Every year there seems to be a receiver that wasn’t drafted as high as his peers, but happens to be a key contributor and a future piece to work around. This past season, it was Sterling Shepard or Malcolm Mitchell. Before that, it was Tyler Lockett and Jamison Crowder. It is a common occurrence for a mid-round player to succeed early in his career, and it will obviously happen again this season. Here we can try to find some prospects that look like they will be able to perform as well as their first round peers. These players (listed in no order) will be drafted late in the second day and throughout the third, and can go on to have a successful career.
5. Chad Hansen, Cal
After transferring from Idaho State and sitting out a year, Chad Hansen was a very good receiver at the University of California – Berkeley. He had a reduced role in 2015 behind a trio of receivers that went to the NFL, but when given a better opportunity in 2016, he exploded. He went from 19 catches for 249 yards in 2015 to 92 catches for 1249 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season. That is a drastic difference, as he went from a reserve to grad transfer Davis Webb’s favorite target. When watching Hansen play, he shows the ability to use his good footwork and head fakes to bait cornerbacks, then burn them with his speed. He is fast for someone who stands at almost 6-2 and 205 pounds, and he uses it to his advantage. He also has showed the ability to make impressive catches on the boundary. I’m not saying this a consistent thing, but he showed it here against Texas last year.
The one major knock against Hansen is that it seems as though Cal only lined him up as the right outside receiver, which some may perceive as him not being able to grasp the playbook at other receiver positions. While people outside of front office interviews will not know if this is true for some time, it is cloudy as to whether or not this is true. Aside from that, there is not much else to say negatively about him, and he should be a great asset to any team in the future.
4. Noah Brown, Ohio State
While Noah Brown is one of the younger players in the class, his size (6-2, 218 pounds) stands out among many of his smaller peers. He is a great perimeter threat for the Buckeyes, and was second on the team with 32 catches for 402 yards and 7 touchdowns. While 2016 was really the only season he had legitimate playing team, he was the primary wide receiver target for JT Barrett, as the only player that surpassed him was the “playmaker” Curtis Samuel, who was both a running back and receiver. Brown uses his aforementioned size to his advantage, and he can play contested catches well. He also has the strength to be more than just a placeholder in the run game, as he is a solid blocker outside. His speed is relatively average for the position, but he can set up corners well to fake them out and burn them. While he garnered some early hype with highlight catches, his stock cooled off due to a star trio of receivers being decided upon already. Now that he has fallen into the late Day 2 range, teams should be salivating at the thought of having Brown be on the outside of their offense.
3. Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
There haven’t been many A&M receivers that performed in the NFL since Mike Evans came out, but Reynolds may be able to buck that trend. While he is a bit skinny at 6-1 and about 190 pounds, Josh Reynolds can play physically when needed, as shown above. While he is not exactly a polished route runner, he is able to beat guys with his speed, and can play contested balls better than some of the receivers in this draft class. As Trevor Knight’s #1 in 2016, he collected 61 catches for 1,039 yards and 12 touchdowns. He isn’t a burner, but he has very good speed that he can beat average corners with. While he may not be able to serve as a primary target at the next level, he is a very good #2 or 3 and may reach primary target level if he can add some weight and work on his route running.
2. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
One of the most productive receivers in FCS history, Kupp has been a first team FCS All-American for four years. He collected 428 catches for 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns in his time at Eastern Washington. It seems as though he has reached his athletic peak and will not be developing much more than he already has, but that’s not a bad thing. Kupp is already a very good receiver and will be a reliable option in the NFL. At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he has good size and great speed to go along with it. He is a solid route runner and can make game breaking plays such as the one above. While he is already 24 years old, as mentioned before, he will likely not be developing much more, but Kupp is already set to be a strong option for NFL offenses in the future, and can be a solid possession receiver at the next level. He is likely a Round 3 or 4 selection in the draft, and that will definitely look like a steal in the coming years.
1. Chris Godwin, Penn State
While he is becoming more well-known as a prospect, Godwin is possibly the next best receiver after the top 3. He emerged in the years after Allen Robinson was drafted, and really stepped up his game to be one of the top offensive options with stud running back Saquon Barkley in the backfield. In the past two years, he collected 128 catches for 2,083 yards and 16 touchdowns. He displays some good footwork and route running ability to separate from lesser cornerbacks, and when he can’t win at the line, he can easily snag contested catches and has the athleticism to make some pretty crazy catches. He also shows the ability to be a strong run blocker, with great initial force, especially on crack blocks. Godwin will start to creep into Round 2 consideration soon, and will probably be drafted in the middle of Day 2. He is a great prospect that could likely match Robinson’s production in the NFL, and can be a star in the league with his skill set.