2018 NFL Combine Wide Receiver Preview

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The NFL Combine is likely the most overhyped and improperly weighted event in regards to the evaluation process before the NFL’s next generation of players are inducted into the league. Players have their stocks rise or fall based upon how well their raw measureables stack up against their peers and previous NFL Draft entrants. On some level it’s silly how much teams seemingly weigh Combine results in their evaluation process. Yet, if you can sort through the hype surrounding 40 yard dash times and the admittedly fun SimulCam races of current prospects against prospects of NFL Draft’s past, there is valuable information to piece together.

The weight of that information of course should be dependent on the position the player plays and the context of a player’s strengths and weaknesses. A quarterback doesn’t have much to gain on the field without pass rushers or defensive backs to disrupt their throws. A wide receiver, however, has a bit more at stake. Michael Kist and I were recently discussing Oklahoma State WR James Washington during our weekly Battlefield 1 operations with Mark Schofield and Bryce Rossler. The conversation on Washington centered around his speed and how much that could impact his ability to become a good NFL receiver. The strong points of Washington’s game consists mainly of deep vertical routes like posts and go routes that require him to get behind CBs and stack for positioning. He did a great job of that while at Oklahoma State, but does he have the baseline speed to do that in the NFL? If he times north of 4.7 my optimism for Washington may lessen. Because if you take away Washington’s ability to go deep, well, what else does he consistently do really well?

That is the kind of quality information the NFL Combine can provide. A piece of information to confirm, deny or make you reevaluate the tape on a player’s ability. With that all being said, I’m going to go through some players I think can raise their stocks this week with good performances. I’ll be mainly going through my tier 3 and 4 WR – which are the Very Good and Good tiers on the 1-7 scale I use where 1 is Rare and 7 is Marginal.

Tier 3 – Very Good

Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame

St. Brown is a receiver who I initially wasn’t too fond of, but have recently began to like a lot thanks to my peers. He’s a difficult evaluation due to a combination of raw talent and a lack of production at Notre Dame. To place the blame entirely on St. Brown would be an unfair proposition. The QB play at Notre Dame was abysmal last season. There are plenty of examples of St. Brown creating separation by executing well run routes, displaying smooth and fluid movements in and out of his breaks, without the ball coming his way. The fluidity St. Brown possesses is especially impressive for a 6’4”, 205 pound receiver. St. Brown has some things to work through – like his hand technique, converting more contested catches and putting on some weight, but overall there’s a lot to like. He should put on quite the performance at the Combine with his acrobatic athletic ability and speed powered by his long strides.

From a pure valuation perspective it’s hard to not have St. Brown near the top of your WR board. This WR class is littered with talented Z and slot receivers, but also has a bunch of raw X types that struggle to separate. St. Brown doesn’t have this issue and his movement skills drastically differ than that of the other big bodied receivers in this class. He’s worth taking a chance on in the 2nd or 3rd round for all the upside he presents.

KeKe Coutee, Texas Tech

There’s already a growing hive surrounding the Texas Tech slot receiver and it should continue to grow after this week. Coutee is limited in stature, listed at 5’10”, 180 pounds, but he has rare athletic ability. He’s going to test well in all the drills this week. I was initially blown away by his burst and ability to accelerate from the pack when studying his tape. His stop and start speed is also noteworthy as he can quickly change direction to elusively make defenders miss. Official measurements will be big for Coutee to see what kind of size and frame he actually possesses. 

D.J. Chark, LSU

I’m not sure what the consensus is on Chark yet, but I have a feeling his 40 time is going to make him rise into everyone’s top receivers. I have no qualms with that either. Chark’s straight line speed is going to make him an immediate contributor with his ability to win deep. He’s not extremely well versed in winning in the middle of the field, but he has the tools to run a healthy route tree. Chark displayed great footwork and suddenness to separate during the week of practice down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. Then he earned Co-Most Outstanding Player with teammate Rashaad Penny for the South after totaling five catches for 160 yards and a touchdown.

DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State

Hamilton’s draft stock has been rising rapidly since the Shrine Game, which he used to propel himself to a late invite to the Senior Bowl. I expect the Combine to be no different and provide another launching point for his stock to soar. He’s going to destroy the 3 cone drill with his quickness and change of direction ability. He presents rare release and route running ability from the slot and I project him being able to also take some snaps as a Z receiver. He’s also possesses great contested catch ability. Hamilton is going to finish in the WR4-WR6 range of my WR rankings when it’s all said and done.

Tier 4 – Good

Auden Tate, Florida State

I’m a lot lower on Tate relative to other evaluators. I can attest that he has strong hands and very good contested catch ability. He’s going to be a force in the red zone where he can create good positioning and out leap defenders to high point the ball in the end zone. It’s the portion of the field prior to the red zone that Tate might struggle at the next level due to an inability to separate consistently. He’s doesn’t show very good speed and isn’t all that flexible which means he’ll need to rely on creating separation at the POA prior to the pass’ arrival. I’ve been burned going all in on players with a similar profile in recent drafts (see Treadwell, Laquon) who have great ball skills, but struggle to create separation.

This is partly Dez Bryant’s fault, as his uniquely talented style of play clouded my preference for WRs. Not everyone can be Dez Bryant. Even in a down season Bryant was one of the better jump ball receivers in the NFL. According to NFL Next Gen Stats’ Matt Harmon, Bryant had a composite score of 38 on tight window throws for a WR – tying him for 3rd in the NFL. Dez makes those type of catches for a living. Receivers like Bryant who don’t excel at running routes need to have strong hands and ball skills, but also need to create separation at the POA. If Tate times better than expected I’ll have to go back to his tape and reconsider his positioning amongst this class. 

Byron Pringle, Kansas State

Pringle had himself a great week at the Senior Bowl. He’s going to be a good option for teams needing a quality WR2. Pringle has the quickness and route running ability to consistently separate from man coverage. In addition, he also contributes as a good vertical threat with great speed to get behind CBs. But the most critical part of Pringle’s Combine week will come in the interview room. Pringle is older than the average drafted receiver because he began college late due to off field issues. He’s since cleaned up, graduating from Kansas State with a degree in criminology. Teams may be hesitant initially like Pringle’s coach Bill Snyder was according to the Kansas City Star, but after meeting with him their concerns will hopefully evaporate. 

Richie James, Middle Tennessee State University

I am probably a lot higher on James than most. I project him being one of the better slot receivers in this class due to his very good athletic ability in combination with his explosiveness and quickness. James also possesses all the traits NFL teams want in a slot WR, displaying a high level of intelligence, toughness and reliability. He’ll time very well during the 40 yard dash, but where I want to see him excel is the 3 cone drill where he’ll have to control his speed. This is an area that James is aware he needs to improve on when he and I spoke in mid-January. I’m confident that he’ll learn to better control his tempo and be a successful NFL slot receiver.

Trey Quinn, Southern Methodist University

Quinn is a fun evaluation. He’s not as fast on tape as his 4.39 40 yard dash time while he was at LSU would suggest, but that’s likely because he gained some mass. He should still run a good time and I expect him to do really well in the 3 cone drill, where he can show off his short area quickness. Quinn’s best trait other than his intelligence and toughness are his hands. He has natural hands and should put on an excellent performance during the gauntlet drill this week. Quinn may have been overshadowed during the season with his teammate Courtland Sutton receiving all of the attention, but the NFL Combine should allow him to move up some team’s boards.

The 2018 wide receiver class isn’t filled with a lot of top end talent, but it does have a lot of players that present nice value on day two and day three of the draft.

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Check out more of his work here, including a look at Baker Mayfield’s Touch and Torque, how to mask deficiencies along an offensive line, and what he learned from studying James Washington live.

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