Ranking the NFL draft prospects: Wide receivers, tight ends

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis caught six passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl last January.

The Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn assesses the top wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL draft April 27-29. Included is each player’s height, weight, 40-yard time and projected round.

Wide receivers

1. COREY DAVIS, Western Michigan (6-2½, 209, no 40, 1): Modest two-star recruit from Wheaton (Ill.) Warrenville South was instrumental cog in the Broncos’ rise to an appearance in the Cotton Bowl last season. “I don’t know how fast he could run but Michael Irvin ran 4.57 and he makes all those plays like Michael Irvin,” one scout said. “Watch the games against Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin. Strong, quick, can break tackles. He’s the best.” Injured an ankle in January, underwent minor surgery, missed the combine and won’t be able to run for scouts. “He will run high 4.4’s, low 4.5’s,” said another scout. “Little niftier athlete than Mike Williams, bends a little easier.” Four-year starter with 331 receptions for 5,278 yards (15.9 average) and 52 touchdowns. “He’s good, but not like some of the top guys from the past two years,” said a third scout. “He’s like the kid from the Eagles (Jordan Matthews). Little better hands.” Posted scores of 13 and 24 on the 50-question Wonderlic intelligence test.

2. MIKE WILLIAMS, Clemson (6-3½, 216, 4.52, 1): Fourth-year junior from Vance, S.C. “He’s good, but not in the same realm as Calvin Johnson, the guy at Cincinnati (A.J. Green) or the guy at Atlanta (Julio Jones),” said one scout. “Really good ball skills but he doesn’t have the great speed.” Caught 177 passes for 2,727 (15.4) and 21 TDs for national champs. “Power guy all the way,” said a second scout. “He can’t separate sufficiently. There’s been a lot of good players that don’t, but that’s his style. He makes a lot of contested catches, and he’s going to have to.” Poor vertical jump of 32½ inches. “Refused to do a short shuttle and a 3-cone (at the combine or pro day),” said another scout. “Why? Probably because he’s not that quick in and out of breaks. Maybe he’s afraid. Ball in the air, he’ll go and get it. He’s big, he’s clean and he’s tough. He’s kind of like Laquon Treadwell last year. At the beginning you heard he was the fourth or fifth pick in the draft. Now you don’t hear his name up there anymore.” Wonderlic of 17. Suffered a season-ending neck fracture in 2015 opener when he collided with the goalpost on a 4-yard TD.

3. JOHN ROSS, Washington (5-11, 188, 4.22, 1): Fourth-year junior ran possibly the fastest 40 ever at the combine. “He’ll be in that DeSean Jackson mold,” said one scout. “He’s a burner but he’s also skilled. He is extremely explosive and he’s got very good body control through the route.” Underwent labrum shoulder surgery in mid-March, the latest in a litany of injuries. Underwent microfracture on his right knee in 2014 and then tore the ACL in the same knee not long after. “Those small wideouts, they have a hard time surviving long-term,” said another scout. Caught 114 passes for 1,729 (15.2) and 22 TDs. “The speed is wonderful but I do have doubts,” a third scout said. “Is he fragile is the question. He’s very clean off the field. Injuries are a concern.” Played at Jordan High in Long Beach, Calif. “If you want that speed element, more of a playmaker, he’s the guy,” said a fourth scout. Wonderlic of 16.

4. ZAY JONES, East Carolina (6-2, 201, 4.49, 2): Caught 158 passes as a senior to finish with FBS record of 399. “Top three ball skills in this draft,” said one scout. “He’s physical. He has to go into a crowd sometimes because he lacks really good separation and he’s not a run after. He’s a possession type, really. I’d rather have him as my third guy than an actual starter.” Averaged 10.7 per catch and scored 23 TDs. Excelled at the Senior Bowl all week. “He tore it up,” said another scout. “He is a good route runner. Great kid. I don’t see any acceleration.” Father, Robert, was an NFL MLB from 1992-01. “Productive as hell but that offense, they just kind of throw the ball in all kinds of different ways,” said another scout. “He showed a lot more at the Senior Bowl.” From Austin, Texas.

5. JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, Southern California (6-1½, 214, 4.56, 2): Third-year junior. Won’t turn 21 until late November. “He’s got a big personality,” said one scout. “I really appreciate him. He’s got a little Steve Smith how he attacks the game. He’s got good enough hands, body control, quickness and OK speed, given his size. I thought he played a little heavy in 2016. He was up to like 225. You have to go back and watch ’15 film to get a good feel for him. His game is all about strength and power.” Caught 213 passes for 3,092 (14.5) and 25 TDs. “As a freshman and sophomore he looked like he was a top guy,” said another scout. “I think he’s gotten too big. He’s lost some of his quickness. He is really strong and talented.” Played at Long Beach Poly.

