These rankings were inspired by work done for the 2018 ITP Draft Guide, which is now available for purchase!
The final five receivers of my 2018 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings features some intriguing high upside players that’ll need coaching and development to reach their max potential. However, the majority of them also have high floors because of the strong areas of their game where they displayed that they can consistently win.
5. D.J. Chark, Louisiana State University, Z Receiver, 6-3, 199 pounds – Tier 3
Strengths: Other than DaeSean Hamilton, there has been no other receiver that’s helped himself more than D.J. Chark during the draft process. Chark excelled in Mobile at the Senior Bowl showing very good footwork, quickness and suddenness to separate from coverage during practices. At the NFL Combine, Chark ran a 4.34 40 yard dash – the fastest 40 time among receivers. He uses that elite speed to get behind defenses on deep vertical routes and also has very good deceptiveness to manipulate defenders to create separation for huge plays downfield. Not a strong hands catcher, but he’s been able to get away with it due to his strong positioning relative to the defender and very good body control when the ball is in the air. Flashes the ability to extend his hands away from his frame. Smart player with good sideline awareness to extend, secure and drag both feet for a catch. Very good competitive toughness consistently make 3rd down plays. Explosive with the ball in his hands. Has the ability to get from 0-60 very quickly. High effort player who is willing in the run game.
Weaknesses: Can stand to accelerate better out of his releases for someone with his explosiveness. Route running ability needs to be developed – especially his ability to run routes in the middle of the field. He displayed this ability at the Senior Bowl to an extent, but would have liked to see it on tape. However, that’s more on LSU’s scheme than Chark, to be fair. Has become sharper with his routes and less rounded. Lets passes get into his breastplate – needs to extend his arms more often and not wait for the ball to get to him.
Scheme Fit: Z receiver in a vertical based attack where he can immediately thrive running go’s, posts and double moves. Can be an explosive punt returner on special teams.
One- to Three-Year Projection: Chark is not a finished product by any means, but the traits to develop into a solid Z receiver are there. His floor is fairly high if you’re in need of an explosive vertical threat in year one. However, if you’re hoping for an immediate all around receiver Chark isn’t your guy. By year three I expect him to be more polished in his route running and improve his hands technique a bit to become a quality WR2. Chark possesses the upside teams should be willing to bet on with a 2nd round pick. I expect him to follow the trend of other LSU wide receivers that will be more successful in the NFL than in college.
Draft Grade: Early 2nd Round
Teams to Watch: Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers
4. Anthony Miller, Memphis Slot/Z Receiver, 5-11, 190 pounds – Tier 2
Strengths: Miller has some of the best tape by a wide receiver in this entire draft. He brings a consistently high level of competitive toughness to every rep he’s on the field. Possesses excellent athletic ability with a combination of speed, agility and change of direction ability. Good release with ability to win with quickness and deception as well as using his hands to fight through contact against press coverage with a strong arm over move to create leverage. Able to vary his pace into his route combined with hard jabs and head fakes at the top of his route to set up cornerbacks before his break. Excellent route runner with ability to execute hard breaks and take deceptively efficient steps to maximize separation. Excellent quickness to work across defensive back’s face into open space. Sticky hands to make incredible catches beyond his frame. Excellent catch radius to extend with hands and adjust to passes thrown behind and in front of him. Tough and reliable receiver to secure catches while taking hits amidst traffic. Great at tracking the deep ball downfield. Tightrope balance along the boundary. Good contested catch receiver who has the leaping ability, body control and play strength to win the 50/50 ball. Excellent run after the catch ability displaying acceleration, burst, and explosiveness to elude tackles. Great blend of speed, balance and feel for cut back lanes to avoid defenders in crowded areas. Has a physical mentality who loves to embrace contact using a strong off hand to gain tough yards breaking low tackles and diving for additional yardage. Good effort while run blocking downfield.
Weaknesses: Size is going to be the knock against Miller in addition to his foot injury which caused some concern early in the draft process, but is all healthy now as evidenced by the performance he put on at Memphis’ pro day. Has some drops due to poor concentration, especially when adjusting to low throws. Allows ball to get into his breastplate and eat him up at times. Needs to more consistently extend his hands on contested catch opportunities. In the red zone he can better create leverage by getting better positioning on the cornerback to prevent undercut angles.
Scheme Fit: Making him a slot only because of his size would be a mistake. Miller can line up on the outside as a Z and beat press coverage with his physical ability in addition to his quickness. Scheme versatile, but might be best fit for a vertical offense that allows him to win in the deep areas of the field using his acceleration on go’s/posts as well as his stop and start ability on double moves.
One- to Three-Year Projection: High floor player with the ability to immediately step in and play as a team’s WR2 or WR3 depending on the need for a Z or Slot receiver. With his competitive makeup it’s hard not to envision Miller being a successful Z receiver in the NFL for a long time should injuries not get in his way.
