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Ranking The Best Rookie Wide Receivers

AP Photo/Richard Shiro


NFL Scouting

Ranking The Best Rookie Wide Receivers

Last week we ranked the top rookie running backs going into the 2017 season and now it’s the wide receivers’ turn. Wideouts will always be in demand because without a good one your favorite team’s offense will resemble Carmelo Anthony in the NBA Finals. In other words, it won’t be there. Ok, that was harsh and I love Melo but the fact remains that receivers stretch the defense in ways no other position can and every team needs one. There was plenty of talent in this year’s draft at the wide receiver position and teams were quick to pounce. Three receivers went inside the top ten overall. Which receivers will make an impact in their inaugural seasons will be the biggest question surrounding this class. With hours of game tape analyzed and team rosters set going into OTA’s, I’ll predict which wide receivers will have the best rookie seasons.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s name alone warrants its own discussion. But that’s a topic for another article. Schuster was more than just a big name, he was a big-time producer at the University of Southern California. In his sophomore season, Shuster recorded over 1,400 yards on 89 receptions with 10 touchdowns earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

At 6’1’’ and 215 lbs, Schuster has the size and frame to go up with cornerbacks and compete. His biggest strengths are his physicality and body control when going up for jump balls and making contested catches. He also has a good understanding of zone coverages, knowing where to sit for easy completions. He will not beat you with overwhelming speed or quickness. However, he is the receiver you throw to on third down when you need to move the chains or in the red zone when you need a touchdown.

The only thing limiting Schuster will be opportunities early in his career. He’ll be joining the Pittsburgh Steelers who have perhaps the deepest receiving corps in the entire league. Targets will be hard to come by with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates all on the team. Schuster has all the talent to become one of the great wide receivers in the NFL, but coming into his first season he will most likely experience a redshirt year.

3. John Ross

Ross has been a figure in most of my post-draft articles and any talk of wide receivers should include the talented University of Washington product. At the NFL Combine, Ross broke Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record time with a blazing 4.22 second time. It’s sad he wasn’t wearing a pair of Adidas and thereby was ineligible to win his own island. Such a bittersweet victory. However, Ross is more than just a speedster without an island. He’s a legitimate NFL receiver that has all the tools to succeed.

Explosive might be the best word to describe Ross, but I’m sure if I check the thesaurus I can find a few more. The wideout beats corners immediately at the line of scrimmage with a quick first step. Defenses have no choice but to respect his blazing speed allowing underneath routes to open for him and his teammates. Ross also contributes on special teams as a kickoff returner with four returned for touchdowns in his college career.

The Cincinnati Bengals saw the talent in Ross and selected him with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Pairing him with A.J. Green gives the Bengals a dangerous one-two punch on the outside that opponents will have a tough time stopping. Ross will suffer from reduced touches with Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard all having established rapports with veteran Andy Dalton. However, it would not be surprising to see Ross become a key figure in this offense as the season wears on.

2.Mike Williams

Clemson has become a wide receiver factory over the past couple of seasons. Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant all hail from the University. Well, Dabo Swinney has another one. Yes, that was a D.J. Khaled reference. Anyway, Mike Williams will join the list of talented receivers to come out of Clemson and has a chance to be the best out of the bunch.

As a redshirt junior, Williams showed the production that every team looks for in their number one receiver. He recorded over 1,300 yards receiving on 98 receptions for 11 touchdowns on the national championship winning squad. He had four games where he recorded over 100 yards receiving and at least one touchdown. In the National Championship game against the best defense in college, Williams had eight receptions for 94 yards and a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown.

When you first turn on the tape for Williams, the first thing you notice is just how big he is. At 6’4’’ 218lbs, he is easily one of the biggest wide receiver prospects in the draft. Williams uses that size to make contested catches and redefine what a “50/50” ball is. He has the body control and catch radius to give quarterbacks a bigger margin of error. On the Los Angeles Chargers, he’ll have the benefit of playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Phillip Rivers. With Rivers throwing the ball, Williams will have an easier transition from college than most wideouts and will be a day one starter for the Chargers.

1. Corey Davis

Of all the wide receivers in the 2017 Draft, Davis has the arguably the highest ceiling. Davis has all the production you can ask for out of a college wideout. In each of his final three seasons, Davis recorded over 1,400 yards and at least 12 touchdowns. His senior season stood out as he recorded 1,500 yards on 97 receptions and scored 19 touchdowns. Davis earned First Team All-American and MAC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 and finished his college career as the all-time leader in FBS receiving yards by over 200 yards.

Davis uses has the size and speed combo to become a number one receiver in the NFL. At 6’3’’ 209lbs he has the burst and long stride speed to break away from defensive backs. He does an excellent job tracking then attacking the ball while it’s in the air. After the catch, Davis was perhaps the most dangerous receiver in college. He has a stiff arm that makes defenders rethink their decisions and can shake corners out of their cleats. Davis suffered an ankle injury that restricted him from participating in the pre-draft process but should be fine heading into training camp.

When Davis returns to the field he’ll be joining an up and coming team in the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have their quarterback of the future in Marcus Mariota and a workhorse running back in Demarco Murray. Davis provides them with a number one receiver who defenses must give attention to on every play. The Titians have only one veteran pass catcher, Delanie Walker and are in dire need of a receiver like Davis to come in and immediately change the complexity of this offense.