2017 NFL Draft: Top 5 Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

By Frank Coppola

Value – This is the round/pick that I believe the player should be drafted based on his talent, potential, and overall ability.

Projected Pick – This is the round/pick that I believe the prospect will be selected by an NFL franchise in the 2017 Draft.

Wide Receivers:

 

  1. Corey Davis (Western Michigan)

Strengths:

  • Displayed consistent production at Western Michigan while posting between 1,400 and 1,500 receiving yards in each of the 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons; FBS all-time leader in career receiving yards with 5,278 in four seasons
  • Polished route runner who can shake defenders on his release with head fakes and quick footwork and accelerates to create separation
  • Physically dominant redzone threat with the height and vertical ability to high point the football and win 50-50 throws; has the reliably to catch passes in traffic (52 career receiving touchdowns)
  • Makes smooth cuts with strong plant foot when running routes in order to fool defenders and provide openings for the quarterback
  • Can be very productive after the catch; speedy receiver with the agility to capitalize on running lanes and gain extra yards
  • Fits as both an NFL deep threat and a slot receiver; possesses the ball skills and acceleration to run streak routes down the sideline as well as the speed and agility to create space between the hash marks

Weaknesses:

  • Concerns arise because of his decision to abstain from all drills and workouts at the NFL Combine and Western Michigan’s Pro Day
  • Can afford to commit to deep routes more aggressively to harness speed and create extra separation
  • Will have to develop his physicality when facing press coverage on his release; often was given room to work with corners who played 5-10 yards off the line of scrimmage
  • Struggled with dropped passed (16 total drops in 2014-2016)

Value: Top 15

Projected Pick: Top 20

 

  1. Mike Williams (Clemson)

Strengths:

  • Prototypical height (6’4’’), arm length (33 3/8’’), and hand size (9 3/8’’) for an NFL number one receiver
  • Uses hands aggressively to fight off early contact from corners and avoid being slowed down or thrown off course; strong release off the line to blow past defensive backs and gain separation
  • Elite ability to high point passes and out jump defenders to make catches on deep routes and in the redzone; sets feet, squares shoulders, and times passes perfectly to beat defensive backs in one-one-on situations
  • Tremendous catching ability with reliable hands on tight window passes; ability to make plays in all areas of the field
  • Able to handle a high quantity of offensive usage; 98 receptions in 2016 led all Power 5 receivers and 1,361 receiving yards accounted for 27.2% of Clemson’s total passing yards

Weaknesses:

  • Not a dynamic runner with the ball in his hands; can fight for extra yards with power but does not show great speed and/or agility after the catch
  • Average vertical jump at the combine (32.5’’); did not participate in the 40-yard dash and other running/agility drills
  • Needs to capitalize on the separation he gains when running routes to create bigger passing lanes
  • Will need time at the next level to develop his receiver skills, primarily as a route runner, to compliment his pure size and strength
  • Suffered a serious neck injury in his junior year that had potentially threatened his long term career

Value: Top 20

Projected Pick: Top 15

 

  1. John Ross (Washington)

Strengths:

  • Recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL Combine history with a 4.22
  • Versatile deep threat with blazing speed to accelerate off the line on his release and blow by corners with ease
  • Deadly ball carrier after the catch; speed and agility help him capitalize on open space and create mismatches in all areas of the field
  • Engages corners with quick footwork to force early jump; capitalizes with juke moves and blazing speed to gain separation
  • Very dominant in quick slants and fades with great initial push off the line; able to avoid shove from defenders and get into position to make a play with speed
  • Versatile offensive weapon who can contribute both as a kick/punt returner and running the ball out of the backfield

Weaknesses:

  • Sloppy route runner that must develop his ability to run more defined routes and make stronger cuts to create space between the defense
  • Inconsistent catching ability; has the tendency to lose focus and drop open passes
  • Not very aggressive on contested throws; often beaten by corners on 50-50 jump balls and tight-window passes
  • Not an effective blocker in running plays; does not possess the strength to effectively hold off corners on blocks around the edge
  • Suffered torn ACL before 2015 season and took a medical redshirt in junior season

Value: Late 1st Round

Projected Pick: Top 20

 

  1. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Southern California)

Strengths:

  • Powerful outside step off the snap to establish position and accelerate into route progression
  • Plays bigger than his 6’1’’ frame; very productive both in the middle of the field on slant and post patterns and down the sideline on deep routes
  • Aggressively fights for the ball in the air and uses his size to block off defenders trying to make a play
  • Dominates contact at the line to fight off initial push from corners and avoid being thrown off course
  • Possesses the strength and awareness to be a consistent asset in run blocking; holds off defenders around the edge to clear running lanes for teammates
  • Versatile ball carrier who can be effective and productive in space after the catch

