Astro-Notes: 2018 Wide Receiver Class

Photo of former SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton from draftbreakdown.com.

This is how I have the 2018 Draft’s receiving class ranked, with the Buffalo Bills specifically in mind. Best Bills’ Fits are in Bold.  All of those have 4 years of production, except Ridley, Kirk, Tate, and St. Brown, who have 3.

Free-agent Bills WRs include Jordan Matthews (age 25, was on IR in December), Deonte Thompson (age 29), Brandon Tate (age 30), Rod Streater (age 30), and journeyman Jeremy Butler (age 26).

The Bills still have Kelvin Benjamin (age 25), Zay Jones (age 22), and  Andre Holmes (age 29, was also on IR in December). The Bills added Malachi Dupre (age 22), who adds explosion, and fan fave Brandon Reilly (age 24).

The Bills gave a futures contract to Quan Bray (age 24). None of the three added players is particularly tall. I have the Bills’ need for wide receiver at P2, along with Guard, Center, interior D-Line (both spots), and Linebacker (both spots). Quarterback is the P1 need.

THE TOP-TIER TALENT, TAKEN TOP TWO ROUNDS

Photo of former Oklahoma State WR James Washington from bleacherreport.com.
  1. James Washington, Oklahoma State (6-0, 205, 4.49; 226 receptions over 4 years)  —–Highest yards per route run in draft class. Long TDs: TDs of 66 yards, 77 yards, and 86 yards in 2017, Washington would be a nice 1B if the Bills take his quarterback Mason Rudolph with 1A.  An amazing athlete with otherworldly body control, Washington can open up the under-routes for Zay Jones, provide mismatches opposite Kelvin Benjamin, and vault the Bills’ 31st-ranked passing game into the next decade. A black belt in Taekwondo, Washington has elite arm use at the catch point. Hi-YAH!  Smooth, great focus, and highlight-reel plays. No double-digit-catch games, though.
  2. Courtland Sutton, SMU (6-3, 215, 4.52; 195 receptions over 4 years) —–Impeccable character and work-ethic to augment his can’t-teach size. Sutton notched double-digit yards-per-catch averages in every game he played in 2016, and all but 2 in 2017. Sutton accounted for nearly 40% of the team’s total receiving yards over last 3 years, Watch this rub route cued. Sutton isn’t a body catcher, and he’s much farther ahead as a route-runner and has a much higher football IQ than some of these in my top group. However, the Bills haven’t scouted any of his games or talked to him, as of this writing.
  3. Calvin Ridley,  Alabama (6-1, 188, 4.50;  224 receptions over 3 years)  —–Called “a faster Amari Cooper”, Ridley’s separation is his calling-card, with crisp cuts, great slants & crossers, He shows exceptional play speed, advanced instincts, and he’s elite at creating separation. Daboll had a chance to use Ridley this year, so he knows what he could offer. It’s possible he doesn’t fare as well at the Combine than people think; he does needs more muscle. If he tests faster than the listed 4.50 forty, he won’t be there at #21 for the Bills. There’s also this to consider: even with Daboll, Ridley went 19 straight games under 100 yards receiving.
  4. Christian Kirk, WR/PR,  Texas A&M  (5-11, 200, 4.39;  229 receptions over 3 years) —– Kirk is a playmaking WR/KR/PR with elite play speed, quickness, and surprising power. Statistically Kirk has the best punt-return numbers in college annals. He can get separation in more than one way. While Kirk led the SEC in receptions, he was lower in yards per catch. But 14 plays of 30+. Silk-smooth footwork in and out of his breaks. Urgency with football, mental game excellent.
  5. Allen Lazard, Iowa St  (6-4, 223, 4.44; 241 receptions over 4 years) —–Beane will drool over his Kelvin-Benjamin size and his 4.4 forty, which I expect will vault him up to RD1 or early RD2 after the Combine. His 114.0 yard average yards per game over his final five games shows his development. Lazard was going to declare last year, but he came back for his Senior season after some low draft grades. He made the right choice. His already-good size, plus his developed leadership and toolkit will find him a home in the NFL. No Bills scouts or meetings yet.
  6. Dante Pettis, WR/KR, Washington  (6-0, 188, 4.49; 163 receptions over 4 years)—–Pettis runs crisp routes, creates separation, and offers added value as Brandon Tate’s ST heir at returner with new PAC-12 record 7 punt returns for a TD.  Heir to John Ross’s spot on Huskies, Pettis fights for the ball, gets yards after catch, displays toughness, and despite his stature, gets open. Yards Per Catch=15.0, watch the cued one-hander here: https://youtu.be/ZDIp3yNDmjU?t=38s, He has flexible hips that allow elite explosion into and out of the break, and has the explosiveness & hand usage to burst out of the breakpoint. His confounding double moves. Read this whole Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/bradkelly17/status/962193691824836608