Draft Grade: Early 2nd Round
Teams to Watch: Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs
3. Courtland Sutton, Southern Methodist University, X Receiver, 6-3, 218 pounds – Tier 2
Strengths: Sutton possesses excellent athleticism. Put on a strong, and to an extent, surprising performance at the NFL Combine with his 40 and 3 cone times. Made strides from 2016-2017 that make you believe he can be a very good X receiver in the NFL. While he doesn’t possess great get off acceleration on his releases he does have good build up speed as he gets into his route. Very good football intelligence to diagnose coverages and settle in voids. As well as having the awareness to know where the sidelines is without and the ball prior to the catch and with it to get out of bounds with time running out in the half. Uses stature to physically win at the point of attack. Flashes deceptiveness throttling down and starting back up to manipulate defenders. Has good fluidity and flexibility to run smooth routes with savvy dips and bends inside before working down the field. Sinks hips well in and out of breaks. Key target for SMU drawing double coverage and helping create space for his teammates. Not afraid to go over the middle of the field and make catches in traffic. Excellent body control and ability to adjust for passes in the air on contested catches. Good ball tracking ability and ability to create separation with subtle hand checks. Large catch radius with excellent high point ability to extend and make catches above his head. Has some wiggle to elude defenders, but then uses his size to physically create run after the catch. High effort blocker in the run game.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t display very strong explosiveness off the line of scrimmage on his releases. Struggled with contact at times against smaller cornerbacks – ex. against TCU 2016. While he improved in this department from his redshirt sophomore to redshirt junior season Sutton will need to continually develop his route running ability if he’s to become the X receiver his potential warrants. Hand technique can be too wide at times causing him to clap on the ball and allowing passes to slip through for drops.
Scheme Fit: X receiver in a vertical offense that allows Sutton to use his size and strength as a true possession receiver on back shoulder throws downfield and on fades in the red zone.
One- to Three- Year Projection: Sutton displayed the ability to improve from season to season while at SMU. It makes me hopeful the same can happen in the NFL. Sutton’s first season may be a developmental year for him considering he’s somewhat raw, but he can flash WR1 ability, especially in the goal line area where he can use his size to his advantage. By year three I expect him to be a good starting X receiver that has developed his route running ability further and refined his hand technique to limit his drops.
Draft Grade: Late 1st Round
Teams to Watch: Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles
2. D.J. Moore, Maryland, Z Receiver, 6-0, 210 pounds – Tier 2
Strengths: Blew up the NFL Combine showing rare athletic ability in the process. His combination of explosiveness, speed, quickness and change of direction ability confirms what I saw on tape. Beats jams at the line against press coverage using very good play strength. Fights well through contact using his arm maneuvers through the stem of his route. Strong route runner with nice combination of quickness and suddenness to create separation. Has the flexibility to throttle down in a hurry on hitches and curls. Displays high level of nuance at the top of his routes with deceptive head and shoulder fakes. Strong hands and ability to adjust for low and high passes. Able to gain good positioning on defenders to go up and get jump balls down field. Dangerous player with the ball in his hands – showing excellent vision, balance, elusive cutback ability and physicalness to break high and low tackles with a strong stiff arm.
Weaknesses: There aren’t many flaws to Moore’s game. His main concern seems to be size, but he shot that down with his height and weight measurements at the NFL Combine. He’s a good contested catch receiver overall, but this skill is not as translatable as others are to the NFL level. There are plays where he loses concentration as defenders hit him at the point of attack. Moore also needs to clean up his run blocking ability. While he displays good effort he’s not ables to hold his block for the amount of time needed to aid in the run game.
Scheme Fit: Complimentary Z receiver in a vertical offense or a West Coast quick passing attack.
One- to Three-Year Projection: Immediate starter in his first year in the league at the Z or Slot position. By year three he’ll be the playmaker for an offense at the receiver position and will just be 24 years old.
Draft Grade: Mid 1st Round
Teams to Watch: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama, Z/Slot Receiver, 6-0, 189 pounds – Tier 2
Strengths: Ridley possesses excellent athletic ability with his speed, quickness and sudden change of direction ability to release off the line of scrimmage and create immediate separation into his route. Smooth route runner with efficiently crisp steps in and out of breaks. Strong hands to pluck the ball from midair. Reliable target that does well to shield himself from potential ball jarring hits and protecting himself in the process. High effort player who works open to his quarterback when the play breaks down. Smart and savvy player that positions himself well to come down with deep balls with a defender in the area. Excellent ball tracking ability to look the ball in over his shoulder and the body control to flip his hips when needed. Sudden change of direction ability is valuable to how he gains yards after the catch with his elusiveness.
Weaknesses: It would be wise of Ridley to bulk up and gain play strength to better combat press coverage. He may struggle at the line of scrimmage due to a lack of play strength which causes him to move to the slot in his first year in the league. While he does an excellent job of positioning his body to brace for contact – Ridley isn’t going to body up defensive backs with his size.
Scheme Fit: Z/Slot receiver. Scheme diverse; can excel in a West Coast offense running quick and short routes or a vertical passing game that requires him to win in the intermediate to deep parts of the field.
One- to Three-Year Projection: Immediate starter as a Z or slot receiver depending on how he can manage defeating press coverage in year one. Should develop into one of the better Z receivers in the NFL with his speed, quickness and rare route running ability. His best traits are highly translatable to today’s NFL.
Draft Grade: Mid 1st Round
Teams to Watch: Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots
Here’s a breakdown of how I’d rank the receiver class by classifying receivers according to X, Z, or Slot receivers. Some fall into more than one category, but for simplicity I sorted the receivers based on the position I expect them to play the most in the NFL. This method is the most logical in terms of building out a board. For the most part, pitting Courtland Sutton against Christian Kirk is an exercise in futility. They essentially play two different positions and teams in need of an X receiver for their scheme are going to place a higher value on X receivers. Scheme and need always play a role in how teams draft and value players.
In summation, the 2018 receiver class isn’t loaded with top end talent, but there are quality complimentary pieces to be had on day two and three of the draft to fill out a receiver room. Wide receivers are usually valued according to preference in style, but this year’s draft class seems to be more difficult to tier and stack than usual due to the marginal differences in talent at the position. It should be interesting to see how teams value the different receiver types as the NFL Draft unfolds this weekend.