Calvin Ridley

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Ranking the wide receivers: Patriots unlikely to target this group in draft, but there are sleepers if they do

Pete Davidson
April 23, 2018 - 7:06 pm

NFL Draft season is heating up. Today we're talking receivers but if you missed my quarterback rankings, you can access them here.

I'll be back tomorrow with a look at the running backs. Spoiler alert, it's one of the deepest classes you will ever see.

This year's group of rookie receivers is also deep, but unlike the running back class, it's a bit lacking in the way of high-end talent. Usually we have one or two guys with Hall of Fame ceilings, but if there's one in this class, I can't pick him out of the crowd at this point. That doesn't mean one can't emerge because, again, it's a deep group with a lot of different types of receivers. Hopefully the NFL does a good job at sorting them out. If the right players are brought into the right situations, we'll have a fair amount of success from this class. It may sound like a copout, but a rookie's landing spot is crucial when it comes to predicting success, especially early. We'll get into all of that after the draft, when I post my dynasty rookie rankings.

I always try to offer a Patriots angle for my local readers, but they are so deep at wide receiver it may be an exercise in futility. They certainly won't be using any early selections on receivers. That said, here are my five favorite Patriot fits, and they could all conceivably last into the fourth round or later.

Dante Pettis

Michael Gallup

Allen Lazard

DaeSean Hamilton

Justin Watson

If one of these five slips far enough, I could see the Patriots trying to make a move—perhaps packaging their two sixth rounders to move up. But again, their depth chart, to me, says they probably pass on the position as a whole.

By the way, if you are looking for a one stop location for all combine data, this Google doc is excellent.

Alright, let's rank this tightly grouped class and break them into tiers.

Tier One (1-4)

Calvin Ridley, Alabama, 6'0", 189

Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame, 6'5", 214

D.J. Moore, Maryland, 6'0", 210

Anthony Miller, Memphis, 5'11", 201

Ridley is the most game-ready receiver in this class. He makes NFL plays and he runs NFL-quality routes. The fact that he tops my board sort of underscores what I said earlier. There are no Julios or Megatrons in this draft. Still, Ridley's getting undersold by a lot of the online draftniks. The most important part of playing at the next level is being able to play against stronger corners, getting open, and catching the ball. I have confidence that Ridley can do these things. He's not going to be the next Laquon Treadwell. He's a predictable NFL starter who should produce some solid numbers. Don't let the somewhat lackluster combine throw you. He's going to be a good one.

St. Brown is a lot higher on my board than he is on others, but to me, he's a good receiver who can get a lot better. The former Notre Dame standout has a long body, but he carries it really well—getting in and out of breaks better than the other tall receivers in this class. He's good enough to produce as a rookie, but it's his longer arc that really intrigues me. He could end up being really good in time if he finds a good home. He could also drop a spot or two based on where and when he gets taken, but I doubt he'll slip out of my top tier. I like his upside that much.

Moore continues to grow on me. He plays with a lot of heart and after pinning the needle at the combine, I've moved him into the top tier. While I wish I saw more high-end route work on his film, he did the things Maryland asked him to do, and he did them well. This kid is tough to handle after the catch and he defies his body type by being a very tough customer at the catch-point. If he can refine his routes and expand his route tree at the next level, we could have a special player here. If he gets taken highly by an offense with a favorable depth chart, he could move up the rankings even more.

Miller, along with Ridley, is among the older prospects in this class. And, while Ridley played against some very sturdy competition in the SEC, Miller was beating up on lower level corners in the American Conference. So Miller's age is, to me, of slightly greater concern. Still, while he will face a tougher challenge at the next level, he does so many good things that I am inclined to bet on him. Miller is strong and very sudden. He gets in and out breaks as well as anybody in the class and he is tough at the catch point. He's also a very bad man after the catch. He needs to clean up some drops, but they are almost all of the concentration variety—where he'll try to transition to the run a split second too early. I think he cleans that stuff up in time.

I'm comfortable taking any of the players in this tier with a top ten rookie pick, unless their landing spot is just miserable.

Tier Two (5-8)

Courtland Sutton, SMU, 6'3", 218

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M, 5'10", 201

D.J. Chark, LSU, 6'3", 199

Dante Pettis, Washington, 6'0", 186

Sutton has a shot at moving up if he gets taken early, but I'm lower than consensus on the former SMU star. There's no questioning his production, but I worry about him versus NFL corners. He'll certainly be a red zone weapon, but to be a legit fantasy option, he's going to need to improve his route running and his release against press coverage. The Raiders would be a nice spot for him. He could work on No. 2 corners opposite Amari Cooper while getting plenty of field time as a rookie.