Weaknesses:

  • Inconsistent production; very hot and cold player (scored 8 touchdowns in just three total games and only 2 touchdowns in the other ten games combined)
  • Needs to decisively accelerate after making cuts to commit to routes and gain added separation
  • Lacking elite straight-line speed to be a deadly vertical deep threat (ran a 4.54 40-yard dash time)
  • Corners are more tempted to bite on short routes due to his lack of break away speed
  • Must make more decisive cuts in the middle of the field; may struggle to elude defenders on comeback and underneath routes if cuts are not strong and quick enough

Value: Early 2nd Round

Projected Pick: Early 3rd Round

 

  1. Zay Jones (East Carolina)

Strengths:

  • All-time FBS leader in career receptions with 399 in four seasons at East Carolina (158 in 2016 is single-season record)
  • Confident and distinct in his cuts on inside and comeback routes; squares body to the quarterback to open up and set himself up for an easier catch
  • Very reliable hands; has the balance and agility to make diving catches that are over or underthrown
  • Productive ball carrier after the catch; ran a 4.45 40-yard dash time at the combine and has great vision to find space and elusively slide between the defense
  • Great footwork along the sideline; ability to secure catches while keeping feet in and tight-rope across the line to gain extra yards
  • Had one of his best career performances against SEC opponent South Carolina (22 receptions for 190 receiving yards)

Weaknesses:

  • Projects better as a slot receiver in the NFL due to his limited ability on outside and deep routes
  • Weak first step off the line when running deep routes; fails to gain initial separation and accelerate to create passing lanes
  • Often thrown off course when facing press coverage; lack of strength allows defenders to gain the advantage and slow down his progressions
  • Possesses minimal route running tools and can sometimes be predictable; difficulty creating space in tight man-to-man coverage
  • Relatively ineffective blocking for other receivers and running backs on outside running plays and screen passes

Value: Mid 2nd Round

Projected Pick: Mid 2nd Round

 

Honorable Mentions: Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington), Curtis Samuel (Ohio State), Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma)

 

 

Tight Ends:

 

  1. OJ Howard (Alabama)

Strengths:

  • Incredibly gifted athlete relative to his massive 6’6’’ 251-pound frame
  • Above-average run blocker; has the strength and footwork to control defenders at the point of attack and seal off the edge for runners or press lead blocks into the second level to open up space
  • Bruising runner; light on his feet and drops his shoulder to absorb contact and truck defenders to carry them for additional yardage
  • Effective redzone weapon both as a big-bodied target on underneath and crossing routes and as a lead blocker for power runs
  • Explosive release off the line of scrimmage combined with elite size and speed creates mismatches within defenses and allows him to either get behind the coverage or draw in safeties to open up deep lanes for outside receivers
  • Tremendous closing speed for a player his size; gets around defenders with speed and elusiveness to create huge play opportunities (4.51 40-time was second most among tight ends at the 2017 NFL Combine)

Weaknesses:

  • Has not had to handle a high workload of touches (has never recorded more than 45 receptions, 650 receiving yards, or 3 touchdowns in a single season)
  • Majority of his catches have been uncovered, wide-open receptions; has the ability to spread the field but will need to prove that he is able to catch passes in traffic
  • Will need to increase his strength to continue to contribute as a run blocker and compete with NFL edge rushers and linebackers
  • Somewhat raw route running ability; must make more defined cuts if he wants to have the same success on big plays at the next level

Value: Top 15

Projected Pick: Top 20

 

  1. David Njoku (Miami)

Strength:

  • Explosive release off the line to carry 246 -pound build into routes with momentum
  • Valuable redzone target; big-bodied receiving tight end with the ability to catch in traffic and the size to dominate on 50-50 throws
  • Very versatile and athletic relative to his size; has the speed to burn coverage down the field and make defenders miss when running in space
  • Makes strong cuts in his routes and accelerates to open up passing lanes
  • Absorbs big hits with low pad-level to break tackles and bounce in between defenders
  • National high jump champion in high school; reached 37.5’’ on his vertical jump at the combine

Weaknesses:

