NFL Draft

Top 10 wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft:

Continuing our series of positional draft breakdowns, we have finished up all members of the box on either side of the ball and now move to the guys further away from the ball, catching and defending passes. Today, we are starting with an impressive group of wide receivers.

As we move more and more to wide-open passing attacks at the collegiate game, the quality of players on the receiving end continues to improve. This year, we once again have some tremendous talent at the top and depth throughout the class. My WR20 could be a day two pick in most other years. And it really depends on flavor and scheme fit, where some of these names ultimately go.

Make sure to check out all my other positional breakdowns here and on my Youtube channel!

Now let’s talk about this crop of receivers:

1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

6’0”, 210 pounds; RS SO

A top 100 overall recruit in 2018, Chase didn’t get a ton of work as a freshman with just over 300 receiving yards and three touchdowns, but then turned into the top receiver in all of college football as a true sophomore. In 2019, he recorded almost 1800 yards and 20 TDs through the air, on 21.2 yards per catch. That won him the Biletnikoff award and made him a unanimous All-American, on the way to LSU’s national championship, outshining the top rookie receiver in the NFL last year in Justin Jefferson. He opted out of the 2020 season, with really nothing to lose.

As crazy as that may sound with all the talent that was available, Chase would have been the top receiver in the 2020 draft already and nothing about the tape has changed, to make me drop him at all. He is a threat catching the ball underneath off those RPOs, with what he can do after the catch, but also go over the top on given play. Chase has that instant burst off the ball and he just makes it look so easy to uncover. The way he hesitates and slides his feet makes him a tough match off the line and he uses those double-hand swipes to get the hands of corners off himself, to where he has a step on that guy just a couple of yards past the line of scrimmage. Chase utilizes a ton of split releases, to allow himself to go inside or out effectively. What really stands out with him as a route-runner is how he may come off the ball versus off-coverage at just around 80 percent and then blow by his man by hitting the switch. He shows good explosion and ability to bend off that inside foot on speed-outs, which he ran a ton of and it was like an automatic five yards for the Tigers at least. He may not be super-refined with different hand-combats, but Chase can stab at DBs with the near hand or reduce that shoulder, to not get hung up with contact. He is so smooth getting around flat defenders and to that honeyhole spot versus cover-two. He already has a pretty good feel for drifting and settling in space. But even more so, Chase can really sit down in the chair to get out of his breaks, while already being tremendous at selling double-moves with different speeds and his eyes. And with such great production, it’s very surprising that only five of his catches came on screens.

Chase perfectly frames the ball as a catcher and you see how natural he is with that process, when you watch Joe Burrow put the ball on him right as he comes out his breaks. The ball-tracking and putting his body between the defender and the ball are outstanding. He displays such incredible concentration and you often see that at the sideline, when you think he is running out of room, but somehow still gets his feet down. When you watch him operate on jump balls, you almost can’t believe he is just over six feet tall. He really attacks the ball at its highest point and he can elevate, to where he has that basketball-like hang time to stay up there, plus on purposefully underthrown deep balls, he makes it look to easy with getting his body in front of the defender. And this is not a negative in any way – he feels that safety coming over as the ball is in the air and instantly pulls the ball into his body, to be able to protect it and brace for contact. Only Alabama’s Devonta Smith and North Carolina’s Dyami Brown have more 20+ yard receptions versus single coverage (19) since the start of 2019 – and Chase didn’t even play in 2020. And he would have had ten(!) deep catches (24) more than all returning receivers this past year. However, Chase also plays the game with an attitude, which you see with how he operates after the catch. He gets around defenders quickly after having his back turned to them or slipping off DBs trying to wrap him up, as he gets upfield right away. And then, when he is on the run, he is just not going to be stopped, dipping away from pursuit defenders, using the off-arm to push guys away, being able to bounce off some hits and beating everybody across the field with his speed. Overall, he broke 22 tackles on 84 catches in 2019. He also does a pretty good job landing his hands inside the chest of cornerbacks and walling them off away from the play.

As far as the negatives go, there simply aren’t many things you can find. However, I don’t think Chase is quite has that dynamic explosiveness as my number two for example and his measurements aren’t elite. We will have to see if that dominance at the catch point will quite translate that way to the next level. And most importantly, he certainly benefitted from playing in one of the most explosive passing attacks we have seen (along with Alabama in 2020), where he caught passes from Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, who was smashing records left and right. There were a lot of beautifully placed balls, which “threw him open”, to where he could use those ball-skills, rather than just running by defenders all the time.

We have to consider Chase was only 19 years when we last saw him and he was roasting eventual NFL players. And we have seen him play his best in the biggest moments, like when he went off in the 2020 National Championship game versus Clemson with nine catches for 221 yards and two scores, looking like the best receiver on the field despite having several talents on either side. He just ran sub-4.4 at his pro day and had a 41-inch vertical to only cement his WR1 status even more. While he can be an All-Pro outside receiver, he also produced 558 yards from the slot on just over 100 snaps from that alignment – so he could also be nightmare on the inside.

2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

5’10”, 185 pounds; JR

A top 50 overall recruit in 2018, Waddle was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year, thanks to 848 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His receiving numbers dropped his sophomore season, because of Alabama’s loaded receiver room, but he scored long touchdowns on a punt and kick return each. This past season, he was on an absurd rate – which would have actually had him end up with better numbers than Devonta Smith, projected over a full season – when he was up to 557 yards and four TDs through the air after four games, and then actually came back for the national title game, even though he clearly wasn’t close to 100 percent.

For anybody saying Waddle was basically the fourth receiver on that Alabama offense and only started producing like a top receiver last season – which was very limited – he led all FBS receivers with 4.46 yards per route run from the slot in 2019 and Tua Tagovailoa had a perfect passer rating (158.3) when targeting number 17, while averaging a ridiculous 12.2 yards after the catch. And those numbers were basically identical this past season. In terms of explosiveness, Waddle to me is in a tier of his own in this receiver class – as great as it may be. He has ridiculous ability to accelerate and decelerate, which routinely leads to defensive backs not being able to get out of transitions, before Waddle’s eyes are already back at the quarterback. He is such a dynamic separator on deeper-developing routes, bending off either foot on cuts that other receivers have to throttle down for. He quickly eats up cushions to safeties and really puts them in a bind, by being able to threaten to the post or corner consistently. And he really attacks leverages and forces DBs to open their hips, in order to beat them out of his breaks. You see him actually accelerate through his cuts and he’s very sudden with snapping his head around. If there was ever any question about Waddle’s rolling speed, check out his 90-yard TD versus Georgia last year, when he put on warp mode. His passer rating when targeted last season increased by depth – over 100 on all three levels and a perfect one on passes of 20+ air yards. Waddle had this one play against Texas A&M last year, where he shows some deeper break to the inside, but quickly cuts back upfield against a two-man defense and he ends up actually having to slow down on a deep ball, but is still is about five yards behind the safety and corner.

