The NFL Draft is days away, and the wide receiver prospects this year don’t have an abundance of star power. But there are a lot of guys in the middle tier who could become quite productive if they land in the right system, and more than a few who could produce highlight plays at any given moment. Here are the 10 best receiving prospects in this year’s draft.
1. D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss
It’s possible, even probable depending on who you ask, that Metcalf won’t be the best wide receiver in this class. His bust potential is higher than most receivers at the top of draft boards. But as far as receiver prospects go, it’s harder to find a better one that Metcalf in any draft in the last five years. It’s almost impossible to overstate his athleticism; he can run 40 yards in 4.33 seconds, benched 225 pounds no less than 27 times at the combine, and has a 40-inch vertical. There are big question marks about his change of direction and injury history, and he certainly wouldn’t be the first athletic freak to wash out in the NFL. But if he can figure it out, he’ll be borderline unstoppable and the most dangerous weapon in the NFL. Someone that big and that fast carving up defenses only comes around once in a long time, and it’s hard to pass that up. Metcalf carries more risk than any other receiver, but if he pans out, he’ll be better than everyone else combined.
2. Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Similar to Metcalf, Brown’s bust potential is high, but for very different reasons. He’s a true burner that can leave anyone and everyone in the dust on a go route, but had Lisfranc surgery on his foot and is very small by NFL standards at only 5’9″, 166 pounds. Foot surgery is a big concern for someone who relies on speed like Brown, but if it didn’t impact his acceleration too much, Brown opens up every offense and can take it to the house on any given play. The comparison that keeps getting brought up is DeSean Jackson, and he has a while to go in that regard, but if he can reach his full potential, he’ll be just as dangerous as Jackson was in his athletic prime.
3. Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State
Butler leads the second tier of wide receivers, a crowded group in this year’s draft. He has as large of a catch radius as anyone in the league right now with a nearly 7-foot wingspan and massive hands, on top of being 6’5″ and 227 pounds. He gets off the line slowly, which will limit him in the early days as he adjusts to NFL-level press coverage, but he has a third gear that he kicks in on the back half of his routes that can surprise defensive backs. His size also makes him a threat to break off a big play whenever he has the ball in his hands. Butler has to make up for his lack of quickness with good positioning, but the ability to catch anything thrown in his general direction makes him valuable from day one.
4. A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Brown is a new-age slot receiver, standing at six feet tall with above-average athleticism and a solid frame that gives quarterbacks a good target to throw to. He was the most prolific receiver that Ole Miss has ever seen, and will leave the Rebels as the owner of the school’s single-season receptions, yards, and touchdowns records, as well as the leader in career receiving yards and 100-yard games. His route tree wasn’t very complicated at Ole Miss and he was often schemed open thanks to a bevy of quick slants, screens, and drags. But by all accounts, he’s a hard worker and a top-notch competitor, and will develop into a leader in the wide receiver room. Brown may not ever become a superstar, but he’ll be a highly productive slot receiver for whatever team he lands on.
5. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Harry is a prototypical big possession receiver who can, quite simply, go up and get it. He posted great numbers as a Sun Devil, and put up 73 catches for 1,088 yards and 9 TDs in 2018, averaging nearly 15 yards per catch all the while. He isn’t very quick off the line and will struggle against physical corners from the outset, but he’ll be a jump-ball specialist at a minimum, and a quality possession receiver with big-play potential if he reaches his ceiling. He has a lot of work to do in order to develop into a true No. 1 option on the outside, but a smart team could use his size in the slot to make him a productive option very quickly.
6. Kelvin Harmon, NC State
Harmon’s production and quality footwork, combined with his size, define his ceiling as a prospect. He isn’t quite as big or as good at the point of the catch as Harry or Butler, but his ability to shake corners at the line with short-area burst and technique sets him apart. He put up 2,665 yards and 16 touchdowns during his tenure at NC State, and plays with an edge that allows him to come down with contested catches over the middle and on the sidelines. His lack of straight-line speed puts a hard ceiling on his big-play ability, but he has the makings of a consistent outside option who could embody the “he’s open, even when he’s not” mantra that defines the great possession receivers of the NFL in a few years.
7. Parris Campbell, Ohio State
Campbell is an absolute burner of a receiver who made his living as a Buckeye with sweeps, screens, and go routes. His limited route tree at Ohio State will be a hindrance early on in his career, but a creative offensive coordinator will get Campbell in space and let him work. He’s a threat to take it to the house at any point and carve out big chunks of yardage after the catch with his explosiveness. He’ll need to work on technique and route-running to become a consistent contributor, but he’ll start his career as a gadget player with experience returning kicks, providing good value for a 2nd or 3rd round selection with big upside.
8. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
Samuel is a stocky, tough receiver with excellent route-running and footwork coming off the line. He projects to be a slot receiver at the next level with his shorter stature and ability to create space at the line with sharp and explosive short-area movement. His biggest draw is his ability to create yards after the catch, and few defenders can take him down in a one-on-one situation. He won’t have much of an impact outside the hashmarks, but he’s not afraid to go over the middle and make plays. His ceiling appears to be Julian Edelman-like production out of the slot with far more athleticism and the ability to make that last guy miss.
9. Riley Ridley, Georgia
The younger brother of 2018 first-round pick Calvin, Ridley doesn’t have the same big-play ability his sibling brings to the table, but is just as polished a route-runner. He doesn’t post big numbers at Georgia as a result of their scheme, but was the team’s leading receiver in most statistical categories. He’s an average athlete for a wide receiver but has good instincts and body positioning when he goes up for the ball and will be able to create separation through his footwork and technique from day one. Ridley doesn’t project to be a world-beater, but definitely has the potential to be a regular, consistent option for whoever is throwing him the ball.
10. Andy Isabella, UMass
Isabella is a classic small-school prospect that no one heard of until draft season, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he has a lot of potential. He’s an explosive athlete who is a threat to blow the top off the defense at any given moment and possesses elite agility that will allow him to create space wherever he is on the field. His stature and frame won’t get better, which limits his ceiling, but he has the potential to be a dangerous slot option who can’t be left one-on-one with even an average cornerback. Isabella produced at UMass and has the measurables of an productive and dangerous NFL wide receiver, but it wasn’t against top competition, and his lack of NFL size will prevent him from becoming a true No. 1 option at the pro level.