• Zach Pratt

Zach's Draft Corner: Wide Receivers

Image Credit: Matt Dixon/The World-Herald

Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.

It might seem like the 2018 NFL Draft was just yesterday, but in just two short months, college football will once again be underway and fans will be clamoring to find their studs and sleepers of the 2019 draft class. For the next few months, I’m going to give you my names to note for the upcoming season at every position, along with a mini scouting report and where I’d like to see the prospects improve this season if they want to hear their name called early come April. Given in no particular order, these will be the prospects that, at least at the beginning of the season, will be generating the most buzz. Consider this a primer for the upcoming season of Saturdays, and a potential guide for your television if you aren’t sure which game to watch. Previously, I covered the running backs. This week, we have the wide receiver group, which is one of the deepest positions in this upcoming draft.

AJ Brown - Ole Miss, Junior

Brown is seen by many as the cream of the crop in this wide receiver group. Measuring in at 6'1” and 225 pounds, Brown certainly has an NFL-ready body. Brown also has the production to match, which is especially impressive when you take into account his situation. Brown hauled in 75 catches for 1252 yards and 11 touchdowns in what is generally seen as the best conference in college football while arguably playing for the worse team in that conference. Defenses know they have to stop Brown, and they simply can’t.

Brown is a tough, physical wide receiver who has the strength to beat even the best press corners. What separates Brown from most physical receivers, however, is that he also has the quickness to get open in his routes, making his strength a secondary technique for getting open when his crisp routes fail. Although he lacks elite straight-line speed, he certainly has enough to make him dangerous in the open field and to be at least a threat in the go routes. Brown also has some of the strongest hands in the class, and he easily finishes his catches through all types of traffic. Once he comes down with the pass, his strength and short area quickness makes him a threat to pick up chunks of yards afterwards. If there is any true negative about Brown, it’s that he works a lot in the slot right now, taking full advantage of his quickness. However, this means it can be tougher to project him to the outside, as he isn’t running the same types of routes in the slot as he would outside. Fortunately, teams are more than willing to put their best receiver in the slot throughout any given game, and he obviously excels there. His combination of physicality and quickness makes him as good of a bet as any to make a successful transition into a true #1, play everywhere type receiver.

Anthony Johnson - Buffalo, Senior

If Johnson played in a power-five conference and was able to put up at least similar production, he might challenge Brown for the preseason top receiver in the class. Measuring in at 6'1” and 207 pounds, Johnson had a monster 2017 season with 76 catches for 1356 yards and 14 touchdowns. What’s even more promising is that one of his best games came against Buffalo’s only power-five opponent, when he caught 11 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota in their season opener, proving he can beat up on the big boys, too.

When I watch Anthony Johnson, I think of a better version of Marvin Jones in Detroit. Johnson has elite speed (especially for someone who is 6’1”) and arms for days, making him an elite deep threat, much like Jones. What makes Johnson better is that he combines the elite speed with elite route running, as he already runs the entire route tree with ease. It’s poetic. For a college player, especially at a non-power-five school, this is a rarity. He has the ability to make defensive backs look absolutely silly trying to guard him, because the entire field is his playground. If the defender hesitates for even a moment while defending him, he’s going to be five yards away in any possible direction. The cousin of Texans DE Jadeveon Clowney, Johnson brings the family freak athleticism to the wide receiver position, and it’s a joy to watch. The one issue is that he can lose focus on occasion, and drops the ball just a bit too often for a #1 receiver. If he can get this issue in line, what you’re left with is a very smart receiver with elite straight-line speed, elite short-area quickness, amazingly precise route running, and enough size to catch passes over smaller DBs. That’s a Hall of Fame type talent.

Ahmmon Richards - Miami, Junior

If AJ Brown is the old school, reliable receiver, Richards is the hotshot receiver you might take instead because you love the flash. If you think of the type of receiver that might thrive with the Miami Hurricanes, Richards is exactly it. At 6'1” and 192 pounds, Richards had a huge true freshman season in 2016 with 934 yards on 49 catches, but was hampered by a hamstring injury that kept him in and out of the lineup in 2017. If Richards can come back healthy, he is hoping to put up even more gaudy numbers as a junior.

