With the 2018 NFL Draft now less than a week away, it's time to focus on another position group; the wide receivers.
This class of wideout's is one of the least hyped classes in years, largely due to the absence of a true perimeter star in the group. Whilst there may not be an absolutely clear cut, can't miss prospect in the style of Julio Jones or AJ Green, there are a bunch of pass-catchers who are ready to contribute immediately as a solid WR2's and slot receivers.
So, whilst the 2018 class isn't brimming with obvious stars, there is depth and value in the middle rounds where teams could find themselves a bargain. No receiver is likely to hear their name called until the middle of the first round, and there is a very real possibility that only one of the group goes off the board on day one in Dallas.
Though Alabama's Calvin Ridley has been the most common choice as the top pass-catcher in the class throughout the draft process, scheme-fit and personal preference will play a huge part in determining the order the top few guys come off the board. Ridley is far from a dead-cert to go ahead of SMU standout Courtland Sutton or even former Terrapins star DJ Moore, but he is viewed as the most polished, pro-ready prospect and that's why he kicks off our top five rankings at number one.
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Despite his suppressed numbers over the past two seasons playing in Alabama's run-first offense, Ridley's ability still found ways to shine through. His advanced route-running, elite ability to separate from defenders, and devastating speed downfield as a deep threat make him the most polished receiver in the class.
He averaged a career best 15.3 yards per catch in 2017, and his impressive college resume that includes 2781 career receiving yards, two All-SEC team selections and two national championships under Nick Saban will only enhance his standing amongst NFL teams.
Only five receivers ran a better 40-time than Ridley's 4.43 seconds at the combine last month, and though he lacks ideal WR1 size standing at 6'0 and 189lbs, his outstanding body control and outrageous short-area quickness should set his floor at one of the top number two's in football in years to come.
The 23-year-old was targeted on 33% of all passing plays when on the field in his time in Tuscaloosa due to his reliability and big play potential on deep balls and stunning yards-after-catch plays. That, coupled with his familiarity with a pro-style system under both Lane Kiffin and Brian Daboll, will make him a quarterback's best friend as a rookie.
Look out for the former Crimson Tide star to go off the board around picks 15-19 where the Cardinals, Ravens and Cowboys all need receiver help.
2. DJ Moore, Maryland
Moore is reportedly the top receiver on some teams' draft boards, and it's not hard to see why. His speed, strong hands and physicality shone in 2017 as he won the Big Ten receiver of the year award and earned an all-conference selection as a sophomore.
The former Terrapin set a school record for single season receptions with 80 and reeled off countless big plays. His 4.42 forty time at the combine proved he has top end speed, and that makes up for his lack of ideal height and length. Though he is the same height as Ridley, he is a much more physical and aggressive player at 210lbs and shares similarly elite short area quickness and ability as a deep threat.
Moore's talent as a runner in the open field make him lethal in yards-after-catch situations, and he even doubled as a punt returner in 2017 posting the third most return yards per punt in the Big Ten. He may end up operating largely out of the slot as a rookie, largely due to his limited route running abilities, but his big play ability will shine in this role. Jarvis Landry is a good NFL comparison for the Maryland prospect in this respect.
Additionally, he's received excellent references as a team first guy who won't give teams any headaches off the field. The Cowboys at number 19 could be a landing spot for Moore, particularly if Ridley is already off the board. Otherwise, there are a number of teams that could snag him in the mid to late first round including the Seahawks and Bills.
3. Courtland Sutton, SMU
The last of the trio that could realistically be the first receiver selected in the draft, Sutton might have more upside than anyone in the class as a true WR1. At 6'3 and 218lbs, he has ideal size on the perimeter, as well as an outstanding catch radius.
Sutton totalled 68 catches for 1,085 yards with 12 touchdowns in 2017, and was one of the most dangerous red zone threats in the college game. His ability to out-muscle defensive backs and go up and get 50/50 balls make him a constant big play threat, and he sheds tacklers with ease as a violent runner after the catch.
His willingness to block and put his body on the line catching passes in traffic are compounded by his large, durable frame, and he will win plenty of fans amongst his teammates for his no nonsense attitude on the field. Watching his college tap, it's clear that he does lack top end speed, but his long strides still allow him to get enough separation downfield given that his natural height and leaping ability mean he can haul in a lot of contestable passes.
The former Mustang standout needs technical work to become a smoother route runner though, and he will be more of a project than Ridley or Moore. But, if teams are drafting on potential, Sutton could be a slight surprise as the first wideout to hear his name called come draft night.
Again, the Cowboys could be the team to pull the trigger at number 19, but he could well be an early pick on day two if not.
4. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Kirk has a wealth of experience playing in the slot in College Station, and at 5'10 he projects to be an inside receiver in the NFL. His electrifying playmaking ability, as well as excellent route running and brilliance as a kick returner make him an attractive prospect. His potential as a gadget play guy will bring the more creative offensive coordinators great excitement and he could excel from day one in the right place.
He tested well at the combine, displaying his solid speed with a 4.47 forty time, strong hands in the gauntlet drill and elite agility. Teams seem to love Kirk's commitment and versatility, which earned him first team All American honours as a punt returner last season. He returned six punts for touchdowns in his three seasons with the Aggies and accounted for over 3000 all-purpose yards as a senior.
The shifty receiver was, like Ridley, also restricted in his production due to his quarterback situation and he should be a more productive pro than college player. Kirk's outstanding footwork and reliable hands will give him plenty of production early in his career, and he compares well to Packers receiver Randall Cobb.
A first round selection isn't likely for Kirk, though it's not out of the question, but he will provide excellent value as a day two pick.
5. DJ Chark, LSU
Chark's draft stock soared after putting in an eye catching performance at last month's combine. The latest top receiver prospect to come out of LSU, Chark blazed his way to a 4.34 forty yard dash and leapt to a huge 40 inch vertical, both positional bests at the event.
He has excellent size at 6'3 and in the right situation, could become one of the premier deep threats in the league with the ability to take the top off a defense with ease. His blazing speed and big play ability make him a mightily attractive prospect, but his sub-par route running and average hands could set him back early on while he still develops.
Chark also doubles as a dangerous return man and could add real value as a multi faceted contributor in his rookie year. His lean frame doesn't prevent him from catching balls in traffic and he's not shy of contact over the middle or getting stuck in blocking in the run game.
However, his inconsistencies and potentially limited route tree are concerning and as such, it's unlikely a team will be willing to spend a first round pick on him. Having said that, he has enormous potential, much like Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry coming out of the same school and he should go off the board early on day two.
There you have it, five explosive, intriguing prospects all with the potential to change offenses for the better in 2018. But, who will be the first receiver selected? And who will we look back on as the star of the class in a few years time?
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