2018 Draft: Wide Receiver Watch List

Keeping it moving…

I’ve already chopped up and previewed the 2018 running back class. Hit the jump below, and let’s talk about it:

I’ll provide the same disclaimers here, for the wideouts, as I did there, for the running backs:

  • This is a watch list. Despite the “tiers” noted on the left, these are not rankings. The tiers are something that I like to do for myself entering each season as a way to “map things out”, so-to-speak.
  • Again, as these are not rankings, obviously none of this is set in stone. Players will move up and down the board throughout the season.
  • We will have players (underclassmen), of course, that’ll return to school. This list will be updated again once we hit the offseason, alluded to above.
  • Lastly, all the height-weight-speed numbers are provided by NFL Draft Scout. I rely on the corresponding school’s website for accurate date of birth information. If the school doesn’t list it, I don’t have it posted below. I’ll fill in those blanks when I receive legitimate confirmation otherwise.

Let’s get into it:

This could be a fun group.

Having combed through the running backs prior, it’s interesting to note the amount of wide receivers I have ranked as “mid tier” coming into things. I was able to thin out and separate the running backs a bit more “easily”, but found myself having a difficult time drawing the line with this class of pass catchers. Could speak to the talent in general, which appears to be deeper when compared to 2017, at least upon early viewing.

Also, on a related note: unlike the 2018 running back class, I do not see any “elite”-level talent in this class. Much like 2017 (and Corey Davis), however, the WR1 will be real close to that “tier”, for me personally anyway. Bias aside, the last “elite” wide receiver we saw come out of college was Amari Cooper in 2015. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans were in the conversation in 2014 (and obviously Odell Beckham Jr., although I’m not sure nearly enough were touting him as such). I digress…

Top Five

Courtland Sutton would’ve been my WR1, over Corey Davis, had he declared in 2017. At 6’3″ and nearly 220 pounds, Sutton’s going to look good in uniform. He’s going to get dinged for the lack of straight-line speed, but he clearly wins (and wins consistently) despite those “shortcomings”. Sutton was originally recruited as a safety, and after watching a few games, it’s easy to see the defensive background as he’s flourishing on offense. Sutton wins with physicality, hands, and excellent body control. He’s going to toy with defenders in the red area and continue to be a target as all those traits are translatable at the next level. We’ll be seeing a lot more articles like this in the months that follow, I’m sure:

Auden Tate may seem like a projection, especially sitting as high as the 2 spot, for many coming into the season. I get it, as he’s “raw” in some aspects. But at 6’5″, 215 (according to Rotoworld, as NFL Draft Scout did not have his page up, or updated, at the time of this writing), there’s a lot to like based on measurables alone. While I’m not sure he’s going to set the Combine on fire, much like Sutton, he uses his body very well and is easily able to out-muscle defenders and win contested situations; his catch radius is bonkers. What’s more, the former four-star recruit is only 20 years old. The productivity hasn’t been there at this point in his career, so I’m banking on him and quarterback Deondre Francois taking the next steps together. We’ve seen flashes of dominance, but he’ll have to string together a solid (consistent) season in order to keep this current projection.

Many were looking forward to James Washington‘s jump to the NFL last season. Now, the senior wide receiver returns as one of the more dominant college football players, all standing at under six feet tall. He’s not the biggest, especially compared to the two aforementioned prospects, but Washington wins in a similar manner: beating defensive backs up at the catch-point. He’s now put together back-to-back 1000-yard receiving efforts, notching 10 touchdown receptions in both 2015 and 2016. Washington has averaged 20.5 and 19.4 yards per catch in 2015 and 2016 respectively, which speaks to his big play ability. Look for the numbers to continue to pile up with Mason Rudolph still under center.

It’s early yet, but there may not be a receiver I like more than Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown. Eq’s pops was a two-time Mr. Universe and three-time Mr. World winner. The #genetics are good with this one. At 6’4″, 205, St. Brown’s ceiling is as high as any prospect in this class. While he could use a few more pounds on his frame (dad’s got him, I’m sure), and he may not be the most savvy route-runner at this point, the athleticism is so obvious. Couple that with a reliable set of hands, and we have the makings of a super-intriguing prospect, given the background. If Eq’s able to clean some things up, and continue the ascension, we may have some competition for Mr. Sutton at the top.

Deon Cain appears to be next in line as far as highly-touted Clemson wide receivers are concerned. Much like Tate, and even St. Brown to an extent, Cain’s a bit raw, so a spot in the initial top five may raise some eyebrows. Cain, a five-start recruit (top three wide receiver in the class of 2015) from Tampa, Florida possess a strong build at 6’1″, 210, to go along with 4.4-something speed. Clemson’s offensive landscape will look completely different in 2017; a new unit that Deon Cain can become the face of. Gone is Deshaun Watson and former-WR1 Mike Williams. Artavis Scott and tight end Jordan Leggett join them in the NFL. There’s plenty of targets to replace. I love what Cain’s able to do off the line, and his speed and overall athleticism flash consistently. Averaging just over 19 yards per snag in 2016 is no joke. The hands are more than serviceable and improving. Cain just feels “safe” at the moment, and presents top three upside if things fall into place.

Other Notables

Christian Kirk just missed the top five cut. He appears to be one of the more polarizing players in this class entering 2017, as many feel he’s overrated (at least initially). He’s super-athletic and versatile, and also has age working for him. I’m a fan.

Richie James II, Michael Gallup, and Antonio Callaway are three other names that you’ll see frequently mixed in top five or ten talk early on this year. Each player has earned the buzz in their own right, certainly. I think you can flip-flop between Kirk and James, as both talented players win in a similar manner. I’m a little more bearish on Callaway than the majority at the moment.

Both George Campbell (groin) and Lawrence Cager (knee) are big targets coming off season-ending injuries in 2016. On paper, they’re impressive. Can they unlock their potential, and bounce-back?

Daylon Charlot is a former four-star wideout, and more notably, an Alabama commit. We don’t routinely see Kansas pumping NFL-level pass-catchers into the league, but Charlot’s résumé is as good as anyone’s as things currently stand.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive