NFL draft season is an exciting time filled with DraftBreakdown cut-ups, egocentric Twitter wars, and ridiculous anonymous “scout” quotes. There are very few things I love more.
It is difficult at times, however, to wade through the oceans of scouting reports to find the pearls of useful fantasy information. To that end, I have created this NFL Draft Cheat Sheet to answer every important question about the wide receivers who will hear their named called this May.
Who is the best?
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is clearly the best wide receiver in this draft.
There are a lot of good wide receivers available, but every other wideout has at least one hole in their game. That is not true of Watkins. He is the complete package.
At 6’1’, 211, Watkins does not completely fit the height/weight/speed model, but he has good size and track speed. He is also explosive in the open field and is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it.
Watkins does suffer from consistency drops from time to time, but has some of the best hands in the class. He consistently catches the ball away from his frame with soft hands, and is comfortable tracking the ball over his shoulder.
Watkins is savvy against zone coverage and does a great job drifting to space when the quarterback is forced from the pocket. He is also good against man coverage where his quickness and technique allow him to gain separation against tight coverage.
In short, he is clearly the best prospect in this class and is a lock to be the first wide receiver off the board in May.
Who will contribute most as a fantasy player year one?
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans is the answer, but only because of his red zone potential.
In real life football I expect Evans to struggle out of the gate. He is faster than people give him credit for and has the ability to create separation down the field, but out of the gate he is very slow. There is absolutely no suddenness to his game, and he may struggle to adjust to the more physical play in the NFL.
With that said, Evans first-round skill is his ability in 50/50 situations. He is a monster in the air and already has the ability to beat any NFL cornerback in jump-ball situations. Evans is also great at presenting a big target when coming back to the quarterback, and uses his frame to box out receivers. Both of these abilities will give Evans a nice, defined role as an outside receiver early in his career.
Regardless of the offensive staff Evans ends up with, it should come up with creative ways to get him in one-on-one situations on the outside where he can use his size to out muscle defenders. Evans should also get a ton chances on back-shoulder fades at the goal line. Put it together, and we have a recipe for early fantasy success.
Who has the most upside?
Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief is the definition of upside.
Moncrief is by far the most physically impressive pass catcher available in this draft. At 6’2’, 221 he broad jumped 11 feet, vertical jumped 39.5 inches, and ran a 4.4-40 at the NFL Combine. Those numbers are unheard of for a player his size. In fact, since 1999 only eight players have ever topped Moncrief’s size/weight/speed/explosiveness combination, and five of those players were Pro Bowlers.
He has a long way to go before he realizes the potential his physical tools promise, however.
One of the bigger issues facing Moncrief is his lack of savvy as a receiver. He had a very limited route tree at Ole Miss, and was not even proficient running those. This should come as no surprise, though. He has been so physically dominant at every level that learning the nuances of the game was never really an issue. His ability to learn and willingness to work hard at this aspect of the game will go a long way in determining his success.
Moncrief’s hands are also a concern. He too often drops catchable balls, and has a tendency to let the ball get to his body. At times, he can show strong hands and concentration in 50/50 situations, but he needs to become better at attacking the ball and throwing around his size.
The flaws are many and easily seen, but they all are coachable to some degree. The physical skills are not, and they give Moncrief legit WR1 upside. Considering how little he will cost, it is well worth the shot.
Who are the most overrated?
Cooks is everything a team is looking for in a playmaker. He is quick, he is fast, and he is great in the open field. He is quick in and out of his breaks, and shows ability to work underneath the coverage. He also can attack a team vertically, and showed some ability to win at the catch point, though that is by no means a strength.
The problem is Cooks' difficulty with physical coverage. He consistently struggled to gain separation once college defensive backs got their hands on him. Once opposing NFL defensive coordinators see that flaw, I expect them to attack it often. If Cooks cannot learn to win against physical coverage, he will struggle mightily at the next level.
Tavon Austin’s struggles last season were somewhat down to poor scheming, but the reality is his skills did not translate well to the NFL. While I think Cooks is a better route runner than Austin was last year, I still expect him to struggle with the transition to the NFL.
My problem with Benjamin centers around his age and what I believe will be an inability to separate in the NFL.
