Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
This is a brutal wide receiver crop to evaluate. The best wide receivers had to struggle though uneven quarterback play. There is nothing close to a “can’t miss” prospect in this class, so best of luck to any team that needs a receiver.
Calvin Ridley: Elite body control and excellent break off the line of scrimmage. Made a lot of tough catches at Alabama, but also averaged roughly 0.5 drops per game. He didn’t flash the elite speed you’d like at the combine. In fact, his athleticism (or lack thereof) may end up keeping him from being the first receiver off the board. I loved his film and how aggressive he was going to the ball. Yes, he had his problems in traffic, but better quarterback play should allow him to shine in space. If I had to gamble with a receiver in this class, Ridley is easily my choice.
Courtland Sutton: Sutton may be even better attacking the ball in space than Ridley. He was certainly better at winning through contact. Once he has the ball in space he’s tremendously evasive, with the power to break a tackle. I’ll concede Sutton has a higher ceiling than Ridley. Where Sutton has issues is his consistency. Given his junior year performance (76 receptions, 1,246 yards in 12 games), more was expected of him as a senior (68 receptions, 1,085 yards in 13 games). Lousy quarterback play might be part of the issue. He remained a dominant blocker, and I’d be willing to gamble on him being able to make the jump to the next level.
Christian Kirk: Dude gives me heart attacks. His receiving style leads him to catch the ball with his body as often as his hands. Competes for every yard, possibly at the expense of risking fumbling. Didn’t show great speed or quickness at the combine. And yet… his football instincts are solid. He plays fast and makes excellent decisions against the coverage. He was tremendously productive at Texas A&M. His quarterback can trust him to run his route effectively. He can provide additional value on special teams as a returner. His size and speed peg him as a slot receiver, while his deep skills suggest he should work outside. He’ll test the coaching staff of whichever team drafts him.
D.J. Moore: Provided much better play than his quarterbacks deserved. Where his size and length may have failed him in traffic, his technique and athleticism pulled him through. I was very impressed by his combine. No wide receiver in this draft is better prepared to win battles in the air. He’ll need to work on his route running and technique off the line. Like Kirk, he’s an effective returner. Given the paucity of elite receiver options in this draft, I think Moore deserves a hard look late in the first round. I know I’d rather gamble on him than Kirk. Choosing between Moore and Sutton is tougher. Moore is the better athlete, while Sutton is much bigger and more powerful. I suppose it would depend on what type of offensive scheme I was running. Gun to head I think Sutton can do more for an offense, but I may have a bias towards physical receivers. This is my way of saying Laquon Treadwell let me down. Then again, Sutton and Moore are both faster and more athletic than Treadwell. Either way, I have high hopes for both.
James Washington: Over the past two seasons James Washington has 145 receptions for 2,929 yards. That’s 20.2 yards-per-reception. 145 times. He terrified defenses. Press coverage was a huge gamble because if he beat it, he could be gone. Playing off him allowed him to use his elite agility to cut at full speed and leave the defense back flailing. Given his film, his combine was shockingly poor, both in terms of speed and quickness. That puts scouts in a tough spot: Do we trust the measurables or our lying eyes? My read is that “football speed” is a thing. Washington played fast as heck. He won’t be able to separate from NFL cornerbacks so easily, so the biggest challenge is going to be to turn him from a pure Z-receiver to a master of the deep tree. I think he’s worth the early day two (or late day one) pick.
Anthony Miller: Over the past two seasons Miller had 191 receptions for 2,896 yards. His ability to stop and start on a dime is incredible. He’s a natural zone-buster who can get to a spot, make the catch, and back at full speed before the defense can react. The chinks in his armor at the NFL level are speed and power. He didn’t run the 40 at the combine, and he hasn’t shown much in the way of physical dominance, either blocking or in traffic. He wins with good technique and great hands. His productivity at Memphis was no joke, but I think I’d look in another direction unless he fell to me in the third round.
D.J. Chark: During their nadir, the Raiders would have taken Chark in the first round. He’s as pure a deep threat as you’ll find in the draft, with a blazing 4.34 40-time. However, he had 66 receptions in his career at LSU. That’s a disturbingly low total no matter how you look at it. His hands are poor, and his route-running is simplistic. I get that you can’t coach speed. I just don’t trust pure burners with poor hands and a lack of technique. He can provide some value as a returner. I wouldn’t touch him until the third round at the earliest.
