The 2017 wide receiver class lacks elite prospects in the first round, but it doesn’t lack overall depth. There aren’t many receivers coming out who will start day-one, but there are a lot of prospects who have potential to make solid contributions if coached well.
Will the Miami Dolphins cash in on one of these receivers despite drafting DeVante Parker and Leonte Carroo in the past two drafts?
Honorable mentions: Corey Smith, WVU; ArDarius Stewart, Alabama; Ishmael Zamora, Baylor; Stacey Coley, Miami; Travin Dural, LSU; Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky; Ryan Switzer, UNC; Richie James, MTSU; Trent Taylor, LA Tech; Josh Reynolds, TAMU; Amara Darboh, Michigan; Chris Godwin, PSU; Malachi Dupre, LSU.
A few guys I’m very high on for Miami to select in later rounds are: Ishmael Zamora, Travin Dural and Josh Reynolds. I think these guys are flying under the radar and offer great value later in the draft. It’ll be interesting to see if Dural and Reynolds can boost their stock at the NFL combine.
10. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington: Kupp saw his stock soar after the Senior Bowl.
Kupp reminds me of a slightly taller, slower Chris Hogan. Kupp is 6 feet 2 inches and 198 pounds, and Chris Hogan is 6 feet 1 inch and 215 pounds (ESPN.com). Kupp must add lean mass – not just weight – to handle NFL contact without becoming slower, but I expect him to run about a 4.57 40-yard dash (Hogan ran a 4.5). Not only are their physical traits comparable, but their playing styles are too. Kupp will not overwhelm you with his play-speed style – remains stiff at times – but he will find crafty ways to beat the defense vertically and laterally, and we saw that capability on the blown coverage shown at the game against Washington’s Sidney Jones. He’s an average vertical threat with average breakaway speed, and lacks elite explosion, but he is sharp and aggressive in his route running. He brings hustle, physicality and strength to his game, though his lack of separation quickness could cause issues for him early on in his career. His strong, reliable hands will be a weapon for an offense to use in the slot. Like Westbrook, he telegraphs his comebacks which leaves minimal separation on routes. Kupp must break the habit of overselling his fakes on routes sometimes in order to keep routes crisp and deceptive. Despite his incredible production at the college level, the mostly inferior talent he played against will raise questions on his readiness for the NFL.
Don’t expect Kupp to be the number one receiver on your offense, but he can serve as a security blanket with the ability to thrive on a team like Kansas City, Seattle and Cincinnati.
[Insert lame stereotype about New England taking an unknown white receiver and making him special, here.]
9. Dede Westbrook, OU: Westbrook has DeSean Jackson-like explosion and athleticism.
I’m not saying he is Jackson, but the comparable traits are certainly there. He isn’t going to run anyone over, but he can outrun any defense with his elite speed.
He’s a smooth, sharp route runner, though occasionally telegraphs his comebacks and can be nonchalant with easier routes. He explodes off the line of scrimmage, showing great separation quickness. Westbrook is electric in space, and one of the best vertical threats in the draft. He has good, reliable hands and did well with contested catches. Despite being able to contort his body to make catches outside of his frame, he isn’t one to make many highlight reel catches due to his lack of length. Westbrook has a decent vertical jump, but won’t be expected to win a ton of 50-50 jump balls against bigger corners. He may struggle with stronger corner backs, as he tries to win with speed nearly every time.
Like Jackson, he is as thin as a toothpick and lacks size, which could cause a struggle against NFL contact early in his career. This may limit him his ability to be a true number one receiver.
He would be a good choice for Miami to replace Kenny Stills. Westbrook is a dynamic homerun threat, but must add weight.
8. Chad Hansen, California: Hansen will flourish as a possession receiver, though isn’t considered a team’s number one receiver
His lack of explosion off the line of scrimmage restricts his ability against quick-twitched defenders. He’s stiff with his routes and can be jammed by stronger corners. He needs to create more consistent separation in his route running, especially his comeback routes. His routes need to be a tad sharper, and it doesn’t help that Cal’s routes were very basic.
Hansen has great acceleration in the open field and can make defenders miss after the catch. He doesn’t have elite speed, but has enough breakaway speed to allow him to outrun defenses. He showed good awareness and athleticism to get his feet in bounds on contested boundary catches. His strong hands were shown when making contested catches in traffic. Hansen has an average vertical leaping ability, but does well with tracking the ball and timing his jumps. A physical, strong receiver who won’t beat you with quickness or athleticism, but his combination of strength and top-end speed can.