Ahmmon Richards is the Trae Young of the 2019 NFL Draft. By that, I mean he is the first of a line of receivers who spent their formative developmental years watching guys like Odell Becham, Jr., and modelling their game after that type of player, similar to how Trae Young is the first of a line of point guards to follow Steph Curry. Richards is an athletic freak who routinely makes the highlight reel catch, and specializes in the big play. His straight-line speed and jump ball skills make him a true deep threat, and he uses that to catch wide open screens and slants that he can use to rack up the yards after catch. However, his intermediate routes need to get a bit crisper, which can be tough for someone with his pure speed. If he can learn to vary his speed instead of just going straight line-deep or deep post, he will take that next step to being a top prospect. He also needs to stay on the field, which can be tough for a guy as slender as he is. If he does stay healthy, you will see his highlights pretty much every Sunday this upcoming season, and his big play ability has the chance to push him into the first round conversation.

Stanley Morgan, Jr. - Nebraska, Senior

Morgan is a very interesting player. On one hand, you have a player who is succeeding in a conference known for great defense and limited passing, catching 61 passes for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2017. He is one of the more technically sound receivers in every aspect of the game before the ball is thrown, running crisp routes, making good adjustments to coverages, and being a hard-nosed blocker in the run game. The 6'0”, 195-pound senior is also above average in speed and quickness, making him a good, all-around talent in college.

Morgan also has quite a few negatives as a prospect. On the field, he drops the ball a lot. It could be from terrible QB play at Nebraska not getting him the ball in good position ,or it could just be that he has poor hands. Morgan also has some off-field issues. Last off-season, Morgan was caught with 21.4 grams of marijuana (a felony amount), but the charges were later dropped. While Morgan, who was driving the vehicle where the marijuana was found, initially claimed the drugs as his, a teammate and another friend later claimed it was theirs and faced misdemeanor charges. This is a big red flag, and politics of marijuana aside, many owners will frown on drafting a player with these types of issues if they don’t display elite physical traits. On the field, I want to see his drops come down and maybe get some big play potential thrown in there, but he may end up simply as a big stats guy in college without much future in the pros.

N'Keal Harry - Arizona State, Junior

Now, before I get started on N’Keal Harry, I want to put in a trigger warning for 49er fans: This is the first “red-zone threat” that I will be discussing for this class. Measuring in at 6'4” and 220 pounds, Harry is the type of big-bodied receiver that many 49er fans were clamoring for this offseason. Harry had the production in 2017 to make him a name to watch, coming down with 82 catches for 1142 yards and 8 touchdowns. Physically, he looks like a man among boys on the football field, but does his tape match the body?

Harry doesn't run a complex route tree at ASU, but runs the routes he does good form. However, Harry doesn’t have the straight-line speed or short-area quickness to get much separation in man coverage. Instead, he gets open with purely with his physicality, jump ball skills, body control, and size. In this way, he is a lot like my 2017 most overrated receiver on draft Twitter, Jaleel Scott. Where Harry separates himself from Scott is that he also shows the toughness you want from a big time receiver and has very strong hands. Where Scott would drop passes, Harry holds onto them. He has trouble with separation, but can still come down with the ball in traffic, giving him a place in the modern NFL. Where I would love to see Harry improve is in disguising his routes. It’s a more advanced tactic, for sure, but it’s also necessary for a guy with his current speed deficiencies in both the straight-line and short-area realms. If he can hide his route until he is into his break, that extra bit of separation might be enough to keep him on the field for every down at the next level.

David Sills V - West Virginia, Senior

It’s time for my favorite game of draft laziness: draft comparisons based on skin color! Here we have David Sills V, a white wide receiver from West Virginia. Is he Julian Edelman? Maybe a Wes Welker? Or is he more Danny Amendola? Well, with Sills measuring in at 6'4” and 203 pounds, prepare the Jordy Nelson cannon, because we have a white boy who is tall. Sadly, as much as I hate these types of lazy comparisons, that actually seems to be the best comp for him. After hauling in 60 passes for 980 yards and a national-best 18 touchdowns, Sills is more than just a tall receiver. Sills has wheels.

Much like Jordy Nelson, Sills has great size combined withgreat deep speed and adjustment skills. Sills also has above average quickness in his routes, making him one of college’s best prospects in the intermediate-to-deep passing game. Furthermore, Sills has good hands to bring in the pass wherever the ball is thrown, routinely showing a great catch radius. Paired with Will Grier, West Virginia is a team to watch in the Big 12 this year that will put up yards, points, and wins.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside - Stanford, Junior

Arcega-Whiteside has one of the most interesting backgrounds of any receiver in this year’s class. A 6'3”, 222-pound prospect from Spain, Arcega-Whiteside is the son of two professional basketball players. A former basketball (and soccer) player himself, Arcega-Whiteside quit playing basketball in high school because he was too physical and kept fouling out of games. He later discovered American football after his move back to the states, and his journey to the NFL began.Arcega-Whiteside had decent productivity as a sophomore, catching 48 passes 781 yards and nine touchdowns, but he is just scratching the surface of what he can become as a receiver.

