Hakeem Butler
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Evaluations

NFL Draft WR Rankings

Updated On: April 11, 2019, 5:07 pm ET

In the capsules below, you'll note two tables. The first is a statistical snapshot courtesy of my colleague Hayden Winks. The second is the spider web of each prospect's test results from the NFL Combine, courtesy of MockDraftable. SPARQ composite scores are provided by Zach Whitman. All players’ ages are calculated as of September 2019.

This is the fourth installment of my NFL Draft deep-dive scouting series, following quarterbacksrunning backs and tight ends. Next up: offensive line!

 


1. Hakeem Butler (Iowa State) | 6’5/227

Age: 23.3
SPARQ percentile: 92.0
Comp: A mashup of Plaxico Burress and Mike Evans (Eric Crocker)


 

hakeem butler combine

 

Hakeem Butler is a 6’5/227 92nd-percentile athlete with a seven-foot wingspan (!) who posted a 60-1318-9 line last year on a team with an abomination of an offensive line and mediocre-at-best quarterback play. He was raw as could be, and he lit it up anyway. In some ways, he’s raw in similar ways to DK Metcalf (plenty more on DK below). In other ways, Butler is more advanced.

Butler lined up all over the place in Iowa State’s conservative scheme. In part to mitigate poor quarterback play in Ames, and in part to scheme quick throws to account for the four seconds the QB had before the OL caved, Iowa State loved to use Allen Lazard and Butler in the slot over the past three years. 

Like Lazard, Butler also got plenty of snaps outside. And while Ole Miss’ offense forced defenses wide and incentivized defensive backs to give a little space, Butler saw every coverage look from every spot. It’s not like defensive backs were concerned with getting beat deep by an Iowa State receiver not named Hakeem Butler last year (seriously: check out the Cyclones’ stats). Freed at last from Lazard’s target-vacuuming of limited balls thrown, Butler got all kinds of attention from defenses but thrived anyway. 

Hakeem the Dream plays above the rim. He’s a potentially transcendent downfield threat who averaged 22.0 ypc last year. PFF charted Butler No. 1 in both deep ball receptions and deep ball yards. Also No. 7 in average yards per route. Butler does not win in the same way as Calvin Johnson, with whom he has trained during the pre-draft process. Megatron had both bulk and speed on him at the same height. Butler’s got his own thing going on.

Butler runs a 4.49 with an 88th percentile broad jump to confirm lower half explosion. His vertical jump was only a 56th percentile (36”), but -- and I don’t mean to argue here -- that only measures how far your feet get off the ground. Not how long you stay in the air. I don’t have empirical evidence to support this claim but Hakeem Butler has that NBA gene where he stays suspended a beat longer than other humans do. You’re just going to have to believe me on this.

And one way that manifests is that he can, for instance, do what he did to Kansas this fall. Midway through the first quarter, with Butler lined up in the slot, KU foolishly called for a zone coverage that flooded the intermediate sector with bodies and left two safeties deep to fend for themselves. Butler toasted the centerfielder, running by him like a neighbor at the mailbox during a morning jog.

As he was gliding downfield, Butler looked up and saw that his noodle-armed freshman quarterback had under-thrown the ball by 20 yards. He slammed on the breaks, realized the ball was projected to land in the cornerback’s chest, and leapt into the air from behind him. I was watching live in my Minneapolis apartment, a sad-sack KU alum hoping for an upset. The ball was a surefire interception out of the quarterback’s hands — an incompletion at best. Butler hovered up almost 10 feet off the ground for a second as the duck wobbled in.

Butler snatched it from over the defender’s shoulder! And despite the fact that his momentum was now going the wrong way — he had been forced to furiously work back to a ball that landed 18 yards short of the goal line  — and despite the fact that a defender had position on him and was now basically stuck underneath him, Butler somehow managed to land firmly planted, on his own soil, ready to burst the other way. 

But the poor defensive back, who was now oh so very confused, is now hanging onto Butler’s arm. In slow-motion, it actually appears as though the defender was falling down but remained upright by hanging onto Butler as Butler was landing. So now he’s hanging onto Butler’s arm like a petulant child. Hakeem literally throws the guy off, and, in one fluid motion, accelerates towards the end zone. He outraces the defender from there. It was one of the most breathtaking displays I saw all season.

Butler’s wheels are only good, not great, but my gosh, let’s stop nitpicking the kid. The athleticism/dimensions combination that earned Butler inclusion on Bruce Feldman’s freak list prior to last season is breathtaking, perhaps unparalleled. Butler measured in the 95th percentile of all receivers to enter the NFL in height (6’5/98th), weight (227/95th), wingspan (83.75”/98th), arm length (35.15”/99th) and hand size (10.75”/98th).

I should add that Butler is also a plus-plus blocker, with the length to cover the like wallpaper, the athleticism to stick to you like glue, and the strength and technique to do what he pleases from there. He's got all the gifts in the world, but unlike, say, Equanimeous St. Brown, Butler is no diva.

A two-star recruit who has been discounted all of his life, Butler prepares and plays as though the world is ending tomorrow. He's not fueled by bravado, like some other hard workers on this list (I love N'Keal, but he fits in this category). Hakeem Butler is fueled by humility and perspective.

I understand why many are lower on him than Rotoworld happens to be. (I was pleased to learn that Josh Norris and Evan Silva also rank Butler WR1 — most of the rest of the industry ranks DK Metcalf WR1). Butler needs a few steps to get into gear off the snap, and he offers a ton of surface area to get your hands on, so corners can get touchy-feely with the guy in press. And I get the concern with that.

But if you think Butler is some kind of slo-mo who can’t separate, you’ve got him wrong. Butler is huge, sleek and strong — once he gets moving, he can punch back to create a sliver of separation and get more from their with athleticism, and, frankly, surface area. Covering Hakeem Butler is a very different thing from covering, say, AJ Brown. Butler’s length gives defenders such small margin for error. If you aren’t perfectly positioned against Butler when the ball is in the air — and I mean perfectly positioned — then you’re out of position. Period.

It doesn't look like Butler is moving very quickly at times, but we have empirical evidence that that’s something of an optical illusion owed to his upright, long-stride running style and mountainous dimensions. Butler is a monster after the catch despite his supposed limitations with agility and short-area movement. 

The other knock on Butler is more alarming, admittedly. He’s an absolute monster in every area of receiving outside of a biggie — catching the ball. His drop rate of 16.7% last season ranked No. 157. That’s bad, really bad, and there’s no two ways around that.

But I’m here to tell you that Butler’s hands are fine. As appendages I mean. Huge and soft, like catcher’s mitts. Butler makes ridiculous catches look easy, and he can pluck it clean away from his body on the move. The drops aren’t a hands-of-stone thing. They’re a bad habits thing, an inexperience thing. Butler is still so very raw. 

