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2017 NFL Draft: Wide Receiver rankings

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2017 wide receiver rankings and target rounds.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

In recent years, I’ve committed to the concept of an NFL Draft “target board.” The idea is to narrow my scope down to 100 prospects, grouped into tiers that indicate where I’d look to select them in an actual draft. Instead of ranking every single player I’ve watched and graded, these are prospects I feel most confident in from a tape, measurables, production, and athletic testing standpoint.

In the following days leading up to the draft, I’ll post my board position by position, and to help everyone understand the methods behind my madness, I’ll even include some handy charts and stats to give some insight into which players “checked all the boxes,” and which ones made the cut despite falling short in one area or another.

The cells in the accompanying charts are color-coded based (liberally) on NFL scouting combine averages per position:

  • Green = Significantly Above Average
  • Blue = Above Average
  • Yellow = Average
  • Orange = Below Average
  • Red = Significantly Below Average

Below you'll find my 2017 wide receiver targets

(Please note, Corey Davis was not rated due to injury)

Curtis Samuel Ohio State 5’11” 196

  • DOB: 8/11/1996
  • 2016: 771 rush YDS 7.9 AVG, 74 REC 865 YDS 11.7 AVG, 15 TD
  • Career: 1286 rush YDS 7.5 AVG, 107 REC 1249 YDS 11.7 AVG, 24 TD in 41 games

Analysts question where Samuel will play at the NFL level, and during Ohio State’s spring game on April 15th, he confirmed that the answer varies from team to team. In college, Samuel began his career in 2014 as a backup running back, then spent the last two seasons lining up at receiver and “hybrid,” where he ran routes from the backfield, out wide, and from the slot. Samuel can burn a defense in a number of ways, and while he’s not a natural receiver, he hasn’t had issues getting open or catching the ball.

Speed comes at a premium, and Samuel is the second-fastest skill player in the draft. Critics classify him as a straight-line athlete, but while testing indicates average change of direction skills, Samuel is explosive out of cuts, and has enough quickness to win one-on-one in space. We hear about teams needing to “manufacture touches” for players like this, but I don’t think it’s that complicated. He was the most important weapon on one of the best college programs in the country. If an NFL team wants Samuel to play running back, he can do that. If they want him to play receiver, he can do that too. Plug him into the normal offense and play.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

John Ross Washington 5’11” 188

  • DOB: 11/27/1995
  • 2016: 81 REC 1150 YDS 14.2 AVG, 102 rush YDS 12.8 AVG, 19 TD
  • Career: 114 REC 1729 YDS 15.2 AVG, 195 rush YDS 9.8 AVG, 28 TD in 40 games

Ross is officially the fastest player ever to run at the scouting combine, so while he’s currently rehabbing from a shoulder surgery, and has a history of injuries to both knees, I would be willing to take a chance on drafting him early. Along with being the best deep threat in the draft, Ross is an outstanding red zone receiver because of his ability to create separation immediately off the line of scrimmage. We’ve heard conflicting reports about Ross’ medical re-checks, but considering he just completed a 14-game season as his team’s primary receiving threat, I’m almost certain some team will be comfortable drafting him early.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

Taywan Taylor Western Kentucky 5’11” 203

  • DOB: 3/2/1995
  • 2016: 98 REC 1730 YDS 17.7 AVG 17 TD
  • Career: 253 REC 4234 YDS 16.7 AVG 41 TD in 52 games

Taylor has speed to win deep, and quickness to get open underneath and pick up yards after the catch. He’s the school’s all-time leading receiver, and was the team’s top target each of the last two seasons. Taylor wasn’t just beating up on Group of Five foes either. Last season he posted nine catches for 112 yards against Vanderbilt, and nine for 121 yards against a vaunted Alabama defense. The year before, Taylor torched Indiana for 196 yards and a score, and caught 10 passes for 103 yards and a TD against LSU. He checks the boxes for size, speed, burst, quickness, and production against top competition. I’m honestly surprised that Taylor isn’t receiving more run as a Day Two prospect.

Grade: 2nd Round

Chris Godwin Penn State 6’1” 209

  • DOB: 2/27/1996
  • 2016: 59 REC 982 YDS 16.6 AVG 11 TD
  • Career: 154 REC 2421 YDS 15.7 AVG 18 TD in 39 games

Dealing with a new starting quarterback, Godwin was relatively quiet early last season, but a touchdown catch against Gareon Conley in an upset win over Ohio State seemed to propel the Penn State junior to a strong stretch run. Godwin was the number one receiver on his team for two seasons, and fell just short of his second consecutive 1000-yard season, but he did set a career high with 11 touchdown catches in 2016. He checks in with above average size, 4.4 speed and knack for winning contested catches. It’s easy to see why he has been a riser since declaring for the draft.

