2021 NFL Draft: Under the Radar Receivers

A historically deep 2020 draft class saw 37 wide receivers come off the board, with a record setting 13 going in the first two rounds alone. That being said, the 2021 class might be even deeper, with a year of pandemic hit College Football sure to see some top talent slide down the board.

At the top of most people’s draft boards are the same three players, Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, with Rashod Bateman slowly creeping up into the conversation as well. Beyond that it becomes a bit of a wild west when it comes to rankings, some have Florida’s one season wonder Kadarius Toney up there, others are advocates of Purdue’s pint-sized playmaker Rondale Moore and USC’s Amon Ra St-Brown is also in the conversation. 

But who are the players that your team is going to draft in the third, fourth or fifth round who are realistically going to make a difference? We’ve seen players like Diontae Johnson, Terry McLaurin and Michael Gallup drafted in the mid-rounds over the last few years so there are certainly steals to be had, and the following players have the potential to be just that.

Tyler Vaughns – USC Trojans

Age: 23

Class: Redshirt Senior

2020 stats: 6 games – 33 catches – 406 yards – 3 TD

In recent years the USC Trojans have sent a number of early round receivers into the NFL, including Michael Pittman Jr, Nelson Agholor and Robert Woods. This year there will be likely two more pass catchers joining them on Sundays, Amon Ra St-Brown and Tyler Vaughns.

St-Brown is drawing much of the early attention and he has done so for some time now, but his teammate is no slouch. Vaughns was the number two receiver recruit in the country in 2016, and the Trojans fought off interest from some of the biggest names in CFB to recruit him into their programme.

After a redshirt season, the Lo Puente native has been a key contributor for four straight seasons in California, racking up a total of 2801 yards and averaging 12.6 yards a catch in that time. Elusive with the ball in his hands, Vaughns was used at all levels in the Trojans’ passing game, often picking up good chunks of yardage using his tricky footwork and deft body control to elude defensive backs. That body control translates nicely to his route running, which he uses to create separation, particularly on out and slant routes.

But it’s when taking the top off a defense that Vaughns is at his most deadly, utilising his excellent ball tracking skills and contested catch ability to stretch the field and reel in the catch. In the Trojans’ 43-38 win over UCLA in December, he laid out at full stretch to bring in a touchdown grab from Kayden Slovis, and it is that playmaking style of play which NFL teams will be most excited about.

As with any mid-round prospect, Vaughns has areas that need improving. Given his elusivity and quick footwork, he is primarily a tricky player and struggles in some of the more physical phases of the game. In traffic he has a tendency to get knocked off course, and when being covered by more physical corners he can be bullied in close coverage. He also lacks elite deep speed, something he more than made up for with his route running skills at the college level, but that could hinder him at the next level.

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Dazz Newsome – North Carolina Tar Heels

Age: 21

Class: Senior 

2020 Stats: 12 games – 54 catches – 684 yards – 6 TD   

This season’s draft class is absolutely loaded with talented slot receivers, including the likes of Rondale Moore, Elijah Moore and Tutu Atwell. Sat prominently amongst that group is Dazz Newsome, one of the most productive pieces of a UNC offense that has been firing on all cylinders over the last couple of seasons.

Newsome wasn’t recruited by many big names after a High School career that saw him play running back, wide receiver and corner. He enrolled with the Tar Heels after decommitting from the University of Maryland, and after building a productive relationship with star Quarterback, Sam Howell, he must be very pleased that he made that decision.

The Virginia native became a starter in his sophomore year, but it was his junior season in which he exploded onto the scene – going for more than 1000 yards and hauling in ten touchdowns. Like most productive slot receivers in the college game, Newsome finds space in zone coverage easily – this doesn’t always translate to the NFL, where corner and linebacker play has evolved to take away those easy completions – but given his ability to stop on a dime, it feels like Newsome will still find space relatively easily.

Unlike most of his fellow slot prospects, Newsome also has plenty of film where he’s making plays downfield. That underlines one of his key strengths, his speed, which he uses to devastating impact before and after the catch. He combines that speed with good route running, and the ability to accelerate quickly off the line of scrimmage – making him hard for opposition defenders to pick up in man coverage. 

One thing that NFL scouts will love most about Newsome is his aggressive play style, he plays the game bravely and is tough at the catch point over the middle of the field. However, this aggression is also one cause for concern that some will have with the 21yr old. Time and again on tape Newsome gets hit hard, often sacrificing his body for extra yardage – coaches will love this but it feels like a potential durability issue down the line.

Other than that slight concern, the other things holding Newsome back are the standard stuff for the shorter slot receivers, catch radius and a difficulty winning at the catch point when covered by bigger corners. He could also do with spending time in the weight room to add bulk to his lower body.

It’s clear that Newsome will be starting in the slot for an NFL team fairly soon, but teams might also be looking at him as an impact kick returner from week one of the 2021 season – expect him to be drafted in the third or early fourth round.

Tamorrion Terry – Florida State Seminoles

Age: 22

Class: Redshirt Junior

2020 Stats: 6 games – 23 receptions – 289 yards – 1 TD

A lot of players and potential draft prospects have faced adversity over the last year, with the stock of players rising and falling based on opt out decisions and the overall state of their programme. Prior to the season, Tamorrion Terry and defensive teammate Marvin Wilson were both being mocked in the top 64 picks, but following a season of change in Tallahassee and underlying injuries they’re both facing a slide into the third round or beyond.

After enrolling at Florida State in 2017, the 6’4” Terry was a rare highlight for a programme that has often struggled to find an identity on offense over the last couple of years. Playing alongside an offensive line that has been substandard for some time, and with QBs who have either struggled to stay upright or who have preferred to scramble for yardage, Terry has done exceptionally well to establish himself as a draftable asset.

In 2019 Terry rose to national prominence and was one of the best receivers in the country, turning his 60 catches into 1188 yards and 9 touchdowns. He did that whilst showcasing his ability as a traditional big bodied sideline threat and a powerful runner after the catch. And that’s what NFL teams will be getting if they select Terry, he’s not fancy, and he certainly doesn’t have the versatility that teams seem to be looking for in players like Tyreek Hill, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, but he does what he’s good at, and he does it well.

As one of the taller receivers in the draft, Terry has got fantastic deep speed which he relies on heavily to separate down the field. However, that speed also means he can be used in the screen game as well, something the Georgia native showcased perfectly against Boise State in 2019, taking the ball 75 yards for the score on a receiver screen. He also possesses a huge catch radius and has a tendency to pull the ball in from ridiculous angles, whilst making the most of his balance and sideline awareness. 

However, there’s a reason why Terry isn’t being talked about with some of the bigger names in this draft class, and it’s not all related to the injury that made him a bit part player in 2020. Another impact of the poor FSU offense has been the limited time which plays have to develop, and as such Terry’s range of routes was incredibly stunted in his three year career. He has three main routes, the go, comeback and slant, and outside of that he does look uncomfortable. He’s also got a fair few drops on tape, and that feels more of a technique issue than a concentration thing. Both of these issues can be worked on, and you’d expect the team that drafts him to work on them straight away. If they get it right, Terry could have a big impact in the league.

Catch all of my Wide Receiver profiles in our draft guide – available now.  

By Andy Moore (@ajmoore21)

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