Graphic By Robert Robinson, @RobRobGraphics
Written By Jason Feiner, @FeinerScores
The college season went out with a bang as Clemson upset Alabama, the reigning champions, for the second time in three seasons. The National Championship game showcased some of the best and most talented prospects in the country, and college players now have their sights set on preparing for the NFL Draft.
Each draft is vastly different and the prospects will all have a chance to raise or lower their stocks in the coming months. This draft pool has been labeled as a defensive draft, and although the defensive line and edge rushers are thick with talent, the receiver class has the potential to rival that of 2014, and many will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on whichever team drafts their potential. Many teams are thirsty for playmakers who can help their offense move the ball. With draft season around the corner, the 2019 NFL Draft will certainly make for a hot topic over the course of the next few months.
Does your team need a playmaker on the perimeter or working across the middle? Let’s take a look at the top 5 receivers entering the 2019 NFL Draft.
1. D.K. Metcalf: University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Weight: 230 lbs
Career Stats: 21 Career Games
Receiving Yards: 1228
Yards Per Reception: 18.3
Receiving Touchdowns: 14
One of the most intriguing prospects of the 2019 draft class is Ole Miss receiver and redshirt sophomore D.K. Metcalf. The Rebels playmaker was on his way to a career year before a neck injury derailed his 2018 campaign. Through seven games this season, Metcalf accrued 569 yards on 26 receptions and five touchdowns. Yes, that equates to an eye popping 21.6 yards per reception. When healthy, he is a big play machine who secured All-SEC honors for securing seven touchdowns and 16.6 yards per reception in 2017. Throughout the early goings of the season, Metcalf was a big part of the offense’s success, dominating defenses at will. Health has been the biggest obstacle for Metcalf, as he has endured two season ending injuries, a broken foot in his true freshman campaign and a recent neck injury suffered in the first quarter against Arkansas. Injuries aside, he is a raw athlete with enormous upside.
Throughout 2018, D.K. Metcalf saw a lot of coverage with help over the top but still produced like a number one receiver. Possessing outstanding size, he has displayed exceptional balance and lateral agility as a fluid athlete, often showing the deep speed and stride length to get behind the defense. He is an elite vertical threat who can play on the boundary and utilize his speed, size, and play strength to win in the open field or in tight coverage. Metcalf is a special athlete with great burst and a dominant first step out of his stance that allows him to close a defensive back’s cushion and break into his route stem with nice timing and precision. Displaying solid burst off the line of scrimmage, he showcases a head fake to stall defensive backs and uses active hands to keep his frame clean in order to beat press coverage. He is extremely fluid with excellent body control. Although he is raw, the Ole Miss product demonstrates the ability to generate separation early in his route stem and manipulate the defender in order to establish leverage before lowering his hips and exploding through his break. Metcalf has shown outstanding hands throughout his tenure at Ole Miss, capable of fully extending his body down the sideline to make tough acrobatic catches. With great flexibility he attacks the ball with the ability to torque his body to adjust in air for poorly thrown balls. He is a strong physical presence capable of bullying defenders in the blocking game or boxing them out to create clean throwing windows for his quarterback.
With all of Metcalf's dominant traits, he is not a refined receiver. Ole Miss has done him no favors, limiting him to straight line routes down field, while closing off the route tree during his development. He has little knowledge of an expanded route tree and has a ways to go before he will be considered a quality route runner. Lacking the footwork to dominate as a pure route runner, he has to utilize his frame and agility to compensate. He is still learning how to grow and needs to take the time to become more adept at speed variation and hip breakdown in order to run precise routes in each area of the field. Without technique and an overall knowledge of the route tree, he will be secluded as a boundary threat with big play potential. Metcalf has the tools to become a better route runner, but he has yet to use them.
Metcalf’s neck injury isn’t a large issue, as he is expected to resume training by the end of January and will be a full participant throughout the NFL Draft process. He is a leader on and off the field and has received high praise from teammates and coaches alike. His work ethic will take him far.
