Wide Receiver is probably the most interesting and entertaining positions to scout each draft cycle. It’s not only a fan favorite, which is highly driven by the uptick in dynasty fantasy football leagues, but also one of the most tantalizing positions to watch in the pass heavy NFL. We constantly pound the table for certain “elite” prospects to be over-drafted, only to watch roughly half of them, if not more, blow up the following years. Now obviously, especially as of late, we have seen a lot of first round talent absolutely live up to their hype. Guys like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Ja’Marr Chase (the list goes on) have taken over the NFL after being picked on the opening night…but what about the other guys? John Ross, Corey Coleman, Jaelon Raegor (and this list goes on as well)…point being, we see about as many busts as we see hits.
The first round can seem a bit “boom or bust” in the WR department, but there are also a ton of quality starters selected that may never reach that elite category. Thus, what are we supposed to expect out of a first round WR? What is the standard? Obviously what matters most is the value of the pick being used. There clearly should be a distinct drop off in talent from a top 5 prospect and a late first rounder. The elite tier is labeled that way for a reason…they are head and shoulders above the rest and are a select group that is truly superior in just about every fashion of the word. However, it doesn’t always come out just the way it stacked up on draft day…there are always diamonds in the rough that slip through the NFL cracks, only to exploded on the scene faster and stronger than some of the “no brainer first rounders”. You must temper your expectations when spending a first at the position; you likely won’t land the next Randy Moss, but landing a guy that you can build an offense around and trust as your WR1 is an absolute hit. Now, with the standard being acknowledged, let’s dig into this class.
1st Round Potential
Garrett Wilson | Ohio State, JR 6’0″, 188 lbs
Wilson is likely the most complete and well rounded receiver in this group and his production shows. The dynamic playmaker has lined up all over the field throughout his career and has shown potential for any role or scheme that he is drafted into. He had some of the most astounding numbers and metrics coming out of high school, so he is probably going to be an absolute stud at the combine. His production has been incredible, especially when considering how talented of a group he has been apart and in three seasons he has logged 143 receptions, 2,213 yards and 24 TDs. He’s not the biggest prospect, standing at just around 6 feet, but has a prototypical build for a shorter wide receiver. He may project as a slot receiver for some offenses, which is likely due to his incredible versatility as an offensive playmaker rather than a knock at his potential as an outside receiver. Whatever role he plays there will be one thing that is very clear: when the ball is in his hands, defenses start to panic. We’ve seen Wilson dominate all over field, so he certainly won’t be pigeonholed into any specific role come draft time.
Drake London | USC, JR 6’5″ 210 lbs
We haven’t seen Drake London recently due to a late season ankle fracture, but what he already put on tape is enough to keep him in this first round category. London fought for targets with Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon-Ra St. Brown in his first two seasons, but had a big time breakout campaign this year before it was cut short. Through just 8 games, London amassed 88 receptions, 1,084 yards and 7 TDs. He brings NFL size to the table with his massive 6’5″ frame, but is quicker and much shiftier than most his size. Unlike many bigger receivers who are primarily used in specific roles, London played all over the field and was given anything from jet sweeps, to bubble screens, to corner routes. His biggest strength is probably his contested catch ability, which he has shown numerous times with his ability to dominate 50/50 balls, but his ability to run routes and find space is up to par with the best in the class. The dude simply just gets open and creates a cushion. He has a rare skillset that places his potential somewhere in the early to mid first round. London was a target hogging reception machine and ranked 1st among power 5 receivers with a PFF grade of 91.3…a true do-it-all receiver.
Treylon Burks | Arkansas, JR 6’3″ 225 lbs
On film, Burks is one of the most powerful receivers in recent memory and although I am not big on NFL comparisons, he has a similar skillset to AJ Brown. He shocks defenders with his deceptive speed, then hits anyone who gets close enough with a powerful stiff arm to the turf. In particular, his game against Alabama is where his NFL potential was put on display for nation to ultimately catch onto how dynamic of a player he is. Burks spent most of his time playing out of the slot, but also lined up out wide as well as in the backfield in certain scenarios. Like London and Wilson, Burks is a do-it-all guy with the makeup to become a true number one receiver, but one aspect that sets him apart from the class is his exceptions YAC ability due to his combination of size, speed and power. Burks not only has incredible size and speed, but just wait for when the media catches wind that his hands are so big that he has to wear custom 5XL gloves.
Jameson Williams | Alabama, JR 6’2″ 190 lbs
Williams, an Ohio State transfer, has had a storybook season that will be capped off by an epic playoff run with the Crimson Tide. He has been a late riser, primarily due to his nearly nonexistent usage at OSU before this season, but has showcased an elite skillset on one of the biggest stages in college football. He went from a 9 catch season to posting 68 receptions for 1,445 yards and 15 TDs on his way to earning 1st Team All-American honors. Williams is slim, but fits through gaps in coverages and blows the top off of defenses with grace. He is an absolute burner, but his game is far more sophisticated than that. His elite athleticism is clear and his route running is much cleaner than expected, but possibly his most surprising trait is his ability to pick up hard yards after the catch. Early on, I see Williams as more of a role player than the dynamic trio listed above, but the potential is through the roof. All it takes is one team to fall in love and Williams very well could be the first receiver selected on draft night.
David Bell | Purdue, JR 6’2″ 205 lbs
The 1st Team All-American finished his junior campaign with 93 receptions, 1,286 yards and 6 TDs. He has the perfect size and frame to make it at the next level and will act as any QBs security blanket. Despite not being a sub 4.3 receiver, he has great wheels for a 200 pounder. Bell perhaps had the best single game performance of the year when he racked up 240 yards against Iowa and singlehandedly carried the Boilermakers on his back to victory. The route running appears sloppy at times, but the lackadaisical approach has worked as if he is lulling defenders to sleep and waiting to attack when the opportunity arises. The body control may be the best in the class and the short burst, twitchy cutting ability and get-off are all exceptional. Bell is still flying a bit under the radar due to the star power above him, but he is certainly a guy that could hear his name called very early in the NFL Draft.
