NFL draft season is an exciting time filled with Draft Breakdown cut-ups, egocentric twitter wars, and ridiculous anonymous “scout” quotes. There are very few things I love more.
Despite the glory that is draft season, it is difficult at times 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 during the draft.
In case you missed it, here is my look at this year’s running backs.
Who is the best?
This is a difficult question to answer because it really depends on what “best” means. Right now, Alabama WR Amari Cooper is the better overall receiver with the route running ability to immediately be successful in the NFL. West Virginia WR Kevin White has a lot more rough edges than Cooper, but he also has the physical upside to be a dominant wide receiver at the next level. It is very close between the two, and when that is the case I will take the guy who could be a dominant touchdown scorer. That is Kevin White.
White may take some time to develop into a complete receiver, but he should be able to contribute very quickly outside the numbers with his sheer athleticism and outstanding ball skills. Though he is not much heavier than Cooper, White plays with much more physicality and is much better in contested situations. He can use his physicality to create late separation in jump ball situations, but he also has the strong hands and ball skills to make catches with defensive backs draped all over him. White also fights for yards after the catch and has the strength and balance to break tackles in the open field.
Working against White is his rawness as a route runner. He tends to round off his breaks and often tips his routes, which can end up in bad interceptions against good defensive backs. The good news is there is nothing physically that suggests White cannot become a much better route runner with some coaching, but it make take some time. It would not be surprising if he is limited to an outside the numbers game his rookie year, but eventually he should develop into a top-flight wide receiver.
Cooper is no slouch, and it is hard to overstate how good he is at the technical side of the game. He looks like a veteran running crisp routes with sudden cuts. Cooper also understands how to set up defenders, often using tempo in his stem and jab steps or head fakes at the top of the route. On top of his route running savvy, Cooper is a solid athlete with underrated size and long speed who still managed to post a blazing 6.71 time in the three-cone drill and a spectacular 3.98 time in the short shuttle, which is almost unheard of for players over 210 pounds.
Cooper may never be the athletic force that dominates contested situations like Kevin White can, but he is a pro-ready receiver that compares very favorably to a guy like Reggie Wayne. If I am looking for an immediate impact player that can soak up targets underneath and still threaten defenses deep, Cooper is my guy.
Louisville WR Davante Parker could also be in this conversation for some, but he is simply not on the same level as White and Cooper. In fact, he is not even the third receiver on my board. Though he has an insane wingspan, sticky hands and great ball skills, Parker has build-up speed and is more of a straight-line athlete than White or Cooper. It is difficult for long striders like Parker to hard plant and go, and he struggles in that area. He really has to lean into his breaks, takes several steps to gather and rounds off cuts too often.
Parker also does not use his hands well at the line of scrimmage, and will have to improve his technique at the line to become a consistent deep threat in the NFL. He can be a good wide receiver who makes big plays down the field and in the red zone, but I worry he will be limited to more of an outside-the-numbers role. That puts Parker well behind White and Cooper.
Who has the most upside?
Of the two, Perriman is my favorite. A big receiver with effortless speed, Perriman flashes the ability to create easy separation on crossing routes and slants, often running away from trailing defensive backs. He also gets on top of corners quickly which forces them to respect the deep ball and sets up easy in and out breaking cuts against a completely turned around defender. Perriman is not a polished route runner, but he has the suddenness and athletic ability to become very good in this area.
The biggest trouble spot for Perriman is his hands. He looks like he is fighting the ball most of the time and will trap the ball instead of catching it. In addition to his poor hands, Perriman too often suffers from avoidable concentration drops, sometimes in big moments. We have seen drops derail the careers of other physical freaks in the past, and it is easily the biggest concern for Perriman.
The other tools-projection receiver is Green-Beckham. The biggest knock on DGB is his off-field baggage, and I believe when people discuss him as a risk they are mainly discussing his non-football issues. The legal issues and the possibility he could follow a similar path as Josh Gordon are certainly a concern, but what is being overlooked is the very real possibility Green-Beckham never transitions from a big, physical player who was an occasional dominator in college to a consistent and reliable route winner in the NFL.