Waddle was Bama’s run-and-catch specialist, who they gave the ball to on screens and quick passes, as well as several speed sweeps. The amount of times he got the ball working out to the sideline and the force defenders seems to have him perfectly leveraged, but he gives that guy a little hesitation and gets outside him anyway, is just absurd. The Crimson Tide even lined him up at running back and let him run swing screens in some games. There are times, where he catches a ball underneath and it’s like he presses some kind of a boost button on a controller for an automatic 10-15 yards. Waddle is nearly impossible to bring down one-on-one in open space and he makes those ankle-breaking type of cuts across the grain routinely. Because of that, he was used a ton as eye-candy on orbit motions and different fakes. While he may not posterize anybody like Chase or his teammate, who I’ll get to in a little, Waddle shows great concentration to hold onto catches downfield, tracking the ball over the shoulder, with a defender on his back or getting a big hit mid-air from the safety coming over. Although he brings most value as deception, faking screens and sweeps. Waddle does a good job getting in front of defenders in space and is looking to stay engaged with them as a blocker. In addition to what he brings on offense, Smith offers tremendous value as a return man, with the ability to weave through coverage units and the speed to go the distance. His punt return TD against LSU in 2019 was incredible, considering he nearly had his head ripped off as he first caught the ball.

The biggest cause for pause for Waddle is simply that he doesn’t have a ton of experience, with under 1000 career snaps on offense and having run a little more than half as many routes. While I don’t think he should be pigeonholed into a pure slot role, he has only spent 114 of 535 snaps over the last two seasons out wide. Plus, at 5’10”, he will primarily line up inside. And even though he has good reps and catches working through contact, he still won’t offer a whole lot in contested catch situations. He could also use some more polish on routes in that intermediate area, having run a lot of the underneath stuff or being targeted down the field. Of course he is coming off a fractured ankle and has had a few nicks and bruises throughout his collegiate career.

I personally just couldn’t help myself from putting my eyes on Waddle when watching tape of anybody on that Alabama offense or any defensive players facing the Crimson Tide. He is the most electric playmaker I have scouted at the wide receiver position and he has turned himself into a much better all-around receiver throughout his time in Tuscaloosa. Over these last two years, he has caught 61 of 72 targets and been a reliable player, to go with that homerun ability. He is easily a top ten overall prospect for me and I don’t think there is a lot of separation between numbers one and two, but rather different skill-sets.

3. Devonta Smith, Alabama

6’1”, 175 pounds; SR

Another top 10 receiver recruit nationally for the Crimson Tide, Smith’s resume stacks up with any pass-catcher coming through Tuscaloosa this millennium. While his freshman season was rather quiet, he did end it with a bang, catching the game-winning touchdown in overtime of the 2017 National Championship game versus Georgia. Since then, his receiving yardage has increased all four seasons, leading the Tide in 2019 with 1256 yards and 14 TDs, despite being one of receivers to be drafted in the first round over these last two years. And then this past season, he blew everybody out of the water, setting a new school record 1856 yards and 24 trips to end-zone, becoming the first wide receiver to win the Heisman trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991 and basically sweeping all the other awards he was up for, before book-ending his college career with another national title.

Once Jaylen Waddle went down with a broken ankle in 2020, Smitty really started to put himself in a class of his own, winning the Heisman trophy with the triple-crown for receivers, including the iconic one-handed grab versus LSU and dominant performances in the College Football Playoff. Jerry Jeudy was my WR1 last season and I’d still give him the advantage in that regard, but since he did most of it in the slot, I would say Smith is the most technically refined all-around receiver in a long time. He just has such a great feel for setting up defenders, avoiding contact and creating separation. Among all four receivers that will have gone in the first round these last two years, Smith was not just the most productive one, but he played the most important spot at X, while having slid inside more to replace some of the things Waddle did for the Tide last season. Smith is amazing on stutter releases and the way he gets defenders to stop their feet, but he also utilizes a lot of split releases, to not allow defenders to properly read his hips. Nicknamed “The Slim Reaper”, this guy is just so tough to really put hands on because of how slippery he is. And he absolutely has that extra gear to run past defenders on vertical patterns. Over these last two years, he has hauled in 17 catches of 40+ yards, which is tied for first in the nation. Smith is a nightmare to cover on deep curl routes because of how he can get off the line more conservatively, then threaten with speed up the boundary, before violently drop his hips, to make the defender just keep running further downfield. Overall, he does an unbelievable job at working back towards the quarterback and making the quarterback right.  The skinny receiver led the SEC with a passer rating of 146.5 when targeted in 2019 and despite Mac Jones going his way 145 times this past season, he basically had a perfect passer rating when going his way and Smith averaged 4.39 yards per route run.

Even Jerry Jeudy said last year that Smith had the best hands of the bunch and he really catches pretty much everything thrown his way. There’s a good chance you’ll be embarrassed by Smitty at the catch point, where he plays like he is 6’6”. His ability to judge the ball’s flight and adjust his approach to it is second to none, compared anybody we’ve seen in college football since he came onto the scene. Smith has those strong hands to hold onto the catch through swipes of defenders or with somebody on his back and there are some balls, where the defender has a chance to step in front of, but number six wrestles it away instead. While Smith doesn’t necessarily have that electric make-him-miss ability like a Jaylen Waddle or one of those other shifty receivers, he is really tough to even catch once he glides downfield after the catch. For him it’s more about being a little deceptive with head-fakes and giving defenders that one-two step, without really slowing down at all. Yet, he doesn’t shy away from contact either and takes down the shoulder at the sideline quite a bit. This guy always ends up running for longer than it would look like on crossing routes, whether it’s about giving that little dip and beating guys to the sideline or cutting upfield behind them, when they overrun it. Smitty ran a ton of slants on the backside of RPO concepts and ripped off big plays. On those, you see him have to reach behind a little, but not lose any speed, which is something that constantly shows up on tape. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty as a blocker either and puts in better work than a lot of receivers North of the 200-pound mark.

With that being said, at 6’1”, 175 pounds, nothing really stands out that much about Smith physically. There’s not a lot of muscle on that frame and his teammate Jaylen Waddle is certainly more explosive in short areas. His slender frame is definitely a bit of a concern, if he can’t add a little bit too it, because of how much more physical the game is in the pros. Once he gets drafted, he will be the smallest receiver in the NFL in terms of pound-for-inch. And when you look at his production, while it is highly impressive what he did against SEC competition with so many other top receivers around him demanding targets, a lot of it was due to Steve Sarkisian’s scheme, getting him the ball with space off mesh concepts, feeding him on screens and creating a lot of one-on-ones downfield, which he constantly exposed.

