2017 NFL Draft Preview: Wide Receivers

Mike Williams Clemson

 Writer’s Note: This is the third in a series and I’ll do as many positions as I can before the draft at the end of the month. As I mentioned before, I don’t try to pretend to know what order guys are going to be drafted. I only know what’s in Bill Belichick’s heart and have predicted at least a half a dozen of his picks over the years. But with the Patriots not having a pick in the top 70, instead of doing a Patriots-centric preview like I’ve done in the past, here’s more of an overview and I’ll be The Belichick Whisperer at the end. Today I’ll go over the wide receivers.

Earlier previews: Quarterbacks, Running backs

Postional Overview: To know me is to know I’m not a big wide receiver guy. I say again it’s the most overrated, overvalued position, not just in football, but in all of sports. And if you spend tons of draft capital trying to hit on one, you do so at your peril. First, because the Bust Rate on the position is off the charts. Also, with the exception of the 2013 Broncos, teams that have won Super Bowls this century have done so largely with receivers that were drafted mid-to-late (Jacoby Jones, Julian Edelman) or not at all (Victor Cruz, Doug Baldwin). Whereas I’ll once again remind you that Matt Millen used a handful of top picks to draft wideouts and constructed the only 0-16 team in NFL history. With that said, this class is getting generally good reviews, with 1st Round talent and depth at all receiver positions. Helped by the fact a strong senior group has been joined by more than 20 underclassmen.

The Consensus No. 1:

Mike Williams, Clemson. 6-4, 218 lb, 4.50

Compares to the active ingredients in: Alshon Jeffrey
Not to be confused with the Mike Williams Millen took with the 10th pick in 2005. Or any other other 100 or so Mike Williamses that that come through the league in your lifetime. This kid appears to be a baller who plays with the good kind of angry edge to his game. Most of what you need to know about Williams is that his career almost ended in when he fractured his neck running into the goalpost on a touchdown catch. And he was back the next Fall. He’s big, with high end skills. His high-pointing game is strong. He’ll be that X-receiver who’ll play out on the boundary and make plays against man coverage. But he’s got the iron balls to go between the hashes. If there’s a question about his game it’s his running on deep vertical routes. But he’ll in all likelihood be the first receiver off the board, probably in the 10-20 range.

A Very Good X-Receiver Consolation Prize:

Corey Davis, Western Michigan. 6-3, 209 lb, 4.48
Compares to the active ingredients in: Demaryius Thomas
The owner of the best, most Constanza-like hands in this position group, Davis doesn’t have Thomas’ thick frame, but the ex-teammate of the Bears Daniel Braverman had four productive seasons. His best coming in his senior year when he played faster and with more explosiveness. He’s a run-after-catch guy who’ll push defenses vertically. He’s a top flight route runner, either from inside or out. For what it’s worth, his coach PJ Fleck (now with U. of Minnesota) used to be the WR coach of the Buccaneers, so you can assume he’s picked up some degree of coaching a pro system.

The Flash:

John Ross, Washington. 5-11, 188 lb, 4.22. I repeat: Four. Two. Frickin Two

Compares to the active ingredients in: DeSean Jackson
Ross is the one who broke the record – and the space/time continuum – with that time at the Lucas Oil Olympics. He’s not just straight line fast, but he runs good routes and has the best release in this class. He’s got the position versatility to be more than just a Tyreek Hill. And he’ll run Jet Sweeps with anybody. He’s got to get better at coming away with contested balls, but he’ll be an immediate deep threat at the next level.

The Small School Wonder:

Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington. 6-2, 204 lb, 4.62

Compares to the active ingredients in: Jarvis Landry
For the purposes of these, I’m going to call the divisions in college football DI and DII, like a free American. Because the NCAA can honk on my bone. Kupp left E. Washington the owner of virtually every DII receiving record that’s worth having. Just to keep talking about route running, he’s considered the best of the bunch. His 40-time isn’t going to make anyone write songs about him, but he plays faster. On tape he shows some vertical ability, but considering the competition, he projects to be more of a big slot receiver in the NFL. Overall he’s probably going to come off the board in the 2nd Round. And immediately be called “scrappy” and “possession receiver” by every draft guru who still thinks every white receiver is Wayne Chrebet.

The Most Space Between His Floor and His Ceiling:

Chris Godwin, Penn St. 6-1, 209, 4.42
Compares to the active ingredients in: James Jones
Now here is a possession receiver, due mainly to his tape at Penn St., which doesn’t match his performance at the Indianapolis Kennel Club Show. He tends to lose against man, yet is good at sinking into spaces between zones and can catch. He was productive even with Christian Hackenberg throwing him the ball. But his production went down his senior year. He wasn’t really considered top prospect until a good showing at the Rose Bowl put him on everybody’s radar. So the jury is out, but with his skills, a good system fit might make him a steal.