[Insert lame stereotype about New England taking an unknown white receiver and making him special, here.]
7. Carlos Henderson, LA Tech: Henderson is a fluid athlete who has great vision as a playmaker.
He showed great adjustment and leaping ability to poorly thrown balls. He lacks ideal strength on contested catches, and lost a few 50-50 balls that were jarred from his grasp by defenders. Despite that, he’s a physical wide receiver who doesn’t shy away from contact. Henderson plays quicker than he looks, and is sneaky fast once he reaches his second gear. Despite running decent routes, there is room for improvement. He didn’t always use his top speed on route running, and was rarely challenged in press coverage. Henderson is a short strider who will have to get adjusted to NFL speed, but he does have an impressive stutter step move on deep routes. He occasionally gets caught waiting on throws rather than working back to them. Despite having good hands, he had a few focus drops on shorter routes. He lacks ideal size and explosive traits to be a considered a number one receiver (6 feet 1 inch and 190 pounds).
6. Isaiah Ford, VT: Ford is a great vertical threat with his combination of size, speed and leaping ability. He’s an overall excellent athlete.
He lacks ideal strength and physicality for the frame he possesses (6 feet 2 inches and 195 pounds). He needs to add lean mass, and learn how to use his frame more effectively against defenders. He uses quickness, size and speed to get open, but needs to learn how to be more route-savvy, and was used in very basic routes in VT’s offense. Ford lacks awareness and needs to learn how to be more effective after the catch as a playmaker, rather than just using his speed. He is a bit of a body catcher and needs to trust his hands more. He has good hands, but lacks hand strength which could be a concern down the line. Ford is great at locating the ball and contorting his body to catch throws outside of his frame, and showed his potential with some impressive catches versus Boston College this past season.
With proper coaching, Ford can evolve his game into a receiver like Davante Adams (6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds). Adams used a combination of size and speed to have an impressive breakout season, showing the potential of being a future number one receiver. I could see Ford taking on a similar role of being under the radar for a year before breaking out. He’s a late second-round/early third-round pick who will likely need a year of seasoning before making a significant contribution. Keep an eye on him as a Kenny Stills replacement.
5. Juju Smith-Schuster, USC: It’s not so much Smith-Schuster’s height (6 feet 2 inches) that excites you, but his overall frame is terrific.
He’s big (220 pounds), thick, strong and physical. He excels in using his body to shield defenders on throws, and is a strong blocker who isn’t afraid to get physical. His football IQ is underrated, as he showed ability to position himself well in zone coverage. He’s considered a homerun threat with excellent vision in YAC scenarios. He showed a lot of wasted motion at the line of scrimmage trying to shake his defender. Smith-Schuster struggles to consistently get open in his route running. His routes occasionally seem telegraphed and fail to keep corners off balance, most notably against press coverage. He’s an outstanding athlete who has many physical tools you want in a receiver, and while he doesn’t have elite speed, it’s good enough to outrun defenses. His physicality is what will help him at the next level.
Smith-Schuster has good hands despite the occasional drop from not knowing when to use his hands or body. He shows outstanding body control and contorting ability, and tracks the deep ball exceptionally well, but isn’t quite at the level of Mike Williams or Corey Davis.
Some scouts are comparing him to Anquan Boldin — I don’t see it. I think Boldin’s hands and routes are significantly better, while Smith-Schuster’s speed and athleticism are significantly better.
New York (Jets), Buffalo, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore all make sense as potential second-round destinations. While Miami could consider him as a replacement for Kenny Stills, I don’t view him as a perfect fit. I think his game could cause traffic toward Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Julius Thomas on offense.
4. John Ross, Washington: Ross is a blazing fast replacement for Stills at the wide receiver position if Miami had to look there.
He plays the game with a chip on his shoulder and can turn a short gain into a big play. He has elite speed with an outstanding second gear, and is one of the best homerun hitters in the draft. His fast burst off the snap allows him to run smooth routes that are sometimes too smooth. His routes need to be sharpened for more consistency. He gets good separation on comeback routes, keeping the defense honest with his speed. Ross uses exceptional hesitation moves on go-routes, showing great overall footwork that often forces a corner to commit early. Ross is undersized (5 feet 11 inches and 190 pounds) and has had major knee surgeries on both knees which may scare teams away from selecting him in the first round. He doesn’t use his frame very well, as he tends to wait on throws rather than working back toward them.
