Written By Jason Feiner
The NFL and Collegiate seasons are in the books, and with the Combine only a week away, the offseason is about to kick its dry spell and heat up. We are entering draft season, and each prospect will have a chance to raise or lower their stock. In each draft, we find a few teams reaching to fill an area of need, and with the receiver position at a premium, we may just see a repeat of the 2017 NFL draft. Three receivers found their way into the top 10, and with a number of pass-catchers with the potential to make immediate impacts on their drafting team this year, the draft may become interesting fast. There are multiple teams in need of a reliable target; the 49ers jump off the page.
Each draft is different, and these prospects all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but their values have a chance to rise leading up to the highly anticipated 2018 NFL draft. The football world’s energy is about to spike, and the Combine is an excellent way to discover talent and determine the collegiate elite.
Let us take a look at the top five receivers this draft class has to offer. Will one of these five be leading your team in the coming years?
1. Christian Kirk: Texas A&M University
Career Stats: 38 Games
Receiving Yards: 2796
Yards Per Reception: 12.2
Receiving Touchdowns: 26
Christian Kirk was the leader of Texas A&M’s underclassman-filled roster. He is a versatile player contributing to each phase of the game. He thrives when working across the middle of the field and has the ability to be a dominant threat on the outside. Kirk led A&M’s offense with 71 catches for 919 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was also a contributor on special teams over the course of his career; he averaged 22 yards per punt return on 37 attempts and scored on 7 return efforts (one on kickoff returns and six on punts). Kirk led the Aggies to their third win of the season with a dominant performance over Arkansas. He had 5 receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while returning three punts for 136 yards and another score. Kirk is an outstanding athlete with the potential to be an electric playmaker at the next level.
Although Kirk saw a lot of double coverage throughout the 2017 season, he still produced like a number one receiver. He is a well-built player with outstanding agility and balance. He possesses excellent short area quickness and lateral burst with a great stop and start ability. Kirk has exceptional foot quickness and is extremely fluid in the open field. He is a special athlete with great explosion with the speed to close a corner’s cushion and outrun defenders in open space. He displays good burst off the line of scrimmage and utilizes active hands when faced with press coverage. He is very fluid with great body control. Kirk is an excellent route runner with impressive quickness in and out of his breaks. He is very elusive and sudden. He consistently shows the capability to separate from the defender in the middle of the field. He has shown the talent to sink his hips and attack the ball. Kirk has strong hands and utilizes excellent concentration and mental toughness to fight for the ball in traffic. He has the talent to dip and scoop low and poorly thrown balls, while consistently high pointing the ball in the air. Very physical and decisive, Kirk fights for each yard with the ball in his hands.
Although there is a lot to like about the Aggies star receiver, he doesn’t show the desired burst into his routes, as he does not possess elite acceleration. He has shown the ability to play outside, but he is shorter than most outside threats and has a smaller catch radius. He has the versatility to be moved all over the field but his bread and butter will be in the slot while gaining tough yards on short and intermediate routes. His largest area of concern falls under ball protection. He has 8 total fumbles throughout his career and will need to protect the ball more consistently at the next level to be a reliable target.
Christian Kirk is a well-built, mentally tough receiver capable of playing all over the field. He has the speed to beat corners deep and the quickness to win across the middle. He is an extremely versatile weapon who competes on each snap. Kirk will be a high-value impact player in each phase of the game. He is an electric athlete that will contribute heavily on offense and special teams early in his career.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: 49ers, Cardinals, Patriots, Bears
NFL Comparison: Odell Beckham Jr.