The big-bodied receiver has the talent and athleticism to win in each area of the field with his speed, lateral agility, balance, play strength and body control. He is a mentally tough receiver who has the tools to beat defenders deep and the size and strength to win contested battles across the middle. Metcalf is a raw prospect who will need to work on his knowledge of the route tree and route running ability, but his talent and size and work ethic are impeccable. His upside is massive and should be taken off the board early as a result.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Raiders, Bills, Broncos, Ravens
NFL Comparison: Josh Gordon
2. N’Keal Harry: Arizona State University
Weight: 220 lbs
Career Stats: 37 Career Games
Receiving Yards: 2889
Yards Per Reception: 13.6
Receiving Touchdowns: 22
Rushing Yards: 144
Rushing Touchdowns: 3
Yards Per Carry: 6.3
N’Keal Harry was the lone bright spot in a lackluster offense and mediocre team overall. He was a consistent threat as a dynamic chain mover and point scorer, often making big plays to keep drives alive and utilizing his physical ability to win in the red zone. Harry is a playmaker and the leader of ASU’s young offense. He thrives in each part of the field capable of utilizing good technique and his size to win in each part of the field, dominating on the perimeter as a vertical threat. Harry led Arizona State’s offense with 73 receptions for 1088 yards and 9 touchdowns. He ranked top 4 in these categories in the PAC-12, while eclipsing the next receiver on the roster by more than 600 receiving yards and 30 receptions. As the clear number one receiver on the roster, Harry led ASU to home opener win in week one against Texas-San Antonio with 6 receptions for 140 yards and 2 scores in what turned into a 49-7 blowout victory. He went on to accrue four games of 6 reception 100+ yard games over the course of the season in what turned out to be his most productive year of his career. Harry is a great athlete with plus size and talent with the potential to be a playmaker at the next level.
The talented junior receiver is praised for his playmaking ability. Harry is a big-bodied receiver with a muscular frame and outstanding play strength. Possessing great overall athleticism, Harry consistently shows elite lateral agility and solid short area quickness. He is a long strider with good build-up speed capable of getting behind the defense as a vertical threat. This aids his ability to gain separation by keeping defenders honest, making them respect the vertical game, allowing him to lower his hips and break into the intermediate areas of the field. With good body control he has the talent to snap in and out of his breaks creating clean throwing windows and space between defenders. He is an outstanding downfield threat with an impressive jump ball ability, consistently attacking the ball at its highest point with strong hands and a large catch radius when his arms are fully extended. With an impressive understanding of timing and leverage, he can regularly break to the ball at the last moment using his frame as a wall to shield defenders and win at the catch point with great physical toughness and grit, decreasing the chance of deflections. His mental processing is off the charts, consistently tracking the ball effectively in each area of the field, while possessing the hands and flexibility to twist his body, adjust in air, and secure poorly thrown passes. He is an aggressive athlete who will dominate after the catch running through arm tackles and cloth grabs while displaying the agility to avoid tacklers in the open field. His talent and potential will translate smoothly to the next level.
There may be lots to like about the big-bodied athletic ASU product, but he is still an unpolished receiver with hiccups in his game that will need to be worked. Utilizing an awkward stance at the line, he often delays his release, tending to stutter step in order to generate more push before driving off the line of scrimmage. He will infrequently use his hands to fight off press coverage despite his physicality and length, struggling to keep his chest plate clean. Harry frequently takes wide angles to fight off press coverage giving away leverage before reaching his route stem relying on his burst to win the edge while he gets worked off his intended line. He will struggle to win with his quickness alone and will often turn to hesitation moves compensating for a lack of initial separation. He needs to learn how to actively engage using his hands at the line and within the contact window, but when he chooses to engage, he is capable of creating good spacing.
Harry is a prototypical boundary receiver whose tools and physical ability will translate nicely to the big stage. He is a big-bodied receiver with a large catch radius and surprising athleticism when considering his size with the talent to go up and get balls in any area of the field. He will translate immediately as a vertical threat impacting 3rd-down and red zone opportunities. NFL coaches will have the ability to refine his release and technique against press coverage while focusing on giving him more responsibility and route combinations. Although he will require some time to develop, Harry projects to be a playmaker with high upside early in his career.