Kirk is easy to like. He plays hard on a per snap basis and he's a willing blocker when he's not the primary option. My concern is that he's probably going to be a slot receiver and he's very average in terms of getting in and out of his breaks. He got schemed open a fair amount of the time at A&M, so I'm hoping he lands with a creative offensive coach at the next level. St. Louis would be a nice fit and New Orleans would be the dream fit. He'd also make a fine Patriot, but he projects to go well ahead of where they ought to be considering a receiver.

Chark is a maddening prospect to scout because his measurables are insanely good while his film leaves a lot to be desired. Call me nuts, but I have this thing about receivers who can't catch. Alright, that's not fair. Chark makes some catches, but he goes out of his way to avoid using his hands, which denotes a clear lack of confidence. Here's the thing. We've seen guys like this succeed before. Not at a star level, but guys like Ted Ginn and Torrey Smith have had their moments in the sun. The other end of the spectrum would be a guy like Donte Moncrief, who is still finding his way. To me, the deeper your dynasty league is, the more valuable Chark is, because if he hits big, it's going to take some time. In the interim, he can be a big play threat—a receiver who can take the lid off of the defense. Landing spot will be big—hopefully he ends up with a strong armed guy like Cam Newton.

Pettis is definitely a candidate to move down the board if he slips and lands with the wrong team. He's a technician and a gamer with great hands, but he's not all that explosive for a receiver playing at less than 190 pounds. Why would he slide? Well, he's been nursing a sore ankle all offseason and has not been able to run for teams. That could end up dropping him a round or two. Still, if he lands in an offense that suits his skill set, like New England's, he has the potential to catch a lot of passes and become a PPR staple. He can line up anywhere and he runs the complete route tree.

Tier Three (9-16)

Michael Gallup, Colorado St., 6'1", 205

James Washington, Oklahoma St., 5'11", 213

Allen Lazard, Iowa State, 6'5", 225

Tre'Quan Smith, C. Florida, 6'2", 210

Deon Cain, Clemson, 6'2", 202

Antonio Callaway, Florida, 5'11", 200

DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State, 6'1", 203

Keke Coutee, Texas Tech, 5'10", 181

Gallup is right on the verge of tier two. He's smooth and sudden in and out of his cuts and runs very nice routes. There are no major holes in his game.

Washington is not all that dissimilar from D.J. Moore, but he lacks Moore's explosiveness and relies more on changing gears—varying his route speed. He's similar to Taywan Taylor in that regard, though I liked Taylor a tad more because he gets in and out of his breaks better.

Lazard is so tough to figure. His size is obviously a huge asset and he ran surprisingly well in Indianapolis. He's also a solid technician and he makes all kinds of wonderful catches and I mean ALL kinds. He exhibits great body control when the ball is in the air and gets a great early head turn which keeps him a step ahead of the defender. My concern is that the bigger faster corners mute some of his strengths. Still, there's a lot to like.

Smith is a late riser on my board who has a lot of NFL traits, starting with a nice size/speed combo. He's a receiver who plays hard on every snap. He's a willing blocker for his teammates and his long arms certainly help in this regard. He also uses his big wingspan on contested catches. This guy is a lot to handle and could develop into a plus NFL starter in time.

Cain is a receiver I definitely like, but his lack of high-end ball skills could cap his stats at the next level, but make no mistake, I think he's an NFL receiver. If he can develop more confidence in his hands, he could end up starting somewhere.

Callaway is a floater in my rankings. If I was ranking him on film alone, he would undoubtedly be in my top tier—maybe even in the top spot. I like his talent that much. The problem is his troubled off-field history. It was so bad that Callaway did not even play football last season. We'll learn a lot about where he is at by where he gets taken, but if you want a high risk lottery ticket, Callaway is your guy this year.

Hamilton is another riser but he is nothing like Callaway. This kid is a leader and a grinder, but he's also got significant talent. He's one of the best route runners in this class and his ball skills are outstanding. The issue for him will be separating from next level defenders. To me, he's a third receiver at minimum and perhaps more if he lands in a favorable spot.

Coutee is an explosive receiver with speed and a knack for making big plays. There are some concerns with his limited route tree and he's got tiny hands and short arms. Still, crank up the film and he impresses on a weekly basis. I think he's off the board by the end of the fourth round.