2. Calvin Ridley: University of Alabama
Career Stats: 44 Games
Receptions: 224 Receptions
Receiving Yards: 2781
Yards Per Reception: 12.4
Receiving Touchdowns: 19
Calvin Ridley helped lead Alabama to a College Football National Championship this past season. He was the leader of their offense and was sensational in each aspect of the game. He played all over the field displaying excellent athletic ability while capturing 63 receptions for 967 yards and 5 touchdowns during the 2017 campaign. Ridley played exceptionally well with the opportunities presented in Alabama’s run-heavy system. Their sophomore quarterback, Jalen Hurts, didn’t offer much assistance with his severe passing limitations. Ridley shined throughout the season recording 171 yards on five receptions in a win against 19th ranked Mississippi State. He was clutch, coming alive in the fourth quarter of the National Championship to secure the game-tying touchdown and a key first down, putting the Tide in field goal range with a chance to win (missed attempt). Ridley is regarded by most as the number one receiver in the class, and with a strong performance at the combine he may just fit the bill.
The talented junior is praised for his athletic ability. Ridley has excellent agility, balance and exceptional short area quickness and lateral burst. He is extremely shifty and elusive in the open field. He is a fluid athlete with great explosion and outstanding game speed. He displays breakaway speed and the ability to gain separation. He is a true deep threat with the long speed capable of embarrassing his defender in one-on-one situations. He consistently takes the top off a defense and closes defenders’ cushions with ease. Ridley is one of the premiere route runners with a rare ability most players don’t possess at the collegiate level. His route stems and breaks are seamless, and he displays the talent to drop his hips to move quickly in and out of his breaks. Ridley has shown soft hands throughout his career, consistently plucking the ball out of the air. He attacks the ball on the move and can gear down to catch poorly thrown balls. He has the flexibility to climb a ladder and twist his body to make difficult catches in awkward positions. He is an electric playmaker with the talent to work open, make tough catches across the field and avoid defenders in open space.
Although Ridley is regarded as the top consensus wide receiver for most teams, he doesn’t come without concerns. He is paper thin at 190 pounds; even worse, fear has been building that he may measure under his listed weight. He struggles to get off the line against longer and more physical defenders. He needs to add more weight to his build and generate more strength. Physical corners restrict him, as he is often impeded by contact. Calvin Ridley has had issues with dropped balls throughout his career, and his ability to catch the ball in traffic Is in question. Ridley has never missed time due to injury, but his thin frame causes concern.
Ridley ran a full route tree and has been developed in Alabama’s pro-style offense. He has game-changing athletic ability, blazing speed and is an outstanding route runner. He filled Amari Cooper’s shoes as a true freshman and has been the most consistent presence in the Crimson Tide’s offense over the past three seasons. Ridley is a versatile weapon with the speed to threaten defenses deep and the quickness to beat defenders inside and across the middle. Ridley is one of the top offensive products in this class with the potential to be one of the more productive and dangerous receivers in the league.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: 49ers, Bears, Packers, Ravens
NFL Comparison: Amari Cooper
3. Courtland Sutton: Southern Methodist University
Career Stats: 40 Games
Receiving Yards: 3220
Yards Per Reception: 16.5
Receiving Touchdowns: 31
Courtland Sutton played exceptionally well for Southern Methodist University throughout the 2017 season and continued his dominance as a dynamic red zone threat and point scorer. He was one of the few bright spots on SMU’s offense, totaling 68 receptions for 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sutton is a physical, big-bodied pass catcher with the ability to gain leverage when utilizing his body. Sutton dominated defenses, as he was named first team all-conference in his fourth year. His stats slightly declined this past year, but that can be attributed to his pairing with Trey Quinn as dual 1,000-yard receivers. Quinn totaled 114 receptions for 1236 yards and 13 touchdowns while playing the majority of SMU’s snaps in the slot. Sutton had a slow start to the season as he only caught 2 balls for 22 yards and a touchdown in the first game of the season against Stephen F. Austin; however, he rebounded in a big way the following week. He dominated North Texas to the tune of 8 receptions for 163 yards while hauling in 4 touchdowns. Sutton is a huge receiver with a surprising athletic ability that should smoothly translate to the next level.
