1. Corey Davis – Just as with this year’s running backs, there is a clear top tier and drop-off at receiver. The top group starts with Davis, and all you need to know about Davis is that he would have been in the No. 1 receiver conversation last year. Davis is that good, and it will be hard to move him out of the 1.01 rookie draft spot even if he lands on a subpar team. Davis has a NFL body (6’3″, 209 lbs.) with the athleticism to match. Davis is a great route runner with precise movement, terrific cuts and the ability to mask his intentions. Davis attacks the ball in the air with great body control and is great at creating separation. Davis can overpower defenders or beat them with his speed, even while lacking elite level quickness. The only areas of improvement for Davis are in consistency and out routes, but that’s nitpicking, as Davis will be a WR2 as a rookie with potential for more on the right team.
2. John Ross – I assume you know about Ross and his speed at this point. Ross’ speed is his best weapon. Ross can use it to blow past defenders, get them on their heels and use speed-based moves to separate. So how does anyone ever stop Ross and his 4.22-speed? Simple. You jam him. Ross has shown difficulty at winning against stronger corners, especially when they jam him at the line or play physical. Ross could overpower in another way, by using his speed and high-level footwork, even though he needs to break back to the quarterback more and improve his precision to excel in the NFL. Back to the positives, Ross is a great ball-tracker, shows terrific adjustment and watches the ball into his hands. Ross has the ability to put up WR3 numbers with upside for a tad more, even as a rookie.
3. Mike Williams – Running a 4.5 40 is more than adequate when talking about a receiver with Williams’ size and wingspan. Williams regularly beats his receiver to the ball thanks to his catch radius, which is among the best, even by NFL standards, and he also shields off defenders well. Williams is a great receiver heading to either side of the field, compared to some receivers that are better with adjustments and receiving to their dominant side. While Williams can struggle with initial separation and at the top of routes, his strength to overpower helps offset those weaknesses. If Williams can become crisper in his routes, he has a chance to mimic his potential teammate, A.J. Green, but Fantasy players should hope Cincinnati isn’t his landing spot. Williams has WR2/3 upside, especially with his red zone potential, but seeing only 60-70 targets as a rookie would knock him down the list.
4. Cooper Kupp – This next group of receivers can almost be thrown in a hat and randomly selected. That’s how closely ranked they are. Kupp is up first, as one of Kupp’s best traits is being able to succeed against man or zone coverage. Kupp knows how to set up his defenders to create space or find the gaps in coverage to exploit available space. Additionally, few receivers have hands as good as Kupp. If Kupp is targeted with a quality pass, you can assume a catch. Kupp lacks top-end speed, but he does have quality acceleration and quickness. The lack of top-notch competition is a slight concern, as are his two sprained AC joints (yes, both shoulders). However, few prospects have been as sure-handed as Kupp over the past few years. Kupp won’t be an every-week Fantasy Football starter as a rookie, but he could find surprising value on the right team or if someone in front of him were to get injured.
5. ArDarius Stewart – Stewart gets up to speed quicker than most and uses every ounce of his size to its maximum… and then some. Like Kupp, Stewart works well against man or zone coverage. With Stewart, his effectiveness in beating both types and gaining separation is due to his top-end route running ability. Stewart adjusts well to passes and works to beat defenders to the ball. Stewart can be effective deep and in the slot as a rookie, and that should have him on your radar in drafts.
6. Chris Godwin – This is the second time in just a few years that a Penn State receiver isn’t receiving enough attention. Last time, it was Allen Robinson. Don’t make that mistake again. Godwin can beat press coverage with his route running or the speed to get behind the defender. Godwin wins the majority of contested balls thanks to his body control and hands. Many will view Godwin as a possession receiver, but I see more. Godwin has good quickness and elusiveness added to his willingness to battle for the ball (enough ness’s for you?). With the right landing spot – a team recognizing Godwin’s ability and upside – he could return WR3 value as a rookie.
