The Cleveland Browns have had a need to pull players from their practice squad in consecutive weeks in a desperate attempt to find pass catchers. The receiving corps who started in Week 3 dropped eight passes as starters Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins, and Ricardo Louis combined for six receptions on 22 targets. Even with the eventual return of Corey Coleman, the Browns remain desperate for help at wide receiver especially given head coach Hue Jackson’s proclivity to rely on the passing game.
There is not likely to be any salve for the receivers in 2017 as, no, Josh Gordon isn’t riding in on a white horse to save the group. Therefore, fans of the Browns might do best to pay attention on college football Saturdays to the next crop of receivers who will be available in the 2018 NFL Draft where the Browns hold two first-round picks1 and three second-round picks.2
It is too early to give a specific order to the wide receivers as many have just begun to take on a larger role in their offense this season. Results on the field will play some importance but a display of specific NFL-translatable traits will be the key factors that separate the players.
Here are 10 potential 2018 NFL draftee wide receivers to watch this fall:
USC, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds
Burnett is the best hand-catcher in this class. Combine that important trait with a nice blend of athleticism and shifty moves to create separation. He also has shown a capability to make the spectacular play. His lack of bulk might hold him back on draft day, but he is otherwise an elite prospect.
Washington, 6-foot-1, 192 pounds
Pettis needs to have more hype. The routes he runs are so silky, and he will create space with a littany of subtle hip and shoulder movements.
Equanimeous St. Brown
Notre Dame, 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.50 seconds
St. Brown is the DeShone Kizer of wide receiver prospects. Not only does he share a school (and was Kizer’s favorite target in 2016), but he checks all the boxes on a scout’s list just as Kizer did last year. He has the size, great speed, an advanced route runner, and he has good hands. He has topped all of the above by making some crazy catches too. However, despite the chance he shoots to the top of this receiving class, he is not there yet because he just isn’t quite consistent enough across the board.
Alabama, 6-foot-1, 188 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.48 seconds
Ridley is special. He doesn’t have as much size as some of the other receivers on this list, but he has speed and quickness to spare. He is ridiculously good at finding soft spots in the defense, and his smooth motion couples with his speed to beat corners deep.
Simmie Cobbs Jr.
Indiana, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.55 seconds
Cobbs has the size, hands, quickness, body control, and the ability to win 50-50 passes. However, he plays too much like Terrelle Pryor to go in the first round. His routes are not exact, so he often relies on comebacker routes while using his body to box out. He’ll also catch the balls higher than the defensive backs with some acrobatic one-handed snares. He just won’t create the same separation as the other receivers on this list, which could cause some issues.
SMU, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.51 seconds
Sutton is a size plus speed weapon. He is great at creating space on film, but he is also just so much bigger and faster than his competition. So, competition-level is a legitimate concern with him though he may rise above it with his ability to catch on those sideline patterns demonstrated. The post-season process will be important for his stock too.
Texas A&M, 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.43 seconds
The player known as Baby Beckham will make YouTube watching fun. He has a bit of a flair to make catches that get everyone to pop up to their feet. But, then he’ll also frustrate with some concentration drops, and he also doesn’t come up with some throws that seem like he has the ability to reel in. The UCLA game is a good package that demonstrates his strengths and weaknesses.
Clemson, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.51 seconds
Ohio State, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds
Cain and Campbell are the same player to me. They are both interesting playmakers who have struggled in tight press coverage. Both players are dynamic with the ball in their hands though, so their offenses are geared towards less route running and more bubble screens and underneath routes to get them the ball in space. There is a ton of work to do for these players to achieve their potential, but they could be lethal slot players if they dedicate themselves to it.
Oklahoma State, 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, projected 40-time of 4.50 seconds
Washington is more fast than quick. For a guy his size, he is also easier to tackle then you would expect, and he double catches and uses his body too often. However, he runs some nice routes (his post and outs use good body balance to maintain speed), and he is perhaps the best in college football at adjusting his route to the ball in the air on deep throws.
Florida State, 6-foot-5, 225 pounds
Tate runs good routes and uses his body well to create room. He is also adept at finding the soft spots in zone defenses. As a bigger receiver, he is going to have some separation issues, but a team looking for an Anquan Boldin type could take advantage of his strengths.
Deebo Samuel: Samuel will be one of the most difficult receivers to evaluate. The Gamecocks quarterback play is so horrendous that you cannot discount Samuel just from the lack of raw statistics, however it also could be limiting his development.
Antonio Callaway: Callaway’s had issues at Florida including a marijuana citation and being suspended for Week 1 against Michigan this season. He has talent and is worth tracking.
Jaylen Smith: Louisville utilizes the defensive attention on Lamar Jackson to create space for Smith, which he uses with mostly middle screens and the occasional deep routes. Has potential but a lot of work to do.
D.J. Chark: Chark has the size and athleticism, but I have come away unimpressed compared to the others on this list.
Allen Lazard: Lazard is a huge receiver, but he doesn’t play to his size. He should be better at 50-50 balls and will frustrate whatever team believes they can be the ones to teach him to be more aggressive.