Wherever your stance lies on this year’s wide receiver class, one thing that’s undeniable is the variety, flavor and depth which overloads this position group. The most fascinating part, you don’t have to restrict yourself to the Alabamas, Ohio States and USCs of college football. Instead, look outside Power 5 conferences all together, and you’ll see there is plenty of quality to choose from.
This should come to no surprise. Just last season we saw a wide receiver out of the Mid-American Conference by the name of Corey Davis who just happened to go fifth overall to the Tennessee Titans. It didn’t end there, but six more receivers outside the Power 5 went off the board in the day 2, with a total of 11 drafted in 2o17.
However, going back to 2016, the first non-Power 5 receiver to go off the board was Seth DeValve in the 4th round, and he now plays tight end for the Cleveland Browns. In total, nine receivers out of non-Power 5 schools were drafted in 2016, but none of them went before day 3. Whereas in 2017, you had most of the share made up of players selected before day 3.
To provide more context, in 2015 only one player to meet the guidelines was taken before day 3, and that was Breshad Perriman in the first round. Otherwise, there were a total of eight players (who met the guidelines), that were drafted, and half of them (4) were drafted in the 7th round.
Just for kicks, I went back and looked at the numbers from 2013-2014 as well to bring our sample size to a solid five years. Combined, only 13 non-Power 5 wide receivers were drafted in both years, just two shy of 2017’s total. The total amount of receivers drafted has increased in each of the past five years. And after the high in 2017, I could see this trend snatch on, and for this specific group to account for at least 40% of drafted receivers in the next couple years.
Last year we saw an influx of talent at the wide receiver position outside the Power 5. I’d say there’s a 50% chance we see a non-Power 5 receiver drafted in the 1st round, as it seems Courtland Sutton has the best chance. I could also see a guy like Michael Gallup sneaking in with a strong Senior Bowl showing.
In total, I can see at least five players who meet the guidelines drafted before day 3, and you’ll read about them below. In addition, there are about another half dozen or so who can hear their name called on day 3, as the number exceeds ten again this year.
I first caught a glimpse of Cedrick Wilson’s game during last year’s process while evaluating Jeremy McNichols. It was easy to spot the wide receiver while he made countless big plays downfield in traffic. So, I added him to my watch list for this season.
I was pleasantly surprised to see others drop tweets about his ability as he racked up more highlights in 2017. Wilson continued to ball out, and people were starting to take notice. He put the icing on the cake with a dominant performance against Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl with a stat line of 10 catches for 221 receiving yards and a score.
Wilson brings a threshold friendly 6’2”/210 frame. He’s well built and can pack a punch as he displays tremendous competitive toughness and honorable will on the field. His alpha male mentality is perfectly exemplified on his ability to win with toughness on contested catches. But his physicality and toughness isn’t the only thing to like about his game.
Wilson is a better athlete than given credit, and while I don’t expect him to blow anyone away with his Combine numbers, you can tell he plays at a fast speed and is simply one of those guys who, “understands the game”.
Another edge given to Wilson while evaluating his background, he stems from terrific bloodlines. Wilson’s father played seven seasons in the NFL and was a key playoff contributor for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they captured Super Bowl XL.
He’s not going to be the player who blows you away with his athleticism, but he doesn’t present any glaring flaws. Wilson presents solid 2nd round value mostly due to his polish and projected longevity in the league. Mentally, he’s well beyond his years on the field.
Fun Fact: Cedrick Wilson recovered an onside kick against Colorado State this past season late in the 4th quarter, leading to a game-tying drive.
One of my early draft crushes and favorite player on this list, none other than Colorado State’s Michael Gallup. My pick for the Biletnikoff Award, Gallup played at a high level since week one following a dominant performance against Oregon State where he hauled in 11 catches for 134 yards. Gallup would go on to enjoy three more double-digit catch performances and he was the only player in the nation with multiple 200 yard receiving games.
I expect Gallup’s draft stock to ascend following the Senior Bowl, similar to Zay Jones last year. He should cement himself as a 2nd round prospect and flirt in that late 1st round range as sometimes we’ll see teams go after those experienced, productive players with an appealing skillset.
While not as explosive or athletic as Calvin Ridley, Gallup presents a similar skillset and wins in the same ways. Gallup thrives off creating separation and setting his routes up with deceptive releases, as you’ll often see. I don’t think there’s as big of a gap between Gallup and Ridley as perceived by the draft community, although Ridley can make more out of nothing and presents more homerun ability.
A fluid, natural route runner, Gallup displays toughness across the middle of the field and doesn’t shy away from contact. Like the aforementioned Wilson, Gallup too brings a refined skillset with no glaring flaws.
Fun Fact: Michael Gallup lettered in four different spots all four years during high school.
I’ve now seen a few Anthony Miller-Antonio Brown comps on Twitter, but if we’re going to be comparing any of these Group of 5 receivers to the best receiver in the NFL, it should be Richie James.
Now I’m not saying James is the next Antonio Brown, but instead taking a shot at these ridiculous comparisons I’ve seen, which I’ll touch more on later. My point being, out of this group, James is the guy with the most game-breaking ability at the next level.
I expect James to test in that 4.4 range in the 40-yard dash, but it looks like he plays even faster than that. There’s not a man on the field who can catch James when he breaks out into space or up the sideline. He possesses elite agility and change of direction and can shake any man if he has some space to work with.
