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2017 NFL Draft position watch list: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Williams among wide receivers to watch

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The 2017 NFL Draft is a long way off, but with college football getting started in a couple weeks, it is time to figure out who we should be watching. We have looked at quarterbacks and running backs. Today we move on to wide receivers.

The San Francisco 49ers are only midway through their 2016 preseason schedule, leaving them two preseason games and 16 regular season games until we reach the next offseason. While the NFL season is only just beginning, it is never too soon to start draft coverage! We will continue to put together weekly prospect reports for college games on a given weekend, keeping an eye on games 49er scouts attended throughout the season (Scouting 49ers scouts), and will also do some work with prospect rankings later in the season.

To kick things off we will start with a preseason watch list for each of the main positions on both sides of the ball. We still don't even know what the 49ers roster will look like in two months, let alone next offseason. However, some folks (draft nuts) are already going to be looking at next year's draft. And so, we wanted to get started with some top prospects at each position.

We're back today with wide receivers (other positions linked above). The list of names is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather some of the big names to help get things started. Additionally, this depends on some of the players declaring for the draft, so again, it is just looking at some potential top options at each position.

The 49ers enter the 2016 season with Torrey Smith as the top wide receiver of the squad. After Smith, question marks are in abundance. The 49ers have used draft picks each of the last four years on wide receivers. They selected Quinton Patton in the 2013 NFL Draft, Bruce Ellington in the 2014 NFL Draft, DeAndre Smelter in the 2015 NFL Draft, and Aaron Burbridge this past year. They also have a variety of youth at the position with several undrafted rookie free agents from last year, and this year, competing for an opportunity. Will Torrey Smith and the gang suffice? The hope is definitely strong. And so, depending on how the next four or five months pan out, maybe the 49ers find themselves in the market for another young wide receiver, hopefully, a lot sooner in the draft than later.

JuJu Smith-Schuster

No. 9 | Junior | USC Trojans
Height: 6'2" | Weight: 220 lbs. | Age: 19
2015 Stats : 89 Rec. 1,454 Yds. 16.3 Avg. 10 TD
Second-Team All-American in 2015

Strengths: Yet again, another USC wide receiver looking to make a splash in the NFL. Could JuJu Smith-Schuster be the one to live up to the hype at the next level? Time will tell, but I wouldn't bet against him; nonetheless, Smith-Schuster displays an amazing combination of strength, speed, explosion, power, smoothness, elusiveness, and athleticism. The physical phenom boasts a big physique powerful enough to excel in the middle of the field as a physical reliable pass catcher, or as a vertical threat on the outside with great speed. With his innate ability to make plays, Smith-Schuster can easily take a short pass and explode with physicality behind his pads breaking tackles running after the catch with big gains, and is a constant threat to hit big plays by speeding past safeties and physically dominating corners. Moreover, Smith-Schuster has the size, strength, body control, and leaping ability to be an excellent red-zone target.

Weaknesses: I would like to see him be more consistent as a blocker. When he uses good technique in concert with his physical aggression, he dominates as a blocker, but there are times when the effort appears lacking. Smith-Schuster also suffered several drops in 2015, but considering the majority of the drops were after he was playing through a surgically repaired hand, it is an issue that can be explained, but is worth monitoring in 2016.

Round Projection: 1st

Mike Williams

No. 7 | Redshirt Junior | Clemson Tigers
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 225 lbs. | Age: 21
2014 Stats: 57 Rec. 1,030 Yds. 18.1 Avg. 6 TD
2015 Stats: 2 Rec. 20 Yds. 10.0 Avg. 1 TD
Second-Team All-ACC in 2014

Strengths: After a very impressive 2014 season, Mike Williams, apparently a popular wide receiver name, was poised to continue to dominant the college football landscape as one of the best deep threat wide receivers in the nation. Unfortunately, barely into Clemson's first drive of their 2015 season opener, Williams suffered a fracture in his neck colliding with the goal post padding after catching his first, and last, touchdown of the 2015 season. After a lengthy recovery, Williams is excited and ready to explode in 2016. A big-play target, Williams has a superb combination of size, length, deep speed, smoothness, and athleticism. He is extremely talented with great length, ball skills, body control, and speed (he gets to top speed very fast), but he also displays a suddenness to his game quickly getting in and out of his breaks with explosion and fighting for the ball utilizing his massive length to pluck balls away from his frame. A true knockout home run vertical threat with solid hands.