Projected Round: 1-2
Team Fits: Cardinals, Jets, Ravens, Colts, Bills
NFL Comparison: Brandon Marshall
3. Kelvin Harmon: N.C. State University
Weight: 215 lbs
Career Stats: 35 Career Games
Receiving Yards: 2665
Yards Per Reception: 15.1
Receiving Touchdowns: 16
Kelvin Harmon has been one of the best college receivers for much of his career at N.C. State, continuing his dominance as an outside threat and making improbable catches in key situations. The Wolfpack’s star receiver was a bright spot in an offense that lacked other playmakers totaling 81 receptions for 1186 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was consistently the first option in the passing attack and the safety blanket for quarterback Ryan Finley. Harmon has produced two consecutive 1000-yard seasons and has demonstrated the ability to gain leverage when utilizing his size and physicality at the catch point. Named First Team All-ACC for his efforts in 2018, Harmon has repeatedly dominated defenses. After starting the season off slow against James Madison, he exploded the following week against Georgia State to claim their second victory of the year, posting 8 receptions for 129 yards. This would become his first 100-yard performance of six on the year. Harmon did everything he could against Syracuse, taking more than 11 receptions for 247 yards and two touchdowns to beat a division rival, ending with a team loss. Harmon is a big receiver with desirable physicality that will translate to the next level immediately.
Harmon has been a strong and physical presence in North Carolina State's offense throughout his career imposing his will on defenders, often creating “wow” plays. He is a big-bodied pass catcher with a large catch radius possessing outstanding build and play strength for the position. He is a solid overall athlete with a great blend of balance and power to keep his feet in contact, winning in jams at the line or in traffic. He is a physically dominant receiver who has no trouble beating cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage consistently displaying a seamless release and the understanding to use his length, keeping his frame clean, and utilizing a flurry of punches and clubs to generate additional space and bully defenders. Harmon is an extremely detail oriented player who thrives on technique and consistency showcasing the ability to vary his route speed prior to dropping his hips and breaking off the route stem. The All-ACC receiver has immense play strength capable of overpowering defensive backs in the contact window and knocking them out of position. Possessing strong hands and a large catch radius, Harmon can snatch the ball out of the air fully extending his body to reel in poorly thrown passes. With his big frame and physical persona, he will win in contested catch battles throughout each area of the field by utilizing his frame to shield defenders from the ball creating what seems to be an impenetrable wall. With the build-up speed to cause fits in the secondary and the size to bully defenders, Harmon is a big-time vertical threat who will be a priority weapon on 3rd-down and in the red zone. His drive and determination keep him aggressive throughout the duration of the play, often looking for free defenders to occupy and drive out of the play in run blocking opportunities. His prototypical size and featured physicality will translate smoothly at the next level.
Although Harmon is a solid overall athlete, his deep speed, quickness and lateral agility are the largest concerns revolving around the big North Carolina receiver. He isn’t overly quick or fast and takes time to build up to his top gear. His acceleration is lackluster and he isn’t the most explosive athlete in the class. He heavily relies on his frame and length to win and will struggle to gain adequate separation at the next level, and without short area quickness and high-end lateral mobility, it will be tough to beat defenders play-in and play-out with the same consistency. Although he has had limited opportunity, he struggles mightily to produce after the catch and will be a pure possession receiver in the NFL.
A physical marvel at the receiver position, Harmon has the size, technique and play strength to win on the boundary as a reliable 3rd-down and RedZone possession receiver at the next level. He has enough speed to threaten over the top and will consistently win in contested catch situations with excellent body control and timing. Although his athleticism isn’t remarkable, he has enough juice and the fundamental technique as a route runner to get enough separation to create throwing windows for his quarterback. He has all the tools to succeed as a vertical threat who can dominate with physicality in any area of the field. His technique and size allow him to play anywhere on the field, as he will be utilized as a mismatch in certain situations throughout a game. His 40-time will be one to watch as the NFL Draft process gets underway.
