Everyone has an opinion on the top players in the NFL draft, from those who have studied guys from the moment they stepped on a football field, to those that pick up a draft guide the week before Roger Goodell takes the podium.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with this, debate is a multi-million dollar industry when it comes to sport and without it fandom would feel empty. So that’s why we’ve got three of our College Football Team to break down the consensus top three receivers in this year’s draft, Devonta Smith, Ja’Marr Chase & Jaylen Waddle.
Some slightly over zealous mock drafters have all three players going in the top ten, some have one as head and shoulders above the other two and some can’t separate the three at all. So who should be called the best wide receiver in this draft?
Ja’Marr Chase – LSU Tigers (Kieran – @TheHimboF10Y)
Ja’Marr Chase is without a doubt the best wide receiver prospect I’ve ever seen. Operating as LSU’s dominant lead receiver in 2019 he showed us exactly why he’s going to be a star in the NFL.
Chase has strong hands which he uses to rip the ball out of the air. His body control is second to none as he uses it to augment his hands to keep control of a ball throughout the duration of a play. He combines this with solid contact balance, and you regularly see him stay upright after attacking 50/50 balls, allowing him to correct his footing and take off upfield.
Chase also understands leverage, and this is where his elite level athletic gifts really shine. He controls his body well in the air, and there’s a lot of tape which shows him completely bullying taller SEC Cornerbacks, which allows him to gather in the football and extend the play.
The former Louisiana High School star’s release is also incredibly dangerous when he lines up outside, often leaving corners stunned as he comes off the line quickly with well controlled violent hands, before kicking into second gear. His understanding of the game also plays into his release, and I’d even say that he reads defences better than some quarterbacks. This allows him to change up how he attacks defences, and makes sure he’s always on the same page as his signal caller, a very dangerous trait for a receiver.
Package all of the above with the agility and fluidity that many players don’t possess and an NFL team is going to have the next Julio Jones on your hands…except maybe Chase is a little faster.
Does Chase have many weaknesses if any? Whilst his blocking is about the only thing he doesn’t excel at, he still has good form and can create a decent amount of space for a running back or quarterback if they run on his side of the line.
Make no mistake when I tell you Chase will become one of the best receivers to ever grace the football field. His IQ, his athleticism, his drive and his character make him elite in every sense of the word. He will fit in any scheme and shine immediately. In terms of generational talents, Ja’Marr Chase is the living embodiment of this term, because I doubt we see a talent like this come along for the next 20+ years.
Devonta Smith – Alabama Crimson Tide (Raj – @The_Garch)
When you say the name Devonta Smith, and look at his measurables, then see he is considered being the first WR being drafted in this year’s draft, you ask the question ‘How?’. How does a receiver with legs like drain pipes, as light as a feather and an average 40 time in the 4.5’s amass in 1,800+ yards, 23 TD’s and be the 1st WR since 1991 to win the illustrious Heisman Trophy? How?!
The reason is simple, Devonta Smith is a freak.
In today’s NFL, there is no one comparable with his body type and his measurables, something that has led his cynics to say he won’t last in the NFL. However, who would have thought that a 5ft10”, 185lbs WR would be considered in today’s NFL one of / if not the best receiver in the NFL (I refer to Tyreek Hill).
Watch Smith’s tape and you see why he is the best receiver in this draft. His route running and ball skills are elite, he can play all across the line against both press man and zone coverage, he’s got monster YAC ability and he’s dominated against the best college competition both in the SEC and the College Football Playoffs. In the 2020 National championships, by half time he had 12 receptions, 215 yards and 3 TD’s. Yes by HALF TIME!!
As he has in college, Smith will use his physique to his advantage. His long thin legs allow him to get a freakish spring to high point the ball in contested catch situations and stride past defenders effortlessly to add yards after the catch. His quick feet allow him to beat press man coverage at the line of scrimmage and create the separation that always appears on film, and his hands are like buckets as he hardly drops the ball. Add to the list his punt returner capabilities and the ability for OC’s to get creative and use him on laterals and jet sweeps and the guy can do it all; at an extremely high level.
With a frame such as his, and the routes he runs, the Heisman winner will take some hard hits from LB’s and Safeties, but as he showed in college, he dusts himself off, gets back up and goes at it again. Freaky talent mixed with an ultra-tough mentality is a scary combination.
As Smith said in his Heisman trophy speech in his advice to young kids who will be knocked for their size, “…you’ve got to put your mind to the things that you want to do. If it’s something that you really want to do, you have to truly believe in it and work for it, and just keep working and you’re going to get everything that you’re looking for”.
There you have it, Devonta Smith has been proving doubters wrong since the day he put his pads on as a young boy, and as his Heisman speech indicates, he will work and work to reach the top at the NFL. Don’t be surprised to see Devonta Smith be the 1st WR off the board next month, and a 1st ballot Hall of Famer in Canton in 15 years’ time. Beware of the Slim Reaper!
Jaylen Waddle – Alabama Crimson Tide (Andy – @Ajmoore21)
Kieran and Raj snapped up Chase and Smith, and it’s not hard to see why, with both players being immense talents. However, Jaylen Waddle is criminally underrated and has the opportunity to become one of the most electric players in the NFL.
Despite a college career that doesn’t look like the most productive in terms of total yardage, there are clear indicators of just how good Waddle is. His average yardage per reception hasn’t dropped below 17 yards across three seasons in Tuscaloosa, and when you consider the fact he averaged 12 yards after the catch in 2019 – you get a sense of just how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands.
As everyone knows, speed is now one of the key factors in the modern NFL game, and no-one can argue Waddle doesn’t possess this in abundance. Of the three players being discussed in this article, he is easily the fastest, whether that’s over 10 or 100 yards. He combines that with elite acceleration to immediately separate against both press and off-man coverage, and he sustains that speed to take the top off defenses (fun fact – Waddle holds the record for three of the top five longest yardage plays in Crimson Tide history).
But unlike some of the less versatile prospects in this draft, there’s more than one aspect to Waddle’s game. His ability to make catches away from his body often bails out his QB and allows the Texas native to quickly adjust his body to break a tackle or pick up additional yardage. He can line up on the outside, in the slot or be used in motion packages, he’s a swiss army knife, and we all know how much the league loves that style of player.
As an individual, Waddle comes with glowing references – emphasised by his determination to play in the National Championship game earlier this year, despite suffering a severe ankle injury earlier in the season. In interviews as part of the draft process he’s answered questions articulately, and coaches will be buoyed to see how much energy he brings to a locker room.
In our draft guide, I’ve noted the need for Waddle to sharpen his route running, improving the efficiency of his breaks. The good news for the fans of whichever team drafts him, is that this is certainly coachable, and if he can refine that technique – he could be unstoppable at all levels of the field.
Let us know who you think should be the first receiver off the board and pick up our 2021 NFL Draft Guide to get our opinions on the rest of the WR class.
By @ajmoore21, @The_Garch and @TheHimboF10Y