Ross shows excellent balls skills and awareness on the boundaries, but you don’t see him challenge defenses over the middle with physicality. Contested catches against bigger athletes are a concern due to his lack of size, and you question how many 50-50 calls he can win against tall corners. He tries to beat you with an aggressive, finesse playstyle that won’t always work in the NFL. He’s outstanding at tracking the ball and keeping his feet in bounds when securing the catch. Ross has reliable hands and will occasionally make an outstanding catch.
His game is comparable to Corey Coleman’s, though Ross must add weight to be effective in all aspects of the game to avoid being a one-trick pony near the sidelines. He’s a potential replacement for Kenny Stills, though it’d be a waste of a first/second round pick for Miami. The value with Ross just isn’t there for Miami.
3. Zay Jones, ECU: The all-time FBS receptions leader has climbed up many draft boards.
Jones explodes out of the snap with perfect timing, running smooth routes. Jones shows above average breakaway/top-end speed, but lacks a noticeable second gear. Despite being quick, his play speed is average. It’s almost as if he is going through the motions until he sees open field ahead. Despite being a strong guy, he rarely broke many tackles. His frame is thin (despite being 6 feet 2 inches and 202 pounds). He’ll need to add weight, especially in his lower body. Jones is primarily a great hands catcher who can excel as a possession receiver that gains yards after the catch. He’ll win 50-50 balls, but he’s not one to catch the ball and burst for a long touchdown. Jones made some fantastic catches against VT this past season, and showed his true potential at the Senior Bowl with his athleticism and leaping ability.
The quarterbacks at ECU held Zay Jones back on deep ball plays, so scouts will question how high his ceiling is. I think he has a lot of traits you want in a number one receiver. I’d like to see him get bigger and meaner, but otherwise he’s a guy who can potentially be your biggest weapon on offense.
2. Mike Williams, Clemson: Williams has the prototypical body for a wide receiver in the NFL.
At 6 feet 3 inches and 225 pounds, Williams has a big upper body frame. He was the best 50-50 ball receiver in college football last year. He shields his body and attacks throws with his huge hands at an angle that defenders can’t reach, using outstanding ball tracking skills. Williams is a hands catcher who made terrific catches over his career, but inexplicably dropped a few passes that he usually catches this past season. He has natural athleticism and anticipation to contort his body on catches near boundary lines. He’s not afraid to absorb contact over the middle in tight windows. His speed will be his x-factor. If he runs well at the combine, he’ll be the first receiver taken in the draft. On tape, he looks fast but not quite as explosive as Corey Davis. His routes are inconsistent. He will give an extra effort when it matters, but is too methodical at certain times in the game, lacking sharpness. He needs to avoid winning routes with only physicality and speed – that won’t work in the NFL – and must use his fundamentals. Williams must become more effective with press corners who jab. He got caught jostling for position rather than using technique.
Mike Williams compares to Josh Gordon in measurable and catching ability. He’s not Josh Gordon yet, but he could reach that ceiling once his route technique is coached.
1. Corey Davis, Western Michigan: Davis is a quick twitch athlete with a little more speed than Mike Williams.
He’s a playmaker in the open field with great breakaway speed and vision to give defenses a nightmare. He made some fantastic catches away from his frame using impressive leaping and contorting abilities over his career. His competitiveness shows when he lays out for passes, even if they’re in traffic. Davis has all the traits to be an alpha male, number one receiver for your offense. Size (6 feet 3 inches), speed, strength and outstanding hands – but he must avoid the occasional focus drops. I’d like to see him gain about 10 pounds and complete his frame for NFL contact (he’s at 213 pounds, currently). A team will fall in love with the way he tracks deep balls and catches them at the highest point. He uses his frame very well in shielding defenders and coming back to the ball on poor throws. His routes are precise and there are no wasted motions, though I would like to see him develop a little more explosiveness off the snap. He needs to develop more quickness on his short routes to keep corners guessing, and must learn how to perfect his technique to gain space consistently in press coverage. The mostly inferior opponents he faced will raise questions to scouts. Davis has star potential, but he’s not ready to take on that role just yet.
He’s a high first-round pick without a doubt, but he’ll need to adjust to NFL speed. He most likely won’t be a day-one starter, but if he’s coached well and worked in slowly, he has a chance to be a big-time NFL receiver. It’s a shame Miami won’t be able to select him as a possible Stills replacement, because he would an amazing compliment to Jarvis Landry.