The pre-draft process is dark and full of terrors, but through that darkness emerges an exciting jumble of #hawttaeks, half-truths, and quality NFL prospects. Despite the excitement the months before the draft bring, wading through all of the craziness to find the useful bits of fantasy football information can be daunting. With that in mind, here is a simplified look at some of the pass catchers who will help shape Dynasty drafts and standard fantasy football drafts alike this summer.
Who is the best?
Unlike the running back class, which has a very clear top dog, there is more debate atop of the wide receiver board, with Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell, Baylor’s Corey Coleman and TCU’s Josh Doctson all garnering votes as the best pass catcher. I fall on the Doctson side of the debate because his most impressive skill is one which should immediately translate to NFL success and offers the biggest long-term floor and ceiling combination.
Doctson is a solid overall athlete with underrated route-running skills, but his most impressive trait is his ability in contested situations. He matches solid height and arm measurables with an outstanding vertical leap, elite ball skills and easily the best body control in the class to consistently win when the ball is in the air. His comfort level and the way he appears to hang and glide through the air reminds of Lynn Swann highlights, and he has on plenty of occasions flashed the ability to make circus grabs. Although he is not a blazer, he does appear to have an extra gear to gain late separation, and his contested ability means he has a chance on every target.
His skill in contested situations would be enough to make him interesting, but Doctson also shows the ability to work in the short and intermediate areas. He is a fluid athlete with solid sink in and burst out of breaks, he uses his body well on slants and routes breaking back towards the quarterback, and he is exceptional against zone. Doctson needs to add some weight and become more consistent against press and after the catch, but those are nitpicky slights. With a solid floor and high ceiling, Doctson is the best receiver in this class, and I would feel comfortable selecting him as high as No. 1 overall in Dynasty rookie drafts.
Who is the most controversial?
Unlike the best argument, there is little doubt about the most controversial receiver prospect. The top receiver on some boards, there are others who think Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell barely cracks the top five. While I have him near the bottom of my top tier, I still see Treadwell as clearly worthy of a first-round pick both in the real draft and Dynasty rookie drafts.
Treadwell does not run fast. That is not a surprise to anyone who watched him on tape, but it seems to be a point of contention in his evaluation. Knocking him for his long speed, however, seems to be miscasting who he will be at the next level. A physical player at the line and throughout the route, Treadwell is able to create separation even against better athletes because of his technique, strength, and body positioning. He also has strong hands and is able to win at the catch point. That physicality is not limited to his routes, either. He is an underrated runner after the catch who has the ability to break tackles and make the first defender miss. He can turn underneath catches into chunk plays, and that skill can be invaluable on third downs.
I do worry about fantasy upside, which is why I would not take him ahead of Doctson, Corey Coleman, or Michael Tomas in rookie drafts, but that does not mean he is a bad prospect. He is a solid possession receiver with ability after the catch and red-zone upside. That is valuable, and it makes him worth a first-round Dynasty pick despite his athletic limitations.
Who has the most upside?
There are always a lot of upside receivers available, but the easy answer is Baylor’s Corey Coleman, who is the most electric deep threat in this class. An absolute burner who is a lightning bolt off the line and untroubled by press coverage, Coleman routinely ran clean past corners in college, and he has the deep tracking skills, body control and leaping ability to make it count when he gets open deep. He is also excellent in the open field, with the stop-start quickness and punt-return skills to make people miss and the speed to take it to the house. His drop rate is a concern, but drops are not as important as the ability to make plays on off-frame passes. Coleman has that ability, and that should serve him well in contested situations and along the sideline.
The question surrounding Coleman is his ability to transition from a go, screen, slant, hitch player in college to a more rounded route runner. He certainly has the physical tools to become an extremely difficult cover on any route, but it is not a given he will develop into the next Antonio Brown. We have seen Baylor receivers in the past struggle when thrust into more “traditional” offenses, with Kendall Wright’s experience under Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee as a prime example. Wright is not the deep threat Coleman is, but he is an explosive athlete underneath who was able to create separation with “sandlot” routes. When asked to run more precision and timing routes, he struggled and, ultimately, sulked.
That is not to say Coleman will follow the same path, it is just a cautionary tale of projecting physical traits into route-running skill. That said, even if he never develops past where he is right now, Coleman is still one of the best receivers in the class and a top fantasy option. He will bring invaluable field-stretching and after-the-catch elements to wherever he lands, making him my second-favorite prospect.
Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is another interesting physical talent who has a lot to learn as a receiver. A quarterback for most of his time in Columbus, Miller was converted to a full-time receiver last year. While he is lightning quick and flashed impressive ability to create separation in one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl, a lot of times that separation comes from backyard-football-esque routes which will not stand in a timing-based offense. He is explosive after the catch, however, and has the deep speed to be a nuisance down the seams out of the slot. He is also a natural pass catcher who did not look uncomfortable in his first year at receiver. He may be nothing more than a gadget player as he develops, but there is certainly upside. Florida’s Demarcus Robinson and Clemson’s Charone Peake also deserve a mention here.
Who has the highest floor?
