If you’re a team in need of a wide receiver in this year’s NFL Draft, you’re in luck. The 2017 draft will feature some talented receivers in not just the first and second round, but even in the latter rounds.
There are a couple of players that stand out among the rest at the position. While there isn’t a big name that’s generating a lot of buzz, there are plenty of talented prospects to keep an eye on. Here are the top five receivers in the 2017 NFL Draft heading into this week’s (Feb. 28-March 6) Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
1. Mike Williams, Clemson
DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are two former Clemson receivers that have had a lot of success in the NFL. Williams hopes he can continue that trend.
As a junior, Williams recorded 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his efforts, Williams was named second-team All-American by several outlets and first-team All-ACC by both the media and coaches.
Williams has the look of an NFL receiver at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. He also has the strength and vertical speed to gain separation from his defenders.
Williams also has the arms and hands to obtain the ball at its highest point. His neck injury in 2015, which caused him to miss most of the 2015 season is a bit of a red flag. While Williams does need to work on his route running, he has the talent to be a Pro Bowl receiver for many years to come.
2. John Ross, Washington
Ross broke out in a big way last season, finishing with 81 receptions for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns (tied for third in the FBS). Those numbers not only helped him earn first-team All-Pac 12 and second-team All-American recognition, they also helped the Huskies win the Pac-12 and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Ross isn’t a big receiver (5-11, 190), but he can blow the top off a defense with his blazing speed, which makes him dangerous in the open field and a threat to score any time he touches the ball. He also possesses good hands, which is a must to succeed in the NFL.
Ross did struggled getting open against Alabama’s cornerbacks in the Playoff semifinal, finishing with just five catches for 28 yards. He also has a history of knee injuries, so teams will be looking over his medical records thoroughly.
Provided his surgically repaired knees hold up and let him show off his speed and athleticism, Ross’ big-play ability and upside will no doubt appeal to scouts and team executives.
3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan
A four-year starter for the Broncos, Corey Davis was one of the most productive receivers in college football history. His 5,285 receiving yards is the most in FBS history.
Last season, Davis had 97 catches for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns, which was tied for the most in the FBS. At 6-foot-3, Davis has the ideal height scouts look for and he excels when it comes to route-running.
One knock on Davis is that he doesn’t have top-end speed, and he did have some issues when it came to drops. The latter is something he can continue to work on though and doesn’t appear to be a big negative.
Playing for a MAC school, Davis will have to shed the small school label, but his game tape speaks for itself and unless something goes horribly wrong at the Combine, he should be well positioned to establish himself as a first-round pick. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he ends up being the first wide receiver selected.
4. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
As a junior college transfer, Westbrook quickly made an impression at Oklahoma. In his first season in 2015, he was named Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year after catching 46 passes for 743 yards and four touchdowns. Turns out, he was just getting started, as Westbrook exploded for 80 catches, 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, winding up a Heisman Trophy finalist in the process.
Westbrook may not look imposing at 6-foot and 170 pounds, but he makes up for it with his above-average speed and ability to make plays. He is at his best when running downfield, vertical routes. Westbrook also returned kickoffs and punts for the Sooners.
Westbrook’s frame may raise some red flags with NFL teams wondering whether he can hold up through a 16-game schedule. There also are some character concerns stemming from him being arrested twice (2012, ’13) on domestic violence charges, although they were eventually dropped in both cases.
On the field, Westbrook appears to have the necessary tools to play at the next level. Showing those in the Combine should only help his draft stock.
5. Zay Jones, East Carolina
Statistically speaking, Jones was one of the most accomplished receivers in college football history. The second-generation football player (his father, linebacker Robert Jones won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s), set the NCAA record for most receptions in a career with 399 and he also set the single-season record with 158 in 2016.
Jones has good size (6-2, 202) and arguably possesses the best hands of this entire draft class, as he has a highlight reel full of plays of him going up and grabbing the football out of the air at its highest point. He also is known for having a high football IQ.
He doesn’t have game-breaking speed and some of his peers are built a little sturdier. Jones projects to be an excellent slot receiver in the NFL. He was ridiculously productive target in college and should be at minimum a dependable pass catcher in the pros. Like Corey Davis, Jones also played in a non-Power Five conference, but that aloneshouldn’t hurt his draft stock too much.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.