The player evaluation process is always fluid, and that includes after we learn the landing spot for each prospect. While the pre-draft process the main player evaluation period, predicting production is a completely different animal.
As prospects, analysts look at each player in a vacuum. Upon entering the league, there are numerous factors in play that can change production for better or worse. Specifically looking at wide receiver play, those other factors include passing offensive scheme, current wide receiver depth chart and roles, quarterback play, offensive line pass blocking effectiveness and expected role.
The upcoming list of wide receivers won’t directly reflect how I had them ranked as prospects, especially because each player are at different stages of their developmental curves. Each of the following prospects are expected to have immediate roles for their respective teams, as well as the ability to capitalize on their opportunity.
Before we get into the top 5, I wanted to note a few honorable mentions that just missed out on the list with reasoning behind it.
A.J. Brown - With Corey Davis already in house and a large free agent investment into Adam Humphries, the target distribution could be spread out in Tennessee. The Titans passing offense just isn’t dynamic enough to support all three receivers to heavy production. So while I expect Brown to play well, it will be hard for him to be a dominant producer as a rookie.
N’Keal Harry - Harry’s role and usage will be interesting to monitor in New England. There is a scenario where he becomes the #2 target for Tom Brady, which offers a noticeable ceiling. However, there’s another scenario where Harry falls in line with the “typical” Patriots rookie receiver and takes a year to develop while being apart of a run-heavy offense that features more established targets. Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas could both be factors, or neither could be. There is just too much gray area at the moment.
Deebo Samuel - While Deebo Samuel was my #2 overall wide receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft, there’s just a lot of unknown with how the 49ers will deploy their weapons. Kyle Shanahan wants to run the football, then there’s George Kittle at tight end who will eat targets. Add in Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and company, it’s just hard to nail down Deebo’s initial role.
5. Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins
McLaurin was one of my draft favorites, and he landed in a near ideal situation in Washington. With little in front of him in the form of veteran receivers, McLaurin will be relied upon early and often in the Redskins offense. On top of that, the expected starting quarterback is Dwayne Haskins, McLaurin’s college quarterback.
With already developed chemistry between quarterback and receiver and ample opportunity ahead of him, McLaurin should find production in year one.
4. Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Speaking of opportunity and standing on the depth chart, Marquise Brown will walk into the Ravens facility as their WR1. Drafted in the first round because of lack of talent at the position, Baltimore will be sure to implement a lot of plays that feature Brown’s dynamic speed.
I wasn’t quite as high on Brown as the consensus, but he landed in an ideal situation that could feature his best strengths. Expect splash plays that lead to nice overall production.
3. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
DK Metcalf was my top overall wide receiver in the NFL Draft, and the Seahawks have targets to spread around with the retirement of Doug Baldwin. While Seattle prefers a balanced offense and has Tyler Lockett in-house, Metcalf is seemingly in line for WR2 duties. Add in the fact that Russell Wilson will be his quarterback, and the ceiling is outrageous.
p.s. If your opinion is swayed by a single route from a cell phone video during a non-padded OTA practice in May, you should re-evaluate how you evaluate.
2. Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
Coming off injury last season, Andrew Luck was still one of the best quarterbacks in football. However, he did have more success in the short and intermediate area than driving the ball deep down the field. Luckily for Parris Campbell, that’s where he thrives.
Campbell’s best trait is his run after catch, and he was predominantly used within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage at Ohio State. The Colts have T.Y. Hilton and some talented pass-catching tight ends, but Campbell should still get his fair share of targets underneath. He’ll make the most of them.
1. Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
In his first year as a starter, Patrick Mahomes set the world on fire with 50 touchdown passes. Mahomes found success throwing down the field, quick targets behind the line of scrimmage and passes out of structure. Those aspects are where Mecole Hardman is at his best.
With Tyreek Hill’s situation still up in the air, Hardman provides a certain type of insurance for Hill’s skillset. The Chiefs wide receiver depth is quietly thin, which means the Chiefs top pick should see plenty of targets as a rookie. Hardman has unique talent, explosiveness and play speed and fell into the perfect offensive system with an ideal quarterback situation. There will be splash plays.