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By Stone Loitfellner, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
“If there’s one thing that a majority of Philadelphia fans can agree on it’s that Howie Roseman and the Eagles need to make the right choice at wide receiver in this year’s draft. Not only were the offensive struggles woefully visible throughout the season, but almost the entirety of the receiver corps also underperformed.”
This is precisely how I started my rookie receiver wishlist last year. Looking ahead to the 2021 draft, I feel awfully confident in saying the fan base feels the same, with many disappointed in the results of Jalen Reagor‘s rookie campaign compared to others such as Justin Jefferson, who set an NFL record for rookies with 1,400 receiving yards. Even with Reagor missing time, playing without a traditional offensive coordinator and playing with a struggling Carson Wentz followed by a rookie Jalen Hurts, both of which played behind a damaged offensive line, the fans’ frustrations are understandable. Especially since Jefferson was picked immediately after the Eagles selected Reagor (it is worth noting the Vikings had no plan on drafting a receiver until they saw the Eagles passed on Jefferson).
Although Philly finds themselves in a similar situation to last year, they do have one thing going for them: the sixth overall pick, giving them a high chance of landing one of the top two receivers in the draft. With Jacksonville holding the top pick in the draft, it’s more than likely Trevor Lawrence goes first overall. The Jets are next up and could possibly draft a receiver or Penei Sewell, the top-ranked offensive linemen, to help out Sam Darnold. However, the main consensus is Justin Fields going to New York, giving them the number two ranked quarterback in the draft. Things do get a little trickier at the number three pick, which belongs to Miami. The Dolphins could be the team to select the first receiver in the draft to give Tua Tagovail0a a true threat outside of DeVante Parker with many speculating DeVonta Smith to be that receiver since the two have a former connection. On the other hand, if Sewell is there, Miami could use the offensive line help. Arriving at the fourth pick, we stop in Atlanta, who despite a high-scoring offense, find themselves once again with a top pick. Of course, with their defensive woes, the Falcons could take Patrick Surtain II, cornerback out of Alabama. Still, there’s a chance Atlanta goes with an offensive selection, even with Julio Jones aging, the Falcons still have young talented receivers in Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley. When it comes to Atlanta’s quarterback situation though, it would make sense to prepare for the future with Matt Ryan in the back-half of his career. They could easily do this by taking a quarterback in the draft with some believing the answer to be BYU’s Zach Wilson. With four picks out of the way, we’re now only one pick away with the Bengals being the last stop before the Eagles’ pick. This shouldn’t be much of a worry because even with an aging AJ Green (who is set to become a free agent), the Bengals have Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, not to mention a healthy cap situation to bring in another receiver through free agency. They could still help out the new face of the franchise, Joe Burrow, big time by drafting the talented pass-catching tight end out of Florida, Kyle Pitts. If not, the Bengals most likely go defense or offensive line: it simply doesn’t make much sense for them to go receiver here.
With all of that being said we arrive at pick six, where Philadelphia fans will eagerly be waiting for what name gets called, hoping for it to be a key piece in the puzzle of getting this team back on track. So let’s delve into the rookie receiver wishlist.
1. DeVonta Smith 6’1″ 175lbs – Alabama
The season was definitely an interesting one, like everything else in 2020, but the wide receiver prospect ranking race would’ve likely been more exciting had Ja’Marr Chase not opted-out for the season. Nonetheless, DeVonta Smith played this past year and it did nothing but boost his stock. Smith let absolutely no one down and flashed his talents all season long, posting 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns off of 117 receptions (15.9 yards per reception) all of which lead the NCAA. To add to his success in 2020, Smith finished the season with six different honors; AP player of the year, Fred Biletnikoff Award, Maxwell Award, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, Walter Camp Player of the Year as well as the Heisman Trophy. Then, if all of that’s not enough, let’s bring up his National Championship performance where he managed 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half. It’s plenty safe to say that Smith is a highly coveted prospect with an immense amount of talent and upside that can benefit any NFL offense, but if the numbers don’t do it for you and you would rather see for yourself, just take a look at this. The main takeaway from watching Smith is that, above all else, he is a true route-running speedster. Although he lacks impressive size and body muscle, he makes up for it with his stalky build, high-pointing of the ball and a strong sense of physicality when needed. Make no mistakes on DeVonta Smith, even if he doesn’t look like a DK Metcalf type prospect, he’s just as dangerous in his own ways.
