I was recently asked whether or not the potential 2019 wide receiver class would be better than the crop we saw drafted in 2018. While “better” is difficult to define, the easy answer is that this class is different.
Last year’s class was deep with medium-sized route runners. Players like Calvin Ridley, Anthony Miller, Dante Pettis, D.J. Moore, DaeSean Hamilton, Christian Kirk, Keke Coutee and Trey Quinn were high up in my rankings. There were only a handful of bigger-bodied receivers with can’t-miss athleticism.
This year’s class promises to be different. The sheer size of many of the wide receivers in this class will make up for the lack of bigger receivers from last year, and it will match the depth at the position that we saw in 2018.
But will it be better? I’m not sold on that just yet. While it can be cliche to always believe “next year’s” class will be better, in this scenario it is 100% true. Many sophomore wide receivers have actually outplayed the draft-eligible guys, suggesting the 2020 class could be special. It’s difficult to get that excited about the 2019 wide receivers when that is the case.
That’s not to say the 2019 class doesn’t have some dudes; it definitely does. While a lot will change between now and the NFL Draft, I’ve done enough preliminary work to be comfortable ranking the class as it currently sits. For the record, the following list will assume that all draft-eligible receivers will declare.
1. D.K. Metcalf – Ole Miss, 6-foot-4, 230 pounds
It’s been well-documented, but Metcalf’s neck injury and surgery has likely made the redshirt sophomore’s decision about declaring for the NFL Draft a difficult one. This is obviously going based off the assumption that Metcalf is healthy, which we likely won’t find out until the Scouting Combine.
As a prospect, Metcalf has excellent size and long speed. Incredibly nuanced in his releases with plus lateral agility, he dominates the line of scrimmage against press coverage. There have been serious flashes of dominating ball skills on Metcalf’s tape, and he would be entering the NFL at a young age. If he declares, he is WR1.
Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf (6’4 225) stretches press coverage laterally. Hand usage striking CB’s elbow knocks hands away + swim assures clean frame. Stack CB + long speed to generate separation
Key: Timing on release to brush hands away/re-release inside as soon as CB opens hips pic.twitter.com/5Gz70AzEbE
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) May 3, 2018
2. Kelvin Harmon – NC State, 6-foot-3, 213 pounds
I recently wrote that Harmon has a clear path to the top of the wide receiver rankings if D.K. Metcalf doesn’t declare. He has a tantalizing combination of size and strength, allowing him to beat press coverage consistently to win on vertical routes.
The fun part about Harmon’s game is his intensity as a ball carrier. With the strength he has in the lower half, he’s a threat as defensive backs struggle to get him on the ground. His awareness and anticipation of coverages allows him to separate pretty well for a bigger-bodied outside receiver.
— NFL Draft Videos (@NFLDraftVideos) October 16, 2018
3. Riley Ridley – Georgia, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
The younger brother of Calvin Ridley might end up being the superior prospect. Blessed with the smooth athleticism of Calvin but with more size, Riley has a rare combination of route running and strength.
When combined with speedy route breaks, his ability to adjust to passes and pluck them out of the air makes him dangerous at the catch point against man coverage. Despite modest production in his career at Georgia, he will likely be a “riser” during draft season.
Riley Ridley hits the “Dino” to perfection. Sells the corner with head and eyes, and an efficient break + drive phase. pic.twitter.com/sZF3Z7kU7I
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) October 13, 2018
4. N’Keal Harry – Arizona State, 6-foot-4, 216 pounds
Another wide receiver with rare size and athletic traits, Harry oozes potential out of his broad frame. Harry has a unique blend of downfield body control mixed with run after the catch ability.
I recently noted that Arizona State’s usage of Harry was holding back his development, as his incredible playmaking potential wasn’t being utilized. The flash plays will always be there with him, and if he can consistently show them on film he may just leap into the Round 1 conversation.
N’Keal Harry can do some incredible things athletically. Don’t overlook Manny Wilkins Jr. throwing the pass, hurdling a defender, and working hard to lead block out in front. Leader.