Age was never something I put much stock in, but a lot of great work is being done showing that age really does matter. Jon Moore’s Phenom Index, for instance, uses a player’s production and age in their final year of college to predict NFL production with an astounding degree of accuracy.
Already 23, Kelvin Benjamin should have been much more productive against the usually much younger players he was facing, and as such he scored very poor in the Phenom Index. It is not a death knell for Benjamin, but it is certainly concerning.
My biggest concern about Benjamin, however, is his complete lack of acceleration. Benjamin looks like he is wearing lead shoes the first few steps of the line, and I am still unconvinced he could beat me in a five-yard race.
He flashes some ability to separate down the field, but the reality is NFL cornerbacks will have no fear pressing Benjamin at every opportunity because he cannot get off the line quickly enough to truly threaten them deep. Benjamin, then, is forced to catch contested ball after contested ball against man coverage. While he has the skills to win these 50-50 balls, it is not exactly ideal.
I cannot shake the feeling that Kelvin Benjamin is simply Ramses Barden with a fancier pedigree. That may be selling him short, but that the thought even crossed my mind means he is not a first-round talent.
Who are the most underrated?
Matthews is the most versatile wide receiver in this class. He has the size, speed and ability to play outside the numbers, but is a smooth enough athlete to man the slot. He is also a very good route runner with a knack for finding the open spaces in zone coverage.
That said, Matthews is far from perfect. He has good hands, but too often allows the ball to get to his body and struggled with concentration drops at times. He also did not use his size as well as he could in boxing out defenders. Too many times, smaller cornerbacks were able to get around him on comebacks and curls.
Despite those limitations, Matthews has one of the higher floors of any wide out in this class, and is a perfect fit for a Marques Colston-like role in a West Coast offensive scheme. He should way outperform his draft position.
Latimer is a big possession receiver with some of the best hands in the draft. He simply does not drop passes, and does a great job using his size to win on short and intermediate routes. At the very least, these two skills will allow him to be a solid No. 2 or 3 wideout in the NFL.
He is underrated, though, because he has the physical tools to be much more than that.
It does not take very long watching Latimer to realize he was a basketball player in a former life. He has great hand-eye coordination, excellent body control, and explosive leaping ability. When matched with his hands and size, these skills make him dangerous on jump balls and back-shoulder throws.
Latimer also possesses big play ability. He showed deceptive speed on several occasions — most notably when he just ran by a befuddled Michigan defensive back — and has the strength and balance to break several tackles in the open field.
If he can put all these skills together, Latimer has a great shot to develop into a No. 1 caliber wideout.
What small school prospects have big potential?
Wyoming WR Robert Herron has been one of my favorite wide receivers in the class ever since the Senior Bowl. He was dominant in that week’s practices, reportedly getting open at will. Not a bad showing against the countries’ best Seniors.
Two of Herron’s best traits are his first step and short area quickness. These two attributes allow him to beat press coverage despite his diminutive size and give him the ability to develop into an excellent route runner, though he is not quite there yet. Herron also has excellent speed and has shown the ability to take the top off defenses in college.
The real question for Herron is where he will play. At only 5’9’, 193, he is not a prototypical outside receiver, but he also does not look comfortable making the plays across the middle required to be a slot man. I think his real role is on the outside a la Steve Smith, but I have no idea if NFL teams will agree.
Outside of Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis, Coastal Carolina WR Matt Hazel is the most polished receiver in the draft.
He has good hands, but more importantly, shows excellent technique catching the ball. You can tell a lot about a receivers’ catching technique by how often they come up with poor throws. Hazel saw a ton of poor throws his direction in college, and caught most of them. Hazel is also a polished, deceptive route runner with experience running routes both out of the slot and outside.
Though he lacks the pure explosion and measurable abilities that jump off the screen, Hazel’s polish gives him an excellent shot to carve out an early role with whichever team drafts him.
After running in the 4.4s and vertical jumping 39” on a bad foot at his Pro Day, I believe Indiana WR Cody Latimer will be selected in the first round of the draft. This prediction is getting less bold by the day, so I will go one further. Cody Latimer will be selected by the Seattle Seahawks at pick 32.