Browns, NFL Draft

WFNY’s 2017 NFL Draft Coverage: Joe Gilbert’s Top Five Wide Receivers

After focusing on the talented tight ends class, we now move to the wide receivers group. The Cleveland Browns used their 2016 first round pick on wide receiver Corey Coleman. His first year was tampered by a couple early season injuries, but he is still a player the team expects to be their No. 1 big play receiver. Terrelle Pryor had an excellent season last year, but he left in free agency and so the Browns decided to replace him with Kenny Britt who is expected to start alongside Coleman.

The Browns drafted three other receivers in last year’s draft, but those three did not show much in their rookie seasons. So with the loss of Andrew Hawkins also, the Browns may be in the market to draft a receiver in the 2017 NFL Draft. This season’s class is a solid group with good depth to find quality receivers later in the draft. With that, let’s take a look at my top five wide receivers in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Joe Gilbert’s 2017 NFL Draft Position Rankings: Safeties, Cornerbacks, Inside Linebackers, Edge Rushers, Interior Defensive Linemen, Interior Offensive Linemen, Offensive Tackles, Tight Ends

1. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

Stats: In 14 games last season, he caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Corey Davis combines great college production with high-level talent, making him one of the best receivers in the draft. At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds and 33-inch arms, he has the size and length teams love to have in a receiver. He gives the quarterback a solid catch radius to target, but his best asset is his route running. He runs crisp and direct routes, using subtle body movements to hide his path. He gets low in and out of breaks, allowing him to change directions quickly and smoothly. These attributes help him gain separation from the defensive back. He is a great help for the quarterback because he works his way back to the ball and does not allow defenders to reach the ball before he does.

The former Bronco plays with good balance and body positioning. He is able to get his body in the right position to catch the pass. He uses his balance to play well around the sideline, getting his feet in for the catch. He tracks the ball extremely well, using this and his body positioning to be in the right spot for the catch, especially in jump ball situations. His feet are also a real asset for him, especially at his size. In the open field, he has quick feet to stop and start to let defenders go past him. He can put on the burners and run away from the defense after the catch. His quick feet also help him at the line up scrimmage, eluding the press coverage to get down field. He has solid enough speed, but he plays with a good initial burst on breaks and after catches, to draw separation from the coverage. He may not be an imposing athlete physically, but he runs with a lot of physicality, showing the ability to break tackles, especially using a fierce stiff arm. Davis is a willing blocker who can help in the run game.

But Davis has some flaws in his game. He will not be a player who shows wiggle to elude tackles with short area quickness and elusiveness. He also has a problem with drops. He can drop passes because of a lack of focus, but also sometimes due to passes being a little off target, yet are still catchable. He needs to improve his catching ability to be a more reliable receiver. In press coverage, he does not use his hands very much, using mostly his feet to get away from the press. At the next level against bigger corners, he will need to be stronger and use his hands better to fight off the contact. In the end, his route running, size, feet and other traits should make him a very productive receiver in the NFL.

2. John Ross, Washington

Stats: In 14 games last season, he had 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns.

John Ross is the fastest man in the draft and that is seen throughout his play. He showed off his speed at the NFL Combine, running a record 4.22-second 40-yard dash. His speed is easy. He can cruises past defenders, making him a big play receiver for an offense. He can gain quick separation from defensive backs with his speed. His ability to move in and out of breaks is incredible, keeping seemingly his normal speed throughout, which is another way he can separate from the coverage. What is really impressive about him is his route running. He runs really good routes, showing crisp routes and subtle body movements to fake out the defender. His ability to plant and go in another direction is quick and sudden. His speed and route running causes defenders to panic and make penalties trying to hold him from getting open. His feet are extremely quick, helping him in many areas, including getting past press coverage. In the open field, he is a blur at times. He can run past defenders and get through a seam using his blazing speed. He also has good elusiveness and suddenness to elude tackles and change directions on a dime. Ross is a big play waiting to happen. Overall, he shows good hands, catching the ball consistently. He also tracks the ball extremely well, getting in the right spot to locate the ball and make the catch. He is a willing blocker even at his slighter size. On special teams, he is a dangerous kick returner who will be able to immediately give a team a playmaker on special teams.

But Ross is not perfect. He lacks the ideal size for a receiver, at just 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds. The biggest question mark is his ability to catch the contested passes. In college, he was able to gain so much separation that he hardly had to contest to make catches. But in the NFL, coverage will be tighter, so he will need to be able to make the catch through contact and that is something he has not shown consistently he can do. He is not overly physical, which will hurt him in press coverage. He showed the ability to get past defenders with quickness, but when he is jammed at the line of scrimmage at the next level, can he get free without getting too far off his route that messes up the timing of the play. The NFL will be not be as easy for him to gain separation. He also has health questions teams must investigate. Nevertheless, his speed and big play ability will allow him to be a huge weapon for an offense.

