NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft: Wide receiver prospect superlatives

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

  • Jalin Hyatt excels down the field: In a class filled with speedsters, the Tennessee WR has earned the “best deep threat” moniker.
  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the best route runner: The Ohio State product gets open at will against man coverage due to his excellent route running.
  • Quentin Johnston creates value after the catch: The TCU WR broke 40 tackles on 148 career collegiate receptions.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

You may have heard it’s a down receiver class compared to previous years. While this is true, much of it has to do with the fact that most of the top receivers in this class have limitations in one regard or another. In certain roles, numerous receivers in this class can still flourish. Let’s examine which receiver is the best at each aspect of the position:

Best Deep Threat: Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

This one is hotly contested. Nebraska’s Trey Palmer was the fastest receiver at the combine (4.33) and at the Senior Bowl (21.15 MPH). TCU’s Quentin Johnston is the best pure go-ball receiver on the outside. SMU’s Rashee Rice led the nation with 18 deep receptions in 2022.

Nonetheless, Hyatt registered the most deep yards in college football last season (677), as he struck more fear in opposing defenses than anyone else. He’s got a game-changing gear downfield.

Best Route-Runner: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

This is what JSN does. He runs cleaner routes more consistently than anyone else in the class, which is what makes him one of the higher-floor receivers and the 11th overall player on the PFF draft board. He not only can get open at will against man coverage but also understands how to find space in zone coverage.

Best Releases: Michael Wilson, Stanford

This class isn't particularly adept in their release packages due to so many of the top guys not even facing press much, especially from the slot. While Wilson hasn’t faced much press either, it’s not because of his role, as he’s only played 14 games over the previous three seasons.

On the 133 snaps against press coverage over that span, he averaged 2.77 yards per route. Then, at the Senior Bowl, he put on a clinic in getting off the line of scrimmage. He’s one of the few receivers in the draft class who can win with burst (1.5-second 10-split) or with power (23 bench press reps) at the line of scrimmage. 

Best After the Catch: Quentin Johnston, TCU

Johnston has been the single-most impressive receiver after the catch from a statistical perspective that we’ve graded at the collegiate level. His 45 broken tackles on 115 career receptions are utterly insane. For comparison, Deebo Samuel — the best YAC receiver currently in the NFL — broke only 40 tackles on 148 career collegiate receptions. Johnston can be special with the ball in his hands. 

Best at the Catch Point: Cedric Tillman, Tennessee

Tillman has a lot of prototypical possession receiver traits, displaying long arms (32 ¾ inches), big hands (10 inches) and a propensity to “big boy” cornerbacks at the catch point. Over the past two seasons, Tillman went 19 of 32 in contested situations and dropped only five of 106 catchable targets. If you’re looking for reliability, Tillman is your man.

Best Hands: Charlie Jones, Purdue

While he doesn’t have the lowest drop rate of all draft-eligible receivers, there’s a very good chance that he has the lowest drop rate of those who’ll get drafted. Between his time at Buffalo, Iowa and Purdue, Jones let only six passes slip through his hands on 155 career opportunities. Of those, half were due to having to reach behind his body on poorly thrown balls. That will make him an attractive option on Day 3.

Freakiest Athlete: Quentin Johnston, TCU

Johnston is a unique athlete in a number of ways. From his lengthy build (6-foot-3 with a nearly 6-foot-10 wingspan) to his explosiveness (40.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-2 broad jump), Johnston is in rarified air from a physical standpoint. His tools combined with how easily he can throttle down for a bigger wide receiver make him WR1 on the PFF board. You don’t often see 208-pounders stop on dimes to send corners flying  like Johnston can.

Best Slot: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

It should be no surprise that the player with more yards in a single season from the slot than any other in the draft class should get this superlative. JSN’s 1,367 yards and eight scores from the slot in 2021 should give a good indication of what he’s capable of at the NFL level.

Best Gadget Player: Demario Douglas, Liberty

At 5-foot-8, 179 pounds, Douglas is never going to be a do-it-all receiver. If you’re going to scheme touches for someone, though, give me the twitched-up receiver that broke 39 tackles on 129 catches the past two seasons. He’s likely to find a role as a returner somewhere in the league with two punt return scores in his career at Liberty.

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