6. CURTIS SAMUEL, Ohio State (5-10½, 196, 4.34, 2-3): Third-year junior. “He’s just a fantastic personality and kid,” one scout said. “Sometimes you end up with guys who are just quick and sometimes you end up with guys that are just fast, and sometimes you get both. He’s both. Still learning how to run routes. In terms of catch radius and all that from the elite guys, he’s not up to that level. But once he gets the ball he’s as elite as they come.” Played RB in 2014, a hybrid role in ’15 and H-back in ’16. “Even though he beat Michigan as a back I think he makes more plays as a wide receiver,” a second scout said. “He’s Percy Harvin.” Finished with 107 receptions for 1,249 (11.7) and nine TDs to go with 172 rushes for 1,286 (7.5) and 15 TDs. “Unique player,” said a third scout. “Loves football. Very smart (Wonderlic of 22). Physically tough.” From Brooklyn, N.Y. “He’s not really natural as a receiver and he’s not natural as a running back,” said a fourth scout. “He’s supposed to be this big-play speed guy but he doesn’t make any big plays. Just more of an athlete than a player right now.”

7. COOPER KUPP, Eastern Washington (6-1½, 203, 4.60, 3): Broke 15 FCS records in 52-game career. “When I first put the tape on I was hoping he was going to be Jordy Nelson,” said one scout. “He’s just not as big and fast as Jordy. Little bit more powerful. His draft stock from a size-speed standpoint took a little hit but he’s going to play.” Amassed 428 catches for 6,464 (15.1) and 73 TDs. Led WRs on the Wonderlic with 37. “If you want a first down on third down, I’ll throw it to him because he’s going to get open and catch the ball,” another scout said. “He’s a big slot. Fantastic with his feet. He’s natural.” In four games against Pac-12 teams he caught 40 passes for 716 (17.9) and 11 TDs. “Somebody is going to overdraft him,” a third scout said. “The Amendola’s, the Edelman’s are punt returners, and he’s not. He a catcher, not an explosive playmaker. Slot only. He can’t play outside.” From Yakima, Wash.

8. JOSH REYNOLDS, Texas A&M (6-3, 193, 4.53, 3): Former junior-college player went on to start three years for the Aggies. “He’s a real go-up-and-get-it kind of guy,” one scout said. “Talented perimeter receiver. You look at how lean he is and you think he might not be a tough guy that wants to go inside, but he’ll do it. Great ball skills.” Finished with 164 receptions for 2,788 (17.0) and 30 TDs. “He lacks strength and doesn’t consistently separate,” a second scout said. “He’ll quit on some routes. You question his focus. Not the most sudden guy in the world. Long, linear outside guy.” From San Antonio.

9. AMARA DARBOH, Michigan (6-1½, 215, 4.47, 3): Was outperformed by teammate Jehu Chesson in 2015 but blossomed into the  Wolverines’ No. 1 target last year. “He’s just steady everywhere,” said one scout. “Fast, good route runner, he’s got run after, dependable, strong, physical. I don’t think he’ll ever be a Pro Bowl guy but he’ll be a really good starter.” Born in Sierra Leone, he came to Iowa at age 17 after a tragic childhood in which his parents were killed during a civil war. All-conference basketball player in West Des Moines. “Little bit (better than) Chesson,” said another scout. “He’s just not quite as consistent catching and route running as Chesson.” Started 28 of 49 games, caught 151 passes for 2,062 (13.7) and 14 TDs.

10. CARLOS HENDERSON, Louisiana Tech (5-11, 202, 4.52, 3-4): Joins Curtis Samuel as the two best run-after-the-catch WRs in draft, according to one scout. “He’s in that Emmanuel Sanders-Antonio Brown mold coming out,” said another scout. “He doesn’t have elite size but he’s got twitch and is explosive. He’ll have nuances to develop from a route-running standpoint but he’s got all the tools.” Fourth-year junior with 147 catches for 2,878 (19.6) and 28 TDs. “They limited the route tree that he ran but he can run by people,” said a third scout. “He’s got really good vertical speed.” From New Orleans. Added a fourth scout: “Every time he touches the ball it’s a potential touchdown.”

11. K.D. CANNON, Baylor (5-11, 178, 4.39, 3-4): Third-year junior. “Little bit of a one-dimensional speed guy,” said one scout. “He can really run, but when’s the last Baylor wide receiver to (succeed)? Doesn’t run a lot of routes. Same (expletive) we say every year. Little scary.” Starting 32 of 38 games, he caught 195 for 3,113 (16.0) and 27 TDs. “I don’t believe in those Baylor receivers,” a second scout said. “He fits in with those other guys. Consistency was an issue. He can run, there’s no doubt.” From Mount Pleasant, Texas.

