The "Triple Take" team, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta, provides updates on their breakdown of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Second Take on the WR position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
D'Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan (5-9, 190 lbs.) - There are an amazing number of highly explosive slot receivers in this class in a similar mold to Eskridge and most of them put up eye-popping numbers at their Pro Day. Like the others, Eskridge isn't very tall (5'9"), but he isn't slight and has blazing speed. His 4.38 time in the forty absolutely translates to the field. After an excellent Senior Bowl and Pro Day, Eskridge's stock is soaring.
Who's emerged and why?
Brandon Smith, Iowa (6-3, 219 lbs.) - This choice easily could have been Smith's wide receiver counterpart at Iowa, Ihmar Smith-Marsette, whose 10-yard split (1.44) is about as good as you will ever see. But Smith is the call here after jumping 39.5 inches at 218 pounds and also putting the bar up 21 times on the bench. On tape, he goes up and gets the ball well. Might teams look to bulk up Smith's already muscular frame a little more and make him a move tight end? He might be a nice project at the next level with the ability to contribute on special teams.
Other Notes: The Pro Day numbers for this collective class of wide receivers is really amazing. As mentioned, when discussing Eskridge, there are so many guys that are on the short side but are extremely fast and explosive with the ball in their hands. That fits today's NFL so very well with all the pre-snap motion, screens and intuitive ways that offensive coaches have now devised to get the ball into the hands of their best playmakers. The league is about to get another amazing tidal wave of playmakers in 2021.
Matt's First Take on the WR position ...
#5 - Rondale Moore, Purdue (5-9, 180 lbs.) - Although Moore certainly isn't massive, he is very strong. Highly elusive with the ball in his hands, Moore makes defenders miss but also can bully smaller tacklers with his physicality and power. His acceleration is excellent and Moore is a top route runner with what is asked of him. This is a big-time playmaker. What worries you a little about Moore is that Purdue didn't ask him to run a very expansive route tree but judging by his competitiveness on tape and movement skills, that should come early in his NFL career. Moore also has a bit of an injury history, but he also produced over 2,200 all-purpose yards as a true freshman at Purdue.
#4 - Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (6-2, 213 lbs.) - Unlike the other receivers listed here, Bateman doesn't rely on great quickness or speed. He isn't short in these departments for his size, but Bateman is more of a downfield player that wins in traffic and dominates at the catch point with a big catching radius and a very competitive nature. He is great getting off the line of scrimmage. Bateman breaks tackles and is difficult to get on the ground. He is best suited to play outside but did some fine work out of the slot this past year at Minnesota and really doesn't have a lot of holes in his scouting profile. Bateman also produced at a very early age in college, a great indicator of future success.
#3 - Devonta Smith, Alabama (6-0 1/4, 170 lbs.) - Smith was incredibly productive as the clear top receiver at Alabama and won the Heisman trophy this year. Over the past two seasons, Smith has over 3,000 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns even when there was much more competition for targets. Smith is an elite route runner that sets up and embarrasses cover men with great regularity. He rarely drops passes and demonstrates outstanding overall ball skills. His tape is awesome. That being said, Smith's frame is a real concern. Few receivers with his slender build and BMI have gone on to do great things at the NFL level.
#2 - Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (5-11, 177 lbs.) - Waddle is ridiculously dangerous with the ball in his hands. Whether it is as a receiver, getting handed the ball or as a return man, Waddle shows rare explosion, speed and big play ability. Waddle is a highly twitched up athlete that translates exceptionally well to the football field. He has great body control and changes directions effortlessly without losing speed. This goes for when Waddle has the ball and when running routes. He is also very tough and competitiveness and wins in tight quarters with regularity while displaying great deep ball tracking ability. This is the type of player that defensive coordinators stay up at night worrying about.
#1 - Ja'Marr Chase, LSU (6-0, 208 lbs.) - Chase has it all and is a superstar wide receiver prospect. He didn't play this past year, but out produced Justin Jefferson (as a 19-year-old) two years ago at LSU and is remarkably gifted. He is very strong and powerful. He is fast, smooth and explosive. He has great body control and can sink his hips and explode out of his breaks without hesitation. Chase is outstanding getting off press coverage and often just bullies the cover man from the start.
Dale's Second Take on the WR position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Elijah Moore, Mississippi (5-9, 178 lbs.) - Yes, Moore is on the smallish side of things. But his tape is electrifying. And his pro day was even more so. He ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash, then posted a 4-second short shuttle and 6.66-second three-cone drill. The latter two of those three times would have been the best at last year's combine, and we know how good that group of receivers was. Moore might have pushed his way into the first round.
