While the theme of the 2021 wide receiver class was speed, the theme for the 2022 version is likely going to be size. PFF tends to lean far more toward the “separators” at the position, but the 2022 NFL Draft class is full of some big dudes who can win through contact. It may not be quite as fruitful as the past two classes, but it’s not a weak class by any means.
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1. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (Junior)
Whatever “it” is that makes an all-around unstoppable wide receiver, Wilson has it. The bounce, the body control, the juice, the hands — you name it, the Ohio State product has it. He doesn’t have a go-to move. Rather, he has a way of moving. And he’s just so smooth.
Behold, Garrett Wilson. pic.twitter.com/xhScwdn8jO
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) October 31, 2020
The only thing he doesn’t quite have is the prototypical size at 6-foot, 193 pounds. However, the NFL prototype is getting increasingly smaller, given the way the game is trending, making that a non-issue. He has the ability to play bigger than that anyway.
Wilson hauled in 43 passes for 723 yards in only eight games last season, including eight deep receptions. He can win at every level of the football field and can be penciled into the first round of the 2022 draft right now.
2. Chris Olave, Ohio State (Senior)
Olave has a skill set that reminds me a lot of Calvin Ridley coming out of Alabama. He may not be the biggest or fastest, but his ability to separate at the deep and intermediate levels of the field is nothing short of elite.
Olave is not going to be your screen guy (only eight broken tackles on 111 career catches), and he’s not going to routinely Moss guys at the catch point (eight contested catches on 19 opportunities in his career). But you can rely on him to be open.
20221 Draft: Chris Olave WR
+ Smooth route runner
+ Great body control/high point ability
+ Good chops and chicken wing hand usage
+ Understands leverage and how to attack it
– Long strider/legs can limit change of direction
– Needs to add some size/strength to frame pic.twitter.com/BQ499Yjfop
— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 20, 2020
He would have been in a similar draft range to Ridley had he gone out last year, but he returned to try to be WR1 in 2022.
3. Drake London, USC (Junior)
One name kept coming to mind when watching London’s tape: Brandon Marshall.
At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, London has unique size for the position. What’s eerily reminiscent of Marshall is what he can do after the catch, as London refuses to go down with the ball in his hands and is nothing short of a YAC monster. As you can see, he can not only run through defenders, but he can also make defensive backs miss, even at his size.
Is Drake London the next great USC WR? pic.twitter.com/0LvbJRKe4G
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 9, 2021
London has broken 27 tackles on only 72 catches in his two years at USC. That shiftiness no doubt hails from his basketball background. After racking up 502 yards in only six games as a true sophomore, expect big numbers out of London this fall.
4. Treylon Burks, Arkansas (Junior)
You don’t see receivers with Burks' size every day. And when you do, they most certainly don’t move the way Burks does. At 6-foot-3, 232 pounds, the Arkansas pass-catcher has legitimate angle-changing speed in the open field.
ICYMI: Arkansas WR Treylon Burks has the tools to be WR1 in the 2022 NFL Draft class
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 23, 2021
Sadly, we didn’t get to see that speed get featured a ton down the field this past season in Arkansas’ offense, given his 10.1-yard average depth of target. We know he’s a horse after the catch, but showing what he can do with more than just 12 deep targets (eight of which he hauled in) will be big for his evaluation.
5. Romeo Doubs, Nevada (Senior)
Doubs was undoubtedly Carson Strong's top target this past season, and he repeatedly clowned Mountain West corners, hauling in 60 passes for 1,020 yards and nine scores in only nine games.
ROMEO DOUBS. THAT IS ALL. pic.twitter.com/3lA2zMA5oB
— Nevada Sports Net (@NevadaSportsNet) November 21, 2020
He’s a long-striding 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, whose speed routinely snuck up on opposing corners. Unlike many long striders, though, Doubs can get off the line of scrimmage with relative ease. He’s got the kind of shake and suddenness at the line that you want to see. That also showed up after the catch where he broke 12 tackles this past season.
We’d love to see him continue to add strength to his frame to hold up to the stronger corners in the league. He’s still got a bit of a lanky frame and can get boxed out at the catch point.
Wild card: Ainias Smith, Texas A&M (Junior)
While the 2021 receiver class was chock full of players, like Smith, who fit into the “offensive weapon” category, he stands nearly alone in his own category in 2022.
The Texas A&M pass-catcher took 143 snaps from the backfield, 323 from the slot and only 60 out wide in 2020. He is pure dynamism, and the Aggies' offense wanted to get the ball in his hands as easily as possible. He broke 21 tackles on 65 catches the past two seasons with an average depth of target a mere 9.4 yards downfield while adding 18 broken tackles on 55 rushing attempts over that span. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, he may never fit the mold of an outside receiver, but he’s a playmaker who will be coveted nonetheless.
Ainias Smith: electric ⚡️⚡️ pic.twitter.com/vfJLWU4igV
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 3, 2021
Names to Watch
Justyn Ross, Clemson (RS Junior)
Flashback to the same time two years ago, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a 2021 wide receiver ranking that didn’t have Ross at the top. He was fresh off a historic freshman season that saw him lead the entire nation in yards per route run and rack up 1,000 yards on only 201 routes.
Ross failed to build on that as a sophomore in 2019, with only 66 catches and 864 yards. He then missed the 2020 season after a congenital fusion was found in his neck. He’s one of the most physical receivers in the country when healthy at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, but he is limited with his speed downfield.
John Metchie III, Alabama (Junior)
It’s Metchie’s show for the Crimson Tide now that DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are moving on to the NFL. He broke out last year with 55 catches and 916 yards in his first season as a starter. He’s got the speed to get past opposing defenses but has not shown much in the way of physicality or ability to play through contact. At only 6-foot, 195 pounds, showing that will be a must before NFL evaluators trust him at the next level.
George Pickens, Georgia (Junior)
Pickens would have cracked the top five before tearing his ACL in April. Now, his 2021 season and 2022 draft stock are in jeopardy. He’s a physical 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who excels at the intermediate level of the defense. The inconsistency at the Bulldogs quarterback position cost him better numbers as a sophomore, but the talent he showed as a freshman who put up 726 yards is still there.
Dominick Blaylock, Georgia (RS Sophomore)
A former top recruit, Blaylock was set for a big 2020 season before tearing his ACL. He recorded 18 catches for 310 yards and five scores despite seeing the field for only 104 passing plays as a freshman in 2019. He’s a shifty yet physical slot option who will likely be the Bulldogs' top target until Pickens returns.
Reggie Roberson Jr., SMU (RS Senior)
Roberson would have almost assuredly been a mid-rounder in 2021 had he not suffered a knee injury four games into the year. He’s a stout 6-foot, 200-pounder with speed to consistently stack down the field. His age will definitely be an issue now as he heads into his fifth year.
Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama (RS Senior)
Tolbert is an intriguing small-school receiver with a lanky frame and a large catch radius. He broke out this past year, hauling in 64 catches for 1,085 yards and eight scores in 11 games. There’s not much more he can prove against his level of competition. A post-season showcase bowl will be big for his evaluation.
Best route-runner: GARRETT WILSON, OHIO STATE
Wilson and Olave are really in their own tier in terms of polish as route-runners. Wilson can run a full route tree with ease and get off the line of scrimmage against pretty much any corner in college football. Not only does he have the understanding of how to set up defenders, but he also possesses the flexibility and explosiveness in his lower half to separate consistently.
Dirty, dirty route by Garrett Wilson. pic.twitter.com/PeAIN3bsB1
— Cory (@realcorykinnan) April 21, 2021
Best deep threat: CHRIS OLAVE, OHIO STATE
Olave is a master at altering his route pacing to stride away from corners down the football field. It also helps that he supposedly has sub-4.4 speed.
— THE Bunch of Nuts Podcast (@bunch_nuts) March 23, 2021
Olave recorded eight deep receptions in only seven games last season. He’s obviously much more than just a deep threat, but no other returning player in college football is better at getting open downfield. Small-schoolers like South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert, SMU’s Reggie Roberson and Nevada’s Romeo Doubs deserve a shoutout, as all have legit juice to take the top off opposing defenses too.
Best after the catch: AINIAS SMITH, TEXAS A&M
This one is hotly contested, as USC’s Drake London is a monster for opposing defensive backs to take down as well. Smith’s got a few more ways to win with his running back-esque build, so he gets the nod. He’s broken 21 tackles on 65 career catches and can bridge the gap between running back and slot receiver in the NFL.
Ainias Smith you didn’t have to do ‘em like that pic.twitter.com/4m3LVGIf1d
— Derek (@DerekAggie06) December 28, 2019
Best at the catch point: TREYLON BURKS, ARKANSAS
Burks not only has the size to physically manhandle defenders at the catch point, but he also has the body control and the ball skills to secure catches. He went 8-of-12 in contested situations last season and routinely hauled in passes outside his frame.
Arkansas’ Treylon Burks might be the most underrated WR in football ⚡️
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 3, 2021
Best hands: CHRIS OLAVE, OHIO STATE
With four career drops on 115 catchable targets, Olave is hard to unseat for this superlative. But with what he’s used to gather passes over his career, maybe saying best “hands” is a misnomer.
Chris Olave secured this catch WITH HIS LEGS ???? pic.twitter.com/hGYQoRCpnt
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 16, 2019