At 6’5, 237, Green-Beckham dwarfs his defenders, and he plays like it most of the time. He bullies defensive backs when the ball is in the air, and he almost refuses to go down after the catch. Unfortunately, that strength does not show up at the line of scrimmage. DGB consistently struggled to get off press coverage in college and was not aggressive enough getting into his routes, especially in big situations like the fourth quarter against Auburn in 2013.
Green-Beckham’s issues at the line are unlikely to be a strength problem as much as a technique problem, which will require work. Though he was able to gain easy separation in college, DGB will also need to work on his ability to consistently win routes with technique and precision. Perhaps he has the drive and character to do the work necessary to reach his sky-high ceiling, but his lapses in effort on the field and his issues off it make that ceiling anything but a foregone conclusion. That is the real risk for fantasy owners.
Combine standout Chris Conley, who I view as more than just a workout warrior, also deserves a mention. I go into more detail about Conley in discussing my Adjusted Explosiveness Index, but the upshot is he is a supremely athletic receiver who has good ball skills and a solid understanding of how to play the position. That is a recipe for success.
Who are the most underrated?
Ohio St. WR Devin Smith is the best deep threat in this draft, and though I feel he can be more than just a downfield threat, just his ability to stretch the field and make big plays makes him more valuable than he is being perceived in Dynasty circles.
The obvious strength of Smith’s game is down the field, and he does not disappoint in this area. He has easy speed that he uses to get on top of defensive backs very quickly, but he is not just a fast guy running straight lines down the field. Smith often sets up defenders with his eyes and shoulders before blowing past them deep, and he is excellent at tracking the deep ball once he gets behind the defense. Despite being just six-feet tall, Smith posted a very impressive 39-inch vertical at the combine and uses his body well to win in contested situations. Smith is also very good at quickly snapping back to the quarterback on curls and comebacks along the sideline, and since defensive backs have to respect the speed, he is able to create easy completions for his quarterbacks on these routes.
I know some people hate comps, but I really see T.Y. Hilton with better hands and the ability to win at the catch point when I watch Smith. If he reaches that ceiling, he could be top-ten level receiver, and he can be had for a third round pick in Dynasty rookie drafts today. Smith would be a perfect Torrey Smith replacement in Baltimore, and if he lands there I will own quite a few shares in my Dynasty leagues.
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell is not on the same level as Devin Smith, but he is another player being overlooked in the process. A wiry 6’1,197, Bell is a quick footed player with nice initial burst and good deep speed. He is tracks the ball well downfield, and has the body control to make late adjustments to win in contested situations. Bell also has underrated lateral agility that he uses to create yards after the catch, and at least has the physical attributes to make quick cuts and create separation with ease at the top of his routes.
Bell’s hands are inconsistent at best, and he could struggle with more physical players at the next level. He can also get choppy in his cuts, which is annoying considering the level of athleticism he possesses. Still, he is a very interesting deep threat who could have the ability to develop into more. A tenacious blocker, Bell would be a great fit in Philadelphia, and I would own a lot of shares in that situation.
Who are the most overrated?
The most overrated pass catcher in the draft is easily Michigan WR/TE Devin Funchess. At 6’4, 232, Funchess has the look of a player that should be physically dominant in contested situations, but that simply is not the case. Funchess does a poor job using his big frame to box out defenders, and he too often is beaten out on 50-50 balls. I believe some of his problem in contested situations comes from Funchess not trusting his hands. He allows the ball into his body too often, and that eliminates some of the length advantage his frame provides.
That said Funchess is a smooth athlete for his size, and despite his less than ideal movement skills, he does have some ability to create separation underneath. He offers a big target and showed at times good ability to snag passes well outside his frame. Funchess also transitions very quickly up field after the catch to maximize yards. Those traits could make him a useful chain-mover type at the next level, but without the raw athleticism or contested ability, Funchess’ ceiling is not particularly high.
I hesitate to call Arizona St. WR Jaelen Strong overrated because I believe he has an interesting skill set that could be successful on some level in the NFL, but he does not have the ceiling to be a top-five receiver in this loaded draft. Not by a long shot.