He grew up in poverty in a one-bedroom space in Baltimore with his mother and two siblings. Butler’s mother passed away when he was 13. As a sophomore in high school, Butler moved from Baltimore to Texas to live with his cousins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who would go on to play basketball at Kentucky and then in the NBA. Some mouth-breather in the Texas football administration offices decided to suspend Butler for half his junior season under suspicion that he’d transferred for athletic reasons. 

The next year, as a senior, Butler was limited to seven games, and when he was on the field, he was sharing targets with Steve Sims Jr., who would go on to become Kansas’ WR1 for multiple years. Iowa State took a chance on a ball of clay freak of an athlete and used two years of pure development to teach him how to play the position. 

In terms of chin-up, shoulders-back running style and a throwaway high school career that didn’t advance his cause much, Hakeem reminds me of Lamar Jackson from the last class. Butler emerged for the first time in 2017, flashing as a secondary option to Lazard. With Lazard off to the NFL in 2018, Butler took another developmental leap forward and torched the Big 12. 

Butler is a natural receiver when he’s locked in. He catches the ball clean, his entire catch radius plays, and he shows heart and toughness in sticky situations. But when the play is moving faster than he can process it, he gets sloppy. Don’t count body catching and dropped balls against him in separate categories, that’s counting double — Butler’s drops come when he allows a ball eat him up. It’s one and the same thing. One causes the other.

Not all the time. But roughly 16.7% of the time last year. And hopefully less and less as time goes on as the game slows down for him and he learns the tricks of the receiving trade. Butler doesn’t need to think about his move upfield as he’s trying to come down with the ball. That's something the experienced guys kick early in their college careers. With experience, I think Butler gets there in the NFL.

At the next level, he won’t have to furiously work back to poorly-thrown balls or reach way outside the strike zone for an air-mailed toss very often, something that happened regularly at Iowa State. He will also no longer feel like he has to do everything. Iowa State asked a ton of Butler last season. He did everything he could, even though he wasn’t experientially ready for all of it. That was all physical ability and desire, son.

If Butler doesn’t fix the drop problem, then he’ll still be a freak athlete who’s a menace downfield in the NFL. Remember: Even with his bloated drop rate last year, and even with meh QB play, awful OL play and no other playmaker on the ISU roster outside of RB David Montgomery, Butler was still the nation's best deep-ball man by conventional numbers. 

And among the top-20 WRs in the class, only N’Keal Harry posted a higher QB rating on deep ball throws than Butler. Again: Circumstantially, Iowa State did not have the personnel to excel down the field except for being fortunate enough to have Butler on the roster. Hakeem made lemonade, just like his teammate David Montgomery did running behind that leaky line.

This receiving class is very deep, but at the top there are a lot of talented guys with at least one big question mark on their evaluation — no sure things. I happen to think Butler’s major issue is both explainable and fixable. And if it get fixed, watch out.


2. N’Keal Harry (Arizona State) | 6’2/228

Age: 21.7
SPARQ percentile: 88.0
Comp: Dez Bryant (Willie McGinest)


 

 

harry combine graph

 

Harry is another one of those multi-sport prep guys used to excelling in competition. His youth featured dalliances with soccer, swimming, baseball and karate — man would he have been a dangerous light heavyweight in the UFC if he’d stuck with it!

Harry traveled a highly unconventional path to get here. Born in Toronto, Harry briefly moved to the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean before finally touching down in the USA full-time. 

He blossomed into a prep star at Chandler High in Arizona, making early waves with his remarkable body control and an almost preternatural ability to track passes, make on-the-fly adjustments to create slivers of space, pin defensive backs behind him, and come down with the ball no matter what. And I do mean no matter what.

The national recruiting services fell head over heels, with Rivals ranking him as the No. 18 overall prospect in the 2016 class. After seriously considering Washington and Texas A&M, Harry put pen to paper with Arizona State on National Signing Day, in the process giving now-former ASU HC Todd Graham just his second ever five-star signee. 

Harry almost immediately set about stamping his name in the Arizona State record books, finishing his time in the desert as the school’s third all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. He was named first-team All-Pac-12 in each of his last two years with the program. This past one, with Graham’s regime purged, Harry learned how to PLAY TO WIN THE GAME under Herm Edwards, the PJ Fleck of our parent’s generation.

Along the way, he saved Manny Wilkins’ bacon enough times to open a smokehouse. Harry made a habit of reaching back (or to the side, or way up) for physics-shattering OBJ-style grabs that demand a kind of body calm and control that few people on earth possess. This is another trait that isn’t exactly quantifiable, but watch Harry’s tape: His skill with the ball descending is elite, the best in the last two classes. If Hakeem Butler had Harry’s ball skills, he'd be the best receiver in NFL history.

#DraftTwitter has found plenty of little strings to pull at. Harry has average speed (4.53) and doesn’t create a halo of separation on routes. He allows his cockiness to get in the way of route precision. He can get too cute trying to juke out the universe. He drops too many passes, with PFF grading him as the 94th receiver in the country in drop-rate in 2018 (7.6%).

Harry also could stand to turn down his swagger meter just a tick (Manny Wilkins did not need your eye rolls, N’Keal — he knew he left yards on the field for you each game). But don’t nitpick comportment if you’re not going to mention the infectious raw energy he plays with.

As with Hakeem Butler, the separation thing is being overblown. Tight window throws are talked about all the time with quarterback prospects for a reason. Being wide-open in the NFL isn't a thing -- you just have to manufacture micro opportunities. Harry creates enough space to give his quarterbacks those windows. And if the ball is anywhere in his vicinity, Harry is probably coming down with it.

And not for nothing: N'Keal has no issues breaking press coverage. Harry plays like a drip painter when he begins to stack combos, more artistic inspiration than a paint-by-numbers show of athleticism. But he’s not some plodder. Any insinuation to the contrary is erroneous. Watch Harry in the open field on punt returns (boy is he dangerous) and after the catch. He’s not Reggie Bush twitchy or fast, but he reminded me of Bush at USC on end-arounds by making defenders miss as he swept across the formation looking for daylight.

I also love that Harry approaches blocking with intensity and physicality. I love receivers who get after it as blockers. Nothing annoys me more when watching a football game than when a running back breaks free into the second or third level but gets corralled by a corner because the receiver couldn't be bothered to go to the effort of trying to stay in front of him. Those are yards that ought to be taken off the receiver’s stat ledger. Harry is the kind of guy, like Hakeem Butler, that adds hidden yards by chipping in whole-hog on running plays.

I would have taken N’Keal over D.K. Metcalf each and every day over the past three years. On any college team running any scheme. I’d also wager that Harry continues to be the better football player over the next five years. Metcalf is promise and a dream, a beautiful dream perhaps, but perhaps ultimately a fever dream. We know N'Keal, man. We had dinner with N’Keal so many late nights at a little boutique restaurant I like to call Pac-12 After Dark.

