June 14, 2021

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2021 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 25th, 2021

As you consume these rankings, please be aware that I’m not ranking the players based on the order I believe they’ll be taken, but instead my evaluation of their chances of success in the NFL. There are notable players that will be taken very high in the draft that I have ranked far below their respective draft order, though I will have those players much higher in my mocks.

1) Devonta Smith, Alabama; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 175

I mean, what more could you ask for? The first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991, Smith put on an absolute clinic at wide receiver for the National Championship winning Alabama Crimson Tide and nearly broke all of the championship game receiving records without playing for most of the second half. Smith incredible routes, wonderful speed, good moves on the first and second hook, and great body control. He creates instant separation in press coverage, locking up before bolting from the defender. Despite being small in frame, he has good strength and his gait makes him very tough to tackle. I don’t know what else you could want from maybe the best college receiver of all time.

2) Ja’Marr Chase, LSU; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 208

Chase took the 2020 season off for good reasoning and considering the tire fire that LSU turned into this season, it looks like an even better decision after the fact. Chase was one of the receivers who made Joe Burrow Joe Burrow in 2019, winning the National Championship and Biletnikoff Award that same year. He put up numbers similar to Smith (just in two more games) and displayed truly elite attributes. His speed is close to the best in the class and translates to quickness and agility, both used to lose defenders with changes of direction. His athleticism is also useful when high pointing the ball, out-jumping corners despite a similarity in size. One of the things I found to be most impressive was his ability to snag balls in any spot, especially tight windows. Pros, of course, to Burrow for delivering the pass, but Chase was still able to pick the ball out and use his acceleration to burn defenders soon after. That being said, I have a couple of concerns, but none of them too large. Off the snap I want to see him just go. Too often, especially in press, he stutter-steps for a second or two when he could be getting down field. He owns the speed and shiftiness to create space on his first move so he ought to be getting to it instead of trying to leave the defender at the line. Also, I didn’t like how he carried out his routes when the ball wasn’t too him. Both of those things could be ironed out, but they’re not things to ignore as improvements in both areas could help the player.

3) Jaylen Waddle, Alabama; Ht: 5-10 Wt: 182

It’s kind of funny (in a morbid way) that it took Jaylen Waddle being injured for Devonta Smith to win the Heisman when many people projected Waddle to be the better player at the beginning of the season. Waddle only played a few games this season before suffering a dislocated ankle, something that NFL teams will keep a close eye on leading up to the draft, especially after his uncomfortable showing in the National Championship game in which he could hardly move around. From what we saw before the injury we know that great speed and vision, good enough to double up responsibilities as a kick returner.He’s very talented moving laterally and like Chase, he’s great in tight windows. Waddle is a real challenge to tackle one on one because of his ability to move laterally and change direction. He tracks the ball well, he blocks, and he has good balance. I can’t really see anything in his game that would make him a liability, but that ankle is really concerning in my eyes and I want to see him fully healed before I move him around anymore.

4) Rondale Moore, Purdue; Ht: 5-9 Wt: 180

So Rondale Moore is either a cult hero for you or he’s a name you know because he absolutely dog-walked Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team and made that man quit his job. Either way, you almost have to like him. Moore is a smaller guy which might make some teams hesitate, but look at the teams in the Super Bowl this season, three of the five best receivers are 5’10. Size is no longer an inhibiting factor in sport, in fact it may be something to point at as an attribute considering the work needed to become so great at such a pedestrian size. Moore won the Hornung Award in 2018 as a freshman, posting 2,215 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns, all from scrimmage. He ran a ton of sweeps and jets and toss plays for Purdue this season and was again very productive, displaying great speed, vision, and acceleration. His shiftiness and ability to stop and start and change direction is the best in this wide receiver class and makes him hellish to tackle. Moore won’t break a lot of tackles but his small frame makes him tougher to bring down and he won’t succumb to arm tackles as evidenced in that game against the Buckeyes. He has a great first step, really good hands as a receiver, he’s a good route runner, excelling on digs and flats, and he’s just fun. I would like to see him work on ball security as a runner as well as his quick decision-making. In addition, his size doesn’t make him a good option to block, but any team asking him to block is using him incorrectly. There’s also some injury issues with the player, but it seems as though those are behind him. There’s massive upside to this player and his size shouldn’t be a factor when picking him.