The biggest problem I see with Strong is his complete lack of suddenness both off the line and at the top of his routes. Despite running the 40 in an impressive 4.44 at the Combine, Strong’s play speed is quite slow. He struggles to create separation on even straight-line routes like crossers, and he very rarely gets good separation against man coverage. The most telling sign of Strong’s poor play speed is how little respect he gets on the line. Opposing defensive backs seem unconcerned about his “4.44” speed, and since he struggles to get off press coverage, they can jam him without any fear he will run past them.
The interesting part of Strong’s game is his ability in contested situations, which comes in handy considering his inability to create separation. He has solid hands and will catch the ball away from his body more often than not. Strong is also a big-framed wide receiver that uses his body well to wall of defenders on comebacks and back-shoulder throws. Matched with his leaping ability, those traits should make Strong a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
Looking at his skill set, Strong profiles as a possession receiver that has some ability to win in contested situations. That is certainly a valuable commodity, but it is not the stuff of which first round Dynasty selections are made. If Strong were going even a round later in rookie drafts I would have no issue, but the current perception of his value is way off. That said I had a very similar opinion of Kelvin Benjamin last season, and I am still cleaning egg off my face.
What small school prospects have big potential?
Perhaps the smoothest receiver in this draft outside Amari Cooper, William & Mary WR Tre McBride is one of my favorite receivers in the class. What stands out about McBride is how controlled he is in his routes and how quickly he can change direction, often at the expense of befuddled cornerbacks. He uses that ability to create consistent separation, albeit against inferior competition. McBride also has an impressive leaping ability and goes up and gets the ball in contested situations, even against top-flight competition.
I have a top tier in this wide receiver class that consists of around six or seven players. McBride is not quite in that discussion, but he is knocking at the door. McBride has the tools to be a very good receiver, and if he can make the leap facing better competition, he will be a steal in rookie drafts.
The other small school names like ECU WR Justin Hardy, Central Arkansas WR Dezmin Lewis and Harding WR Donatella Luckett simply do not do it for me. Out of the group, Hardy is the best receiving prospect, but he does not have the skill set to develop into a usable fantasy option outside perhaps the deepest of PPR leagues.
Are there any tight ends worth consideration?
I would be more interested in Funchess as a fantasy asset if he ends up being classified as a tight end, but even then this tight end class is very weak. There are no options I see as future top-five players, and the nature of the tight end position makes anyone outside the elite tier not worth an early selection in rookie only drafts.
The consensus best is Minnesota TE Maxx Williams, but I do not see the physical upside from Williams for him to threaten the upper tiers. He is a tight hipped athlete who takes several steps to gear down into cuts and almost looks like he is running on ice when trying to gear down. He also lacks the ideal burst to create separation at the top of routes, and he really does not have the elite long speed to threaten the seams. He is a reliable catcher with good hands and some ability after the catch, but there are a lot of tight ends that could say the same. He will likely be a fantasy starter at some point, but I very much doubt he cracks the top-five at the position in any season. He is destined for a career similar to what a healthy Kyle Rudolph would have.
Rutgers TE Tyler Kroft is not as widely praised as Williams, but he has more upside from a fantasy perspective. Despite being a full two inches taller than Maxx, Kroft is a much more fluid athlete with the potential to develop better route running and separation skills than Williams. He also has good hands and is tough to bring down after the catch.
Kroft does have issues. He allows himself to get bullied at the top of his routes too often; he does not utilize his length advantage enough by attacking the ball with his hands; and he does not consistently work to get open if the initial route is taken away. That said he has the physical tools to develop into a very dangerous receiving weapon, and considering no tight ends make an immediate impact, he could be a guy worth stashing very late in a rookie draft.
My bold prediction concerns a wide receiver I did not even discuss, USC WR Nelson Agholor. If the Eagles do not trade up to land Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, I am almost convinced they will select Agholor with the No. 20 overall pick.
A versatile player that will likely fit in as primarily a slot receiver and return man in the NFL, I am not sold Agholor will be a high-end fantasy contributor in every situation. If he lands in Philadelphia, however, I trust Chip Kelly to put Agholor in the open spaces where his instant speed and punt return skills can be put to work on the offensive side of the ball. Landing spot will play a huge role in how high I value Agholor, but landing with the Eagles would make me consider him amongst the second tier of wide receivers in rookie drafts.