By: Johnny Hatelak
Overall, the word has been that this draft class is not a special one and may be the weakest class in nearly a decade A good reason for this is the fact a few of the top guys coming into this year’s college season have performed under expectations. Players like Arden Key, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Derwin James and a host of others were supposed to be generational talents picked at the top of the draft and set into motion hall of fame worthy NFL careers. There also appears to be underwhelming and under-performing underclassmen group.
This does not mean that there won’t be some exciting talent coming out of the draft and entering the NFL in their 2018 season. I personally have not had the chance as of yet to review most of the players entering the draft – but as the days close on the NFL and the college bowl season and draft season kicks into high gear – I should have most of the potential draftable players reviewed in some form or fashion. I dove into the Wide Receiver group a little bit and think I’ve seen enough to compile a top 10 list with a little bit of a scouting report to go along with the listed names with reasonable enough factual information to form an intelligent opinion. As I watched video after video, I actually was impressed by the talent at wide receiver. There are some big athletic X’s ready to take on the challenge in the NFL as first-year contributors in my opinion. I chose this position group first as it is a huge need for the Chicago Bears and is perhaps the number one need. So without further ado, here it is.
10.) Christian Kirk: Texas A & M 5’11” 201 – Kirk is a player pretty high up on Draftnik’s lists and from my perspective I simply can’t see why. I actually almost kept him off this list (and eventually may in future updates of this list) because I wasn’t that impressed with his tape. I mean he is a productive college slot receiver in an air raid offense. One of the things I like most about Slot guys is their ability to sight read and make adjustments to get open which he clearly isn’t doing in this offense. So that puts him way behind and once he finally does get it if he gets it at all in the pros his contract is almost up. That alone puts him on day 3 radar for me.
He also isn’t particularly athletic, quick or fast. He also does a fair share of body catching. He is however pretty tough and gritty and looks like a competitive kid. He also seems very coachable so I do see hope for him as a prospect. I guess the timeline for his development depends on which team he’s with and what role he plays in it. At current, I see his value at best early day 3 somewhere in the mid 4th round.
9.) Equanimeous St. Brown: Notre Dame 6’4″ 205 – St. Brown is yet another intriguing Split End prospect. As I mentioned in my opening, I like this wide Receiver class better than most do. The amount of Split Ends that can dominate the game is tremendous. St. Brown is no different. He’s raw. Needs to work on his Route running and general overall understanding of pro-style concepts but he’s not alone in this evaluation. You can say that about 80% of the Wide Receivers entering the league these days. However in Norte Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly’s offense there are a lot of pro-style plays. So it shouldn’t take him as long as other spread only Wide Receivers.
As for his skill set, he has a lot of tools to work with. Very fluid for a big man as an athlete. Get’s in and out of his breaks efficiently and consistently. Has the ability to get his share of YAC yards at the next level. Can go up and get it. Has big strong hands but needs to learn how to pluck the ball out of the air and away from his body as I have seen a decent amount of body catches. Has the speed to run past his coverage and get a lot of downfield plays. Can be used in the red zone as a back shoulder weapon. In my opinion, I see him going early in the 3rd round.
8.) Deon Cain: Auburn 6’1″ 210 – Deon Cain is an intriguing prospect. I like him, just not as a teams number one. As a compliment to another Wide Receiver as the second or even third option on a real deep Wide Receiver group, I love him. Watching his video gives me the impression he’s a bit of a bumslayer if you will. When he went up against the better bigger more physical corners like Auburn’s two very good cornerbacks Carlton Cain who may be the top Cornerback prospect in this draft, and Sophmore Jamal Dean he was neutralized. Also, last year versus Alabama another team that plays physical press man and pump out pro after pro he was a bit negated. So as a two or three on a team going against the two or three Cornerback, he may just find his niche in the NFL.
As for his profile as a player he has good size/speed traits. I see him more as a Flanker in the NFL but I see no reason why you can’t put him at Flanker or even Split End in some sets with less physical smaller cornerbacks. He’ll have to learn the pro game as he’s running set routes most of them on go, slants and zero routes. He’ll need to learn an expanded route tree and how to read coverage’s so he’ll be able to make decisions based on leverage and coverage schemes sometimes while even in route. This will limit whatever offense he’ll be in until he does get that part of the game. So unless he’s the primary option, you can only use him on decoy routes and as a blocker. He will have to learn how to get off the line on press as well.