5) Elijah Moore, Ole Miss; Ht: 5-9 Wt: 185

I was expecting Elijah Moore to look good coming into this season, but I never expected him to look THIS good, rising up the ranks in this fashion. Of course being in a Lane Kiffin offense helped Moore, but his raw skill and athleticism, coming out of the school that produced A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, are more than enough to persuade me. You can tell he’s brimming with athleticism when you watch him play, snagging balls out of places they shouldn’t be snagged, absolutely losing defenders with his moves, and blasting off the line. However, what makes Moore such a good player is his understanding of the defense. He has really nice vision that aids him as a ball carrier, weaving through defenders downfield, and his routes are perfect, adjusting slightly to miss a lurking spy or taking a cut one step deeper to thread between the secondary and linebackers. This player is an adept passing quarterback’s dream, especially in the middle of the field. Asking Moore to work through the line of scrimmage doesn’t suit his style of play and will yield poor results and his attitude can sometimes result in penalties (see 2019 Egg Bowl), but I’m not going to focus on the bad with this player. The upside is just too great.

6) Rashod Bateman, Minnesota; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 210

Bateman is going to be a really good receiver in the NFL for a couple of reasons. First off he displayed that he can carry a passing game on his own at Minnesota, making Tanner Morgan look competent. Second, he’s an absolute terror in between the seams, something that’s really rare in college. Minnesota felt confident throwing balls in front of safeties because Bateman was so good at getting open and holding onto those balls. His separation in that part of the field was not able to be ignored and drips with NFL potential. For the most part, that’s a result of him running routes well. He’s not extremely shifty, rarely losing players with hesitations or shakes, but instead making sharp cuts on his routes. That being said, his second move in sequences is often very good and can create really nice openings, but he’s just a safe player overall. He has great hands and prioritizes catching the ball, he gets both of his feet down, and he tracks the ball very well. It’s better to keep things simple for Bateman because he doesn’t excel with complicated routes and his lack of elusivity isn’t great, but otherwise I think he’s an awesome option. If you can get him to block with more regularity he can be a ridiculously talented player with huge value down the line.

7) Sage Surratt, Wake Forest; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 215

One of the first things that I noticed in Surratt’s tape was his strength. He’s a big dude to begin with, but his aggressiveness when blocking and dropping the shoulder on defenders makes me smile because he looked so much more like a man than the players around him. The other quality that leapt off the screen was his ability to create in space, consistently making his way around defenders with ease after the catch. As the only quality receiver on Wake Forest Surratt saw a fair number of double teams, though that rarely phased the player. His tracking makes it easy to locate passes that are inevitably coming his way and his speed, wonderful hesitation move, and ability to burn the coverage made it easy for Wake Forest quarterbacks to find him. He doesn’t drop passes he shouldn’t drop and he makes the most of his time with the ball. He’s a great player and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go early.

8) Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 190

Wallace was a player that I thought might go a bit higher on my rankings, but that not being the case is not an indictment on him, but instead a show of how deep this class is for a second year in a row. Wallace is easily the best receiver out of the Big 12 this season. His athleticism is wildly good, his ability to leap over anyone on the planet consistently earning him receptions. He’s not the fastest guy around but he does have enough speed to break away, though his first move creates enough distance that he doesn’t rely on his speed too often. He has good body control, especially noticeable when playing against a physical press coverage that tries, unsuccessfully, to knock him off his line, and when running after the catch, breaking tackles and picking up a ton of yards. He’s the player most likely to have circus catches on ESPN thanks to his athleticism. That has to count for something, right?

9) Seth Williams, Auburn; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 211

Williams is another player that I initially had much higher in the rankings but dropped a bit when others burst onto the scene. The Auburn receiver suffered a lot this season because he’s an Auburn receiver and his quarterback was an awful passer, but he was able to overcome those limiting factors and make his presence felt. One way he made his presence felt was his imposing frame, often towering over corners tasked with defending him. He pairs that with great leaping and general athleticism that made him a cheat code in college and a nearly impossible tackle in open space. Plus, he prefers to pick up yards instead of going out of bounds, bad news for secondary players trying to corral him to the sidelines. Another way he makes his presence felt is with his intelligence running routes. He finds soft spots in zones very well and sets up shop in them. He can zoom past defenders playing too close to him, making him a big threat downfield. He constantly makes slight adjustments in his routes to maximize the window to receive passes. He’s just a really, really solid player who ought to make an impact for a long time.

