The 2019 NFL wide receiver draft class is as diverse as an NFL playbook. Whether you are a looking for a true X, an undersized speedster, a big slot receiver, a contested catch monster, or a special teams maven, this draft class has something for you. We’ll borrow a page from high school yearbooks and honor the class’s superlative stars.
Note: To keep things more interesting, I’m limiting each receiver to only one honor.
Best Against Press: D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss
Metcalf gets knocked for his primitive route tree, but he makes up for it with his variety of techniques to defeat press at the line. Many college receivers barely face press at all, but Metcalf played exclusively outside in the rough-and-tumble SEC. He has the upper-body strength to swat jams away and the foot quickness to his win desired release, inside or out. Metcalf will use misdirection, too, feinting and hesitation before releasing. He varies his technique so the DB can never quite get comfortable. And he has the blazing speed to win fades over the top and make teams that try to press him pay.
Honorable Mention: Marquise Brown doesn’t have prototypical size, but he’s so quick DBs have trouble laying hands on him at the line of scrimmage. Riley Ridley has quick feet and active hands to beat the press.
Best Route-Runner: Riley Ridley, Georgia
Ridley isn’t the most dynamic athlete in the class, but he runs a full route tree from both the slot and outside and shows the ability to gain separation all over the short and intermediate levels of the field. Despite average-at-best long speed (4.58 40) he can manipulate defensive backs with his vertical stem and get open deep. He makes sharp cuts that cornerbacks have trouble matching. And he has savvy to find the open areas in zone.
I know what you’re thinking: so why didn’t he have more production in college? His 45 catches for 559 yards are hardly awe-inspiring and represent a career best. Both, however, were team highs, as were Ridley’s nine touchdowns. And that was on a team that featured draft-eligible wideouts Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin and tight end Isaac Nauta. Moreover, all Ridley’s production was earned by his route-running. The Bulldogs weren’t going to run screens and gimmick plays to put the ball in Ridley’s hands, because he’s not really an after-the-catch threat. All his yardage was hard-won.
Honorable Mention: No one in the class builds more separation than Marquise Brown, who is a vertical terror but dangerous short and intermediate, too. A.J. Brown runs a varied vertical stem that attacks the DB’s leverage and sets up his cuts. Deebo Samuel runs an impressive short and intermediate route tree.
Best Deep Threat: Mecole Hardman, Georgia
There’s fast, and then there’s fast. Hardman will run at what looks like full speed, and then hit the turbo button and just blow by defensive backs. His 4.33 speed shows on tape. He eats up off-coverage cushion in a hurry. I have questions about his hands and versatility to play outside, but he can threaten deep on any play. That explosiveness shows up on special teams as well; Hardman was a quality kick returner and led the NCAA in punt return average in 2018.
Honorable Mention: Marquise Brown shows similar burst and top speed to Hardman, but is a better route runner. D.K. Metcalf has 4.33 speed and can win at the catch point.
Best Hands: N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
He’ll drop one every once in a while, but Harry is an easy hands catcher who makes spectacular catch after spectacular catch. At nearly 6’3” with 33” arms and a 38.5” vertical, he has a ridiculous catch radius. Harry isn’t a burner but makes himself into an unconventional deep threat with his ability to haul in contested catches. He wins 50/50 balls with physicality at the catch point, leaping ability, amazing body control, and great hands.
Honorable Mention: Like Harry, Kelvin Harmon is an unconventional outside threat, winning on backshoulder throws and contested passes. Miles Boykin, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Hakeem Butler all make their share of crazy catches.
Best After the Catch: Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
At 5’11”, 214, Samuel is built like a running back, and that’s how he runs, too. He blends above-average power, speed, and agility. He can run through arm tackles, put moves on defenders in the open field, and head off to the races. Slant routes are especially terrifying; he catches in stride at full speed, bursts past the cornerback covering him with just a middle-of-field safety and backside pursuit to beat … defensive coordinators will get nightmares just thinking about it.
Honorable Mention: Few receivers have physical profiles like Parris Campbell, with his 4.31 speed and excellent agility measurements at 200+ pounds, and that crazy athleticism shows on the field, with punt-returner-esque moves in a running back’s body. Like everything else about his game, N’Keal Harry’s YAC is unconventional, but his creativity and power in the open field make him a handful for defenses to bring down.
