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NFL Draft

The 2021 WR Class Is Looking Slight

  • The Draft Network
  • May 26, 2020
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Is it too early to start talking about some 2021 prospects? I sure hope not.

I'm itching to get the conversation started on the 2021 class. As The Draft Network’s scouts looked into the returning seniors and rising underclassmen, it became clear the wide receiver class is, once again, going to be a feature of this year's group of future NFL stars.

Another thing has become clear about the upcoming receivers: It may be dense in terms of draft-worthy playmakers and early-round selections, but it's also a physically thin group.

The class is headlined by Alabama's DeVonta Smith, arguably the best receiver on the team last year that elected to return to school for his senior season, and LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase, the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner and premier downfield and scoring threat in college football. Other electric playmakers include newly-eligible Jaylen Waddle of Alabama, Purdue's Rondale Moore and Ohio State's Chris Olave and returning upperclassmen in Wake Forest's Sage Surratt, Florida State's Tamorrion Terry and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace. This grouping is far from comprehensive. The entire list of eligible 2021 receivers, on our current consensus summer rankings, can be seen here.

It's too early to identify who exactly the top receivers, but we can still acknowledge that, among some of these top names, we don't have particularly dense body types.

  • DeVonta Smith, Alabama: 6-foot-1, 175 pounds
  • Justyn Ross, Clemson: 6-foot-3, 205 pounds
  • Chris Olave, Ohio State: 6-feet, 185 pounds
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds
  • Terrace Marshall, LSU: 6-foot-4, 200 pounds
  • Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State: 6-foot-0, 185 pounds

These numbers were pulled from teams’ websites, which have the official measurement at this time. When players return to campus for the 2020 season, they'll get measured and weighed again, and by the time they tip the scales at the NFL Scouting Combine, they'll have worked their bodies to best fit what the NFL is looking for, and what the league is looking for is denser body types.

The new mold of elite yards-after-catch (YAC) receivers fits Deebo Samuel or A.J. Brown’s body type, which carries 210-plus pounds on a 6-foot frame. In the 2020 draft class, those body types were filled by early-rounders in TCU's Jalen Reagor and Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. In this class, given the most recent numbers we have at our disposal, there isn't a player who fits the mold. SMU's Reggie Roberson is the closest we've got in the rankings at 6-feet and 200 pounds, but even then, Roberson doesn't necessarily win as a YAC player on film and isn't considered a top-tier receiver for all of his talent.

Just because there isn't a Deebo or Brown body type doesn't mean that class is bad or lacking YAC threats. Moore is a 5-foot-10, 180-pound stud with the ball in his hands as is Waddle at a similar size. But body mass index (BMI) thresholds have been used increasingly by the fantasy community as a filter for identifying consistently productive receivers at the NFL level; studies show the best fantasy producers at the position have a BMI over 26. Evaluating prospects for NFL success is not the same as identifying top fantasy receivers, but the ideas are at least adjacent, and examining body type is an important step in the evaluation process.

We're almost a calendar year from making any aggressive claims about this receiver class. We're going to get at least two new sets of measurements for the group, and we shouldn't classify any of these players as thin until they get another season of football under their belts and step on the scales at the combine. But it is likely that this class brings BMI to the forefront of the draft conversation when it comes to evaluating wide receivers. Much like breakout age has been a matter of debate for film and analytic heads alike on receiver evaluations in the last couple years, the conversation about BMI will likely be busted open by players like Smith, who has such tremendous film but such a big red flag on his data profile.

Every community of evaluators, whether its pure football or fantasy football, is looking for the next competitive edge. BMI for receivers might be it. If everything goes according to plan, this class will help us figure that out.

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