Who's emerged and why?
Jalen Camp, Georgia Tech (6-2, 226 lbs.) - Camp is this year's version of D.K. Metcalf and Chase Claypool. He did 30 reps on the bench, which would have broken the record for wide receivers of 27 set at the combine a couple of years ago by Metcalf. Then, he ran a 4.43 40 and had a 40-inch vertical jump. But he had just 46 career catches for 786 yards and five touchdowns in his career in Georgia Tech's run-first offense. He also missed some time with injuries. The measureables don't match the production, but there's some intrigue there.
Other Notes: This draft is loaded with speedster wide receivers, so you would have loved to have seen them all run on the same track, but Auburn's Anthony Schwartz was timed as low as 4.26 in the 40. Despite that speed, Schwartz averaged just 12.3 yards per catch in his career, though he did average 7.7 yards per rushing attempt on 42 attempts. That says more about Auburn's passing attack than anything else. … Looking for a small college late-round sleeper? How about Charleston's Michael Strachan? The 6-5, 226-pound wideout ran a 4.50 40. He caught 78 passes for 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2019 after posting a 1,000-yard season in 2018, as well. But his school, a Division II program is playing in the spring, so he didn't compete this year.
Dale's First Take on the WR position ...
#5 - Kadarius Toney, Florida (5-11, 199 lbs.) - A former football and track star in high school – he passed for more than 5,000 yards as a quarterback while also rushing for nearly 1,800 yards – Toney was used at running back and receiver in his first season before making a full transition to receiver. He works best out of the slot, but can play outside. And he's fast as lightning, keeping opponents on their toes on sweeps and jet motion. He only had one season of outstanding production, but he should run a 4.4 40 or faster, which will likely get him taken in the first 25 picks.
#4 - Terrace Marshall, LSU (6-4, 200 lbs.) - The No. 3 receiver at LSU in 2019 behind Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase, Marshall blossomed in 2020 as Jefferson was in the NFL and Chase opted out. In just seven games, he caught 48 passes for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns as the true No. 1. He's a nice size-speed option and a good route runner. He has the tools to be a true No. 1 outside receiver threat in the NFL.
#3 - Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (5-11, 177 lbs.) - The only thing missing with Waddle is size. He's got excellent speed, is a good route runner and gets in and out of his breaks very well. The only issue with his is catching the ball in traffic at times due to his size. But with players such as Tyreek Hill showing how smaller, explosive players can be used to exploit defenses, Waddle and Toney have great value. He has had some injury issues, but he averaged 18.9 yards per catch and scored 17 touchdowns on 109 college receptions while playing in the SEC. Waddle is special.
#2 - Devonta Smith, Alabama (6-0 1/4, 170 lbs.) - Despite fighting for playing time with the likes of Waddle, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs early in his career, Smith carved out a niche, catching 110 passes for nearly 2,000 yards before the 2020 season. But he really broke out in 2020, catching 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was uncoverable. The only real knock against him is his size. But he has the production and intangibles to be a No. 1 receiver from Day 1 in the NFL. Smith is just a really clean prospect.
#1 - Ja'Marr Chase, LSU (6-0, 208 lbs.) - Chase opted out of the 2020 season, so it's easy to forget how good he was in 2019 when it was he, not Justin Jefferson, who was really the No. 1 receiver on LSU's national championship team. Chase had 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns in that season, showing how explosive he can be. He's a good route runner and strong at the point of the catch. Chase should be a top-5 pick and immediate star in the NFL.
Mike's Second Take on the WR position ...
Who's stock has risen and why:
Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC (5-11, 197 lbs.) - He verified his tape thanks in part to a 4.51 40-yard dash, a 381/2" vertical leap and a 10'7" broad jump at the Trojans' Pro Day.
Scouts in attendance may have also heard from the USC staff what Trojans coaches told the NFL Network, that St. Brown is comparable to former Trojan wide receivers Robert Woods, Michael Pittman Jr. and Nelson Agholor in terms of approach, a whatever-it-takes, blue collar, physical, wants-to-take-your-head-off mindset.
St. Brown's tape includes a 95-yard, catch-and-run touchdown against Arizona State (a 32-yard reception followed by a 65-yard sprint into the end zone) and a Pac 12-leading eight contested catches in 2020, according to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah. Jeremiah also noted similarities between St. Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and assessed St. Brown's workout as "rock solid."
