NFL Draft 2021: Rough Diamonds Series: Wide Receivers

Welcome to part three of my series where I take a quick look, position by position, at my favourite Day 3/Undrafted guys from the 2021 NFL Draft.

Today it’s all about the Wide Receivers.

They come in all shapes, sizes and athletic ability, and are vitally important to every NFL offense, in this increasingly pass happy league. We know that every year millions of Wide Receivers get picked in the draft (well 35 actually), but with teams keeping five or more on their active roster for the season, the demand will always be high. Because we scout so many receivers, there will always be plenty of “my guys” who fall to the late rounds of the draft, or even undrafted, and I’ve picked a few of my particular favourites to talk about here.

Seth Williams, Auburn (Denver, round 6, Pick 219)

This could easily have been about Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State or Amon-Ra St.Brown, USC, but they both went in Round 4, and I want to delve a little deeper into this group of Wide Receivers.

Williams was a four-star recruit who turned down Alabama, Florida and Georgia among others, to play for the Auburn Tigers. He put together 3 very good years of tape, and even in a stuttering Auburn offense put up decent career numbers (2124 yards, 16.1 average, 17 TD’s). He was the number one receiving target whenever he was on the field at Auburn, and he went into the 2020 season carrying a possible first-round draft grade. He has great size at 6’3, 211lbs, and as you’d expect he uses this well to box out and shield smaller defensive backs from the ball. He’s also a menace with the ball in his hand, thundering over smaller cornerbacks and safeties. A capable three level threat), he has legit 4.49/40 speed, and his jumping numbers at his pro day (37inch Vertical, broad jump of just over 10 feet) show the explosiveness he possesses and sometimes demonstrates.

Unfortunately for him, this past season he flunked his two biggest challenges when he went up against Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain who were the 8th and 9th picks respectively. The South Carolina game is where we first saw the national recognition for Jaycee Horn, he owned Williams all day long, and even bagged a couple of Interceptions too. If anything, it got worse for Williams against Alabama and Surtain, as they limited him to just 3 catches for 17 yards.

These two games in particular highlighted Williams’ problems; his hands are inconsistent, routes can be sloppy, and confidence can be shot early on in games. He can make a spectacular catch on one play and then drop a routine one the next and clearly relies on athleticism to win, and that works against a good portion of the Auburn schedule, but against the biggest teams he fails to shine. 

Now obviously poor outings against the eighth and ninth overall picks shouldn’t totally ruin your draft stock, and when you take his athletic testing and decent other game tape on board, plus the fact that the QB play at Auburn was inconsistent, all isn’t lost for Williams. I felt he was a late third, early fourth grade, so going over two rounds later I think represents good value. Interestingly, he’ll get a chance at redemption against Surtain as he’ll face him every day in practice now the Broncos drafted him too!

Dazz Newsome, North Carolina (Chicago, Round 6 Pick 221)

Dazz Newsome isn’t just a great name, he was also one of the best pure slot receivers in the draft! He’s had a very productive 4-year career with the Tar Heels, although he saw his numbers regress a bit this past season, as star Wide Receiver Dyami Brown took a bigger role in the Offense. Newsome is potent in the slot, running quick precise routes and capable of making cuts off either foot, opening the entire field up to him. Although the big-time plays were mainly Brown’s, Newsome was often relied upon to convert on third downs, with Quarterback Sam Howell showing confidence in his route running, and getting open. His quickness gets him separation, and he can make initial tacklers miss, but lacks the long speed to consistently make big chunk plays. 

He was certainly a fun watch these past two seasons with Howell throwing to him. He consistently made key plays in the big shootout win against Virginia Tech, and had his best game of the year against a not so great Wake Forest secondary, ripping off 182 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns. The North Carolina Offense was littered with star names, but don’t undervalue Newsome’s role in making them as potent as they were.

It was obvious on tape, but Newsome’s pro day numbers confirmed that he was a below average athlete. Those numbers give him a low ceiling, and NFL teams would rather take a chance on a less polished, more athletic receiver with upside, which is why Newsome lasted to the sixth round.

He was picked by the Bears, and this is a very interesting landing spot for him. Chicago has Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney as their outside guys, but the slot position is wide open. The current third wide receiver is Anthony Miller, but they are actively trying to trade him, so they signed Damiere Byrd, who had a decent season with the Patriots last year, to be the premier slot guy. There’s also Javon Wims ahead of him, but at the moment his biggest claim to fame is punching New Orleans safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and getting a two-game ban for it. Newsome’s skill set is very similar to Byrd’s, and the latter only signed a one-year deal, so Newsome has a shot to not only make the final roster, but to see some significant snaps, and with a rookie quarterback at the helm, someone like Newsome may become Justin Fields’ best friend very quickly.

Photo Credit: WTKR

Jonathan Adams, Arkansas State (Undrafted, Detroit Lions)

I must admit I’m a sucker for these big, hulking wide receivers, who make contested catches look routine. Over the last few drafts, I’ve been super high on Jaleel Scott (Baltimore Round 4, 2018), Hakeem Butler (Arizona Round 4, 2019) and Collin Johnson (Jacksonville Round 4, 2020), however they have hardly set the world on fire. In fact, Scott is currently without a team and Hakeem Butler is on his second team already, and has no career catches, so they both look like busts. You’d think with this failure rate I’d look elsewhere, but no, I’m going to have another crack at a big body receiver, and this time I’m going even further down the line, into the undrafted waters.

Adams fits my size profile at 6’2 and 210lbs, and he certainly looks the part when going up against much smaller cornerbacks in the Sun Belt conference. Arkansas State, to their credit, managed to get a decent schedule together this past season, and because there weren’t many other games scheduled during those first few weeks of the season.

They’d scheduled in Memphis and Kansas State, their two biggest tests on paper, for weeks 1 and 2, and Adams made key play after key play in both of them. He snagged three touchdowns in the upset win over Kansas State, constantly outfighting the Wildcats corners with sheer physicality. I caught another three games over the season, a monstrous game against Georgia State (15 catches, 177 yards, 2 TD’s), and games against the University of Louisiana Lafayette and Texas State where he had 236 yards combined. 

Adams displays great hands and never body catches a thing, he looks smooth and natural and can out-fight any corner that he comes up against. He was never going to beat anyone with speed, but what he does after the catch is impressive, just bulldozing his way through petrified defenders. If you just take his 40 time (4.59) then you can see why the league would be lower on him than me, but there’s more to him than that. His pro day jumps were elite (39 inch Vertical, 11 foot broad jump) and this is clear on tape too, effortlessly leaping and body adjusting to balls in the air. His 7.04 second three cone is also above average for the position, and if you factor in his size then it’s a really good number. 

I had a Fourth-round grade on him, clearly higher than most, but I was still shocked and disappointed that he went undrafted. Now he wisely signed on with the Lions, who before the draft had arguably the worst receiving corps in the whole NFL, so he’s given himself a chance to battle for a roster spot. He’ll be up against fellow undrafted players who I really like in Javon McKinley (Notre Dame) and Sage Surratt (Wake Forest), as well as fourth round draft pick Amon-Ra St.Brown, but this roster is so poor that there may be enough room for three of them to make the team, and I hope Adams is one of them.

I guess the bottom line is, if it doesn’t pan out for Adams, I’ll just go for another contested catch monster in 2022 and so on, until I finally hit on one!

I hope you’re enjoying this series, next up will be the Tight Ends!

Jump to the quarterbacks article here or running backs here

Follow Keith on Twitter @LordLucken

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