NFL Draft News & Analysis

Early 2023 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Rankings: LSU's Kayshon Boutte, Ohio State's Jaxson Smith-Njigba take the top spots

Kayshon Boutte (5) gained 55 yards on LSU's first play and capped the drive with a 31-yard touchdown reception. Syndication The Daily Advertiser

The strong receiver classes aren’t going anywhere, and 2023 already looks chock-full of possible first-rounders. It’s safe to say the days of the big monsters at the receiver position are officially over, as there is only one receiver in this top-10 who is listed at over 6 feet. Separation is and will continue to be king in the NFL. 

1. Kayshon Boutte, LSU (Junior)

Boutte is 6-foot, 205 pounds of explosiveness. Give him a crease and he is liable to make a house call. The rising junior reportedly ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash in high school, and when you flip on the tape, it’s quite clear that is no exaggerated time. 

The Louisiana native really put himself on the map in the final game of his freshman season against Ole Miss when he went for an absurd 14 catches for 308 yards with three scores. When you're watching him do it all with the 1 on the back of his jersey, it’s hard not to see a lot of Ja’Marr Chase in his game.

Besides getting healthy from the ankle injury that cut his 2021 season to only six games, Boutte needs to improve his physicality when attacking the football in the air. He’s only 7-of-25 in contested situations for his career, which is well short of what you’d want in a No. 1 receiver.

2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (Junior)

There’s no 40-yard dash or freakish measurable to point to in hopes of justifying Smith-Njigba’s lofty spot on this list. I think the fact that he resoundingly outproduced Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — the 10th and 11th overall picks from the 2022 NFL Draft — by over 500 yards last season says enough about his talent level. 

He’s put a very high level of “it factor” on tape. Understanding coverage, attacking leverage, adjusting to off-target passes — Smith-Njigba does all the little things as well as anyone in the class. At 6-foot and 198 pounds, he’s also considerably more physical than Olave and Wilson. 

The red flag in his profile is that he ran 88.6% of his routes from the slot last season and his average depth of target was a paltry 9.3 yards downfield. If he’s drafted where this ranking suggests, the Buckeye's route tree will be completely different on Day 1 in the NFL.   

3. Quentin Johnston, TCU (Junior)

From the perspective of what he’s capable of, Johnston would be No. 1 on this list in my eyes. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, the TCU receiver has all the makings of an alpha dog top receiver.

While we simply haven’t seen enough production or usage to have him leapfrog the top two guys on this list, a lot of that blame lies at the foot of TCU’s passing offense. He not only brings a massive frame that no other top receiver in this class comes close to, but he also has more than enough juice to stack corners down the field. 

What makes him particularly unique for a taller receiver, though, is his contact balance. Johnston shrugs off tackles better than any 6-foot-4-plus college receiver in recent memory. On 55 career receptions, he’s broken an outlandish 26 tackles. Last season, Skyy Moore led college football with 26 broken tackles, but it took him 94 receptions to do so. While he may not yet be a big name with his production, expect that to change this fall. 

4. Jordan Addison, USC (Junior)

The former Pittsburgh receiver is the last of the guys I’d already put firmly in the first-round mix, based on what we’ve already seen from them. He’s a twitchy all-around route-runner who already has a Biletnikoff Award to his name. If there is one area where he’s really excelled over his career, it’s with the ball in his hands. Addison accelerates so gracefully with the kind of vision and elusiveness that you can’t teach.

I’d have harped on his 6-foot, 175-pound frame a decade ago, but after DeVonta Smith and Jahan Dotson, that height-weight combination won't put off NFL scouts. He does a good job of playing bigger than that, with numerous catches through traffic on his tape. He’s gone 22-of-40 in contested situations over his career. 

We'd love to see him improve on the concentration drops. He’s dropped at least 10 passes in each of his seasons at Pittsburgh, posting an 11.6% career drop rate. If this persists at USC, it could scare potential teams in next year's draft.

5. Jermaine Burton, Alabama (Junior)

Going through Burton’s 2021 tape at Georgia, it’s difficult to blame him for jumping ship to the team the Bulldogs beat in the National Championship. He was open constantly yet never posted a 100-yard game and never saw five targets in a single contest. Such is life in Georgia’s run-first attack with Stetson Bennett at quarterback.

