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Top Wide Receiver Prospects | 2019 NFL Draft

We take a a look at some of the best pass-catchers in the 2019 NFL draft

For the last couple of weeks, I had been making a personal scouting list of the Top 5 players per position in the upcoming NFL Draft. However, the feedback I had been getting from the community was that you wanted to hear about more talented players that might be in the Colts range, not just the top five.

For that reason, I’ve decided to just list the position players that I have a first or second round grade on and maybe leave a couple of the low second to late third-rounders as honorable mentions. I’m going to keep the ones that are out of the Colts range, or that I’m not a huge fan of, brief so we can take a closer look at the ones that are more realistic.

Also, if you guys prefer this format please let me know. If this supplants the previous style, then I just want to let you all know that these articles will take slightly longer to make, but they will be more in depth. Enjoy.

D.K. Metcalf, WR Ole Miss

Height: 6’3’’

Weight: 228 pounds

We’ve all seen the pictures, we’ve all heard about the 4.33 40-dash, we’ve all learned that avocados have more fat in them than Metcalf has in his whole body (Nutritionists dispute it, and the Combine’s machine has a ~3% error window. He’s probably around 4% body fat, which is still wild). However, one thing the national media isn’t really focusing on is the fact that Metcalf doesn’t seem to be able to twist and turn as he should. His 3-cone drill (7.38) is absolutely atrocious. The WR combine-best, for comparison, was Myles Boykin of Notre Dame with 6.77. Metcalf’s time was not just poor for a receiver, though. As a comparison, so you can fully grasp how terrible Metcalf’s time is, Tom “The Un-Athletic Pocket Passer” Brady has a 7.2 3-cone.

Enough said.

I still have him at number one because it is the time of the year when mock drafts go from being personal big boards to predictions based on what’s being heard from executives and sources. All I seem to be seeing is that DK Metcalf will either go to the Jags (7) or to the Bills (9). In my opinion, currently, Metcalf is a straight-line speed type of player who needs to work on his routes. Pairing him with Josh Allen makes sense just because of how inaccurate the latter is, but he does have a cannon for an arm and Metcalf would help him maximize big gains down the field. I also think he has the most upside out of all the WR’s in this draft.

My final knock against him is that he didn’t really produce in college due to injury, and that he is a bit of an unknown.

Marquise Brown, WR Oklahoma

Height: 5’10’’

Weight: 168 pounds

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you Brown is the speedster of this class, even though he was unable to participate in the Combine because of an injury. His open field speed is great and, when paired with two great college quarterbacks, he was able to produce at a high level. From the tape that I have assessed on him, I think he would be an ideal fit in the Colts quick-paced offense because of his speed and also because the goal of Reich’s attack is to get the ball into play makers’ hands in open space where they can make something happen. Here is an example:

And while Brown certainly has the speed to take the cap off a defense, there are some apparent concerns. Let’s start off with his height. At 5’10’’, Brown is shorter than your ideal wide receiver, and some people worry about his ability to stay healthy at the next level.

For me that is not that great of a concern since Hilton can teach Brown the art of “diving to the ground and preserving your body”. I just think that you are eventually going to need some size presence on your team and the Colts cannot just have a bunch of speedsters.

Players with speed can stretch the field for you, giving you valuable yards after the catch and being especially deadly on go routes or post routes. However, as one nears the endzone and the field shrinks, smaller players tend to struggle more, as we’ve seen with Hilton struggling inside the opponents’ 20 yard line.

Secondly, as many of you will now know, my mantra for wide receivers has consistently been “Route Runners > Athletes”. You can take a freak athlete in Day 3 and try and develop him (Reece Fountain) but in Day 1 or Early Day 2, you should stick to route runners. Since Oklahoma was so explosive last year, you can bet that I’ve watched a lot of their games, just because they were so enjoyable. As I took a closer look at Brown specifically, though, you can see that he rounds out his cuts a little. Who can blame him? In college, with his blazing speed, he didn’t really need to run quick, crisp routes to gain separation. That won’t work at the next level. I just kind of see a lot of John Ross in him, and it worries me.

