With the 2016 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, evaluators are already working through the next crop of players hoping to realize their NFL dreams. Joseph Ferraiola has started his process of wide receiver evaluation for next year, and after some preliminary film work has identified ten prospects that form his 2017 NFL Draft wide receiver watch list.
While the 2016 wide receiver class had talent, it wasn’t as strong as recent years. The 2017 class shouldn’t disappoint as it contains an array of talent across the board. Here are some wide receivers who could potentially hear their names called in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Mike Williams, Clemson
If not for a devastating neck injury suffered during Clemson’s season opener against Wofford College, Williams may have been the first wide receiver taken in the 2016 NFL Draft. Instead, Williams was sidelined for the rest of the season, but is hopeful to return this fall. He put up 57 catches, 1,030 yards, and six touchdowns during his sophomore season. Williams possesses great size, explosiveness, and aggressiveness when the ball is in the air. If he can return to form he’ll be the premier receiver of the 2017 Draft class.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
Smith-Schuster caught 89 passes for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore making him an early favorite for being the top wide receiver of the 2017 class. He and Williams could be fighting for that title all season long. Smith-Schuster is a possession receiver that is able to snag catches in tight spaces. He displays the ability to separate in the short and deep areas of the field as well as the ability to settle in voids. He has the occasional drop that hits him in the hands downfield, but he should develop into a really good receiver.
Travin Dural, LSU
Dural is a nice talent for the LSU offense. The Tigers aren’t pass orientated making it difficult for their receivers to put up production equivalent to their talent level. Dural only caught 28 passes for 533 yards and three touchdowns his junior season. However, he has much to prove his senior season. Our very own Shane Alexander believes Dural’s draft stock heavily relies on his hands: “I like Dural. He possesses good long-speed and has the ability to be a dynamic game changer. He does have average hands, and is a bit older than most rookies. His combine will be crucial to his eventual draft position. His having a solid 2016 is crucial to LSU’s chances of winning the SEC West.”
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Davis has been a productive receiver since his freshman year when he caught 67 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns. He surpassed all of those totals as a sophomore and then as a junior he reeled in 90 receptions for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns. Davis doesn’t come from a powerhouse football school, however, he has the skill set to be high on everyone’s draft boards come May. He has incredible play speed and a large catch radius.
Malachi Dupre, LSU
Much like his teammate Dural, Dupre has limited production because of LSU’s run-heavy offense. He amassed 43 receptions for 698 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. Dupre has good quickness to separate from corners and also has good hands. A solid junior season from Dupre could allow him to consider declaring for the NFL Draft.
KD Cannon, Baylor
Cannon wasn’t the focal point of the Bears’ offense a season ago, but played a vital role in their success. He caught 50 passes for 868 yards and six touchdowns. He was primarily a vertical threat who could challenge the secondary with his speed and double move. It’ll be interesting to see how Cannon and Baylor’s offense plays now that coach Art Briles is no longer on the sidelines.
Stacy Coley, Miami
The third-year Hurricanes receiver had decent production last season putting up 47 receptions for 689 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games. Coley is used as a slot receiver and displays the necessary quickness and speed to separate from slot corners as well as good hands to make difficult catches. With a solid season in new head coach Mark Richt’s offense, Coley could be a mid-round pick.
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Reynolds exploded onto the scene as a sophomore in 2014 putting up 13 touchdowns the most ever by an Aggies receiver. His touchdowns slowed in 2015, but he still caught 51 passes and racked up a career-high of 907 yards receiving with five touchdowns. At 6’4”, 190 pounds, Reynolds has great height, but could stand to add some bulk within the next year and a half. He displays good speed, reliable hands on throws in traffic, and flashes the ability to win contested catches. Reynolds and his teammate Christian Kirk should put up excellent production for their quarterback, Trevor Knight, this season.
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
Kupp is the son of former NFL quarterback Craig Kupp and grandson of guard Jake Kupp. The FCS receiver put up gaudy numbers his junior season catching 114 passes for 1,642 yards and 19 touchdowns. At 6’2”, 212 pounds, Kupp plays the slot position the majority of the time. He has excellent hands and a physicality to his game. Kupp isn’t afraid to go make a catch over the middle. Perhaps his best trait is his ability to break tackles for yards after the catch.
Gabe Marks, Washington State
Marks had himself an excellent season a year ago when he caught 104 passes for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns in Mike Leach’s offense at Washington State. Despite his frame of 6’0”, 180 pounds, Marks is a reliable receiver and has the ability to make tough catches. He’s susceptible to injury, however, as he was hurt on two separate plays against Oregon State last season. Marks should try to add weight in order to improve durability concerns.
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