10) Dazz Newsome, North Carolina; Ht: 5-11 Wt: 190

Newsome was a key cog in a very impressive offense at North Carolina that scored points by the dozen and posted impressive numbers against everyone they played. Newsome was the lead receiver on that team and played effectively because of his speed. His double move into a change of direction was embarrassingly effective and if that didn’t lose a defender, his speed would. He tore the heart out of zones with his intelligence and his ability to process the game at a high level made him a threat when the quarterback scrambled as well as after the catch. He was also a nice threat downfield, consistently running past defenders who were waiting for a cut or move. He doesn’t drop easy balls, blocks well, and clearly puts the effort required into the game. He’ll be a very nice, versatile tool for some team.

11) Nico Collins, Michigan; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215

Nico Collins didn’t play in 2020 after opting to prepare for the draft but that didn’t really hurt his draft value in my book. Everyone needs to plan for their future and these players are no different. We don’t need to laud or punish anyone for making a decision, just grow up and let adults manage their own lives. Collins is clearly a huge player and that alone makes him a candidate to be picked as his big catch radius is a nice safety net. I felt as though Collins was widely underutilized at Michigan considering his prowess. He’s extremely speedy and uses his athleticism to win balls, either running away from or jumping higher than his defender. He can also lose his defender with change of direction, impressive for a player of his size. He likes to get into his defender before creating separation, not unlike Devonta Smith, but unlike Smith, Collins can get off schedule on his routes when doing that. I think he’s a really solid player who should flourish in the right system. He can go get jump balls and constantly makes an impact when used. There’s “focal-point-in-an-offense” potential here in my opinion.

12) Amari Rodgers, Clemson; Ht: 5-10 Wt: 210

I remember before the 2019 season when people were debating whether or not Clemson had the best wide receiver corps in the country with Amari Rodgers, Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins, and the like, an argument that was put to bed by the Fab 4 at Alabama. Regardless, those receivers were still great and made a huge impact. Rodgers was one of the more effective pass catchers in the ACC this season because Ross was out and Trevor Lawrence was throwing to him, but he still showed out enough on tape to get some looks. My first issue is that the player isn’t strong enough to out-physical corners and safeties. He has to get stronger to be used in a traditional receiving role. The second issue is… well I don’t have one. Outside of his size, there’s nothing wrong with this player. In fact he’s still a pretty good blocker, he just won’t be outmuscling anyone for a jump ball. Rodgers is extremely fast and uses that to create vertical separation, exploitable on the sidelines. That easy speed translates well to running routes both quickly and with intelligence, adjusting to be open for longer. He’s very conscious of his footwork which makes him even more menacing when tracking his movement. He’s tough to bring down as well, meaning he’s consistently picking up yards after the carry that puts the defense inton disadvantageous situations. He loses his defender with ease and that’s going to draw a lot of eyes in scouting departments.

13) Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 195

I know, I know, I have the Egyptian sun god way lower than everyone else, but I’m just not as enamored by his play as everyone else is. I’ve seen a lot of mocks with St. Brown going in the first round but I don’t think that’s right for a couple of reasons. He’s really raw to the center of the field and is a bit situational in some cases. In addition, his routes don’t lose guys and that’s a huge indictment at this point in his career. If you’re taking a guy in the first round who can only get separation sometimes, you ought to be fired. I think the player gets a bump because his brother is a very good player from Green Bay, but I don’t think he’s great individually. In fact, I initially had him way lower than this and had to talk myself into making him a higher pick as is. But I don’t want it to seem like I think he’s a bad player, because he isn’t. He’s not great, but he’s super raw and getting him ironed out could make his value that of a first-rounder in the future. He has some good moves and the athleticism to do anything. Speed, quickness, acceleration, it’s all good. He can come out of any slot and run any route tree you as of him, he just has issues in some of the areas of the field. He struggles in the middle of the field and tips a lot of balls, some resulting in interceptions like in the UCLA game. He does his best work to the sidelines which is fine, but if that’s the case then he’s going to be played as such and become ineffective. He has great hands and runs a great vertical route, but there’s a lot to work on here. You’re not supposed to be working on physical aspects of the game in the NFL, only conceptual layering. Sure you can get stronger and faster once you’re there, but you already need to be polished and I don’t think ARSB is yet.

