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Ranking the top receivers in the NFL Draft that the 49ers should be interested in

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From the best slot receivers, to the best deep threats. There’s everything here.

Oklahoma v West Virginia Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

This is one of the more fascinating position groups in the draft and probably from the last couple of years. There are plenty of different types of wide receivers in this draft. Like any year, there will be a few guys that are selected on the last day of the draft that outperform the couple of receivers that are selected in the first round. Most of this is about fit. Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams likely isn’t the impact player if he was on the Arizona Cardinals playing a different role. The fit and role is arguably more important than the talent of the player.

With that said, we are going to breakdown the top receivers in the draft today. If you missed it, I did the same thing for the cornerback position the other day. Like those rankings, these likely won’t matchup with the “consensus” rankings that you see everyday. I’m fine with that. I think it’s important to understand that I’m not projecting where they will be drafted, but where I feel like they should be drafted. Let’s get into it.

Ridiculous releases

Being able to win at the line of scrimmage is everything. The players that can shake free from defensive backs early on in the play make life a lot easier for them as the play goes on. If you win early you don’t have to worry about making a contested catch, or shaking free when it comes time to make a cut at the top of your route. Here are the three best releases that I’ve seen:

  • Marquise Brown, Oklahoma,
  • Deebo Samuel, South Carolina,
  • D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss

I went back and forth on this, but these three stood out the most for me. All three win in drastically different ways, which is fun. Metcalf is big, strong, and another level of fast. Metcalf usually wins by lulling the CB to sleep, then exploding by him. This is a a good example.

Metcalf does a good job of changing up his “stem”, and then getting back to where he’s supposed to be.

Deebo wins by attacking the CB and eliminating the space between him and the cornerback, then sharply planting and blowing by him. He’s crazy quick. I wrote him earlier this month.

Hollywood gets a rap that he didn’t face press coverage often. He did early in games. It just never went well and teams were quick to back off.

Sleeper: Diontae Johnson, Toledo

Winning at the top of the route

Having route savvy can go a long ways. Being able to create separation when it’s time to break in whichever direction is what makes guys like Julian Edelman, Doug Baldwin, and Keenan Allen chain movers. Adam Thielen is always open because he is unpredictable at the top of his route. Here are the three best receivers at the top of their route:

  • Andy Isabella, UMASS
  • Terry Godwin, Georgia
  • A.J. Brown, Ole Miss

While Riley Ridley may have gotten more love during this draft cycle, his teammate Godwin is a guy that really knows how to set up defensive backs on how to get open.

That may not seem like much, but over and over you see Godwin sell that he’s going one way, only to accelerate another direction and create separation.

You see Isabella do this down the field. He’s incredible at creating separation on post routes. We’ll get to him later.

A.J. Brown—especially when he has space—does a fantastic job of telling stories in his routes. Brown didn’t run a ton of different routes, but the routes that he did run he mastered.

Contested catch

One of the biggest differences between college and the NFL is the amount of times you are going to have to make a catch with a defender draped all over you. The plays that are on most players highlight reels aren’t transferrable because it’s receivers just running free and not being contested. Here are the three receivers that I’d trust the most in a contested catch situation:

  • N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
  • Miles Boykin, Notre Dame
  • David Sills V, West Virginia

Sills doesn’t get talked about much, but the way he’s able to high point the ball, protect it—all while shielding the DB—is nothing short of spectacular. That will make Sills a dangerous red zone threat.

Harry has some of the strongest hands you’ll see. He’s simply bigger and stronger than you, and there’s not much that you can do about it. Harry makes the difficult look routine.

Boykin is a combination of all of the above. I really, really, like him. What’s most impressive about Boykin is that he is not fazed when there’s a defender all over him. He still finishes the play.

Best underneath route runner

  • Deebo Samuel
  • Parris Campbell, Ohio State
  • Riley Ridley, Georgia

Georgia had a ton of talent on that offense. Ridley has that “old man game” to him. He is leaning on DB’s to create separation, and using a “chicken wing” to create separation. He’s also good with his feet, too. I could’ve put Ridley in the “top of the route” section.

Campbell is easy for me, but I already can feel the backlash. This is a good time to talk about how receivers will win in different ways. Campbell eats zone coverage alive. At Ohio State, he was very good at sitting down and finding the open areas of the zone defense. It’s little things with Campbell, like knowing when to look back at the QB in a zone.

Campbell is more nuanced than given credit for, as the details in the above play illustrate that.

Samuel is the king of slants.

Best deep ball threat

  • Hollywood Brown
  • Andy Isabella
  • Miles Boykin

The two best deep threats in this class are 5-foot-10. Speed helps. They are actually very good at tracking and adjusting to the ball, too. Isabella might be one of the best at understanding and manipulating leverage down the field. This is a really good example:

Brown is much of the same, where if he takes two steps one way, you have no choice to honor them. Then he changes directions on you and as Chad Ochocinco would say, “you can kiss the baby.”

