Hello all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year when hot takes are all the rage and us nerds get to wax poetic about what those silly NFL GMs should do at the end of April. I have put together my top 15 wide receivers for you using a combination of production metrics and film. Without getting too technical, my process is to group players into tiers based on breakout age and other college production metrics which and project draft capital and expected upside then refine those rankings within a tier by watching them play.
This list reflects who I would prefer in a vacuum on talent alone. Of course NFL draft capital and landing spot will come into play, but I think we should pick players on talent first and the other factors are more like tie-breakers rather than a major consideration. All metrics come from the campus2canton.com data app.
A Personal Note on Pro Days
For WRs it has been shown that most athletic metrics do not help us project fantasy success. For my evaluation, I want to see at least the minimum athletic ability to perform in the NFL which for a forty yard dash is about <4.6. Extremely athletic testing is nice but unless its coupled with on-field production I am unlikely to move a player up because he ran a 4.2 forty or jumped 46 inches.
These testing numbers do impact NFL decision makers, however. Despite plenty of data to the contrary, GMs still seem to be wowed by a track star more than a quality football player at the skill positions. So, if these numbers matter for how teams rank players, it impacts projected draft slot, and therefore we must consider it.
Perceived changes in draft capital will be the main reason combine results change my rankings. For example: I won’t think of Henry Ruggs III differently if he runs a 4.13. But that result could send shockwaves through the NFL and all of a sudden we’re hearing he’s a top 10 lock. That matters more than the forty time itself, and could impact the post-combine ranking.
WR1 – Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (6’0” 207)
In 2019 Chase had one of the greatest statistical seasons in history. His 84-1780-20 line is 2nd best ever in the FBS for a 2nd year wide receiver behind only Michael Crabtree’s ridiculous 134-1962-22 campaign in 2007. From a metrics standpoint, Chase is a little less impressive as he accounted for a 30% market share of LSU’s yards and touchdowns which is certainly excellent and meets thresholds for a teenage breakout but it’s not quite a legendary mark.
Of course, he did achieve that level of production with Justin Jefferson who just set the NFL rookie receiving record in 2020. Not too shabby. Chase is a tenacious receiver and forces his will on opponents. He can win at the catch point and he can make house calls if he gets a lane with easy 4.4 speed. The main knock on Chase is that he may invite too much contact at the NFL level and het caught up with defensive backs.
I like his mentality in a player. He absolutely has the skill set to be an alpha receiver in the NFL and bully his way to mountains of fantasy points. Learning a little more technique at the line of scrimmage may be helpful but I have no concerns that Ja’Marr Chase will be a week 1 impact rookie in 2021.
WR2– Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (5’10” 183)
Waddle just keeps rising for me as questions mount for other receivers. He’s small-ish at first glance but right on the cusp of an Antonio Brown or Tyreek Hill build. His BMI is over 26 and that’s bigger than most of the other top receivers in this class. I have no concerns that Waddle can play outside or inside, and be an explosive and dynamic weapon.
His play speed is unparalleled and do not be mistaken: Jaylen Waddle can win in the air. He has a “my ball” mentality and I have been saying since last season that he is the most complete of all the talented receivers at Alabama over the last few years. As a true freshman he registered 2 yards per team pass attempt, which is an excellent mark for that age. In year 2 he did not perform to the same level but did have an elite season as a punt returner. Finally, as a junior Waddle was outperforming the senior Devonta Smith over the first 4 games. Waddle had an average line of 6.3-139-1 to Smith’s 9.5-121-1.
WR3 – Elijah Moore, Mississippi (5’9” 185)
I have been extremely excited about “the other” Moore for quite some time, and even so I never expected to have him this high heading into the draft. With Rondale Moore coming in so small and DeVonta Smith being a 4th year player, Elijah Moore rises above because I don’t think he has any major questions. He checks virtually every box one could ask him to, and it’s becoming clear that he will in fact have the draft capital to boot.
The only knock is that he may be a slot specialist in the NFL, but the players right behind him also share similar concerns regarding route tree or ability to beat press coverage. If any of the non-elite receivers are going to need to be moved around and put in favorable situations to win, I’ll take the teenage breakout in the SEC without injury concerns who achieved a truly elite 40% weighted dominator rating (wDR) as a sophomore. The wDR is a metric that measures a player’s market share of his teams production with 80% emphasis on receiving yards and 20% on touchdowns. Moore is absolutely electric and has an unbelievable first step after the catch. Oh, and uh, Lance Zierlein compared him to Antonio Brown.
WR4 – Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (6’0.5’ 190)
I think BMI Twitter can go overboard but Bateman’s weight of 190 is less than ideal. I still really like him as a prospect, and the age-adjusted production is truly outstanding. However, coming in this light does throw some cold water on his fantasy ceiling.
