SMU's Courtland Sutton should be one of the first wide receivers off the board
The 2018 NFL Draft is set for April 26-28, so you still have time to get ready with the Athlon Sports 2018 Draft Guide. With 526 players ranked and needs outlined for every NFL team, it has everything you need.
Here's a sneak peek at our top five wide receivers in this year's NFL Draft:
1. Calvin Ridley
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’0” WEIGHT: 195
STRONG POINTS: His statistical production lagged the past two seasons while he played with a young, run-first quarterback in Jalen Hurts, but Ridley has improved since his 1,000-yard freshman season (when pocket passer Jake Coker was throwing to him), and he was the nation’s best receiver last season. Ridley is tremendously polished, showing an advanced understanding of route running. He’s a fluid mover who also explodes at the top of routes, creating separation with ease. He improved against press coverage last season — he has the quickness to escape the jam and makes better use of his hands to break free. He has the long speed to threaten downfield and is a natural tracking the deep ball. He also has strong hands and the body control to adjust to the underthrow and make acrobatic catches. He’s a catch-and-run threat as well, elusive with the ball in his hands, and a tough, aggressive runner.
WEAK POINTS: He doesn’t have ideal size for a No. 1 receiver, and NFL defenders will surely spend his rookie season trying to beat him up. He eventually learned to handle collegiate defenders trying to manhandle him at the line of scrimmage, but we’ll see if that translates to the next level (ex-Alabama wideout Amari Cooper’s inability to beat press coverage has slowed his development).
SUMMARY: He has the highest floor of any wideout available this year — if physicality at the line becomes a problem, Ridley could play the slot and thrive — and he has a chance to develop into a true No. 1 wideout. With an NFL quarterback throwing to him in a more traditional offense, he should put up the kind of big numbers that weren’t there in college the past two seasons.
FINAL GRADE: 1st round
2. Courtland Sutton
CLASS: R-Jr. HEIGHT: 6’3” WEIGHT: 215
STRONG POINTS: From a measurables standpoint, he’s the best this class has to offer — long-armed, broad-shouldered and strong throughout. He’s also a fluid athlete and a long strider who can threaten downfield. He’s extremely physical with big, strong hands and a large catch radius. He attacks in 50/50 situations and consistently wins due to his size and aggressiveness. He tracks the ball well and is consistent on high-point opportunities. He uses his big frame to box out defensive backs, leading to easy receptions when he’s facing the line of scrimmage. He’s a violent, physical runner with the ball in his hands and capable of shedding a tackle or two after the catch. He’s also aggressive and physical as a blocker, a plus for any team’s run game.
WEAK POINTS: From a physical standpoint, he’s more fast than he is quick. He doesn’t have a lot of suddenness off the line of scrimmage and doesn’t create a lot of separation underneath. He’s also very raw after playing in SMU’s simplified scheme. He ran a limited route tree and didn’t run any of his routes with a high level of precision. He tended to round off cuts and rely on his physical gifts to overwhelm defensive backs (non-Power 5 defensive backs, at that).
SUMMARY: Sutton’s upside is tremendous, although any team drafting him will have to be prepared for some growing pains. He’ll likely cost a top-40 pick and carries some bust potential considering the system he’s coming from. If developed properly, and paired with a quarterback who trusts a contested-catch receiver, he has the potential to be a Brandon Marshall-type, capable of making plays even when he’s covered.
FINAL GRADE: 1st/2nd round
3. Christian Kirk
COLLEGE: Texas A&M
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 5’10” WEIGHT: 200
STRONG POINTS: Like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Kirk’s numbers at A&M never matched his talent due to issues at quarterback. And, like Ridley, Kirk has a chance to be more productive at the NFL level. He’s a shifty, quick-twitch receiver who can create underneath separation with ease. He’s at his best in catch-and-run situations, showing the burst and elusiveness to create big plays once the ball is in his hands. And he runs tough once contacted, like a running back working in space. He has the long speed to threaten downfield as well, and he reaches that top gear quickly. He’s also a potentially elite punt returner — he returned six punts for TDs in college (with an eye-popping 22.0 career punt return average) and added a 100-yard kickoff return last season.