12. ARDARIUS STEWART, Alabama (5-11, 205, 4.49, 3-4): Fourth-year junior started 29 of 33 games. “Whenever I saw Alabama need a third-down conversion throwing the ball he caught it,” said one scout. “Highly competitive. Plays maybe faster than you think.” Five personnel people expressed reservations about Stewart’s maturity level. Finished with 129 receptions for 1,713 (13.3) and 12 TDs. Wonderlic of 20. “You’ve got to do some work on him off the field,” another scout said. “He’s got the talent. Loves football. Great run after catch. He’ll battle you.” From suburban Birmingham, Ala.

OTHERS: Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma; Chris Godwin, Penn State; Ryan Switzer, North Carolina; Malachi Dupre, Louisiana State; Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky; Robert Davis, Georgia State; Jehu Chesson, Michigan; Mack Hollins, North Carolina; Josh Malone, Tennessee; Shelton Gibson, West Virginia; Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois; Quincy Adeboyejo, Mississippi; Chad Hansen, California; Bug Howard, North Carolina; Chad Williams, Grambling.

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Tight ends

1. O.J. HOWARD, Alabama (6-5½, 251, 4.56, 1): One of the most complete TEs to enter the draft in several years. “He’s by far and away the best this year,” one scout said. “He can do everything. He’s got rare speed and athletic ability. He runs like a receiver. He got better as a blocker from his junior to his senior year. He’s a top-level character kid. He has all the professional qualities you want. He’ll end up being one of the best tight ends in the league.” Caught 114 passes for 1,726 (15.1) and seven TDs in 46 games (36 starts). “Most underused player in the country,” a second scout said. “Really good at pro day. Big, he can run, he can catch. A year ago he wasn’t a real good blocker in-line. This year he got a little better. Alabama didn’t use him to his potential. When they did it was a big play. Usually it was downfield throws.” Scored 27 on the Wonderlic. “He’s not instant coffee,” a third scout said. “In terms of running routes, finding open space … he’s got a little instinct issue.” From tiny Prattville, Ala.

2. DAVID NJOKU, Miami (6-4, 245, 4.65, 1-2): Third-year sophomore with just nine starts in 26 games. “Everybody just seems to like the guy,” one scout said. “But he is raw as can be. He’s a backup for them. I don’t know how you take an unproductive backup guy from an average team and take him in the first or second round … he’s a track guy but as far as a football player, he is a long ways away.” Was a 7-1 high jumper in Cedar Grove, N.J. Arms measured longest (35 ¼ inches) of any TE. “Lot of wow plays,” said a second scout. “An athletic freak.” Said a third scout: “Gonna be a star. He’s better RAC (run after the catch) than O.J. Howard. O.J.’s better, but this kid has up side.” Finished with 64 catches for 1,060 (16.6) and nine TDs. Wonderlic of 24. “He’s a beautiful looking thing,” a fourth scout said. “His broad jump (11-1) and vertical jump (37 ½) were out of this world. Very explosive linear but when he runs he’s kind of stiff upper body. Little herky-jerky. Last year he had a lot of drops; this year he cleaned up his hands a little bit. He needs a boot up his (expletive) but he’s got a lot of ability. His blocking is OK. I don’t know how self-motivated he is to be a really good player.”

3. EVAN ENGRAM, Mississippi (6-3½, 235, 4.39, 1-2): Compared by scouts to some oversized WRs and undersized TEs. “He’s like (Aaron) Hernandez, Jordan Reed,” said one. “He can play slot, smooth athlete. This is where the modern-day offense is going. May slide up there in the first round.” Ran one of the fastest 40’s ever by a TE and scored 26 on the Wonderlic. “Amazing speed and separation,” said another scout. “He can probably play receiver. He’s maybe 240 soaking wet. He maybe can do some back-side stuff (blocking) but point of attack he’s going to get crushed.” Caught 162 passes for 2,320 (14.3) and 15 TDs. “Better college football player than Jordan Reed,” said a third scout. “He’s a matchup nightmare on quicker slot defenders. He’s in and out. Caught the ball well. Not afraid (to block) but that’s not his forte. He’ll be in the slot all the time.” From Powder Springs, Ga.

