Top Five 2017 NFL Draft Prospects- Wide Receiver
These guys will look to become the future playmakers of NFL franchises. Today I rank the top five wide receiver prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft.
1. Mike Williams, Clemson
Bio: After a fairly productive freshman, Mike Williams took a big step forward in 2014 by being a reliable target for a freshman Deshaun Watson. In 2016, he caught 84 passes for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns, putting up highlight-reel plays on several occasions.
Strengths: Prototypical height, weight, speed prospect. Filled out as well as any receiver in college football. Sells vertical push to create hesitation from backpedaling cornerbacks. Uses hands to create late separation on vertical throws. Long arms and big hands can go get throws at their highest point, snatching 50/50 balls away from defenders. Ball tracking is superb. Able to track it inside, outside or over his shoulder. Hands catcher who plucks it away from his body. Has body control to dig out the low balls and contort to grab throws his quarterback leaves behind him. Concentration ramps up when routes take him between the hashes. Works middle of the field with no remorse about what is about to happen. Was asked to work all three levels of the field at Clemson. Can make cornerbacks miss after the catch and extend the play. Needs more commitment as a run blocker but has frame and strength to make a difference as a one.
Weaknesses: Will occasionally run into focus drops. Drops issue found him over second half of the 2016 season. Route work lacks focus and energy. Creates very little indecision from cornerbacks with his head fakes and jab steps. Ability to win with physical traits could dry up on next level. Could use better understanding of route leverage to open wider passing lanes for quarterbacks. Lacks crispness as does acceleration from his cuts. Average release quickness. Gets hung up by press corners with a good lead jab. Needs to play more to his size. Gets muscled against sideline too often. Fumbling can be an issue. Neck injury forced him to miss entire 2015 season so until he clears combine medicals, teams may have a red flag on him.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Plaxico Burress
Possible landing spot: Philadelphia Eagles
2. John Ross, Washington
Bio: At Washington, John Ross showed versatility as a wide receiver and cornerback. In 2016, he broke out on to the scene recording 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Strengths: Has top gear to yank the top off of defenses. Vertical speed demands respect and creates open throws underneath. Corners open hips early to turn and sprint, leaving his curl and dig routes unchallenged. Feet are excellent. On verticals from the slot, sells the corner route and stems to the post with a burst for easy separation and a comfortable throwing window for the quarterback. Hands are solid. Above average hand-eye coordination. Natural ball-tracker who locates the deep ball early and locks on to it. Dangerous show-and-go open-field ability after the catch. Able to win with slants or fades near the goal line. Eludes the first tackler and can turn a short fain into a long one in a heartbeat. Has enough size to work from outside or from the slot. Saw four of his eight carries go for 15 or more yards. Has returned at least one kickoff for a touchdown in each of his three years at Washington.
Weaknesses: Undersized with below-average play strength. Struggled to get into his routes cleanly and impact the game against the physical cornerbacks at Alabama. Weight will creep too far out over his toes at times. Film shows occasional stumbles over nothing but turf in his routes and after the catch. Needs to do better job of working back to the throw. Has to learn to make contested catches. Will need to sharpen his short and intermediate routes to become a true three-level target. Has had a major ACL injuries to both knees. The long-term health of both knees will be a concern that has to be answered at the combine.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Will Fuller
Possible landing spot: Buffalo Bills
3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Bio: Despite being just a two star recruit, Corey Davis was a great target for the Broncos and was named the MAC freshman of the year in 2013. By his senior year, he had become college football's all time leader in receiving yards with 5,285 and was named the MAC offensive player of the year.
Strengths: Incredible four-year production. Type A attitude on the field and not afraid to take on the challenge of heavy target load. Excellent competitiveness. Focused like a laser when ball is in the air. Tracks the deep ball as well as anyone in college and understands how to stack cornerbacks and keep them on his hip. Has second gear to run under deep balls. Excels in intermediate and deep parts of the field. Route running showed improvement from year to year. Variable route speed creates indecision for defenders. Vertical routes are crisp and create tilt in off-corners and safeties that he is quick to take advantage of. Play speed features access to functional burst. Can easily beat inside leverage. A quarterback's friend who works aggressively back to the ball. Dominant in the red zone. High-point catcher who uses well timed leaps and long arms to win the 50/50 throws. Increases physicality and acceleration out of routes when operating near the goal line.