N’Keal caught 58 balls as a true freshman before he knew his way around campus without a map. I saw him rip up so many poor Pac-12 corners. He's going to win in the NFL the same way he won in college — by coming down with balls he has no business catching in heavy traffic. That’s his gift. And he might do even more winning in the NFL now that he’ll get to work with a legitimate throwing quarterback for the first time.


3. Marquise Brown (Oklahoma) | 5’9/166

Age: 22.2
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: DeSean Jackson


 

 

*Did not test at NFL Scouting Combine

 

More than 20 years before the his patented nickname “Hollywood!” was screamed across nation airwaves for the first time by a famous sportscaster, Marquise Brown was born prematurely, and under scary circumstances. His mom had been suffering from extreme elevated blood pressure. Doctors said she’d succumb to kidney failure if she didn’t give birth and immediately begin an IV protocol. Her baby, Marquise, weighed five-and-a-half pounds. As if by miracle, Marquise was perfectly healthy.

The pint-sized youngster always seemed to be moving in fast-forward. On the field, he elevated the blood pressure of opposing defenders. But he never did grow much. Coming out of high school, Marquise Brown was 5’8/138. In 2016, Kate Moss was listed at 5’7/121.

So as you can imagine, the FBS ignored Brown. So Marquise (not yet Hollywood Brown, his alter ego — just Marquise) spent his first two collegiate years in the JUCO ranks at College of the Canyons. He worked at Six Flags. He described that time like this: “Lot of Ramen noodles and cheap frozen foods.” 

Fortunately, Brown ate enough of it to crack the 150-pound barrier. FBS schools started to take notice — the kid was a whirling dervish cheat-code. Wanna take a guess as to the first three words of his ESPN recruiting profile? “Explosive and sudden.” Yeah, that about says it.

The 247Sports composite board ranked Brown as the No. 12 overall JUCO prospect in the 2017 class. After being courted by a host of suitors including USC and West Virginia, Brown signed with Bob Stoops and Sooners. Months later, Stoops stunned the college football world and stepped down. Oklahoma quickly promoted 30-something offensive wunderkind Lincoln Riley, college football’s answer to Sean McVay.

Over the last two years as head coach, Riley accelerated and then cemented the identity of the Sooners as an offensive banshee built on meticulous gameplans, precision execution, and stud athletes all over the place. Speed kills, and Riley wants you to overdose on it. Boy did have have fun with the electric Brown, a clone of DeSean Jackson.

In 2017, with Baker Mayfield behind Center, Brown went off for a 57-1095-7 line. During one broadcast, Gus Johnson had a freaking conniption and hollered “HOLLYWOOD!!!” The name stuck. Brown’s game was glitz and glamor, made for TV. But here’s the funny thing: I’m pretty sure Gus Johnson wasn’t referring to Hollywood, California. He was almost assuredly inspired by Hollywood, Florida, Marquise’s hometown. You better believe Gus perked up when he saw that on the bio. When Brown was doing his Maserati act on the field, Gus could no longer contain himself.

Last fall, playing with future Arizona Cardinal 1.1 QB Kyler Murray, Brown dropped a 75-1318-10 line. He unfortunately injured his foot in the Big 12 Championship and missed both the Playoff and the NFL Combine. A Lisfranc foot injury, to be specific, a bit unnerving when talking about a speed merchant. 

Brown has reportedly been cleared to run as of the last week of March and it’s possible that he will be ready for post-draft rookie minicamps. While that’s fantastic in the short-term, Hollywood’s lithe frame invites long-term durability questions — he’s actually nine pounds lighter than DeSean Jackson.

As a result of the injury and subsequent surgery, Brown has been a man in the shadows during the evaluating process. While D.K. Metcalf was drawing Batman comps at the combine, Brown was wearing a boot. Had he been free and clear, Hollywood probably would have beaten D.K. in the sprint. Just ask him! Hollywood says he was gunning to beat 4.22 seconds and set a new combine record. 

Brown has a kind of rare, sparkling explosion that leaves defenders flat-footed if they are even a fraction late, which you can see in the catch-and-run beauty below against Baylor. Hollywood catches a simple out at the 50-yard line, with a defender racing over desperately with a sinking feeling in his gut. Hollywood is already five yards downfield before the awkward arm tackle attempt. Brown isn't in the end zone yet, but the play is already over. Dial up six.

Cool Papa Bell was said to be so fast that he could turn off the lights and get back in bed before the room went dark. That’s Hollywood. And unlike Paris Campbell, a burner who can’t catch the ball downfield, PFF graded Hollywood No. 4 in yards run per-route, No. 5 in deep pass yards, and No. 1 with 22 receptions of 40-plus yards. Like DeSean Jackson, large corners can knock Brown off course if they can jump and jam him. But that’s a risky game to play: If you whiff, you’re toast. Nobody can stay in Hollywood’s back pocket one-on-one. That’s not a thing.


4. A.J. Brown (Mississippi) | 6’0/226

Age: 22.2
SPARQ percentile: 76.6
Comp: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Lance Zierlein)


 

 

aj brown graph

 

For all the fascinating evals we have in this receiving class, A.J. Brown is a straightforward read. He tested very similarly to Quincy Enunwa (and, interestingly, Delanie Walker). He likewise profiles as a high-percentage power slot in the NFL first and foremost. If I had to bet, I’d say that Brown’s career will be closer to Jarvis Landry’s than Enunwa’s

Not only is he an ultra-compact bull, but Brown has far more short-area quickness than you’d figure for a guy that looks like he does. He manufactures space, makes the catch, and becomes a Leonard Fournette-sized runner from there. 

Tyler Boyd was a college slot I loved coming out of Pitt. Boyd finally broke through in Year 3. Brown is likely to emerge sooner than that. He's been ready for this role in the NFL for over a year. Throughout his time in college, Ole Miss fed Brown heavy targets over fellow NFL hopefuls DK Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge and Dawson Knox. Brown left school as Ole Miss’ all-time leading receiver.

Brown has been nitpicked to death, despite his productivity, sturdy frame and plus athleticism. There has been talk of having him split time outside. Brown absolutely has the athleticism and downfield ball skills to play out there. But I’d let him be a slot beast first. We know he can start there Year 1.

The slot position has increased in value in recent years. The NFL has found it can leverage big athletes in the slot — previously only a college thing — to manufacture freebie yards. Brown isn’t going to be a gamebreaker, but he’s pretty close to automatic up-close, and he’s a far better athlete than people gave him credit for last summer. I see more of the Smith-Schuster and Keenan Allen comps than I do the Enunwa one (despite profile similarities). Brown can simply do more things.


5. D.K. Metcalf  (Mississippi) | 6’3/228

Age: 21.7
SPARQ percentile: 98.3
Comp: Door No. 1: Terrell Owens, Door No. 2: Josh Gordon, Door No. 3: Dez Bryant without the ball skills, Door No. 4: Cordarrelle Patterson without the special teams ability, Door No. 5: David Boston, Door No. 6: Kevin White (Lance Zierlein, Ryan Wilson, Josh Norris, Reddit)


 

 

metcalf combine

 

Do you feel lucky? I know this ranking will raise eyebrows. So I really want to explain to you why I see DK the way I see DK. And to do that, I need to take you back to John Strauss’ 13th birthday party at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota.