  • Inexperienced and did not have a lot of production during his career with the Hurricanes (totals of 64 receptions and 1,060 receiving yards in two-year collegiate career)
  • Poor run blocking ability; often fails to maintain tight blocks and lacks the strength to seal off the edge and create running lanes
  • Will need to develop his route running ability to harness his full potential and get open more often when facing NFL talent
  • Inconsistent catching ability; committed 8 dropped passes over two seasons for a drop rate of over 11%

Value: Late 1st Round

Projected Pick: Early 2nd Round

 

  1. Evan Engram (Ole Miss)

Strengths:

  • Ran a 4.42 40-time at the NFL Combine (fastest among tight ends)
  • Incredibly explosive off the line of scrimmage; gains immediate separation and quickly gets into space
  • Talented run blocker who can build leverage low and use footwork to turn blocks and open up holes
  • Very disruptive down the seam; too fast for linebackers to keep up with and too strong for defensive backs to cover
  • Quick footwork and athleticism to open body up to the ball and establish position to set himself up to make plays

Weaknesses:

  • Needs to improve reliability and strength in his hands when catching the ball away from his body
  • Relatively thin for the tight end position; does not possess the same strength as some of his fellow tight end prospects
  • Relies on speed to create space and gain yards after the catch instead of finishing plays with strength and power
  • Lack of size will make it difficult for him to compete physically with defenders when catching, running, and blocking at the next level

Value: Early 2nd Round

Projected Pick: Mid 2nd Round

 

  1. Bucky Hodges (Virginia Tech)

Strengths:

  • Very effective in 50-50 jump ball situations; utilizes 6’6’’ height and 39’’ vertical jump (most among tight ends at the combine) to box out defenders and attack the football in the air
  • Explosive and aggressive through entire route; accelerates with a huge burst off the snap and uses quick hands to fight with press coverage at the line
  • Gifted athletic ability with the foot quickness to open up hips and turn toward the ball; squares body towards the play to establish position and allow himself to make diving and twisting catches
  • Has the versatility to line up as an outside receiver and run deep routes down the sideline in addition to playing tight end on the interior; former high school quarterback whose passing experience helps him understand coverages
  • Elusive ball carrier who can make tacklers miss with stiff arms and footwork followed by speed to capitalize on broken tackles
  • Capable of creating big plays; 28% of his catches in 2016 were for 20+ yards

Weaknesses:

  • Liability in blocking along the line; stands too tall when initiating contact and fails to hit with leverage to hold off defenders
  • Has a habit of pushing off defenders in tight coverage to attempt to gain separation after the ball is in the air; may draw pass interference flags in the NFL
  • Could be more effective in the middle of the field with more definitive route running; tends to fade into routes instead of making cuts and accelerating
  • Catches the ball away from his body too often; needs to utilize his body to secure catches
  • Often becomes too physical with defenders during his route progression; tries to win with physicality instead of making route adjustments

Value: Late 2nd Round

Projected Pick: Mid 3rd Round

 

  1. Jake Butt (Michigan)

Strengths:

  • Two-time Big Ten Tight End of the Year and two-time second-team All-American selection (2015 and 2016)
  • Has the size of a prototypical NFL tight end (6’5’’- 246 lbs.), which makes him a huge target in the passing game
  • Reliable pass catcher on routes in the middle of the field and in the flat (97 total receptions in 2015 and 2016); has very strong hands and uses his body to secure passes in traffic
  • Very strong blocking tight end; possesses the strength to hold off edge rushers during both passing and running plays; has the lateral quickness to stay with pass rushers around the edge
  • Pushes off defenders at the line of scrimmage to fight off 5-yard shove and create space to gain a step on the coverage
  • Elite football IQ and awareness to diagnose defensive schemes and find holes in coverage; great leadership skills (Michigan Wolverines team captain)

Weaknesses:

  • Suffered a torn ACL that required surgery to end his senior season in Michigan’s Orange Bowl loss; may be cause for concern during the draft process
  • Sluggish route runner; does not make cuts with enough definition and runs with a lack of burst through coverage
  • Does not have many go-to receiver moves to shake coverage; very predictable running routes and is not very difficult for defensive backs and even linebackers to stick with
  • Old school tight end who will have to adapt to the new receiving-heavy trend of NFL tight ends; may be called upon to run deep routes through the middle of the field and may not have the speed to be effective running up the seam
  • Most of his offense numbers were a product of Michigan’s system and his role in short yardage situations and underneath routes

Value: Mid 3rd Round

Projected Pick: Late 3rd Round

 

Honorable Mentions: Adam Shaheen (Ashland), Gerald Everett (South Alabama), Jordan Leggett (Clemson)

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