3. Mike Williams, Clemson

Stats: In 15 games last season, he caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Mike Williams has the size and ball skills teams love to have in their receiver. At 6-foot-4, 218 pounds and 33 3/8-inch arms, he is a huge target for any quarterback. He provides a huge catch radius that allows quarterbacks a little inaccuracy to still complete passes. His ball skills are his best asset. He has strong hands that can pluck passes out of the air. The former Tiger catches passes away from his body using these strong hands. He can make the toughest catches look incredibly easy. Contact is no problem to him. He can make catches through contact, catching contested passes at a very good consistency. Williams has really good leaping ability, along with timing, to make catches in jump ball situations. He high points the pass and beats defenders by reaching over top of them. These traits will make him a great redzone target. Body positioning is key for him. He is able to shield the defender away from the ball and get himself into the right position to make the catch. He tracks the ball very well, getting in the right spot to bring in the ball. Against press coverage, he uses his hands and subtle pushes to get away from the defender. After the catch, he has adequate speed when in full sprint to extend a play for a big gain. He also has the size to be a blocker in the run game.

Williams, however, does have some weaknesses in his game. His biggest weakness is his lack of speed and separation. He just does not have the athletic ability to gain a lot separation from the coverage. His route running does not help him gain separation either. He is predictable in his routes with not overly crisp routes. After the catch, he will not elude defenders or run past them for a huge gain. So, he will not be a player who will make a short gain into a big one. At times, he can also suffer from focus drops. Finally, his health will need to be investigated because he missed the entire 2015 season with a neck injury. But in the end, Williams is a huge target with great ball skills, who can be a huge target for a quarterback in the NFL.

4. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington

Stats: In 13 games last season, he posted 117 receptions for 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Cooper Kupp is a solid athlete with one of the greatest college careers in terms of production ever. He is a receiver with overall good size at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds. He is a player with strong hands, who is a very reliable pass catcher. His strong hands allow him to catch passes through contact. Contested passes do not faze him. He comes back to the ball, attacking the ball with hands away from his body, so defenders can’t beat him to the ball. He tracks the ball well, getting in the right position and spot to make the catch. As a route runner, he shows the subtle body movements that help him hide his designated path, confusing defenders on where he is going. He makes crisp routes. His route running helps him gain separation from his defender. While running routes, he has good vision to find the gaps in coverage, so that his quarterback can find him. He also does well in scramble drills, when the quarterback is out of the pocket and he needs a receiver to get open on his side of the field. Overall, he is a solid athlete for his size with better play speed than he athletically tests at. He shows the ability to stretch the field after the catch. And after the catch, he is able to use a combination of power and elusiveness to extend plays. He can run through arm tackles and side step diving tackle attempts. Against press coverage, he is able to use quick footwork to avoid getting stuck on the line of scrimmage and start his route down field. He is a willing blocker, who has good size to be a help in the run game.

Kupp has some limitations in his game. His biggest question mark is his competition level and how he will adjust to the big move to the NFL. He was normally one of the better athletes on the field, but that will change in the NFL. Can he get enough separation from the coverage without great overall speed? He is a good route runner, but his transitions in and out of breaks can be too high, slowing him down to allow the separation from defenders to decrease. In press coverage, he can use his hands more, fighting defenders off with his hands rather than just pure footwork. His route running was extensive in college, so he will need to expand repertoire in the NFL. However, Kupp has the size, technique and ball skills that should help him become a good receiver in the NFL.

5. Zay Jones, East Carolina

Stats: In 12 games last season, he caught 158 passes for 1,746 yards and eight touchdowns.

Zay Jones was an extremely productive college player who has the talent to be productive in the NFL. He has very good hands with the technique to catch the ball away from his body with his hands. His hands are strong enough to catch passes through contact, holding onto the ball through the tackle. Paired with his hands, he has good ball skills. He gets his body in the right position to the catch the ball, whether it is diving to the ground or turning around to high point a pass. He is able to catch passes over defenders to win in jump ball situations. At 6-foot-2 and 32 ½-inch arms, he has solid length to reach for balls, providing for a large catch radius for quarterbacks to target. As a route runner, he is able to show good body movements to prevent defenders from figuring out his route path. He does not always run sharp routes, but he is aware of where he needs to be to get open for his quarterback. He is able to find the gaps in the coverage and on the sideline, he shows good awareness around the sideline to get his feet in for the completion. Jones is a very willing blocker, who was asked to block in the run and pass game. He uses his arms well to latch onto defenders and keep them away from the play. And as I stated earlier, he has been highly productive in college for several years.

Jones does have weak spots in his game. Overall, he is not a great athlete. He does not have great quickness and speed, hurting him in several areas of his game. He does not have the athletic ability to separate. He has an especially hard time separating on deep passes because he does not have the speed to burn defenders. After the catch, he does not provide much. He lacks the speed and elusiveness to make defenders miss in the open field, limiting his big play potential in the NFL. Although he has good length, he lacks the bulk you want in a receiver. He will need to add more weight to his frame. He could struggle in the NFL against the bigger defenders because of his lack of size and strength. Nevertheless, Jones is a player with great production paired with good ball skills and route running to be a productive professional receiver.