As many of you are probably aware of by now, the 2021 NFL Draft class is loaded at wide receiver. Following a strong 2020 draft that featured Ceedee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III, 2021 potentially offers even more talent at the position with the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, and Rashod Bateman leading the charge. From big-bodied red-zone targets to speedy gadget-types, this class has it all.
Ultimately, 2021 is stacking up to be a fantastic year to need pass-catching help, no matter what type of wideout you require. Profiling some of the top names that are eligible, I conducted an experiment that assigned one specific route to each player.
Go - Seth Williams, Auburn
An imposing vertical threat standing at roughly 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Williams is your quintessential “go-up and get it” prospect. Excelling in a straight line using his absurd physicality, strong catch radius, and terrific hands, Williams won’t win much with foot quickness or routes that require sharp, horizontal cuts, but it often doesn’t matter. Ask him to push deep on a routine basis with a simplistic route tree and you’ll be more than happy with Williams as your prototypical “X” receiver.
Screen - Rondale Moore, Purdue
Recently opting out of the 2020 CFB season and declaring for the 2021 draft, Moore is every bit of a Round 1 talent. An insane YAC producer with elite quickness and exceptional contact balance, he routinely turns into a running back with the ball in his hands and dominates as a gadget-type wideout. Now, this isn’t to say he isn’t a creative and nuanced route-runner, as he shows plenty of success on posts, in-breaking patterns, and stick routes, it’s just that Moore is so good with the ball you want to get it in his hands as quickly as possible.
Bubble - Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Like Moore, Waddle is an exceptional YAC producer who plays like a running back with the ball in his hands. Waddle is built slightly bigger, however, and does offer more at the catch point and in high-point situations. Not yet asked to do much in the route-running department, most of Waddle’s limited production has come strictly from the slot and on simplistic bubbles and option routes, so he still needs to develop in this regard. It’s not to say he can’t do it, but Waddle just hasn’t had the reps to prove it. He has all the talent in the world, but 2021 will be a big year to prove that he’s worth more than the occasional splash play.
Out - Justyn Ross, Clemson
After suffering a brutal spinal injury that will cause him to miss all of 2020, Ross’ draft stock is currently in question due to the major medical flags surrounding him. When he is on the field however, Ross has shown glimpses of terrific potential. Dominating in the 2018 National Championship as a freshman and showcasing that same skill set once again against LSU in 2019, Ross is a terrific hands-catcher who cosplays as a vacuum cleaner on the majority of reps. Surprisingly nuanced as a route-runner despite his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame, Ross also knows how to set up vertical routes before breaking down and working horizontally.
Wheel - Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
After winning the Biletnikoff Award as a true sophomore, Chase is known as the best wide receiver in college for a reason. Putting up ridiculous production working in tandem with quarterback Joe Burrow last season, Chase is an alpha-male at the position with no true weaknesses. Able to run any route in the tree with success, he checks nearly every box that you could possibly look for, with wheel routes proving to be no exception. A staple in the LSU’s 2019 playbook, Chase would often line up in the slot with running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire flexed out.
Post - Tutu Atwell, Louisville
Standing at a generous 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Atwell is as shrimpy as they come. Lacking physicality and often bullied at the catch point, he simply can’t win on the perimeter, nor has he had any success getting off of press coverage at the LOS. When you simply ask him to use his mind-numbing speed, however, Atwell is nearly unstoppable. Accounting for nearly 40% of Louisville's total passing production last season, Atwell is dominant on jet sweeps, bubbles, and vertical shots from the slot. He runs a very simplistic route tree, but Atwell also shows a decent amount of nuance as a route-runner, demonstrating a strong understanding of how to gain leverage and use defensive backs’ blindspots to his advantage.
In - Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
Arguably the most crafty and creative route-runner in this class, it felt bad to limit St. Brown just to an “in” route, because truth be told, he offers so much more than that. Lining up in the slot 99% of the time, St. Brown does dominate in the middle portions of the field, though, which made this a fitting route to choose. Often using his terrific spatial awareness and a strong understanding of defensive coverages to his advantage, St. Brown is as nuanced as they come, and is able to use his elite quickness to explode on sharp lateral cuts, whether they be on inside routes, option routes, or even angle routes out of the backfield.
