Since 2013, the ACC has produced six first round picks at wide receiver and the list is primed to grow next spring. One of the most talented position groups in the conference, a case could be made for any of the first three guys on my preseason rankings to be the top guy.
As it stands, my top receiver in the conference is Kelvin Harmon who had a dominant sophomore season and was a clutch performer for the Wolfpack in 2017.
Let’s examine my top five draft-eligible wide receivers in the ACC entering the 2018 season.
1. Kelvin Harmon, Junior, North Carolina State (6’2, 213)
One of just two ACC receivers to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in 2017, Harmon enjoyed a breakout sophomore season. Paired with experienced quarterback Ryan Finley, Harmon is the favorite to lead the conference in receiving in 2018.
My top draft-eligible receiver in the ACC entering the season, Harmon showcases and exciting NFL skill set. A good route-runner, Harmon is a fluid mover that has quick feet in and out of breaks. He is savvy to adjust routes and find space in zones, providing a reliable target to his quarterback. While his vertical receiving skill set pops, Harmon is also capable of executing timing routes and working to a spot with efficiency.
Harmon does well to create separation but he’s also able to win in contested situations. He offers an excellent above-the-rim game while showcasing strong, natural hands to pluck the football. His ability to track and adjust the football is outstanding and he is apt at showing late hands to not tip the balls arrival. Harmon does well to establish his frame at the catch point and has a knack for making catches that require high levels of concentration and contortion of his frame to secure it.
Given the infrastructure around him at NC State and his skill set, Harmon is primed for a standout season and high draft selection if he declares.
2. Ahmmon Richards, Junior, Miami (6’1, 192)
Tallying 934 yards on 49 receptions (19.1 yards per catch) during his true freshman season, Richards caught fire quickly in his college career. Battling injuries during his sophomore season, Richards still averaged 18.3 yards per reception but he was in and out of the lineup. Healthy entering his junior season, Richards is looking to regain his 2016 form and cement himself as a top prospect.
Richards offers a dynamic skill set that starts with his release. Richards showcases a variety of foot and handwork to beat press coverage and quickly accelerates, generating strong vertical push during his stem. Richards is quick and smooth in and out of his breaks while showcasing outstanding stop-start ability to shake corners and execute double moves. He works tempo in his routes and knows how to create separation and find space. He does well to adjust his routes.
While Richards does show some inconsistency with his hands catching the football, his ball tracking skills are outstanding. Richards knows how to find the ball in the air and settle underneath it while never tipping the balls arrival to the coverage. He is slippery for tacklers with the ball in his hands and is explosive working up the field. As an added bonus, Richards is a dedicated blocker who gets his work done.
In terms of where Richards can improve, it starts with becoming more consistent in contested situations. I want to see him more assertive establishing his frame at the catch point and display stronger hands to pluck and squeeze the ball away from his frame. Richards is guilty of guiding the ball into his frame and the ball gets on top of him at times.
If Richards can stay healthy, I expect him to contend for the ACC receiving title while confirming his status among the top receivers in the nation.
3. Jaylen Smith, Senior, Louisville (6’3, 220)
Increasing his receiving output in every year, Smith has been a critical piece in Louisville’s passing game and has major upside at the next level. Smith has averaged 16.9 yards per catch across his 116 career receptions and offers an impressive vertical receiving skill set for his size.
Smith is a smooth mover for his size with good quickness in and out of his breaks. It’s apparent that he knows how to attack coverage and find space to get open. He accelerates quickly out of his stance and generates strong vertical push in his stem. He attacks leverage advantages and spacing which leads to him getting loose in the secondary.
Smith showcases excellent ball skills and hands, always greeting the football with proper technique. He tracks the football precisely and does well to adjust to its trajectory. He effectively makes acrobatic catches that require his frame to contort and high levels of concentration to complete.
As a senior, showcasing an expanded route tree and consistency using his size at the catch point in contested situations is needed. There is another level of physicality that Smith can achieve as a route-runner to take more advantage of his imposing frame.
Smith will have to adjust to life without Lamar Jackson as a senior but if Jackson’s replacement Juwan Pass is smart, he’ll be looking Smith’s way early and often.
4. Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Junior, North Carolina (6’1, 200)
A high school quarterback, Ratliff-Williams made the switch to receiver at UNC and has showcases an NFL skill set with plenty of playmaking upside in a variety of ways. The Tarheels’ leading receiver in 2017, Ratliff-Williams also averaged 26.3 yards per kick return while returning two for touchdowns. He’s a dynamic player.
Averaging 18 yards per reception in 2017, Ratliff-Williams has the ability to win at every level of the field. His kick return ability shows up after the catch where his vision and acceleration stand out. As a vertical receiver, Ratliff-Williams showcases strong ball tracking skills and the vertical speed to get behind the secondary. In the intermediate areas, Ratliff-Williams illustrates an alpha mentality at the catch point and assertively attacks the football. And UNC taps into his quarterbacking background and gives him opportunities to make throws on gadget plays that keeps the defense honest.
The task ahead for Ratliff-Williams as a junior is becoming a more nuanced route-runner. Polishing up his footwork at the release, attacking leverage and doing more to sell his breaks is needed.
Whether it’s catching passes at all levels of the field, hitting a throw or breaking off a big return, Ratliff-Williams is one of the most versatile playmakers in the ACC.
5. Olamide Zaccheaus, Senior, Virginia (5’8,190)
Coming off a season where he set a new school record for receptions in a season with 85, Zaccheaus is a bright spot on an otherwise uninspiring UVA offense. A jack-of-all-trades, Zacchaeus tallied 1,077 yards from scrimmage and averaged 9.8 yards per touch.
Zaccheaus’ NFL upside comes as a slot receiver but he warrants touches in a variety of ways. Get the man the football in space and he is a potent weapon. A high school running back, Zaccheaus sees the field well and knows how to make tacklers miss in space. He has the burst and acceleration to tip off big gains with the elusive traits and creativity needed to make something out of nothing.
While most of Zacchaeus’ production has come in the short and intermediate areas of the field, he has flashed a vertical receiving game with sound ball skills and the speed to take the top off of the defense. He illustrates soft hands and is reliable to secure the football when it’s thrown his way.
He may not have the ideal height of an NFL receiver but his ability to win in space and make plays will give him chances to contribute at the next level. Look for a big senior season from Zaccheaus as the focal point of the Cavs’ offense.
Others to keep an eye on:
Scotty Washington, Wake Forest
Greg Dortch, Wake Forest
Jakobi Meyers, NC State
Stephen Louis, NC State
Hunter Renfrow, Clemson
TJ Rahming, Duke
Nyquan Murray, Florida State
George Campbell, Florida State
Dez Fitzpatrick, Louisville
Lawrence Cager, Miami