My final concern is that Oklahoma is in the Big “We have no Good Secondaries” 12, so they played against mostly bad defenses that Oklahoma’s genius HC, Lincoln Riley, and Heisman -winning QB, Kyler Murray, could prey upon. Worse, when Oklahoma played Alabama, the best defense they had faced all year, Brown was injured. As such, I’ve got no useful tape on him from that game.

A.J. Brown, WR Ole Miss

Height: 6’1’’

Weight: 225 pounds

While his teammates combine overshadowed his own, he still displayed his great hands, good route running, speed and from what I hear, he killed the interviews with his confident tone and leadership.

Unlike Metcalf, Brown actually played all year, and he was one of the top receiving threats at Ole Miss with over 1,300 yards. As a team, you want to have 3-4 players that can consistently get you into the endzone. If Jack Doyle is injured, I think the Colts only have 2 currently (Ebron and Mack). Brown would give the team a big-bodied receiver that the Colts could utilize inside the 20 yard line.

After watching his tape, I think Brown would thrive in a quick-paced West Coast Offense. For those that don’t know, the West Coast philosophy is this.

I don’t want to say the Colts run a West Coast Offense. There are some similarities, though. The Colts’ offense features very similar underlying patterns (quick passes often, air it out every once in a while, running backs running routes out of the backfield, etc.). The key differences are that the Colts utilize their tight ends a lot more and Reich establishes a run game to then use play-action, tending to have a more stable pass to run ratio.

Finally, the only knock that I would have on Brown is that he excels in the slot, showcasing a 3.01 yards per route there. And while it sounds strange that being good at something might be a negative, the worry here is that the Colts best receiver, Hilton, also excels from the slot. Hilton can certainly play on the perimeter, because his speed allows him to be placed all over the field, but you certainly could see how having two players that shine at the same position could cause schematic problems.

I still don’t think it matters all that much, and I’m honestly nit-picking at this point. Brown has to be my favorite plug-and-play WR going into the draft.

Bonus stat for those Colt fans that are worried about drops, A.J. Brown caught 73.0% of his passes in 2018 and 78.1% in 2017. These aren’t just “on target” passes, these are all passes.

N’Keal Harry, WR ASU

Height: 6’2’’

Weight: 228

The D.K. Metcalf before D.K. Metcalf. Before the shirtless Instagram pictures and the 1.6% body fat, Harry was once considered the freak athlete of the class, and rightfully so. His athleticism was on full display versus most Pac-12 defenses, and highlight-reel catches garnered him national attention.

He’s also a great kid, a native of the Caribbean who came to the United States with his grandmother and made national news when he traveled back to his community to visit his mother and sister.

Harry arrived in college football with a bang, making the Freshman All-American Team his first year and the All Pac-12 team his second. Coaches and teammates applaud his tireless work ethic, swagger, and leadership. Harry has God-given physical attributes to go along with some really great hands. His speed off the line is a little suspect, however, and he lacks a second gear when he gets down the field. Harry would certainly fit the big-bodied WR role for the Colts, and if they can get him to stop running routes so high up, they could have a high-end No.2 wide receiver on their hands. If not, he excels at back shoulder catches when he isn’t able to gain separation or the ball is under-thrown.

Interesting fact, he attended Marcos de Niza High School his first two years of high school with Byron Murphy and they are close friends, so maybe reunite them on the Colts?

Hakeem Butler, WR Iowa State

Height: 6’5’’

Weight: 225 pounds

What he lacks in overall strength, Butler makes up in size and elusiveness. He produced in college, finishing 8th in the nation with 1,318 yards and first in yards per catch for players with at least 60 catches (22.0).

That last stat is especially interesting because if you watch his tape, he’s not only a great downfield and endzone threat, he can also run good intermediate routes with decent cuts, considering his size and high center of gravity.

