Each year Wide Receiver is one of the most sought out for positions in the draft. In 2020 alone, NFL teams drafted 37 different Wide Receivers and many more signed as Priority Free Agents. We’ve already seen some great rookie performances from highly drafted Wide Receivers: Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Chase Claypool, and more. However, the teams that win often find their talent throughout the draft, not just the early rounds. At a highly valued position in the NFL, this especially applies. Teams with talented Wide Receiver groups are often at an advantage in the offensive league that the NFL has become. If you look around the league at some of these dominant groups, there’s a strong chance you’ll find at least one guy drafted later than the 2nd round, and even better, on a cheap deal. Here I’ll highlight some receivers who I believe can be good NFL players, who might not be 1st or 2nd round picks next April.
Darby is a RS Sr. 6’1” 200 WR out of Arizona St. The past 2 seasons we’ve seen Arizona St WRs N’Keal Harry, and Brandon Aiyuk work their way into the 1st round. Darby could very well extend the streak, but for now, is more of a mid-round prospect unknown to many. He’s very athletic, but will not wow anyone with elite athleticism, or be the biggest WR in the draft, but definitely could be in the running to be one of the most technically sound WRs. Mainly used as a vertical threat last season, he showed to have a great release package, often beating Cornerbacks right off the snap. Combined with his speed, this gives him an immediate advantage over many Cornerbacks. He’s also a very disciplined, good route runner at all levels of the field; he doesn’t take shortcuts, breaking down on his cuts, running routes when he knows the play isn’t going his way, finding gaps in coverages, all things you want to see in a Wide Receiver. But what’s best about him is his hands, whether it’s making easy catches or tracking deep balls and making contested catches, is his consistency, always making the catches and not dropping passes.
This is one of Darby’s more impressive plays of last season. He did nothing special with his release, just released outside, but we see him have a burst of speed to stack the Cornerback to be in a great position to run his vert. Despite the ball being a little under thrown, Darby gets physical at the top of the route, fighting for an excellent position with the Cornerback to make a play on the ball. After that, all he had to do was make a simple catch, in terms of Darby’s ability.
This clip only shows half of the play and only part of what was so good about this play. But Darby opened up with an exceptional release, hitting the Cornerback with a jab step to the outside, and then instantly ripped inside to stack the Cornerback off the bat. Now for what we can see; he runs a beautiful stop and go, which causes the safety to hesitate just a little, but enough for Darby to get behind him. He then shows off his great ball tracking ability, catching the ball in perfect stride for an easy over the shoulder catch for a Touchdown.
If a team is looking for an outside, do it all Wide Receiver, Darby could definitely be that guy. He might be more effective as a deep threat at the next level, but he will not be a one-dimensional player who you can expect to just do one thing. In this stacked WR class, Darby might go under the radar, but he definitely shouldn’t be someone to sleep on. It seems his work ethic is great considering his routes and release. He has the size and athleticism to develop into a Star WR, and if he gets drafted to the correct team, could very well become one. It will surprise me if he’s not a 1st or 2nd round pick in April, or at least be in the conversation.
Williams is a unique player. Listed at 6’0” 222, the Senior primarily plays in the slot and as a return man. However, his game isn’t just about creating a ton of separation and being a threat in the short passing game like most Slot WRs. He’s more of the Deebo Samuel, JuJu Smith Schuster, Laviska Shenault type slot WRs that are becoming more common in the NFL. Taller, thicker built playmakers who can make a play whether it’s a screen or a deep crosser. Williams isn’t the most impressive athlete, not necessarily fast for a WR, but he is quick and explosive, which along with his RB build, helps him to be the dominant threat after the catch he is. He breaks a bunch of tackles, makes a lot of defenders miss, creates a lot out of a little. All things you want in a playmaking slot WR. Despite being primarily a Slot WR, he is unique because he has an impressive ability to make contested catches. With this, he has proven to be a threat in the vertical game. This sets him apart from other talented athletes good after the catch, like Williams is. Outside of his playmaking and contested catch ability, he has some aspects to his game left to be desired. He’s a bit of a project player, could use some improvement as a route runner, but if he goes to the correct scheme, that’ll know how to get him open, that weakness shouldn’t be as vibrant.
These 2 plays show Marlon Williams’ capabilities to make some great catches, the first being a tough contested catch where he works back toward the ball making an incredible leaping catch. The other catching a nice tight window throw with no issue.
In this play, he runs a simple drag/crosser. But what makes this play so good is his spatial awareness to run to open space in defense, then after he makes the catch, breaks a tackle immediately, and is off to the races. You can see that he does not have amazing long speed, however, he is still fast enough to outrun the defense and score a very long TD.
Williams is a very talented WR who fits perfectly in a lot of these schemes that are taking over the NFL. One that comes to mind is the Play Action offenses that teams like the 49ers, Rams, Packers, and others run. That offense is a perfect fit for Williams where he can get schemed touches on jet sweeps, screens, shallow crosses, routes like that, and they can also use deep play-action crossers, posts, and other routes off of play-action to help him get open. Williams is a little “raw”, but he also will be a bit scheme dependent in terms of if he’ll make an immediate impact or not. Regardless, Williams’ potential is through the roof with his play-style being one that many teams now desire.
Moore is a smaller, slot WR; listed at 5’9” 184, the true Junior hails from Ole Miss. Unlike Williams, he’s more of a traditional Slot WR who is a good separator, has a nice pair of hands and makes plays after the catch, however, he also can be a great vertical threat. He’s an incredible athlete, one of the more athletic slot WRs you’ll see, who uses his athleticism in all aspects of his game. He’s a better, more technical route runner on long routes, which along with his ability to make some tough catches, both contested and not, allows him to be a great deep threat out of the slot. Similarly to Marlon Williams, he is a little scheme dependent, he’d likely be the best fit in a Play Action offense for not being the best short space separator. But he’s still very talented after the catch, breaking a lot of tackles, and creating a lot of yards that wouldn’t otherwise be there to make up for that.
In this play, Moore runs a seam route against Cover 2 Zone. He does an outstanding job of finding a hole up the seam to look for the ball, Corral hits him about 8 yards downfield, and Moore does the rest. He Zigs and Zags his way 40 yards to the end zone, making many defenders miss along the way.
Moore is talented, any team looking for a slot WR who can get the job done from all levels of the field will want a player like him. Also can return kicks/punts if needed to. He can improve by having more consistent hands, and being a better short route runner, but other than that he’s great for a slot WR, but definitely has the upside to be one of the best, unique slot WRs in the NFL.
Toney is an elite athlete out of Florida. Listed at 5’11” 194, he has the size of a Slot WR and an undersized RB which sums up his play style. He has the capabilities in the passing game of a slot WR, good short route running ability, solid hands, and a gritty run blocker. But he runs like a RB, making so many players miss, breaking so many tackles, he’s just a fun player to watch with his ability after the catch/run. He has some work to do to grow into a more traditional slot WR since he has mainly been used as a gadget player and returner at Florida, however, he showed improvement this year to be a better WR, rather than just an athlete.
Toney motions over to catch a screen and does the rest of the work after that. He shows off his RAC ability, making people miss, or breaking tackles 5 times on that play alone. His ability to “make someone miss in a phone booth” is elite.
Here Toney shows some of his improvement that he’s made as a route runner. Although he hops in his route which usually is something you don’t want to be a habit, he shows off his elite quickness breaking out of his route putting the defender on skates. After creating the separation and making the catch, Toney does what he does and makes plays after the catch. He shows his speed running straight through a bunch of tackles on the way to the end zone.
For everyone’s sake, we should hope Toney ends up with a creative mind. There are so many ways Toney can be used to take advantage of his skill set, whether it’s jet sweeps, lining up in wildcat, playing some RB or QB, and returning kicks. He is the player I’m most excited for in this class, because he can go down as one of the best playmakers we’ve ever seen with his athleticism, and I’m just begging him to go to a team that will use him right so we can see his potential.
I’m a big fan of this WR class. There are so many talented Wide Receivers who are draft eligible for the 2021 draft. Despite how good the 2020 Draft has been, this 2021 draft could be better. There might be more depth in this class and potentially better talent at the top of the draft. I only talked about a select few WRs who I feel may outperform their early draft projection. However, with all these players still having a season to show their talents, they could very well raise their draft projection to where I believe they deserve to be drafted, or even impress me more.