Seriously, who should go first? Is there any consensus? Of course there isn't. This isn't the running back class, we are talking rookie receivers. Below, a case is made for each of the top-5 2018 rookie wide receivers and why their name should be the first ones picked in rookie drafts. Now, as of April 1st, we don't know NFL team landing spots yet or even what round these guys will go in the NFL Draft. With that in mind, other names might jump into this discussion as we continue to move forward. As always, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter at@robbyjeffries to make your case for who should go first. Happy Drafting!
Christian Kirk, WR Texas A&M
Kirk is a 5’10”, 200lb. energizer bunny that never stops. The explosive junior out of College Station racked up almost 3,000 yards from scrimmage in just 39 games for the Aggies. But wait, he did more! Kirk also set a school record with six career punts returned for touchdowns in a career. Coaches, scouts, and current NFL players have raved about his ability whether he is running, receiving, or returning. After an impressive combine and pro-day, Kirk is creeping up draft board and will most likely be taken in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft.
The Case For 1st: Kirk plays very physical for his size and it shows when he is playing against an aggressive press from a bigger corner. A&M moved him all over the field which showcased his ability to change direction with sudden quickness and finesse. He uses his body well snapping from one direction to another with good salesmanship. On NFL Network's 'Move the Sticks' podcast, Kirk talked about improving his ability to read defensive coverages to maximize his yards. His hard work showed with Kirk’s average yards per catch increasing by a full yard from his previous two seasons. Lastly, despite playing almost every offensive down as well as special teams, Kirk did not deal with any major injuries.
That durability as well as his versatility should fit in various types of offenses because of his ability to play in multiple spots as a runner or receiver. Having the traits to play slot receiver, especially his command over the entire route tree, should help him see the NFL field early in his career. Kirk could rack up targets as a dependable option for any quarterback get chased down by defensive lineman.
The Case Against 1st: Kirk does a lot of things really well, but he isn’t top of the class in any statistic. His speed his above average, his production is good but no James Washington or Anthony Miller, and he lacks any “wow” catches that you see with Courtland Sutton or DJ Moore. He also won’t break many tackles once a defender gets their hands on him.
NFL Player Comparison: Golden Tate
DJ Moore, WR Maryland
Few college receivers have had to play with four different quarterbacks during their entire collegiate career, let alone in just one, 13-game season. The 6’0”, 210lb. junior wideout from Maryland had to do just that, catching footballs from four different QBs in what was a tough and injury-riddled season for the Terrapins. Moore managed to be the one shining spot however, garnering over 1,000 receiving yards to go along with 9 scores (one rushing).
The Case For 1st: Credit to@GridironSchol91 for showing this stat: Moore accounted for 53% of the team’s total receiving yardage. In comparison, Calvin Ridley (see below) received only 35% of the teams passing yardage, which is still a fairly high percentage. It was so impressive that defenses in the Big 10 knew the ball was coming to him and yet he still was able to get open and produce. Moore has great athleticism when you watch his tape and that was what helped him get open so often at the college level. This athletic claim was backed up by a very impressive combine. With the longest broad jump, second highest vertical, third quickest shuttle, and fourth quickest 40-time, Moore ended up in the 97th percentile of all NFL receivers who completed all drills at the combine.
A receiver that combines elite athleticism with an extremely high level of production, despite such woeful play at quarterback, has to be in consideration for top off the board in fantasy drafts. To add to his resume, Moore is a belligerent run blocker as he is always looking for contact. His stout frame mixed with his athleticism is enough to make him at least a day two draft pick in the NFL draft.
The Case Against 1st: Contrary to his athletic numbers, Moore hasn’t really been known as a downfield threat. Rarely did he soar to win contested balls, and you would expect more separation down the field with his top end speed. His production was somewhat limited (although I’ll attribute most of that to his quarterback play) until his junior season.
NFL Player Comparison: Roddy White
Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama
The route tactician, moving-the-sticks magician with hand placement precision: Calvin Ridley. ‘Bama now seems to churn out an elite wide receiver every three-four years with Julio Jones (2011) and Amari Cooper (2015). Enter Ridley into this trifecta as the 6’ foot, 190lb junior looks locked in as a 1st round draft pick for 2018. Ridley helped lead the Crimson Tide to another BCS Championship in 2018 finishing second on the team in scrimmage yards with just under 1,000.
The Case For 1st: Whenever a ball moved through the air for Alabama, there was a high probability it was headed in the direction of Calvin Ridley. It was no secret that Ridley was the go-to target on passing downs for Nick Saban. Ridley had 63 receptions on the year with the next closest receiving total being running back Bo Scarborough with 17 receptions. With defenses keying on Ridley, he was able to still find ways to get open with his quick breaks and little wasted motion in his footwork. Ridley’s durability at 190 pounds is also quite the feat as the wideout had no more than small bruises and bumps through his three years in Tuscaloosa.
Need a downfield bomb? Ridley has the speed to get there. Need a quick out to pick up the 5 yards and the first down? Ridley will separate with ease. Ridley’s football IQ is quite impressive as you can see him sit down in soft spots of zone coverages or work back to the quarterback regardless if the pass comes his way or not. Ridley is often mocked in 2018 drafts as the first receiver off the board due to this IQ and ability to play anywhere on the football field.
The Case Against 1st: We’ve seen lightweight receivers have great success in the NFL in the form of Antonio Brown, TY Hilton, and Doug Baldwin; however, Ridley at 6’0” has a lankier frame than the aforementioned All-Pro players. His stature, at times, does not match-up well with bigger, stronger cornerbacks. He also happens to be the elder statesman of this group at 23.5 years. The latest knock to Ridley’s draft profile would be his poor combine aside from his 40-time. His SPARQ score was in the 7th percentile of all WRs to complete the drills at the combine, which also happened to be worst of all WRs who finished every drill at the 2018 combine. Athletic metrics vs game tape arguments begin!
NFL Player Comparison: Emmanuel Sanders
Courtland Sutton, WR SMU
If this group of wide receivers were playing the backyard game “500”, the redshirt junior from SMU would win hands down. The 6’3”, 220lb. reciever had 31 touchdowns at SMU after being converted from a defensive back following his freshman year. He proved to be a downfield threat as well, averaging 16.5 yards per reception. He enters the 2018 draft as one of the top down-the-field receivers in the class.
The Case For 1st: Known for his jump ball ability, Sutton has the strength to go up and win contested catches whether it’s a 5-yard back shoulder fade or a 50-yard bomb. What he may lack in separation from speed, he more than makes up for in separation with his impressive body control and leaping prowess. He wins not only receptions with his physicality, but also with his blocks. Sutton isn’t afraid of contact and at times seeks it out which is rare for a wide receiver in 2018. His ability to shake would-be tacklers is second to none. He has good athleticism for his size and should be one of the top picks in the 2018 draft.
The mix between his jump ball ability, good athleticism, and physicality is enough for teams to wanted him early in the draft. Teams are always looking for big “X” receivers that have this type of blend in their game and Sutton fits that build for many teams. He could be an instant starter in 2018.
The Case Against 1st: Sutton tended to make some concentration drops as well as some plain ‘ole drops in general. It wasn’t that frequent, but it was enough to notice. Sutton also isn’t known for having breakaway speed. His separation leaves something to be desired from a quickness standpoint. Sutton has also been known to take plays off here and there, which isn’t what you want to hear when looking at taking someone in the 1st round of an NFL draft.
NFL Player Comparison: Dez Bryant
James Washington, WR Oklahoma St.
Watching some highlight videos on Washington sometimes gets a little trippy. You think you’ve seen the same play over and over, but really he just makes play after play look the same with his gear switching and ability to outrace his man down the field. The 5”11”, 213lb. senior was the recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to college’s top receiver each year, after amassing 1,549 receiving yards last year.
The Case For 1st: Washington tracks the football with SONAR-like abilities, adjusting and contorting his body to reel in catch after catch from his college quarterback Mason Rudolph. What’s truly amazing is that Washington never seems to lose his stride when finding the football over the shoulder. With a career average of 19.8 yards per reception, few receivers performed better downfield than Washington. Once the catch is secured, Washington turns into a running back, using his good stiff arm and upper body strength to push away weak, would-be tacklers. The durability factor is fairly impressive as well, as Washington never missed a game due to injury. Minus sitting out the second half vs. Texas this year, the dude was out there churning and burning every Saturday.
Defenses constantly knew what Washington was going to do to them, yet he still consistently burned corners on a weekly basis. When teams gave him cushion, sometimes up to 12 yards, he would do a simple stop route and break a tackle or two for the first down. He is a dangerous weapon with the right quarterback and system.
The Case Against 1st: Washington is not nearly as versatile (played most snaps I watched on the outside right) as some other wideouts in this class. His route tree was fairly limited to go routes, deep posts, and comeback/stop routes with some slants sprinkled in. His motion for cutting or coming back to the ball is clunky as he is fairly upright when changing direction. He got away with a lot of this in Big XII play because teams had their corners put such a huge cushion on him for fear that he would burn past them. He rarely tried to pinpoint balls at their highest point and instead let them falls into his lap. NFL defenders have a much better chance at knocking it away with this type of philosophy.
NFL Player Comparison: Greg Jennings