Eagles

2021 NFL draft: An early look at an impressive receiver class

Eagles

Death, taxes and the Eagles looking for wide receivers. Things you can always count on. 

The Eagles selected three receivers and traded for another during the 2020 NFL Draft. First-round pick Jalen Reagor should make an immediate impact. Late-round selections John Hightower and Quez Watkins will battle for roster spots. Then there's Marquise Goodwin, acquired in a trade with the 49ers, who will try to stay healthy and recapture his 2017 form that produced 56 receptions for 962 yards. 

Howie Roseman and company are hopeful they've found some keepers from that group. All four can run; whether they will be productive next season remains to be seen. 

The newcomers aren't the only question marks. DeSean Jackson finished one game last season and turns 34 in December. Alshon Jeffery is recovering from foot surgery and may not be ready for the start of the season. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside failed to meet expectations as a rookie.   

So it's not a stretch to suggest the Eagles could once again be in the market for a wide receiver heading into next year's draft. They should have plenty of options — the 2021 receiver class might end up being better than the 2020 class that included six first round picks. 

Here are the headliners from a very impressive group:

1.  Ja'Marr Chase  (6-1, 200, LSU)

Chase was arguably the best wide receiver in college football last season. He put together a monster sophomore year, leading a record-setting LSU offense in receiving yards (1,780), receiving touchdowns (20) and yards per catch (21.2). He finished the season with 84 catches, second only to 2020 first-round pick Justin Jefferson. 

 

Chase's numbers may not be as gaudy next season with Joe Burrow moving on to the NFL and the unproven Myles Brennan taking over as LSU's starting quarterback. But that shouldn't impact his draft status. He'll likely be a top-10 pick next year due to his combination of game-breaking speed, precise route running and ability to make contested catches down the field. Chase stands apart as the best of the bunch in this 2021 WR class.  

2.  Justyn Ross  (6-4, 205, Clemson)

Ross is poised for a huge junior season now that his Clemson running mate Tee Higgins is teaming up with Burrow on the Bengals’ offense. Ross becomes Trevor Lawrence's unquestioned No. 1 target for the Tigers. Ross burst onto the scene with 46 catches for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns as a true freshman on Clemson's 2018 national championship team. He followed that up with 66 catches for 865 yards and 8 touchdowns last year.

He has all the physical traits to be a difference-maker at the NFL level — he's big, fast and has terrific hands. Look for Ross to challenge Chase as the best wide receiver in college football next season and potentially play his way into becoming a top-15 pick. 

3. Rashod Bateman (6-2, 210, Minnesota)

Minnesota was one of the surprise teams in college football in 2019 and Bateman was a big reason why. He had 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore, averaging 20.3 yards per catch. Penn State fans got a good look at Bateman's abilities when he torched the Nittany Lions for 203 yards in a 31-26 Minnesota win. 

He's another big, physical receiver with elite route-running skills. Bateman isn't a burner but he has very good hands and the ability to pick up yardage after the catch. He enters the 2020 season as the best receiver in the Big Ten and is projected as a first round pick next spring. 

4. DeVonta Smith (6-1, 180, Alabama)

Smith is the next man up from the Alabama wide receiver factory. He led Alabama with 1,256 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior, and his 68 catches were second on the team behind 2020 first round pick Jerry Jeudy. It's a case of good news/bad news when it comes to Smith's production next season. The good news — Jeudy and fellow first round pick Henry Ruggs have moved on to the NFL, so that means more targets for Smith. The bad news — Tua Tagovailoa is a Miami Dolphin now and won't be throwing to Smith next season. 

Alabama's Mac Jones proved to be a capable replacement for Tagovailoa last season, so don't expect Smith's numbers to suffer too much. He's on the fast track to becoming the latest in a long line of Alabama wideouts to hear their name called in the first round of the NFL Draft. 

5.  Jaylen Waddle  (5-10, 180, Alabama)

Of course, Smith isn't the only playmaking receiver left at Alabama. Waddle is a big play waiting to happen, whether it be on offense or in the return game. He returned a kick and a punt for a touchdown last season and finished with 33 catches for 560 yards and six touchdowns as the Crimson Tide's No. 4 receiver behind Jeudy, Smith and Ruggs. 

 

Waddle has speed to burn and his numbers in the passing game should skyrocket with the departures of Jeudy and Ruggs. He's proven to be very effective in the slot and should get more opportunities to line up on the outside in 2020. A big junior year from Waddle could make it a total of four Alabama wide receivers selected in the first round in a span of two years.    

The list doesn't end there. Purdue's Rondale Moore, Auburn's Seth Williams, Florida State's Tamorrion Terry, USC's Amon-Ra St. Brown and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace are all worthy of first-round consideration. There will be plenty of home run hitters available if the Eagles decide to take another swing at a wideout in the 2021 NFL Draft.