Wide Receivers Pre-Season Rankings for the 2021 NFL Draft
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Welcome to part 2 of my summer scouting series. This post will preview the WR class. If you missed part 1, which previewed the RB class, click here! My next post will go over the TE class and should be out in a week or two.
To preview the 2021 class, I watched 15 eligible draft prospects and rank them based on their talent, athleticism, production, and potential. My WR grading categories include route running, hands/ball skills, run after catch, athleticism, release, separation, and blocking.
These wide receivers were very fun to watch. There is a lot of athleticism and skill here, and this class has been compared to last year's, which was packed with talent. I'm not sure its quite on that level yet but it has the potential to be better. I only decided to watch 15 prospects, but I wanted to give some honorable mentions. Some wide receivers to watch out for include:
Seth Williams (Auburn)
Terrance Marshall (LSU)
Kadarius Toney (Florida)
Tyler Vaughns (USC)
Osiris St. Brown (Stanford)
Nico Collins (Michigan)
Johnny Johnson (Oregon)
JD Spielman (Nebraska)
Jeremiah Holloman (FIU)
Chris Autman-Bell (Minnesota)
Dez Fitzpatrick (Louisville)
Davontavean Martin (Washington State)
Britain Covey (Utah)
Amari Rodgers (Clemson)
Anthony Schwartz (Auburn)
Antonio Nunn (Buffalo)
Dyami Brown (UNC)
Tre Walker (San Jose State)
Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)
Now for my rankings!
At #1 we have Rondale Moore
Moore's tape was the most fun I had watching a prospect so far. He's incredibly skilled and athletic, and what he brings to an offense is consistent separation and fantastic RAC ability. He simply gets open with his ridiculous quickness and agility. He runs fluid and sharp routes, separating with his release and breaks. Once he gets the ball, he’s explosive and displays creativity and excellent vision in space. Purdue designed plays to get him the ball on screens and short routes, and he created big plays with his athleticism and vision in space. There is so much potential with Moore, and the reason I have him #1 is because I think he has the highest ceiling. This season I hope he refines his route running technique and gets more physical on his routes. He could also make his job a lot easier if he tried to set up his routes more instead of relying on his athleticism. The clip below highlights his explosiveness, speed, and strength.
#2 - Ja'Marr Chase
Chase won the 2019 Biletnikoff Award and had a phenomenal season at LSU. He was a large reason why their offense was so good, and alongside Justin Jefferson and Terrance Marshall they formed one of the deadliest receiving corps. Most have him as the #1 receiver coming into this season, and he has the talent and production to warrant it. Chase is the only receiver I watched who used his hands to consistently fight off press and gain separation throughout his routes. He plays really strong and was able to get off of jams and press on a regular basis. He displays crafty route running skills to set up his angles and attack blindspots in the defense. When the ball is in the air, he shows some of the best ball skills in the class. He’s able to jump and high point the ball, with great tracking and body control. While he has good technique, his breaks need to be cleaned up. He will at times complicate them, and they often lack suddenness. Where he needs to grow the most is with his separation, which is due to his lack of explosiveness and quickness. He’s able to bully corners now with his strength, but to become elite at the next level his technique needs to grow. I love the play from Chase below. He is so good at fighting off press with his strength and hands. Here he fights off Trevon Diggs and just tosses him to the side.
#3 - Jaylen Waddle- Alabama
It’s tough to consistently makes play and produce when your teammates are Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and DeVonta Smith. With this much talent, there will be a limited number of passes coming your way. Even with this limitation, Waddle was able to show just how much potential remains untapped. He’s so fast and explosive that any play he gets the ball, he could score. Similar to Ruggs last year, you simply cannot give him any space to work with. He’s also not just athletic, but flashes quality route running. He’s got great footwork and quickness in his breaks, and he explodes out of them to separate from corners. He’s got an understanding of how to freeze defenders and exploit poor technique from a corner. He releases off the line with great burst and flexibility, avoiding contact and press jams. With some polish to his technique and added experience as a starting receiver, he will jump up rankings and challenge to be the top receiver in the class. I love this play from Waddle as it highlights his speed and explosiveness. It's a fantastic route too, as he uses his initial burst to get the corner to accelerate upfield, then he snaps his break leaving him a lot of room.