Sutton has been a strong and physical presence in SMU’s offense. He is a big-bodied pass catcher with a large catching radius. Sutton has an outstanding build for the position standing at 6'4" and weighing 216 pounds. He surprisingly is a great overall athlete for his size with a great blend of balance and power to keep his feet through contact and in the open field. He is a dangerous deep threat who has been able to generate explosive plays throughout his career. He has good build up speed and possesses the ability to hit a second gear and run past coverage. Sutton is a physical presence on the outside with excellent body control. He utilizes his hands extraordinarily well against press coverage, as he often displays a powerful punch to generate space off the line. He frequently creates mismatches using his agility, balance, and power to create separation. He is extremely effective when he utilizes his size to gain leverage and acts as a basketball big man by boxing out defenders. He has excellent hands and possesses the ability to climb the ladder and win jump balls consistently. He can pull the ball down in tight coverage and is unfazed in traffic with the ability to concentrate through the catch process. Surprisingly shifty, Sutton has shown the talent to make the first defender miss and run through contact in the second and third levels. He is a strong athlete who eliminates defenders from the play sustaining his blocks and consistently opening daylight for his back.
Although Sutton is a good athlete, he has a lot of areas that he could improve on. Sutton doesn’t have elite acceleration or the typical “wow” burst most receivers are known for. He is a fluid athlete, but he doesn’t consistently explode off the line and needs to clean up his technique. He tends to drift at the top of his route and heavily relies on his size rather than his quickness and technique. Sutton hasn’t been required to run a full route tree and may take time to adjust to a pro-style offense. He has trouble gaining separation strictly using his athleticism and will need to improve his short area quickness, or he may be blanketed in coverage across the field.
Courtland Sutton is an imposing force on the offensive side of the ball. He is a tough and physical wideout with outstanding size for the position. He is a matchup nightmare in the red-zone and will gain immediate playing time as a possession receiver. He will need to improve his route running and his overall athleticism, but the key to his success remains in his size and physicality. He knows how to use his length to his benefit and beat defenders consistently deep downfield or across the middle in tight coverage. It will take time for Sutton to learn an NFL offensive scheme, but he has the size, talent and drive to succeed as a weapon at the next level.
Projected Round: 2
Team Fits: Bears, Ravens, Panthers, Rams
NFL Comparison: Mike Evans
4. Equanimeous St. Brown: University of Notre Dame
Career Stats: 27 Games
Receiving Yards: 1484
Yards Per Reception: 16.1
Receiving Touchdowns: 13
The Notre Dame product had a vastly underwhelming year for the Irish. He was underutilized in their offensive scheme, and his true freshman quarterback certainly didn’t help. Equanimeous St. Brown finished the 2017 season with just 33 receptions for 515 yards and four touchdowns. He consistently got open, as he is a polished route runner, but the Irish’s limited passing offense led the 6’5” receiver to an unspectacular season. He was dominant against Stanford in the second to last game of the season, securing 5 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. Over a fifth of St. Brown’s total yardage from the 2017 season came from this one game. He showed off his quickness and polished route running in a contest that truly showcased his talent.
Equanimeous St. Brown is a very intriguing prospect and has the talent to succeed at the next level. He’s a tall and athletic receiver with quick feet and great balance. He has outstanding lateral burst, and when coupled with his ability to gain separation over the middle of the field he has the potential to be a dangerous weapon. St. Brown is an explosive athlete with the talent to burst off the line where he utilizes quick first step and smooth release. He has tremendous build up 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 consistently drops his hips in and out of his breaks, which is generally more difficult for bigger receiving threats. St. Brown is a talented and fluid playmaker with the size and speed to give defensive coordinators fits. St. Brown has displayed soft hands and wide catch radius. He has the talent to stretch his arms out and haul in the ball away from his body. St. Brown consistently made tough catches, often gearing down to catch low and poorly thrown passes. He has shown the ability to go up and climb the ladder while making acrobatic catches in the air.
St. Brown is a very talented prospect but has many areas in which he can grow as a pass catcher and all-around player. He is tall and shifty with the ability to gain separation from defenders, but he plays with a lack of strength and power due to his smaller size. He is very lanky and cannot power through defenders or bully them when attacking the ball, shies away from contact, and struggles when blanketed in close coverage. He can get caught at the line of scrimmage against big-bodied corners and has the potential to be redirected. He utilizes a nice head fake and uses his arm length to eventually break off from press coverage. There are concerns revolving around his durability entering the next level, as he is a tall but light receiver who has struggled with injuries in the past. He will need to add weight to prevent future injuries, while also gaining the power to beat defenders consistently.
St. Brown is a versatile weapon with the speed and size desired in true deep threats and the fluidity, athleticism and body control coveted in slot receivers. He has the ability to thrive as an outside receiver who continuously works over the middle with the opportunity to run after the catch. He is a speedy, elusive and big weapon with the skill to turn short yardage plays into home runs. He will get plenty of chances to show his talents at the next level and could be the golden ticket for some receiver-needy team to get their hands on. With the Combine only a week away, St. Brown will need to show off his athleticism and speed, but it is likely that he will increase his draft stock after a downward spiral of a season.
Projected Round: 2–3
Team Fits: Steelers, Packers, Saints, Cardinals
NFL Comparison: A.J. Green
5. James Washington: Oklahoma State University
Career Stats: 51 Games
Receiving Yards: 4472
Yards Per Reception: 19.8
Receiving Touchdowns: 39
James Washington has been one of the most productive receivers at the collegiate level for the last four seasons. He helped lead Oklahoma State to a national ranking of 14th while hauling in 74 receptions for 1549 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged over 20 yards per reception this past season and has been a dominant deep threat throughout his impressive career. Washington had the benefit of catching passes from highly regarded quarterback Mason Rudolph, who is arguably the best deep ball passer in college football. Washington has immense talent and potential as he begins to focus his sights on an NFL career. He had a strong performance in the opening week of the season in a blowout win against Tulsa, accruing six receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns on the day. is most impressive showing came in a week four loss to the 9th ranked TCU Horned Frogs, where he played exceptionally well against one of the better secondaries in college football with 6 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown. Washington never played down to his opponent and frequently rose to the challenge against tougher teams.
Washington has game-changing talent. He is a physical athlete with excellent body control and balance. He is a big play waiting to happen as an explosive player with dangerous build up speed. He has the ability to beat a corner deep and exhibited impressive ball tracking awareness. Washington is extremely fluid and consistently displayed a smooth release from the line and a quick first step. He is a powerful player who utilizes active hands to fight out of a jam and push defenders out of position. He’s very efficient when working out of press coverage and can often beat man-to-man coverage with his combination of strength, balance, and quickness. Washington also has extremely strong hands, consistently making tough contested catches all over the field and displaying assassin-like concentration. He does not let traffic or contact disrupt his playmaking ability, as he attacks the ball at its highest point and twists his body to make mind-boggling catches. He has great instincts and frequently gets his feet down in bounds to complete a play.
Washington is a very physical athlete with great build up speed, however, he doesn’t possess great acceleration or elite quickness. It takes him time to build up to full speed and can have trouble gaining separation early in his route. Washington’s most concerning area lies in his route running ability. He is not a natural route runner, as he’s very stiff and fails to sink his hips in and out of his breaks, often getting lost at the top of his route. Oklahoma State did not ask Washington to learn or run a full route tree. He was a one trick pony in college and will need to become a polished route runner to have success at the next level. Washington is not especially shifty with the ball in his hands, but while he has trouble avoiding contact in open space he has shown the ability to outrun angles once he reaches full speed. Washington will primarily work as an outside receiver with big-play ability.
James Washington has a lot of talent and has great big play ability. He has excellent build up speed with the ability to beat corners deep consistently, which he showed with a career 19.8 yards per reception average. He loves contact and will be an excellent possession and deep threat pass catcher at the next level. He will need to improve his route running ability, but he has a lot of potential to succeed as a sure-handed and reliable target in an NFL system.
Projected Round: 2–3
Team Fits: Ravens, Cardinals, Packers, 49ers
NFL Comparison: Anquan Boldin