In recent years we have seen a lot of receivers have success early on in their career and as the league becomes more and more pass heavy coaches look for different skill sets. While a lot receivers have become bigger and stronger, smaller and quicker players can also make a big impact. I don’t think this draft class is quite as deep as the more recent ones and there probably are no superstars like Odell Beckham Jr. and Co., but the 2016 class certainly has some great playmakers.
1. Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
After a horrific leg injury at the goalline that cost him the rest of the 2014 season and his team the game I wasn’t sure how good Treadwell would come back, but all he did as a junior was having his best season in college with nearly 1200 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, which led the SEC. While he doesn’t possess elite speed or quickness, he wins with size and great hands. The Rebel standout ran a lot of underneath routes, lining up on the outside and in the slot, but I think he has the tools to become a bigger vertical football because he is tremendous at finding the ball in the air and fighting for position to come down with it over his defender. I like to compare him to Dez Bryant because of his competitiveness. When he gets his emotions running he can drive defensive backs down the field as a blocker and run wild after the catch with a fearsome stiff-arm.
2. Corey Coleman, Baylor
The 2015 Biletnikoff Award winner for the nation’s best receiver is an explosive athlete who was targeted on 39% of Baylor’s offense this year. He bursts out of his stance, has blazing speed to run by any corner he’s faced yet, can use his elite footwork to leave them behind in the dust, is a terrific leaper as he demonstrated at the combine (40,5 inch vertical and 129 inch broad jump) and is highly dangerous with the football in his hands. Here are the routes he ran at Baylor: fades, posts, hitches and quick crossing routes. Those four plus screens were the only plays he was asked to run, but he beat up coverages on a weekly basis anyway. Sure, he will have to work on being more fearless when going over the middle, because that’s where his fair share of drops come up, but he showed he can run every route out there on his pro day if he just puts the time in and he can make every catch. Plus you can use him as a return man.
3. Josh Doctson, TCU
Just throw this guy the ball – he’ll come down with it. Doctson has unbelievable ball skills, the hops to outjump defensive backs and the strength to hold on to the ball through contact. I also like how he boxes out just like a basketball player working for post position and he doesn’t waste any time turning upfield and picking up extra-yardage. The few drops he has are a result of a lack of focus, which I think is easily correctable with good coaching. He was targeted a lot at TCU, leading the team in receiving each of the last three years, with a total of over 1300 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. The two things he’ll really have to work on are running an entire route-tree, which was very limited at college, and how physical he is at the line of scrimmage, for which time in the weight room wouldn’t hurt.
4. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
I feel like people overlook this kid. There’s a reason he broke Larry Fitzgerald’s record for the most receiving yards in Pitt history. He can run routes and catch the ball like a receiver, run it like a running back and was a threat in the return game. It doesn’t take him a lot of time to accelerate to top speed, he has a natural feel for the position which you can see in how smooth he runs routes, sells body-fakes and attacks the ball in the air instead of just waiting for it. Boyd might only have average long-speed, lack impressive body physique and strength, which hurts him catching the ball in traffic, but I love how competitive he is and the fact he’s a pure football player.
5. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
This 5’10’’ Sooner plays much bigger than his size would indicate. He is a willing blocker while also knowing when to get let go, he high-points the football and is fearless over the middle. He is natural hands catcher, quicker than fast, has a lot of wiggle in the open field, is very smart when it comes to reading coverages and makes big plays after the catch. His lack of size and strength shows up in press-coverage, where he needs to work on getting a cleaner release, and when he lets defenders take him off his route too much, especially when cornerbacks lead him to the sideline. But he can take full advantage of inside-technique by defensive backs when lined up in the slot and fading to the corner. I thought he really had a good pre-draft season consistently winning against one-on-one coverage in Senior Bowl practices and running sub 4.5 at the combine. Shepard is at his best when the game is on the line.
6. Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Speed. Speed. Speed. Fuller ran a 4.32 at the combine and he brings all of that onto the field. He can set up cornerbacks on deep routes and accelerate to create separation with an extra gear once the ball is in the air. With his ability to stretch the field vertically he puts fear into opponents and could become better at taking advantage of the cushion defenders give him by changing directions to cut inside or work back to the ball on comeback routes. His ball-tracking skills are tremendous and he fights hard for positioning, but he has questionable hands (although he looked much more comfortable at the combine and his pro day) and doesn’t offer much after the catch if he has more than just green grass ahead of him.
7. Michael Thomas, Ohio State
This nephew of Keyshawn Johnson is a big, physical ball-snatcher. He is scary, which shows as he often gets his jersey and arms pulled because DBs are afraid when he creates separation at the top and is a freight train when he has the ball in his hands with the strength to shove defenders to the ground and break would-be tackles. His trademark routes are stop-and-go moves and slants, which he had great success with. Thomas shows too much wasted motion in his route-running as he often stutters too much when trying to faking out defenders. He certainly will need time getting a better feel for an entire NFL route-tree, but he plays with a ton of confidence.
8. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
After earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors as a quarterback his junior year, Miller missed the entire 2014 season due to an injury to his throwing shoulder before making a comeback at the wide receiver position last season. He is a tough competitor and explosive athlete with a track-record of being a winner. With just one year of experience as a receiver there’s no question he still needs a lot of work on how to run routes properly and ball security has been a big issue for him, but he has great hands and is electric in the open field.
9. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
While the Gamecocks’ success declined over the past two seasons, Cooper grew into one of the most exciting offensive players in the country. This do-it-all weapon lined up outside the numbers, in the slot, as a running back and even wild-card quarterback. The South Carolina coaches put the ball in the kid’s hands a lot of times and just let him go to work by handing it to him on sweeps, throwing screens to him or letting him take the top off defenses. Coop has outstanding change of direction skills, but he doesn’t convert those in complex routes, as he wins most matchups with his special burst off the ball and straight line speed. At 5’11’’ he has obvious size limitations, but I like his hunger to make big plays.
10. Bralon Addison, Oregon
Like some other offensive weapons out of Oregon, Addison has out-of-this-world athleticism. After earning All-Pac-12 honors as a true sophomore, he missed the entire 2014 campaign with a torn ACL, before picking up where he left off by receiving, running and returning the ball. The triple-threat has terrific agility, acceleration and pure explosiveness, while also showing natural hands. When he has the ball in his hands he’s like a runningback reading blocks and showing no fear to cut back inside. While he offers obvious size and length concerns and didn’t run a lot of different routes in Oregon’s up-tempo offense, he is one of those guys who can make it happen at any point and excites crowds.