NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Ranking the top 10 wide receiver prospects

Fort Worth, Texas, USA; TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) scores a touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats in the third quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

• TCU's Quentin Johnston slots in as WR1: He projects as a top-10 draft pick with impressive physical traits for the position.

• Potentially four WRs projected to go in Round 1: Johnston, Zay Flowers, Jordan Addison and Josh Downs all have the tools to go in the first round in a weak class overall.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

The wide receiver class in the 2023 NFL Draft is arguably the weakest at the position in half a decade, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely bereft of talent. It just means we’ve seen an insane influx of talent lately. What the 2023 class does have is speed. If teams are looking for a smaller, quicker receiver in their offense, this class has a handful of them.

10. Rashee Rice, SMU (Senior | 6-2, 203)

  • 2022 Grade: 86.0
  • Play Style: Possession Receiver
  • Initial Round Projection: Late Day 2

Rice finally got to the top of the SMU receiver depth chart as a senior and didn’t look back. He racked up 96 catches for 1,344 yards and 10 scores in 12 games for the Mustangs. They pumped Rice 156 targets because of how reliable he is on the underneath and intermediate route trees. Even if he doesn’t completely separate, Rice still has the kind of physicality and ball skills to come down with footballs in traffic. 

While Rice has the tools to likely be a productive receiver at the next level, it’s worth wondering how high his ceiling can go with relatively average physical traits. He’s not going to blow up the combine by any means and struggled on tape to stride away from Group of Five corners. That’s not a death knell to his prospects, but it likely dictates the type of routes he’ll run in the NFL.

9. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee (Junior | 6-0, 185)

  • 2022 Grade: 77.4
  • Play Style: Vertical Threat
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

The 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner had the most impressive big-play season at the position in college football. Hyatt went for 1,267 yards and 15 scores while averaging 18.9 yards per catch. Hyatt’s skill set is about as perfect as one can be for a Josh Heupel-coached offense. The junior has elite juice and was a nightmare on the vertical route tree to defend. His speed put off-coverage safeties in a massive bind trying to deal with him from the slot (87.3% of snaps there).

While Hyatt was undoubtedly electric at Tennessee, his role there doesn't exist in the NFL. Because of his alignments in Heupel’s offense, Hyatt saw only 31 snaps against press coverage all season. That figure will increase nearly tenfold next season. A vast majority of his production for the Volunteers required little more than Hyatt winning a track race. How he’ll separate running an NFL route tree is still anyone’s guess at this point.

8. Parker Washington, Penn State (RS Sophomore | 5-10, 212)

  • 2022 Grade: 76.4 
  • Play Style: Power Slot
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Washington has a unique build and skill set when projecting to the next level. He looks more like a running back at 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds than he does a receiver, and that’s borne out with the ball in his hands. Over the past two seasons, he’s broken 31 tackles on 110 receptions. He’s also physical at the catch point, catching 11-of-17 contested targets over the past two years. 

That skill set is tailor-made to fill a power slot role at the next level — the guy you give your jet sweeps to, feel comfortable about as a blocker from the slot and know will attack the football over the middle of the field.

7. Nathaniel Dell, Houston (RS Senior | 5-10, 165)

  • 2022 Grade: 83.0  
  • Play Style: Separator
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

Let’s get the knocks out of the way first. Dell is older (just turned 23 in October) and smaller (165 pounds now, but was 150 when he transferred to Houston from junior college) for a top receiver prospect. In a lot of ways, though, Dell is like a poor man’s DeVonta Smith. Dell dominated his competition level more than any receiver in the country this season. He led the nation in both yards (1,399) and scores (17) in 2022. And he did it all by getting open at will. Dell’s 13 scores and 38 first downs on receptions where he was charted as open both led the FBS. Like Smith before him, Dell’s size ceases to matter that much after you watch him play.

6. Rome Odunze, Washington (RS Sophomore | 6-3, 201)

  • 2022 Grade: 81.0
  • Play Style: Well-Rounded
  • Initial Round Projection: Day 2

It was quite the breakout campaign for Odunze, who immediately developed a rapport with quarterback Michael Penix. The receiver went for 693 yards on 44 catches for six scores in his first six games this season.