Arcega-Whiteside brings that physicality and athleticism he used on the basketball court to the football field. He’s still very raw, as he hasn't played football nearly as long as others in the class, but he has one of the most tantalizing set of physical traits in this class. He is able to get open with speed, body control, physicality, and his vertical jump, but he should develop as a route runner as he gets more experience. Another aspect of Arcega-Whiteside’s game that scouts will love is his ability and mentality as a blocker. In an interview with 247 Sports. Arcega-Whiteside said “All blocking is is playing defense, except you can foul somebody.” As one with a penchant for hard fouls as a basketball player, this is what old-school football coaches will love. Overall, Arcega-Whiteside has one of the highest upside receivers in the class because he has played so much less football than others, and he is still learning many aspects of the game. He improved in every single area as a sophomore, and should do that again as a junior. He’s definitely a name to know now before you are playing catch-up this fall.

Marquise Brown - Oklahoma, Junior

Brown is one of a few receivers in this class who is coming off of a serious, season-ending injury in 2017. Brown broke his leg in the third game of the season, but made 15 catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns prior to the injury. At 5'11” and only 160 pounds, one can’t help but fear that injuries will be a constant in Brown’s career, which is really unfortunate for a receiver as physically gifted as Brown.

Brown may very well be the fastest receiver in the class, and could even challenge for John Ross’s combine record in the 40-yard dash next March. A pure speedster, Brown needs to prove that he still has that speed after coming back from injury. Brown’s game lives and dies with his speed, as he gets open on deep routes with his speed or shorter routes when corners are trying to account for the threat of his speed. He’s also a dangerous threat in the open field with running after catch and in the return game, giving him obvious value. Again, the question is whether he can stay healthy, and I’m not sure he can.

Deebo Samuel - South Carolina, Senior

The top receiver for South Carolina, Samuel is also coming off of a broken leg in 2017. Similar to Brown, Samuel put up eye-popping numbers prior to his injury, scoring six touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing, two returning) in just three 2017 games. Unlike Samuel, at 6'0” and 210 pounds, Samuel has more promise with regards to his durability in the future. If he didn’t get injured, Samuel was a projected second-round pick in the 2018 draft. After injury, Samuel decided to return to school to prove his health rather than entering the draft.

Samuel is a true jack-of-all-trades type receiver whose game easily translates to the NFL. Samuel can line up all over the field and pairs great straight-line speed with above average short-area quickness. Samuel also has a strong vertical and shows it by going up to get the ball on deep routes. Even better, Samuel has glue hands at all levels of the field. Samuel can track the ball well on deep routes, and is a beast after the catch. The one area where I want to see Samuel improve is in his route running technique. Samuel has a tendency to show his route before he breaks, giving the defender an extra second to adjust. With his physical gifts, he still manages to get open, but that will be more difficult as a professional. If he can improve his route running, he’s yet another receiver who could challenge for the top spot in the 2019 draft.

Bryan Edwards - South Carolina, Junior

A relative unknown before last season, Edwards broke out in 2017 after seeing an increased role in the offense once Deebo Samuel broke his leg. Measuring in at 6'3” and 215 pounds, Edwards hauled in 64 passes for 793 yards and five touchdowns. As with most cases of injury, it’s up to scouts to decide whether Edwards merely benefitted from more passes being thrown his way after Samuel got hurt, or whether Edwards actually has a future in his own right.

Edwards is a tough receiver with good quickness, adequate speed, and reliable hands. Basically, Edwards is your typical big-bodied receiver that gets open with his size, physicality, and height. All in all, you get what you see with Edwards. I think he'll have a career as a third or fourth wide receiver with a relatively high floor, but he generally a low ceiling unless he can boost up that speed. It will be interesting to watch South Carolina’s passing attack with Samuel healthy and Edwards wanting to keep his role.

Parris Campbell - Ohio State, Junior

Parris Campbell could be the biggest riser in the 2019 draft class. As part of a very talented offense, Campbell is often overlooked and hasn’t put up the production other receivers have seen in this class. However, Campbell also shows some of the best traits in the class, despite the lack of production.