Smith was really the only receiver to give LSU’s sensational freshman corner Derek Stingley Jr. trouble when those matched up against each other in 2019. He burned that guy on several occasions and while they weren’t going one-on-one as much in 2020, he went for over 300 yards against their big rivals from Baton Rouge in a revenge blowout over the Tigers. While the overall production and consistency are highly impressive, he had several explosion-like performance. Smith was first among draft-eligible wide receivers in receptions and yards on screens (35 for 304) as well as on deep catches (15 for 589) last season. So he can really win at all areas and while the frame is the biggest talking point with him, I think there is room to add muscle to it and he beat up on some of the top corners coming into the pros from the SEC.

4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

6’1”, 210 pounds; JR

Despite a loaded 2018 wide receiver recruiting class, Bateman found himself among the top 400 overall names and quickly made a name for himself with the Gophers. As a freshman, he went for just over 700 receiving yards and six touchdowns and for as much recognition as Tyler Johnson got ahead of the 2019 season, Bateman emerged as the true big-play threat for Minnesota’s passing game, as he finished with over 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season, while being named a first-team All-Big Ten selection. After initially intending to sit out the 2020 campaign, he did play in five games, averaging almost 100 yards per week, but with the drop-off in the program’s success, ended up opting out a couple of games prematurely anyway.

This guy presents easy acceleration off the ball and offered more of the vertical stretch for Minnesota than Tyler Johnson did during his steady career with the Gophers. I really like the way Bateman uses hesitation releases before taking off along the sideline. He does an excellent job overall of setting up his defender with the way he may stem his routes one way and then crosses that guy’s face. He is much more elusive as a route-runner than you would expect for a rather long guy. Bateman really ate on deep in-breaking routes at Minnesota, where he keeps his shoulder vertical before creating separation on his breaks, and then he is a threat to cut across the field and go the distance. I love the way he slides inside, then attacks vertically, to be able to create space when he does break to the middle of the field. And when he is matched up with the corner in cover-three, he also runs that same route with an outside release and then cuts underneath the corner, to where that guy can’t even see him until it’s too late. Bateman also does a nice job finding space, after the initial route is dead and he understands when to slow down, as the corner blitzes and the safety caps over the top or the corner shoots down into the flats to replace somebody and now there’s that big cover-two window at the sideline. While it may not look as electric as it does with some other smaller receivers, Bateman has that gliding speed and when safeties play flat-footed in quarters coverage, he can run right by those guys on skinny posts or seam routes. He also has a couple of filthy post-corner routes on tape off that, where he has defenders spinning his head around. Bateman’s average depth of target in 2019 stood at 16.7 yards and he averaged more than 20 yards per grab.

To go with the smooth route-running, Bateman has excellent body control and focus, while being an alpha with the ball in the air and having dependable hands overall. He has those long arms to reach over defenders’ heads in jump-ball situations and he deals pretty well with passes thrown slightly behind him as he breaks towards the post. He had a couple of crazy one-handed grabs in 2019, against Rutgers and South Dakota State. And then he made an absolutely ridiculous catches with a defender right on him versus Purdue. You often see him working across the field and quarterbacks targeting him in different windows, where he doesn’t worry about getting banged around. Bateman was heavily involved in the RPO game, where those skills of going over the middle and being a problem to bring down were on display as well. He is a long strider, who uses that off-arm well to swat down the reach of tacklers trying pull him down, but he also has some wiggle to him in the open field and can pull the shoulder through contact. For his career, he broke 36 tackles on 147 total catches. Bateman wasn’t asked to contribute much as a blocker, being left with smoke routes or backing into slip screens on the backside a whole lot, but on the outside, you see him run corners off with outside release and when he’s near the point of attack, he is looking for work.

Before anything else, Bateman has a little too much of a back-step before getting out of his stance for my taste, operating from a really wide stance. The biggest issue however is those focus drops he has, taking his eyes off the ball too quickly or being caught off guard at times, when the ball is put right on him, as he gets out of his breaks. Overall, he dropped 19 passes on 166 catchable targets in his career. As a route-runner, he beats the drum and chops his feet too much when getting into harder breaks, working back to the quarterback for example. What I wanted to see from Bateman in 2020 was the ability to not let corners challenge him as much off the line and be more active with his hands, but with lining up in the slot more, we didn’t get to see that. And while we have to consider he didn’t get to prepare for a proper season, with how late the Big Ten jumped in, he didn’t look quite as dynamic or flat-out fast as usual this past year. Therefore – and in part because the Minnesota program fell as much altogether – the Minnesota quarterback had a passer rating of around 50 on passes of 10+ yards going to his top receiver last season.

For me, Bateman has been WR4 all along. Looking at how fluid he is, that ability to track the ball, win at the catch point and create big plays on catch-and-run opportunities – all that makes him very desirable. Even though he is only 21 years old, Bateman has played almost 1700 total snaps and after primarily lining up out wide, he was put a lot more in the slot last season, as long as he was available. So can play X or big slot day one and in an RPO-heavy offensive attack, he could be the primary target at both those spots, making him a true number one receiver in my opinion. He could go anywhere in the second half of round one.

5. Kadarius Toney, Florida

5’11”, 190 pounds; SR

Actually just a three-star recruit as a quarterback coming out of high school, it took Toney a little bit to transition to catching passes and he was fighting through some injuries early on. He only caught 50 passes for 606 yards and two touchdowns through his first three years with the Gators, as more of a gadget-play specialist. Last season he touched the ball 89 times for 1145 yards and 11 touchdowns, plus he added another score on a punt return, as one of the most dangerous players in the SEC, earning himself second-team all-conference accolades.

When we talk about “instant acceleration”, Toney being at full speed after two or three steps is what that means. His explosiveness and quickness are truly on another level, but you also see him win against safeties vertically from the slot routinely, where he may be matched up with somebody about eight yards off at the snap and have the defender in a trail position from ten yards downfield on. Check out his touchdown in the third quarter against Texas A&M this past season to see exactly what I mean. That’s how he threatens off the line instantly and has defenders on their heels. Toney can make defenders look bad on jerk routes, with the way he can drop his weight and re-accelerate off either foot. His sudden explosiveness is a real problem off picks or getting separation off motion. He routinely utilizes slide releases, to be able to attack either way, while winning a lot with sudden bursts and hesitation. A bunch of times, he will stem inside and then really snap his head around on deep out routes, to create immediate separation out of those breaks. Or he may come to a jump-stop and stutter at the top, before beating a linebacker across his face on hook-drops. You see a lot of those Keenan Allen-like hops steps and almost dead-legs, as a distinctive overall route-runner. The Gators actually put Toney in the backfield a couple of times against Alabama to create mismatches against their STAR backers on option and wheel routes.

