Shane Alexander’s 2017 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings

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2017 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings(Click to enlarge table)

Click here for a full explanation of methodology and categories used in the chart above.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]“The Alpha”

Corey Davis had 331 receptions in his four-year career at Western Michigan and totaled 5,278 yards (15.9 average) with 52 touchdown receptions. Davis accounted for 43% of Western Michigan’s receiving yards and 54% of their receiving touchdowns during his tenure in Kalamazoo. Simply put, Corey Davis was nearly unstoppable, and far exceeded normal standards of individual success, despite playing in a non-power five conference and being the clear focus of opposing defenses each week. A quick Twitter search for his name will reveal comparisons to A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, and Allen Robinson – which means he’s a future multiple Pro Bowler if he can live up to the hype and follow those career trajectories. What makes Davis special is that while he has success at the line of scrimmage and at the catch point, it’s what he does after the catch that separates him from opposing defenses and peers in this class. It’s not just breakaway speed, it’s also unique field vision. There is a purpose to every reception and a plan for optimal yardage. Corey Davis is a clear 1st rounder and with the “Dominant” and “Rare” tags, I’d be comfortable drafting him in the top 5-10. The only (and potentially significant) red mark is an injury that isn’t healing to the speed that he or evaluators would like. Davis was not been able to do any testing at the Combine or his pro day, so his athletic evaluation is being done on blind faith, based on presumptions and inference from his four years of tape. If he were a more unexperienced, unproductive, or questionable character type of player, not having testing numbers would be a much bigger deal than it is for him. For teams like Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, who should upgrade at wide receiver, Davis must be at the top of their boards in this class.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]John Ross & Mike Williams

No one in this class is as electric as John Ross. There is no spot on the field that he can’t score from when he catches the ball. You can’t teach 4.22 speed, and it would be easy to highlight that as Ross’s biggest asset, but the thing I most appreciate about him are his feet – more specifically how manipulative he is with them. He can turn a slant into a fade, or a 9 route into a stop in a literal instant. The worst thing a cornerback can do is overthink, and that’s what Ross causes them to have to do. Because he can affect a secondary to such a degree, I’m willing to overlook (but not disregard) his previous injury history and rank him as my #2 receiver. The New England Patriots have won multiple Super Bowls with a gang of undersized receivers, Antonio Brown is arguably the best receiver in football and he’s not “big.” What Ross lacks in size he makes up for with speed and technical proficiency. A team like the Carolina Panthers should be finding a way to get him on their roster.

Clemson’s Mike Williams wins in a totally opposite way from the two players above. He may not beat you at the line of scrimmage or blow by defensive backs vertically, but few prospects do as good of a job as Williams at boxing out at the catch point and winning “big.” The worry about Williams’s lack of separation is mostly overblown because he’s not the size that Laquon Treadwell was a year ago when he fell off of many boards due to his below-average testing. Williams tested in the 91st, 86th, and 87th percentiles respectively in height, weight, and arm length. He’s going to be bigger than the cornerbacks he faces most of the time. Lack of elite speed and separation only becomes a detriment when the player lacks traits to overcome it, but Williams has those necessary traits. Looking at how the first round sets up, I could easily see teams like Buffalo, Arizona, Baltimore or Tennessee adding Williams in the mid-1st.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]2nd Round Depth

The true depth of this wide receiver class is found in round 2, with a group of players who offer a variety of skillsets at a potentially high level. Penn State’s Chris Godwin is one of my favorite players in the entire class, and he finished his final two years in Happy Valley with 2,000+ yards and 16 touchdowns averaging over 16 yards per catch. Godwin is special at tracking the ball and winning at the catch point. Zay Jones tallied 2,800 yards and 13 touchdowns at East Carolina in 2015-2016 to put himself on the radar, then had a phenomenal week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl in January, and followed all of that up by blowing up the NFL Combine last month. USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster is the youngest player in this class, not turning 21 until November, which leads me to believe he has some of highest upside of anyone in this draft given how successful he was during his three years USC. I enjoy how physical he can be against defensive backs, and his best trait is his ability to be a deep threat. Speaking of deep threats, Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds makes his living downfield and at the catch point, making winning at the apex of the route an art form. He projects ideally as a high-end #2 WR with the potential be to a team’s #1 by year three. Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson plays quicker than his 4.52 forty and plays bigger than his 5’11’’ frame. A yards-after-catch machine, Henderson can play on the outside or in the slot. For any team who has an established WR1, adding Henderson as a complementary #2 in the second round should be a priority. The last receiver I gave a round 2 grade to was Western Kentucky’s Taywan Taylor. Ultra-productive and incredibly athletic player. Over 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns in his final two years in college, Taylor was exceptional in Mobile and then tested in the 96th percentile in the three cone and broad jump. Taylor can play in the slot, but he’s talented enough to win on the boundary. He stretches defenses deep and is capable of running a complete route tree.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Potential Mid-Round Gems

  • Curtis Samuel (Ohio State) – The Percy Harvin-like player in this class. Raw but with high upside, get Samuel in the slot and let him utilize his 4.31 speed.
  • ArDarius Stewart (Alabama) – Another player who thrives after the catch, but is also a physical blocker and downfield. Stewart can be motioned and gadgeted around as needed. Long-term high-end WR3 in the NFL.
  • Ishmael Zamora (Baylor) – He’s troubling due to a video of him that went viral last summer, that featured him savagely whipping a dog. That kind of incident will cause many teams to drop him down the board, and rightfully so. On the field, few players can flaunt his size, speed, and physicality. A true boom or bust player on Day 3.
  • Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) – The 24-year-old received major hype from big media members following his Senior Bowl performance. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking him in the first two rounds, but on Day 3 I’d be happy to have him as a potential #2 receiver down the road.

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