Now for the good: Bateman has one of the best sophomore seasons on record from a market share perspective and boasts excellent route running and nuance at the position. I think he can be a target hog, alpha receiver if everything works out perfectly. Before the weigh-in I thought he was the closest thing to a Davante Adams or DeAndre Hopkins in this class, and maybe he still is. But both of those players are over 210 pounds, which is a common characteristic for true WR1s for fantasy.
WR5 – DeVonta Smith, Alabama (6’1” 170)
The first senior on the list is the polarizing Smith. He may be a unicorn but the facts are that in recent history, the best NFL receiver who stayed all 4 years at a major college is Tyler Lockett. A Lockett ceiling is nothing to sneeze at but I don’t want to rank that profile at WR1 or 2 when there are some more exciting options available.
Smith shows excellent skills including but not limited to route running, quickness, long speed, tenacity, and even making contested catches. He really does display an array of talents and on film there isn’t much to pick at. However the problem is that Smith broke out late in his career and did not receive a high enough grade to leave early as a junior. Regardless of what you think about his film, those are major concerns in his profile. And notice I didn’t even mention his BMI.
WR6 – Rondale Moore, Purdue (5’7” 180)
One of the most difficult player to place in this draft is Rondale. On one hand, he has one thing that no other receivers can claim which is a 30% wDR as a true freshman in a power 5 conference. Players that do that have an unbelievable 75% change at being drafted in the top 3 rounds of the NFL draft since 2006. Two members of this club were not drafted before day 3 and one is Stefon Diggs while the other is Mike Dudek who tore his ACL and was never the same.
If you can look past his size, it helps to envision a Percy Harvin type player. He’s not going to be a dominant outside player but if a team will force feed him the ball as a playmaker then special things will happen. My main concern is whether an OC will make that a priority. He saw tremendous volume at Purdue so there is hope he can command that at the next level.
WR7 – Dyami Brown, North Carolina (6’ 195)
Dyami Brown wins down the field and he averaged an amazing 20 yards per reception as a sophomore and junior. While he tested fast, he does not win with pure speed, instead he shows nuanced releases off the line and the ability to create separation through deception. Major flaws are concentration and aggressiveness to attack the ball in the air. I would like to see more play strength for Brown.
Brown was close but never quite got to a 30% wDR rating which I’d like to see, however he was consistently great over the past 2 seasons. His 3.05 yards per team pass attempt in 2020 is excellent. The mark is better than what Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and Calvin Ridley posted in their junior years. Additionally, it’s in striking distance of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones. Dyami Brown will be a steal in real life and your dynasty drafts.
WR8 – Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State (5’11” 193)
Another receiver who was supposed to lead this class has dropped as we approach the finish line. Wallace now falls into the unfavorable bucket of 4th year players although you could give him a pass for remaining in school after missing his 3rd year with injury. He was sensational as a sophomore, posting a wDR of close to 40%. Even while only playing 9 of 13 games in 2019, he had a wDR over 30% which most players struggle to hit playing in every game.
He is the opposite of Dyami Brown in teams of play style. Wallace thinks every ball is his and is fearless when attacking catches. He has a reasonable frame and great play strength to succeed in the NFL. Wallace has a very high ceiling should everything click. As long as he is selected on day 2 I am high on him as an excellent value pick in this deep wide receiver class.
WR9 – Terrace Marshall, Jr., LSU (6’4” 200)
This will be a low ranking for Marshall according to many people, however I came away less than impressed with his tape. His age-adjusted production is also not elite, however the “team mate” argument applies as he was fighting with 2 exceptional talents in Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase most of his career. In 2020, Marshall torched the SEC with an incredible touchdown rate and hit a 33% wDR in the games played before opting out.
I am concerned Marshall has a limited skillset and had a lot of success running deep, uncontested routes down the seam out of a slot position. I did not see him winning with much technique, in fact most plays I didn’t see him needing to even use releases or breaks. It feels like a lazy comp, but I see D.J. Chark or Charger Mike Williams in his game and think he’s best suited as a complimentary Z receiver, limiting his fantasy upside.
WR10 – Amon-Ra St. Brown, Southern Cal (6’ 197)
I think Amon-Ra St. Brown does many things well but does not possess one elite quality. He is the first on this list that I can’t get excited about any single aspect of his game. St. Brown’s best quality is savvy route running and instincts. Usually I admire these qualities but he never used them to dominate the Southern Cal receiver room.
His best age-adjusted season was his freshman year when he posted a 24% wDR, which is an above average number. Since then however, his marks have been about average for a future NFL fantasy WR2, a trend that is ominous. He did have a quality player on the field with him in Michael Pittman Jr, however in the COVID-shortened season sophomore Drake London actually outgained St. Brown. He is a high floor, low ceiling prospect who I project contributing at the NFL level but not becoming a fantasy stud.