14) Warren Jackson, Colorado State; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 215

Jackson is the tallest receiver I scouted size-wise this season and though that can often be lost on a player who doesn’t really take advantage of it, that’s not the case for Jackson. He took the 2020 season off to prepare for the draft and it’s easy to see why. Not only is he a big player, but he’s a good jumper with vice grip hands. Colorado State often just threw him the ball at the line to gain and immediately began walking like a pro golfer with a good drive, the catch was that sure of a thing. He’s so tough to bring down because he’s so strong and he can sustain big hits without being hampered. He’s not a super fast guy and he’s not going to weave through traffic for a wild touchdown, but he’s going to catch the ball and get yards. He runs good routes and blocks when it isn’t his time and makes good decisions. He won’t be a number one guy but he’ll make a good living as a red zone and jump ball threat at the very least. He’s a huge dude and extremely reliable which is good enough to see him taken.

15) Marlon Williams, UCF; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 215

UCF has put out some really nice players in recent seasons and Williams is going to carry on that legacy as a wide out. Williams was used a lot in stack formations and wide receiver screens, plays that I’ve never really loved, but ones he did well in. He ran good routes downfield and utilized very good speed, a big trend out of UCF, to find space in the defense. He’s a really smart player and does well to get open when the quarterback scrambles. Like many good blazers Williams can get space vertically and when he gets the ball he can hit like a bowling ball. He has secure hands and nice routes and speed enough to be a quick and versatile threat downfield.

16) Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 179

Smith-Marsette played his college ball at Iowa which is something of a red flag when it comes to anything but tight ends and offensive linemen, but his skills are real. His routes are impeccable and sharp and his five yard out is the best in the class. Part of that route running is attributable to his quickness and ability to change direction, often using body hints to manipulate defenders into bad positions. He owns some of the best moves in the country and getting open as often as he does makes him an easy target to pick up quick yards. I like the thought of him running three yard slants, boundary outs, and short digs to pick up consistent first downs.

17) Jaelon Darden, North Texas; Ht: 5-9 Wt: 174

If there was another player in the country that you want to watch put up gaudy numbers aside from Devonta Smith, look no further than Jaelon Darden from North Texas. He was probably the receiver I had the most fun watching film on, constantly making guys look fooling with his movement. He’s ridiculously shifty and moves around like you’re controlling him with a keyboard. He creates separation with his speed to all fields and has hands reliable enough to be used often in an NFL offense. He’s really smart and finds plenty of holes and seams to extend his runs and score touchdowns plus recognizes defenses and puts on fantastic double moves when he sees man coverage or a single high safety. Going back to those numbers, Darden played in just nine games and posted 74 receptions, 1,020 yards, and 19 touchdowns. Yeah, over 25% of his catches went for a touchdown. That’s insane. Watch some North Texas, you won’t regret it.

18) TJ Vasher, Texas Tech; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 215

We’re finally circling back around to the Big 12. Texas Tech had a dude equal in size to Warren Jackson, just with worse hands. That’s not to say that Vasher has necessarily bad hands, they’re just not nearly as solid as those of some of the top end players on this list. There’s room for improvement. Vasher also doesn’t have great speed, but for his size it’s alright. Again, could be better. However, that size is going to cover up a lot of potential flaws because he can really take advantage with it. He’s a better leaper than Warren Jacksois and might have a bigger catch radius. His lack of consistent targets says a lot about his true receiving skills, but he’ll be fine either way. He gets both of his feet down and should be a consistent candidate to headline the “Moss’d” segments.

19) Rico Bussey Jr., Hawai’i; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 190

I wasn’t able to find too much film on the Rainbow Warriors this season, but when I did I was impressed by Rico Bussey Jr. every time. Hawai’i didn’t have its usual dynamic offense this season which is fine, but Bussey made a big impact when he was on the field. He has very good speed and he’s a quick and good decision maker. He won’t be blowing anyone away with athleticism, but he’ll be a good, consistent target for someone. He has great, great hands which can be attributed to both his ability to create open looks and his tracking ability, also very good.

20) Whop Philyor, Indiana; Ht: 5-11 Wt: 180

Philyor has some of the best hands in the draft in any aspect. If you’re taking away anything from this player, let it be that. Great, great hands. He also produces sharp routes with shiftiness, good speed, and solid moves. In fact, he can create space on the first step of his routes, something that other great receivers on this list would kill for. Philyor is also a smart player who settles into zones and does well when space is given to him, though I doubt his vision despite his time spent as a return specialist. My biggest issue is that he’s a noncommittal runner which means he takes a long time to make decisions with the ball in his hands, often resulting in less yards than he should have. If he gets that straightened out he’ll be a very nice player.

Other Draft Material

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