The Packers drafted three wide receivers in the 2018 NFL draft. Their fourth round pick, J’Mon Moore is out of football. Fifth round pick, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, is their fastest offensive player, and the one most likely to drop a catchable pass. Sixth round pick, Equanimeous St. Brown, is still a question mark if he will be healthy and/or contribute every game day.
The Packers have a good player in UDFA Allen Lazard, but most fans can imagine a young Dante Adams or Sterling Sharpe helping make the offense invincible. Last year Packer fans were wringing their hands after the Packers passed on taking any wide receiver in a draft class some pundits claimed was the best in a generation. Thirty five receivers were drafted in 2020. Well, it is NFL draft 2021 and some draft sites list close to 45 draft-able wide receivers. They are using the same terms, “deep” and “talented” as they did describing last year’s draft. Sports Illustrated has five wide outs drafted in their round one mock. The 2020 draft had six wideouts picked in round one. The 2021 draft will have quality options at wide receiver. Perhaps even in round two, where the Packers have historically had good luck with their receiver selections.
Potential First Round Selections:
Ja’Marr Chase LSU (6’1”/208)
DeVonta Smith Alabama (6’/172)
Jaylen Waddle Alabama (5’10”/182)
These three players are the consensus top three receivers in the draft because they share two similar traits, breakaway speed combined with good hands. Each has concerns as well. Chase was out of football in 2020. If you want to see what Chase can do in the NFL watch the 2019 Alabama v. LSU game. Against two top CB picks (2020’s Trevon Diggs and 2021’s Patrick Surtain III) Chase made them look powerless to stop him. Chase is the only WR who has this kind of dominant tape and the size/ speed combination to make NFL GM’s salivate.
Smith has 2020 tape that equals Chase’s 2019 film but he is so small he declined to be weighed and measured for the NFL Senior Bowl. He said he would do so at his Alabama Pro-day. Smith wins more with quick feet although his top end speed seems to be there after the catch.
Waddle is listed as weighing 182 but seems smaller than Smith, he is shorter at 5’10”. He also had a major ankle injury he tried to play through in the college playoffs but instead of helping his cause his obvious limping drew more concerns. His speed and hands when healthy are undeniable.
The Best of the Rest; Round II Potential
Kadarius Toney Florida (5’11”/189)
Terrace Marshall Jr. LSU (6’3”/200)
Rashod Bateman. Minnesota (6’2”/210)
Marqueze Stevenson Houston (5’10”/182)
Sage Surratt Wake Forest (6’2”/215)
Tutu Atwell. Louisville (5’9”/165)
Rondale Moore. Perdue. (5’9”/179)
Toney was the star piece to Florida’s record breaking pass offense of 2020. (70 receptions/984 yards/10 TD’s) He did everything for the Gators, including a punt return for a TD, kickoff returns and 19 rushes for 161 yards and a TD. Concerns include three prior college seasons marred by repeated injuries, an arrest for having an AR-15 rifle in his car and some scouts are concerned he spends too much time working on his rap career.
Marshall was the “forgotten” LSU receiver in 2019 (46 catches/674 yds./13 TD’s). Without his star QB in 2020 his numbers improved slightly. (48/731/10) He is also a willing blocker which is vital to the Packers offensive scheme. Scouts question not his top speed but his playing speed. There are times he seems to be running slowly in his routes and he does not flash top speed until the play is all but over. There is also a disturbing habit of dropping the occasional ball over the middle, but he can make tough catches when the occasion arises. Talent mixed with vexing questions all verified by his tape.
Bateman has impressed most Badger fans with his tools. In 2019 he caught six passes, including a 51 yard touchdown against the Badgers that gave the Gophers an early 7 point lead in an eventual 38-27 Badger victory. Luckily for the Badgers, he shut down his season before the Badgers overtime thriller in December 2020. Bateman is strong and has all the intangibles except the break away speed that makes a receiver a first round pick. His three plus years at Minnesota are a good audition for a player who might be asked to succeed playing on a frozen tundra.
Stevenson impressed on tape as an explosive receiver with good hands that can make game changing plays. He also has experience in the return game. He took three of his 38 returns to the house. His speed jumps off the tape. He always seems to be the fastest man on the field. He is good at the over the shoulder catch and ball tracking. His weakness is strength, he can be easily knocked off routes and his blocking is…let’s say a work in progress. He projects as a slot or as the Packers gadget receiver. Unfortunately, his injury history is as long as his stat sheet. Boom/bust due to injury is a real concern.
Surratt is a big possession receiver with good hands but questionable NFL speed. His 2019 stats will get him drafted (9 games/66 catches/1001 yards/11 TD’s) He may be the best blocker of the group which fits his mental game. The kid is a battler. He does not have top wideout speed. Nor is he the best athlete in this group. His draft selection may be tied to his 40 time. Surratt missed games with a shoulder injury in 2019 and dropped out of the 2020 season. His brother, Chazz Surratt (linebacker-North Carolina) will compete with him to be the first brother drafted.
Atwell and Moore are small receivers that will need to rely on speed and quickness. If you want speed, Atwell is your draft pick. He is also an athlete. A high school dual threat QB, he transitioned to receiver at Louisville as a freshman and he impressed. His first catch in his first game went for 30 yards. He averaged over 16 yards a catch his first year and led the ACC in yards his sophomore year. He is reported to have run a 4.33 forty as a freshman in spring workouts at Louisville and was the fastest man on the team. There was mention of an injury that led to his cutting his 2020 campaign so medical reviews will factor into his draft position.
Moore is also fast and sure handed, but is a bigger mystery due to his health. He missed multiple games with a severe hamstring injury in 2019 and played in only 3 games in 2020 with a lower leg injury. If that is also hamstring related, Moore may never be the same player he was in 2019 pre-injury.
Senior Bowl Standouts
This year scouts will be relying on Senior Bowl practices and meetings as a key factor in their draft decisions, especially for players who opted out or played a limited set of games in 2020. The Senior Bowl/NFL audition had a number of wide receivers who impressed.
Kadarius Toney received high praise after the practices of Senior Bowl week. Helping his cause to be drafted early.
Dez Fitzpatrick (6’2”/202) of Louisville impressed with his practices and game performance leading all receivers with six catches and 90 yards in the Senior Bowl. He is believed to run a mid 4.4 forty and he led Louisville in receiving in 2020. (43/833/3TD’s) His draft stock suffered from being less flashy than Tutu Atwell, but the Michigan native proved to scouts he had the tools to succeed in the NFL. His sideline toe-tap catch at the Senior Bowl is but one example.
Amari Rodgers also impressed at practice and during the Senior Bowl game. His TD catch while taking a serious hit was proof of his toughness. One analyst called him a “Sterling Sharpe clone”. His numbers at Clemson could have propelled him to the first round of the draft. (2020:77/1020/7 TD’s) Rodgers ACL injury before the 2019 season has created his draft status uncertainty. His solid 2020 season and Senior Bowl will help.
D’Wayne Eskridge (W.Michigan: 5’9”/190) spent most of his Senior Bowl practices winning rep after rep. For a small receiver he has a large pass catch radius, repeatedly high pointing balls that were away from his body. For a player who never caught more than 38 catches in one season, he may have been the biggest “winner” of Senior Bowl week. There are some pundits asking if Eskridge parlayed his excellent week into day one consideration. His senior season he also returned kickoffs, with one touchdown in 17 attempts. Eskridge’s big knock is he is already 24 years old.
Tylan Wallace (5’11”/193) is well known to Oklahoma State fans. His career numbers (205/3434/26 TD’s) competes with any wideout in this draft. Can he stretch a defense? He averaged 16.4 yards per catch in college. His tape from the senior bowl shows deceptive speed, sharp cutting and very athletic ball catching, especially on long passes.
Additional prospects receiving praise include Austin Watkins of UAB. (6’1.5”/207) Named by some pundits as having the best hands of any receiver in the draft, one reason for that praise is solid technique, coming back for the football and hand placement. He has good body control and can catch balls away from his body. He fights and wins jump balls. He is also a willing blocker. The knock is his speed. If his 40 time is NFL legit, he checks a lot if boxes for the Packers.
Elijah Moore of Mississippi (5’9”/185) is a slot receiver- motion- option- gadget player with great athleticism and highlight catch ability. Analysts use words like “polished” describing his skill set. For his size he seems fearless catching and taking hits. He needs to get stronger to win against press coverage.
Dyami Brown of North Carolina (6’1”/185) has two seasons with over 1000 receiving yards. In 2019 he led the ACC in yards per catch. In 2020 he led the ACC in total reception yardage. Brown has some quick stutter step releases that reminds one of Davante Adams. Brown is thin legged and is not going to break many tackles, but he can out quick a defender for yards after the catch. He tracks the deep ball well and is precise in his short out cuts.
Two more Big Ten receivers mentioned as draft options are Michigan’s Nico Collins (6’4”/220) and Ihmir Smith-Marsette of Iowa (6’1”/189) Collins led the Big Ten in 2019 with a 19.4 yd. average. (37/729/7) He opted out of 2020. Naysayers claim he lacks speed and route running technique and is nothing more than a possession receiver who will fight for contested balls. Smith-Marsette is a fluid athletic receiver who has kick return experience added to his resume. He shut down his 2020 season due to injury. He has a rep for occasional drops of easy catches.
Last but definitely not least is a prospect who probably has watched many Packer games over the past three years. Amon-Ra St. Brown of USC (6’1”/195) is the younger brother of Packer Equanimeous St. Brown. The younger brother is a legit prospect who has experience in a pro style offense at both the slot and perimeter positions. His USC offense had him run the full route tree and St. Brown is smooth at all levels. He did not face much press coverage and strength is not his forte but he can catch the football and beat people with precise routes. What type of impact on the locker room would there be if two brothers were competing for the final receiver position? It could be a legitimate concern.
There are a number of other prospects in this draft that leave even the most negative Packer draft fan believing the Packer brain trust can find at least one addition to their receiver room in this draft. Be it another Davante Adams in the second round or Donald Driver in the late rounds the Packers need to find a dynamic contributor. Keep your fingers crossed.