The last few NFL Draft classes have featured franchise players at the wide receiver position. The 2023 NFL Draft lacks a no-doubt future superstar, but a few guys have a chance to blossom into one.
Most of the top 10 consists of WR2s at the next level. This says as much about the current talent in the NFL as it does the talent in this class. Several teams have their WR1 already locked in. It also showcases how many of these prospects play exclusively in the slot.
Receivers in the slot position have become important to offenses in the NFL. As the league adapts to a more pass-happy approach, teams have begun running their best receivers in the slot. Still, a player that is reserved only to the slot will be docked points when compared to a receiver that can line up anywhere.
These rankings are fluid, more so than any other positional group. The pre-draft process always helps and hurts a myriad of guys, so keep that in mind as you traverse this list! Without further ado, let me introduce you to the 10 best wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft.
1. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Quentin Johnston entered the 2022 college football season behind a few of his peers on most 2023 NFL Draft rankings. Thanks to lackluster play and injuries to others — and a great 2022 himself — Johnston has climbed draft boards.
The TCU wideout is a big play specialist on the outside. Johnston averages over 18 yards per reception in his career, with most of his touchdowns coming on deep throws downfield. At 6-foot-4, Quentin Johnston brings a skillset that guys his size typically don’t.
He is incredibly fast, using his long legs to eat up yards after the catch. Johnston creates separation at a high clip and is used as a gadget player on some creative play calls by the TCU coaching staff. His go-to move is catching a curl and quickly pivoting his body around to show off his track speed.
Johnston needs to add more to his route running tree, and he had a few concerning drops on tape. Still, once Johnston shows up to Indianapolis and dominates the scouting combine, he will be stamped as the WR1 in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Jaxon Smith-Njigba finished the 2021 season with better numbers than his former teammates, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Yes, JSN outperformed two top-11 picks last season. He led the Buckeyes with 95 receptions and 1606 yards, highlighted by his legendary performance in the Rose Bowl vs. Utah.
He held the top spot on my wide receiver rankings coming into the year, but through no fault of his own, JSN has relinquished that position. That is not to say he can’t regain it, but after being nagged by a hamstring injury since opening week, Smith-Njigba hasn’t been able to add to his tape.
His 2021 production is enough to still project him as a top 20 player in this class. Unlike Johnston, Smith-Njigba lacks the ideal size for an NFL wide receiver. The good news? He makes up for it in superb route running and YAC ability. Shifty is a word used to describe prospects every year, but if you look up that definition in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
The OSU star breaks down his defenders with his ankle-breaking jukes and impressive movement in his routes. There are zero wasted steps on JSN’s tape. He creates separation, albeit with the help of the scheme, but the most jaw-dropping aspect of his game is how often he evades tacklers.
The obvious health concerns, along with size concerns, are the biggest red flags at the moment. He may be forced into the slot in the NFL full-time, which can hurt the grade from some, but not me. I would confidently take JSN somewhere in the middle of the first round.
3. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
My favorite player, regardless of position, in the entire 2023 NFL Draft is Zay Flowers. The two listed ahead of Zay Flowers deserve it, based on their athletic profile and high-end production at premier colleges. However, Flowers is not far behind them as a prospect.
The Boston College wide receiver garnered interest from a bevy of prestigious programs this offseason, with each hoping to poach Flowers from his Boston College home. Admirably, Flowers chose to stick it out with his school, showing loyalty to the people who believed in him from day one.
Boston College has witnessed a disastrous season in 2022, currently sitting at 3-7 and already eliminated from bowl contention. If it wasn’t for Zay Flowers, the Eagles may not have a single win. In the team’s three wins, Flowers has a mesmerizing stat line: 20 catches, 370 receiving yards, and five touchdowns! This proves how much of a game-changer Flowers is at wide receiver.
Flowers matches Johnston’s home run ability and is a much better route runner than given credit for. He excels at creating separation with his blazing speed, mystifying shiftiness, and unbelievable body control. Flowers impacts the game on every level of the offense, even in trick play situations.
Flowers’ size (5-foot-10, 177 pounds) will cause concerns as an outside receiver and a run blocker, but I believe he will hold up anywhere in the NFL, given his deceptive strength and relentless motor. Regardless of where he lines up, Flowers is worth a first-round selection every day of the week that ends in “y”.
4. Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Jordan Addison always comes to mind when thinking of the best wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft. Addison won the Biletnikoff Award as Kenny Pickett’s top receiver in 2021, and after transferring to USC, he is currently catching passes from another eventual first-round pick, Caleb Williams.
Addison took little time getting acquainted with his new squad. The counting numbers are nowhere near the numbers he posted last year (due to injury), but don’t let that fool you, Addison’s impact is felt even when he isn’t the one making the play. The Trojan prospect soaks up attention from the opposing defense, helping free up his teammates to produce.
Addison uses his impressive lower body fluidity to create separation when out on routes. Furthermore, when he hauls the ball in with his trademark strong hands, Addison leaves defenders in his dust after the catch. He makes the defender play Twister when trying to stick with him downfield.
The biggest concern with Jordan Addison is his slender frame. Addison is very skinny and lacks ideal play strength on the outside. As a result, he is susceptible to being shut down by more physical cornerbacks. Addison got knocked off his spot most of the time that he faced press coverage in college, which could linger into the pro level.
The good outweighs the concerns, with Jordan Addison laying claim to my final day one grade at wide receiver. I’d be stoked to get Addison in the back end of round one, especially a contending team.
5. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
Josh Downs could still squeak into day one, as he claims the No. 5 spot on my 2023 NFL Draft rankings at wide receiver. Downs boasts several NFL traits and is helping quarterback Drake Maye make a chase for the Heisman Trophy, en route to a potential ACC Title.
Downs has the best release package in this class. His first step almost always creates immediate separation from his defender. The best way I can explain it is that Downs looks like he’s breaking down his defender with crossovers, akin to Allen Iverson on the basketball court.
Downs is fast, but straight-line speed is not the way that he wins. His start-stop ability is sensational to watch on tape. Downs can go 0-60, come to a complete stop, then go right back from 0-60… ON THE SAME PLAY. This trait makes Downs a real threat any time the ball finds him. Simply put, this kid moves like an NFL veteran.
My biggest red flags on Downs come with his hands and his tendency to get choppy with his footwork/movement when working downfield. Downs has some drops on tape, and the deep ball brings the most concerning ones. Downs has strong hands when focused, but unfortunately, he isn’t always locked in. These issues cause him to narrowly miss a day one ranking, but a good workout at the combine could give him a push.
6. Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
Kayshon Boutte is such a tough evaluation. As far as the eye test goes, he checks every box. Boutte plays bigger than he is, using his stout frame to out-physical opposing defenders. He also is an explosive talent with the ball in his hands, many times making the defense look like cinder blocks are tied to their feet.
Boutte’s body control when working downfield is something to marvel at. He adjusts and tracks the ball so well, even if some drops appear on the tape. Boutte looks the part of the next great LSU wide receiver, but he has yet to put it all together on the stat sheet.
One thing that makes his projection a difficult one is that he has been used exclusively in the slot in 2022. With the traits to be a starting X receiver in the NFL, this raises questions. It’s easier to create separation from the slot, so Boutte needs to show that he can create it on his own, or he risks being pigeon-holed into the slot position.
The pre-draft process will be bigger for Kayshon Boutte than for his peers. If he can prove that he’s capable of being a starter on the outside, Boutte will come off the board on day one of the 2023 NFL Draft. As of right now, he garners an early day two grade.
7. Rashee Rice, WR, SMU
Rashee Rice is one of the best-kept secrets in the 2023 NFL Draft, but his name has been heating up in draft circles considerably over the past month. Rice is the top receiver on the SMU Mustangs, using his elite route running to dominate the AAC. The senior wideout has taken his game to another level in 2022.
Rice’s 77 receptions are a career-high, and his 1167 receiving yards are nearly double that of his highest career total in years prior. His >15 yards per reception is something that catches your eye on the stat sheet; it is backed up when you turn on the tape.
Rice is great at tracking the deep ball, arguably the best in this NFL Draft class. He consistently high points the ball, making spectacular catch after spectacular catch, turning 50/50 balls into 80/20 balls. Rice also is impossible to bring down without a gang of tacklers, as he is capable of running through arm tackles and running past slower defenders.
The concerns around Rice come from his route tree — which I think is more diverse than given credit for — and his lack of tape vs. NFL talent at cornerback. Rice’s numbers rival any in this group, and he will test very well at his Pro Day and the 2023 NFL Draft scouting combine. The Senior Bowl is another place where Rice can boost his resume, so his story isn’t finished yet.
8. Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
It might be a surprise to see Jalin Hyatt at WR8 after his breakout 2022 season in Knoxville. That ranking may look disrespectful on the surface, but the final four or five names all share similar grades; it is merely a matter of preference when analyzing these day two wide receivers.
Hyatt never recorded 300 receiving yards in any season at Tennessee coming into the year. In 10 games this season, Hyatt has hauled in 58 receptions for 1116 yards and 15 touchdowns. So, why is Hyatt experiencing such a breakout in 2022?
Head coach Josh Heupel is a mastermind on offense. With the help of quarterback Hendon Hooker, this trio has been giving the SEC a headache all season. Hyatt deserves credit himself, but most of the chunk plays are a direct result of the scheme, dampening the numbers a tad.
That being said, if anyone could do what Hyatt is doing, there would be more guys with his numbers. Hyatt’s speed is legit, and his ability to make contested catches is always a sight to see. If he can prove that his route tree is deeper than the tape shows, I will prop him up the list accordingly.
Jalin Hyatt has a strong chance of going day one, regardless of my grade, but the scheme he plays in makes this a difficult evaluation. I’ll be anxious to see Hyatt at the scouting combine. This is where he can separate himself from the pack.
9. Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee
Sticking in Knoxville, Cedric Tillman is a top wide receiver in the country. Tillman looks more like a prototypical receiver on the outside, standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 215 pounds. As you may expect, Tillman thrives in jump ball and contested catch situations.
The redshirt senior led the way in 2021 for the Volunteers, eclipsing the 1000-yard and 10-touchdown mark. Thanks to injuries, Tillman has only appeared in five games for Tennessee in 2022 but combined for 16 catches, 230 yards, and a touchdown in two games @ Pittsburgh and Georgia.
Tillman’s athleticism hasn’t looked up to snuff in limited action as a senior, but the flashes remain, giving hope that he can rebound by the time the 2023 NFL Draft process plays out. As with most contested catch specialists, Tillman is not the best at separating from his defender. This has caused issues for other highly-touted wide receiver prospects like N’Keal Harry, for example.
This projection is based on the thought that Tillman will return to 100%. He likely isn’t a WR1 in the NFL, but with the traits he possesses, Tillman could be a strong WR2, similar to what the Chargers have with Mike Williams. Definitely worth a shot somewhere on day two.
10. Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma
Cutting this list off at 10 was not easy. But I couldn’t have a top 10 wide receiver list without Marvin Mims appearing, so he gets the last spot here.
Mims will make his fair share of big plays in the NFL. He is quicker than he is fast, possessing a first step that ranks among the best in the 2023 NFL Draft. Mims tracks the ball downfield at a high clip, and his hands are underrated. His concentration on the sideline and when catching a deep ball is my favorite part of his game. Mims is a toe-tap specialist.
Mims is small, both in height and weight. More than that, his frame cannot support much more weight, meaning that he is likely capped in this regard. A huge chunk of his plays on tape can be attributed to the scheme, leaving questions surrounding his ability to create separation himself.
Mims is not an outside wide receiver in the NFL — and that is okay. Mims can carve out a long career by bringing his ~20 yards per reception to the league. The OU standout can move the chains over the middle of the field and create plays as a rusher on jet sweeps. He also has experience on special teams, which will help keep him in the NFL for a decade.
2023 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Honorable Mentions:
-Jacob Cowing, WR, Arizona
-Ainias Smith, WR, Texas A&M
-De’Corian Clark, WR, UTSA
-Zakhari Franklin, WR, UTSA
-Charlie Jones, WR, Purdue