It was interesting for me to see him choose not to run a 3-cone or a 20 yard dash at the Combine, but still run a 40 (4.48). His change of direction on tape is average at worst, so I was confused by his decision not to run agility drills.

Another great characteristic that Hakeem has is his ability to break tackles, which is unsurprising considering his size versus that of the average corner.

He makes a nice catch on a ball that is slightly behind him, and instead of getting blown up by the Oklahoma DB, he breaks the tackle and then starts to accelerate, then breaks two more tackles and takes it to the house.

This example demonstrates another strength I found when watching his tape: back shoulder catches. Butler’s body control and his ability to stay in-bounds, whether he drags his toes or contort his body, is certainly something you don’t find in many 6’5’’ behemoths.

As we have seen in the Build-A-Ballard series by Zach Hicks, most of the WR’s drafted by staffs Ballard was part of tended to be athletic freaks with unpolished routes and occasionally fundamental technique problems. Factoring in his physical attributes along with his speed and ability to create separation, Butler is the player that I think is most likely to check off Ballard’s boxes. Just for comparisons’ sake, Butler’s height is, on average, 5 inches taller than the average receiver and 7 inches taller than the average DB.

If you thought that N’Keal Harry could make athletic catches, you haven’t seen anything yet. With a hand size of 10 3/4 (OBJ had 10-inch hands), you can definitely expect Butler to put on a clinic of jaw-dropping catches next season. That is, if he finds himself wearing the horseshoe.

Riley Ridley, WR Georgia

Height: 6’2’’

Weight: 199 pounds

On my big board, Ridley is the second-best route runner in the Wide Receiver class. He’s got the NFL lineage, as Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley is his older brother. Coming from the SEC, playing against top-end talent is the norm, and Ridley certainly performed well. His skill set is similar to his brother’s. They have a similar physique and are both great route runners. Calvin’s stat line of 64-821-10 would be an ideal rookie production, with maybe half the amount of TDs.

His catching ability won’t wow you like Harry or Butler, but its his fundamentals, just keeping his eyes on the ball and reeling it in, that makes him stand out. His route running is on full display constantly, and so is his off-the-line burst and downfield speed.

Simple, and yet harmonious. Videos like these are a dime a dozen when watching Ridley. The speed at the snap. The slight head bob. The flawless movement at the cut. The catch on the ball that is slightly thrown behind.

Another thing that makes Riley worthy of a top 60 pick is his production in the red zone. He’s got a plethora of moves and routes, so if the ball is snapped around the 20-25 he might hit you with a double move. He could also run a fade to the back pylon. You just never know.

If the ball is inside the 10, then he might run a quick curl route then flip his hips up-field quickly to get into the end zone.

Ridley isn’t just a route runner, though. He’s got quite a bit of athleticism, and his height (74 inches) is right around the ideal size. Honestly, I have so much film of Ridley doing all sorts of things from extended catches between the numbers to him breaking corner’s ankles for easy TDs I could dedicate a whole other article to him. There is only so much time, though, so let me just leave you with this acrobatic catch near the side lines. His high-point awareness is surreal, and that’s not even taking into account that he comes down with the ball in bounds and is able to turn in mid air and take it to the house before anyone can get near him.

It’s not all positive, unfortunately: Ridley didn’t exactly produce a lot of tangible evidence during his three years at UGA. His junior year was far and away his best season, but his stat line (44-570-9), doesn’t scream “second round pick”.

With that said, his lack of production has to be taken into context. He did what he could with what he was given. His 69.6% catch rate, 9.1 yards per target and touchdown every 9.6 catches were all exceptional. He also played alongside 2 other NFL wide receivers, and was clearly the best receiver on his team. Given his tape, and these numbers, you begin to understand why he is so highly regarded by analysts like Bucky Brooks and DJ who have him graded as the 27th and 29th best player in the draft. Now, to me, that is a little too rich, but his ranking as the number #54 overall player on CBS’ big board seems like it’s on par with what I see on tape.