2. Ja’Marr Chase 6’0″ 208lbs – LSU
This is what makes the top two receiving prospects interesting. Since Chase opted out this season he fell (only slightly) to the second-ranked receiver. Had he played in 2020, well it could’ve been a different story. Either way, Ja’Marr Chase is just as good as a candidate as DeVonta Smith for any teams looking for a young electric offensive weapon. In 2019, Chase lead the NCAA in receiving yards (1,780) as well as touchdowns (20), while placing second in receptions with 84. Chase was also awarded an All-American title and Fred Biletnikoff Award the same year. Once again, if the stats don’t convince you enough his 2019 highlights should be able to do plenty of talking for the young talent. Early in his tape, Chase, like Smith, is extraordinary at high-pointing the ball and runs his routes with great ease, routinely tricking corners into bad positioning for him to blow right by them. Chase also plays with high energy paired with a physicality that shows off his ‘My ball” mindset.
When it comes to Chase and Smith, it truly couldn’t be more of a toss-up. Smith spent the year proving he’s worthy of a top 3-5 pick while Chase solidified that in 2019, so he spent 2020 staying healthy. For the sake of the list, I’ll keep them as 1 and 2. but frankly they are an example of 1a and 1b. Just like Smith, any NFL team would be delighted to add Chase to their offense.
3. Jaylen Waddle 5’10” 182lbs – Alabama
After Chase and Smith, in my opinion, it’s clear-cut who the next best receiver is and that’s Bama’s, Jaylen Waddle, who unfortunately only played in five games this year due to an ankle injury. Waddle played through the injury in the Championship game, posting three receptions for 34 yards. In his limited season, he was able to put up impressive numbers by recording at least 100 yards in all of his regular-season games. Waddle capped off his short season with 28 catches, 591 yards and four touchdowns. Compare these to his 2019 stats when he played in 13 games, recording 33 receptions, 560 yards and six touchdowns. Waddle, the shortest of the top three receivers without a doubt, should not be overlooked. Often described as a chess piece, Waddle can be used across the board” on the outside, in the slot and even in the backfield. One of the main reasons Waddle is able to be utilized like this is his explosive speed that leaves everyone else on the field caught in molasses. Weather it’s on a deep shot, a crossing route or a simple pass behind the line of scrimmage, when it comes to Waddle, it’s simple: get the ball in his hands and let him run. Case and point, just watch his highlights where you can see for yourself why he gets compared to DeSean Jackson and Tyreek Hill.
Although Jaylen Waddle is ranked as the third receiving prospect, the earliest he’s been mocked is seventh to the Lions, immediately after the Eagles, so the Eagles could understandably draft the speedster sixth overall if Chase and Smith are off the board. However, Waddle’s injury may have hurt his draft stock, causing him to slide into the teens. There is a possibility for a trade back scenario for Philadelphia to draft Waddle.
4. Terrace Marshall Jr. 6’3″ 200lbs – LSU
Now we arrive at the receiver prospects that would be selected a bit later in the draft, with Terrace Marshall Jr being mocked in the late twenties of the first round. Some even believe Marshall has a chance to slide into the second round, giving him the possibility of being there for the Eagle’s second-round pick. Due to Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase being on LSU, it was fairly easy to overlook Terrace Marshall Jr., but the three-year player has done nothing but produce for LSU. Marshall most recently played the first fiddle (since Chase opted-out prior to the start of the season) during the limited (seven game) 2020 campaign, but was still able to put up 731 yards and 10 touchdowns off of 48 receptions while averaging 15.2 yards per reception. Even with the shortened season, Marshall managed to have 60 more yards, two more receptions and just three fewer touchdowns than he had in 12 games in 2019.
Marshall is also the biggest bodied receiver so far on the list and he knows he to use that to his advantage. Playing “basketball” with defenders, Marshall has shown his ability to box out defenders to put himself in the best position for the ball. Besides his adequate size, Marshall also possesses impressive speed, giving him all the ingredients to be a star in college as well as at the next level. Once again, look no further than Marshall’s highlight tape to see his size and speed put to use. One more ability of Marshall’s that I want to point out is his ability to get his hands in the best position for the ball, always beating the defender to the catch.
5. Rashod Bateman 6’2″ 210lbs – Minnesota
Another big-bodied receiver Rashod Bateman showcased his talent at arguably the worst time ever for a receiving prospect. Going against the likes of Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb, Bateman put up his best numbers during his 2019 campaign. While the other prospects were grabbing the headlines, Bateman put his head down and got to work finishing 2019 with 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and 60 receptions (in 13 games) all of which being collegiate highs for the talented receiver. With the roller coaster of a season 2020 was due to COVID-19, the NCAA found player after player deciding to opt-out and after five games and a cancellation, Bateman decided it was in his best interest to opt-out and focus on the draft. In the small sample size, Bateman was able to log two touchdowns, 36 receptions and 472 yards. Again, with it being a small sample size, it can be difficult to gauge if Bateman has improved from his 2019 standout season, but his 13.1 yards per reception did continue to show his ability to stretch the field. I say continue because, in 2019, Bateman’s 20.3 yards per reception finished eighth in the NCAA and first in the Big Ten. Although not a speedster per se, Bateman possesses enough giddy-up to get past his defender and get yards after the catch in the open field. However, Bateman’s athleticism, size and route running are what have made him a proven deep threat at the collegiate level.