Weaknesses: Doesn't always sell his vertical routes aggressively enough to make cornerbacks open their hips early. Drifts, at times, on in-breaking routes, allowing defenders to squeeze the route. Needs to improve quickness into and out of his breaks underneath. Elongated into breaks when working from slot. Has had some issues with focus drops on throws outside of his frame. Had 16 drops over last three years at Western Michigan. Free releases into his routes in college will turn into tough press challenges in the pros. Wasn't asked to do much meaningful run blocking.
Projected Round: 1
Compares to: Larry Fitzgerald
Possible landing spot: Seattle Seahawks
4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
Bio: Upon arriving at USC, John "JuJu" Smith-Schuster took steps to become the next great Trojan receiver. As a true freshman, he was dominant as a receiver and kick returner.
Strengths: Ideal size and a very available target. Shows no concern working over the middle. Known for his competitive spirit and alpha personality. Very aware of defenders around him in space. Works back to the ball as aggressively as he needs to when defenders are attempting to break on the ball. Plays zone coverage like a fiddle. Plays to his size and has plus route strength. Shows effective uses of frame to shield cornerbacks from contested catches. Plucks it way out front of his body with strong, confident hands. Tremendous ball tracker with ability to search, find and follow the pass in over his shoulder. Has body control to twist and contort in mid-air to pull the ball in. Plays with sideline awareness and consistently drops feet in-bounds on boundary routes. Rugged, aggressive runner after the catch with a stiff-arm to kill defender's confidence. Has field vision after catch for maximum YAC. Reliable blocker who can help spring a big run. Able to sustain blocks with power.
Weaknesses: Needs to get better at freeing himself at the break point of his routes. Doesn't seem to get cornerbacks biting with his routes. Missing the sudden acceleration out of his cuts to generate separation and an easy throwing window. Contested catches will have to be a big part of his future. Rarely shows a second gear to run under the deep balls. Will coast when turning to find deep ball rather than maintaining play speed. Off-man corners may squat on underneath routes if they don't fear his vertical speed. Can be slow to release against press coverage. Plays with a delayed open to the quarterback on his comeback routes. Will need to pay better attention to his angles as a blocker. Eight of his ten touchdowns of 2016 came in three games. Has fought through injuries throughout the past few years, missing time in his senior year of high school, breaking his hand in 2015, and injuring his back during his junior year.
Projected Round: 1-2
Compares to: Michael Floyd
Possible landing spot: Los Angeles Rams
5. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
Bio: After originally committing to Texas State, Dede Westbrook chose instead to play junior college ball. He then chose Oklahoma as his next stop, earning the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2015. The next year, he registered 80 catches for 1,524 and 17 touchdowns.
Strengths: Plays with sudden feet in tight quarters. Uncovers quickly while working underneath. Rhythmic movement in his routes. Dangerous after the catch. Vertical transitions in his routes are smooth and sudden with loads of acceleration. Patient in routes and reads corners hips to time his cuts. Works back to almost every throw with suction cup hands. Improviser who finds open spots for a scrambling quarterback. Leverages cornerbacks toward hash to create throwing room to boundary on fades and go routes. Long speed looks legit. Runs under and through the deep ball with desired tracking over his shoulder. More than 25% of his catches went for 25+ yards in 2016. Plays bigger than his size. Willing worker in front of safeties in middle of the field. Shadow blocker, but willing to maintain positioning as long as he has to. Utilized as kick and punt returner in important spots. Had punt return touchdown and kick return of 63 yards in 2016.
Weaknesses: Twig like legs and frame. Could have issues holding up against NFL size. Can be a little careless with the simple routes. Needs to back corners off with greater show of vertical push into routes. Play speed is inconsistent. Ohio State leveraged him against the boundary and he couldn't escape. Production helped along by woeful opponents across from him. Allowed free releases and rarely faced physical challenges at cornerback. Could struggle with contested catches on the next level due to size. Scheme allowed for less safety help over the top and more one-on-one looks. Character concerns will need to be addressed with NFL teams. Was accused of domestic violence against the mother of his two children in 2012 and 2013, though he was never convicted in either case.
Projected Round: 2
Compares to: Cordarrelle Patterson
Possible landing spot: Dallas Cowboys