The best after-the-catch threats in the 2023 NFL Draft

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

• SMU's Rashee Rice leads the class in total YAC: He finished 61 yards ahead of TCU's Quentin Johnston despite playing two fewer games.

• TCU's Derius Davis paces the group in YAC per reception: Horned Frogs receivers torched opposing defenses in 2022.

• Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba may still be the top after-the-catch threat: He doesn't feature on these leaderboards due to injury in 2022.

Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins

Yards after the catch, or YAC, is a stat that gives us an idea about the most productive receivers with the ball in their hands. While some do more damage in their route running, these guys give defenses problems after the catch, forcing defenders to put their open-field tackling skills to the test — and often making them look silly in the process.

Here, we’re going to look at after-the-catch metrics for 2023 NFL Draft prospects and see who in this class is the most dangerous with the ball in their hands.

Below are the leaders of the 2023 wide receiver draft class in terms of total yards after the catch, along with their PFF big board ranking. Only receivers listed on the big board will show up in these rankings, so despite the fact that Ball State’s Jayshon Jackson and Louisiana-Monroe’s Tyrone Howell finished Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, in total YAC, they will not feature.

Rank Player School Total YAC Big Board Rank
1 Rashee Rice SMU 593 76
2 Quentin Johnston TCU 532 10
3 Nathaniel “Tank” Dell Houston 530 44
4 Jalen Moreno-Cropper Fresno State 528 142
5 Zay Flowers Boston College 503 29
6 Jalin Hyatt Tennessee 489 77
7 Demario Douglas Liberty 469 262
8 C.J. Johnson East Carolina 465 354
9 Xavier Hutchinson Iowa State 447 175
10 Marvin Mims Oklahoma 440 109

What makes Rice’s hold on the top spot for most yards after the catch all the more impressive is that he’s 61 yards ahead of Johnston despite playing two fewer games, as Johnston’s TCU team made the College Football Playoff. 

Tank Dell and Jalen Moreno-Cropper are the most consistent on a year-to-year basis in yards after the catch, as they finished in the top five of this draft class in both 2021 and 2022 and are the only two receivers to record more than 500 yards after the catch in each of the past two seasons.

Here are the top 10 in yards after the catch per reception. The same rules apply to make these rankings: The players must be on the PFF big board.

Rank Player School YAC/REC Big Board Rank
1 Derius Davis TCU 9.5 265
2 Quentin Johnston TCU 8.9 10
3 Marvin Mims Oklahoma 8.1 109
4 Puka Nacua BYU 7.4 237
5 Jonathan Mingo Ole Miss 7.3 148
6 Jalin Hyatt Tennessee 7.3 77
7 Malik Knowles Kansas State 7.0 355
8 Jordan Addison USC 7.0 30
9 Michael Wilson Stanford 6.9 66
10 C.J. Johnson East Carolina 6.9 354

Louisiana-Monroe's Tyrone Powell, who cracked the top 10 in both of these categories statistically, doesn’t appear on the PFF big board so, unfortunately, is left out of the rankings. 

A few things stand out when looking at this ranking. For one, TCU receivers torched opposing defenses. Not only are the top two receivers in yards after the catch per reception Horned Frogs, but a third TCU receiver, Tae Barber, also cracked the top 10. However, like Powell, he does not feature on the big board, so he didn’t make these rankings.

Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims averaged 8.1 yards after the catch per reception and recorded the deepest average depth of target (17.0) among the receivers on this list, which contributes mightily to his 20.0 yards per reception — tops in this draft class among players on the big board.

Leading the class in yards after the catch per reception, Derius Davis is the only wide receiver prospect of 142 qualifiers whose 2022 yards after the catch per reception figure is greater than his average depth of target (9.5 vs 7.0), resulting in a high percentage of his yards coming after the catch. In fact, 401 of his 531 yards in 2022 came with the ball in his hands, a little more than 75%.

In reviewing these numbers, one may come to the conclusion that Quentin Johnston is the top after-the-catch receiver in this class, as he finished in second place on both leaderboards. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that Johnston is 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds; after-the-catch receivers generally tend to measure in much smaller.

However, the best after-the-catch receiver in this class may be one who didn’t appear on either of these lists, after he missed most of 2022 with a hamstring injury.

If his 2021 season was any indication, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba would’ve placed highly on both leaderboards had he been healthy. JSN recorded a whopping 790 yards after the catch and 8.3 yards after the catch per reception, the former of which would’ve comfortably topped the list in 2022 and the latter placing third. This came despite the fact that he shared a receiver room with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Having to do the same with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka likely wouldn’t have changed things too much.

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