Dante Pettis: When John Ross was opposite him, Pettis ripped defenses apart (53 receptions, 822 yards, 15 touchdowns). One Ross was gone, Washington fed Pettis the ball with mixed results (63 receptions, 761 yards, 7 touchdowns). Superb in space (elite punt returner). He took 9 of his 90 punts returned to the house. That’s amazing. He’s been notably weak against press coverage, which is tough for a player who excels at timing routes. I expect him to be an effective slot receiver in the NFL after he refines his technique. I’d be happy to snag Pettis from late second round onward.
Deon Cain: It kills me to bet on bust with a boom-or-bust prospect who I share a birthday wish. Cain made some awesome plays last season, but the drops are a disaster. He has long arms, but small hands, so that might be his fate. He can run the entire route tree. Unlike Pettis, he offers you nothing in the return game. Cain has the tools to get open at the next level, but then what? I’d pass.
Equanimeous St. Brown: Soft, which is something I’d never have said about his father. His quickness and speed allow him to be effective on mid-to-deep routes. Just going off of his size and speed, he looks like a day one pick. He has the tools to be a quality NFL receiver, but it’s hard to see that when you watch his college film. The upside is going to tempt someone to take a flier on him, and I can’t blame them. Still, it’s hard to trust a guy when his scouting report begins (and ends) with: Soft.
DaeSean Hamilton: Beautiful route-runner. Natural fit in the slot. However, the drops are infuriating. Either he solves that problem, or he’ll lose the trust of his quarterback and the coaching staff. There aren’t many athletes capable of getting open as easily as Hamilton can, so I think I’d trust him (and the coaching staff) to improve his catching technique. It looks like he’ll be available day three, so he could be a great value pickup.
Michael Gallup: Supremely versatile. He can play inside or outside, and run pretty much any route. He doesn’t excel at any of them though. In fact, apart from somewhat short arms, he no real extreme strengths or weaknesses. His production at Colorado State was fantastic (176 receptions for 2,690 yards and 21 touchdowns) over the past two seasons. The fact that he can fill any role you need him to makes him into a solid day two prospect. My guess is Hamilton will end up being a better value, while St. Brown has much more upside. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
If the wide receiver class is weak, then the tight end class is downright anemic.
Dallas Goedert: Fantastic hands. Yet another former basketball player finding success at tight end. He dominated at the FCS level for North Dakota State, with 164 receptions for 2,404 yards over his final two seasons. It’s an open question whether he has the athletic skills to beat NFL linebackers and safeties. His blocking is beyond suspect, and it’s something he’ll need to work on to stay on the field. He has the size and build to improve in that area. Because of the jump in competition, an NFL estimate of success is a difficult projection. However, his film says he’s legit and I’m going to trust that.
Mike Gesicki: Another former basketball player. Similar strengths and weaknesses to Goedert. Great hands, not as good a blocker as he needs to be. He’ll be used as a short-to-intermediate receiving threat while he develops the rest of his game. My concern with Gesicki is a lack of upside. He’s a good athlete, but not a great one. That’s what separates Goedert as he had some eye-popping moves, particularly in the air.
Hayden Hurst: It can be tough being a tight end in the SEC. Hurst did his best, but I saw him get his ass caved in a few times trying to block defensive ends. In any interesting twist, he’s a former baseball player (drafted by the Pirates in 2012). He’ll be 25 by the time the season starts, which makes him an unusually low-upside pick. He’s not quite as fast as Gesicki, but did very well in most of the other combine drills. He has excellent hands, which seems to be the one thing tying this TE class together.
Mark Andrews: I’m not sure I’ve ever said this about a prospect, but Andrews is downright graceful in the open field. His hands aren’t quite as good as the players listed above him. He’ll make the occasional highlight catch, but balance that out with an unfortunate drop where he was trying to run before he caught the ball. In-line blocking seems to be going out of style, as it wasn’t a strength for Andrews. One issue that may cause him to drop is Type I diabetes. I wouldn’t roll the dice on Andrews if any of the players listed above were still on the board.
Ian Thomas: Dude straight up tips plays. If I could see it, opposing scouts can see it. He’s not an elite athlete. He hasn’t shown dominance on the field. Why is he being considered a day two pick? His blocking was garbage, and he doesn’t make up for that by being a trustworthy target. Someone else must be seeing something I am clearly missing.