4. GERALD EVERETT, South Alabama (6-3, 240, 4.59, 2): Will be the first draftee in program’s eight-year history. “He’s got some rarities post-catch,” said one scout. “Eric Ebron had a little bit of that out of North Carolina. I don’t know if he’ll ever be an in-line ‘Y’ guy but he is competitive. Does the search-and-seal stuff. He’s that big flex slot teams are looking for now. He can probably be a 250-pound guy. He’s lean but broad-shouldered and tapered. Looks the part.” More of a basketball player in Decatur, Ga.; didn’t play football until his senior year. “Smart kid (Wonderlic of 24), works hard but not a weight-room guy,” said another scout. “The only thing that holds me back is he’s got smallish hands (8 ½).” Finished with 107 catches for 1,584 (14.8) and 13 TDs. Played two years in junior college and behind ex-Packers TE Kennard Backman at Alabama-Birmingham in ’14 before transferring.

5. JAKE BUTT, Michigan (6-5½, 249, no 40, 3-4): Most productive TE (138 catches for 1,646 and 11 TDs) in Wolverines’ history. “He’s everything you want,” said one scout. “Just not the most talented. Deceptive route runner but not the fastest or the quickest. He just knows how to uncover. In the run game he’s going to fight you, but he’s not overpowering. He’s a gamer. He can move the chains. Smart player. Great intangibles.” Blew out his right ACL in the Sugar Bowl after suffering the same injury to the same knee in early 2014. “He’s had it twice, which is scary,” another scout said. “He wasn’t a dynamic guy, anyway. Just kind of a system pass catcher-competitive blocker. He’s more ready than those other guys. He probably goes no later than the third round. People are going to be scared of that knee.” Started 37 of 49 games. Wonderlic was 32. Out of Pickerington, Ohio.

6. JORDAN LEGGETT, Clemson (6-5½, 259, 4.75, 3-4): Captain for the national champions and a two-year starter. “First name is ‘Lazy’ at the school,” said one scout. “Lazy Leggett. When you watch him try to block on the back side or point of attack I guess the name fits. But he’s long, he’s big, he can catch over the middle, big target, good receiving skills, good catch radius. But I wouldn’t want him in a foxhole with me.” Had 112 receptions for 1,598 (14.3) and 18 TDs. “More of a finesse tight end,” said one scout. “He’s a one-speed guy. There’s no twitch in his game, either.” From Navarre, Fla. “He’s a receiver but he’s soft,” a third scout said. “Does he really love it? We don’t know. He’s not a fighter. Has no interest in the run game.”

7. ADAM SHAHEEN, Ashland (Ohio) (6-6½, 278, 4.81, 3-4): Out of the same Division II conference (Great Lakes Intercollegiate) that sent such players as CB Brandon Carr, RB Chris Ivory and G Todd Herremans to the NFL. “He’s a huge, huge, huge guy,” one scout said. “Got decent hands. He’s a project. He doesn’t dominate that level of comp as far as blocking. He’s the biggest guy on the field and you think he’d just dominate people. Not very fast. You’re just kind of looking at up side hoping he’d be a blocking safe-catching TE.” Fourth-year junior began college as a basketball player at Division II Pittsburgh-Johnstown (5.5 points per game). Starting 19 of 31 games for Ashland, he caught 129 for 1,755 (13.6) and 26 TDs. “Skilled big man,” said another scout. “Dominates the competition. Was a good basketball player before he got super big. He’s beyond prototypical size, and he’s a receiver, too.” Wonderlic of 24. From Galena, Ohio.

8. BUCKY HODGES, Virginia Tech (6-6, 253, 4.55, 3-4): Fourth-year junior. “He was a glorified receiver this year,” one scout said. “Limited in-line exposure. Best comparison I can give is (Devin) Funchess. Funchess was a more naturally fluid and skilled receiver.” Tremendous testing athlete. Led TEs in vertical jump (39) and broad jump (11-2). From Virginia Beach, Va., where he was a prep QB. “From a tough area,” another scout said. “Tough life growing up. Very laid-back kid.” Finished with 133 receptions for 1,747 (13.1) and 20 TDs. Started 37 of 40 games. “They play him at receiver but he’s not dynamic for what he does,” a third scout said. “He won’t block anybody.” Said a fourth: “Complete figment of someone’s imagination. Might be the most overrated player in the draft. Looks good, big, has good hands. Not a lot of positives other than that.”

OTHERS: Jonnu Smith, Florida International; Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas; Cole Hikutini, Louisville; George Kittle, Iowa; Eric Saubert, Drake; Michael Roberts, Toledo; Pharaoh Brown, Oregon; Durrell Daniels, Washington; Cethan Carter, Nebraska; Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M; Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh.


Unsung Hero

Robert Davis, WR, Georgia State: Absolutely blew up the combine with a 4.43 40 (at 6-2½, 216), 41-inch vertical jump and 11-4 broad jump. