Making a start on the 2023 NFL Draft season, Owain Jones takes a look at some of the hottest names who are draft eligible heading into the college football season.
Continuing our Summer Scouting, getting ready ahead of the new college football season, our attention now turns to the wide receiver position.
The NFL has been blessed with class after class of elite wide receiver prospects, but do we think 2023 may be different?
The 2023 NFL Draft eligible wide receiver class is talented and has many different styles within it. From the off set it is difficult to find a Ja’Marr Chase type prospect. The high level elite talent that we have become accustomed to seeing draft season after draft season. But, there are names that are 1st round calibre and whatever type of receiver your team will need, chances are there is one to their fancy in this year’s NFL Draft eligible class.
Of the wide receivers scouted, the grading is extremely close. That is because they all offer something different to the others. It is why grading with wide receivers can be tricky. It is difficult to compare a small slot receiver who is extremely twitchy and elusive with a big long outside receiver.
Nevertheless we look to patch it all together for you and here are some of the names you should be watching this upcoming season.
1. JORDAN ADDISON – USC – 5’11” 175 lbs
The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner tops the list of wide receivers for us heading into the new college football season. Not only was Addison one of the top receivers in college football at Pitt in 2021, but, after transferring to USC ahead of 2022 it is easy to project great things for him.
The one thing that stands out the most about Addison is the word separation. He is open in space all the time. But he has multiple strings to his bow. He can get open because of his exceptional footwork, speed and twitched up route running. Addison also possesses good length, but also sticky hands and he can pull the ball down from anywhere. His catch radius is even more promising given his small and slight frame. He is slippery after the catch and is able to evade and escape tackles with ease.
In a wide open 2023 NFL Draft eligible receiver class Addison has an elite trait in his ability to separate which is easy to bank on. One of the most exciting receivers in college football in 2021 will be even more exciting to watch in 2022.
2. KAYSHON BOUTTE – LSU – 6’0” 205 lbs
An extremely impressive athlete, Boutte is one of the top receivers in college football right now. Speed, smoothness and a strong receiver, Boutte can win when slotted in anywhere.
His style is smooth and effortless and everything flows really well. Boutte has true track star speed which you can see at every level of the football field. He had the fastest 200 meter time nationally in high school and it translates over exceptionally.
Not only is he fast, but he is silky too. He is twitchy and able to make defenders miss after the catch; he has strong, dependable hands and is able to create separation for himself through his speed and field vision.
Some will have Boutte as WR1 and it is easy to see why. If he can continue to show his strong hands and lively ball skills while remaining injury free through 2022 he has a chance to go extremely high come the 2023 NFL Draft.
3. JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA – Ohio State – 6’0” 198 lbs
Jaxon Smith-Njigba follows a line of success in the Ohio State program when it comes to wide receiver. Both his teammates in 2021, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, were drafted early in the 2022 NFL Draft. But, Jaxon Smith-Njigba was called the best receiver on that team by both of them. That’s some praise.
As a player Smith-Ngiba is a savvy, crafty receiver who seems to do everything right and has a polished, uncomplicated, glossy finish to his game. He is a fantastic route runner, where he displays nuance and manipulation to get his desired outcome and it works almost every time. He is a space finder during the route and after the catch where he has superb stop/start ability and change of pace.
While he isn’t overly explosive and doesn’t have the top end speed that others in this class have, it is his decision making, how he reads the field and intelligence that really makes him stand out. He could be in the NFL right now and notch up 1000 yards without much problem.
A devious, cunning receive, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is rightly sitting towards the top of the 2023 NFL Draft eligible rankings.
4. QUENTIN JOHNSTON – TCU – 6’4” 212 lbs
Quentin Johnston is a rangy, long receiver who has fantastic athletic ability for a man of his stature. He also has the physical profile to match his unique size where he can fight and combat defenders and his elite catch radius gives him a huge advantage.