The date was Saturday April 18, 1998. And the only reason I remember that is because I’ve always been a draftnik. I don’t know when that started. But it was early — third grade, maybe fourth. That morning, I was at Alex Hondl’s, where I’d slept over the previous night. Waiting to be dropped off at John’s for our shuttle to to Cragun’s, we watched the first eight picks of the 1998 NFL Draft. The Cowboys owned 1.8. I turned to Alex. “They’re going to take Randy Moss.” He sort of nodded. 

Alex’s mom was saying we had to leave in a minute. “Five minutes?” Alex said. She nodded. Dallas had 11 minutes left on the clock. “Maybe closer to 10,” I said, eyes glued to the screen. I’m realizing now that it was a presumptuous thing to say, probably even rude. But my mind was on fire, man — I wasn’t in that room, I was in a different place, running scenarios.

I’d read enough to know that Dallas was the most-likely Moss destination. But if the Cowboys passed, there weren’t a lot of teams in the 10-20 window that made sense — Moss was almost assuredly going to tumble a minimum of 5-6 more slots. Maybe the Titans at 1.16, I mused, they needed a receiver. I hadn't read much about them liking Moss, though. There wasn't much of that out there. Most people were vociferously and publicly anti-Moss.

“He’s on our (draft) board in the ratings now,” Rams HC Dick Vermeil said at the NFL owners meetings less than a month before the 1998 draft. “He won’t be on our board on draft day.” Why? “It’s just because of the problems he’s already had,” Vermeil said. “I don’t need any more problems. No reflection on Lawrence Phillips . . . I just don’t believe in taking Georgia Frontiere’s and Stan Kroenke’s money and making that kind of investment.”

Alex’s mom was approaching the television with the car keys in her hand. There was nothing I could do to stop her from turning it off. In moments like that, I hated being a child. My preference was to blow off the party and go somewhere where I could watch this situation play out in. But I couldn't drive. And I had no justification. I was to go with the flow and be a good kid. I really hated being a kid.

But just then, Chris Berman confirmed the pick was in and the camera flashed to Paul Tagliabue ambling toward the mic. “Just one sec,” I said. And to Mrs. Hondl’s eternal credit, she waited. "With the eighth pick in the 1998 NFL Draft,” Tagliabue intoned, “the Dallas Cowboys select… Greg Ellis from the University of North Carolina.” I pumped my fist. Boos rained down, presumably from Dallas fans in attendance, as Mrs. Hondl turned the TV off.

Next came the drive to John’s. When we got there, everyone was in the living room playing Mario Cart. It was a festive atmosphere. Balloons, presents, that kinda thing. I found John and gave him a high five and said happy birthday. And then I asked if there was another TV in the house. We left with the Panthers on the clock at 1.13. Moss was still on the board.

On the drive to Cragun’s, I kept talking about how it was now entirely possible that Randy Moss could fall to the Vikings, my beloved Vikings, at 1.21. There wasn’t a big appetite for that conversation in the car. I called my dad when we got there, from a payphone. The Titans were on the clock. I made small talk until they picked. They took Kevin Dyson!

I knew the Bengals weren't taking Moss at 17, I knew the Patriots weren't taking him at 18 (two weeks before the draft, on April 14, New England director of player personnel Bobby Grier explicitly told the Boston Herald that Moss was off the Patriots’ board, “I’ve learned my lesson,” he said, referring back to the botched Christian Peters pick. “We don’t move them down on the board, we move them off the board now.”), and I was pretty sure the Packers and Lions weren't either. 

But I knew, deep down in my bones, that Vikings HC Dennis Green would. To this day I love him for it (RIP). The Bengals took North Carolina LB Anthony Simmons, the Patriots took Georgia RB Robert Edwards, the Pack took UNC DT Vonnie Holliday — yes, you’re reading this correctly… three Tar Heel defenders were picked ahead of Randy Moss in the 1998 Draft! — and the Vikings, sitting at 1.21, were handed one of the greatest gifts in NFL Draft history. 

You didn’t even have to be a high schooler to know that Randy Moss was going to be awesome in the NFL. You just had to have watched the Marshall Thundering Herd play that fall. And not overthink the other stuff. I’m still a true-blue draftnik. I would be even if I wasn’t paid to write. But it’s a little different, being on the other side. You get a peak behind the curtain. And you see strange things. Shocking things. Some of which I can’t write about.*

*(Until I retire lmaooo).

But one that I can: The idea of the “riser” and the idea of the “faller.” Randy Moss was a textbook case of a Draft Day faller. But I think there’s a misconception out there about the idea of “risers” and “fallers” during the pre-Draft process.

When I teased earlier this week on Twitter that Hakeem Butler would be my WR1, I got a few questions about why I was hopping on board with the wide receiver flavor of the week. Why was I crapping on WR1 DK Metcalf? Was it because I’m more concerned with being contrarian than being right? Why had I talked myself out of WR1 DKM? Who the hell did I think I was?!?!

I’m a college football guy, like I said. I watch an obscene amount of it, read an obscene amount about it, write an obscene amount of it. That’s what I am from June through mid-January. After the National Title game, I put on my NFL Draft hat for four months. 

One thing I don’t do, before I write my goodbye letters in these dossiers to the guys I've followed for the last 3-5 years, is pour over other writer’s rankings or read their reports. I don’t read mock drafts until April, when I become invested in publishing an accurate one of my own. And the reason for that is you clicked this link with a subconscious hope that the author would think for himself. 

This is a long way of saying that Hakeem Butler is not a riser, not in the traditional sense -- many (not all, but many) of the year-round NFL Draft guys whiffed on him during the fall. Any change in perception since then is a justified course correction. Butler had Round 1 tape. He just needed to answer a few questions about his athletic profile to for me to pull the trigger on that grade. If DK Metcalf ultimately isn't the first receiver taken, he will not be a faller (regardless of public perception). DK Metcalf does not have first-round tape. He had isolated Round 1 plays, and he has Round 1 athletic testing. 

Hakeem Butler is a 6’5/227 92nd-percentile athlete who posted a 60-1318-9 line last year raw as can be on a team with an abomination of an offensive line and poor quarterback play. DK Metcalf is a 6’3/228 98th-percentile athlete who posted a 67-1228-14 line over three years in an Air Raid system on a trio of pass-happy top-42 offenses that were led by three different quarterbacks who could get drafted in the NFL, Chad Kelly (who already was), 2019 hopeful Jordan Ta’amu and current Michigan QB Shea Patterson, the No. 1 QB in his recruiting class.