With the reigning Heisman winner throwing him the rock, Burton’s numbers are about to soar. 

Burton’s numbers were slowed not only by the Georgia passing attack but also by a groin injury that lingered through a good portion of last season. If you flip on the tape while he was in the midst of dealing with it from Weeks 7-13, he looks like a different player.

A fully healthy Burton, however, is going to be scary this fall. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, he’s one of the most solidly built receivers in this class. He simply hasn’t gotten the opportunity others have. 

6. Parker Washington, Penn State (Junior)

With Jahan Dotson’s 137 targets off to the NFL, Washington is in line for a massive uptick in usage this coming fall. Even in Dotson's shadow, Washington managed 1,309 yards his first two seasons at Penn State.

He’s only been a slot receiver, and that’s where he profiles in the NFL. At 5-foot-10, 207 pounds, he’s got an Amari Rodgers-esque body type that’s more akin to a running back. That serves him well after the catch, where he broke 16 tackles last season. 

Much like Dotson, Washington also possesses Venus flytrap hands. He’s dropped only five passes on 105 catchable targets in his collegiate career, with numerous highlight-reel snags mixed in. 

With his physical playstyle, reliable hands and yards-after-catch ability, Washington is the early favorite for the best pure slot in the draft class. 

7. Josh Downs, North Carolina (RS Sophomore)

At 5-foot-10, 171 pounds, Downs will be tossed into the slot/gadget bucket at his size — fairly or unfairly. He’s taken 94.7% of his snaps from the slot in his career. As we’ve seen with K.J. Hamler, Elijah Moore and Wan’Dale Robinson — along with a number of others in recent drafts — that’s not a total death knell to his draft stock, especially with the caliber of dynamism that Downs has at his disposal.

The Tarheel pass-catcher can crank it up almost immediately when the ball touches his hands — he’s a legit vertical threat out of the slot with six deep receptions last season. While losing Sam Howell may hurt his numbers a little this upcoming season, Downs' stock is secure after what he put on tape as a sophomore.

8. Rakim Jarrett, Maryland (Junior)

Jarrett made waves in the recruiting world when the former five-star flipped from LSU to Maryland. The last time the Terps pulled a five-star wide receiver, it was a guy you may have heard of: Stefon Diggs, back in 2012.

While those are lofty NFL expectations to set, Jarrett looks like a shoo-in to at least be drafted higher than the fifth round, which is where Diggs was selected. 

Jarrett has looked like a five-star ever since he stepped onto campus and has turned around the Maryland offense. He’s averaged 2.26 yards per route run over his career while splitting his time 60/40 between the slot and outside. He’s a well-built 6-foot, 200-pound wideout who explodes off the line of scrimmage and won’t be pigeonholed into one position at the next level.

9. Jacob Cowing, Arizona (Senior)

From a pure evaluation perspective, there’s not another wide receiver I’m looking forward to seeing more than Cowing in 2022. That’s because his tape last season at UTEP was scintillating, but it came against an exclusively Group of Five/FCS schedule. However, he transferred to Arizona this offseason, so we’ll finally get to see him go up against some real-deal competition.

At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Cowing is a touch on the small side and could definitely stand another year in the weight room. He’s so agile getting out of his breaks and is a very natural separator, but he needs to improve the consistency of his hands. While he attacks the ball well, he’s still dropped 12.4% of his targets in his career.

10. Tyler Harrell, Alabama (RS Senior)

Harrell spent four years underutilized at Louisville before moving on to Alabama in mid-April. Even if his 561 career receiving yards may not suggest it, there’s a good chance Harrell blazes the fastest pre-draft 40 in the receiver class next spring. He may not be Jameson Williams from an all-around standpoint, but the former Cardinal can match the 12th overall pick's top-end speed. Last season, Harrell averaged an unheard of 29.2 yards per reception on his 18 catches. 

After the way Louisville coaches were raving about his spring performance prior to transferring, combined with the coaching he’ll get at Alabama, don’t be surprised if he’s one of college football’s biggest breakout players in 2022.

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