cut at full speed and throw in some nuance to separate.
I’m not sure how fast Davis is but boy he can create separation at the top of the route. Davis will use a little hesitation one way and accelerate the other way to create big time space. He’s deadly in the slot due to this.
Playing through contact
If you can’t separate you’re left with no choice to make a contested catch. This can be the highlight “Mossed him” catches. Or the more subtle, winning with positioning and extending to make a catch with a defender draped on your back. These are the best receivers through contact in the draft.
3) Chad Hansen, California
2) Chris Godwin, Penn State
1 ) Mike Williams, Clemson
Hansen is one of the better receivers in the draft when it comes to winning with positioning. He does a great job of shielding defenders then high pointing the ball.
I still can’t comprehend how Godwin ran so fast at the combine because the majority of targets I saw were contested. Godwin has vice grips for hands when it’s time to catch the ball and there’s a corner trying to make a play. He looks very comfortable in contested situations.
Speaking of, Williams thrives in contested situations. It’s almost as if he prefers a corner to be on his hip. He takes his game to another level. He tested below average almost across the board. However, when it comes to going up and getting it, he was always out jumping the defender. Leap timing is a skill. As is high-pointing passes. It’s like Charles Barkley how he won with positioning and somehow always got the rebound.
Yards after catch
Creating on your own is huge. There aren’t many plays for 3rd & forever but if you have the wiggle or burst to create, you can keep your offense on the field. Turning a six-yard curl into a 15 yard 1st down adds up. These are the best receivers when the ball is in their hands.
5) Juju Smith-Schuster
1 ) Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech
Juju wins in ways nobody else does on this list. He’s just bigger and stronger than defensive backs. They bounce off him like he has some type of force field. Smith-Schuster has great effort to fight for ever inch when he has the ball.
Samuel will hit you with a nasty crossover step and break your ankles. He’s nasty in the open-field.
Stewart is a running back when the ball is in his hands. I mentioned Juju’s effort, but Stewart is even tougher to bring down. His speed helps, too.
Davis has top-tier acceleration. He gets going in a hurry. He also has surprisingly good wiggle for his size as well as balance. All these traits help him to turn those quick passes into explosive plays.
Speaking of explosive plays, Henderson is the best in the draft after the catch. He’s a highlight reel. Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan said he’s what we wanted Kendall Wright to be and there’s plenty of truth to that. He has so many big plays as he’s able to see defenders most wouldn’t and juke them on the fly. He’s impressive with the ball in his hands.
Every year there are receivers that come out of nowhere. Last year there was Taje Sharp of the Titans. Robbie Anderson of the Jets. Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs. Here were the 5 underrated receivers that could immediately contribute this year.
5) Josh Malone, Tennessee
3) Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
1 ) Mack Hollins, North Carolina
Malone is a deep sleeper. He didn’t exactly light it up last year with the Vols. But he’s a big fast, strong receiver that can run by you, catch the ball in traffic over the middle, and will surprise you as a route runner.
Darboh ran a 4.45 but I don’t believe he plays that fast. There’s some build up speed there as you’ll see on comebacks and dig routes but he strikes me as a possession receiver. He gets open against man or zone and can hang out after a big hit and contested catches.
I want to like Reynolds more than I do. And I like him. He’s 6’3” and clearly explosive. He would’ve been in the top 5 of releases. He does everything right up until it’s time to catch the ball. It’s how he goes to catch the ball that worries me. And it’s the easy ones. He makes plenty of spectacular plays. There’s so much to like with Reynolds.
With Hollins, his usage did him no favors. He was the deep ball target. The Tar Heels seldom used Hollins as what you’d call an “every down receiver.” Watch his other routes. He does not look like your typical 6’4” receiver. He creates separation on curls, in-breaking, out-breaking, you name it. He is impressive. He ran a 4.54 but he plays faster than that. He breezes by guys effortlessly and if he wasn’t underthrown on a few targets would have better numbers. Hollins plays to his size as well and catches the ball away from his frame. If I didn’t know any better I was watching Mike Evans.
We tend to overrate receivers that have a specific skill and will extrapolate that skill in a way that just doesn't make sense. These are guys that I'm seeing are being overrated for whatever reason.
5) Mike Williams
4) Zay Jones
3) Chad Hansen
2) KD Cannon
1) Dede Westbrook
Williams is good. He just tips too many of his routes, is a 1-speed receiver and doesn't strike me as a number one.
I just don't see it with Jones. At all. His combine doesn't match up with how he plays. I don't think he'll be able to separate at the next level.
Sidney Jones against Hansen was all I needed to see.
We do this every year with a Baylor receiver. Cannon is an atrocious route runner that is overrated after the catch. Speaking of, catching is an issue with him.
Westbrook is fast but that's where it stops. His lack of physicality is painful to watch. It shows up at the line and late in the route. Pass.
Red Area targets
An area that doesn't get mentioned enough is receivers that excel in the red area. Touchdowns are good. Here are the best red area targets in the draft.
5) Malachi Dupre
Dupre does a good job with positioning in the red zone and uses his big frame to go up and get it. This is the one area he's a good route runner.
Ross had great production near the goal line due to winning off the line and creating space.
Dupre is good at tracking the flight of the ball but Williams and Reynolds are great and also stronger through contact.
If Davis had the same ball skills he does near the goal line in between the 20's he'd be a sure-fire top 10 pick. His game is on steroids near the line of scrimmage. He just wants it more. His acceleration puts him on top of the list.
Bringing it all together
I don't want to rank guys in terms of split end, flanker, slot because I don't want to limit them. Honestly, Davis is one of the best slot receivers in the draft. Whereas a guy many would expect to excel in the slot, Ross, struggles. Instead, just my overall rankings.
15) Ryan Switzer
14) Stacy Coley
13) Chris Godwin
12) Malachi Dupre
11) Carlos Henderson
10) Ardarius Stewart
9) Josh Reynolds
8) Tayan Taylor
7) Juju Smith-Schuster
6) Mike Williams
5) Isaiah Ford
4) Mack Hollins
2) Curtis Samuel
1) Corey Davis
Keep in mind, this isn't anywhere near where they'll be drafted. This is for when we are looking back in a couple years how they will have produced in the NFL.