TEAM NEED: The Minnesota Vikings lost Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson to free agency, but still have a solid core of receivers with Diggs, Thielen, 2016 first-round pick Treadwell and Wright. The Vikings likely will pay special attention to those receivers who have kick return experience because Patterson’s dominance as a return man will be difficult to replace. Expect to see at least one of their picks used at wide receiver because you always need a full stable, and if a project-type player is available, they have enough in front of that player to not feel forced to push him into the lineup right away.
POSITION ANALYSIS: A relatively deep class that isn’t overly top-heavy – there probably won’t be more than three or four players coming off the board in the first round – could provide a dozen wide receivers drafted on the second day of the draft. There may not be a Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. type of playmaker in this year’s draft class, but there is plenty of quantity and some deep quality in this year’s draft group.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Mike Williams, Clemson, 6-3¾, 218 – Fourth-year junior who was granted a medical redshirt in 2015 after playing just one game…Two-year starter who caught 155 passes for 2,391 yards and 17 touchdowns, including 98-1,361-11 numbers in 2016…Well-muscled specimen that has added 30 pounds of bulk since arriving at Clemson and has become as physical receiver as there is in the college game…Isn’t afraid to catch passes in traffic and will shield off defenders to make a catch…Tracks the ball extremely well and will make the spectacular catch…Has good hands and plucks the ball naturally…Doesn’t have elite deep speed…Did not run a complicated route tree and will need some refinement…Has ball security issues and defenders will rip the ball loose…Did not run at the Combine, but did 15 reps of 225 pounds with a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: An elite receiver following in the footsteps of DeAndre Hopkins, he is, in our view, the top wide receiver coming into this year’s draft and shouldn’t make it much past the top 10 picks.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan, 6-3, 209 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 50 games of his college career, catching 326 passes for 5,212 yards and 51 touchdowns…Had 1,400 or more yards and 12 or more TDs in each of his last three seasons…Named MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2016…Is looking to be the second wide receiver (Randy Moss) from the MAC to get drafted in the first round…Has prototypical size for a NFL wide receiver…Was able to post eye-popping numbers despite being constantly double-teamed…Has very good body control and tracks balls extremely well to make the difficult reception…Is a willing and effective blocker…Doesn’t have elite top-end speed or explosive suddenness…Played against inferior competition so there will be a learning curve…Suffered a significant ankle injury that required surgery and forced him to be sidelined for all of the pre-draft showcases and workouts…Did not work out at the Combine because he was recovering from ankle surgery. PROJECTION: A player who has drawn positive comparisons to Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Michael Floyd, had he been healthy and put on a show at the Combine, he might be the first receiver off the board. But, as it stands, he is still a first-round talent.
John Ross, Washington, 5-10¾, 188 – Fourth-year junior who missed 2015 season due to injury for which he was redshirted…In his only season as a full-time starter in 2016, he caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns… Huskies’ primary kick returner for three seasons, finishing with four KOR touchdowns…Has incredible speed and instant acceleration to get to top speed (see below)…Is a willing blocker who doesn’t mind getting dirty and doesn’t shy away from contact…Is an accomplished route runner, is a quick study and takes well to coaching…Gains a lot of yards after the catch and is dangerous in space…Is shorter than ideal and is thin – making him capable of being pushed off route…Has already suffered some pretty devastating injuries in his career, so durability may be a concern…Allows too many passes to get into his body…Didn’t lift at the Combine but ran a Combine-record 4.22 40 with a 37½-inch vertical jump and an 11-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He made himself a lot of money at the Combine by breaking the 40-yard dash record, moving himself from a second-round prospect into the first round…and some teams may have him as the highest ranked wide receiver on their board.
THE NEXT LEVEL
JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC, 6-1½, 215 – Third-year junior…Started 39 of 40 career games, catching 213 passes for 3,092 yards and 25 touchdowns…A durable and tough player who caught eight passes for 138 yards and a TD five days after having a plate and eight screws inserted in a broken wrist…Has an elite combination of size and strength…Wins almost every contested ball…Does not have elite speed or a second gear…Is not a consistently strong blocker and, at times, seems almost disinterested…Will drop easy passes too often…Ran a 4.54 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A big, physical receiver, he will be a lead dog for somebody because of the comparisons in his style that many see in guys like Dez Bryant. His lack of dynamic speed will hurt him, but he has the ability to be a first-round pick.
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State, 5-10¾, 196 – Third-year junior…Was never a full-time starter, but in 2016 he erupted out of nowhere with 74 catches for 865 yards and seven touchdowns…Finished his OSU career with 107 receptions for 1,249 yards and nine touchdowns and 172 rushes for 1,286 yards and 15 TDs…A multi-faceted athlete that Urban Meyer used much in the same way he did Percy Harvin at Florida…Has extremely good speed and versatility in his game…Has a second gear and finishes off plays as a receiver, rusher and return man…Is undersized and doesn’t have the type of body that can add a lot of bulk or muscle…Limited experience and may be viewed by some more as a running back than a wide receiver…Will need to improve in key areas like running a full route tree and upgrading his blocking technique…Ran a 4.31 40 at the Combine with 13 reps of 225 pounds, a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: A Percy Harvin-type jack of all trades, he is likely not a first-round pick, but there will be plenty of offensive-minded coaches looking to add him to their roster, which should see him come off the board in the second round.
Zay Jones, East Carolina, 6-2¼, 201 – Fourth-year senior…Started 41 of 50 career games, catching 399 passes for 4,279 yards and 23 touchdowns, including 158 catches for 1,746 yards and eight TDs in 12 games as a senior…The all-time receptions leader in FBS history…A versatile player who lined up at five different positions in the ECU offense…Tall receiver with long arms that creates mismatch problems for defenders and could develop into a strong red zone jump-ball receiver…Is a smart player who runs good routes to create separation…Doesn’t do anything at an elite level in terms of initial burst, sustained deep speed or physicality…Has small hands and will drop too many passes…Doesn’t gain a lot of yards after the catch when defenders close in on him…Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 36½ -inch vertical jump and an 11-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He opened a lot of eyes at the Combine by posting good testing numbers across the board. That, combined with his prolific career at ECU and upside potential, he could be a guy that someone feels strongly enough about to snap up in the second round.
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington, 6-1¾, 204 – Fourth-year senior…Started all 52 games of his college career, catching a whopping 428 passes for 6,464 yards and 78 touchdowns…Caught the most career passes in the history of FCS football…Was versatile and lined up at several different position in EW’s spread offense and excelled most in the slot…Has a big catch radius and soft hands to pluck the ball with ease…Is physical both in beating jams at the line of scrimmage and using a stiff-arm once he has the ball…Doesn’t have top-end burst of deep speed…Played against second-tier competition and rarely went one on one with elite corners…Needs to refine some of his technique because his offense was quick-hitting and didn’t require a lot of double moves and varied looks to defenses……Didn’t lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.62 40 with a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: An extremely productive college receiver and made a positive impression at the Senior Bowl. He’s a player who could develop into a solid No. 2 NFL receiver, but he will require a little polish.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma, 6-0, 178 – Third-year junior who spent a year at Blinn Community College…Started 25 of 26 games as a Sooner and blew up in 2016, catching 80 passes for 1,524 yards (a 19.0-yard average) and 17 touchdowns…Won the 2016 Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the top receiver in college football…Has a history of off-field issues – being arrested three times, including two domestic violence-related arrests involving the mother of his children…Has incredible vertical speed – 12 of his 17 touchdowns last year were of 40 yards or more…Gains a lot of yards after the catch…Will compete for every pass thrown his way and isn’t afraid to go over the middle in traffic to make a catch…Is extremely skinny and doesn’t have the type of frame that can add a lot of muscle or bulk strength, so durability will be a concern…Off-field issues are going to be a huge concern for a lot of teams on draft weekend…Wasn’t asked to play a lot of different spots on the field, almost always lining up on the right side of the offense, so his route tree doesn’t have a lot of limbs…Didn’t work out at the Combine due to a ban for his off-field issues, but was allowed to be medically tested and do team interviews. PROJECTION: A talented player who is a home-run hitter with elite speed. A similar type of player (Will Fuller) went in the first round last year, but, given his off-field baggage, he could slide to the end of Day 2 or early into Day 3.
Amara Darboh, Michigan, 6-1¾, 214 – Fifth-year senior…Started 28 of 49 career games in three seasons, catching 151 passes for 2,062 yards and 14 touchdowns…Was born in war-ravaged Sierra Leone in West Africa and both of his parents were killed as the result of the war…He was brought to the United States in 2001 with his sister and they were adopted by an American family…He became a U.S. citizen in 2016…Runs precise routes and uses his strength and decisive cuts to create open space…Has very good hand-eye coordination and adjusts well to balls in flight…Will fight for any contested pass and typically wins one-on-one battles…Has good straight-line speed, but doesn’t have a second gear or good stop-start momentum…Didn’t have outstanding production, but showed improvement each season, showing he is a work in progress that hasn’t reached full potential…Needs a lot of work on his stance off the snap – not playing too high and using his hands more effectively…Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with 17 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: One of the feel-good stories of the draft as a player who has faced adversity since birth and has come out the other side as a good man and player. He helped his cause at the Combine, but he isn’t a polished receiver, which will likely drop him into the late end of Day 2 or early Day 3.
Ardarius Stewart, Alabama, 5-11¼, 204 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 117 passes for 1,564 yards and 12 touchdowns in that span…Is at his most dangerous in space, making defenders miss and picking up yards after the catch on slant patterns…An extremely good blocker who earns his pay on run downs as well as passing downs…Has good playing speed that he uses both as a wide receiver and a kick returner…Drops far too many catchable passes, which drives coaches nuts…Wasn’t asked to run a full route tree and will need to do a lot of work to improve that aspect of his game…Isn’t a natural hands receiver and often gets off his feet when he makes catches and lets them get into his body…Didn’t lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.49 40 with a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A boom-bust type of project. He has been compared to Steelers great Hines Ward with his size and style of play, but his lack of refinement of his game and a maddening number of drops will likely see him slide down the board. If he’s still there in the fourth round, however, someone may trade up to get him.
Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech, 6-1, 194 – Third-year junior…Started 37 of 40 games…Leaves VT as its all-time leader in receptions (210), receiving yards (2,967) and receiving touchdowns (24)…Is a natural glider with long arms and good hands…Is a playmaker who tends to make the critical catches when they’re needed…Has good burst and lateral movement off the snap to routinely beat jams…Doesn’t use his height to his best advantage and will allow defenders to contest passes…Hurt his stock with his slow 40 time at the Combine, a departure from to his game speed on tape, which often looked good…Has a thin body and doesn’t get physical, whether in press coverage or when he’s asked to block…Ran a 4.61 40 at the Combine with 14 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: An intriguing prospect who likely will fall into the third day of the draft. If he can add some muscle and bulk, he could develop into a solid receiver. If his Combine 40 had been better, he has the skill to be a third-round projection, but his deficiencies will likely keep him on the board until Day 3.
Noah Brown, Ohio State, 6-2, 222 – Third-year sophomore who sat out the 2015 season with a broken leg…A one-year starter who caught 32 passes for 402 yards and seven touchdowns…An athletic specimen who has an ideal combination of size and strength…Has long arms and a body frame that can add more muscle, which would make him even more imposing off the snap…A willing blocker who can dominate his man when asked to be a blocker…Extremely raw and will need to work on technique in many areas of his game…Some will question his speed and durability following his significant leg injury in 2015…Did not have good production when he was able to play…Didn’t run at the Combine, but did 19 reps with a 29-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: He passes the eyeball test at first glance and, in the right system, could develop into a very good receiver. But his lack of production will cost him dearly. If a team fully believes in him, he could come off the board late in Day 2, but he left two years of eligibility on the table and could have been a first-round pick if he had gone back to OSU for another season.
OTHERS TO WATCH
KD Cannon, Baylor, 5-11, 182
Malachi Dupre, LSU, 6-2½, 196
Chris Godwin, Penn State, 6-1, 209
Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois, 6-4, 218
Chad Hansen, Cal, 6-2, 202
Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech, 5-11, 199
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M, 6-3, 194
Artavis Scott, Clemson, 5-10¼, 193
Ryan Switzer, North Carolina, 5-8½, 181
Taywon Taylor, Western Kentucky, 5-11, 203