WEAK POINTS: He has some inconsistency at the catch point; Kirk is aggressive but too often lets the ball get into his body rather than snatching it. And along with less-than-ideal size for an outside target, he doesn’t always track the deep ball as well as you’d like to see. He lined up off the line of scrimmage often and motioned often, and press coverage could be an issue. After playing in A&M’s simplified spread system, Kirk will have something of a learning curve at the next level.
SUMMARY: His best fit is probably in the slot, where Kirk can take advantage of the two-way go and give defenses fits in the quick-strike game. Combined with his value as a return specialist, that would make him a huge asset for a team, and a guy who will turn in a handful of big plays. Any coaching staff expecting him to have an impact lining up wide might have more of a project on their hands.
FINAL GRADE: 2nd round
4. D.J. Moore
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 5’11” WEIGHT: 215
STRONG POINTS: Moore was a breakout star in 2017 despite Maryland’s constant revolving door at the quarterback position, and he showed that he could be an impact player in the slot or lined up wide. He’s an explosive athlete, ultra-quick off the line and able to easily escape the jam. He’s capable of creating underneath separation with ease. He’s sharp getting in and out of cuts and has the third gear to take the top off a defense. He’s tough to keep up with on crossers and over routes, anything where he can use his speed and acceleration to run away from the defender, and he shows the ability to adjust and dig out the poorly thrown ball. He excels after the catch, as a slippery runner with the balance and strength to consistently break tackles and turn short passes into big gains. He’s also an explosive enough leaper that he possesses a larger catch radius than his size would suggest; he can high-point the ball downfield, and he’s effective at using the subtle push-off to create late separation on the contested ball.
WEAK POINTS: His hands can be a little bit dicey, especially when working downfield. He too often double-catches the deep ball or lets it get into his body, due partly to poor ball tracking. Most of his best work came on bubble screens and similar short, catch-and-run touches. He’ll have to learn an extended route tree in the NFL.
SUMMARY: Moore has a lot of Golden Tate in his game, and he should provide similar run-after-the-catch capabilities with some limitations when it comes to a traditional route tree. He’ll likely do his best work out of the slot, but he can work outside as well.
FINAL GRADE: 2nd round
5. Simmie Cobbs Jr.
CLASS: R-Jr. HEIGHT: 6’3” WEIGHT: 220
STRONG POINTS: A long, strong and fluid receiver, Cobbs is one of the most physically impressive receivers in this class. He’s at his best in contested-catch situations. He has long arms and strong hands, and the long strides to cover ground quickly. He tracks the ball well down the field. He shows good footwork on the boundary. And he consistently keeps his hands down until the last moment to avoid tipping the ball’s arrival to defensive backs. He has a large catch radius, and he uses his frame effectively when facing the quarterback. He’s also a tough runner after the catch, capable of overpowering corners once the ball is in his hands and often requiring multiple defensive backs to drag him down. He had a solid showing against Ohio State when matched up with Denzel Ward, arguably the top corner in the nation.
WEAK POINTS: He’s a one-speed guy who doesn’t create any separation. He’ll get off the line of scrimmage due to size and strength, but he was rarely able to shake the top corners he faced, often drifting through his routes and relying on his size and physical gifts. His straight-line speed is good but not great, and he takes a while to build up to it. He’s not much of a lateral mover, either — it seemed most of his routes were a go, a stop or a crosser.
SUMMARY: He’s a bit like a less acrobatic DeAndre Hopkins — Cobbs will win even when he’s covered. But as a one-speed mover, he’ll have to prove he can make those plays against NFL corners, a skill that doesn’t always translate. He profiles as a starter on the outside with Red Zone value, but not a sure-fire No. 1.
FINAL GRADE: 2nd round
Other wide receivers that could get drafted: James Washington, Oklahoma State; Dante Pettis, Washington; Deon Cain, Clemson; Tre'Quan Smith, UCF; Anthony Miller, Memphis; Deontay Burnett, USC; DJ Chark, LSU; Auden Tate, Florida State; Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame; Allen Lazard, Iowa State; Antonio Callaway, Florida; Trey Quinn, SMU; Michael Gallup, Colorado State; Korey Robertson, Southern Miss; Darren Carrington II, Utah; Javon Wims, Georgia; Jordan Lasley, UCLA; Keke Coutee, Texas Tech; Jaleel Scott, New Mexico State, Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State; J’Mon Moore, Missouri; Cedrick Wilson, Boise State; DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State