It feels cliché to tab a slot receiver as the best floor prospect, but Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard is not a traditional “slot prospect,” so I am counting it. With a quick first step, precise routes, a good feel against zone and great hands, Shepard should be able to step right in as a difference maker from the slot, but his talents do not stop there. Despite his sub-six-foot and sub-200-pound frame, Shepard has the ball skills, body control, and explosiveness to corral off-target throws and compete in contested situations, and he has good enough speed and ability against press to take snaps outside.
The most glaring weakness from Shepard’s tape was his ability after the catch. I went in assuming he would be strong in the open field because of his physical profile, but his suddenness, lateral agility and ability to make people miss with the ball in his hands was extremely disappointing. Still, that should not stop him from being a catch machine in the correct offense, and his underrated ability downfield should keep him in the big-play discussion. Shepard is clearly a first-round Dynasty pick.
Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins does not have anywhere close to the upside of Shepard, but he is a very safe floor player. Another great route-runner with pretty good hands, Higgins should continue to create separation underneath at the next level. Unfortunately, he is a very limited athlete who is not going to be much use in the intermediate and deep windows, and that lack of explosiveness will limit his fantasy appeal.
Who is the most underrated?
Ohio State’s Michael Thomas is generally a well-regarded prospect, but he is rarely mentioned among the top three of Doctson, Coleman, and Treadwell. I see that as a big mistake, and I think there is an argument to be made that Thomas is the second-best receiver in this class despite some limited measurables.
The most impressive aspect of Thomas’ game is his ability at the break point. Despite his 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame, Thomas is able to sink and make quick cuts as well as any receiver in this class and accelerates well out of the break. He also flashes advanced moves at the top of the stem, using head fakes, jab steps, and deception to get the cornerback going the wrong way before exploding out. That ability also makes him a dangerous threat on double moves, which he used to badly burn Virginia Tech’s top corner prospect Kendall Fuller early in the season. He flashes similar deception on posts and straight go routes, and those moves matched with his impressive acceleration off the line make him a much more dangerous deep threat than his 4.57 forty suggests.
In addition to his ability as a route-runner, Thomas possesses excellent hands and knows how to use his body to shield defenders. He is also good after the catch both breaking tackles and making people miss. In short, he is the perfect possession-plus receiver who can turn short passes into chunk plays and also contribute downfield. I am as high on Thomas as anyone out there, and I would love to grab him at the back of the first round in rookie drafts, where he is currently available according to Dynasty League Football mocks.
Once underrated in fantasy and perhaps still in NFL circles, Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo has actually climbed ahead of Thomas in the aforementioned mocks. I would not make that pick, but I have no issue with him being taken ahead of Derrick Henry, Sterling Shepard, and Kenneth Dixon. A physical player with strong hands, great ball skills and some ability vertically, Carroo is a good bet to make noise at the next level.
An actually underrated player is Malcolm Mitchell, who quietly accounted for 36 percent of Georgia’s passing yards and touchdowns last season after finally regaining full health following a 2013 ACL tear. A polished route runner who understands leverage and is quick off the line and out of his breaks, he also has the speed to be a threat vertically. If his health cooperates, he should be a steal in the third round of rookie drafts.
Who is the most overrated?
This is clearly Notre Dame’s Will Fuller, and it is not particularly close. While Fuller is an exceptional deep threat who should be able to contribute in the vertical passing game, his inability to make plays with his hands will severely limit his upside. That makes the talk of him as the best receiver in this class ridiculous.
As I mentioned with Coleman, drops are not the primary concern I have when discussing a receiver’s hands. Fuller certainly drops more than his share of passes, but if he consistently was able to go off-frame to make catches with his hands, that would not be a huge concern. He is a body-catcher through and through, however, and that will severely limit him in contested situations and on the boundary routes which will have to be a staple of his game.
We saw this issue in college on comebacks. Although Fuller both because of the cushion he is given and his ability to sink and stop at the top of the route is able to create consistent separation on those routes, there were multiple occasions where he struggled to make the catch going out of bounds along the sideline because he did not have the ability to extend his arms and snag the pass. In the tighter windows in the NFL, that will be an even bigger concern.
Fuller is certainly an interesting prospect with the ability to take the top off any defense, but he is not a first-round prospect either in the real draft or Dynasty rookie formats. Neither is Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd for that matter, who is shockingly the 10th player off the board in DLF mocks. He has nice size and a strong set of hands, but he was not able to consistently create separation in college and is never going to contribute downfield. A one-speed, gadget player whose big-play ability is unlikely to translate, South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper is also overrated as the 14th overall pick in rookie drafts.
Who is the most explosive?
A couple years ago I created a metric which attempts to adjust the explosiveness numbers of receiver prospects for their height and weight. You can read more about the metric here and here, but the basic theory is big guys who can run fast and jump high tend to do well in the NFL. Three such players this year are German-League prospect Moritz Boehringer, Auburn’s Ricardo Louis and Tulsa’s Keyarris Garrett.
