The 2018 NFL Draft rookie class of wide receivers entered the league with middling expectations. While the depth of the class was held in high regard, the general sentiment was a lack of high-end prospects.
After week 17, we now have a year of NFL film to digest for the rookie wide receivers. A lot has come into focus, while we still await answers on others.
As an evaluator, you have to be able to check yourself and evolve your process. I believe that looking back at the “hits” and “misses” can help make future adjustments to a grading scale that will ultimately increase accuracy.
The following will serve as a review of how I ranked the class, and my individual evaluations, how those rookie wide receivers fared in their initial seasons, and the players that I may have “missed” on.
1. Dante Pettis 1st round
27 receptions, 476 yards, 5 touchdowns (12 games)
Pettis had a bit of an up and down season, but when he was healthy enough to be on the field on a full-time basis, he produced some electric plays. Starting off the season with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, Pettis had 96 yards and 1 touchdown in the first two games of the season.
Garoppolo would suffer an injury and Pettis would as well, holding him out of 3 games and limiting him to just 18 snaps over a three game stretch as he worked his way back.
It became obvious once Pettis got healthy, as he would go on a 6 week stretch where he was the 49ers best receiver. Over those 6 games, Pettis would post 24 receptions, 371 yards and 4 touchdowns. Showing the explosiveness as a route runner and ball carrier that made me appreciate him as a prospect, that late game stretch will assure his starting role next season.
Looking forward, I’m still comfortable with my label of Dante Pettis as the best wide receiver in the class, as he could really explode with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo behind center next season.
2. DJ Moore 1/2 round
55 receptions, 788 yards, 2 touchdowns (16 games)
Moore entered the NFL after his true junior season, and the 21 year-old had consistent production in the Panthers offense. Second among rookie wide receivers in receiving yards, Moore proved to be worthy of the first round pick that Carolina used on him.
Still developing as he’s so young, Moore’s ceiling still matches what it was viewed to be pre-draft: a WR1 in an NFL offense. His combination of frame and play strength should bode well moving forward, as he already led the Panthers wide receivers in yardage this season.
DJ Moore runs the “circus” route for a TD. Headgear opposite hip shift at the top of the route shakes Darius Slay. pic.twitter.com/B4ClNmB1OP
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) November 18, 2018
3. Anthony Miller 1/2 round
33 receptions, 423 yards, 7 touchdowns (15 games)
Miller battled nagging injuries including a dislocated shoulder throughout the season, but stayed on the field throughout most of it. When healthy, he produced well in his role in the Bears offense.
In my evaluation of Miller, despite some lack of size, he had the best traits for contested situations in the class. His natural extension to the catchpoint, as well as body control and strength to win through contact were outstanding.
These traits were a big reason why Miller produced 7 touchdowns in his rookie season.
4. Calvin Ridley 1/2 round
64 receptions, 821 yards, 10 touchdowns (16 games)
The leader among rookie wide receivers in receptions, yards and touchdowns, Ridley proved what many thought pre-draft: that he was the most pro-ready receiver in the class. Upon further review, I may have been too low on Ridley by not giving him a legitimate first round grade, rather choosing the “late first-early second” label.
Ridley’s route running and suddenness as a ball carrier translated immediately to the NFL-level, and his role should grow in year 2 with Atlanta. While his production ceiling may be somewhat capped due to playing across from Julio Jones, we should see Ridley as a potential threat to hit close to 1,000 receiving yards each season.
5. DaeSean Hamilton 2/3 round
30 receptions, 243 yards, 2 touchdowns (14 games)
As Denver opted to utilize veterans Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders early in the season, Hamilton was biding his time. When Thomas was traded to Houston and Sanders out for the season with injury, Hamilton began to produce down the stretch of the season.
In the final four games of the season, Hamilton posted 25 receptions and 2 touchdowns.
Hamilton likely did enough to warrant a starting spot within Denver’s top 3 receiver rotation next season, regardless of who is playing quarterback. His unique route running from the slot allowed Hamilton to separate and create throwing windows in the short areas of the field, but look for Denver to use him more in the intermediate and deep portions of the field next season.
6. Christian Kirk 2/3 round
43 receptions, 590 yards, 3 touchdowns (12 games)
Kirk teamed up with rookie signal-caller Josh Rosen to create an exciting young duo for the future. Kirk’s ability with the ball in space, as well as his speed to win vertically were his biggest strengths in year 1.