DK played exclusively on the left side of his spread Air Raid. Butler lined up everywhere in Iowa State’s conservative scheme. Butler also doesn’t have durability concerns. Metcalf has big durability concerns. 

A four-star recruit in 2016, Metcalf’s freshman season was wrecked by a broken foot. The next year, after flashing in seven starts, a neck injury shelved Metcalf for the remainder of the campaign. The flashes were so scintillating, and reports of the freak athlete’s testing were so mythical, that a considerable amount of hype built up around him heading into 2018. He looked like a future star until a neck injury ended his season in late October. 

This is not insignificant stuff. You guys old enough to remember Ahmmon Richards? He was the speed-demon Miami receiver who in an alternate reality is joining Metcalf in the first round in April. But Richards will not be drafted. He will never play football again. He was forced to medically retire last fall because of a neck injury. 

Or how about Clemson WR Mike Williams, who suffered a serious neck injury in college and was picked 1.7 by the Chargers two years later? Williams showed flashes last year, but he’s been limited to six starts and 759 receiving yards over his first two seasons. Availability is the best ability. Williams is under team control for a mere three more years. You don't get to keep these guys forever.

And I know I’m supposed to be impressed by that picture of DK looking like Hulk in the weight room. But I’m not. I look at his body and I see something that wasn’t intended for this world -- he literally doesn’t look real. And I don’t mean that in the frothing, superlative way. I see DK's body -- built for the gym more than the football field -- and see chronic injuries waiting to happen. You don’t need to lift boulders over your head on Sundays. You just need to be active.

DK’s family is full of athletes. His dad is Terrance Metcalf, the former NFL guard. His grandfather is former RB Terry Metcalf, and his uncle is former return ace Eric Metcalf. It probably isn’t a surprise that DK started power lifting by five.

Metcalf reportedly has 1.6% body fat.* Anyone else concerned he’s coming off a season-ending injury to a foundational piece of his anatomical structure? Freak neck injury? Maybe. It also may be a harbinger to come of what happens when a mansion is built right off the shoreline, on foundation that isn’t built to support the weight.

(*Doctors and researchers say anything below 3.0% is extremely unhealthy — 10-22% is considered ideal for healthy males, athletes are generally in the low-teens, and extreme weight cutters like body builders cut as low as 4.0%. The machine the NFL uses to test body fat is considered reliable, but one college trainer quoted by SB Nation said he estimates a 2.5-percent margin of error. So let's say the thing gave a bad reading on DK. That’d leave him at 4.0% — that number isn’t impressive for an NFL receiver, it’s impressive for a cut-weight-at-all-costs professional body-builder who isn’t concerned about athletic performance or longevity).

Like Hakeem, DK is very raw. He played meaningful snaps in less than 20 collegiate games. He knows only starting out wide left in an spread Air Raid alignment. He’s a straight-line burner who can’t change direction without losing speed. Lack of agility was confirmed at the combine. So was the world-class speed.

Metcalf is a terrifying deep ball proposition. Think Josh Gordon. Just send him deep and watch him run. Metcalf didn’t develop much route nuance at Ole Miss — he didn’t run many variations, and he rushed through those he did as quickly as possible — but he did show a knack of gaining separation against college corners off the snap via athleticism and quicks. He isn’t crafty, but he’s gotten by.

It'll be interesting to see if Metcalf can evolve into a receiver who can consistently win in the intermediate sector without top-shelf agility. If he can’t, he won’t be able to keep defensive backs honest. They’ll be ready to swivel and run with him each go. DK had all kinds of trouble with Greedy Williams and the rest of the LSU secondary, which went right after him.

And while Metcalf gave us several SportsCenter top-10 catches in school, he also dropped too many balls at Ole Miss. As with Butler (who has a bigger issue with it, to be clear), I think this is a fixable issue that’s in part due to inexperience/concentration.

The Randy Moss draft story from 1998 represents how the hubris of groupthink — in that case, the perception that Randy was irredeemable — can lead to enormous misfires. Groupthink isn’t just some derogatory term for #DraftTwitter — it infects even the sharpest thought leaders within the NFL.

In 1998, the Dolphins took an ECU WR named Larry Shannon two rounds after the Vikings took Randy Moss. Miami HC Jimmy Johnson told the Palm-Beach Sentinel that he would have picked Shannon over Randy Moss if it had come down to that. If you think #DraftTwitter can be smug with opinions, get a load of Johnson’s post-Draft quotes:

“Larry Shannon … is probably a step faster than Randy Moss,” Johnson said. “So he’s bigger, he’s taller, he’s faster. Sometimes everybody gets all carried away, for instance, with Moss … Some of these people get so carried away. I’d like to pull them aside and say, how many films did you grade in coming to your evaluation? I say, `Well, did you ever even see him play? . . . Oh, you’ve seen three or four highlights . . . You actually watched SportsCenter and that’s how you made your evaluation of this player.’ And so we have a lot of scouts, a lot of coaches do a tremendous amount of research. We’re paid to do it. We’ve been doing it our entire lives and I don’t know that somebody in the media can watch SportsCenter and make the evaluation for us as far as who we should have picked.”

Well okay then!!! In April 1998, I was a socially awkward 13-year-old ADD kid in northern Minnesota. But I had more insight into Randy Moss with far less exposure than Johnson, one of the brightest minds to ever coach in the NFL. Was it because I was brilliant? Hell no — it’s because I was outside the groupthink bubble. Even then — I was a stubborn kid — I wasn’t interested in outsourcing my thinking to Jimmy Johnson or Dick Vermeil.

In the case of DK Metcalf, I think we’ve got a reverse case of the Moss situation. DK Metcalf became the consensus WR1 not because he’d made an airtight case on the field, but because thought-leaders within the NFL and NFL Draft media extrapolated out brief flashes on the field and an A+ size/speed combo into a projection that relied on unimpeded forward development, that required him to become a different receiver than he'd been at Mississippi -- a fully formed one.

That required him to stay healthy going forward. Even the lack of a developmental leap before the season-ending neck injury last season -- his second season-ending injury in three years at Ole Miss -- couldn't dissuade the group off that take. Because the take was a projection of reality, not reality itself -- a dream, not an anecdote. When you modify reality to conform to a pre-made projection, you've re-engineered it. And now you've got blinders on, ala the NFL with Moss in 1998. Turns out Randy wasn't such a bad dude. Turns out we ended up loving his personality so much that we still invite him into our living rooms every week during the NFL season as a broadcaster. 

To me, DK Metcalf is an uber-raw prospect in both technique and know-how with big medical redflags who was never the WR1 on his college team and couldn’t manage 70 career receptions in a pass-happy Air Raid offense with solid quarterback play. His physical gifts are elite-elite, absolutely, and those alone justify rolling the dice with a top-40 slot. But this isn’t the kind of guy you take in the top-15, not when your career depends on it. That's brazen. To me, DK has a lower floor AND a lower ceiling than Hakeem Butler. DK’s floor is either an early medical retirement or the Kevin White trajectory. Hakeem as a bust is still a highly-usable piece as a deep-ball-only guy.


6. Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) | 5’11/214

Age: 23.6
SPARQ percentile: 92.6
Comp: Christian Kirk


 

deebo graph

 

A first-team All-SEC performer this past season with a do-everything 1,478 yards total yards, Deebo is Matt Damon from GOOD WILL HUNTING. He mixes a bulldog exterior -- he attacks every play with a contained ferocity -- with a tactician’s brain. Only for Samuel, it’s not mathematics wizardry and beating up smarmy Harvard kids. It’s routes. He is adept at using subtle movements to completely fake out defenders after the snap, and he’s especially good at it in the red zone. 

Some players, the David Sills of the world, use their size to manipulate space in the end zone. At 5-foot-11, Deebo can’t box out like that (though he’s not light, weighing 215 pounds). What he can do, though, is break in on a slant like nobody’s business. What he can do is make the defense think he’s going somewhere else altogether. 

Samuel’s maturity as a route-runner was on full display during the Senior Bowl practice week, when defensive backs simply could not stick with him. Chris Tripodi of Draft Analyst noted at the time that there was an “obvious” gap between Deebo and the other receivers in Mobile.

For as enticing as Deebo might be for his smarts, his return versatility and his step-to-it quickness -- he tested in the 92nd percentile of NFL wide receivers at the combine -- he does carry physical baggage which gives a slight pause. In his redshirt freshman year at South Carolina, a balky hamstring helped to limit Samuel to just five games played. 

And then, in the third game of the 2017 campaign, Samuel broke his leg against Kentucky. SC actually reinserted him into the game for one play after the break before it became clear that something was amiss. He would go on to miss the remainder of the season.

It’s encouraging that Deebo was able to come through with something of a proof of concept season coming off the serious leg injury -- he appeared in every game in 2018. Just a matter of whether he can stay on the field. I’m bullish.

7. Andy Isabella (Massachusetts) | 5’9/188

Age: 22.8
SPARQ percentile: 82.2
Comp: What would happen if you combined Wes Welker's body with Tyler Lockett's style and John Brown's athletic profile -- and shrunk the catch radius.


 

andy isabella graph

So let’s see here. 

Legit world-class sprinter with 4.31 NFL Combine-verified speed who beat Denzel Ward on the track field multiple times in high school (and has tested in the 4.2s previously). Dominated the past three years on the small stage at UMass, culminating in a stupid 102-1698-13 line as a senior. Tested in the 82nd-percentile in Indy.

Andy Isabella has Wes Welker’s body. Only he’s a pure body catcher who offers a tiny catch radius and can struggle in traffic. Which makes his evaluation super tricky.

I asked my Twitter followers to toss their best Isabella comps at me. Here’s an incomplete list: T.Y. Hilton (multiple -- this is the go-to pro-Isabella comp), a body-catching version of Steve Smith, a healthier Marquise Goodwin, a better-receiving version of Ted Ginn, John Ross-lite, what would happen if the NFL tried to make Tyler Lockett play like Cole Beasley, Danny Amendola being chased by the cops (I don’t get it either, but it made me chuckle), a 5’8 version of John Brown (Thor note: Isabella’s athletic profile is extremely similar), a fast Jamison Crowder who can’t catch with his hands, and Phillip Dorsett.

I also got a few "he's undraftable" takes. #DraftTwitter is all over the place with this guy.

As for me, I’ll admit I’m a little uneasy about the wonky profile. He’s a tiny receiver who plays tinier by forcing the quarterback to hit him in the torso so the ball has something to land against. That shouldn’t work. But here’s the thing: It did! Over and over again!

And not just against crap teams, I should add. Isabella dropped a 15-219-2 line against Georgia last season, and a 7-158-1 line against Mississippi State the year before. And while Isabella is no-doubt a better player in space than he is in crowds for obvious reasons, his 62 catches in contested situations over the past two years was 22 more than any other receiver with a sub-4.4 forty at the NFL Combine.

Of players coming out of non-option offenses since 2003, only Dez Bryant had more receiving yards per team pass attempt than Isabella. He was a target-vacuum, and he wasn’t running freebie routes either — Isabella led the class with a 4.15 yard-per-route average despite the Minutemen’s poor play behind center.

I would have been more concerned about the concept of Isabella’s floor a decade ago. But rule changes have opened up the game and incentivize winning in space with speed over winning collisions with power. NFL play-callers now want all speed merchants who can catch, regardless of size. 

As with Cooper Kupp a few classes ago, at a certain level of domination on the small stage, you throw up your hands and say the guy can play, even if he’s doing it an untraditional way that your eyes don’t trust. The NFL Isabella is entering is going to be far more kind to him than the NFL of yesterday. I’d take the plunge in Round 3, absolutely.


8. Jalen Hurd (Baylor) | 6’5/226

Age: 23.6
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: What would happen if you shoved Mohamed Sanu’s game into Brandon Coleman’s body and added a Brandon Jacobs element as a short-yardage runner — and there might be more here than even that.


*Did not participate in NFL Scouting Combine testing

 

Coming out of the prep ranks Hendersonville, Tennessee, Jalen Hurd was a 6’4/222 five-star mega-recruit prodigy. A size/athleticism/skill combo platter of football goodness. But where the hell to play him? 

“Dynamic prospect who will make things happen,” reads his ESPN prep scouting report. “Has returner skills as well and could project at a number of different positions -- RB, H-Back, TE, WR, OLB or S.” ESPN wanted Hurd to play safety in college. Imagine!

The Vols convinced Hurd to stay local, and they wanted to build their offense around him as a bellcow power back who also acted as a skinny H-back leaking out of the backfield on passing plays. The Tennessee coaching staff believed in him so much that they buried Alvin Kamara in deference to feeding Hurd as much as he could possibly eat.

And then Hurd made a decision that might be unprecedented in the past decade — he decided he didn’t want to be a star running back at Tennessee anymore; instead, he wanted to be a receiver somewhere else. Baylor HC Matt Rhule — aN NFL-esque coach who’ll probably join Hurd in the pros sometime OVER the next five years — took him up on that. 

Thus began a fascinating transformation process. Hurd sat out a year and went to work learning a new position and working on his body. He wanted to lose bulk and gain more twitch. Rhule knew he didn't have enough time with Hurd to turn him into a true No. 1 outside receiver, so he made lemonade.

Hurd was taught to play slot. Baylor asked Hurd to mostly do two things last season: Run six or seven yards upfield, turn around, and catch the ball. And when Baylor absolutely needed three yards, they put Hurd in the I-formation and let him harken back to his Tennessee days. He did more than that, of course. But those were the two staples of his game in Waco. Basically: generating automatic yards.

