The NFL Draft is slated to take place in the city of brotherly love from April 27th-April 30th. As you get ready to watch who your team will select, CBS Local Sports will preview the top available prospects in the various different position groups.
Now, we move to the pass catchers. Wide receivers can make an immediate impact on their team and teams are always looking for another weapon to add to their offensive arsenal. This year’s class also features possibly the deepest tight end group we’ve ever seen. With the league’s more wide-open style, athletic tight ends that can force mismatches from the defense are starting to become a priority.
Corey Davis, WR, WMU
6’3″ 209 lbs.
College Stats: 331 receptions, 5,278 yards, 52 TDs (15.9 average)
Combine Stats: N/A
Davis didn’t participate in the combine due to having surgery to repair an issue with his ankle following the end of his senior season. He hasn’t worked out for teams yet either, but has said that he expects to be ready for rookie camps. That could scare some teams off if they wanted to get the chance to see how he looked in workouts prior to deciding to draft him.
That said, watching Davis on film should be reason enough to get teams excited. Sure, he played at a lower level of competition in the MAC, but, he dominated as you would want any player who’s expected to be a high draft pick to do. He routinely did things like this:
Davis showed tremendous ability in the red zone to find ways to come down with ridiculous catches on a consistent basis. His size allows him to be a premier red zone threat, and he has shown good route-running ability.
The question that many had is how fast would Davis run, but, obviously, that didn’t happen with Davis not running at either the combine or Western Michigan’s pro day. That leaves him as a bit of a mystery heading into the draft, but, as I said earlier, watching what he did in college should make teams comfortable enough to take him in the first round.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
6’4″ 218 lbs.
College Stats: 177 receptions, 2,727 yards, 21 TDs (15.4 average)
Combine Stats: 40 Time – N/A, Bench Press – 15 reps, Vertical – 32.5 inches, Broad jump – 10’1″
Williams returned from a scary neck injury that forced him to miss basically all of the 2015 college football season to show why he was considered a top prospect before the injury. In Clemson’s 15 games, Williams hauled in 98 receptions for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. Williams’ blend of physicality and speed (timed in the 4.5s in his 40-yard dash at Clemson’s pro day) likely has teams salivating over adding him to their receiving corps.
The best skill set he showed throughout his college career was his ability to use his body and leaping ability to go up and get the football. He showed this multiple times in the national championship win over Alabama.
Teams may have some concerns about the neck injury that Williams suffered, because those are injuries that can linger over the course of a career. But, no medical red flags seemed to be raised at the combine with Williams getting a clean bill of health. Bottom line — Williams should be gone before the end of the first round.
John Ross, WR, Washington
5’11” 188 lbs.
College Stats: 114 receptions, 1,729 yards, 22 touchdowns
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.22 seconds, Vertical – 37 inches, Broad jump – 10’11”,
Ross wowed scouts and fans alike by breaking Chris Johnson’s combine record in the 40-yard dash, running a blazing 4.22 seconds. That speed has been evident throughout his college career with the Huskies as he averaged 15.2 yards per catch in his career, including a 21.8 yard-per-catch average in his sophomore season. He played a smaller role in his freshman and sophomore year before missing his junior year with a torn ACL. He then rebounded with a MASSIVE season this year as he helped the Huskies reach the College Football Playoff. Ross recorded 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns.
On the other hand, Ross is on the smaller side for an NFL receiver. Now, we’ve seen plenty of undersized receivers succeed (i.e. Desean Jackson) and Ross certainly has the skill set to do so. That said, NFL teams are creatures of habit and smaller receivers tend to be slightly undervalued in the draft. Still, Ross should be off the board before the end of the second round.
OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
6’6″ 251 lbs.
College Stats: 114 receptions, 1,726 yards, 7 TDs (15.1 average)
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.51 seconds, Bench Press- 22 reps, Vertical – 30 inches, Broad jump – 10’1″, 3-cone – 6.85 seconds, 20-yard shuttle – 4.16 seconds
Howard’s stats don’t jump off the page at you. But, if you’ve watched either of the last two national championship games, you probably saw the value that Howard brings to any team at the NFL level. In those two games, Howard recorded 9 catches for 314 yards and three touchdowns. It’s not as if those performances were mirages either. Howard wasn’t targeted much in the Tide’s offense because he was largely used as an in-line blocker to help out with the run game.
That’s the thing that makes Howard most valuable and, to me, the top tight en available. He can stay in-line and be a solid blocker in the running game, but also split out wide and create a mismatch as a receiver as he showed against Clemson’s secondary each of the last two years.
While some will say that Alabama didn’t use Howard effectively, others will question why he didn’t showcase his play-making ability on a consistent basis in college. Overall, I tend to fall in the former group and tend to believe Howard will be a very good pro.
David NJoku, TE, Miami
6’4″ 246 lbs.
