NFL draft season is an exciting time filled with DraftBreakdown cut-ups, egocentric Twitter wars, and ridiculous anonymous “scout” quotes. There are very few things I love more.
It is difficult at times, however, to wade through the oceans of scouting reports to find the pearls of useful fantasy information. To that end, I have created this NFL Draft Cheat Sheet to answer every important question about the wide receivers who will hear their named called this May.
In case you missed it, here are my Quarterback Cheat Sheet and Running Back Cheat Sheet.
Who is the best?
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins is clearly the best wide receiver in this draft.
There are a lot of good wide receivers available, but every other wideout has at least one hole in their game. That is not true of Watkins. He is the complete package.
At 6’1’, 211, Watkins does not completely fit the height/weight/speed model, but he has good size and track speed. He is also explosive in the open field and is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it.
Watkins does suffer from consistency drops from time to time, but has some of the best hands in the class. He consistently catches the ball away from his frame with soft hands, and is comfortable tracking the ball over his shoulder.
Watkins is savvy against zone coverage and does a great job drifting to space when the quarterback is forced from the pocket. He is also good against man coverage where his quickness and technique allow him to gain separation against tight coverage.
In short, he is clearly the best prospect in this class and is a lock to be the first wide receiver off the board in May.
Who will contribute most as a fantasy player year one?
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans is the answer, but only because of his red zone potential.
In real life football I expect Evans to struggle out of the gate. He is faster than people give him credit for and has the ability to create separation down the field, but out of the gate he is very slow. There is absolutely no suddenness to his game, and he may struggle to adjust to the more physical play in the NFL.
With that said, Evans first-round skill is his ability in 50/50 situations. He is a monster in the air and already has the ability to beat any NFL cornerback in jump-ball situations. Evans is also great at presenting a big target when coming back to the quarterback, and uses his frame to box out receivers. Both of these abilities will give Evans a nice, defined role as an outside receiver early in his career.
Regardless of the offensive staff Evans ends up with, it should come up with creative ways to get him in one-on-one situations on the outside where he can use his size to out muscle defenders. Evans should also get a ton chances on back-shoulder fades at the goal line. Put it together, and we have a recipe for early fantasy success.
Who has the most upside?
Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief is the definition of upside.
Moncrief is by far the most physically impressive pass catcher available in this draft. At 6’2’, 221 he broad jumped 11 feet, vertical jumped 39.5 inches, and ran a 4.4-40 at the NFL Combine. Those numbers are unheard of for a player his size. In fact, since 1999 only eight players have ever topped Moncrief’s size/weight/speed/explosiveness combination, and five of those players were Pro Bowlers.
He has a long way to go before he realizes the potential his physical tools promise, however.
One of the bigger issues facing Moncrief is his lack of savvy as a receiver. He had a very limited route tree at Ole Miss, and was not even proficient running those. This should come as no surprise, though. He has been so physically dominant at every level that learning the nuances of the game was never really an issue. His ability to learn and willingness to work hard at this aspect of the game will go a long way in determining his success.
Moncrief’s hands are also a concern. He too often drops catchable balls, and has a tendency to let the ball get to his body. At times, he can show strong hands and concentration in 50/50 situations, but he needs to become better at attacking the ball and throwing around his size.
The flaws are many and easily seen, but they all are coachable to some degree. The physical skills are not, and they give Moncrief legit WR1 upside. Considering how little he will cost, it is well worth the shot.
Who are the most overrated?
Both have skills that could translate to NFL success, but Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks and Florida St. WR Kelvin Benjamin are two of the more overrated wide receiver prospects in this class.
Cooks is everything a team is looking for in a playmaker. He is quick, he is fast, and he is great in the open field. He is quick in and out of his breaks, and shows ability to work underneath the coverage. He also can attack a team vertically, and showed some ability to win at the catch point, though that is by no means a strength.
The problem is Cooks' difficulty with physical coverage. He consistently struggled to gain separation once college defensive backs got their hands on him. Once opposing NFL defensive coordinators see that flaw, I expect them to attack it often. If Cooks cannot learn to win against physical coverage, he will struggle mightily at the next level.
Tavon Austin’s struggles last season were somewhat down to poor scheming, but the reality is his skills did not translate well to the NFL. While I think Cooks is a better route runner than Austin was last year, I still expect him to struggle with the transition to the NFL.
My problem with Benjamin centers around his age and what I believe will be an inability to separate in the NFL.
Age was never something I put much stock in, but a lot of great work is being done showing that age really does matter. Jon Moore’s Phenom Index, for instance, uses a player’s production and age in their final year of college to predict NFL production with an astounding degree of accuracy.
Already 23, Kelvin Benjamin should have been much more productive against the usually much younger players he was facing, and as such he scored very poor in the Phenom Index. It is not a death knell for Benjamin, but it is certainly concerning.
My biggest concern about Benjamin, however, is his complete lack of acceleration. Benjamin looks like he is wearing lead shoes the first few steps of the line, and I am still unconvinced he could beat me in a five-yard race.
He flashes some ability to separate down the field, but the reality is NFL cornerbacks will have no fear pressing Benjamin at every opportunity because he cannot get off the line quickly enough to truly threaten them deep. Benjamin, then, is forced to catch contested ball after contested ball against man coverage. While he has the skills to win these 50-50 balls, it is not exactly ideal.
I cannot shake the feeling that Kelvin Benjamin is simply Ramses Barden with a fancier pedigree. That may be selling him short, but that the thought even crossed my mind means he is not a first-round talent.