As for his positives, there are a few. He’s pretty fast which helps on go routes and he has some size which will make it hard for most corners to knock him off his routes. He also has back shoulder ability and for the most part is a hands catcher. Didn’t really see him do a whole lot of blocking but what I did see it’s apparent he will need some work at it. He’s a day two prospect with his highest value coming in the third.
7.) Anthony Miller: Memphis 5’11” 200 – Miller is a player that gives and taketh away. He’ll make some pretty bad drops at times but make some absolutely incredible catches as well. The one-handed catch he made against UCONN looked like he had a first baseman’s mitt on. There are no measurements yet but I’m willing to bet he has huge strong hands which generally help with catching the ball, especially in traffic fighting DB’s on 50/50 balls. To me, his drops are more a product of him losing focus by not keeping his eyes on the ball into his hands. Looks like he’ll take his eye off the ball to run with it a fraction of a second too soon. Think that’s common of all play-makers.
He should be a high volume slot receiver who can play Flanker when needed. More quick than fast. He’s incredibly strong with a thick build. Should hold up well on the inside and fighting with nickel defenders. He’s also fearless and likes to mix it up as a blocker. Like so many receivers he has to learn the pro game but I do see him running a good deal of pro-style routes. Not that limited. Runs Z and Y routes. I see him going day 2 in the mid 2nd to 3rd. Should be an excellent slot receiver in the NFL for some team in need of one.
6.) Antonio Callaway: First thing I’d like to get out of the way is Callaway’s suspension. He was suspended from the team due to an off-field incident where he was accused of sexual assault. So right off any team that drafts him will have to, first of all, make sure that this incident was a false accusation and whether or not he can stay out of situations like that going further. It also has to make sure they have the PR stuff in order and this is something that won’t disrupt the locker room because even though he was cleared of the accusation they will be hit hard on the choice. I’m not going to go on about it as I haven’t done enough research on it (nor do I want to right now) to make an intelligent comment about it. I am simply making evaluations on players abilities on the field. As we get further along in this draft season I’ll take a closer look at these prospects based on information I glean from across the web as I have no first-hand contacts to give me scoops on them.
With that out of the way, Callaway is an explosive athlete. He has speed, agility, quickness, and strength. He also has value in his positional versatility as he can easily play the slot as well as Flanker as he has done most of his work in college. He’s also an explosive special teams returner who probably can play gunner too. Highly competitive on the field and plays 100% even when he isn’t the primary weapon. Sells his routes. He won’t go up and get it but he is fearless on his inside routes and has the physical ability to get separation with quick cuts in and out of his breaks. Great start-stop ability which shows he can win on a lot of double move stop and go routes. I see his value best on day 2 probably early 3rd, but late 2nd wouldn’t be a terrible reach in my opinion.
5.) Auden Tate: Florida State 6’5″ 225 – Tate is another jumbo-sized X receiver with pretty decent juice to boot. As you would expect he is very good on 50/50 balls, back shoulder fades and in the red zone. He has very good speed ( probably a 4.47-4.5 guy) and some nice fluidity to him for a man of his size. Very impressive athlete. Shows Requisite traits to eventually become a number one for a team and maybe even a blue chipper.
Good hip action for a tall linear athlete. Very coordinated and fluid. Also, love the way he keeps his hands away from his body and plucks the ball out of the air. Shows a willingness to block, but needs to work on that a little. Needs to learn the pro game as most Wide Receivers do. Expanding his route tree would help but will make a living running typical Split End routes. Shows positional versatility and can play X, Y,and Z. which shows his ability to pick up and retain various responsibilities on the football field. I see him as a solid late first-round pick.
4.) Courtland Sutton: SMU 6’4″ 215 – Sutton is a talented big split end who should be physically ready to play with the big boys but it’s his mental side of the process that concerns me. Both in his inexperience with pro-style concepts and running a limited route tree and in his hypersensitivity which makes him easy to bait into unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. I also have not seen him take on too much press coverage and have no idea how he’ll do against some of the better press corners in the league. He also tends to catch the ball too close to his body which can lead to a drop issue at the next level. He also tends to be a bit of a prima donna and tends to give a half-assed effort out there at times.
