In a year without clear blue-chip talent, preferences of the kind of wide receiver teams want will take center stage. We break down the 2018 draft class and separate them by their role, type, and fit.
Building a football team is like casting a movie or a TV show. There are leads, and there are role players, guest stars, and recurring bit parts. Often part-time players who excel in limited roles, struggle when forced to carry the story. Spinoffs and secondary receivers in good offenses tend to flop.
In the draft, teams can’t simply be looking for the “best” player, but rather the right one. The fit has to be right. Just because one player is more talented than another, or better right now, doesn’t mean he will be better if their offense for what they need him to do.
This is the very nature of the draft conundrum.
Of the receivers expected to go in the first 100 picks, most fit neatly into a desired category of established receiver archetypes. That doesn’t mean they’re only capable of doing one particular thing, but they’re best suited in a role. They do one particular thing well even if they can also do other things.
Conveniently, each category generally contains a first, second, and third-round option. It just happens to be that way, which makes this exercise particularly interesting because teams seeking a particular type may be able to find one in any number of rounds.
The Deep Threats
D.J. Chark, LSU
Even in the NFL with the best athletes on earth, few players 6-foot-3, 200 pounds can run 4.3 like LSU’s Chark. Though the offense was built around the running game, Chark used his lanky frame and incredible speed to create big plays down the field.
Despite catching just 40 balls as a senior, Chark averaged just under 22 yards per grab. Teams will believe his best football is ahead of him after playing in an offense that didn’t maximize his skills. He’ll have to get stronger and polish his route running, but he can come into the league right away and create down the field. He’s not making it out of the top 50.
James Washington, Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma State offense was the anti-LSU, slinging the ball all over the field. Washington twice averaged over 20 yards a catch for the Cowboys and although he only ran 4.54 at the combine, Washington showed in the Big 12 he’s a big play threat.
Washington also has a nose for the end zone, posted 13 touchdowns on just 74 grabs as a senior and as a sophomore had 10 on only 53 catches. Washington could very well end up like the ex-Packer Jordy Nelson (4.55 40) as someone who creates deep without blazing timed speed.
Deon Cain, Clemson
Overshadowed early in his career at Clemson, Cain boasts outstanding physical tools at 6-foot-2, 203 pounds with 4.43 wheels. His speed score puts him in the 85th percentile for prospects and he averaged over 19 yards per catch in 2016 when Deshaun Watson under center.
While his numbers fell drastically in 2017, that had more to do with an inexperienced quarterback than Cain’s talent. He lacks polish and experience as a No. 1 target, but in the third round, a team would get an extremely athletic player who can take the top off defenses right away and could eventually develop into a very good No. 2 receiver.