Grade: 2nd-3rd Round

JuJu Smith-Schuster USC 6’1” 215

  • DOB: 11/22/1996
  • 2016: 70 REC 914 YDS 13.1 AVG 10 TD
  • Career: 213 REC 3092 YDS 14.5 AVG 25 TD in 40 games

Smith-Schuster remained USC’s leading receiver for the second consecutive year, but his production dipped significantly last season as the team transitioned from veteran stater Cody Kessler to inexperienced youngsters Max Browne and Sam Darnold. This opened Smith-Schuster, once considered a Day One draft prospect, to significant criticism, particularly about his ability to separate. The junior receiver is certainly not a burner, but he has plenty of quickness to pick up yards after the catch. Like many of the receivers in this class, he looks more like a secondary target at the pro level than the alpha he was in college. But Smith-Schuster’s sturdy frame, and strength as a runner should insure him plenty of targets as a flanker at the pro level.

Grade: 2nd-3rd Round

Zay Jones East Carolina 6’2” 201

  • DOB: 3/30/1995
  • 2016: 158 REC 1746 YDS 11.1 AVG 8 TD
  • Career: 399 REC 4279 YDS 10.7 AVG 23 TD in 50 games

Jones caught so many passes last season that he was often just an extension of the running game, and I didn’t even realize how fast he was or how capable he was of winning down the field until the Senior Bowl. Sometimes it was difficult to watch him being force fed the ball - his 22-catch game against South Carolina was as quiet as it could possibly be - but I have to recognize that Jones was his team’s only NFL-caliber offensive weapon. It’s difficult to criticize trying to get the ball in his hands, other than to say it’s a bit of a disservice to his pro prospects because he didn’t get as many chances to stretch the field as some of the these other receivers. I admit that I read him wrong initially, but Jones’ combination of size, speed and athleticism has converted me, and convinced me that he can be a strong secondary target in the NFL.

Grade: 3rd Round

Josh Reynolds Texas A&M 6’3” 194

  • DOB: 2/16/1995
  • 2016: 61 REC 1039 YDS 17.0 AVG 12 TD
  • Career: 164 REC 2788 YDS 17.0 AVG 30 TD in 38 games

Unlike the first six receivers on my board, Reynolds was not his team’s primary target in either of the last two seasons. However, he has been Texas A&M’s field stretcher, and he led the team in touchdowns as a sophomore and as a senior.

Reynolds has a slim build and isn’t a speed freak, but he displays a lot of burst and quickness after the catch. He has a knack for making acrobatic catches, and the big play potential outweighs the occasional frustrating drop. Reynolds had an excellent Senior Bowl and combine, and should come off the board late on Day Two of the draft.

Grade: 3rd Round

Carlos Henderson Louisiana Tech 5’11” 199

  • DOB: 12/19/1994
  • 2016: 82 REC 1535 YDS 18.7 AVG, 133 rush YDS 9.5 AVG, 23 TD
  • Career: 147 REC 2878 YDS 19.6 AVG, 257 rush YDS 8.0 AVG, 34 TD in 36 games

Despite posting monster numbers in 2016, Henderson wasn’t even the leading receiver in Louisiana Tech’s high-powered offense. In fact, his career-highs coming into the year were 36 catches for 774 yards and five TDs, so he’s a bit of a one-year wonder. That one year was fantastic - Henderson won the conference Offensive Player and Special Teams Player of the Year awards - and ultimately decided to turn pro.

Henderson has above average speed and is dangerous after the catch, demonstrating the same field vision and decisive cutting that make him an outstanding kick return man. But the bulk of his offensive production came against porous secondaries, so I’m not sure how much he’s been tested as a receiver. I think his primary value will be on special teams while he works on things like tracking the ball in the air, and attacking rather than waiting for the pass to arrive.

Grade: 3rd Round

Amara Darboh Michigan 6’2” 214

  • DOB: 2/1/1994
  • 2016: 57 REC 862 YDS 15.1 AVG 7 TD
  • Career: 151 REC 2062 YDS 13.7 AVG 14 TD in 50 games

After missing 2013 with a foot injury, Darboh has been a top-two receiver in Michigan’s balanced passing attack over each of the past three seasons. He finished his senior year with career highs in yards, yards per catch, and touchdowns. Darboh is an experienced route runner and one of the better size/speed combos in the class, and his physical play style and experience covering kicks on special teams make him a high floor, value play.

Grade: 3rd-4th Round

Josh Malone Tennessee 6’3” 208

  • DOB: 3/21/1996
  • 2016: 50 REC 972 YDS 19.4 AVG 11 TD
  • Career: 104 REC 1608 YDS 15.5 AVG 14 TD in 39 games

Malone may be a player who goes earlier than expected because his combination of height and deep speed is unique to this class. Still, he has only four 100-yard performances in 39 games, and three of those came in the last five outings of his career. I’ve been impressed with his ability to get open downfield and to fight for yards after the catch, and would be willing to bet on his potential.