In a class chock-full of undersized receivers, Odunze's size sticks out. At 6-foot-3, his size and catch radius will allow him to fill any role at the next level. We’d still love to see him grow into his frame a little more to be more physical at the catch point, as he’s gone 4-of-18 on contested targets the past two seasons.

5. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (Junior | 6-1, 200)

  • 2022 Grade: N/A
  • Play Style: Power Slot
  • Initial Round Projection: Early Day 2

JSN has to have one of the weirdest career arcs in college football history. He played all of 162 snaps as a freshman, catching 10 passes for 49 yards. As a sophomore, he led an Ohio State receiving corps that had Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave with 95 catches for 1,595 yards. Then as a junior, JSN played just 60 snaps while limited with a hamstring injury.

On one hand, JSN is a very safe pick. His ball skills (nine catches on 10 contested catches in 2021), size, after-the-catch ability (19 broken tackles in 2021) and nuanced route running are safe traits when projecting to the slot. On the other hand, he lacks explosiveness, long speed and leaping ability to win consistently downfield in the NFL. While quality slot receivers are valuable, being pigeonholed into such a role limits what he can bring to an NFL offense.

4. Josh Downs, North Carolina (Junior | 5-10, 175)

  • 2022 Grade: 82.8
  • Play Style: Underneath Route Runner
  • Initial Round Projection: 1-2

Downs personifies the term “shifty.” Good luck sticking with him on option routes over the middle of the field without contact outlawed past five yards in the NFL. Even with it legalized in college football, Downs still got whatever he wanted over the course of his career. He finished with an incredible 74.8% catch rate in his career with 94 catches for 1,029 yards and 11 scores in 11 games this past season.

Like many on this list, size is Downs’ biggest concern. His speed is good, but it may not be enough to think he can hack it on the outside after taking 89% of his snaps from the slot in college. 

3. Jordan Addison, USC (Junior | 6-0, 175)

  • 2022 Grade: 81.5
  • Play Style: Separator
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

Addison was the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner as a true sophomore for Pittsburgh. That season, he racked up 1,593 yards on 100 catches with 17 scores. Addison is a pure separator in every sense of the word. He possesses enough speed to threaten every level of the defense and combines that with some of the tightest route breaks in the draft class. Speed is only half of the equation for wide receivers, though, as how quickly one can stop often matters just as much. Addison can do both.

The worry is that he’s not the greatest at the rest of what goes into playing receiver. He can get pushed around at the catch point (two catches on nine contested targets this season) and has struggled with drops (9.5% career drop rate). Neither of those is all that important, though, if you can get open as Addison does.

2. Zay Flowers, Boston College (Senior | 5-10, 172)

  • 2022 Grade: 75.5 
  • Play Style: Movable Weapon
  • Initial Round Projection: 1st

In a game played by some spectacular athletes, Flowers’ movement skills are on another level. His combination of explosiveness and fluidity is unfair to try to guard. It’s why so few were able to do just that this season.

Flowers racked up 1,077 yards on 78 catches this season, including 12 scores, despite a less-than-stellar quarterback situation. And he did it all primarily as an outside wide receiver (66.6% of snaps) despite maybe not fitting the prototype for that position. That lack of size and nine drops on the season are the only thing keeping him from being the class' WR1. 

1. Quentin Johnston, TCU (Junior | 6-4, 215)

  • 2022 Grade: 76.3
  • Play Style: True X
  • Initial Round Projection: Top 10

Physically, there’s nothing close to Johnston in the draft class. There are other receivers with his size, other receivers with his catch radius, other receivers with his speed, other receivers with his after-the-catch ability — but none who come close to putting all four of those together. He’s one of the more impressive athletes to come out at the receiver position over the past decade, with reported measurables of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump — all at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.

Of all the freaky traits Johnston possesses, the work he does with the ball in his hands stands out above the rest. He’s averaged 7.7 yards after the catch for his career with 43 broken tackles on 108 receptions.

It is worth questioning, though, why Johnston hasn’t been more productive despite his insane talent. His 901 yards this season are a career high and he still recorded under 50 yards in five of his 11 games. TCU split him wide left play after play (492 of his 586 snaps came from that alignment) and was completely OK with using him as a decoy rather than a featured weapon. At least he’ll get a chance to shine on the brightest stage in the College Football Playoff to put any of those concerns to bed.

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