Sluggo - Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
A tough, physical wideout who accounted for roughly 50% of Oklahoma State’s passing production last season (when healthy), Wallace is a vertical menace who comes down with nearly everything. Not asked to do much other than run deep and catch screen passes in the Cowboys’ Air Raid, spread attack, his transition to the next level will be a big one. If there’s one thing that can clearly translate, however, it’s his ability to run a Sluggo.
Sluggo - Tamorrion Terry, Florida State
Although Wallace dominates in this regard, Terry is just too good at running “Sluggo” routes to not include in this article. A physical freak who has garnered insane Randy Moss comparisons given his gazelle-like strides and unreal long-speed, Terry is a cushion-eater who can press vertically with the best of them. On an underwhelming Florida State squad, he dominated despite poor quarterback play and limited route tree, showcasing starting “X” receiver potential in the process.
Corner - Dazz Newsome, North Carolina
Primarily used as a slot receiver in North Carolina’s dynamic offense, Newsome isn't the biggest player nor is he the fastest, but the diminutive wideout simply gets the job done. Blessed with extraordinary hand-eye coordination and plucky hands, he's proved to be an exceptional target, particularly on corner routes, and has the potential to be a Day 2 selection given his uncanny ability to come down with the football.
Slant - Devonta Smith, Alabama
Alabama’s best wide receiver last season, at least from a production standpoint, Smith won’t wow at first glance given his average speed and thin size, but provides literally everything you could want from a player at the position. A strong hands-catcher who secures tight-window passes despite his lanky frame, Smith is also an underrated YAC producer due to his natural slipperiness, a trait that is perfect on a team like Alabama that loved to extensively use quick-strike routes and the RPO game.
Post-Corner - Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
If you’re just looking at size and route-running, Bateman is arguably the best wide receiver in this class. A balanced, well-rounded wideout who can execute the entire playbook with precision, he won’t put forth a great 40-yard dash nor will he jump out of the gym, but Bateman's average athleticism doesn’t overly matter, especially with all of his other immense strengths. As smooth as they come, I do wish he had a bit more explosion and burst, but it’s a minor gripe for an otherwise pro-ready prospect.
Slot Fade - Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU
He may not seem like it given he isn’t seven-feet tall, but Marshall Jr. is an elite jump-ball specialist. A dynamic elevator who can compete at the catch-point on any rep, his magnificent touchdown production last season was no accident, nor was Burrow’s ability to trust him in 50-50 situations. No, he isn’t as slippery as Jefferson nor as powerful as Chase, but Marshall offers a nice blend between the two, representing a terrific value on either Day 2 or early Day 3 of the draft.
Jet Sweep - Anthony Schwartz, Auburn
If you thought Ruggs III was fast, it turns out Anthony Schwartz is even faster. An Olympic-level sprinter who posted a 10.07 100-meter dash (Ruggs’ personal record was 10.58), Schwartz is so raw he shouldn’t even be classified as a receiver at this point, but he’s so speedy that it doesn't even matter. Used all across the formation, his production is incredibly minuscule, but the athletic upside is through the roof. Get him in space and it’s over.
Comeback - Chris Olave, Ohio State
There’s something about Ohio State receivers and superb route-running. Credit wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, because it seems like every recent draft prospect has been exceptional in this regard, with Olave proving no exception. Reminiscent of Doug Baldwin on certain reps, his overall technique, body control, and sideline awareness are all off the charts, as are his fluidity and smooth acceleration. Asked to run more comeback routes than any other wide receiver in college last season, Olave also displayed the ability to break down his feet at a rapid pace, something that is extremely rare out of a player his age.
Fade - Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
One of the older and more experienced wideouts in this class, Surratt is a big, physical receiver who compares extremely favorably to Indianapolis Colts rookie Michael Pittman Jr. Knowing how to use his strong frame to consistently shield defenders, he isn’t the fastest nor the quickest, but Surratt is extremely comfortable in vertical situations and nearly always corrals passes through contact. Possessing strong body control and hand concentration, he also has very few drops on his resume and is extremely dependable in this regard.
- Dec 06, 2022
- Dec 05, 2022