College Stats: 64 receptions, 1,060 yards, 9 TDs
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.64 seconds, Bench Press- 21 reps, Vertical – 37.5 inches, Broad jump – 11’1″, 3-cone – 6.97 seconds, 20-yard shuttle – 4.34 seconds
Njoku is another supreme athlete at the tight end spot. He flashed big-play ability in his freshman year with the ‘Canes averaging 17.2 yards per reception before breaking out last season for 43 catches 698 yards and eight touchdowns. The combine numbers, particularly the broad jump show just how explosive of an athlete he can be. The difference between him and Howard is Njoku struggled a bit more as a blocker than Howard did in college. Obviously, Njoku didn’t spend as much time in the college game (three years, one redshirt) as Howard, and will need to work further on the blocking aspect of the game as a pro. Still, he provides an immediate weapon from the tight end spot to any team looking to create mismatches.
Evan Engram, TE, Ole Mis
6’3″ 234 lbs.
College Stats: 162 receptions, 2,320 yards, 15 TDs
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.42 seconds, Bench Press- 19 reps, Vertical – 36 inches, Broad jump – 10’4″, 3-cone – 6.92 seconds, 20-yard shuttle – 4.23 seconds
Engram is a bit of a forgotten about guy when it comes to the college football scene, but he consistently produced at Ole Miss. His senior season he experienced a big jump in production as he hauled in 65 catches for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. The Rebels have had good receiver weapons for their QB’s over the past couple of years so Engram was never the number one option. This year, with Hugh Freeze’s squad experiencing some turnover, Engram stepped up and became the go-to receiver in the offense.
However, Engram wasn’t used much as a blocker at Ole Miss, and really seems to be more in the mold of a Jimmy Graham or Jordan Reed. A guy that teams largely use for their effectiveness in the passing game more than as a blocker on the line of scrimmage.
Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
6’1″ 215 lbs.
College Stats: 213 receptions, 3,092 yards, 25 touchdowns
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.54 seconds, Bench Press- 15 reps, Vertical – 32.5 inches, Broad jump – 10′
Smith-Schuster became a star as soon as he stepped on campus at USC, posting 54 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman. Those numbers improved dramatically in his sophomore year before tailing off slightly in his final season in 2016. Smith-Schuster is an impressive athlete and has shown the ability to consistently use his size to make contested catches and that will play well in the red zone in the NFL.
However, he has dealt with injuries throughout his career dating back to his senior season in high school. At USC he suffered a broken hand in his sophomore season and injured his back this past year. He’s not a burner, but he does do a nice job of catching the ball away from his body.
Smith-Schuster is likely a Day 2 prospect, but certainly possesses an intriguing skill set for the NFL level.
5’11” 204 lbs.
College Stats: 129 receptions, 1,713 yards, 12 TDs (13.3 average)
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.49 seconds, Vertical – 34 inches, Broad jump – 10’4″
Stewart was the Tide’s secondary option in the passing game this season in terms of receptions (Calvin Ridley had 72), but Stewart proved to be more explosive than Ridley (16 yards per reception to 10). He proved to be the big play threat for the Tide in the passing game and has shown the speed to be that guy at the next level. Stewart was very good at breaking tackles and making defenders miss when he got the ball out in space, which the Tide did frequently on a steady diet of quick screens and short passes.
He has shown the ability to make tough, contested catches at times, while also dropping easier targets. He, like Smith-Schuster, is likely a Day 2 pick.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio State
5’11” 196 lbs.
College Stats: 107 receptions, 1,249 yards, 9 TDs, 172 carries 1,286 yards 15 TDs
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.31 seconds, Bench Press- 18 reps, Vertical – 37 inches, Broad jump – 9’11”, 3-cone – 7.09 seconds, 20-yard shuttle – 4.33 seconds
Samuel played the “Percy Harvin” role in Urban Meyer’s offense with the Buckeyes during his three years with the team, really coming into his own during his junior season. The speed is clearly there, as is the ability to make guys miss in the open field. He can certainly threaten a defense with that speed on vertical routes, but the same questions that faced Harvin and Jalin Marshall face Samuel.
How do you use him? He’s not a true running back as most of his carries came on jet sweeps, reverses, etc. He can explode in and out of cuts in routes, but tends to catch with his body instead of his hands. If you have a coaching staff that can be clever with how they use him and patient in developing him, the skills are there. The biggest plus he brings right away is as a kick returner as he averaged 21.6 yards per return on his 21 kick returns for the Buckeyes.
Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State
6’1″ 209 lbs.
College Stats: 154 receptions, 2,421 yards, 18 TDs (15.7 YPC)
Combine Stats: 40 Time – 4.42 seconds, Bench Press- 19 reps, Vertical – 36 inches, Broad jump – 10’6″, 3-cone – 7.01 seconds, 20-yard shuttle – 4.00 seconds
Godwin broke out as a sophomore in 2015 with a 1,000 yard season and then followed it up this year with 982 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was the Nittany Lions big-play threat averaging 16 yards per catch over the last two seasons and he continued to show that athleticism at the combine in Indy. Not only does Godwin have the speed to threaten defenses deep, but he also is able to use his body well to shield off corners and make contested catches.
He’ll need to continue to improve his route running at the next level while showing that he can consistently get off press coverage. But, he should be in the conversation among the first receivers taken off the board in Day 2 of the draft.