Projected Round: 1-2
Team Fits: Panthers, Cowboys, Bills, Lions
NFL Comparison: Kelvin Benjamin
4. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown: Oklahoma University
Weight: 170 lbs
Career Stats: 24 Career Games
Receiving Yards: 2413
Yards Per Reception: 18.3
Receiving Touchdowns: 17
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is one of the most explosive athletes in the 2019 Draft class, consistently creating highlight reel plays in Oklahoma's high-powered offense. After a year of catching passes from Baker Mayfield, the superpowered team transitioned to its second consecutive Heisman winner in Kyler Murray who developed a lasting chemistry with Brown throughout the 2018 season. Fueling one of the most explosive offenses in the country, his speed and overall athleticism helped him average an outstanding 17.6 yards per reception on route to a team-high 1,318 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns off of an impressive 75 receptions. He helped ignite the offense and was sensational in each part of the game accruing 6 games with more than 130 yards and 3 games with multiple touchdowns. He played a key role against, then, 20th ranked West Virginia, exploding for 11 receptions for 243 yards and 2 scores on route to a tight 59-56 victory. Unfortunately, he was forced to miss time with a lower-leg injury that took him off the field during the ACC championship game against Alabama. Hollywood is expected to put on a show during pre-draft workouts once he is healthy. He is one of the most refined athletes in the class.
Possessing an extremely high attention to detail, Marquise Brown is a polished athlete with excellent body control and balance, while demonstrating elite burst, short area quickness and lateral agility. He is praised for his athletic and playmaking ability, as Oklahoma’s standout receiver is a big play waiting to happen. He is extremely shifty and elusive in the open field possessing outstanding game speed to challenge over top of the secondary and outrun defenders in a foot race. Brown displays breakaway speed and a keen ability to gain separation in his route stem, showcasing the talent to embarrass defensive backs in one-on-one situations. He is a true deep threat who can close the defender’s cushion with ease while winning in any area of the field with technique, quickness and burst. Priding himself on the little things that make players great, Brown is one of the premier route runners in the class. Capable of varying his route speed in his stem after exploding off the line, he possesses the talent to drop his hips to move quickly in and out of his breaks. Showing outstanding stop and start talent to break off the stem and attack any layer of the field. His route stems and breaks are seamless. Brown has shown soft hands throughout his career, consistently plucking the ball out of the air. He is an electric playmaker with the talent to escape coverage, make tough catches across the field and dominate in open space, routinely avoiding tackles and creating in space.
Brown may be a refined and explosive playmaking receiver, but he doesn’t come without concerns and questions regarding his overall play. His work ethic and talent will never be questioned, but the Sooners’ playmaker’s size and play strength are red flags. Standing at just 5’10” and weighing a concerning 170 pounds, Hollywood has an enormous risk for injury; his durability has already been tested, as he’s missed multiple games throughout his career. He possesses a very small frame, short arms and less than ideal strength to win in contact. He can’t match up against physical defenders and struggles mightily to get off press coverage once the defender engages his body. In the contact window he will get thrown from his line, delaying his route and throwing his timing out the window. He will not win in contested catch situations with his short arms and small frame, generating marginal power to stand strong against defenders.
His size and play style offer limited options regarding his versatility, and he will translate to a slot receiver working as a puzzle piece for any offensive coordinator that gets their hands on him. He will need to be utilized in motion to get him moving prior to the snap and to minimize press coverage giving him free release from the line of scrimmage.
Hollywood’s nickname derived from a knack for producing the “wow” play on a consistent game by game basis. He is an extremely explosive athlete with game changing ability. He is refined and will make an immediate impact at the next level. His speed and quickness will be desired as a slot receiver who can come in and produce during his rookie year; however, the OC will need to game plan specific ways to get Brown the ball in space. He will not be very effective in traffic and his durability will be a question mark for the better part of his early career. Barring his health, Marquise Brown has the chance to become an elite and foundational piece of an offense in the NFL.
