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2017 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers

By: Robert Davis

NFL offenses are throwing the ball at an all time high. With so much emphasis placed on the passing attack, wide receivers are a hot commodity on draft day. This year's draft may not have a player that has established himself as an elite prospect, but there are quite a few talented prospects at the position, and a number of them will go in the first round.

Clemson's Mike Williams looks like the top receiver in the draft this year. His combination of size, athleticism and ball skills put him near the top. At 6'3 225, he is the biggest of the top tier wideouts, and uses that size to create mismatches down the field vertically. Williams is at his best getting down field and going up to get the football over the defender. While not a burner, that trait should carry over to the NFL, and it will allow him to consistently make plays. He's not just a vertical threat though. He is willing to use that size to be an intermediate threat over the middle and taking hits in the process. The biggest knock on Williams is going to be his medical reviews after suffering a broken neck during the 2015 season. He showed no ill effects of that injury this year, and his ability to be a possession threat and playmaker have him in position to be the first receiver taken off the board on draft day.

WR RANKINGS
  1. Mike Williams, Clemson
  2. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC, Jr.
  3. John Ross, Washington
  4. Corey Davis, Western Michigan
  5. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
  6. Curtis Samuel, Ohio St. Jr.
  7. K.D. Cannon, Baylor, Jr.
  8. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
  9. Isiah Ford, Virginia Tech, Jr.
  10. Malachi Dupre, LSU, Jr.
Corey Davis of Western Michigan has been as productive as any receiver in college football in recent seasons. In fact, he became college football's all time receiving yardage leader this year, topping 5,000 yards in his career. He is a polished performer that does many things well, but may not jump out in any one area. Davis has good size at 6'3 215, and couples it with good speed and athleticism. He shows the ability to pick up yardage after the catch, but also has enough speed to stretch defenses vertically. He's at his best over the middle though, giving his quarterback a consistent weapon on intermediate routes. While Davis is a threat all over the field, he may not make as many big plays as he did in college. He has good, not great, speed, and may have trouble getting separation consistently in the NFL. While he isn't afraid to go over the middle, he has a leaner frame and could use a few more pounds to account for the hits he'll take. Davis' experience and production could allow him to make an immediate impact in the NFL, and his all around skills could allow him to be the next great MAC receiver in the NFL.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the latest USC receiver to enter the draft and potentially end up as a first or second round pick. He is a very physical player at 6'2 220, but has surprising playmaking skills to go along with it. He will not turn 21 until the end of November during his rookie year, so there is a lot of growth left in his game from a polish stand point, even possibly some physical growth left. Smith-Schuster uses his size very well on the field as both a target and a runner after the catch. He provides his QB with a big target over the middle and knows how to use his body to put himself between the defender and the ball. As a runner, he is very difficult to tackle. His bulk and strength give him the ability to break tackles, but he also has surprising quickness in the open field. The ability to break tackles and pick up yards after the catch make him a real threat on screens and short passes, in addition to his ability to work the middle of the field. The only question physically about Smith-Schuster's game is his speed. He has good speed, but not great, and may struggle to get separation in the NFL. He's struggled to get separation in college, and has had some trouble making contested catches at times. Smith-Schuster should be a very good possession receiver with the ability to pick up yards after the catch, but he has work to do to stretch the field vertically. Considering his youth, his upside is tremendous. How well he works out will determine ultimately where he lands on draft day. A good 40 time, and he's a first rounder. Otherwise, he'll be a solid second round selection.

Another Pac-12 receiver that will make noise on draft day is Washington's John Ross. He is a completely different type of receiver than the guys already listed, and that is what could get him drafted above any of them. Ross is lighting in a bottle. He is a true threat to score any time he touches it with his great quickness, agility, and straightline speed. He may be one of the draft's fastest players overall. He has tremendous acceleration and if there is any crease, he is gone. His playmaking ability allows him to pick up big yardage after the catch as well as get behind the defense vertically. Ross' big play ability is evident on special teams as well, as he has four career kickoff return touchdowns. His game breaking ability aside, Ross does have flaws. Durability is a big concern. He had two seasons cut short to knee injuries. His slight build will only add to those concerns. The injuries have also limited his on field experience, leaving him a bit raw on the route tree. Ross relies on his speed and quickness to make plays and to get open. Ross is arguably the biggest game breaker at the receiver position this year, and that separates him from many other top prospects. He should hear his name called in the first round, and could go higher than many expect with his speed and big play ability.

Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook blew up this year as one of the premier wide receivers in college football. He has excellent speed and uses it on all levels of the field to make plays. He is a big time vertical threat, using his speed and acceleration to get off the line and run right by defenders. Despite a small frame at 5'11 175, he can go up and get the football. Westbrook is not afraid to work the middle of the field to catch the ball, although he may not be able to operate there in the NFL consistently. His big play ability is evident on special teams as both a punt and kick returner. The lack of bulk is going to hinder Westbrook in the NFL. He has durability concerns, and his medical checks could determine a lot. He is tough and will work the middle of the field, but his slight frame may not hold up if asked to do it regularly. Westbrook is a playmaker as a receiver and return man, and despite his shortcomings, should be a very attractive day two option at wide receiver.

Ohio State's Curtis Samuel is arguably the draft's top dual threat playmaker on offense. He was utilized in the Percy Harvin role in Urban Meyer's offense, utilized as a WR, RB, even a wildcat QB at times as well as being moved around formations to create a mismatch. That type of versatility will suit him well in the NFL, and could allow him to make an early impact if a team uses him the same way. Samuel has average size but decent bulk to his 5'11 200lb frame. That should allow him to operate out of the slot most of the time and make some plays over the middle of the field, but also allow him to carry the ball as a traditional running back at times. As you would expect based on his role, Samuel excels with the ball in his hands. He has very good speed, quickness, and agility which allows him to make defenders miss and make big plays. His versatility gives teams a lot of flexibility with him as far as his NFL future goes. He has spent time as a traditional running back, but also as a wide receiver, and everything in between. Samuel doesn't have much experience running a variety of routes because of the time he's spent moving around, but his playmaking skills should allow him to see the field while he develops his game. Good workouts should put him square into the second round conversation on draft day.

You won't hear too many players from Eastern Washington ranked highly very often, but this year Cooper Kupp does. He's one of those overachievers that doesn't have one physical trait that stands out, but he is talented and makes the most out of what he has. Kupp has a solid frame at 6'2 210, and he knows how to use it. He uses it to absorb contact down the field while going up to get the football, but it also allows him to operate in the middle of the field and make plays. Kupp is tough and willing to take a hit to move the chains. Along with solid size, he is a good athlete that can adjust to the ball in the air, and has enough speed to get open and even occasionally stretch the field. Kupp has great hands and will catch anything within his reach. A knock on him is the level of play, but he has been productive in multiple games against Pac-12 opponents so the leap may not be as big as many expect. Kupp isn't going to run away from defenders and may not be a game breaker, but his all around skills and toughness should make him a quality NFL receiver that is a very consistent target for his quarterback.

LSU's Malachi Dupre has not put up numbers anywhere near the other players on this list, but he is still a very gifted athlete. He is the type of player that should be much better in the NFL than in college, mainly because LSU QB's have struggled to throw the football in his career. Dupre has impressive natural tools. He has a lean frame at 6'3 190lbs, and could add more bulk to his frame. In addition to his length, he is a very good athlete with good speed. Dupre has shown his athleticism with his body control and ability to adjust to the ball in the air. The length and body control could make him a solid vertical and red zone threat because of his ability to go up and adjust. He also shows good speed on the field, especially for a taller receiver. He can get behind the defense on occasion, and can get consistent separation. Dupre has shown very good hands and has no problem working the middle of the field. The natural tools are impressive, and they do show up on the field. The lack of production stems from the help around him and the run first approach, but it has also stunted his development a bit since he hasn't gotten as many touches. Dupre has some work ahead of him, but he has big time upside in the NFL, and is the type of guy you will look back five years later and wonder why LSU couldn't get him the ball more.

Others to watch: KD Cannon(Baylor), Courtland Sutton(SMU), and Isaiah Ford(Virginia Tech)


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