NFL Draft News & Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Midseason wide receiver rankings

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) against the Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It appears as if loaded wide receiver classes are becoming the norm in NFL drafts. If teams aren't stocking up at the position, they’re missing out. The only thing really missing from the top of the receiver class is some height, but it has speed, route-running and ball skills galore.

1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (Junior)

Do you know the top rookie receiver in the NFL? Well, Chase comfortably outproduced him in the exact same offense in a more difficult role last season. If that doesn’t tell you the type of talent we’re working with, I’m not sure the rest of this write-up will convince you.

Chase was a Bruce Feldman Freaks List honoree this summer for his combination of size and strength. He led the nation in yards (1,780) and touchdown catches (20) as a true sophomore. This wasn’t easy fluff production, either. Chase was winning consistently against the top corners in the country down the field. He cooked the likes of C.J. Henderson, Trevon Diggs and A.J. Terrell last year.

His 24 deep receptions were eight more than any receiver in the country in 2019. I don’t care that he took a year off — Chase is WR1.

2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (Junior)

There was no better receiver in the country through four games this season than Waddle. Before he broke his ankle, Waddle had posted four straight 100-plus yard games. He posted a perfect passer rating when targeted in three of them, averaged 22.3 yards per catch and produced a ridiculous 10.7 yards after the catch per reception. Quite simply, he was the biggest home-run threat in college football.

With low-4.3 speed that may even creep into the 4.2s, don’t expect that to change once he gets to the NFL. I feel so confident about Waddle’s skills translating to the league because of the way he attacks the football. He’s made 10 contested catches on 15 such targets over the course of his Alabama career. That’s an absurd rate for a “speed” receiver.

3. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (Junior)

Bateman has everything you could possibly want from a No. 1 receiver … except the speed. He’s likely going to be a mid-4.5s guy, and I’m completely fine with that. He still wins as well as any receiver in the country from the outside. In fact, he led all receivers in terms of yards per route when lined up split wide in 2019.

At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Bateman has the size to consistently impose his will on smaller corners. He has the shiftiness and route-running chops to win in a number of different ways.

The traits may not get drafted highly, but odds are he’ll outperform his draft slot.

4. DeVonta Smith, Alabama (Senior)

No Jerry Jeudy, no Henry Ruggs, no Jaylen Waddle, no problem. Smith has only gained steam as the season wears on, racking up 513 yards in his past three games. When all those former and future first-rounders were playing alongside Smith, it was he who was tasked with the more difficult assignment of winning downfield as an outside receiver.

The biggest knock on him at this point is his size at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. That’s an extremely slight build for an all-around No. 1 type of receiver. It’s difficult to pinpoint times on his tape where that’s been an issue, though. He attacks the ball far stronger than that weight suggests and has some of the best hands in the class. On 197 career catchable passes, he has only eight drops.

5. Rondale Moore, Purdue (Junior)

There are plays on Moore’s tape that are just different from what anyone else in this class is capable of. He’s a threat to take it to the house from anywhere on the field, from any type of route. That’s why Purdue pumps him the ball so often — to the tune of 154 targets as a true freshman in 2018 and 28 targets through two games this season.

Those targets are simultaneously our biggest concern with Moore. Because he’s so unbelievably dynamic, Purdue wastes no time getting him the football. His average depth of target for his career is a whopping 5.5 yards downfield. Combine that with the fact that he was injured for most of 2019, and we have almost no evidence for what he can do as a route-runner down the football field. If you simply watch him run slants, however, you can see all the shiftiness and explosiveness necessary to eventually get the job done downfield.

6. Chris Olave, Ohio State (Junior)

Olave is not particularly big at 6-foot-1, 188 pounds, and he’s not particularly fast, either. And with only six broken tackles on 87 career catches he’s not particularly dynamic with the ball in his hands. But Olave is the prettiest route-runner in the entire draft class. His understanding of the position's nuances is special for a true junior. Olave separates down the field seemingly at will with the way he’s able to set up opposing defensive backs with his stems and pacing.

Combine that ability with some extremely reliable hands and ball skills that have seen him drop only three of 90 catchable passes in his career, and you can see why we're still high on him.

7. Kadarius Toney, Florida (Senior)

There’s no bigger wild card in the draft class. I don’t know if he’s a receiver, a running back, a return man or a gadget player, but I’d like the chance to figure that out. Toney is the closest thing the NFL has seen to Dante Hall since the former Chiefs and Rams return man retired in 2008. That’s the type of talent we are dealing with here.

Even though he’s put up middling numbers in Florida’s offense this season, with only 45 catches for 534 yards through eight games, Toney has the potential to produce far more in the NFL than he ever did in college. While not a complete route-runner yet, Toney still flashes high-level route-running ability.

Some of the separation he creates on underneath routes is incredible. While not as fast, Toney may be even more elusive than Rondale Moore — and that’s saying something. He has broken 17 tackles on 45 catches so far this season. He may legitimately be the most difficult man in college football to tackle.

An NFL team has to understand what they're getting, but he can be a game-changer in the right role.

8. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC (Junior)

While St. Brown racked up 1,000 yards as a sophomore from the slot in 2019 with Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns holding it down on the outside, the former five-star recruit has been producing through three games this season as primarily an outside receiver. He’s got the kind of wiggle before and after the catch that you want at the position. For his career, he’s broken 27 tackles on 156 receptions. While there may not be one single thing that St. Brown hangs his hat on, there’s also nothing in his game one could consider a shortcoming.

At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, St. Brown doesn’t have to be pigeonholed into one particular role at the next level. He has a body type that can line up anywhere on the field, run a full route tree and still win. Combine that with some serious “want to” that he displays weekly, and you’ve got a top prospect.

9. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State (Senior)

Wallace was a former track star in high school, finishing second in the Texas state triple jump back in the day. When you flip on his tape, it doesn’t take you long to find that out. He’s been as productive as anyone in the country over the past three seasons, averaging 105.8 yards per game in 30 games over that span. Wallace would have been drafted highly in 2020 were it not for an ACL tear toward the end of 2019.

While he’s run a fairly limited route tree in the past at Oklahoma State with screens, slants and go routes dominating his target share, Wallace has put a little more diversity on tape this season. That’s a good thing for his draft stock.

10. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest (RS Junior)

You won’t find a better contested-catch receiver in the draft class. Surratt and his brother — North Carolina quarterback-turned-linebacker Chazz — are two of the most physical players at their positions in the country. He hauled in 18 of 30 contested catches last season for the Demon Deacons.

Surratt beat up college cornerbacks in 2019 at the catch point, along his routes and after the catch before opting out this season. He broke 17 tackles on 65 catches in nine games last year. While we believe separation is king, and Surratt is never going to be terribly dynamic in that regard, he has the goods pretty much everywhere else to make up for it.

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