Best Blocker: Kelvin Harmon, N.C. State
How do you put up back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the ACC despite 4.60 speed? By doing the little things right. Harmon’s blocking doesn’t have a lot to do with receiving prowess, but it’s emblematic of the detail, physicality, and effort he brings to his game. With 32.5” arms and a 6’2”, 221-pound frame, he’s bigger than most of the defensive backs he faces, and he brings an understanding of leverage, the play structure, and willingness to mix things up. He latches on to defenders and will generate push on the ground.
Honorable Mention: N’Keal Harry is as physical in the run game as he is everywhere else. Hakeem Butler has tremendous length and will use it. Riley Ridley is smaller but tenacious; like Harmon, he’s a guy who succeeds by doing the little things right.
Most Intriguing: Jalen Hurd, Baylor
Hurd was a top recruit to Tennessee as a running back, but after concussions decided to transfer and switch positions to receiver. He shows precocious route-running ability and put up nearly 1,000 yards for the Bears, establishing himself as a receiving threat. Two elements make Hurd particularly fascinating. One, at nearly 6’5” and 228 pounds, he’s built almost like a tight end and can bring an unusual physical prototype to the slot. And two, he can still take the odd snap out of the backfield. He tallied 209 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries for Baylor. He’s a big power back and a creative offensive mind will find a way to build red zone packages around his unique skill set.
Honorable Mention: Parris Campbell put up 12 touchdowns and 1,063 yards in 2018 with a fraction of a route tree. If he can learn to win in the vertical game, the sky is the limit.
Best Big: Hakeem Butler, Iowa State
There are a lot of big receivers in the class, and Butler might be the biggest, at almost 6’6” and with is-that-a-misprint 35 ¼” arms. He lined up everywhere for the Cyclones, ran a diverse route tree, and showed ability to win with athleticism and to use his big body to build separation. He has suffered a few drops but can make circus catches, too. He’s tough for defensive backs to bring down and blocks well, too. He put up more than 1,300 yards in 2018. For teams looking to add size to their receiving corps, Butler fits the bill.
Honorable Mention: Miles Boykin put up an insane Combine, and his tape is underrated, with a versatile skill set just needing some minor refinement. D.K. Metcalf is a bit of a one-trick pony at this point, but it’s a really good trick.
Best All-Around: A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Brown doesn’t have one elite trait to hang his hat on. He’s big (6’1”, 226 pounds) but not the biggest. He’s fast (4.49 40 time) but not the fastest. He’s a very good route runner with very good hands, and an excellent after-the-catch runner, but there are better players in all these qualities. As a total package, however, it’s tough to find a receiver with fewer weaknesses. Brown arguably doesn’t have anything he’s bad it; he could maybe stand to block more consistently, but that’s it. He put up back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons in the SEC and has a clean injury history. Perhaps most tellingly, while much of his production for Ole Miss came from the slot, when teammate Metcalf got hurt, he moved outside and didn’t miss a beat. Whichever GM drafts Brown will sleep well that night.
Honorable Mention: Hakeem Butler and Miles Boykin, as noted above, have well-rounded games, able to play big man bully ball but with unusual athleticism for their size. Deebo Samuel is a fine route-runner with good hands, perhaps the most dangerous after-catch weapon in the class (see above), and a weapon on kickoff returns.
Most Likely to Succeed: Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
American legends ZZ Top once sang, “She’s got legs, she knows how to use them.” There are a lot of women with fine stems, but it took knowing how to use them to inspire Billy Gibbons and company to add a classic to the American songbook. Similarly, there are a lot of receivers with speed, but it is knowing how to use that speed that makes Brown so dangerous. He varies his stride length and pace and catches defenders off-guard. He attacks their leverage to set up cuts, and lurks in blind spots when they make zone drops. He gets wildly open on his cuts. His speed and quickness are dangerous weapons after the catch, too.
Brown has flaws; he weighed in at under 170 pounds at the Combine, has some injury history, and is never going to be a mauler as a blocker or a contested-catch master. But his game-changing speed and quickness combined with subtleties in his route-running make him the most outstanding receiver in the class. He doesn’t just have blinding speed; he knows how to use it.
Honorable Mention: Aside from the well-rounded players listed above (A.J. Brown, Hakeem Butler, Miles Boykin, and Deebo Samuel), D.K. Metcalf has a real shot to be a game-changer with his combination of speed and power at his size. Already armed with an advanced toolset against press, he’ll be unfair if he can expand his route tree just a little.
Also evaluated: Andy Isabella, Terry McLaurin, Gary Jennings
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Kelvin Harmon played in the SEC.