Grade: 3rd-4th Round

Ryan Switzer North Carolina 5’9” 181

  • DOB: 11/4/1994
  • 2016: 96 REC 1112 YDS 11.6 AVG 6 TD
  • Career: 244 REC 2907 YDS 11.9 AVG 26 TD in 53 games

Switzer is the quintessential reliable slot receiver, possessing quick feet, strong hands, and a feel for openings in pass coverage. He also returned seven punts for touchdowns during his four-year North Carolina career. I think Switzer can be a volume receiver and dependable third down target, similar to the CowboysCole Beasley, and thus a low-risk prospect in the early stages of Day Three.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Chad Williams Grambling 6’1” 207

  • DOB: 10/19/1994
  • 2016: 90 REC 1337 YDS 14.9 AVG 11 TD
  • Career: 210 REC 3062 YDS 14.6 AVG 29 TD in 47 games

Williams is a strong, fast receiver who plays with an edge and dominated the small-school ranks. He performed well in Senior Bowl practices, but some off-field warts apparently kept him out of the combine.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Malachi Dupre LSU 6’3” 196

  • DOB: 10/12/1995
  • 2016: 41 REC 593 YDS 14.5 AVG 3 TD
  • Career: 98 REC 1609 YDS 16.4 AVG 14 TD in 35 games

Dupre is a former five-star recruit who never lived up to that billing. Some of his lack of production can be blamed on LSU’s pitiful quarterback situation. He’s an explosive leaper who can run and pluck the ball, and he has the frame to add some weight. As with Malone, Dupre is an upside play.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

K.D. Cannon Baylor 5’11” 182

  • DOB: 11/5/1995
  • 2016: 87 REC 1215 YDS 14.0 AVG 13 TD
  • Career: 195 REC 3113 YDS 16.0 AVG 27 TD in 38 games

Baylor receivers get knocked for a limited route tree, and the fact that they’re coached to occasionally jog and rest their legs when they aren't being targeted on a play. Cannon faces additional questions about inconsistent effort. But he can fly and he played some of the best ball of his career down the stretch last season, so I would be hoping to steal a potential big play threat here.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Dede Westbrook Oklahoma 6’ 178

  • DOB: 11/21/1993
  • 2016: 80 REC 1524 YDS 19.1 AVG, 101 rush YDS 10.1 AVG, 17 TD
  • Career: 126 REC 2267 YDS 18.0 AVG, 118 rush YDS 7.9 AVG, 21 TD in 26 games

Same idea here as with Cannon: if I can steal one of the fastest receivers in the class with a Day Three pick, and emerge with a legitimate deep ball weapon, I’ve played my cards correctly. Westbrook is an older prospect, and he comes with a laundry list of off-field question marks, but we know he can separate down the field. If a team can be comfortable with Westbrook’s answers about his past, he can present good value in the early-to-mid stages of Day Three.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Ishmael Zamora Baylor 6’4” 224

  • DOB: 11/26/1995
  • 2016: 63 REC 809 YDS 12.8 AVG 8 TD
  • Career: 72 REC 941 YDS 13.1 AVG 10 TD in 23 games

Zamora was punished early last season after video emerged of him abusing his dog. The incident kept him from being invited to the scouting combine. His size, game tape and pro day testing will remind people of Josh Gordon as a prospect, but I think Zamora is in for a tumble on draft weekend.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

DeAngelo Yancey Purdue 6’2” 220

  • DOB: 11/18/1994
  • 2016: 49 REC 951 YDS 19.4 AVG 10 TD
  • Career: 141 REC 2344 YDS 16.6 AVG 20 TD in 45 games

Yancey finished second in the Big Ten in receiving yards and followed that up with a strong performance at the Shrine Game, but somehow still got snubbed by the scouting combine. He’s a big, strong runner, and projects best as a flanker at the pro level.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Jehu Chesson Michigan 6’3” 204

  • DOB: 12/29/1993
  • 2016: 35 REC 500 YDS 14.3 AVG, 63 rush YDS 5.3 AVG, 3 TD
  • Career: 114 REC 1639 YDS 14.4 AVG, 219 rush YDS 10.0 AVG, 16 TD in 50 games

Chesson’s 2016 season was somewhat disappointing after he finished on a tear down the stretch of his junior year. I’m not sure he’s even more than a fourth or fifth receiver and special teams contributor, but his height/speed/agility combo is intriguing, and he’ll be available at a low cost.

Grade: 5th-7th Round