Hurd is being overlooked at present. Part of that is because he missed a year-and-a-half of field time after electing to transfer to Baylor. Part of that is because he’s going to the NFL as a receiver and only has 12 games on tape as a neophyte big-slot. Part of that is because people wanted to believe he was a bad kid for bailing on Tennessee (in my opinion, the kid is a genius — Butch Jones’ staff was a bumbling mess that wasted talent on the reg, and Hurd made an inspired personal choice to cut down on the head-on collisions he’d be subjected to in the pros). 

And part of that is because the knee procedure he underwent in December that cost him the bowl game also deprived him the opportunity to fully participate in the Senior Bowl or NFL Combine. I think a lot of people simply forgot about him. But I can tell you from getting to watch the kid up close last season (my brother is a Baylor alum, I’m an adopted Bears fan): Hurd isn’t a boom-or-bust prospect.

When you read about Hurd this #DraftSZN, you’ll invariably see the words “raw”, “unrefined”, “project” and “gamble.” I think that’s a lazy eval. From Day 1 in the NFL, I know that Hurd will be good at two things, moving the chains from the slot and grinding out a minimum three yards a pop out of the I-formation when you need it.

He’s going to succeed in the NFL. To what degree I can’t say, but he ain’t washing out early. Hurd could add more H-back facets to his game, becoming a weapon who moves around the formation (he won’t block, though, which is why TE is out of the question). He could become a true starting outside receiver in the NFL.

He’s got the size, athleticism and skill for all that. But if nothing else, you get a two-for-one deal on a power slot and a short-yardage specialist. And if steam doesn’t pick up on Hurd in the next month, it’s looking like you might be able to get it on a big discount.


9. Miles Boykin (Notre Dame) | 6’4/220

Age: 22.9
SPARQ percentile: 99.9
Comp: Fast Devin Funchess 


 

boykin graph

Boykin came into the combine as something of an afterthought and exited drawing MockDraftable athletic similarity comparisons to the likes of Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones. That athletic show was a confusing one given just how little we saw of that at Notre Dame — but keep in mind that Notre Dame had really poor quarterback play the past two years. Brandon Wimbush cost many men NFL money. What Boykin showed, consistently, was the ability to make strong-handed body-control catches such as the one below. There might be a lot more here than we saw at Notre Dame. Boykin is now seriously in play to go on Day 2.


 

10. Parris Campbell (Ohio State) | 6’0/205

Age: 22.1
SPARQ percentile: 99.8
Comp: Bigger Curtis Samuel


parris combine graph

You’re not going to see the word “slow’ associated with Parris Campbell too often -- he has been timed at 10.77 seconds in the 100-meter dash -- but his career at Ohio State was very much a slow-burning affair. He patiently bided his days behind the likes of Michael Thomas and Curtis Samuel, even as reports were leaking from Columbus about his unreal athletic ability.

At long last thrust into a featured role as Urban Meyer’s new Percy Harvin, playing a RB/WR hybrid H-back role, Campbell dropped a 90-catch, 1,063-yard performance on the Big Ten in 2018. The former four-star athlete —in an alternate universe, he is playing corner right now — is twitchier than a smoker quitting cold turkey. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Campbell clocked a 4.31-second 40-yard dash, tied with Andy Isabella for best among wideouts, third-best overall. 

Fast, fast kid. But we need to be clear about something from the jump. Campbell does not and cannot make plays downfield. Drop this gem at your draft parties: Campbell had just two career college receptions hauled in 20 or more yards downfield. Two! Over his whole career!!!

Despite world-class speed and a sturdy frame at 6-foot, 205 pounds, Campbell operated almost exclusively around the line of scrimmage at Ohio State. Jet sweeps, bubble screens, designed runs, anything to give Parris the ball in space. 

Like a three-point specialist, if Campbell doesn’t have space, he’s a net-zero — he doesn’t make contested catches, he can't catch the ball downfield, and he isn’t much of a route-runner. He’s more of a running back than a receiver, but his handoffs occur on the perimeter. You want to get him into a footrace, because he doesn't lose those.

The real question, here, is whether Campbell is going to be more Percy Harvin or Tavon Austin when he reaches the pros. Harvin came out of the box plug-and-play after the Vikings drafted him, never failing to catch less than 60 passes in any of his four years in Minneapolis. Contrast with Austin, who still has yet to catch 60 passes in a season and has been held under 50 in four of his six NFL seasons. 

Campbell benefits from entering the NFL in 2019, when the Chiefs and Rams are leading an offensive revolution that looks suspiciously like an adult version of the Big 12. NFL teams are becoming better and better at utilizing players like Campbell. 

The risk of a Tavon Austin 2.0 situation would be greatly alleviated if Campbell winds up with a smart coaching staff that knows how to utilize his unique plumage of skills — get him the ball within five yards of the line of scrimmage in space, don’t try to turn him into a prototypical receiver. Spoiler alert: It isn't going to work.


11. Kelvin Harmon (NC State) | 6’2/221

Age: 21.7
SPARQ percentile: 35.1
Comp: Mohammed Sanu (Lance Zierlein)


 

kelvin harmon graph

Harmon is a physical receiver who lacks for true athleticism downfield. Ryan Finley’s accurate, methodical game may well have benefitted Harmon more than the other way around. Harmon constantly be in contested situations due to lack of shake, but doesn't have N'Keal Harry's ball skills to use as a trump card. But Harmon could develop into a decent WR2 possession guy — if you’d prefer that to a pop-topper or space player.  


12. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Stanford) | 6’2/225

Age: 22.7
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: Jaelen Strong (Gabe Ward)


 

*Did not test at NFL Scouting Combine

 

Stanford rarely got fun in 2018, but when they did, it tended to be the JJAW Show, with the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder reaching up to snag jump ball after jump ball. Both of his parents were basketball players, and it shows. 

For opponents of the Cardinal, nothing was more frustrating last fall than shutting down the shell of Bryce Love, watching David Shaw try to milk a 10-7 lead in the second half, and then boom, Arcega-Whiteside wins a jump-ball downfield, and then snags a TD while falling backwards. Now it’s 17-7, and Shaw is putting boots on the tires of his offense.

The obvious question with Arcega-Whiteside comes in athleticism -- you see his ability to break down defenders physically, less so an ability to simply run by fools -- and on that front, we still have to wait a few more days. JJ did not run drills at the NFL Scouting Combine and has not yet had his pro day as of this publishing (that will come April 4). 

One should not expect electric results when the pro day does come around. While the Spanish-born wideout was a deep ball whiz in Palo Alto, finishing 16th in the country in receptions of 20 or more yards, he isn’t Hollywood Brown. If you have a slight misstep, JJAW isn’t going to be halfway to the end zone. Where Arcega-Whiteside will find room to work is in the brilliance of his route-running and his advanced spacial intelligence. Check out how he easily shakes the defender on this touchdown route. 