Bateman’s projections for the draft are interesting with some seeing him as a late-round first while others don’t see him as a first-round option at all. Regardless of what the Eagles do with the sixth pick, if Bateman is there for them in the second round, they should draft him. Watching his highlights, it takes little time to notice how comfortable Bateman is while playing. Not only will you see a multitude of routes, you’ll notice how Bateman utilizes his large frame to his advantage, consistently putting himself in the best position to make the catch. When it comes down to a 50/50 ball, Bateman showcases his strength and competitiveness by usually being the one on the winning end. Another notable trait that stands out in Bateman’s film is his ability to win his deep routes early on by getting past his defender, but Bateman completes the act by being able to track the ball in the air with ease.
6. Amon-Ra St. Brown 6’1″ 195lbs – USC
Tough. To describe Amon-Ra St. Brown in a word, it would be tough. To explain in more than a word, St. Brown is a receiver with the heart of a power back, always playing with a high motor and chip on his shoulder. Look no further than his run against Colorado (00:50) in his highlight tape where he takes the handoff, bounces outside, gets past the line of scrimmage where he meets a linebacker running with a full head of steam, so St. Brown lowers the shoulder and knocks the linebacker down to the side, continuing for the first down, then hitting the safety with a slick cut inside to break it open for a touchdown. Not to judge a player off of one play but before even going into his stats and just seeing this play alone, it’s easy to see St. Brown’s versatility and playmaking ability.
Of course, with a shortened season for St. Brown in 2020, it’s best to start off looking at his 2019 statistics when he registered 1,042 yards and six touchdowns off 77 receptions in a span of 13 games. His yardage would finish fifth in the PAC-12 while his touchdowns and receptions total both finished at sixth in the conference. Move forward to 2020, where in just six games St. Brown was able to put up 478 yards and seven touchdowns off 41 receptions. The latter two would place first in the PAC-12 in each of their respective categories.
Watching St. Brown play is fairly eye-widening. It seemed at any moment the quarterback could just throw it up and weather St. Brown had 10 yards of separation or half a yard of separation, it would end up in his hands before the play ended. Time and time again St. Brown would showcase his hand-eye coordination tracking the ball in the air without missing a step while allowing the ball to fall softly into his hands. Even on plays that shouldn’t seem to play out in his favor, in a blink of an eye, he turns the play in his favor. For example, against Norte Dame running a deep route in the middle of the field, he had maybe a yard of separation on his defender with another closing in. The ball seems overthrown, yet St. Brown is able to reach an arm out to get his hand on it and bring it in while maintaining enough concentration to stay on his feet and run into the endzone, leaving two Norte Dame defenders on the ground behind him.
Regardless of St. Brown’s playmaking ability, out of three CBS mock drafts, only one has him going in the first round, 15th overall to the Patriots, which makes sense. However, with the other two mocks having St. Brown fall out of the first round, the Eagles could be in strong play for the talented prospect since they hold the sixth pick in the second round (38th overall).
7. Kadarius Toney 6’0″ 193lbs – Florida
A lightning bolt that strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads, Kadarius Toney, to put it simply, brings electricity to the field every snap he plays. Considered to be one of the shiftiest players in the NCAA, Toney raised eyebrows nationally in 2020 after getting his most time at receiver since committing to Florida in 2017. At first, Toney was brought on as an athlete and spent some time going back and forth from running back and wide receiver but in 2020 his talents were on full display in his 11 games, recording 70 receptions, 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. Toney also carried the ball 19 times for 161 yards and a single score. Although schedules were limited and shaken up, Toney’s 984 receiving yards finished third in the SEC, an impressive stat for a player with just 89 plays on the season.
Remember, a lightning bolt that strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads, that’s exactly what you’ll see watching Kadarius Toney’s highlight reel. Shifty play after shifty play, making defenders miss left and right. Mainly due to his size and build,y Toney is projected to be a slot receiver at the next level, however, Toney’s explosiveness, speed, and playmaking ability allow him to move all over the field. Line him up out wide, in the slot, put him in the backfield as a running back or even in the wildcat, he was a high school quarterback after all. Even just putting Toney in motion can open up any offense due to the respect he demands from the defense. Simply put, due to Toney’s anytime, anywhere playmaking skills, any offense will benefit from having him on it.
Although he may not be considered one of the top three or even five wide receiver prospects by some, Toney has tons of upside with his only downsides being a lack of true receiver experience, Florida asking him to run a fairly limited route tree and arguably size. Toney is still mainly mocked to go in the first round, albeit late, with some seeing him as an early to mid second-round pick.