The former high school quarterback, James was sparingly used as a passer on a WR throw, but he ended his career 6/8 with 80 passing yards. James presents priceless value as a gadget player, but also has the potential to be an elite NFL slot receiver. You rarely get those two qualities in one player.
With that being said, James isn’t without flaws, although my biggest concern is out of his control. At 5’8”/180 pounds, James is extremely fragile and skimpy. His lack of size can allow him to be tossed around and outmanned at times. However, I will certainly say he plays bigger than his size with a big chip on his shoulder.
Due to concerns about size and level of competition, I could see James falling as low as the 4th round. However, he grades out as a 2nd rounder for me and currently sits as my WR6. I think he has the potential to be the guy we all wanted Tavon Austin to be. James’ ability to endure consistent NFL contact will heavily hinge on his longevity and success, but he’s worth the risk.
Fun Fact: Entering the year, Richie James ranked first among active FBS players in receptions per game and receiving yards per game.
Entering the season I was not a fan of Courtland Sutton by any means. I thought he was among the most overhyped players in the country. However, after recently reviewing some 2017 film, I enjoyed a slight change of heart.
That’s not to say I’m completely buying into the hype and feel he’s a 1st round talent. But I was pleasantly surprised with the progression that I saw. In 2016, Sutton looked like this leggy, one-dimensional receiver who simply dominated opposing defensive backs for the highlight plays.
In the few cut-ups I watched from this season, he looked more compact with added burst, ultimately making him more useful on manufactured touches at or behind the line of scrimmage, and thus, adding another dimension to his game.
Currently, Sutton draws a 3rd round grade from me, but I can get down with him being drafted mid-late 2nd round. His size and athleticism are hard to ignore, and he has the track record of making big plays despite abysmal QB play during his tenure at Southern Methodist. With that being said, I feel he has the best chance to be drafted in the first round based on perception from the draft community.
Fun Fact: Courtland Sutton played basketball in high school and was also originally listed as a safety recruit.
Perhaps the most controversial placement on this list, Anthony Miller comes in as my #5 WR outside the Power 5. This got me to thinking, if you flip my rankings used in this piece, that would probably indicate a more accurate listing based on the draft community’s perception of these players. Hopefully that means I’m ahead of the game, rather than just way off. But a huge aspect of draft evaluation is being bold, and trusting your process, and I’m not skittish to that, otherwise; how do you get better.
Let me start by saying I’m not totally against Anthony Miller, but I feel the hype has gotten a little out of control. I’ve seen at least three different people on Twitter mention that comp whether on the feed or in a group chat with fellow amateur draft evaluators. I just can’t get down with that.
Not to call anyone out, but I’ve seen Anthony Miler compared to Antonio Brown one too many times. I get comparing play style, but at least compare players to someone in the same projected tier.
— Jonathan Valencia (@JonValencia_WiB) December 30, 2017
If we’re going to throw out comparisons to the best receiver in the NFL, shouldn’t that prospect be a blue-chip talent, a “can’t miss” prospect? I get it, Brown wasn’t the perfect prospect coming out of Central Michigan, and I’ve seen some cite “play styles” as evidence for the comparison.
Of course, projections are meant to compare players who play in a similar mold, but you also have to account for a variety of factors including measurables, athletic testing and most importantly, a realistic projection of their career role and prominence.
When it comes to comparisons, often times we become wide-eyed at who we think the player could be, and that forces us to overlook that happy medium which is probably most attainable. Yes, players from draft classes every year exceed the mass expectations set for them, but you’re going to find an Antonio Brown type player maybe once every 3-4 years.
Bottom-line, comparisons are close to impossible to pinpoint, although I love the context they can present. I just wish there was more attention to detail before statements like this get thrown out there. If we’re comparing prospects, they should have similar prominence during their careers, and that’s the aspect that often goes overlooked.
Now onto the Memphis star. Miller has been a highlight-reel machine the past two years for the Tigers, and especially this season, which has been instrumental in his massive draft stock ascend. Miller has proven he can make the most difficult of catches, but I feel as if he’s inconsistent in contested situations, and maybe even an inconsistent overall player.
The biggest flaw I see in Miller’s game is his inconsistent hands. You see him drop a lot of balls whether they’re simple concentration drops or it being due to poor hand positioning resulting in the ball skipping or bouncing away. Even with a drop here and there, Miller’s playmaking ability tends to overshadow the lows, which is fair.
In terms of speed and quickness, Miller is a sensational athlete. His athleticism is what makes him most dynamic as it helps cover flaws in route running while also proving to be beneficial on the heavy amount of manufactured touches he garners in Memphis’ offense.
It’s hard to project where Miller lands in the 2018 NFL Draft. I have him graded as a 3rd round prospect and I think that’s fair, even though the hype has gotten a bit out of control. He can certainly carve out a productive role in the NFL, but I don’t think he’ll ever be “the guy”.
Fun Fact: Anthony Miller caught a pass in all 36 career games at Memphis.
- Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State)
- Trey Quinn (Southern Methodist)
- Steve Ishmael (Syracuse)
- Jake Wieneke (South Dakota State)
- Anthony Johnson (Buffalo)