(A series looking at some of the top players at various positions leading up to the NFL Draft, set for April 27-29)
Potential impact wide receivers come in all shapes and sizes and from a myriad of backgrounds, especially heading into this draft.
The crop of available pass catchers includes a prospect who is trying to become the NFL's next Julian Edelman (Greg Ward wants to likewise transition from college quarterback at Houston to wide receiver in the NFL), another who's nicknamed "The Llama" (Chad Hansen, a laid-back dude from Cal), the pride of the Marian University Knights (Kirshawn Hogan) and, last but not least, the fastest man ever timed in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine (Washington's John Ross).
There was something, seemingly, for everyone on display as 58 wide receivers there had been 43 a year ago at the Combine strutted their stuff for the scouts in February in Indianapolis.
With that many candidates to choose from, a few are bound to catch on.
He played at Western Michigan rather than in a power conference, but that shouldn't matter in the long run. Davis, a first-team All-America according to the Associated Press, has a game that's expected to translate beyond the Mid-American Conference. "The MAC has produced great football players over the years and Corey Davis is going to be a high-level NFL player," NFL Network and NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock declared. Davis (6-3, 209 pounds) caught 187 passes the past two seasons, 31 of them for touchdowns. Dane Brugler's 2017 NFL Draft Guide raved: "Athletic route runner with the lower-body coordination to burst in/out of his breaks _ better in this area than most his size." The last and only other MAC receiver to be drafted in the first round was Randy Moss.
The official time in the 40 at the Combine was 4.22 _ a shade faster than Chris Johnson's 4.24 in 2008. Ross (5-10 3/4, 188) ran that despite experiencing cramps prior to his run and maintained afterward he was capable of running faster. Mayock's take: "He's a football player, that speed translates to the field. This kid's a legitimate first-round receiver, he has special skills." Ross used them to score 17 touchdowns for Washington in 2016, part of a redshirt junior season that included 81 catches and 1,150 receiving yards. He had shoulder surgery after the Combine and missed the 2015 season (knee injuries). According to Brugler, Ross is "one of the Top-20 talents in the 2017 draft class but his medical information will determine whether he is drafted that high."
Mayock was impressed with a play Williams made in Clemson's loss to Pitt. "He ran about 70 yards to track down an interception at the goal line," Mayock recalled. As if catching 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016 wasn't enough after redshirting in 2015 due to a neck injury. Williams (6-4, 218) is "tough enough to be a high-volume target while working the middle of the field," according to NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein. "His size and ball skills make him a formidable foe in the end zone." Brugler called Williams the "top wide receiver talent in the 2017 class and a legitimate Top-20 pick."
Kupp re-wrote the FCS record book at Div. I-AA Washington State (428 catches for 6,464 yards and 73 touchdown in four seasons). He then went on to impress evaluators at the Senior Bowl, where he was the best of the wide receivers in the estimation of NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks. Kupp (6-1 1/2, 198) was unofficially timed at 4.62 an 4.66 in the 40 at the Combine but earned a subsequent official listing of 4.56. "Even though you're going to question the 40 speed, which I'm not going to do, you can see the natural hands," Mayock said at the Combine. "What he does best is when there's 11 people on defense he wins against man (-to-man coverage), he wins against zone, he knows how to set up defensive backs."
Jones caught 158 passes in 2016 for East Carolina (the most in FBS), including 22 on 25 targets against South Carolina. He also had 399 catches in his four seasons with the Pirates (the most in FBS history). Jones (6-1 7/8, 202) has bloodlines on his side as well as production (his father is former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones, a three-time Super Bowl champion). "He knows how to run routes," Mayock said. "He knows how to create separation with quickness, subtle hand movements, physicality. He's tough, he'll go over the middle. It's hard not to love Zay Jones."
The 2016 Draft, WR
Number drafted: 32
Picks by round: 4 in the first; 3 in the second; 2 in the third; 5 in the fourth; 5 in the fifth; 7 in the sixth; 6 in the seventh
Highest pick: Corey Coleman, Baylor, Round 1, 15th overall, Cleveland Browns
Impact pick: The Patriots selected Malcolm Mitchell on the fourth round out of Georgia (112th overall). He started six times and caught 32 passes, four for touchdowns, in the regular season and then finished with a flurry _ six catches for 70 yards in Super Bowl LI.