At 6'1” and 208 pounds, Campbell has good body and arm length. Campbell also shows great balance through his routes and is very crisp in and out of his breaks. Furthermore, Campbell has great-to-elite top-end speed and acceleration. When the ball is in the air, Campbell is as sure-handed as they get. Campbell also lines up mostly everywhere in the Ohio State offense and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, bolstering the argument that he can be a weapon in every area of the field. Campbell is at least good in every area of being a wide receiver, but hasn't had the production you want in a top prospect with JT Barrett throwing ducks. With a more pass-oriented quarterback coming in (Dwayne Haskins or Tate Martell), that production could skyrocket in 2018. Trait-wise, Campbell could be the most dangerous weapon in the class, but the production will be a question mark for him if he puts up another poor season in the stat book.

Tyrie Cleveland - Florida, Junior

Remember Marquise Brown? Tyrie Cleveland is a taller, slightly slower version of him. Although he is listed at 6'1” and 205 pounds, on tape he appears much more slender than that weight. In an injury-shortened 2017 season, Cleveland showed his big-play ability with 22 catches for 410 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, much like Brown, his size gives worry to his future durability.

When healthy, Cleveland is a speedster that is at his best when he can work downfield. He gets open with hisspeed and length, but not much else. I would love to see him bulk up and keep the speed to maybe improve his durability, at least in the eyes of scouts. As long as he can stay healthy, he should see his stock rise a little with some explosive plays this season, but there are also plenty of questions about how his one-dimensional game will translate to the NFL.

Collin Johnson - Texas, Junior

If you want to build your roster such that you win the “step off the bus” game, then your favorite receiver in the class will be Collin Johnson out of Texas. Measuring in at 6'5” and 215 pounds, he looks like a guy you want on your side. Johnson broke out in 2017 as a true sophomore, catching 54 passes for 765 yards and two touchdowns. However, coaches at Texas have compared Johnson to Terrell Owens and Calvin Johnson. That is some high praise. Does he deserve it?

Though he is a raw prospect, Johnson has the best size/speed combination in the class. Johnson is the type of athlete who has the tools to win every matchup he could ever find himself in. In addition to having the speed to get separation, he can also catch the ball in traffic and with toughness. As expected with his size, Johnson also has a massive catch radius, which was needed with the poor QB play at Texas. However, Johnson was also inconsistent and can disappear at times, which could be a product of the QB play, or could be a lack of focus. Johnson has the measurables to be the best receiver in the class, but you want to see him play with the same effort on every play before giving him the title.

Juwan Johnson - Penn State, Junior

Johnson was a forgotten man at Penn State last season, bringing in only 32 passes for 389 yards anda single touchdown as the 4th option behind Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton. Johnson has the prototypical size at 6'3” and 226 pounds, and is looking to break out as the top receiving option at what has been a strong offensive program.

I think that Penn State’s offense will take a huge hit this season, and I would strongly consider betting the “under” on their 9.5-win line this season. Unfortunately for Johnson, he will still have Trace McSorley at quarterback, who is an overrated passer. Further, Johnson simply doesn’t have the traits to make a team better. He may still load up the stat lines, but Johnson is more of a jump ball, physical receiver than a true #1 threat. Johnson has good long speed if he can work up to it, but his lack of quickness and route-running ability will be a hindrance. I see Johnson as being limited a "throw it up and go get it" type guy who can only get open with his size, but he will nonetheless get talk as a top receiver at a high profile school.

SMALL SCHOOL SLEEPER - Penny Hart - Georgia State, Junior

Penny Hart might be the next Marquise Goodwin. At 5'8” and 180 pounds, Hart is sturdy for his height. More importantly, Hart has already proved to be a home-run threat for a smaller school at Georgia State. In two full seasons, Hart has already had two 1000 yard, 70+ catch seasons.

Hart, similar to some other receivers in this class, is a speedster with elite straight-line speed. What sets Hart apart from the other typical speedsters is that he has already shown good route running ability and short-area quickness to go with that deep speed. The level of competition obviously isn't great, but he is a must-see guy who can take it to the house on any given play. His lack of size might limit his ceiling as far as draft position goes, and some people might peg him as a slot receiver at the next level. However, if he can watch tape of Marquise Goodwin to see how a small but fast and quick receiver can play outside and succeed, I think he can be so much more than that. If there is a slow day of football and you can catch some Sun Belt games, tune in for Penny Hart. You won’t be disappointed.


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