NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Biggest pro and con for PFF’s top wide receiver prospects

Glendale, Arizona, USA; TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) runs after a catch in the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines of the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver class doesn't quite match up to those of the past three seasons, which makes identifying strengths and weaknesses all the more important. To really quantify that, let’s first put this year’s class into context against those past three classes for a four-year prospect ranking.

Top WR prospects since 2020
1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU (2021)
2. DeVonta Smith, Alabama (2021)
3. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (2021)
4. Quentin Johnston, TCU (2023)
5. Jameson Williams, Alabama (2022)
6. Drake London, USC (2022)
7. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (2020)
8. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (2022)
9. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma (2020)
10. Chris Olave, Ohio State (2022)
11. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (2023)
12. Henry Ruggs, Alabama (2020)

As you can see, the pickings are a little slim at the top compared to past classes — especially 2021. That being said, I still view Johnston as a potentially special prospect who can fill a role that few others in this class can. 

WR1 Quentin Johnston, TCU (6-3, 208 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 10th

Pro: Explosiveness

Johnston has high-end explosive capabilities that truly aren’t found in every draft class. He possesses rare bounce and burst for a bigger receiver.

Con: Ball Skills

A 10%-plus drop rate and sub-50% contested catch rate for a bigger wide receiver is a massive red flag. There are not a lot of big receivers who don’t excel in those areas in the league.

WR2 Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (6-1, 196 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 12th

Pro: Route-Running

JSN may have only spent three years at Ohio State, but that was long enough for him to get his PhD in route running (I hate myself). He’s one of the more polished collegiate route runners you’ll ever see.

Con: Long Speed

This is why JSN was the slot in his time at Ohio State despite being bigger than both Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. And it likely means he’ll stay there in the NFL.

WR3 Zay Flowers, Boston College (5-9, 182 | Senior)

Big Board Rank: 29th

Pro: Twitchiness

Flowers has a bit of what made recent prospects Garrett Wilson and Jaylen Waddle so special — that bounciness you know when you see it. It almost looks like Flowers slingshots out of his cuts with how little speed he loses.

Con: Catch Radius

Having 29.25-inch arms is a tough sell at the NFL level. That gives quarterbacks such a small margin for error. The leading receiver with sub-30-inch arms in the NFL last season? Greg Dortch. With 461 yards. That’s a scary precedent. 

WR4 Jordan Addison, USC (5-11, 173 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 30th

Pro: Loose Athleticism

There’s something oddly pleasing about watching Addison change directions. It just looks so easy and free to him, the same way it would for, say, a world-class soccer player. It’s definitely not something I think can shine through in a setting like the NFL Combine, which I think explains his mediocre pre-draft testing. But it is why he won the Biletnikoff Award as a sophomore in 2021.

Con: Play Strength

The man is 174 pounds. He has big issues with press coverage and physical cornerbacks. Hopefully he’ll find more answers at the next level, or he’ll have to be protected.

WR5 Josh Downs, North Carolina (5-9, 171 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 40th

Pro: Creativity

Downs has a deep bag of tricks when it comes to getting open. He will switch up his route pacing, stems and breaks to throw defenders off guard.

Con: Versatility

Downs really has one role he’s likely to play at the next level, and that’s slot. Even then, he’s not going to play in such a role that wants the slot receiver to add on as a blocker in the run game.

WR6 Nathaniel Dell (5-8, 165 | RS Senior)

Big Board Rank: 44th

Pro: Footwork

Dell can sauce defensive backs at the line or on his break with feet that are a blur. With them, he can execute any route you want on the tree from inside or out.

Con: Size

Dell measures in at 5-foot-8 3/8 and 165 pounds. No receiver who weighed 165 or less has gone for more than 688 yards in a season since PFF began charting in 2006 (Taylor Gabriel).

WR7 Michael Wilson (6-2, 213 | RS Senior)

Big Board Rank: 67th

Pro: Releases

Wilson can get off the line with suddenness (1.5-second 10-yard split) or strength (23 bench reps). He has an NFL-ready release package.

Con: Injury History

Wilson played only 14 games and 691 snaps over the past three seasons. While none of his injuries are ones you’d worry about affecting him long term, it’s still a worrisome trend.

WR8 Rashee Rice (6-1, 204 | Senior)

Big Board Rank: 75th

Pro: Body Control

Rashee Rice can contort into whatever position he needs to get into to haul in off-target passes or avoid defenders after the catch. He’s very flexible for a well-built receiver.

Con: Consistency

Rice’s attention to detail varied widely from snap to snap. I don’t know if it was conditioning or what, but Rice didn’t break the same intensity to every rep.

WR9 Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee (6-0, 176 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 76th

Pro: Explosiveness

The receiver with a 40-inch vertical and 11-foot-3 broad jump may have some gas in the tank. Hyatt didn’t average 18.9 yards per reception and score 15 touchdowns last year on accident.

Con: Route-Running Experience

Hyatt has been exclusively a free-release vertical threat from the slot in his career. He saw only 71 snaps versus press in his college career, and 28 of those came outside.

WR10 A.T. Perry, Wake Forest (6-3, 198 | RS Senior)

Big Board Rank: 80th

Pro: Catch Radius

With 33 1/4-inch arms, Perry is well versed in plucking balls out of mid-air. He also adjusts well to vertical balls down the field.

Con: Sloppiness

Perry is a free-wheeling route runner who doesn’t always hit his landmarks. It’s why often his most impressive reps are on simple routes like gos or slants.

WR11 Cedric Tillman, Tennesee (6-3, 213 | RS Senior)

Big Board Rank: 86th

Pro: Physicality

There’s no bigger bully in the draft class at receiver than Tillman. He wants to play a handsy game and will toss smaller cornerbacks off him.

Con: Dynamism

He’s just going to be a possession guy with limited yards after the catch. He broke only 13 tackles on 109 career receptions and averaged 4.1 yards after the catch.

WR12 Kayshon Boutte, LSU (5-11, 195 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 106th

Pro: YAC

Boutte looks like he could join this deep running back class with how adeptly he picks up chunks of yards in the open field. He broke 30 tackles on 130 career receptions to clear the vaunted 20% threshold.

Con: Catch Point

Boutte does not always attack the football in the air the way you’d like from a starting NFL receiver. He had an 11.0% drop rate and 33.3% contested catch rate for his career.

WR13 Marvin Mims, Oklahoma (5-11, 183 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 107th

Pro: Downfield Separation

Mims can hit a gear that will allow him to separate from NFL cornerbacks, and he runs vertical routes with nuance to maximize his athletic gifts. It’s why he averaged more than 20 yards a catch in each of the past two seasons.

Con: Play Strength

It’s not just the size that’s an issue for Mims, but also how he is pushed around on the outside. He may be the dreaded “slot only” in the league.

WR14 Tyler Scott, Cincinnati (5-10, 177 | Junior)

Big Board Rank: 116th

Pro: Burst

Scott can really get moving in a hurry. He changes angles in the open field with the ball in his hands.

Con: Route Running

Scott was primarily a running back in high school and still looks like that at times on the outside. He runs routes at times like they are drawn on paper with little salesmanship to speak of.

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