Whenever Toney catches the ball, he hits a different gear. He is very jittery and can get past defenders with some unique moves. A lot of guys can break ankles – with this guy, I feel like he’s tearing ACLs with the stuff he does in the open field. He was nicknamed “the human joystick”, because of the twitchiness, the way he can drop his knees and ankles, come to a dead stop and then explode out of it again. Toney has some pretty good contact balance for his size, where you see him bounce off some hits or keep on running through swiping arms. On bubble screens, if you give him a lane just for a second, he can burst through it and force the rest of the defense to take flat angles to the sideline. Plus, he has that dynamic burst to be able to convert on third-and-long, when he just catches a short out route and blows by guys. And when you get him the ball over the middle after beating a linebacker that way, he can become dangerous to deal with, because he has the speed to just keep going to the opposite sideline, but also foot-fake defenders out of their cleats. Over these last two seasons, Toney broke 32 tackles on 80 combined catches. Because of his dynamic abilities with the ball in his hands, he was used a lot as deception on bubbles and speed sweep fakes. His 57-yard touchdown last year versus South Carolina was just ridiculous, where he made his man in coverage look like a defender in Madden, who had stumbled on a tackling attempt, and then knifed through three defenders trying to punch at the ball or bring him down. And while it’s not a huge part of the offense, he has had some pretty good moments attacking the ball in the air and working the sideline. As a return man, how deceptive he is with head-fakes and the way he sets up defenders makes him tough to bring down as the first defender.

However, injuries have limited Toney to only 510 snaps over his first three years at Florida and it took him until this past season to produce at least 300 yards through the air. He only has a 74 ½-inch wingspan and as much as we bang Alabama’s Devonta Smith, if you can trust the school measurements (which you can’t really, but let’s say they changed the numbers about the same), Toney played at just two pounds heavier. There are definitely concerns about his slim frame as well and he won’t give you a whole lot in 50-50 ball situations. And unlike Smith, we have barely seen him operate on the perimeter or deal with press-coverage. At this point, Toney is not a super consistent or technically refined route-runner necessarily – it’s more about his explosiveness. On whip routes, he needs to do a better job of dropping his weight, in order to be able to pivot off that inside foot and explode out of it.

This is the most slippery and weirdly flexible receiver in this class. While the experience is very limited and we haven’t seen him work on the outside a whole lot (82.4 percent of snaps in the slot last season), I think with the way he can avoid contact and burst off the line, Toney can play some flanker, even though he will primarily do his damage in-between the hashes and vertically down the seams. Kyle Trask had a passe rating of 111+ at all three areas (under 10, 10-19 and 20+ yards) targeting Toney and he only dropped three on 123 catchable passes his way. He is a weapon catching, running and returning the ball, who you can manufacture touches for, as he grows as a route-runner and all-around receiver.

6. Terrace Marshall, LSU

6’3”, 200 pounds; JR

Thanks to the history of NFL receivers, LSU was able to snag another five-star recruit back in 2018, to go with Ja’Marr Chase. After catching just 12 passes as a freshman, Terrace Marshall was the third receiver on that Tigers offense behind two All-Americans in Chase and Justin Jefferson in 2019, but he still caught 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. This past season in just seven games, he went for 731 yards and double-digit scores again, before he opted out for the rest of the year, with LSU not really playing for anything at that point.

Marshall has ideal size and great play strength for the receiver position. He went from 73.7 percent of snaps lined up out wide in 2019 to basically the same percentage out of the slot this past season, in that Justin Jefferson-like role. While he isn’t a finished product, Marshall presents several tools and signs of techniques to win as a route-runner. He eats up a lot of ground with those strides and does a nice job getting onto the toes of defensive backs, before bending off that outside foot for deeper in-breaking routes, where those defenders can’t really get around him, while he sucks the ball into his belly. He gets pretty physical with pushing off at the top of curl routes, to create that separation, and then aggressively works back to the ball. Marshall fights himself free downfield with arm chops and subtle push-offs. He has some double-moves on tape, where he puts DBs on their butts. At 6’3”, Marshall actually ran some whip routes, where he utilized hop steps and didn’t look uncomfortable dropping his weight to come back out towards the sideline. And because has that thick frame and height, you don’t expect it necessarily, but Marshall can absolutely win vertically, especially on post routes, where that big frame helps him protect the ball from any swipes. On passes of 10+ yards downfield last season, he had a passer rating North of 150 when targeted. And LSU asked him a lot to run off the defense, in order to open up space for mesh concepts/crossers underneath.

To go with that, Marshall presents a large area to get his hands on the ball on and can stretch out for some tough grabs. When the ball is slightly underthrown, as he has sat down or curled up on his route, he does a good job of just coming back to the ball a little bit by falling forward and securing the grab. Even with the defender in range, Marshall wins with late hands and quickly pulls the ball into his frame after the catch. And with his large catch-radius and the ability to play above the rim, he hauls in a bunch of jump-balls. Overall, Marshall has come up with 25 catches on 41 contested targets these past two years. That is one of the highest numbers and best rates in all of college football. While he may not be super shifty, he can make plenty happen after the catch. When he really opens up, he can accelerate and swerve around defenders with great speed, plus he is like a wild horse to bring down, breaking through and pulling his legs out of tackles. And what really impresses me about Marshall’s production in 2020 is that he was right on par with Justin Jefferson’ per-game production in that same role, despite the level of play from the quarterback position dropping off dramatically and the offense scoring over 16 points less per contest (even if he didn’t have another star receiver to share targets with). As a blocker, his frame and length can be tough to deal with for smaller defenders.

Yet, while Marshall can push some DBs around as a blocker purely based on strength, he needs to learn how to break down in space and he tends to stop his feet too much, as well as needing to do a better job of anticipating the movement of defenders depending on plays. He is pretty lethargic coming off the ball and runs a lot of flat routes and stuff like that in the LSU offense, where he is basically jogging. And you see him run himself into being covered at times, by trying to work through how defenders are leveraged.  With seven drops on 55 catchable balls last season, there is a lack of concentration and not “taking a picture” of the ball. On passes over the middle, Marshall needs to extend his hands more back towards his quarterback rather than up high, where defenders can come over his back and knock the ball down. You can tell he is aware of linebackers and is a little hesitant with putting his arms out going over the middle. And the ball-security once he has the catch secured is also a little worrisome, not tucking it in properly as he tries to get around defenders.