A little hint of electricity at his pro day would go a long ways toward offering a measure of reassurance, because Arcega-Whiteside’s inability to separate against corners with any kind of speed puts a major block on his pro upside. You’ll no-doubt see him rebound a few more touchdowns at the NFL level (so to speak), but whether the Stanford wideout can flesh out his game may well depend on whether he has a little more gas in the athletic tank than we presumed.


13. Terry McLaurin (Ohio State) | 6’0/208

Age: 24.4
SPARQ percentile: 95.3
Comp: Justin Hardy (Lance Zierlein)


mclaurin graph

"Scary" Terry McLaurin might not have the overall zip of hype behind him that Parris Campbell does, but he is an intriguing prospect in his own right. McLaurin is a phenomenal athlete and deep threat -- he averaged 20 yards per reception last season -- who plays with a still-have-to-prove it attitude which shows out in his work as a special teams gunner. He's a phenomenal special teams player and that must be baked into his evaluation. McLaurin earlier this draft season turned heads at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. 



14. Emanuel Hall (Missouri) | 6’2/201

Age: 22.3
SPARQ percentile: 99.7
Comp: Will Fuller (AJ Schulte


 

emanuel hall graph

 

Hall brings to the fore a breakaway speed quotient countered by a history of nagging injuries, untrustworthy hands and the tendency to be knocked off his routes by more physical corners who have the speed to hang. He's in the phylum of Will Fuller and DJ Chark, but in my opinion a level below each as prospects heading in.

 


15. Stanley Morgan (Nebraska) | 6’0/202

Age: 23.0
SPARQ percentile: 81.5
Comp: Poor man's Keenan McCardell (Matt Waldman)


stanley morgan graph

Morgan is a warrior on the field who stuck through a very lean era of Nebraska football and kept fighting. He's a polished receiver who runs strong routes, brings down catchable balls, and blocks with superlative effort. Morgan opened eyes with his testing, posting 73rd-percentile or better scores in the shuttle, 3-cone, broad jump and vertical jump. Plus body control helps him corral balls in sticky situations, and his sudden stop-start ability makes him a nuicance with the ball in his hands. 


16. Anthony Johnson (Buffalo) | 6’2/203

Age: 24.6
SPARQ percentile: 28.0
Comp: Bryant Johnson (Zierlein)


anthony johnson graph

Johnson appeared to regress in 2018, from a superb 90.9 PFF grade over 712 snaps in 2017 to 83.4 and 577 last year. But Johnson played with nagging hamstring injury in 2018 (which cost him two games and parts of a third), and also decided to suit up against Temple hours after learning that one of his best friends had been gunned down. He cut his drops from six to three while targeted 96 times, and finished in the top-five of PFF's grading in the WR class in both contested catch rate and yards per route run. His 79 deep targets the past two seasons is tops in the class. Tough and long-armed, I think Johnson is a sleeper who will out-play his draft slot at the next level.


17. Hunter Renfrow (Clemson) | 5'10/180

Age: 34.2 23.7
SPARQ percentile: 10.3
Comp: Adam Humphries (Hunter Renfrow -- seriously!)


renfrow graph

Small and unathletic, old man Renfrow is going to carve out a significant slot role in the NFL anyway because his hands are incredible and his footwork and route-running are sublime. Remember, this kid slaughtered Minkah Fitzpatrick, among the many NFL DB pelts already on his wall. And you have to love this: Renfrow rejects Julian Edelman comps and says he's most similar to former Clemson teammate Adam Humphries, who he said he's patterned his game after. Plus-plus hands, feet and self-awareness? Check!


18. Gary Jennings (West Virginia)  | 6’1/214

Age: 22.5
SPARQ percentile: 83
Comp: Martavis Bryant -- minus four inches and plus 13 pounds


 

gary jennings combine

Utterly dominant slot receiver at West Virginia who's being criminally overlooked. Jennings might not have drawn the same kinds of shiny headlines as touchdown machine teammate David Sills, but make no mistake, he is the better NFL prospect. Per PFF’s Steve Palazzolo, Jennings led all draft-eligible wideouts with a 54-percent catch rate on contested grabs this past season.

This wasn't a small sample size: Jennings caught 151 balls for 2,031 yards and 14 TD over the past two seasons. Not only does he know how to wrestle the ball down, he showed out as one of the fastest, most difficult covers at the Senior Bowl. And then he aced every Combine test except the three-cone. 

Jennings can beat you at all three levels and really excels down the field. He drops too many balls, and he doesn't block -- but put him in the slot at the NFL level, and you might get a sawed-off Martavis Bryant on a big discount.

 


19. Preston Williams (Colorado State) | 6’4/211

SPARQ percentile: 6.1
Comp: Less-athletic Charles Rogers (KC Draft Guide)


*Was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine for past off-field issues

Williams' eval is full of enormous red flags, with a torn ACL, a falling out with Tennessee, and off-field issues in his past. He wasn't invited to the NFL Combine because of a 2017 altercation with his girlfriend. Williams also tested atrociously at his pro day.  He's not going to be on some team's boards, but Williams offers length, deep speed and playmaking skills downfield to the team willing to roll the dice.


20. Greg Dortch (Wake Forest) | 5’7/173

Age: 21.3

SPARQ percentile: 5.5
Comp: Jameson Crowder (Zierlein)


greg dortch graph

Hollywood-sized with the athleticism, Dortch was nonetheless a flammable playmaker in the ACC. He's one of the class' best return men, and I think he'll be able to eventually carve out a slot role as well. He's extremely difficult to stick with in coverage.


21. Riley Ridley (Georgia) | 6’1/194

Age: 23.1

SPARQ percentile: 15.4
Comp: Nate Burleson (KC Draft Guide)


riley ridley graph

Ridley doesn't deserve the hype he's received, but he's going to carve out an NFL career because, like his brother Calvin, he's very quick on the hoof and has a variety of moves to create space.


22. Keelan Doss (UC Davis) | 6’2/211

Age: 23.4

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Comp: Geronimo Allison (Lance Zierlein)


*Did not test at NFL Scouting Combine

A small-school FCS superstar, Doss comes equipped with a nice frame for pro work and has the head for the next level as well -- he is a route-running perfectionist -- but his lack of proven speed could be an issue. Even without the big wheels, though, he has shown the ability to create room to work through manipulations of space on the field.

 

23. Diontae Johnson (Toledo)

24. Jakobi Meyers (NC State)

25. Travis Fulgham (Old Dominion)

26. Penny Hart (Georgia State)

27. Anthony Ratliff-Williams (UNC)

28. Olamide Zaccheaus (Virginia)

29. David Sills (West Virginia)

30. Emmanuel Butler (Northern Arizona) 

31. KeeSean Johnson (Fresno State)

32. Antoine Wesley (Texas Tech)

33. Reggie White Jr. (Monmouth) 

34. Tyre Brady (Marshall)

35. Lil'Jordan Humphrey (Texas)


Source URL: https://www.rotoworld.com/article/evaluations/nfl-draft-wr-rankings