You know the drill. Tuesday morning means one thing, and one thing only...it's time for the 11th edition of Draft Class Heroes!
Disaster has struck. The recent news that Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf would be lost for the remainder of the season with a neck injury has thrown the potential 2019 receiver class into a tumult. Will Metcalf return to school as a redshirt sophomore? Is his neck injury significant enough to impact his draft stock or ability to work out at the Combine? Or will he make the jump to the NFL like most of the Ole Miss offense is expected to after the season?
Let's pretend for a second that he stays in school (crying emoji) and decides to forgo the NFL Draft for another year. For those of us at The Draft Network, where Metcalf is the unanimous WR1, that would mean the search for a new top wide receiver is on.
With that in mind, here are the candidates that I believe can become not only TDN's consensus WR1, but perhaps the NFL's top choice at the position in April as well. We begin with the player I believe can rise the highest during the pre-draft process...
Draft Class Superhero of the Week: Riley Ridley, WR, Georgia
Wait a minute, can the same guy be Superhero of the Week twice? Well, technically the last time I wrote in-depth about Ridley, he was sharing this honor with his brother Calvin, last year's first round pick of the Atlanta Falcons.
This time it's just Riley, and for good reason. If you're looking for the NFL's idea of a no. 1 wide receiver, Ridley sure checks a lot of boxes. Hard-working with NFL bloodlines is one of them, and whether it matters or not to you, you know it will matter to the league. Given Calvin's early success in the NFL and the fact that Riley will likely test better than his brother, the door is open for a fast climb up teams' boards.
But Ridley isn't all intangibles and physique. Yes, his strength and length at 6-foot-2, 200+ pounds is extremely enticing, but he also possesses the quickness and long speed to separate at all levels of the field. His route-running has made major leaps this season, and although Georgia doesn't throw him the ball nearly enough, Ridley has consistently created windows with his natural gifts and attention to detail.
He's not as sudden as Calvin out of his breaks, but his refinement as a route runner is still excellent, selling this corner pattern with his full body before breaking back to the post. Wide open. That's how you break down off coverage.
Full speed burst out of the cut. Plucks the ball behind him without breaking stride. He's not a burner, but he has enough speed to run away from athletic corners on a consistent basis. Greedy Williams found out the hard way last week, when Ridley ran by him with a nifty release and forced DPI. Not many receivers beating Greedy this season.
Ball skills? Contested catch ability? No problem.
The biggest questions Ridley will face are pertaining to his overall speed (I think it's fine) and ability to create after the catch. I know he isn't weak in either area, but how good can he be? He doesn't have many amazing YAC plays, but he has shown the ability to be elusive with the ball in his hands, make one defender miss and finish behind his pads.
Ridley reminds me of a slightly more raw Michael Thomas, but I think they are on a similar plane as prospects. Thomas was my WR1 in the 2016 class, and has continued to improve every year while ascending to become a top five wide receiver in the NFL. Growth isn't linear for everyone, but Ridley's improvement over his time at Georgia is a good indicator that his best may also be yet to come in the NFL.
1. Kelvin Harmon, WR, N.C. State
Harmon has made a living in contested catches during his time at N.C. State, despite not always high-pointing the ball with arms fully extended. Instead, Harmon tends to leap in the air and bread-basket catch the ball while boxing out his opponent. It's worked wonderfully for him in college, and there are certainly times where you've seen him go up and trust his hands as well, but it's fair to wonder how his process will consistently play out in the NFL.
The biggest question with Harmon will be his overall athleticism, especially long speed and short-area quickness. His hands and concentration with the ball in the air are outstanding, and few receivers in the class use their body better to defend the catch point. But if you can't separate within the majority of the route tree, NFL success has proven to be hard to come by for many.
2. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
Brown is one of the toughest wide receivers in college football to figure out. He works exclusively from the slot at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds (I don't think he's that heavy), and has very little experience getting off press coverage or running routes from an extended split. He's often working against zone coverage in the middle of the field, functioning almost like a tight end to sit down in space and then make something happen after the catch.
I don't think Brown is a special athlete, but he is elusive and incredibly aware of defenders closing around him. If he had more explosiveness, I would call him "special" after the catch, but as it stands he is still consistently capable of picking up extra yards on a regular basis after making a grab.
Is he fast? Can he win down the field against top competition? Will he be able to separate against press man coverage in his releases or his routes? All generally unknowns with Brown, but I do like his traits and ball skills enough to still have him in consideration for WR1 despite the concerns.
3. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
It's been a quiet year for Harry in Arizona State's current offense, but the skills he flashed as a sophomore may resonate heavily with NFL teams. Some of the contested catches and post-catch plays that Harry has made during his career with the Sun Devils are jaw-dropping, and certainly worthy of inclusion on this list.
My concerns with Harry are his overall athleticism, long speed and ability to run a full route tree with good attention to detail. Physically, he's a marvel to look at, and there is no question he can make some awesome things happen after the catch. But is the overall polish there to be WR1? The league hasn't exactly struck gold with raw Round 1 receivers over the past several years, which could deter them from taking Harry too early.
Villain of the Week: Terry Bradshaw, TV "Analyst", Fox Sports
Can you drag a guy two years after the fact? In Draft Class Heroes, yes, yes you can.
How in the world can this be an actual take spoken by someone who covers the NFL for a living, and played the quarterback position?
This claim, made in 2016, came during a time when Rodgers' numbers weren't quite what we were used to, so box score scouts automatically lashed out at the star quarterback. But to suggest that Mike McCarthy, an above-average head coach at best, is more valuable to an NFL team than Aaron Rodgers, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, is a take that deserves to be institutionalized.
Nobody actually respects Bradshaw as an analyst, nor should they, and you'd think that would be enough to remove him and hire someone more competent. This take is from two years ago, and things have only gone downhill from there. Just because you were a quarterback in need of an all-time great head coach, wide receivers, running backs, and defense in order to be successful, Terry, does not mean Aaron Rodgers is too.
So far we've buried Arizona, San Francisco, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Oakland and both New York teams to bring the season death toll to seven. I still feel pretty good about all those proclamations, even with the Jets improving to 3-3. Injuries have struck their secondary hard, and they play the Vikings next week and still have to play the Patriots twice.
Atlanta staved off death to get to 2-4, and should be able to overcome the Giants next Monday night to get to 3-4 heading into their bye, as predicted. I'm tempted to put a fork in the Bucs at 2-3 on a three-game losing streak, but their offense is still playing well enough to have some faith, and they get the Browns on Sunday, a winnable game.
The Broncos are on a four-game losing streak, and face the Cardinals in Arizona on Thursday night. That's a must-win game for them, and I don't think Arizona's offensive line stands a chance against Denver's pass rush. The Broncos stay alive for another week, but the Chiefs and upstart Texans loom before the bye.
In the lair this week...
- I've gotten some early indications from sources about underclassmen that are reportedly planning to enter the NFL draft, so I'll be looking over our database to see if there are any we don't have scouting reports on yet.
- In general, the TDN team is hitting scouting reports heavy this week, getting to a number of players we haven't been able to complete yet. Kyle Crabbs banged out a scouting report on Iowa's other tight end T.J. Hockenson the other day, while Ben Solak put out reports on Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman and Utah safety Marquise Blair (who the Senior Bowl is looking at).
- If you haven't yet, check out my report on South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who will be a riser during the pre-draft process if he declares. Also, the nation's leading receiver at tight end, Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger, could also be one of the top prospects at his position in the draft.
- More scouting reports coming this week, as well as a surprise rookie that I'll be writing about on Thursday. TDN Mailbag on Friday. Get yourself ready for a great week of football coverage.