While Marshall obviously isn’t on par with former teammate Ja’Marr Chase, despite actually being a slightly higher-graded recruit that year for the Tigers, there’s a lot to like with this guy­. He can win on all three levels, plays big off the line and when the ball is in the air, while having shown a lot of improvement coming in 2020, despite the offense not even looking comparable. There are some concerning things when it comes to “ball-handling” overall I would say, to where won’t just pluck it and go full speed, as that instant threat Chase or some other guys in this class are, but at his measurements, the jump-ball ability will likely transfer very well and he presents inside-out versatility.

7. Rondale Moore, Purdue

5’7”, 180 pounds; JR

One of the top recruits in the Boilermakers’ recent history (just outside the top 200 overall), Moore put his stamp on college football right away, as he went for just almost 1500 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns his freshman season, earning consensus All-American honors. These last two years have been marked by injury, as he appeared in just seven total games and combined for 657 receiving yards, while reaching the end-zone only three times. However, with crazy testing at his pro day, he has kind of put his name back on the map.

The one word that comes to mind right away when watching Moore is “juice”. He obviously is far from prototype measurements, but this little dynamite showed that he could produce big plays in all facets pretty much like nobody else in the country could. In his first game as a Boilermaker, Moore put up 188 yards and two touchdowns from scrimmage. He had seven more games with at least 100 yards as a freshman and absolutely went off in Purdue’s upset win over Ohio State. He can freeze defenders that have inside leverage on him with some of that foot-fire and then beat those guys across their face on slant routes. You also see it a lot on pick-plays, where he hesitates off the line and then explodes one way, to allow his teammates to wall off his defender. Moore can work in different speeds, change up his footwork on the fly and be swift with getting around defenders as a route-runner. He is patient with setting up his routes, but then sudden to explode out of his breaks. At times, he comes to an almost complete stop, but then he plants that foot in the ground and his man is immediately trying to run him down from behind. Moore has the ankle flexibility to bend off the inside foot in sudden fashion on out routes, without having to throttle down at all. He may have a defender on his hip as he pushes vertically and then get three-four yards of separation when he snaps off that route. At the same time, he can put some English on those routes and put defenders on their heels further off the line. Purdue let him run a lot of out-routes, drags and screens, where they know he can gain separation and make things happen after the catch. And he could become a nightmare on double-moves off those, with some whip routes that he already ran and other stuff.

That start-stop ability with the ball in his hands is second to none for Moore. On plays out to the sideline, you see him pause momentarily and then get around defenders, who thought they just had the right angle against him. Moore is super shifty in tight spaces and then so elusive in the open field, that you would think he is glazed with butter. Plus, his contact balance for a 180-pound receiver is just absurd, bouncing and spinning off would-be-tacklers constantly. That’s probably because he routinely squats 600 pounds(!). Spins, hesitation moves and foot-fakes are all part of his arsenal. Overall, Moore forced a FBS-high 37 missed tackles and gained 892 yards after the catch in 2018 and then he broke another 47 tackles on 178 catches these last two years. You see him get out of so many situations, where you almost want to skip to the next play, because you think he is all wrapped up, but all of a sudden he somehow gets free again and defenders get back to running after him, often times he will use that off-hand to regain his balance and quickly getting back on his feet again. And he simply doesn’t drop the ball – he had a 92-percent catch rate on catchable passes as a freshman and didn’t drop any balls last season. Moore shows excellent concentration tracking the ball down the field, often times when underthrown and he has to adjust to it by slowing down and dealing with it, as if it were punts, or the ball coming in on weird angles.

The obvious question mark with Moore is if he can stay healthy going forward. As a freshman, he looked like he would dominate college football for three years, but in 2019, he was battling hamstring injuries and was limited to just four games and then last season, he was limited to three games due to an undisclosed injury. Moore was mostly used as a gadget player early on by Purdue and injuries have stunted his growth of becoming an every-down receiver. More than a third of his career receptions came on screens and less than 20 came in the 10-19 yard area, while spending only 118 career snaps on the outside. So it was all quick touches or over-the-top stuff. Moore came in even two inches shorter than even expected at his pro day at 5’7”. So with at least equally short arms, his catch radius is minimal for any receiver in the pros. You see him have some problems with passes thrown slightly behind him or when he has to dive for a ball near his shoe-strings, rather than being able to reach down and keep going. As a return man, he can get a little too cute, reversing field and trying to always go for the big play, rather than taking what is there horizontally first.

You can’t take last season too seriously, because there was so much insecurity about the Big Ten season and Moore wasn’t allowed to really run routes. Now, he was certainly a gadget player for a lot of his career with Purdue, but we have seen him be dynamic out of his breaks and win as a route-runner. He just brings that juice to an offense, to where he can go the distance on any given snap. He is certainly not the most complete receiver and he will need work with his intermediate route-patterns, simply because he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot of it, but he has superstar potential, if he can just stay healthy. His first touch of 2020 went for 33 yards on a jet sweep and then he scored on another one of those the next time his name was called against Minnesota. Plus, he reminded us of his explosiveness at Purdue’s pro day, when he ran a 4.29 in the 40 and had a 42.5-inch vertical.

8. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

5’9”, 185 pounds; JR

Just outside the top 200 overall recruits in 2018, Moore recorded about 400 yards and two TDs as a freshman. He more than doubled those numbers, with 67 catches for 850 yards and six TDs in his second season, before his numbers completely exploded in year three in Lane Kiffin’s explosive offense, as he caught 86 passes for just under 1200 yards and eight scores in only eight games, earning consensus All-American accolades.

Moore presents quick acceleration off the line and can bend off either foot very well. This is one of those rare guys, who is actually top-tier quick and fast. He shows a ton of toughness, going over the middle and taking some big hits from linebackers even, as well as the concentration to hold onto the ball with somebody in his hip-pocket or coming over the top on a slant late. Moore has a really good feel for settling against zone coverage and he helps out his quarterback immensely, with the way he continues to look for space and works back towards the passer. And he adjusts his routes on the fly a lot depending on how coverages change post-snap, showing great awareness for the field overall. You see him make a bunch of catches curling up along the seams, as the safeties play way off. On deep in-breaking routes, Moore does a great job of widening the safety in two-high shells with the way he stems it and opens up space over the middle that way. At the same time, he beat guys vertically down the hashes quite a bit as well and when he has a safety coming over, trying to take his head off, he braces himself for contact and holds onto the ball. The way he sets up double-moves with committing his eyes and hips is absolutely beautiful. And he can change up his footwork to support that. According to PFF, Moore had a step or more of separation on 90 percent of his targets last season, which is the highest number of any receiver in this class.

