Today I’ll be continuing with Part 2 of my 2018 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings, covering wide receivers 15-11. The group of receivers below is made up of two high floor Z receiving prospects and three of the best pure slot receivers in the class. These receivers should be solid to strong complimentary pieces for their respective future NFL teams with the way the offenses are currently utilizing the Z and Slot receiver position in the passing game.
15. Byron Pringle, Kansas State, 6-2, 205 pounds – Tier 4
Strengths: Very good acceleration and quickness to release into his route. Good football intelligence to set cornerbacks up with deceptive maneuvers. Strong and precise route runner displaying the flexibility to sink his hips and run sharp angles to create separation at the top of his routes. Deceptive double move on the stop and go route. This was put on display down in Mobile during practices at the Senior Bowl. Positions himself nicely while stacking the cornerback and tracking passes in over his shoulder. Good run after catch ability possessing good speed and elusiveness to make a man miss and win in open space. Displays a strong willingness to block in the run game.
Weaknesses: Pringle’s hands are the main concern about his game as he transitions to the NFL. Body catches too often. When he does attempt to extend he’ll display less than ideal technique as well as the occasional lapse in focus leading to drops.
Scheme Fit: Z receiver for a vertical offense that works the intermediate and deep parts of the field.
One- and Three-Year Projection: First year starter on special teams as a kick returner. Ability to be a WR3 due to his route running ability. Should be a good WR3 to solid WR2 by year three in the NFL.
Draft Grade: Mid 3rd Round
Teams to Watch: Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers
14. Richie James, Middle Tennessee State University, 5-9, 178 pounds – Tier 3
Strengths: When I spoke with James this winter (the full interview is available in the 2018 ITP Draft Guide) I could immediately tell that he’s passionate about football and is a highly intelligent player. This was evident by how quickly and vividly he described his would-be assignments on random situations I tossed at him. In addition to his football intelligence James is an extraordinary athlete. He possesses great explosiveness and a very good combination of speed, quickness, suddenness and agility. High football intelligence to diagnose coverages by reading the safeties and cornerbacks. Makes press defenders miss with deceptive fakes and displays very good separation quickness at the top of his routes. Tough player that embraces contact in the middle of the field to make contested catches. Strong hands to make catches within his frame and tracks the ball over his shoulder extremely well with very good body control. High effort player who never gives up on plays. Very good elusiveness with the ball in his hands to slip past defenders and use cut back lanes for run after the catch.
Weaknesses: Size is a concern for James as it not only limits him to a slot only role, but impacts how often he’ll stay on the field. Durability concerns might be the biggest knock on him at this point in the draft process, especially after missing most of the 2017 season with a high ankle sprain and collarbone injuries. Often lets the ball travel into his breastplate which could jar the ball free on contested catch opportunities despite his knack for converting this type of play at Middle Tennessee State University. As he mentioned during our conversation – James needs to better control his speed and pace at which he runs his routes. Can lose his balance due to running out of control at times.
Scheme Fit: Slot receiver that can do damage in the quick game. In an offense that allows him to run quick screens, slants, hitches, and outs he’ll thrive. Would be a perfect fit in New England in an Erhardt-Perkins offense or a system like Kyle Shanahan’s in San Francisco. James played quarterback in high school which is reminiscent of Julian Edelman and how the Patriots like to run trick plays with their receivers.
One- and Three-Year Projection: James’s combination of athletic ability, football intelligence and toughness make me believe he’s the ideal pure slot receiver despite his stature. I can see him having similar success to the 49ers’ Trent Taylor in year one. By year three I expect him to be a very good starting slot receiver displaying quickness in his routes and explosive acceleration and burst with the ball in his hands.
Draft Grade: Mid 3rd Round
Teams to Watch: New England Patriots, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans
13. James Washington, Oklahoma State, 5-11, 213 pounds – Tier 3
Strengths: Very strong receiver with a running back build. The #28 on his jersey doesn’t do him any favors in that regard. Broad shoulders and thick lower half. Very good play strength to beat press coverage using his hands and arms to fight through contact on his release. Good deceptive jab in combination with head/shoulder fakes to sell outside releases and consistently gets inside leverage on opposing CBs. Good route running ability using suddenness to create separation at the top of his routes. Good play speed – plays faster than he looks. Good build up speed on go’s and post routes. Very good acceleration, explosiveness and suddenness to create separation downfield. Excellent ability to consistently stack opposing CBs, giving him great positioning and making the CB play through him. Displays strong hands at the catch point – especially on contested catches with a defender draped over him. Love his mentality with the ball in his hands – quick to get upfield and isn’t afraid to take on a CB or S with a stiff arm or by lowering his shoulder for run after the catch.
