The crop of wide receivers eligible for the 2018 NFL Draft feels like an underwhelming bunch at this point in the process. That said, a lot can change before the 2017 college football season ends. It usually does.
Wide receiver is a common ‘breakout season’ position and in order for next year’s draft to have star power in the early rounds, a few under-the-radar or completely anonymous prospects have to, well, breakout.
Otherwise, this year’s pass-catchers will have only a handful of receivers capable of pushing first-round value.
The big name among drafts analysts right now is SMU’s Courtland Sutton. He’s an imposing target who fits the profile of the big-bodied athlete teams want to field as their go-to-guy.
He brings good speed and solid lateral movement skills to the table, but he’s an inconsistent route runner and has some mental lapses with the most basic requirement of his position: catching the football.
Sutton isn’t a blue-chip prospect or a rare talent who deserves top-10 status. At least, not in my opinion. He’s not on par with Corey Davis (Tennessee Titans) or Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers) from this past draft, two big receivers who were selected in the first 10 picks.
I don’t think Sutton is on the same level as Josh Doctosn, the former TCU standout who was drafted with the 22nd pick in 2016 by the Washington Redskins.
The player he probably most closely resembles in recent drafts is Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2016 (No. 23 overall).
Sutton, to me, is a bottom-half of the first round talent — at best — right now. He’ll need a year of consistent pass-catching to rate any higher than that. I’d be a lot more comfortable drafting Sutton in Round 2.
On the flip side, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley presents as one of the few receivers in my early scouting to warrant a first-round pick with little hesitation. Like Sutton, Ridley isn’t an early first-rounder. Instead, he belongs somewhere in the bottom half of the top 32.
Ridley is a more polished receiver than many of his classmates. It doesn’t mean he’s a perfect route runner, but he’s like a five-tool player in baseball: He runs good routes; He has very good speed and acceleration that leads to quick breaks into and out of his route as well as straight-line ability to test the third level of the defense; He has reliable hands; He’s dangerous in the open field after the catch; He’s competitive as a run blocker.
I’m not sure you can say the same about any other receiver in this year’s class.
Ridley opens the season as my top-ranked player at a position that’s likely to flip up, down and all around by the time fall turns to winter.
Here’s my early take on the 2018 NFL Draft wide receiver rankings:
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama (6-1, 190)
2. James Washington, Oklahoma St. (6-0, 205)
3. Deon Cain, Clemson (6-1, 210)
4. Courtland Sutton, SMU (6-4, 218)
5. Antonio Callaway, Florida (5-11, 197)
6. Jake Wieneke, South Dakota St. (6-4, 215)
7. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M (5-11, 200)
8. Auden Tate, Florida State (6-5, 225)
9. Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame (6-5, 204)
10. Dante Pettis, Washington (6-1, 192)
A few notes on these rankings
– The biggest sleeper in this group is Jake Wieneke. In fact, he looks more like the player everyone wants Sutton to be. He won’t be as highly regarded because of his level of competition, but take a look at his performance against TCU. He was uncoverable.
-Antonio Callaway looks and feels a lot like a discounted version of Antonio Brown. He’s not as quick laterally, but he conjures the same kind of ‘hold your breath’ playmaking ability.
-There are several big and tall receivers in this year’s class. Auden Tate has a chance to make the biggest leap in 2017 amongst the taller prospects. It wont’ shock me if he’s jockeying for WR1 status by season’s end.
-James Washington is a fun player to scout. He’s the next ‘running back playing wide receiver’ who will be all over the board by the time the NFL Draft rolls around. He reminds me of current Green Bay Packers running back (and former Stanford receiver) Ty Montgomery.