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) September 2, 2018
5. DaMarkus Lodge – Ole Miss, 6-foot-2, 204 pounds
Lodge has been perpetually slept on as a top wide receiver prospect, as he is usually noted as the “other” Ole Miss wide receiver. He’s the smallest and oldest of the trio, so it makes sense that he’s underrated. However, he’s also one of the most refined route runners in the class, and has a blend of body control and acrobatics to make impossible grabs.
His route breaks are crisp and he dominated press coverage with patient yet sudden releases. Elusive while toting the rock, he has the makings of a well-rounded prospect and threat to go on Day 2.
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) September 24, 2018
6. A.J. Brown – Ole Miss, 6-foot-1, 230 pounds
A.J. Brown promises to be a tough evaluation. Typically, players with his frame and traits don’t play predominantly in the slot and operate with free releases. Brown will come with a bit of projection that may make NFL teams uncomfortable taking him early in the Draft.
Brown is a seam threat, as he runs efficient routes and finds space well over the middle. While there haven’t been many opportunities for him to attack the ball over defensive backs, he’s made plays in contested spots.
A.J. Brown is awfully smooth considering his bulk. It’s a mistake any time you give him a free release. pic.twitter.com/MI5hWy9QoR
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) October 20, 2018
7. Deebo Samuel – South Carolina, 6-foot-0, 210 pounds
Deebo hasn’t produced to his capabilities this season, but has shown electric playmaking ability in the past. A legit threat to take it the distance as a receiver, runner, or returner, the NFL will covet his elusiveness.
On top of his ability as a ball carrier, Deebo is well built and a technician as a route runner. Really able to open his hips and threaten leverage in his stems, he forces collegiate defensive backs into speed turns with regularity.
Deebo Samuel is similar to Anthony Miller in the way he uses his upper body to release off the LOS, sell vertical stems, wipe away DB’s hands, accelerate out of breaks, and extend towards the catchpoint. pic.twitter.com/LfmApy4tgP
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) July 15, 2018
8. Collin Johnson – Texas, 6-foot-6, 220 pounds
Collin Johnson dominates, and I truly mean dominates, press coverage. With an arsenal of hand usage and length in his arms, defensive backs struggle to slow down his stems.
At the catch point, Johnson has a massive radius. His vertical and horizontal extension for the ball makes for some of the best high point and diving catches in the class. If he can test well athletically, there won’t be much holding back Johnson’s ceiling.
Preseason, I thought Collin Johnson’s major weakness was attacking leverage in his stems. Not only is he doing so here, his mental processing to immediately work a move and manipulate space on the SAF is impressive. Plus, his tracking/adjustment and freak ability to stay upright. pic.twitter.com/a8QlM2XL9A
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) September 24, 2018
9. Denzel Mims – Baylor, 6-foot-3, 208 pounds
Mims is an athletic alien, with size, length and track speed. To match up with this, he potentially has the best ball skills in the class. The effortless way he extends to the catch point is a weapon along the sideline and in the red zone.
I recently wrote that Mims was playing to his potential this season, and he backed that up by climbing the ladder for a game-winning reception this past Saturday against Oklahoma State. If the true junior declares, he has one of the top ceilings of any player in the class.
Denzel Mims has #elite traits
Play 1: Body Control/Catch Radius + immediate tuck
Play 2: Gettin in + out of horizontal break in 2 steps
Play 3: Changing pace + subtle hand fighting, balance and speed
Plays 4 and 5: RZ potential, Attacking leverage + vertical breaks to win inside pic.twitter.com/hOUMF88nSm
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) July 11, 2018
10. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – Stanford, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds
A true rebounder, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside can box out defenders and high point just about any pass thrown his way. His length and ball skills give him a huge catch radius that has resulted in 11 touchdowns already this season.
Arcega-Whiteside’s game isn’t limited to jump balls, as he has developed some nice footwork to generate some necessary separation. There are questions about his long speed, but those concerns usually don’t show up on tape. With plus athletic testing, Whiteside could easily make a case for the top 5.
From Thur night: JJ Arcega-Whiteside
Pre-snap, WR’s check CB and SAF alignment, and this rep is an example of why. JJAW does a great job of threatening o/s in his stem while closing space, and winning inside on the Post. Keeps break skinny bc SAF is MOF. QB fits it in the window pic.twitter.com/wGuJ3OkZAH
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) October 21, 2018