Chris Olave | Ohio State, SR 6’1″ 190 lbs
Olave took the gamble last year and elected to return to school for another season, despite having a 1st round ceiling and Day 2 floor. Whether that gamble will pay off is still unclear, but what is clear is that Olave is very much in the 1st round conversation. Olave has sprinter’s speed that pairs well with explosive and jittery athleticism, which helped him find the end zone 35 times in his career. The 4 year career certainly shows in his IQ and ability to find space or gaps in the zone. Run blocking certainly won’t be his biggest strength and I’d like to see him improve on the 50/50 balls when he gets to the league.
Jahan Dotson | Penn State, SR 5’11” 185 lbs
Dotson had a huge senior season where he toasted Big 10 defenders en route to producing 91 receptions for 1,182 yards and 12 TDs. His size doesn’t scream “NFL”, but when you see this prospect operate in all phases of the receiving game you will be sold that he can get it done at the next level. He’ll get pushed around at the line, but possesses the rare ability to find holes and get open. He rarely appears to be dominant in real time, but slyly and sneakily posts 100+ yard games just by being steady and picking up chunk after chunk. He’s not the most imposing or intimidating player, but he is just a gamer and gets the job done. Also, we can’t undersell his big play ability…it’s certainly there too. Dotson could slide, but likely has the makes to carve out a significant role in the NFL.
Mid Round Talent
Jaivon Heiligh | Coastal Carolina, SR 6’2″ 200 lbs
Heiligh has been the top target of Grayson McCall over the past two seasons and has topped 124 receptions, 2,000 yards and 17 TDs in that span, despite playing in a run heavy scheme. He may not have the top tier tape against many P5 opponents, nor the media reach that some of the top prospects have, but Heiligh has proven himself as a big play receiver that can get it done at the next level.
George Pickens | UGA, JR 6’3″ 200 lbs
Pickens has been making noise ever since the former 5 star flipped from Auburn to UGA on National Signing Day. Through his career at UGA, he has experienced just as many highlights as he has lowlights. Most recently, Pickens tore his ACL in the offseason, which caused him to miss most of the regular season. He returned in late November, but has played a very limited role and only recorded 3 catches for 46 yards. In his career, Pickens has yet to top 600 yards in a single season, however has had 6 games with over 84 yards and has a modest 14 TDs in 22 games. The upside is there, but his inability to play up to opponents, win big battles, and gain the necessary cushion needed to excel at the next level is missing. Someone could use a day 2 pick on Pickens if he goes, but I would love to see him return to UGA for another season and improve upon his stock.
Khalil Shakir | Boise State, SR 6’0″ 190 lbs
The veteran has topped the 200 reception, 20 TD club and is just 122 yards shy of eclipsing the 3,000 yard mark. Through his career, Shakir has dazzled in the Mountain West. His routes are crisp, but he is probably going to be highly coveted as a WR2 or WR3 that can help spread the field as a deep threat.
Dontario Drummond | Ole Miss, JR 6’1″ 220 lbs
Drummond was a bit of a late bloomer at Ole Miss, but took over in a big way as the teams WR1 in 2021. He might not be as flashy as some of the elite names in the SEC, but he was one of the most solid receivers that I have watched this year. He doesn’t do anything spectacular or ahead of anyone else in the class, but he also doesn’t make many mistakes. This is a guy who could certainly fly up boards following a strong week at the Senior Bowl.
Wan’Dale Robinson | Kentucky, JR 5’11” 185 lbs
The Nebraska transfer turned into the X-Factor in the Wildcats offense, where he hauled in a team high 94 receptions. The glaring flaw is size, but we see teams draft tiny receivers highly as long as they have the wheels to make it work at the next level. That shouldn’t be an issue for Robinson, as he is likely going to be in the 4.3 range.
Jerreth Sterns | Western Kentucky, JR 5’9″ 195 lbs
The Western Kentucky product was an absolute nightmare for opponents in 2021, as he hauled in 137 receptions for 1,718 yards and 14 TDs as a part of one of the most dynamic offenses in college football. Although prospects aren’t drafted for their statistical production alone (not to mention, his are a bit inflated being from an uber pass happy scheme), Sterns brings a lot more to the table than just raw numbers. His tape against #17 Michigan State was electric. He has a knack for getting open all over the field and is so dynamic with the ball in his hands. He is short, but stout and gives off major Rondale Moore vibes…the question is, can he run in the 4.3 range like Moore (4.29 to be exact)? Likely not, but I absolutely could see a team taking a shot on the accomplished veteran to play in a gadget role or in the slot for the developmental stages of his career.
Jalen Tolbert | South Alabama, JR 6’3″ 190 lbs
Tolbert has put together a solid resume full of production over the past two seasons, but has remained somewhat of a media sleeper. Don’t get it twisted, the NFL is well aware of Jalen Tolbert, who could be the leagues next best kept secret. He’s well built at 6’3″, but moves around like a much smaller receiver and has boasted his big play ability throughout his career. He has one of the best combinations of size, speed and explosiveness, but one knock on tape is that his route could be a bit more refined…a common “flaw” amongst most NFL prospects. It is also worth noting that Tolbert will be 23 by the time he plays his first NFL game, which is old by rookie standards. I, for one, don’t subscribe to the “late bloomer” bias held by many, but it certainly is a con when compared to other prospects in a similar position. Regardless, Tolbert has serious talent and could be a mid round pick.