Of the three, Boehringer posted the most impressive score. With a 4.43 forty, a 39-inch vertical and a 131-inch broad jump at 6-foot-4, 227 pounds, Boehringer is a top-ten weight adjusted athlete at the position since 1999, just above Chris Chambers and just behind Donte Moncrief. Those type of measurables are special, and it should give him a long rope as he attempts to learn the NFL game.
As for the tape, the only thing available is a Hudl highlights video, which is fitting since he appears to be going up against the equivalent of a lower-division high school team. Despite the quality of the competition, there are some takeaways. Boehringer’s great agility scores (6.65 three cone, 4.1 short shuttle) show up in the few instances you see him run a breaking route, he appears to have natural hands, he appears to feel comfortable extending off frame, he appears to be able to track the deep ball well, and his long speed is evident even against bad competition. He is a project who will have to learn to run something other than YAC routes and nines, but he has the tools to be worth the investment.
Ricardo Louis has the next highest score after running a 4.43 forty, posting a 38-inch vertical and broad jumping 132 inches at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Louis is a bit of a straight-line athlete, has terrible hands and did not run a complex route tree in college, but he is good after the catch and could develop into a serviceable deep threat and boundary receiver. There is some talk of teams working him as a defensive back, which could make sense considering his difficulties catching the ball. He will likely stick at receiver, however, and is worth a pick later in Dynasty drafts.
The best receiver of the bunch right now is Keyarris Garrett. The long-limbed receiver is not explosive off the line or out of his breaks, takes a while to slow down, and does not offer much after the catch, but he knows how to use his big frame. He has very long arms and uses them effectively against press, his athleticism and huge frame gives him a massive catch radius, and he uses his body well to shield defenders on routes coming back towards the quarterback or stack defenders after he gets on top of them in vertical routes. He lacks the agility to ever be more than a slant, comeback, go kind of receiver, but he could be useful in that role.
Who is the best tight end?
This tight end class is not very good, but the best prospect is Arkansas’ Hunter Henry. A combo type coming from a pro-style offense, Henry could be the rare tight end who is actually able to contribute early, and he presents a solid floor from a fantasy perspective, matching an amazing set of hands with seam-stretching speed. That said, he is not a particularly fluid athlete, does not offer a ton after the catch, is not dominant in contested situations, and needs some work on his routes. He could top out as a lower-tier TE1. The fact that he is the best tight end says more about the class than him.
There are some interesting names besides Henry. Western Kentucky’s Tyler Higbee could have been in Henry’s realm, but he has injury concerns and was arrested for assault, evading police, and public intoxication April 10. A better receiving prospect than Henry, Higbee could end up being the better value in Dynasty if his legal and injury issues clear up. Stanford’s Austin Hooper is not quite in Higbee’s class as a receiver, but he will be a solid fantasy prospect if he can become more consistent with his hands and iron out some of the wrinkles as a route runner. The physical tools are there, though.
South Carolina’s Jerell Adams and Ohio State’s Nick Vannett are likely to be drafted among the top of the class, but I am not high on either of them for fantasy. Vannett does not have the athleticism to be anything more than a chain mover. Adams posted good straight-line numbers at the Combine, but he looks stiff on tape, has questionable hands and really struggles to gear down.
The most interesting prospects might not be tight ends at all. Stanford’s Devon Cajuste might get looks at tight end, but he is really a big-slot receiver. With great ball skills, the ability to win in contested situations, exceptional burst out of cuts, and the speed to threaten the seam, Cajuste can be what people wanted Devin Funchess to be.
UCLA’s Thomas Duarte is definitely not a tight end, but he would be interesting from a fantasy perspective if he retained that designation in the NFL. A polished route-runner who consistently creates separation underneath and has the ability to create after the catch, Duarte could thrive in a move role similar to Jordan Reed’s in Washington. Cal’s Stephen Anderson is another quasi tight end to watch. He is more athletic than Duarte, but he lacks some of the polish.
Who are the small-school prospects with big-time ability?
Because I am apparently drawn to the name Michael Thomas, my – and probably everyone else’s – favorite small-school prospect is Southern Miss’ Mike Thomas. Rotoworld’s own Evan Silva compared him to Marvin Jones, and I think it is a very good comparison. Thomas has an explosive first step and is able to get on top of corners quickly, allowing him to be a more dangerous downfield threat than his straight-line speed would indicate. He also has solid ball skills, good tracking ability, and the body control to go get off-frame passes and win in contested situations. He gets upfield quickly after the catch and does a great job creating yards on his own.
My one concern about Thomas is his route running. He was not asked to do much in college, and he might not have the physical tools to excel at the next level. While he is able to explode out of cuts, Thomas is a long strider who noticeably slows and chops his feet at the top of the route. Stopping is just as important as starting when it comes to creating separation, and Thomas really struggles to do that once he opens it up. Still, he is a quality prospect who should be able to carve out a role on the boundary at the next level.
Western Michigan’s Daniel Braverman is getting quite a bit of love in the pre-draft process, but I do not see much fantasy upside. A pure slot receiver, he does a good job underneath the coverage and against zone, and he can also make a few guys miss after the catch. Destined for the Patriots, perhaps he can do some Danny Amendola things, but I am not investing in a non-explosive receiver with a limited catch radius and little ability downfield.