Projected Round: 2
Team Fits: 49ers, Falcons, Patriots, Seahawks
NFL Comparison: Tyler Lockett
5. AJ Brown: University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Weight: 230 lbs
Career Stats: 35 Career Games
Receiving Yards: 2984
Yards Per Reception: 15.8
Receiving Touchdowns: 19
Ole Miss had one of the best receiving corps in the country, consisting of D.K. Metcalf, Dawson Knox and AJ Brown. Brown is an undeniably great athlete with sensational body control and exceptional technique as a route runner. Brown and Metcalf made up the best receiver duo in the country for the first 6 games of the 2018 campaign, but after Metcalf suffered his season ending neck injury, Brown took over as the number one option in the passing game, finishing with an impressive 85 receptions, 1,320 yards and 6 touchdowns. He was a foundational piece of the offense and a team leader on and off the field. Accruing six 100+ yard games, Brown was the lone bright spot, turning in a dominant performance against Auburn recording 10 receptions for 155 yards and a score. His most impressive performance came against Vanderbilt in an overtime loss that saw Brown take 9 receptions for 212 yards and a score providing 23.6 yards per reception. He is a sensational talent who consistently rises to play at a higher level against stronger opponents.
Possessing great size and athleticism, Brown is a handful to defend in every area of the field. Displaying impeccable stop and start ability, he is capable of stopping on a dime and accelerating to full speed in a flash. The Ole Miss receiver shows good quickness while weaving in and out of would be tacklers with excellent lateral agility. The Rebel is an explosive athlete with the talent to burst off the line where he utilizes a quick first step and smooth release. He has solid deep speed capable of beating coverage downfield or across the middle, and is a polished route runner with the talent to utilize his quickness and size to separate and box out defenders. He is capable of effectively manipulating the defensive back with a flurry of head fakes, stride and speed variation, while breaking down and lowering his hips to break back to the ball, generating separation and opening a clean throwing window for the quarterback. His attention to detail and work ethic is unparalleled. Brown has shown soft hands and a wide catch radius with outstretched arms. He consistently makes tough grabs, often gearing down to catch low and poorly thrown passes or climbing the ladder, while making acrobatic catches in the air. Capable of making tough catches in heavy traffic across the middle, Brown is a big threat in each area of the field, often playing as a big slot receiver with the versatility to play on the boundary as a vertical threat. He will often avoid the first defender and pick up good yards after the catch. Brown is a dynamic athlete who has the potential to make a smooth transition to the NFL.
Brown may be a proficient route runner with great overall athleticism and an excellent attention to detail, but he lacks elite explosion, short area burst and straight line speed. He doesn’t possess proficient footwork and consistently struggles to beat defenders in a foot race often getting dragged down from behind in the open field. He has been almost exclusively worked out of the slot throughout his entire career and lacks the experience and tenure as an outside threat. However, he shouldn’t be thought of solely as a slot receiver, as he has the talent, size and ability to play the boundary. He won’t gain separation from quickness alone needing to use his technique and cause hesitation in the defender to gain a step. Although he may possess a large catch radius, he struggles to fully extend his arms and capture balls thrown outside his frame. His 40-time will be one to keep an eye on as Draft season gets underway; he may play faster than he runs at the combine, but his outside speed is a concern.
AJ Brown’s size, play strength and technique allow him to be an elite weapon out of the slot in the short to intermediate parts of the field often displaying excellent route running ability and great mental processing to diagnose the defense and identify where he is on the field. He lacks the necessary quickness to gain immediate separation, but his size and football IQ give him the potential to become a versatile weapon inside and out. He has the talent and tools to succeed as an outstanding “big” slot receiver with the capability to move all over the field in key matchups. He will be a mismatch at the next level as a reliable target in a passing attack, eating across the middle of the field.
Projected Round: 2-3
Team Fits: Steelers, Colts, patriots, Titans
NFL Comparison: Juju Smith-Schuster