It’s been discussed ad nauseam how the influx of talent among NFL wide receivers has been historic over the last two years. The 2019 and 2020 receiver classes may arguably go down as some of the best the league has seen in terms of the number of players that have succeeded since their respective drafts. From the 2019 class alone, players like DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, and A.J. Brown have established themselves as future perennial Pro Bowl players in just their second season. Meanwhile, the 2020 class may have produced the best young receiver to enter the NFL in over a decade with Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson breaking multiple records in his rookie campaign.
The number of receivers that are coming into the league and having early success bodes well for teams looking for a wideout this offseason. The 2021 class projects to have another outstanding group of receivers, and we should hear plenty of names called between the first and second rounds of this year’s draft. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all shocking if this year’s class bests last year’s with the number of receivers drafted in the first two rounds. In 2020, 13 receivers were selected within the top 64 picks, and this year will get close to that or surpass it.
The top three receivers have likely secured their NFL future at the forefront of their class. LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase is widely considered to be the best overall receiver and could hear his name as early as the top three picks. The Alabama duo of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are in the same tier as Chase and could also hear their name called in the top 10 or so picks. Chase, Waddle, and Smith are the consensus top-three receivers; after them, we see a lot of names often lumped together in the next tier. Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr., and Purdue’s Rondale Moore are in that next tier, and the order of these receivers varies depending on the evaluator. Based on my film study, Bateman was the next best receiver, but that opinion isn’t a unanimous one. The name seen lately is Toney’s, as many slotted him to be the fourth receiver off the board; this got me thinking: What is the draft value of a receiver like Toney or Moore? Players that are dynamic playmakers but may lack the size to win consistently at the next level.
I really do like both Toney and Moore as prospects. They are outstanding with the ball in their hands; have rare separation quickness, burst, and explosiveness; and have the ability to score any time they touch the football. They are true game changers, but how easy will it be to get them the football in the NFL?
Toney measured in at 5-foot-11 and weighed 189 pounds at the Senior Bowl—to be honest, those are better numbers than I was expecting based on his tape. The Gators used Toney in a variety of ways this season, and he was a major focal point in their offense. Toney lined up primarily in the slot but also was used out wide and even in the backfield. He was a four-year contributor for Florida but dealt with various injuries in his first three seasons and missed a considerable amount of time. In his first three seasons, Toney caught 50 receptions for 606 yards and two touchdowns while also adding 417 yards on the ground with one touchdown on 47 carries. Toney had one of the best breakout campaigns in recent memory as a senior, and he established himself as a bonafide NFL prospect. He had 70 receptions for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the ground, Toney added 19 carries for 161 yards and one touchdown. Toney has rare quickness and change of direction to allow him to effortlessly make defenders miss in space. He has excellent toughness and competitiveness while displaying a rare contact balance for someone his size. Toney is a bit unrefined as a receiver and can still improve when it comes to cleaning up his route tree and catching the football naturally with his hands, but there's no doubt he is an explosive playmaker.
Similarly, Moore is another receiver on the smaller side. He is listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, unverified, on Purdue’s website. Moore is a bit denser than Toney and has a well-built, muscular frame with a sturdy lower half. Unlike Toney, Moore’s career started off with a bang and then tapered down due to injuries. Moore burst onto the scene as a true freshman for the Boilermakers and quickly became regarded as one of the most explosive playmakers in all of college football. As a freshman, Moore had 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also was successful as a runner and totaled 213 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 carries. Moore’s 2018 tape is truly sensational. He displayed rare burst, explosiveness with natural hands and ball skills. The issue for Moore, however, is that the success he saw in 2018 was never replicated; he dealt with a lingering hamstring injury which limited him to just four games in 2019 and suffered a non-disclosed lower-body injury in 2020, which limited him to just three games. Not only does Moore come with massive injury concerns, but a lot of his production came from manufactured touches in the form of quick screens, bubble screens, slants, and reverses. We never consistently saw Moore win with a traditional route tree, and that is something evaluators will have to consider.
When draft analysts discuss these two prospects as potential first-round picks, they’ll use the caveat that they’ll need “creative play-callers to get them in space” or “they’ll be successful by getting the ball in their hands in multiple ways and let them work.” These two receivers will be successful with creative play-callers who will give them the football in multiple ways whether it’s quick screens or touches out of the backfield, but my concern is how many of these play-callers are truly out there? What people imploring these cautions are missing is that head coaches like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and Andy Reid don’t grow on trees; chances are Toney and Moore will go to a team that won’t have a creative play-caller like the names above. The question then becomes, can these receivers win outside in a traditional role and create separation against bigger more physical NFL defensive backs? If they can’t then it will be difficult for teams to justify selecting either in the first round, no matter how dynamic they are with the ball in their hands.
The receivers we have seen enter the league in recent years that have had success usually have the following strengths: outstanding size (like Metcalf and Brown) or are outstanding route runners (like McLaurin, Jefferson, and Dallas Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb). The name of the game in the NFL is consistently creating separation outside or having the size and strength to routinely make contested catches, and if a receiver can’t do one of those consistently then they’ll have a difficult time sustaining success. It’s not that Toney and Moore can’t create separation outside or make contested catches, we just haven’t seen them do it consistently in college
Every year it seems like we have players who we all agree are excellent in college and have exciting ability with the ball in their hands. These players will usually get the “gadget” label, and the team that drafts them will then have to be creative, playing to their strengths. The issue is for every Deebo Samuel, there are five Tavon Austin’s; it is undoubtedly a risk in investing high draft capital in a gadget player. While Toney and Moore are both really good players, there are lingering questions about their ability to be a true WR1 at the next level.
Both of these players can have great success playing in the slot and winning with speed and quickness inside. They’ll also be huge assets on special teams as either kick or punt returners, but due to their lack of size, catch radius, and risk of injury, their true value lies somewhere between picks 40-55 or so.