Moore was by far the most reliable player on that Ole Miss offense last season and he has such natural, sticky hands, while playing without gloves. He caught an absurd 86 of 101 targets this past season. He had two drops on those and 10 on 200 catchable targets in his career. You see him make multiple one-handed grabs behind the line of scrimmage, as the quarterback flips it out there as the outlet receiver, and the ball seems to stick to his palm. The Rebels’ quarterback Matt Corral heavily relied on number eight on third downs and big situations, because he would make plays for him. Moore was the focal point of the Ole Miss offense, running screens, jet sweeps and as a YAC weapon, where he instantly gets upfield once he secures the catch and puts in work. But he also shined with the awareness for a defender coming from the back on hook routes, spinning the other way and finding the next defender. With the ball in his hands, he is shifty, deceptive with head-fakes and he has much better balance to stay on his feet and slip out of the grasp of tacklers than you would expect for his size. Overall, Moore broke 18 tackles this past season and he routinely got that extra yard or two, as he avoided a head-on collision and just got pulled down at his feet. And therefore, he also was used to bind defenders, running bubbles on the backside or threaten the edges with fake sweeps, to open up room on the inside. As a bonus, while it won’t be a huge part of his game, 11 contested catches at 5’9” is pretty darn impressive.

With that being said, Moore is pretty much a pure slot receiver at the next level, already with less than 150 career snaps out wide. And he faced press on just 38 snaps all of last season. Moore simply doesn’t have the functional strength to be an asset as a blocker and he doesn’t necessarily throw his whole body into it either. A lot of his production came on manufactured touches and he got plenty of opportunities in a spread-oriented offense, where he got to see a lot of free grass. Maybe above all, his future NFL team will have to make sure he is mature enough to be a true professional. He had a really stupid moment at the end of the 2019 season against in-state rival Mississippi State, when he did he Odell Beckham Jr. peeing-dog impersonation in the end-zone after scoring what could have been a game-tying touchdown, but with the PAT being pushed back and missed in the process, they lost the contest.

Obviously, I can’t speak on the maturity of this young man, even if that one act was just dumb. Rather I evaluate what he does on the field. While I do believe Moore will exclusively line up in the slot at the next level and won’t be as highly sought after by teams that don’t run as much 11 personnel as some others, in that role, he can be a chain-mover from day one. He can win underneath and downfield, he is tough, he has great hands and he is shifty after the catch. He could easily lead all rookies in receptions this upcoming season, if he joins the right team.

9. Dyami Brown, North Carolina

6’1”, 195 pounds; JR

Another former top 200 overall recruit, Brown went from very limited production his first year on campus to cracking the 1000-yard mark and double-digit touchdowns in 2019, averaging over 20 yards per grab, earning third-team All-ACC honors. And this past season, he slightly surpassed his yardage total in one less game, but improved to first-team all-conference.

North Carolina had a lot of explosive skill-players on offense, but Brown had a different burst off the ball than all the other guys and he consistently gets off the line cleanly. He quickly stops his momentum and then re-accelerates. There’s no hitch on in-breaking routes, as he bends and pivots into them. You see him blow by a ton of corners on skinny post routes, and then he drew a lot of attention from safeties in cover-two on those. When the deep man played flat-footed, quarterback Sam Howell would punish the defense by putting the ball out in front for his top receiver. Last season, Brown caught 12 passes of 20+ yards for 543 yards. And he led the Power-Five by over four yards with 15.4 yards average depth of reception since the start of 2019. You see him work in some hop-steps and hesitation maneuvers before kicking into full gear. He is also a problem on deep over routes and when the play is extended, as he flattens across the field and nobody can stick with him. With his speed to put corners on their heels with vertical stems, Brown can do major damage on deep in-breaking routes and he can rip off big plays after the catch on those. That’s how the UNC quarterback had a passer rating of 146.5 targeting on passes travelling 10-19 yards down the field.

Obviously, barely anybody can run with Brown anyway, but then he has that extra gear once the ball is in the air and even when his man can stay close or the UNC receiver has to slow down slightly, he can make some great catches with a defender on his back. He shows tremendous focus tracking the ball over either shoulder, while keeping his man stacked and even with a defender coming over. And he has the ability to win the majority of battles with the ball up for grabs. Brown tied with Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace for the most contested catches among draft-eligible WRs over the last two years (21). With his head back to the quarterback, he really snatches the ball out of the air and he got better at working back to it throughout last season I thought. Brown doesn’t waste any time getting upfield after the catch and he is ready to push defenders off himself with the stiff-arm. He could threaten corners with his vertical speed, to where they played off-coverage on him and hitch routes were automatic completions, and with how efficient he is once he secures the pass, he gained close to ten yards on those every time it feels like. When he can just catch it in stride and keep running, he can run away from everybody. Brown does a good job of breaking down and getting his body in front of defenders as a blocker in space and excels at latching his hands into the chest of opponents on running blocks.

However, Brown’s role with the Tar Heels certainly wasn’t complicated. He spent 98.2 percent of snaps out wide over these last two seasons and almost all of them were on the left side. His route tree was very limited, as most of it came off his vertical prowess, running down the sideline, bending to the post and breaking inside off that, to create separation. For somebody, who played a ton of X receiver, he doesn’t have the sturdy frame or ability to win in different ways as you would hope. Brown got neutralized for the most part by Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melinfonwu, who had the speed to carry him down the field and he didn’t really win in other ways. While he has gotten better at it, there are still a few drops when he seemed to hear footsteps. If he is away from the action, Brown shows little interest in getting involved as blocker or just half-asses those run-off routes.

I believe Brown turned himself into much more than just a deep threat this past season. The route tree was still very limited, but in terms of working the middle of the field more and just some of the details of the position, he showed plenty of growth, with potential to stay on that track. Overall, he had only two games of under 56 receiving yards in 2020. There is still work to do in terms of release packages and expanding his route-tree, but you can’t teach speed and with the right coaching staff, he could be a high-level number two in my opinion.

10. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

5’11”, 195 pounds; SR

A former high four-star recruit in 2017, Wallace barely saw the field as a freshman, but then exploded onto the scene in year two, with just under 1500 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on 86 grabs, earning himself first-team All-American notice. He tore his ACL fairly late in 2019 and started last season a little slow, but over these last 19 combined games, he has recorded 1825 yards 14 TDs through the air. That made him a second- and first-team All-Big 12 selection respectively.

