- There aren’t any top-10 talents at wideout and tight end in this NFL draft class, but it’s a deep group of pass-catchers, featuring some speedsters, acrobats and hard-nosed blockers.
For NFL fans who are beginning to look beyond the 2018 season to free agency and the draft, The MMQB will feature a series of position primers to get you up-to-date on the top college players at each spot. After an NFL playoff-mandated break, we’re back today with the wideouts.
The 2017 NFL draft saw three wide receivers go in the top 10. Then, last year, the first receiver was selected all the way down at No. 24: D.J. Moore. This time around, there aren’t any top-10 talents once again, but it’s a deep class of pass catchers, featuring some speedsters, acrobats and hard-nosed blockers.
Which wideouts and tight ends will feel the love in Nashville? Here’s our receivers NFL draft primer:
N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
Harry was a cheat code at Arizona State, eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving in each of his past two seasons. For an idea at how ridiculously talented he is, watch this. And this. Oh, and this. He’s a multi-threat speedster with world-class agility and glue hands. When the ball is in the air approaching him, Harry has an uncanny knack for adjusting his entire body to the ball in an instant.
At 6' 4" and 213 pounds, Harry has the frame to play on the outside in an NFL offense, but his speed and niftiness mean teams can line him up in the slot, too—and can use him in the return game. He’s a do-it-all playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, but he often lacks intensity with his run blocking. Still, a day watching Harry highlights is a day well spent, and some team will be lucky to snatch him in round one.
Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma
Brown is a 5' 10", 168-pound wideout who started his college career at at College of the Canyons—a JUCO in California—and he worked at a Six Flags on the side. Then, he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash and Division I offers poured in. In his two seasons at Oklahoma, he was the leading receiver for the last two Heisman-winning QBs, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Brown’s Olympic speed makes him the ultimate deep threat. He can stretch a play upfield in the blink of an eye and walk into the end zone. But his small and skinny frame might lead to him getting pushed around by NFL defensive backs. He’s used to manhandling weak Big 12 defenses and may face a rude awakening at the pro level. In spite of the frame, Brown has elite speed, balance and field vision. He’s a top wide receiver prospect.
Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State
Harmon has the best ball skills of any receiver in this class. He makes superb contested catches and uses his 6' 3", 213-pound frame to box out defenders and snag the football. Harmon also thrives in adjusting to different ball locations—if he has to speed up, slow down or change direction, he does a really nice job at spotting the ball and using his strong hands to haul it in.
Harmon isn’t a speed demon, but he compensates for a lack of blazing speed with a great capacity for tough sideline and over-the-shoulder catches. His physicality will also bode well for him in the NFL, where he could sneak in as a late first-round selection.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Hockenson won the Mackey Award in 2018 for the best tight end in college football, and he was incredibly well-deserving. At 6' 5" and 230 pounds, he’s a balanced old-school football player and easily the best blocking tight end in this draft class. When blocking, he doesn’t just keep defenders away from the ball, but he also drives them upfield in the other direction.
More than just blocking, Hockenson has soft hands and elite route-running ability in the pass game. He can make tough catches with defenders hanging on him or interfering with him. He’s a complete player and one of the most pro-ready offensive skill-position players in the draft. Hockenson will be an instant-impact tight end in the NFL and should be the first one off the board.
D.K. Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss
The injury-plagued Metcalf only played in 21 games in his three seasons in Oxford, and in 2018, he suffered a neck injury that forced him to miss the back half of the season. A lack of experience and his medical history will worry most teams, but Metcalf is a premiere downfield threat with excellent footwork and strong hands.
What stands out most about Metcalf are his long strides. He can cover a lot of ground in very short bursts of time and get downfield in a hurry—his route-running style has drawn some comparisons to Josh Gordon. Metcalf is also a willing and skilled blocker, leveraging his long arms and frame to do the dirty work when needed. Assuming he recovers from the neck injury, Metcalf is an enticing early second-round pick.
A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
Another Ole Miss receiver—these guys are scary good. Brown was much more productive as a Rebel than his teammate, Metcalf, but isn’t quite as explosive. He was used mostly in the slot and is an intricate and phenomenal route runner, but isn’t a vertical threat.
Brown is a big and strong receiver who can make tough catches in traffic—he tallied 85 receptions for 1,320 yards last season at Ole Miss—and he gains solid yardage after the catch. In the NFL, he’ll have to rely on his route running to gain separation from defensive backs, since the pro-level speed isn’t necessarily there. But Brown is a highly productive SEC receiver with impressive attention to detail and a surefire NFL skillset.
Noah Fant, TE, Iowa
The second cog in the two-headed Iowa tight end monster, Fant is an elite athlete. He can run a 4.5 40-yard dash, has impressive leaping ability and superior length. He’ll certainly turn heads at the combine. Fant is the modern NFL tight end—he uses his speed to stretch the field and can get open on that alone. He makes excellent over-the-shoulder catches and moves upfield in a hurry after the catch. The Iowa tight end is also a top-tier red zone threat—he scored 18 touchdowns in his final two seasons as a Hawkeye.
Fant’s blocking at the line of scrimmage could use some polishing, as he’s much more effective as a second-level blocker, like a wide receiver. Still, Fant is a juicy prospect who could be the second tight end off the board.
Irv Smith Jr., TE, Alabama
With 710 yards last season, Smith broke the Alabama single-season receiving record for his position, which is impressive given the pedigree of tight ends that have gone through Tuscaloosa. He runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, an incredible time for a 241-pound tight end.
Playing at a school like Alabama, Smith’s blocking skills are, of course, fundamentally sound. He’s a physical blocker who leverages his hands well at the point of contact. Smith is also a precise route-runner for a tight end, which in today’s NFL, will give him a great advantage. In the high-octane Alabama offense with a quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa, Smith rarely had to make difficult catches. On most of his receptions, he was relatively open. NFL teams will want to see more of him making plays in traffic, since that’ll be his reality at the pro ranks.
Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson
Believe it or not, the man who has seemingly been in college forever is finally ready for the next step. It felt like Renfrow was at Clemson for 20 years, but that’s because he was so incredibly productive for each of his four years as a Tiger. The former walk-on has incredible hands and is really nifty once he gets the ball.
At just 5' 10" and, 180 pounds, he’s really slippery and tough to bring down once he catches the ball. At Clemson, Renfrow earned the nickname “Mr. Reliable.” He doesn’t drop passes and keeps the chains moving—he’s an excellent short-yardage third-down target. He should develop into a solid slot receiver at the NFL level.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.