7. JuJu Smith-Schuster – Smith-Schuster isn’t a burner, but he brings a smooth acceleration that will allow him to slip past the defense. To clarify the use of “smooth” with running that you’ve seen in the article, picture a runner that seemingly glides and doesn’t waste much movement. You don’t see jerky motion or heavy effort to maximize the speed the player has. JJSS is a quality route runner, which when coupled with the aforementioned acceleration, helps him separate and make the catch. Smith-Schuster has good hands and the body to break tackles after the catch. Don’t take this ranking as a slight. As mentioned with Kupp, this tier is rather large and tightly contested.
8. Zay Jones – Jones is your typical possession receiver and left ECU as the FBS career leader in receptions. Jones showed the ability to adjust both to the ball and his quarterback, although, he could improve in his comebacks. While Jones is an outside receiver, his first few steps are quite good with the explosiveness to throw off defenders from the snap. Conversely, Jones will struggle to separate on deeper routes. It would make Jones a more complete receiver to improve in the deep game, but he can be a successful NFL receiver filling the possession receiver role for plenty of teams. Jones will be a better PPR option early in his career.
9. Josh Reynolds – At the least, Reynolds will be a good deep threat from day one with his speed and quickness. Reynolds is someone that plays faster than his 40 time, as his shuttle was much better and he’s a smooth runner. Given his size, Reynolds will need to put on muscle to become a complete receiver. Strong defenders can throw him off routes and overpower on contested throws. Don’t mistake that to mean Reynolds fails at all contested balls, as he attacks the ball well and has good hands to snatch the ball out of the air. Consider Reynolds a bench option for 2017 with the ability for some big games (DFS-ers pay attention) and a high ceiling with added strength.
10. Carlos Henderson – Kicking off the next tier of receivers, Henderson seems a bit divisive, but I’m a fan. Henderson is on the smaller side at 5’11”, 199 pounds, but he’s strong enough to shake physical corners and even break tackles after the catch. Henderson is also a highly intelligent receiver using both his hands and body at the proper times. He also brings a nice set of moves both before and after the catch. Henderson does need some route running work, but that can be taught unlike his athleticism. Henderson will surprise as a Fantasy receiver if given the opportunity, but it’s likely that Henderson is a team’s No. 3 option at best as a rookie.
11. Chad Hansen – Hansen has the speed and ability to beat defenders deep but can struggle with stronger corners. Fortunately, Hansen is a great ball tracker and works the sides of the field well. Hansen is also a strong pass catcher with the ability to stand up to more physical corners for the reception, but he can struggle to separate prior to the catch, which leads to that strength being a necessity. Hansen won’t be any team’s starting receiver or Fantasy starter as a rookie, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
12. Dede Westbrook – Westbrook is one of the leanest receivers in the class at 6’0″, 178 pounds, making his speed and moves important to his game. Westbrook is great at finding space in zone coverage, but given his size, he will struggle against the NFL level of corners that match his speed and bring a size advantage. As mentioned, Westbrook does have a nice set of moves to separate and elude defenders after the catch, and he’s tougher to tackle than you would assume for a 178-pounder. However, Westbrook’s catch radius leaves you wanting, and he has some off-field concerns. Westbrook likely won’t have much value as a rookie.
13. Curtis Samuel – Samuel is a bit tough to rank given the potential for use as a running back or wide receiver. Samuel does have running back traits with elusive moves and the ability to get back up to speed quickly. However, Samuel appears to be focused on developing as a receiver, which better suits his style. That would help Samuel more than being a player with no defined role. Samuel does a good job of adjusting to his quarterback, making the contested catch and finding space. Samuel would rank higher if he had a defined position and/or was more developed as a receiver, but his uncertainty – similar to Ty Montgomery coming out – puts his potential in question.
14. Isaiah Ford – Ford has a good first step and acceleration, which helps alleviate some of the concern over his poor 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine. However, the concern remains with Ford’s top speed, as it does with his hands. Ford struggles with receptions by dropping too many, letting the ball get on top of him and not making clean catches. On the positive end, the initial quickness can help Ford get behind defenders, and he shows the ability to change direction and cut back well. Ford also has quality body control and intelligence, giving him enough positives to potentially mask the concerns and even surprise us if he can be more consistent catching the ball.