8. Nico Collins 6’4″ 215lbs – Michigan
Another opt-out case, Nico Collins’ resume relies on his 2019 performance, which was the best of his collegiate career. In 12 games, Collins recorded 37 receptions, 729 yards and seven touchdowns. While at first the stats may not jump out, keep in mind his 19.7 yards per reception finished second in the Big Ten while his seven touchdowns finished seventh in the Big Ten. By far the biggest receiver on the list, Collins still possesses impressive speed for his size, consistently out-running defenders whether it was due to a good step in the route or some extra juice after the catch. Regardless, Collins’ speed isn’t what makes him stand out. What does that is the way he uses his big frame. Collins’ size has made it easy for the receiver to find himself in a mismatch in disfavor of the defense, allowing him to use his size to make big play after big play. Weather it is a deep shot down the field or getting the ball in his hands on a screen or slant, when the ball finds its way to Nico Collins usually good things happen.
Taking a look at his highlights, it’s easy to see the appeal in Collins game. You’ll notice him go up and get high passes other receivers may not have a chance at. Meanwhile, there are also plays where Collins gets the ball on a screen or quick route, allowing his legs to show off, quickly accelerating to get some yards after the catch then combining it with his size and strength to break tackles or push some extra yards.
Although understandable, Nico Collins opting out may have damaged his draft stock. Even with the impressive showing, in 2019 Michigan’s quarterback play wasn’t considered to be the best and scouts were looking forward to seeing Collins build onto his resume in 2020, something that never happened. With that said, even with his impressive tape and mismatch ability size, Collins is slated to fall out of the first round but could be in play for the Eagles in the second or third round.
9. Tylan Wallace 6’0″ 190lbs – Oklahoma State
Although he may be a lesser-known receiver, Tylan Wallace’s talents shouldn’t be overlooked by any means. Wallace has managed to put up at least 900 yards in three straight seasons, peaking at 1,491 yards when he played in his most games (13) in a season in 2018. Let’s us focus on his most recent season: in 2020 (10 games), Wallace brought in 59 passes for 922 yards and six touchdowns. Wallace’s 922 yards would actually lead the Big 12 at the season’s end. Even though a talented prospect and by no means undersized, some scouts may have concerns about Wallace’s lack of mismatch size since he plays primarily on the outside, which may be the main factor behind his second to third-round projections.
Regardless of concerns about his size, Wallace plays with explosiveness that sets him apart when he’s on the field. Wallace seems to have that football sixth sense where he always knows when to jump and how to contort his body to make sure he’s the one that winds up with the ball when his feet hit the ground. His play against Texas truly stands out, on a roughly 30-yard pass he goes up and over the defender’s outstretched hand, almost levitating in the process, and like a figure skater, swiftly lands back down on his feet and keeps his composure enough to continue into the endzone for the score. Against Tulsa, he blows by his defender with ease but had to come back for an underthrown ball that put him into coverage. Nevertheless, he jumps and puts himself in a position to catch the ball then finds himself running free from about the 50 for a score. I know it’s a highlight tape, but both of these plays are seen in the first minute of Wallace’s highlights, quickly showing what the young prospect is capable of.
10. Seth Williams 6’3″ 211lbs – Auburn
Another big body receiver, Seth Williams gives NFL teams mismatch hopes with a good chance of him being able to carve out a red-zone role at the least. Williams has been described as fearless, especially when it comes to crossing routes going through the middle of the field. Along with his toughness in the middle of the field, Williams uses his size for deep routes and high passes combined with an impressive vertical. Williams takes 50/50 passes and puts them entirely in his favor, routinely high-pointing the ball with a strong grip.
Playing in at least 10 games since arriving on the scene at Auburn, Williams took little time gaining attention putting up over 500 yards with five touchdowns as a freshman. His progress would show in 2019. During his sophomore year he was able to score eight times with over 800 yards off 59 catches. That brings us to this past season, where Williams recorded 47 receptions for 760 yards and four touchdowns. With three straight seasons of solid production and an average yards per receptions over 13 in each season, it’s easy to see where the appeal stems from with Williams. However, concerns do grow from his lack of speed and questionable footwork. Still, Wiliams can counter that with his hands and upper body strength to beat man coverage off the line. Regardless, as of now, Williams is slated to be a third to fifth-round selection in the draft.
–Chatarius Atwell 5’9″ 165lbs – Louisville
–Rondale Moore 5’9″ 180lbs – Purdue
Pro: Swiss Army Knife
–Jonathan Adams Jr. 6’3″ 220lbs – Arkansas State
Pro: Sure Hands
Con: Level of Competition
–Austin Watkins Jr. 6’3″ 210lbs – UAB
–Warren Jackson 6’6″ 215lbs – Colorado State
Con: Press Coverage