Arizona will be under new direction next season, but look for the chemistry between Rosen and Kirk to continue developing. It’s relatively hard to say where Kirk’s ceiling currently lies, but he is one of those wide receivers where I feel as though my evaluation and grading was spot on.
7. Byron Pringle 3rd round
Pringle was a draft crush of mine, and looked promising throughout training camp before needed surgery in the preseason. We didn’t hear much out of him from that point forward, as the Chiefs wide receiver room is currently loaded with talent.
Hopefully, Pringle can remain healthy next season and find his role on the active roster. Thinking about his combination of size, athleticism and route running catching passes from Patrick Mahomes could become electric.
8. Darren Carrington 3rd round
Carrington had a series of off the field issues throughout college that pushed him off of many NFL teams draft boards as a result. When he went undrafted, he doubled down on his issues posting discouraging comments on social media.
Eventually, Carrington was given an opportunity on Dallas’ practice squad before heading to the CFL. It’s likely that he will never step foot in an NFL facility, at least until he gets right in his personal life.
Carrington is one of those players who I will never know if I hit on his evaluation, because of the the red flags in his character.
9. Trey Quinn 3rd round
9 receptions, 75 yards, 1 touchdown (3 games)
Quinn made the active roster despite being drafted as Mr. Irrelevant. Unfortunately, he would be injured and miss the majority of the season as a result.
Quinn came back and played in the Thanksgiving game at Dallas, and was the Redskins best player on offense that night, Unfortunately, he’d get injured against and miss the rest of the way. The potential he showed in his only healthy performance was encouraging, but he will need to stay healthy to prove that level of play moving forward.
From Trey Quinn scouting report: “Crafty, nuanced route runner who is able to snap his body back towards the quarterback at an elite pace.. Arguably the best hands is the class, hauling in everything w/a natural, extended motion”
Ranked WR9 + 67th overall pic.twitter.com/ZTu2qMYJzc
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) November 22, 2018
10. DJ Chark 3rd round
14 receptions, 174 yards (11 games)
Chark was always more potential than polish as a prospect, so his rookie season projection was likely to be a reserved one.
The Jaguars pass catchers weren’t special this season, but the room is actually a deep one. After investing a high selection on him in the NFL Draft, they will likely increase Chark’s usage next season. While their offense sputtered at times this season, a receiver with Chark’s speed could help open up the offense moving forward.
11. Keke Coutee 3rd round
28 receptions, 287 yards, 1 touchdown (6 games)
Coutee showed the electric playmaking ability in his rookie season that made me love him as a prospect. As a player who thrives in space, he fit into the Texans offense while on the field. Unfortunately, Coutee would suffer multiple injuries this season that held him out of game action.
Houston had a role for Coutee ready-made in their offense, so they are obviously a fan of his abilities. Based on his production while healthy, he could be a player who really takes the next step next season, health permitting.
12. Auden Tate 3rd round
4 receptions, 35 yards (7 games)
I was a fan of Tate’s size, despite the lack of athleticism he showed at the NFL Scouting Combine. Cincinnati agreed enough to hold on to Tate, and give him some limited game reps late in the season.
In my opinion, Tate offers far more potential than Cody Core. Looking ahead to next season, there’s a path for Tate to become the Bengals fourth option behind AJ Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross.
13. Equanimeous St. Brown 3rd round
21 receptions, 328 yards (12 games)
St. Brown went later in the NFL Draft than I anticipated, but he showed off his athletic traits in year one with Green Bay. While fellow rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling had more production, St. Brown has a path to WR3 duties next season, assuming Randall Cobb moves on from the franchise.
St. Brown’s curious lack of contested ability as a prospect manifested in Green Bay, as he was unable to get in the endzone as a rookie. Nonetheless, he showed encouraging traits with the ball in his hands, as well as development in his route running.
#GoPackGo Rookie WR Equanimeous St. Brown does a great job of selling the Out route with a defined break before the “stick and nod” double move. Finds open grass for a ton of YAC. pic.twitter.com/B7bbhxE2NN
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) October 10, 2018
14. Courtland Sutton 3rd round
42 receptions, 704 yards, 4 touchdowns (16 games)
Sutton will be my major miss of the 2018 NFL Draft class, and will likely be the cause of a change in my grading scale.
My evaluation was spot on, as I labeled Sutton with one of the highest ceilings in the wide receiver class and, if he could iron out some rigid aspects to his game, become a WR1 in the NFL. Watching the film of him in his rookie season, Sutton has more refined hand usage to beat press coverage, as well as more consistency in his route breaks.