15. Taywan Taylor – Taylor is quick and has the speed to get behind defenders. Taylor also uses that speed to avoid would-be tacklers after the catch. Defenders can jam him early given Taylor’s size, but if he gets the initial step, Taylor can separate and find space in a zone. His footwork and route running needs improvement, but Taylor could be an interesting deep-play option as a rookie for best ball or DFS purposes.
16. Amara Darboh – Darboh has enviable athleticism and a NFL body, but he doesn’t maximize those traits. Darboh is extremely inconsistent catching the ball, dropping way too many catchable passes. It’s frustrating to watch, as Darboh will make some terrific catches, and he the size/speed combination to be a matchup problem. Darboh is also inconsistent in his routes, as he breaks well and separates at times, but will struggle to break free early and wastes movements. There is plenty of innate talent to like with Darboh, but he needs plenty of coaching and work if he ever hopes to maximize that potential.
17. Malachi Dupre – Dupre will likely be a 4-5th round pick to give you an idea of the depth at receiver. Dupre fell off a bit last year, which raises some questions in addition to the concerns over inconsistent hands. Dupre does have solid speed for his size, and he runs quality digs and out routes. Dupre is a strong receiver as well with a good initial burst, but he looks more like a solid NFL contributor than impact player, and that means Dupre won’t have Fantasy value as a rookie.
18. Ryan Switzer – It Switzer were even just a tad bigger, he would rank much higher, but at 5’8″, 181 pounds, the ceiling is built in. Switzer is very quick and elusive with the ability to stop-and-go with the best of them and throw off defenders with his jab-step cuts. Switzer lacks elite speed however, and as mentioned, his size and lack of a solid catch radius will be too much for him to overcome being a gadget player.
1. O.J. Howard – Howard is one of the best tight end prospects in years, bringing a high level of athleticism with a freak build of 6’6″, 251 pounds. Howard had a great shuttle time and strong 4.51 40. Howard can overpower defenders, out-run linebackers and find space with the best of them. He is a true matchup nightmare, especially when you consider how dangerous he is after the catch, regularly taking short passes for long gains. Howard does need some route refinement, relying on his ability over precision at times. However, that’s a minor concern when you consider his size/speed/strength combination and passing game intelligence. Tight ends rarely have significant impacts as rookies, but Howard can be the exception.
2. David Njoku – Remember, these rankings are for talent related to Fantasy Football. Njoku has some questions as a complete player, but he has high upside as a Fantasy tight end. Njoku has a terrific, chiseled build and great speed to create matchup problems of his own. Njoku routinely made big plays at Miami and the ability to make the tough receptions as well thanks to big hands, his aggressive pass catching nature and ability to position well against defenders. Njoku could be the other prospect to buck the trend of first-year tight ends.
3. Bucky Hodges – Again, all we care about for Fantasy is the pass-catching potential, because if we factored in pass blocking, Hodges wouldn’t register. Hodges has ball-tracking skills on par with receivers, and it was that ability that led to Hodges lining up wide at Virginia Tech. Hodges checks all of the boxes in athleticism and adds some of the best moves in this draft class. He’s also dangerous after the catch, which leaves just his blocking as a concern. While we don’t worry about that for Fantasy production, it could lead to limited opportunities/snaps as a rookie.
4. Evan Engram – Engram isn’t far removed from Hodges in similarities, but he has a bit more room to improve as a route runner and in gaining separation. We’re talking a small margin in the Hodges-Engram gap though, and as with Hodges, Engram lined up wide in college. Yet another similarity is Engram’s need to improve as a blocker. Both Hodges and Engram have great Fantasy potential, but it’s these types of incomplete prospects that fit the “unlikely to contribute much as a rookie” classification.
5. Gerald Everett – Just like the rest, Everett brings quality athleticism with a strong body. And just like most of these tight ends, Everett isn’t a top-notch blocker. Everett is a dangerous seam weapon, and he shows the ability to avoid would-be tacklers using power and/or quality moves. Everett shows good speed off the line and through his routes. Everett is more of a year two option just as with Hodges and Engram, but don’t forget the name while waiting for 2018.