#4 - DeVonta Smith - Alabama
I think Smith could have come out last year and been a 2nd round receiver. He brings great athleticism to an offense. He has the speed to stretch the field, and savvy route running to separate on shorter routes. Apart from his speed, he also has a fantastic release off the line, using hesitations and fakes to freeze defenders and get a step on them. On the off chance that he doesn’t separate, he shows great contested catch skills to challenge for the ball in the air. I would like to see him continue to polish his route running, as he struggles to get separation on intermediate routes. He also needs to improve his creativity and vision after the catch. There's a lot of potential in Smith, and I believe he'll challenge for a top 3 spot in the final WR rankings come April. In this clip, he freezes Derek Stingley with his release, and blows by him. He was able to beat Derek Stingley a few times this game, and put in an impressive performance.
#5 - Reggie Roberson - SMU
Roberson was having a fantastic season before suffering a foot injury and missing the last 5 games of the season. He packs elite speed and explosiveness, and this combined with his skillful route running makes him an intriguing prospect. He’s just as skilled running posts routes and outrunning defenders as he is running short routes with sudden and clean breaks. There’s a lot of diversity to his game. He consistently works defenders off his route and shows nuance in his route running. I think he needs to simplify his game and get more physical on his routes, but I like his potential. I can realistically see him as a top 5 WR in the upcoming draft because of his athleticism, route running, and he has decent size. I’m hoping he can stay healthy all season, as he’s missed 7 games combined over the last 2 seasons. This clip highlights what he can do. He sets up his route on the outside with great fakes on his release, and blazes by the corner for a TD.
#6 - Rashod Bateman - Minnesota
Bateman is a really advanced and smart route runner. He releases with terrific stutters and hesitations to freeze defenders, and he has the explosiveness out of breaks to separate consistently. He’s a quick and fluid athlete, and he throws out moves at all levels to keep his separation. He doesn’t drop the ball often and has sticky hands, catching everything in his radius. Aside from his route running skills, he’s also has plus RAC ability. He shows creativity in space and has that playmaker mentality. There’s a lot to like about Bateman, but he still has some questions to answer. He plays with a lack of strength and struggles once corners get their hands on him. His route breaks could use some more suddenness, and he needs to clean up his footwork as he often uses extra, unnecessary steps. He also isn’t as good in the air as his length and burst would suggest, struggling to highpoint and adjust his body to the ball. He plays a lot like former teammate Tyler Johnson, but quicker and more explosive on his breaks and release. This is a great route from Bateman. He's lined up at the top of the screen. He does a great job to set up his angle inside and he makes a great catch, showing off his catch radius.
#7 - Tylan Wallace - Oklahoma State
Wallace is known as a potent deep threat, but I see great route running skills too. He flashes nuance in his routes, throwing fakes and working his angles. He’s got really quick and clean breaks, and he explodes out of them to separate. He’s tough and fast after the catch. There’s a lot of potential for him to be a really good Z or slot receiver at the next level. I want to see him get stronger and keep polishing his routes, and hopefully he gets a more diverse route tree in his final season to truly showcase his potential. This play below is absolutely insane. This should have only been a 5 yard gain, but Wallace just powers through 2 tacklers and stiff arms a defender at the end to complete the 70 yard TD run.
#8 - Damonte Coxie - Memphis
Coxie has been very productive over the past 2 seasons. He's a quality X receiver prospect who bases his game on creating space with his release and being physical. He uses quick jab steps and fakes to gain separation off the line and he understands how to generate leverage on corners. He’s a good deep threat with great body control and a large catch radius, and he can also hurt defenses after the catch. Where I want to see him improve and develop is with his route running. He often rounds out his breaks and there is a lack of deception in his routes. If he isn’t able to get separation off the line, he struggles to get free through the rest of his route. There is still work to be done but I love how tough he plays, and he can make some insane catches through traffic and contact. In this clip, you can see how effective his releases are. He makes a simple one cut and go, making a pretty 1 handed grab at the end. He shows no problems getting off press too.
#9 - Amon-Ra St. Brown - USC
Amon-Ra has been a quality slot receiver for USC. He releases with burst and quickness of the line and shows great flexibility to avoid contact in press situations. He does well to disguise his routes with longer stems, and shows good burst coming out of his breaks. His breaks can be inconsistent, but at his best they are sudden and quick. His movements are always fluid and he shows good lateral agility. He really just needs to keep improving his technique on breaks, and study how to set up defenders and his route path. He already does well to move defenders off his path, but his approach needs work. He’s definitely a solid slot receiving prospect, but it would be nice to see him play on the outside this season too and it looks like he’ll get the chance to diversify his route tree. His breaks aren’t as clean, but he kind of reminds me of a slightly faster Cooper Kupp. Both are fluid route runners who know how to get open against zone coverage, and are strong after the catch. In this clip below, he hesitates to move the defender off his path. He slips comfortably into the middle of the field and sits in a gap in the zone.
#10 - Chris Olave - Ohio State
What I like best about Olave is his craftiness and football IQ. He's a smart player who separates well with his release and speed. He makes use of a lot of fakes and hesitations to freeze defenders, and then uses his speed to keep distance from the corner. I also like how he uses his hands to fight off physical corners. He needs to keep developing his route running, as he rounds out his breaks and his technique overall is inconsistent. He plays like a possession receiver, but also has the upside to become more of a deep threat. He’ll be a main target in the OSU offense, and another season with Fields should help him put it all together. I chose the clip below to highlight his release, acceleration, and craftiness. You can see him use quick jab steps to generate inside leverage.
#11 - Tutu Atwell - Louisville
Atwell is a great field stretcher out the slot. He has blazing speed and can take the top off the defense, creating space for others underneath. He shows good route running skills, especially in his breaks. They’re sudden and quick, and he explodes out of them. He’s a great weapon on deep routes and he flashes electric talent after the catch. His weight and height are concerning and there will be durability questions. There are several areas of improvement for Atwell. While his route running is decent, he needs to keep improving how to work around defenders. I love his speed and if he can improve his vision as a runner, he can be a serious threat in space. Lastly, he needs to improve his ball skills. He showed weak hands and really struggled to catch outside his frame. I love his potential as a slot receiver, and he has the athleticism and route running skills to be a quality short and deep option. This is where he does his damage. He runs a skinny post out the slot and just accelerates past the safety, scoring a long TD.
#12 - Dazz Newsome - UNC
As a slot receiver, Newsome shows good prowess on deep routes. This ability to get open deep is very valuable. He’s able to separate with his speed and fluid cuts, and gets an extra boost when he hits his second gear. He displays great ball tracking, and once he has the ball he can outrun defenders for extra yards. However, there is a lot of growth needed in his route running. He lacks awareness and nuance, and he struggles to get defenders off his route path. Right now he mainly finds success on vertical and deep routes. He needs to prove he can be a reliable slot receiver who can get open consistently, especially on crucial 3rd downs. Check out this clip below. Dazz makes a great hesitation move and then bursts to separate from the corner. He shows good strength and ball skills to make the catch and score.
#13 - Charleston Rambo - Oklahoma
With CeeDee Lamb gone now, we'll get to see a lot more from Rambo. He has the skills and athleticism to become a solid Z receiver. He’s effective running a vertical route tree and has the speed to stretch the field. I think he flashes some really advanced route running skills, but he just needs to clean up his breaks and refine his technique. He’s explosive out of cuts and shows some complex moves on his release. He needs to be stronger in his routes and use his hands to fight off physical corners. I need to see him prove he can separate other than just running by players and show he can beat press. He’ll have the opportunity to prove himself this season. This play below highlights his speed . He just eats up cushion and runs by the corner on this deep post route.
#14 - Sage Surratt - Wake Forest
Surratt has grown man strength. It sometimes looks like he's playing with high schoolers. He does a great job of using his strength and ball skills to make plays. He runs with great strength and speed on deep routes and bullies smaller corners with his size. When the ball is in the air, he shows great body control and ball tracking skills to make the contested catch. Where he needs to grow is his route running and ability to separate. His route running right now is raw and his routes tend to be predictable. His breaks are sloppy and he doesn’t try to generate leverage on his angles. He’s able to get away with this now as he is usually much stronger against college corners, but once he gets in the NFL this playstyle won’t be as reliable. He'll need to prove he can separate. This play descirbes what he does. He'll struggle to separate, but it doesn't matter because he has the strength and ball skills to make the catch. He's fantastic in contested catch situations.
#15 - Tamorrion Terry - Florida State
For someone with his size and athleticism, I expected more. He flashes some big play ability and there is absolutely potential here. But his route running is very raw. His breaks are slow, and he doesn’t sink his hips. There’s really no attempt to set up his angles. Aside from his release and athleticism, he’s not able to separate. That can all be improved with another year of growth and development, but the one thing that scares me is his hands. There were way too many concentration drops in his tape, and his hands just looked weak. He is only a RS Junior, so he can play for 2 more seasons if needed, which I feel he probably will need. This clip highlights the upside with Terry. He's explosive and fast, and this combined with his size holds a lot of potential if he can refine his technique and become a more skilled receiver.
Display Image Credits
Ja'Marr Chase: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Rondale Moore: AJ Mast/Associated Press