In the second part to the 5-part series of what we can learn from last year’s draft, I will be looking at this year’s receiving class with particular focus to the first round and raising the question whether the top of the 2021 receiving class similar to the top last year’s OT Class.
Yes, I’m talking about two different position groups, and yes, I’m going to add a certain tight end to this argument, however hopefully by the end of the article, you’ll be able to understand the rationale behind my argument; whether in agreement or disagreement.
Let us start by talking about the top of the OL class of the 2020 1st round to form the foundations here. Last year, there was a consensus top 4 OT’s, with all going before pick 13. At the time, each of the four tackles were considered to be top of the class; dependent which draft analyst’s recommendations were read. Below is a reminder of the picks, the respective teams they ended up with and my scouting notes from last year: –
- 4th pick – NY Giants select Andrew Thomas, OT, from Georgia
- Power run-blocker with a nasty streak fitting the Georgia prototypical offensive lineman. Ideal fit for a power running offense using his explosion off the line and ability to anchor.
- Development in pass protection required especially versus the nimbler, bendier pass rushers
- 10th pick – Cleveland Browns select Jedrick Wills, OT, from Alabama
- Outstanding pass protector using his elite footwork and athleticism. Effective run blocker using his power and athleticism
- Primarily played at RT, therefore unknown at the next level if he is able to transition to LT
- 11th pick – NY Jets select Mekhi Becton, OT, from Louisville
- Giant of a man but a dancing bear with exceptional mobility and nimbleness for an athlete his size. More effective as a people moving run blocker.
- Development required on pass protection to use his length more effectively.
- 13th pick – Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade up one spot (San Francisco 49ers) and select Tristan Wirfs, OL, from Iowa
- Outstanding flexibility and power, using his hands to provide impressive grip strength to stop pass rushers in pass protecting sets.
- Smaller in length compared to rivals. Development required in run blocking to use anchor effectively at the next level. Projected as a RT prospect only.
It is important to review the notes, as it highlights how each of the 4 top tackles brought unique skillsets and differing physical and athletic traits to the pro levels. After reviewing their rookie seasons, Wirfs, Becton and Wills displayed elite rookie seasons to the extent where they can be discussed as future all pros in their respective positions. Thomas, despite his initial struggles, displayed improvement at the back end of last season to give Giants fans optimism heading into Year 2.
These unique skill sets and athletic traits applicable to these OT’s are what I want to focus on when talking about the top 4 receivers in this 2021 draft, and why the parallels are made to the 2020 OT Class.
Now, happy to argue to every rooftop about why a tight end is included in this conversation, and spoiler alert, this will be included in a separate takes article. However, all I will say for now is Kyle Pitts is an elite receiver that as a receiver alone, deserves to be in the conversation with the other players in this discussion, Chase, Smith and Waddle.
To get an in-depth analysis of each of the four receivers, our draft guide is the perfect tool to read up on their unique skill sets and what they will bring to the next level (and you can pick up a copy here). Nevertheless, in brief all four receivers offer something uniquely different to the next level: Chase’s physicality, Smith’s elite route running, Waddle’s speed and explosiveness and Pitts’ freakish all-round playmaking ability. Each four of these players will most likely be picked within the top 15, much like the top four offensive tackles last year.
My scouting review of all these players grades each of these players between the categories of Pro Bowl potential to all-pro ability; again, similar to last years tackle class. I will even take this one step further, both classes will be generational when we overview each class in 5 years’ time.
As a team picking in the top 15 where receiver is of primary need (Bengals, Dolphins, Lions, Patriots and Eagles come to mind), this year’s class offers four prospects where they alone could transform a whole offense. Yes, potentially one could have an Andrew Thomas like start to their career and maybe encounter rookie ups and downs as part of their education in the NFL. As we saw though, Wirfs was borderline Offensive Rookie of the Year, Wills transformed the Browns offensive line to take Cleveland to a deep post season run and Becton showed why he is already the building block for the future of the Jets franchise. Do not be surprised next year if we use the same language when describing Chase, Smith, Waddle and Pitts.
The common notion over the last few years is receiver value is found later in the draft as proven by the successes of Diggs, AJ Brown, Keenan Allen, Adams, Thielen, Metcalf and the like. In those years, the top end receiving talent in those year’s draft is incomparable to the four names mentioned at the top of the 2021 class. If we look at the last 7 years of receivers taken in the top 15 of the draft, the only name comparable to the 4 declaring this year would be Mike Evans (Pick 7) and Beckham Jr. (pick 14) from the 2014 draft. The rest such as John Ross, Tavon Austin, Kevin White, Corey Davis et al, both at time of declaration and now would not be mentioned in the conversation with Smith, Chase, Waddle and Pitts.
That is why with all the evidence, review of college tape and unique skillsets on display, I’ll go out on a limb and say the majority of this year’s top 4 receivers could be as generational as the majority of last year’s top 4 OT’s, with highly impactful 1st years, showcasing their elite production and play-making capabilities.