St. Brown has lined up in the slot and in the backfield (he rushed seven times for 60 yards and one touchdown in 2019) as well as out wide, and has a reputation for gaining yards after the catch and committing to blocking in the running game.
He told the NFL Network his competitiveness was honed from an early age competing against his two older brothers in everything from lifting weights to Monopoly. His older brother Equanimeous currently catches passes for the Green Bay Packers.
Other Notes: Anthony Schwartz, Auburn, (6-0, 186 lbs.) - Schwartz posted a 4.26 40 at Auburn's Pro Day. The fastest times on record at an NFL Scouting Combine are John Ross, 4.22, in 2017, and Chris Johnson, 4.24, in 2008 … Jalen Camp (6-2, 220 lbs.) did 30 reps on the 225-pound bench press at Georgia Tech's Pro Day. The record for a wide receiver at a Combine is 27 … Josh Imatorbhebhe (6-2, 220 lbs.) unleashed a vertical leap of 461/2" at Illinois' Pro Day (higher than any at Combine since 2003) … Elijah Moore (5-9, 185 lbs.) earned a Twitter endorsement from Odell Beckham, Jr. after his performance during Mississippi's Pro Day: "They sleeepnnn on @e_moore03. This kid special." Jeremiah was also impressed. "He is legit and he is somebody I love on Day 2. This guy is dripping with instincts."
Mike's First Take on the WR position ...
#5 - D'Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan (5-8, 184 lbs.) - ESPN analyst Todd McShay maintained Eskridge looked like he was in fast-forward mode against MAC DBs, but added not all that much changed against perceived higher-caliber defensive backs during Senior Bowl week: "He's smoking them," McShay assessed. "This dude knows how to get off of the line of scrimmage and beat the press. And if you can do that and then you have the quickness to separate, you're a special player. Eskridge, to me, is one of the most under-rated players in the entire draft class. It wouldn't shock me if he was a late-first round pick and it will shock me if he doesn't go in the Top 50 overall." Riddick cited "video-game speed," and an ability to play outside or in the slot, hands and home run-hitting capability among Eskridge's strengths.
#4 - Nico Collins, Michigan (6-3, 220 lbs.) - Collins opted out of a 2020 season that didn't go well in Ann Arbor, but he didn't get any smaller or slower. And his catch radius didn't shrink any. He's not quite as big or as thick as Chase Claypool, but there are similarities in the way they play and how they were/are perceived by some coming out of college (think Claypool would be a second-round pick in a do-over of last year's draft?). McShay pointed out Collins' ability to adjust to "poorly-thrown balls from quarterbacks who have not been great" at Michigan. "I think he's one of the best five, six receivers in this draft class," McShay added. Riddick was also complimentary during Senior Bowl week coverage: "He's already shown, 'I'm one of those difference-makers. And I can move into the slot if I need to. I can go in motion. I can run routes out of the backfield.'"
#3 - Devonta Smith, Alabama (6-0 1/4, 170 lbs.) - The only questions about "The Slim Reaper" revolve around his size and frame. Such concerns are relatively minor in nature. McShay: "Marvin Harrison didn't have great size (6-0, 185), didn't look the part; he's a Hall-of-Famer." Smith's production at Alabama was absurd along the way to winning the Heisman Trophy. The 12 catches, 215 receiving yards and three touchdowns he posted in two quarters against Ohio State before getting injured in the CFP National Championship Game were as representative as any as far as the numbers are concerned. And the Alabama offense is as pro style as it gets, which further contributes to Smith's plug-and-play readiness, as does his understanding of coverages and his competitiveness.
#2 - Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (5-11, 177 lbs.) - He's not a hulking figure, either. But the six games he played for Alabama in 2020 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury made Waddle's relative lack of size a non-issue, just as it is for Smith. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Smith, Waddle … they never seem to run out of play-making, athletic, explosive wide receivers in Tuscaloosa. If you're an NFL team and you need one, you ought to know by now where to look by now.
#1 - Ja'Marr Chase, LSU (6-0, 208 lbs.) - Another high-profile player who opted out of 2020, Chase had probably done enough in 2019. That was the season he teamed up with Joe Burrow and set SEC single-season records for receiving touchdowns (20) and receiving yards (1,780) on the way to LSU's national championship and Burrow's Heisman. By comparison, 2020 first-round receiver Justin Jefferson had 1,540 receiving yards and 18 receiving TDs that season in Baton Rouge on the way to becoming a first-round pick of Minnesota (22nd overall). And Jefferson went off for 88 catches, 1,400 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions as an NFL rookie. Alabama isn't the only school cranking out pass catchers with regularity.