A massive 6’4” Johnston has elite height and length. It gives him a huge catch radius and the ability to come down with any ball. He can simply stretch over receivers and pluck the ball out of the air. He can create and manipulate tight contest catch situations and leverage his body. But, Johnston is more than that.
For his size Johnston is unbelievably athletic. His explosiveness and speed is surprisingly immediate and rapid. While he also has the ability to be wily after the catch where he can use his squirmy abilities to wriggle defenders and find open space.
While it would be good to see him develop his route tree in 2022 and to see him refine his route running a little more, making his cuts sharper. Johnston is a player who it is impossible not to like and a big year could well be ahead for him.
5. JERMAINE BURTON – Alabama – 6’0” 200 lbs
Jermaine Burton may not be a name you are familiar with. In only 2 seasons at Georgia he has only 53 receptions for 901 yards and 8 touchdowns. But, in a Georgia scheme that prioritises the run and utilises their tight ends heavily, Burton was extremely under utilised.
In order to maximise his potential Burton has bet on himself and transferred to Alabama ahead of the 2022 college football season. In a much more wide receiver friendly scheme he could be poised for a huge year.
Burton has some great traits to bet on. Good size, he is skittish and fidgety in space, he is explosive out of his stance, sudden, physical and athletic.
The obvious need for Burton is for him to get more meaningful reps and game time. He should get that at Alabama. At his time at Georgia he was never thrown the ball despite being open. That won’t happen at Alabama with a friendly scheme and much better quarterback in Bryce Young.
In terms of Burton’s grade and outlook, at this moment it is all projection. But he displays great traits that you can bank on and he could be in for a huge year for the Crimson Tide.
6. ZAY FLOWERS – Boston College – 5’11” 177 lbs
Zay Flowers is more than a wide receiver. He is an electric, dynamic offensive weapon. He may be on the small side, but that can play into his advantage given his powerful, potent and progressive play style.
Flowers plays the game at 100 mile an hour and his fiery explosiveness and restless, peppery elusiveness makes him a game changing tone setter. He has the stop start ability and all the skill moves to sell his snappy and agitated routes but his best work comes after the catch. His YAC ability makes him a big play waiting to happen. Flowers’ instant acceleration gives him separation, then he can use his fantastic vision to work his way through the open field. His change of direction makes him a tackle breaker and his movement and footwork make him greasy and slippery to get a hold of.
Now Flowers does have some drops which can be rectified by concentrating a bit more at times. It seems he can get ahead of himself, thinking what he is going to do after the catch before securing it.
But, Flowers has the essence and quality of an NFL receiver who will be converted.
JOSH DOWNS – North Carolina – 5’10” 171
Downs is a small, elusive, creative slot receiver. He has decent speed and can transition and pulsate through the gears quickly, he creates exceptional separation by using his excellent body control and he has the skills and change of direction to construct his own route and generate imbalance in opposing defences.
He of course lacks size, which means that he isn’t a contested catch receiver, you want to give him the ball in open space and let him go to work. But he has the essential qualities to turn games on their head at any moment.
PARKER WASHINGTON – Penn State – 5’10” 212
Parker Washington is a reliable slot receiver who excels after the catch. His YAC ability means he can turn checkdowns and dump offs for big chunk gains. He is slippery and jittery with the ball in hand and he has really good footwork to evade tackles.
A.T. PERRY – Wake Forest – 6’5” 206
A.T. Perry has a huge size profile which lends itself to him being an extremely good contest catch receiver. But his size and length also make him a great red zone threat. On film he lacks some speed which means he can not separate from receivers the way others can, but if he can add to his resume and route tree in 2022 then he will be a player to look out for.
Cedric Tillman – Tennessee, Marvin Mims – Oklahoma, Rakim Jarrett – Maryland, Ainias Smith – Texas A&M, Dontay Demus – Maryland, Dontayvion Wicks – Virginia
You can view our 2023 NFL Draft running back preview here!