In 2018 as a true sophomore, Wallace led all returning FBS receivers with 67 combined first downs and 20 receptions of 20+ yards, quietly breaking Dez Bryant’s Cowboy receiving recording, while going off in the team’s two biggest rivalry games in 2018 against Texas and Oklahoma, catching ten passes for 220 yards and a couple of scores each. And while he hasn’t quite reached those height the following two seasons, he has always stepped up in the Oklahoma State’s biggest games. Wallace presents a big body with plenty of vertical speed through those long strides. He may not be able to sink his hips like some of these shifty slot receivers, but he does a really good job of stemming his routes a certain way and winning with the intricacies of the position. While he is a sideline specialist, he consistently wins on speed outs and quick in-breakers, where he utilizes hesitation releases, to be able to create that space underneath, especially from two-by-two sets, to take away ancillary coverage. Wallace excelled on post routes, where depending on defensive alignment, he can take those tight inside releases or create a lot of space, by widening the corner initially. And then he shows no hesitation going up for the ball with the safety coming over. He also does a really good job of pushing vertically on curl or comebacks routes and then coming back to the ball. Wallace quickly swipes down the hands of the corner and immediately turns his head, to take advantage of the hole at the sideline in cover-two. And he just excels downfield, illustrated by the fact the passer rating when targeted increased by depth of target (110.7 on passes of 20+ yards). At the Senior Bowl, he moved around very well for a big body, winning the majority of reps with efficient route-running and dependable hands.

Wallace is fearless with going up and attacking the ball, making those 50-50 balls a very one-sided affair, with outstanding ability to adjust mid-air and increase the window for his quarterback. Even when it isn’t contested, he is a consistent high-point catcher. He has made so many big catches downhill, where it felt like he was hanging in the air forever. I could have sworn this guy was like 6’5” at times because of how big he plays. Other than maybe Seth Williams, I’m not sure if there is any receiver in this class, I’d rather throw a goal-line fade up for – and that guy has about five inches on him. However, Wallace also shows the strong hands and concentration to secure grabs while having a defender on his back. His 43 contested catches over the past three years are most in college football. There is no pause after catching the ball and Wallace gets what is there with the ball in his hands. You see that a lot on hitch and curl routes, where he dips that near shoulder to the defender and pulls his legs through contact, breaking quite a few of those. He is not shying away from any contact, running through awaiting defenders to cross the first down marker and dragging guys for extra yardage. Oklahoma State threw him a lot of slip screens on third downs and let him fight for the conversion. Wallace also shows a lot of physicality as a blocker, consistently getting his hands inside the frame of DBs and routinely knocking them backwards, He does a really good job of establishing position with his approach off the snap and cutting off cornerbacks trying to shoot inside against the run.

However, Wallace doesn’t really make the sharpest cuts, to create separation, and often times needs to take that extra step when trying to gear down. He doesn’t offer much variety in terms of releases, with how little press-coverage he faced, and he struggles to create a lot separation downfield, winning mostly through contact, rather than getting a step on his man. Even though Oklahoma State had him run plenty of double-moves, he didn’t create a lot of separation on those, because he isn’t super-deceptive on those or has that explosiveness out of the secondary break. While the coaches had a lot to do with it, putting him that far out wide, Wallace often times limits the space to the sideline even more with the way he widens his routes, He shows a little bit on an issue dealing with passes right on him as he comes out of his back and his eyes have to re-locate the ball. And while 92.2 yards per game is still pretty darn good, we have to acknowledge that Wallace’s per-game numbers have decreased in each of the last three years by 14.4 and 8.1 yards per contest respectively.

Even though he doesn’t quite reach the six-foot mark, I would evaluate Wallace as a big-bodied X receiver, because that’s really what he played and even though he doesn’t have the prototype height, he plays that role better than most guys do who have that size. Wallace lined up on the perimeter for 88.4 percent of snaps in his career and often times they put him right between the sideline and the numbers. He has recorded over 100 yards per game the past three seasons. The fact his numbers decreased annually is somewhat concerning, but we saw him beat NFL corners every day of Senior Bowl week and I think his skill-set translates very well to the next level, even though he won’t blow you away with the separation he can create as a route-runner necessarily.

Just missed the cut:

D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan

5’9”, 190 pounds; RS SR

Once a high school track standout and three-star recruit in 2016, Eskridge improved his numbers throughout his first three seasons, with 776 yards as a junior. In 2019, he broke his collarbone three games in however and was forced to redshirt that season. Yet, only to take his game to another level this last season, catching 33 passes for 768 yards and eight TDs, earning himself first-team All-MAC accolades, to go with being named the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year, averaging 27.5 yards per kick return and taking one of them back to the house.

Eskridge shows great urgency and quickness off the line, with lightning-rapid footwork. He is o tough to put hands on at the snap, because he is really shifty and doesn’t presents DBs a lot of surface area to stab at him, by dipping away from contact. Eskridge has a really understanding for pacing and body-language on routes. He can blow by corners on the outside and he is problem to match up with on slot fade routes, where he uses hesitation releases and then steps on the gas to gain a couple of steps on the trailing defender. That speed was only legitimized at the Western Michigan pro day, where he ran a 4.38 in the 40. He puts safeties on skates when he pushes vertically down the hashes and widens his steps before breaking one way. Eskridge can snap off routes in such a violent fashion and send defenders flying, as they try to gather themselves. He looked almost impossible to cover on curl routes. And while it’s his suddenness & quick-twitch that really stand out, there is certain physicality to his game, attacking the chest of defenders and creating space through some subtle push-offs at the top of some routes. Eskridge has the homerun ability, to take a slant route 80 yards to the house on any given play. This guy is burning fast on routes down the field, but he hits another gear when the ball is in his hands. On the eight times he was targeted on slant routes in particular, he caught all eight for 295 yards and five TDs. After the catch, he can flat-out run away from the defense, but also hesitate and slow down momentarily, before hitting the gas again and burning pursuit angles, as well as make defenders miss with some jukes. Eskridge really attacks that ball at full extension, at times when thrown too high, and holds on to it even when the throw leads him into contact or he has a defender right on his back. Overall, he caught 34 of 48 targets last season, with almost a perfect passer rating when targeted on below 20 yards and still at 120.8 beyond that number. He averaged over 20 yards per catch his past two full seasons and his 16.4 yards per target in 2020 ranked first among all receivers in the NCAA. His speed and ability to change up speeds also made him a highly dangerous kick-return man. While Eskridge obviously isn’t the biggest guy out there, he shows excellent effort as a blocker, putting defenders on their heels with the way he comes of the ball and keeps his legs driving.

Even though corners rarely actually get hands on him, Eskridge actually doesn’t hit the aiming points on hand-swipes very effectively and when they get inside his frame, he has a really tough time getting off those guys. More quick-footed DBs, who can actually mirror him as they hit the jam, will give him trouble at the next level. While PFF claims he only dropped three passes this past season, I saw as many against Central Michigan alone, all due to lacking focus on securing the catch before becoming a runner. And he had some drop issues early on in his career as well.

