The wide receiver class in the 2019 NFL Draft ushered in a new wave of young players, and we have been treated to quality players at the position in recent years.
There were 11 wideouts taken on day two that year and from them, Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, and Terry McLaurin have been particular standouts.
The special 2020 draft class was hailed as potentially the best ever, both in talent at the top and depth. While it may not have proven itself just yet in those two categories and the top player taken (Henry Ruggs) is out of the league, there has been success.
Justin Jefferson is simply sublime. CeeDee Lamb has reached a Pro Bowl. Tee Higgins appears to be ascending. Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Aiyuk, Michael Pittman, and Chase Claypool are starter material.
Then 2021 added to the talent pool. Ja’Marr Chase is elite, while Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith showed they are ready to compete at this level.
Now we turn our attention to the 2022 group, which is drawing high praise for its available talent. We have the possibility of five first-rounders, maybe even six. There could be 12 receivers selected in the top 100 players, possibly even more.
So who are these players, and what will they bring to the league?
The top tier
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
When it comes to ‘clean’ profiles, Wilson ticks the boxes. He was a five-star recruit out of high school, played college ball at a major program, produced there (19 starts, 143 receptions, 2,213 yards and 23 touchdowns), and impressed in the pre-draft process.
On the field, he draws comparisons to Stefon Diggs with his route-running prowess and explosive athleticism (he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine to prove his speed). He competes hard, and offers versatility, having played extensively both in the slot and outside. Wilson could be a top-10 pick.
Drake London, USC
Many analysts rank London as their No 1 receiver in the class, and if he had a complete set of statistics from his college career, he might have been there by consensus. He had a solid freshman year, but due to a Covid-shortened 2020 (just six games in the season) and a 2021 cut short by a broken ankle (eight games played), just doesn’t have the ‘full’ profile coaches may want.
That said, you can’t take anything away from London’s on-field performances. He managed 88 catches, 1,084 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in just eight games before that 2021 injury. His game is built around his size, and if the ball is in his vicinity, he will come down with it. Like Wilson, London could sneak into the top 10.
Jameson Williams, Alabama
What do NFL offensive coaches desire the most? Speed – and Williams has all of it. After being stuck on the depth chart behind two other top receivers in this class (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave) at Ohio State, Williams transferred to Alabama and had a supreme 2021 campaign. He averaged 19.9 yards per reception with a 79-1,572-15 line and did it with style.
Although he has a smaller frame (6-foot-1 and 179 pounds) and is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in his final college game in January, teams will simply fall in love with his tape. He is exactly what coordinators are looking for in terms of an offensive weapon – don’t be surprised if a team moves up to grab him ahead of the two players mentioned above.
Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Burks is unique in that he has the size of a big man on the outside (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), but the ‘YAC’ (yards after the catch) ability of a much smaller and more nifty player. Deebo Samuel is the name thrown around as a comparison.
At Arkansas, they manufactured touches for Burks and he capitalised. In the NFL, he will only succeed if his coaches do the same. He was utilised in the slot and moved around often, rather being left alone on an island outside and asked to win one-on-one. That said, with his physical ability, teams will believe he can win there too. He is a first-rounder.
Chris Olave, Ohio State
We’ve discussed some players with standout traits – size, speed, route-running… Olave is the all-rounder. He is fast (4.39-second 40-yard dash), has a daily average receiver build (6-foot-0, 187 pounds), and is smooth on the move. He had a nose for the end zone in college, managing an astonishing 35 touchdowns (a school record) over four years.
So if he has it all, why is he not the top option in the draft? Because teams are looking for standout traits. They want ‘unique’ and they want ‘special’. Olave might slide towards the end of the first round, but make no mistake – he has every chance to be a day-one starter and carve out a long NFL career.
The potential stars
The above five wideouts are considered the consensus first-rounders. But don’t fear if you are an NFL GM. Do you still need a starter outside but used your first pick on another position? There are plenty of excellent options later on.
George Pickens is a personal favourite of mine. A lanky wideout from Georgia… remind of you anyone? Pickens will not end up being a top-four draft pick like AJ Green, but he may be a steal in the second round. His upside is tremendous but he suffered an ACL tear in his senior season so is lacking the production to warrant a high pick. If fully healthy, he could be a difference-maker.
Will Christian Watson be the next small-school receiver but burst onto the NFL scene? At North Dakota State, Watson was simply better than his opponents. For better or worse, he will be marked down because of the poor level of his competition, and the predictions for where he will land are all over the place – from mid-20s to late in round two.
Then there is Jahan Dotson, Penn State’s productive prospect, who accumulated 183 receptions, 2,757 yards and 26 touchdowns in his four years in the Big Ten. However, he is on the smaller side (5-foot-11, 178 pounds) and did not blow teams away at the Scouting Combine. Where does he land?
Skyy Moore, Jalen Tolbert, David Bell… the list goes on. Whatever style you desire, there is a receiver for you. Others like John Metchie, Khalil Shakir, and Alec Pierce could all sneak into the top 100. The depth is strong this season, and you can expect a flurry of wideouts to be taken on Friday night. As our Cameron Hogwood says, it is a wonderful time to need a receiver.
Watch all three days of the 2022 NFL Draft unfold on Sky Sports NFL, April 28-30, starting with live build-up to day one from 9pm on Thursday, April 28, with the first picks expected to be made just after 1am.