I know it sounds like a negative review, but all that is true and film don’t lie. However, he’s my 4th ranked wideout for a reason. You just can’t teach size like that with movement skills to boot. He’s a pretty fluid athlete with good speed for a big dude. When he sets his mind to it he’s hard to handle. Even without elite route running to get separation, he doesn’t need a whole lot of separation to be a legitimate target. The one thing that may hurt him with that is the fact he doesn’t naturally pluck the ball out of the way far away from his body. He is a classic boom or bust type in my opinion. If he proves coachable and a strong work ethic he can be a pretty special X receiver. I see him as a late first but he may get picked mid 1st.
3.) Michael Gallup: Colorado State 6’1″ 200 lbs – Of course I reserve the right to change my rankings as I learn more about these players throughout the draft season; however, during my research,which thus far is limited to draftbreakdown.com and youtube videos and whatever college game I watched live, Gallup is one of my favorite wide receivers in this class.
He typically plays flanker but can easily play the slot and in my opinion even at Split End. He would fall short of the physical traits an X as most are built like mini Tight Ends, but he plays a very physical brand of football and plays much bigger than his physical stature would have you believe.
Good leaping ability and will snatch a good share of his 50/50 targets like he did on a nice back shoulder touchdown versus Alabama. Another thing I like about him is his hands. He has strong sure hands and catches the ball away from his body. Which is something that can’t be said about some of the other top guys in this class who catch the ball too close to their bodies at times leading to drops. A physical and willing blocker. Could use a little seasoning with his technique. Very physical and effective versus press coverage. Fearless going over the middle. I see his value as a late first early second.
2.) Simmie Cobb jr.: Indiana 6’3″ 225 – Originally, I had the first 7 slots taken before I laid my eyes on Cobb’s videos. This is an absolute man of a Split End. Doesn’t look very fast probably mid 4.6 – 4.7 guy and isn’t quick enough to get a whole lot of separation but who cares! He doesn’t need it. He is one of those open even when he’s not guys. A back shoulder fade monster. His game looks a lot closer to Gronkowski or Kelse than say Alshon Jeffery or even a Michael Evans if you will. If I had to make a Wide Receiver comparison, Brandon Marshall would be a good one. He manhandled Ohio State’s DB’s including consensus first round Cornerback and possibly the top CornerBack by most rankings I’ve seen from this draft class Denzel Ward.
Cobb made two spinning one-handed catches against Ohio State along the left sideline that shows both athleticism and balance as well as eye coordination and big strong hands. He will be a red zone option that will be hard to stop. He had great production in spite of mediocre Quarterback play. Very physical and gets a ton of Yards after contact. on a few plays against various teams, you can see him dragging 3-4 guys before a 4th-5th one comes in and finally gets him to the ground. Another thing I can guarantee is he will draw a ton of pass interference penalties. I have him as a top 15-20th overall pick myself but will not be shocked if he falls to perhaps as late as mid 3rd because I don’t see him as being a combine hit. He won’t time well in the 40 and probably won’t do well in the shuttles but he will likely do well in the vertical and broad jumps. Might not do well in the bench press because of his extremely long arms which make volume benching difficult. Love this kid.
1.) Calvin Ridley: Alabama 6’1″ 190 – Ridley is an explosive athlete with a lot of juice and excellent route running ability. In that way, he reminds me of Another Alabama Wideout Amari Cooper. Ridley probably a little faster with more wiggle. However, as much as he has positives there are some negatives too. Number one is he’s kind of slight framed. I have real questions about how he’d hold up in a much more physical brand of football in the NFL. Sure the SEC is a good test and all but still a far cry from the NFL. I’d be afraid to run too many routes inside the hashes. He is a willing blocker but not very effective at it. Too often he’s treated like a rag doll by Defensive Backs. That then leads to my fear of his ability to get out into his routes in press as well as injury issues. Not just being out of games but being so banged up when he plays that he won’t play up to an acceptable speed especially late in the season. No one really is 100% once the season starts as football is hard on the body, but playing as close to it as possible is a huge factor in how a player produces. He also tends to catch the ball too close to his body at times which could lead to drops.
That said Ridley’s playmaking ability is far too enticing to not have him come off the board as the first overall Wide Receiver drafted. His combination of speed and quickness serves him well in his ability as a precision route runner which should have him open a great deal in the NFL. There’s also the big play factor as he can break a long one on a jet sweep just as easily as he can eat up cushion on blanket coverage and get behind it for 6 points on Go, post and Corner routes deep downfield. Pick 10 – 15 is where I see him going, but his best value probably comes just past that.