GOOD GRADES, GOOD GETS:

Photo of former Florida State wide receiver Auden Tate from orlandosentinel.com.
  1. Auden Tate Florida St  (6-5, 225, 4.48; 65 receptions over 3 years) —–Tate has the great size Beane is looking for, but he could fall in the draft due to several bouts of injuries ( in HS, Fr year, and in 2017 spring ball), meager production numbers over his 3 years, and the fact we already have a Tate (bad for jersey sales).  Tate could be a red-zone target on the other side of Benjamin, creating match-up problems. Tate’s catch radius is wow and a half. He has the basketball box-out skills. Watch this catch. Then watch how he’s used in this game vs BC. To me, this Tate looks like Brandon Marshall or –yep– Kelvin Benjamin.
  2. Anthony Miller Memphis (5-11, 190, 4.53;  238 receptions over 3 years) —–Top-10 FBS in rec yards (9th), rec ypg (9th) and TDs (9th) when catching them from Paxton Lynch, then with Riley Ferguson. He’s the smallest in this entire group, but Miller had an avg 12.8 ypc vs AP-ranked teams. Miller, Hamilton, Ateman, and Wieneke aren’t fast, but they’re ultra-productive. Those four aren’t the long-speed guy Beane may ultimately need to open up the short middle for RBs, but they could all be #2s or #3s.  Miller was a walk-on at Memphis, and found chemistry with Lynch and his successor, Riley Ferguson. They set record-breaking numbers together in 2016 (95-1,434-15.1 ypc-14 TD). Miller’s a reliable receiver who needs a strong forty at the Combine.
  3. DaeSean Hamilton Penn St  (6-1, 211, 4.58;  214 receptions over 4 years) —– Hamilton’s now Penn State’s all-time leader in yardage (2,842) as Chris Godwin’s (Tampa Bay Bucs) successor as the Nittany Lion #1 WR, Part of Hamilton’s success was the balanced attack PSU employed. DaeSean also needs a strong forty or he’ll sink in the ranks. He’s open when he looks to be covered. Here’s a nice Scouting Report.
  4. D.J. Chark WR/KR, LSU  (6-2, 186, 4.42;   66 receptions over 4 years) —–Chark has great hands for a speedster, and I think the Bills will look for a guy who stretches the field.  Although he’s skinnier than Cain (#9 below), Chark may be the better choice. Some drops, though, and the fewest catches in my Top 14 made me wonder if this is the guy. He meshed well with the Senior Bowl QBs (especially with Lauletta and Mayfield), catching 5 of his 7 targets for 160 yards, including 65 yards after the catch, an area the Bills want to improve. Let’s face it; LSU QBs pulled Chark’s output down, not the other way around. Chark is a value pick at Buffalo’s RD4#117, but RD3#96 might be necessary to get the Combine-winner between Chark and Deon Cain.