A Trendy Pick:

Juju Smith-Schuster, USC. 6-1, 215 lb, 4.54
Compares to the active ingredients in: Anquan Boldin
His measurables aren’t all that impressive, but you can’t measure heart (Copyright Tom Brady Sr., all rights reserved). Smith-Schuster played through a broken hand and an injured back without missing any time. He shows good awareness of the field, defenders, the open spots and tracking the ball. He’s also uber intense, but in that competitive way, not as a mercurial diva. If attitude and football IQ are more your thing than what the stopwatch tells you, swipe right.

The Slot Receivers:

Curtis Samuel, Ohio St. 5-11, 196, 4.31

Compares to the active ingredients in: Percy Harvin
Samuel is a burner. Where he goes and how he does when he gets there will have everything to do with coaching and scheme. He was used as basically an H-back in school, returned kicks and led Ohio St. in all-purpose yards. He also was never asked to block. So what his pro team does, whether they use him like a Tyreek Hill or just tell him to run 9-routes all year long will be fascinating to watch.

ArDarius Stewart, Alabama. 5-11, 204 lb, 4.49
Compares to the active ingredients in: Julian Edelman
He’s like Edelman in terms of size, but faster. He’s big. Physical. A plug & play slot guy. He also missed three games, two due to a leg injury and the other spent in Nick Saban’s Time Out chair. Nevertheless, he made first team All SEC. He probably could’ve benefited from another year at Bama to improve his stock, but he had to declare early to provide for his two kids. So there’s that.


The Sleeper:

Noah Brown, Ohio St. 6-2, 222, 4.49
He didn’t get a lot of attention with the Buckeyes because everyone focused on Samuel. Also because his production didn’t warrant it; he never had a season of 75 catches. But he’s a physical specimen with an NFL-ready body. And there’s the matter of the 4 TDs he put up against Oklahoma’s Jordan Thomas. His skills need refinement, but as a long term project he might justify the flyer some team will take on him, probably on Friday of the draft.

Most Inspirational Story:

Amara Daboh, Michigan. 6-2, 215 lb, 4.46
Compares to the active ingredients in: Jaelen Strong
If you’re looking for a guy who won’t be intimidated by NFL cornerbacks, consider the blood-soaked dystopian hellscape that is Daboh’s childhood. He grew up in Sierra Leone (which is in Africa, in case everything you know about the continent comes from watching The Lion King). His parents were killed in the endless civil war there. He ended up in the US in 2001 and became a citizen last year. You can roll your own Trump joke in here if it’ll make you feel good. I’ll just say that to go from being a war orphan to listening to Tom Brady locker room pep talks is what Makes America Great Again.

Red Flags:

Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss. 6-2, 212, 4.50
Compares to the active ingredients in: Michael Thomas
Stringfellow was not invited to the Indy Dog & Pony Show due to a guilty plea of 4th degree assault charge stemming from a post-Super Bowl brawl that left a woman knocked out cold when he was at the U. of Washington in 2014. It seems he got into a beef with some Seahawks fans where, in the words of the great Sam Kinison, Mr. Hand turned into Mr. Fist. That “4th degree” thing makes it sound like it might have been nothing. Patriots fans can’t celebrate it because it was after the Denver-Seattle Super Bowl. And since being involved in post-Super Bowl violence didn’t exactly derail Ray Lewis’ career, he’ll probably still get drafted.

More Red Flags Than the Country Club of Beijing:

Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma. 6-0, 178 lb, 4.44
Compares to the active ingredients in: A pass-catching Greg Hardy
Westbrook has been arrested three times, twice for domestic violence offenses where his baby mama was the victim. But if you’re a GM who likes his wideouts whippet skinny, productive (1500 yards and 17 TDs last year) and with no respect for the ladies in their life, here’s your guy.

The Perfect Patriot:

Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky. 5-11, 203 lb, 4.50

Compares to the active ingredients in: Brandin Cooks
I don’t even know if the Patriots are looking to draft a wideout, period. Possibly they’re looking to replace Danny Amendola and his contract. Soon they’ll need to find Edelman: The Next Generation. But my guess is it’s not this year. Especially with the emergence of Malcolm Mitchell and the addition of Cooks, who’s only 23. But if they are looking, this is their system fit. The average 40-time means nothing to them. Belichick’s type isn’t a straight-line runner. His hotness is the 3-cone drill. Almost any given year you can find him hanging out in the 3-cone section of the bar, hitting on all the ones who post the best time there. It speaks to a guy’s ability to start/stop, get out of breaks, make cuts without slowing down, plant and go. And Taylor’s 6.57 was the fastst among recievers and the third best overall. For the Hilltoppers he ran a lot of bubble screens with exellent catch and run production, which gets the whole Patriots coaching staff moist. A decent indicator of how he’d do against pro-caliber talent is the 9 catches for 121 he posted against Saban’s Alabama secondary. I think he’ll be available late because of the top talent going in the first two rounds. And if the Pats actually want a receiver to develop for later, Taylor is the best fit.