Tier Four (17-20)

Daurice Fountain, Northern Iowa, 6'1", 210

Justin Watson, Pennsylvania, 6'2", 215

J'Mon Moore, Missouri, 6'3", 207

Korey Robertson, Southern Miss, 6'1", 212

I'm going to call this the raw upside tier. Do not be fooled by the overall ranking, this is a tier to take very seriously. Some of the best mid-to-late round rookie picks could come from this group. It's also very possible that one of these guys gets taken earlier than expected. Fountain and Watson in particular. We've got four very impressive athletes here and if I had more film on Fountain, Watson and Robertson, I might have to stones to move them up higher, but sadly I was only able to get limited looks at all three.

Still, what was available on film was impressive. Fountain comes from a small program, but UNI has produced some great NFL talent over the years, like Kurt Warner, Bryce Paup and that David Johnson guy. So be careful writing Fountain off. The limited film available shows a very strong athlete with speed, strong hands and absurd leaping ability. I'd be surprised if he doesn't get drafted and he could be a steal  in rookie drafts if he isn't taken too highly. There are rumblings that he could go as high as round three.

An Ivy League standout, Watson had a nice week at the Senior Bowl and then posted a whopper of a pro day—the highlight of which was a 40-yard dash that some had clocked in the high 4.3s. Hello! I have scant film on Watson, but what I have been able to find is pretty impressive. His draft stock should tell us a lot of what we need to know in terms of what the NFL thinks. This kid could end up being quite a find. As Pete Carroll says, "big fast guys are the fewest around," and Watson is most certainly big and fast.

J'Mon Moore is a bit raw, but he's got everything you look for in terms of size and athletic ability. He could easily be ranked higher, but I'm downgrading him because I see a learning curve that will keep him from breaking out early. He's a potential winner late in rookie drafts if your league is deep and uses a rookie taxi squad. I'm higher than consensus on Robertson because I love the ways he plays. This guy is a bull in a china shop and his play strength makes me excited to see what he can do as a pro. He'll need some time, but could end up being a good one if he can hang around for a season or two and learn. He's definitely one of my sleepers.

Tier Five (21-30)

Jeff Badet, Oklahoma, 6'0", 178

Simmie Cobbs Jr., Indiana, 6'3", 220

Dylan Cantrell, Texas Tech, 6'3", 226

Cedrick Wilson, Boise State, 6'2", 188

Jordan Lasley, UCLA, 6'1", 203

Richie James, Middle Tennessee St., 5'10", 178

Auden Tate, Florida State, 6'5", 228

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, South Florida, 6'4", 206

Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma St., 6'4", 216

Jaleel Scott, New Mexico St., 6'5", 218

This tier underscores the depth of this class. Badet is a guy I really like who has bounced around in his career—starting at Kentucky and finishing at Oklahoma. He's an older prospect due to an injury related red shirt season, but I'd take him seriously as a prospect. I think he could be a surprise riser on draft day and get taken as early as round five, but I'll predict round six.

Cobbs could crush my ranking if he stays healthy. He didn't run well at the combine, which caused him to tumble a bit in this tightly packed class, but he's got plus balls skills and big play ability, especially in the red zone.

Cantrell has a rock and roll name and big play chops. He's an underrated prospect who could get taken earlier than many expect. His big red flag is his age. He'll be 24 in June.

Wilson is a bit raw, but he has size and explosive traits. If he can add some weight to his frame without losing a step, he could have a future. He's a nice target if you play in a league with a taxi squad for rookies. He needs some time.

Lasley had an advantage in college because he played with Josh Rosen, but I love the way he tracks the deep ball. He should play in the NFL, but he feels like a third option because he lacks a dominant trait.

James is a very productive playmaker but he's lacking in terms of bulk. Tate ran so slow in Indianapolis that he fell down many boards including mine. Still, his size and ball skills should help him find a home while his red zone ability could lead to fantasy value down the road.

Valdes-Scantling is a glider with tremendous speed. He dropped a 4.37 40 at the combine and that's a serious attention-getter when you are shade under six foot five. He needs some time and he needs to add a pound or two, but he's a guy who should be off the board by round six and maybe sooner.

Tier Six (31-40)

Vyncint Smith, Limestone, 6'3", 195

Braxton Berrios, Miami, 5'9", 184

Javon Wims, Georgia, 6'3", 215

Jester Weah, Pittsburgh, 6'2", 210

Ray-Ray McCloud, Clemson, 5'9", 190

Trey Quinn, SMU, 5'11", 203

Deontay Burnett, USC, 5"11", 186

Darren Carrington, Utah, 6'2", 199

Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh, 5'8", 190

Byron Pringle, Kansas State. 6'1", 205

This is the honorable mention tier. All of these guys bring enough to the table either via production or athletic testing where they are viable late round or UDFA targets. These are definitely players to know about if they land in the right spots.

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