Deebo Samuel, WR South Carolina

Height: 5’11’’

Weight: 214 pounds

Tyshun “Deebo” Samuel is my number one route runner in this class. I tend to think of him as a shorter, heavier, slightly faster version of Riley Ridley. (Interestingly, Ridley actually committed to play at South Carolina alongside Deebo until he later de-committed to join the Dawgs.)

Let’s begin with what Samuel does well, which is pretty much anything and everything. Speed: 4.48 40-dash is good. Route running: check. Catching: check. Production: check.

Right now, the only boxes that Deebo seems to leave blank are injury concerns and height. After recording a stat line of 59-783-1 his sophomore season, his junior campaign was riddled with injuries, including a pretty nasty leg injury.

Samuel bounced back in his senior year and won All-SEC Football team awards at the WR position in a conference that includes many players in this list (Metcalf, Brown, Ridley) as well as next year’s top NFL wide receiver prospect (and Biletnikoff Award winner), Jerry Jeudy.

His senior season consisted of a stat line of 62-882-11, with the touchdowns being especially surprising considering that he isn’t the tallest or most physically imposing receiver. Samuel’s 39 inch vertical certainly helps in that department, however.

Even though he posted NFL-worthy numbers, Deebo’s name was not really known outside of South Carolina until the Senior Bowl, when he stole the show doing things like this:

The defensive back across him was the other player to make a name for himself, Rock Ya-Sin. During the time of the combine, Ya-Sin was DJ’s number one ranked corner in this class. While I don’t necessarily agree with that, Ya-Sin is certainly no bum, and Samuel just torched him. The speed and footwork displayed in this clip is like all the other tape I’ve watched from him, and it’s important to note how good that slight second pause Samuel has before he plants his right foot in and shoot inwards.

Absolutely fabulous.

Here again we have the same matchup, but instead of being a short inward slant, this is more of a fade route. Kudos to Gardner Minshew for placing a perfect ball over the shoulder and great job by Ya-Sin in matching Samuel stride for stride until he slows down a little near the end when he starts looking for the ball.

If you ever have the time pull up the Clemson game where he torched them for 10-210-3.

Honorable mentions

Parris Cambell, WR Ohio State

  • Track background helped him blow up at the Combine
  • Number one receiver at Ohio State
  • Like his speed and route running
  • Can score anywhere from that field
  • Many will say slot receiver because of size. I think he can play on the perimeter because of underdeveloped route running and amazing speed
  • Could be paired with Hines to be great gadget X-factor players

Kelvin Harmon, WR NC State

  • Much higher-rated by a lot of other analysts and highly regarded among the Colts community
  • Average athleticism at best
  • Off the line get-off is mediocre
  • Not great route runner
  • Big time concern about his ability to create separation
  • One of the top two 50-50, go-get-it WRs
  • Chance to be a powerful end zone target

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR Stanford

  • Not great off the line get-off
  • Long arms (33.25’)
  • Some of the best hands, secures the ball well
  • TD menace (14)
  • Slightly over a 1,000 yards
  • Average route runner, good with back shoulder catch but does not gain much separation
  • Doesn’t move legs quickly, but long strides
  • Lacks second gear, average in open field

Terry McLaurin, WR Ohio State

  • Track background wasn’t exactly on full display at the combine
  • Great speed and short area quickness
  • Hand reaction is a little slow
  • Height is a plus
  • Can be asked to block
  • With development could maximize physical gifts

Andy Isabella, WR UMass

  • Definition of high-floor and low-ceiling
  • Fast (4.31 fast)
  • Nice route running
  • Led FBS Division 1 in receiving by a solid 200 yards (1698 yards)
  • Small, around 5’9’’
  • Ideal development would be a slot player that could develop into a Julian Edelman-type player. More athletic, and perfect scheme fit for the Colts quick pass offense.
  • Did face lesser competition but had 200+ yards versus a very good Georgia defense