  5. Jake Wieneke South Dakota St  (6-4, 215, 4.59;  288 receptions over 4 years) —– Pronounced “WIN-uh-key”, and already being mispronounced in imaginative ways, Wieneke is a great fit for McDermott and Beane. Winner of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Award for community service, he has that box checked already. With superb hands and laser-sharp route-running, Wieneke uses his 6-4 frame to box out defenders, and sticks the ball with Velcro hands, usually at its highest point. He has an impressive 53 games and 288 receptions over 4 years, checking the experience box. Wieneke’s logged at least 70 catches, 1,300 yards and 11 TD in each of the past three seasons, so he’s shown he’s consistent over time. He’s one of my “pet cats” in this draft.
  6. Equanimeous St Brown Notre Dame  (6-5, 204, 4.54;   92 receptions over 3 years) —– Equanimeous St. Brown is “a taller DeVante Parker” (Dolphins), per @Jimetrics. Watch his 4 catches for 182 yards vs Syracuse in 2016. Unfortunately, St. Brown was repeatedly overthrown in the ND offense, but he did his greatest damage running deep ins and crossers that I expect we’ll see often from Daboll’s offensive scheme. St. Brown’s character and work ethic are impeccable, and he has strong hands to win. However, he’s not as dominant at the catch point as, say, Wieneke (above). Scheme can get St. Brown open, though, and I like the fit with Daboll. He’s my other “pet cat” wideout.
  7. Marcell Ateman Oklahoma St  (6-3, 215, 4.57;  146 receptions over 4 years) —–With a wide catch radius, quickness rather than speed, and inconsistent hands, Ateman merits the comparison to Brandon MarshallA year away from doing what you love will change a person. While injured, Ateman redoubled his commitment to becoming the best he could be as Mason Rudolph’s other receiver (Washington’s his #1). Ateman made himself an available target when he returned from injury, and was available often.  Ateman gets particularly gets high marks for being the excellent downfield blocker that Hogan was. His great work at the catch point is worth watching, too. I think he’ll go too early for the Bills’ priority list to be addressed.
  8. J’Mon Moore Missouri  (6-3, 205, 4.57; 158 receptions over 4 years) —–Moore was the most-productive returning receiver in the SEC. He led the SEC in yards per game (84.3), and averaged an impressive 16.3 ypc and 17.0 ypc the last two seasons.Moore’s upward vector could really sail up with a good Combine.
  9. Deon Cain* Clemson  (6-1, 210, 4.47; 130 receptions over 3 years) —–With better hands than many “track guys”, Cain can get behind the defense and make teams pay who cheat up into the box. Cain has an obscene 18.1 ypc avg over his career, even higher (19.1) in 2016. Cain’s speed, eye tracking, body control, and “my-ball” mentality helps him win at the catch point. It will be fun seeing Cain and Chark at the Combine. How about a contest? Winner takes Buffalo’s RD3?
  10. Michael Gallup Colorado St (6-1, 195, 5.52; 176 receptions over 2 years) —– Others like him more, but unless we see a much-faster man at the Combine, Gallup’s speed won’t allow separation. He’s still useful on slants and screens. Gallup’s forte is reading zones. More on that here. I think his 2 years’ experience is a deal breaker for McBeane.

VAUNTED VALUES (In order of preference):

Photo of former Virginia Tech wide receiver Cam Phillips from ACCSports.com.
  1. Cam Phillips Virginia Tech  (6-0, 198, 4.54; 236 receptions over 4 years) —– Phillips’s 3.61 yards per route run is impressive. So is the fact that he caught all 7 catchable deep targets, 5 catches for 49 yards and TD in 59-7 beat-down of North Carolina, was leading all WRs after 5 games, but caught only 7 of 15 targets vs Clemson. He  beat Isaiah Ford’s (Fins, RD7) Virginia Tech record for career receptions. So Phillips is reliable, which would be helpful when you have a young QB. He’s my third pet-cat sleeper, likely in RD4-5A if the Bills haven’t taken a WR yet, and could be the second Phillips drafted by the Bills (DT Harrison Phillips in RD2A). Again, bad for jersey sales.
  2. Steve Ishmael Syracuse  (6-1, 202, 4.53; 219 receptions over 4 years) —– Ishmael had the lowest drop rate by a returning ACC WR (2.04%) coming into his Senior year, then gained the most yardage in the ACC, and that might tip the scales for this local product. His brother Kemal is a LB for the ATL Falcons (RD7), and that’s about where I see Steve, and because he’s not invited to the Combine, and we’ll have to wait for Syracuse’s Pro Day March 19 to see any more. Ishmael caught 48 passes for 559 yards, 11.6 ypc, and one TD in 2016 behind Amba Etta-Tawo (UDFA, Giants) a year ago, but when Ishmael became the outside threat in his Senior year, he exploded for a 105-catch, 1,347-yard, 12.8 ypc, 7-TD stat line, 5th in market share of his team’s receiving yardage, Ridley, Miller, and my pet cat Cam Phillips.
  3. Caleb Scott Vanderbilt  (6-2, 202, 4.48; 72 receptions over 4 years) —–Caleb Scott is friends and former teammates with Jordan Matthews at Vandy. Scott has the DNA (son of former Vanderbilt All-America TE Chuck Scott), and is an excellent route-runner who made some impressive catches when healthy. He may fall to Day 3 due to earlier setbacks with a hamstring issue, then missing some spring training due to recovery from surgery.
  4. Robert Foster Alabama  (6-2, 191, 4.54;  35 receptions over 4 years) —– Foster is a value later in Day 3, with nice body control, neat routes, and change-of-direction skills. Foster’s lack of work in a Brian Daboll offense drops him, although the ‘Bama WR corps was deep and the running game really soaked up snaps.. Foster actually considered a transfer because the playmaker roster was so deep. Instead, he took a redshirt year, and seemed distant and unmotivated until the 2017 spring game.  Foster’s forte in the NFL would be slants and crossers, YAC catches, and so on –the very thing that Daboll needs his WRs to do. Look at Foster’s forty and cone drills to determine if he’s a fit.
  5. Darren Carrington Oregon (6-1, 195, 4.49; 182 receptions over 2 years) —–Carrington’s 2015 suspension drops him for the Bills, and having Freeman at RB helped his opportunities. Carrington was impressive for the two seasons on his resume. He may be too short on experience for McBeane. Still, he’s sure-handed, very productive, has above-average speed, runs clean routes, and blocks well. Carrington makes defenders miss, so the YAC yardage will appeal. He runs a mean screen and can bring in the tough pass on a slant.
  6. Jaleel Scott New Mexico St  (6-5, 215, 4.52; 99 receptions over 2 years) —– Yeah, yeah, yeah… I see his sick one-handed grab for a TD.. I see the height that teams will ogle. I see the long-striding speed to blow by defensive backs. I see a huge catch radius which should allow him to make “hands” catches away from his body. The problem is, I don’t see anywhere near the same route-running, production, and number of games played shown by every player listed above. I don’t see him elevating and using his hands enough; I see him let the ball into his body too often. You see tons of fade routes and virtually no crisp-breaking cuts. RD5B at the earliest.
  7. Simmie Cobbs Indiana (6-3, 224, 4.50;  139 receptions over 3 years) —–Cobbs has great size and considerable talent, but he’s not a culture fit: He was suspended for 2016‘s opener. Then 2016 ankle surgery. Then suspended for 2017’s opener. Cobbs is a great-sized target who’d have been an awesome weapon for a first-year OC if his troubles were behind him. I’d just worry he can’t learn from experience.

Editor’s babble: Big dose of gratitude to Dean Kindig for his valuable contributions to our blog. No better way to prepare for the upcoming draft than to read his assessments. You can (and should!) follow Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.

*Views expressed are the opinion of authors and do not necessarily represent the owners of the billsmafia.com website.

2 Replies to “Astro-Notes: 2018 Wide Receiver Class”

  1. Dean –

    Sorry, forgot to comment on your post. One
    word…AWESOME!! I would add Cedric Wilson, Boise St and Tre’quan Smith, UCF to a “sleeper” list. I really like Michael Gallup from Colorado State…..think he’s off the board earlier than most people think.