I should’ve place more value in his size and athleticism, and banked on his development. My grading scale will reflect that this draft cycle.
15. Deontay Burnett 4th round
10 receptions, 143 yards, (4 games)
Burnett caught all 12 of his targets in the preseason, but was cut by Tennessee after going undrafted. The New York Jets scooped him up, pairing him with his college quarterback Sam Darnold.
New York gave Burnett playing time late in the season, and he looked good in limited action. At just 21 years old and with the Jets wide receiver depth chart among the thinnest in the NFL, Burnett looks to have a role next season. He could still use development with his body, needing to add strength to his wiry frame.
Other notable players:
18. Marcell Ateman 4th round
15 receptions, 154 yards, 1 touchdown (7 games)
I liked Ateman a good bit as a prospect, and he showed flashes in limited reps for the Oakland Raiders. He has excellent size and good length to his arms, and could carve out a more permanent role next season.
21. Tre’Quan Smith 5th round
28 receptions, 427 yards, 5 touchdowns (15 games)
I was likely too low on Smith, and he landed in a fantastic situation for his development. Getting to play with Drew Brees has its value, but Smith showed a lot of positive traits on film as well.
His vertical ability and long arms to win through contact were all over his rookie season film, and he is a perfect complimentary piece to Michael Thomas. I’m expecting big things from Smith moving forward in his career, regardless if Brees is his quarterback or not.
23. Antonio Callaway 5th round
43 receptions, 586 yards, 5 touchdowns (16 games)
Callaway had nice production as a rookie, but did so on a ton of targets. While he showed nice playmaking ability on occasion, his consistency on a play to play basis was a bit rough.
Callaway was constantly in trouble throughout his college career. This offseason will tell us a lot about Callaway if he is able to remain out of trouble and progress his game moving forward.
24. James Washington 5th round
16 receptions, 217 yards, 1 touchdown (14 games)
Washington had modest production in his first year, at one point being benched after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made negative remarks about Washington’s play on a radio appearance. He would get back in the quarterback’s good graces, and have his two best games of the season late in the year.
Despite the strong finish, Washington only accumulated 16 receptions on 38 targets, all but one of which came from the hall of fame quarterback. He will need to figure out a way to create larger throwing windows, as well as finish at the catch point with more consistency in year 2.
30. Michael Gallup 6th round
33 receptions, 507 yards, 2 touchdowns (16 games)
Gallup was given plenty of opportunity in his first year, but was the Cowboys’ least efficient wide receiver by a wide margin. While Dak Prescott targeted Gallup, the completion percentage was a mere 48.5%. Targeting every other player, Prescott’s completion percentage was north of 70%.
Like Washington, Gallup will need more consistency finishing his reps next season in order to be a long-term solution at the position.
32. J’Mon Moore 6th round
2 receptions, 15 yards (12 games)
Moore was the highest drafted Packers rookie wide receiver but suffered from the least production. With Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, Moore will need to show more in year 2 to earn consistent game-action.
Unranked: Marquez Valdes-Scantling UDFA
38 receptions, 581 yards, 2 touchdowns (16 games)
A surprise 5th round selection, my incorrect evaluation of Valdes-Scantling will mirror that of Courtland Sutton’s. I liked Valdes-Scantling as an undrafted type with potential, but never thought his game would be refined enough to match his rookie season production.
Valdes-Scantling showed sudden route running, a smooth vertical game and the strength to finish through contact with ease. He looked like the future WR2 behind Davante Adams in Green Bay, which could lead to a massive increase in production with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.
Unranked: Robert Foster UDFA
27 receptions, 541 yards, 3 touchdowns (13 games)
Foster posted more receiving yards in his rookie season than in his entire career at Alabama. The former 5-star recruit could never get going in college, as multiple surgeries slowed down his progression.
Given an opportunity in Buffalo, Foster connected with fellow rookie Josh Allen down the stretch of the season. Getting to view Foster live, I was impressed with his overall athleticism and route running. As long as he remains off the injury report, Foster could progress into one of Buffalo’s top targets for years to come.
While not perfect, I believe that year 1 was a success regarding my evaluations. There were a few glaring misses on players that I should have been higher on. However, most of the receivers I put near the top of my rankings showed a ton of promise in year 1. The jury still remains out on some of the players who were limited by injury.
Rankings will never be perfect, but I’m mostly comfortable with how this season played out from a scouting perspective. I look forward to updating my grading scale and evaluation process moving forward, in hopes of increasing accuracy for the 2019 NFL Draft.