Eskridge is such an electric play-maker, who can win vertically or after the catch. At his size, he will have to play a little more out of the slot and his route tree was fairly limited, but with how sudden he is off the line and what he showed at the Senior Bowl, where he was smoking Power-Five DBs, easily creating separating and arguably performing like the best receiver there, I think he’s a day two pick.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC

6’1”, 195 pounds; JR

The brother of Equanimeous (Green Bay Packers) and Osiris St. Brown (Stanford), Amon-Ra flirted with that top ten overall recruit status, coming from high school powerhouse Mater Dei. St. Brown caught 60 passes for 750 yards and three touchdowns his freshman season. Over the 19 games combined these past two seasons, he has amassed 118 grabs for 1520 yards and 13 TDs, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020.

This guy obviously has tremendous genes, as son of a famous athletic family, and he presents a highly impressive physique. The thing for me that always stood out for St. Brown, as soon as I first saw him play, were those unheard-of instincts for a young player, which is how he built a strong connection with fellow freshman QB J.T. Daniels, which continued when Kedon Slovis took over these last two seasons. St. Brown operated almost exclusively out of the slot, with only nine percent of the snaps spent out wide in 2019, before taking on more of the Michael Pittman role as the X last season, when he was outside for just over 70 percent of the time last season. He is a real technician, showing a plan off the line and adjusting his routes to the defense. He can switch up gears as a route-runner and get DBs with some body leans. You see him force defenders to open their hips or widen them in off-coverage with bursts and then creates separation going underneath them, while not allowing the, to undercut the throw with the angles he takes. St. Brown does a great job of dipping away and eluding defenders in zone, to not get hung up by contact and work his way open. He excels at finding open space and is actively looking to help out his quarterback, once the initial route is dead, especially on third downs. St. Brown displays smooth body adjustments to the ball in the air. He shows no issues extending outside his frame for the ball or reaching down to his feet, but also displays excellent concentration tracking the ball over his shoulders and quickly pulling it, as the safety comes over that way, ready to blow him up. His hand-eye coordination and balance are really good. St. Brown immediately gets his hips turned upfield, to get to the marker or just the free yardage, rather than trying to dance around, He is slippery after the catch, can make guys miss who pursue too hard and uses the off-arm well to swipe down the reach of would-be tacklers. St. Brown is an exceptional stalk-blocker and doesn’t mind putting hands on linebackers either, despite weighing in under 200 pounds. He has those quick feet to keep putting his body in position and walling off defenders, which was on display with the way he handled Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in 2019.

If you take the 4.51 at his pro day and take the bump in numbers compared to laser-measurements into account, you probably get to the mid-to-high 4.5 that I would slot him in for. He won’t blow by safeties vertically or run away from guys after the catch necessarily. He certainly has some issues dealing with passes over his head when going over the middle. While St. Brown played well on the outside last season, I don’t see him consistently winning downfield from that spot at the next level. We still have to see how he handles physicality off the line, as he spent only 148 snaps facing press in his career. And even though he is efficient after the catch, I certainly wouldn’t call him explosive in that regard, which is illustrated by just 4.0 yards of YAC per grab last season.

St. Brown just put up 20 reps on the bench press at slightly under 200 pounds at the USC pro day. He’s a strong, tough and highly competitive player, who already does a lot of stuff that young players still have to learn in the pros. While there is nothing that really stands out about him physically – other than the way he looks like without a shirt – and that I expect him to be a slot primarily, he should be one of the more rock-solid draft prospects for anybody taking him mid-to-late day two.

Tutu Atwell, Louisville

5’9”, 165 pounds; JR

A top-800 overall recruit as a quarterback, Atwell switched to wide receiver as soon as he arrived in Louisville. He already put up just over 400 yards as a freshman, but it was in year two that he put his name on the map, when he earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2019, catching 69 passes for 1272 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season, despite opting out a couple of games early, he was a second-team all-conference selection, with 46 catches for 625 yards and eight scores.

In terms of pure deep threats, I don’t think anybody is more capable of running right by the entire defense than this guy, with his unmatched burst off the line and the blazing top-end speed. Playing cover-two against him in the slot, where a hook-defender has to carry him as the safety to that side widens and he goes up the seam is like a death-wish. Safeties seem lost at times when he attacks vertically and they get matched up because it. Whether it’s breaking to the post and only gaining speed as he bends off that outside foot, just chopping his feet slightly and then taking the inside seam or often times giving a subtle jab to the inside and then taking off, to get several steps behind them. And while Malik Cunningham is a talented dual-threat quarterback, you see a lot of plays, where Tutu has clearly beat the man and the ball is badly underthrown, to where he has to slow down or even fight for the ball in the air. Overall, he recorded 25 career catches of 20+ air yards. Atwell is a problem on those deep cross routes as number three from trips, especially when Louisville went formation into the boundary and he had all that space to work with, or taking advantage of two-high shells, by slowing/sitting those down in those situations. He caught the ball underneath quite a bit as well, where he fluidly turns upfield and can burn guys for taking direct angles to the sideline. You see him force slot defenders to leverage to the sideline with his first couple of steps and then he has such quick feet to slide underneath and gain that inside position on them. When Atwell catches the ball on the run, he can hit another gear and zoom past pursuit defenders, while having that subtle shiftiness to get around them. The Cardinals put the ball in his hands on a lot of speed sweeps and those shallow cross screens basically across the field, where your corners better really take care of keeping contain, because otherwise you’ll see this guy running down the sideline quickly.

The obvious concern for Atwell is that he will likely be the lightest player as soon as he enters the NFL. When defenders do get hands on him, he gets hung up with contact quite a bit, and then his catch-radius is so limited, that you can’t really expect anything in contested catch situations. He only spent 12.7 percent of his career snaps out wide and he faced press on just 18 total snaps last season, according to PFF. When you look at his catch numbers in 2020, Atwell had a passer rating of over 100 on passes under 10 and on 20+ yards each, but only 46.3 in that intermediate area. So you just don’t see him winning on any routes, where he actually has to fight through contact. And at his miniscule size and frame, Atwell just won’t provide anything as a blocker. You saw him do an okay job initially, but then get pushed backwards and the Cardinals were looking for ways to hide him in that area, having him doing all those fakes and running off defenders.

This is another specialist and you may call him a one-trick pony – but that’s a pretty good trick. I don’t think Atwell will play 80+ percent of snaps for his future team, but he can really stretch the field for them, because safeties simply can’t play flat-footed when this guy is running downfield. Plus, you can produce chunk plays if you put the ball in his hands on the run. He will have to add 10 pounds though I believe, in order for teams not to worry of him literally breaking on an NFL field.

The next names up:

Nico Collins (Michigan), Josh Palmer (Tennessee), Amari Rodgers & Cornell Powell (Clemson), Jaelon Darden (North Texas), Frank Darby (Arizona State), Austin Watkins Jr. (UAB), Marlon Williams (UCF), Desmond Fitzpatrick (Louisville) Cade Johnson (South Dakota State) & Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)


2 thoughts on “Top 10 wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft:

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