Weaknesses: Arguably the top draft-eligible wide receiver, Williams is a deep threat nightmare many NFL teams would absolutely covet; however, with the serious nature of his neck injury, durability will be questioned and monitored throughout this season and his NFL future.

Round Projection: 1st

Jehu Chesson

No. 86 | Redshirt Senior | Michigan Wolverines
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 203 lbs. | Age: 22
2015 Stats: 50 Rec. 764 Yds. 15.3 Avg. 9 TD
All-Big Ten First-Team Honors in 2015

Strengths: One of the key contributors to Jim Harbaugh's turnaround of Michigan in 2015, Jehu Chesson, the team's MVP, displays a terrific combination of size, length, speed, strength, and toughness to his game. Chesson showcases an outstanding ability to break in and out of his cuts with impressive suddenness, gaining the ability to separate from defenders, and does a fantastic job utilizing his size and strength to counteract at the line of scrimmage when pressed. He shows great deep speed on the outside (Harbaugh says Chesson is "the fastest guy on the team"), but also the physical toughness to make plays in traffic with reliable hands and great ball skills; moreover, his vision after the catch is superb. Brings value on special teams in the return game and coverage units.

Weaknesses: After appearing in 37 games as a wide receiver, Chesson really didn't explode into playmaker status until the tail end of the 2015 season. Consistency is key for Chesson and I would like to see him prove his fantastic finish last season was no fluke. He also tends to be a body catcher, and unless your chest/abdomen is able to concave, absorb, and cradle like a catcher's mitt from an extreme velocity powered rocket pass many of us are quite familiar with, then it could be an issue at the next level.

Round Projection: 1st

Corey Davis

No. 84 | Senior | Western Michigan Broncos
Height: 6'3" | Weight: 213 lbs. | Age: 21
2015 Stats: 89 Rec. 1,429 Yds. 16.1 Avg. 12 TD
First-Team All-MAC in 2015

Strengths: It's hard to get recognition when one does not play in one of the Power 5 Conferences, but one wide receiver in particular has been turning heads with his consistency and production. Corey Davis is a big, tough, extremely reliable receiver with impressive and clean route running abilities displaying excellent fluidity and an impressive quickness to his game. He showcases great awareness and concentration plucking balls away from his frame utilizing sound body control, length, strong hands, and fantastic ball skills. Davis has also added more weight to his frame, which should bode well with his physical and aggressive nature attacking the football. He shows a great ability to separate from defenders with his short-area burst and suddenness, and possess good deep speed to take the top off coverages. A complete productive receiver easily capable of working underneath and over the top.

Weaknesses: Davis doesn't possess elite speed, but he has added additional weight and strength to his game creating more explosion and the opportunity to be more consistent in winning contested battles. Playing outside the Power 5 will always have concerns on the level of competition.

Round Projection: 1st-2nd

Malachi Dupre

No. 15 | Junior | LSU Tigers
Height: 6'4" | Weight: 195 lbs. | Age: 20
2015 Stats: 43 Rec. 698 Yds. 16.2 Avg. 6 TD
All-SEC Freshman Team in 2014

Strengths: Could we be seeing the next great duo of LSU wide receivers coming out of the draft finding success in the NFL a la Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry? Malachi Dupre is one half of the duo (Travin Dural the other) that definitely can keep fans on the edge of their seats hoping their NFL team selects this promising receiver. Dupre is another large target big-play receiver showcasing excellent body control, superb ball skills (amazing focus), impressive leaping ability, strong hands, and the long-strider speed and athleticism to consistently make the big catch. With already a knack for getting open deep as an ideal vertical threat over the top, the former No. 1 receiver prospect out of high school also displays decent route running and is fierce underneath showing superb concentration, and the strength in his hands plucking balls out of the sky (impressive catching radius) making tough plays in traffic. Shows great success as a physical and effective run blocker.

Weaknesses: Would like to see him be more fluid as a route runner. LSU's reliability in a heavy run offense will not do Dupre any favors, but consistency in his game and making the most of his receiving opportunities will greatly maintain/improve his draft value. Could also add more weight/strength to his game preparing for the rigors at the next level.

Round Projection: 2nd