Weaknesses: Washington’s build isn’t one of an ideal Z or slot receiver. He’s tight hipped which causes concerns about his ability to consistently create separation in and out of his breaks in the intermediate part of the field at the next level. Personally, I feel he eased that concern seeing him live at the Senior Bowl where he was arguably the best WR down there other than DaeSean Hamilton. However, he does seem to lack top end speed and it’s difficult to determine if he’s going to be productive on anything other than vertical routes. He really excels at three things – go’s, posts and displaying strong hands at the catch point in contested catch situations. If his lack of speed in comparison to the CBs at the next level takes away his ability to win vertically Washington’s NFL career won’t be a very successful one.
Scheme Fit: A Z receiver in a vertical passing offense that allows him to run go’s and deep post routes.
One- and Three-Year Projection: First year starter making an impact in the passing game as a Z receiver with occasional snaps from the slot. Explosiveness and long speed to pose as a deep threat for team that is lacking the ability to take the top off a defense. By year three Washington should develop into a high end WR2 that’ll be a reliable target in the deep and intermediate areas of the field with his ability to consistently win deep and display strong hands at the catch point.
Draft Grade: Mid 3rd Round
Teams to Watch: Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots
12. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M, 5-10, 200 pounds – Tier 3
Strengths: A stocky slot receiver with a maxed out thick build. Excellent athletic ability displaying a combination of speed, quickness, acceleration and agility. Able to use his speed and quickness to accelerate off the LOS and create separation down field and in the middle of the field. Good hands displaying the ability to make catches within his frame. I do like his ability to protect and make catches in the middle of the field in traffic, but only if he’s allowed to shield and use his body to make the catch. Overall, I love him in the middle of the field due to his toughness and reliability to make catches with great body positioning. With the ball in his hands he’s able to erase angles with his speed and explosiveness – especially once he gets in the open field.
Weaknesses: Kirk is a slot only WR due to his size and inability to consistently release against press coverage. Lacks nuance and deceptiveness at the top of his routes to sell fakes. He’s quick and fast, meaning he perhaps won’t need it as much as a WR without both of those traits, but you’d like to see more deceptiveness from your receivers at the top of routes. His hands are good as I said earlier, but they come with a caveat in that he can have trouble extending in traffic. When a defender is nearby and is able to get a hit on he doesn’t secure the ball as easily which leads to drops.
Scheme Fit: Slot receiver in a West Coast or Spread offense that allows him to win in the quick game and occasionally calls upon him to test the defense vertically using his excellent speed and acceleration.
One- and Three-Year Projection: Should immediately start as a kick and punt returner in the NFL. Displays the vision, quick cut ability and explosiveness to provide immediate help in the return game. Immediate contributor on offense as a starting slot receiver. Good, reliable, complimentary slot receiver who uses his quickness to separate at the top of his routes and toughness to make critical catches in the middle of the field by year three.
Draft Grade: Mid 3rd Round
Teams to Watch: New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers
11. Keke Coutee, Texas Tech, 5-11, 180 pounds – Tier 3
Strengths: Pure slot receiver due to his size and frame. Has excellent athletic ability with a blend of speed, quickness, change of direction and showing rare acceleration ability when releasing against off. Despite his frame he can battle through contact downfield using his hands and arms. He varies his pace to set up the CB before exploding into his route to create separation. Also displays excellent quickness and suddenness at the top of his routes – especially on slants and posts. Excellent straight line speed to consistently get behind the defense. Very good flexibility to throttle down and start back up on stop and go’s. Good hands to make hand catches away from his body and track passes in over his shoulder. Displays very good competitive toughness as he isn’t afraid to make a tough catch in traffic in the MOF. Acceleration and speed is dangerous for opposing defenses in the open field – able to erase angles for would be tacklers when getting to the edge. Excellent burst. Good balance able to stay low to the ground and duck high tackles.
Weaknesses: Size and play strength are the main concerns for Coutee. I think keeping him in the slot will negate most of these concerns as his play strength against press won’t be much of an issue.
Scheme Fit: Coutee best fits a spread offense that stretches the field vertically and horizontally. He can be used in the screen game where he can make multiple defenders miss with elusive moves in open space. Screens would also maximize his ability to maintain his balance in space using a good low center of gravity. His ability to vary his pace and then explode into his route would be a great addition to a vertical offense running deep posts, slants, double moves and go’s.
One- and Three-Year Projection: Quality starting slot receiver who can win at all levels of the field by year three. Has rare acceleration to eat up cushion against off coverage and prevent pursuit angles from defenders. He’ll be reliable for an offense working the middle of the field on slants and posts. Can be a really difficult matchup for defenses without a quality slot CB. Has the straight line speed to consistently test a defense vertically and can fight through contact amidst his route.
Draft Grade: Early 3rd Round
Teams to Watch: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers