Compared to previous years, this year is definitely weaker at the top, and many of the top receivers are either smaller but quicker than fast or belong to the slot due to their size or due to their speed profile. That isn’t a bad thing, as this archetype of a receiver describes the likes of the likely consensus top pass catcher Jaxon Smith-Njigba of Ohio State.
Smith-Njigba will run his 40-yard dash at his pro day, but for his style of play, it shouldn’t matter much. At 6’1″ and 196 lbs., the 21-year-old junior should see his snaps on the inside as a slot receiver and as a productive one-year player at Ohio State, the route-running savant should see success right away.
In 2022, Smith-Njigba dealt with injuries but the year prior, eviscerated defenses with 1,606 yards on 95 receptions and nine touchdowns. This was with the likes of former first-round picks Garrett Wilson (10th overall pick by New York Jets) and Chris Olave (11th overall pick by New Orleans Saints).
For a younger player with a high floor for a baseline, that should make him a mid-first-round pick, as JSN posted an elite change of direction score on athletic tests like the 3-cone (6.57 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (3.93 seconds), which were the fastest times among all positions at the Scouting Combine. If an offense utilizes his best skillsets as a possession slot receiver that can shred defenses in the middle of the field and not make something he is not, JSN could be the missing piece to put the offense that takes him over the top.
Evan Bruner, of NFL Mocks, described Smith-Njigba as “one of the most technically refined receivers in this class,” as he scouted the Ohio State receiver and his polarizing profile.
Jordan Addison of USC and Quentin Johnston of TCU are the other two receiver prospects that should hear their name called on day one of the 2023 NFL Draft. However, they are completely opposite players in their physical profiles.
Despite Addison being more productive in college (especially at Pitt before transferring to USC), Johnston is one of the rare prototypical outside receivers that could stick there at the next level. The TCU junior at 6’3″ and 208 lbs. is exceptional after the catch, unlike the USC junior who relies on quickness and route running at 5’11” and 173 lbs.
Before his statistics went on a slide for USC, Addison won the Biletnikoff in 2021 at Pitt, as he amassed 1,593 yards on 100 receptions and 18 total touchdowns. Johnston was a force during TCU’s playoff run this past year and had 1,069 on 60 catches (with six touchdowns).
Addison did go through testing but he did not do well at his size, to then sustain a back injury (tightness in his lower back) that he didn’t want to reinjure at the Scouting Combine. Unlike Addison (who ran 4.49), Johnson decided to not run the 40-yard dash but jumped out of the gym with his 40.5″ vertical and 11’2″ broad (which were top two or three in the class).
Both at around 5’9″, Josh Downs of North Carolina and Zay Flowers of Boston College are most likely the next up who project as round-one or two receivers. With the production and play-making traits to boot, both will likely be seen as dynamic slot receivers that will stick inside due to size but teams still could take players that fit that role in the later portions of round one or early round two.
Cedric Tillman had a productive 2021 for Tennessee, but an ankle injury he suffered in the following season led to the rise of Jalin Hyatt. In 2022, Hyatt went on to have a productive season as well this past year, as both Tennessee receivers offer a different skillset, with Tillman as the physical big body, at 6’3″ and 213 lbs., and Hyatt as the speedy deep threat at 6’0″ and 176 lbs. Many thought Hyatt would run faster than 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, but both should be taken between rounds one to three of the NFL Draft.
For the wide receiver position on days two and three, teams are mostly looking at roles to fill and the player’s archetypes and body types that match up that could fill a need they have in the offense. Traits and skillsets, like any other position, are key, as there is usually depth in this position, even if the top-tier talent isn’t always present.
Guys like Tyler Scott (Cincinnati) and Marvin Mims Jr. (Oklahoma) fit the profile of smaller, but faster guys that may belong on the outside as deep threats who can also play inside as well with their size.
Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (Houston) and Rakim Jarrett (Maryland) were both versatile big-play machines in college and can be at the next level, as they project more as slot receivers due to their size. Both have sudden short area burst with enough speed that can also stretch the field, as Hunter Haas scouted both Jarrett and another receiver prospect, Charlie Jones of Purdue, that fits a similar profile.
Jones is an older prospect (24 years old) and is an above-average route runner, like Dell (23 years old), and both are smaller in stature. Jarrett, as a 22-year-old, could have similarities with a slightly bigger receiver of the same age, Rashee Rice of SMU. However, Rice is the more productive player in college, similar to Dell, but offers great ball skills, like Jarrett.
For bigger receivers that look to project on the outside, prospects like A.T. Perry (Wake Forest), Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss), Bryce Ford-Wheaton (West Virginia), and Matt Landers (Arkansas) all possess enough speed for their size (along with other physical traits) and contested catch ability for a team to draft on days two and three of the NFL Draft.
Usually, the wide receivers overall are one of the more athletic groups at the combine. However, this year, the tight ends shined compared to previous years as a whole.