Boykin is a true vertical threat. He had 11 receptions in 2018 that were over 20 yards. That’s not him taking a screen and going 20 yards. That is actual air yards. Him being a consistent threat is why he’s over a guys like Metcalf, or Hakeem Butler. Speaking of Butler.

Best slot WRs

In the slot is where you can generally create mismatches. Whether you are using motion to give a guy a free release, or give him the entire middle of the field to work with, slot receivers have plenty of value. A lot more than we talk about, anyways. Here are the three most impressive to me:

  • Hakeem Butler, Iowa State,
  • Parris Campbell
  • Diontae Johnson, Toledo

Johnson didn’t play in the slot much for Toledo, but when he was outside he played with plenty of “condensed splits”, or tighter to the line of scrimmage. Johnson may have the best feet of any receiver in the draft. He’s quick, but efficient. Playing inside and away from physical defenders will only increase his ceiling. He can make you look downright silly. Watch him against Miami. It’s a clinic.

I understand the amount of eyebrows that were raised when you saw Butler here, but he is probably better inside than he is out. For whatever reason, the nuance of route-running is on full display when Butler is lined up inside. I think him having a two-way go really helps Butler.

YAC Monsters

Guys that can turn a six-yard slant route into a 20+ yard play should be celebrated. Just like a deep threat, these guys have more value than the everyday receiver. It’s not purely about speed. It’s more about athleticism and balance. The guys that aren’t phased by contact usually shine here.

  • Deebo Samuel
  • Hakeem Butler
  • A.J. Brown

As much as I’d like to give you a new name here, these guys are superior. Hollywood Brown and Isabella had a lot of yards after the catch, but, to me, I’d trust these three more with the ball in their hands.

Samuel and Brown speak for themselves. Earlier today, we highlighted how Butler has breakaway speed. He can really go. Contact doesn’t bother Butler at any phase in the route. It’s impressive.

Let’s rank ‘em

I will rank the 5 best “X” receivers. The 5 best “Z” receivers. The 5 best “slot” receivers. Then the top 15 overall.

Slot

5-Jalen Hurd, Baylor

Hurd is the ultimate upside prospect. The former RB just needs more time at the position.

4-Terry Godwin, Georgia

3-A.J. Brown, Ole Miss

2-Diontae Johnson, Toledo

Johnson gets the nod over Brown as he has shown that he can run more routes. There’s less of a projection here.

1-Parris Campbell, Ohio State

Flanker-Z receiver

5-Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska

4-Andy Isabella, UMASS

3-Deebo Samuel, South Carolina

2-N’Keal Harry, Arizona State

1-Marquise Brown, Oklahoma

The “flanker” position is the one that is off of the line of scrimmage, and usually to the side of the offense where the trips receivers are. Harry and Samuel are a coin flip. I think both struggle to separate at the end of their routes. Harry is better at contested situations, Samuel better with the ball in his hands and off of the line of scrimmage. Hollywood is better than both.

Haven’t touched on Morgan. He’s a tough son of a gun that not only runs good routes, but hangs on to the ball.

X marks the spot

5-Hakeem Butler, Iowa State

4-J.J. Arceda-Whiteside

3-Anthony Ratliff-Williams, UNC

2-D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss

1-Miles Boykin, Notre Dame

When I watched Colorado’s Preston Williams, he was the most impressive split end receiver that I saw. Then his Pro Day happened. I’d be ignorant to ignore those numbers, so I won’t. Emanuel Hall out of Missouri just misses the cut here, but I’d feel more comfortable with Whiteside on a down-to-down basis.

Ratliff-Williams is a player. Love the way he attacks the ball in the air. He could’ve easily made the yards after catch group as well.

Boykin showed he can be an every down threat. I know Metcalf’s usage did him no favors, but there’s less of a projection.

Best of the best

15 -Stanley Morgan Jr.-Late 3rd

14 - Riley Ridley-Late 3rd

13 -Terry Godwin-Late 3rd

12 - Andy Isabella-3rd

11 - J.J. Arcega-Whiteside-3rd

10- Hakeem Butler, Iowa State-3rd

9- Antony Ratliff-Williams-Late 2nd

8 - N’Keal Harry-Late 2nd

7 - Parris Campbell-Late 2nd

6 - A.J. Brown-Late 2nd

5 - Deebo Samuel- 2nd

4 -Diontae Johnson- 2nd

3 - D.K. Metcalf-1st round

2 - Miles Boykin-1st round

1 - Marqiuse Brown-1st round

The rounds indicate where I think these guys should be drafted based on what they bring to the table.

Fire away.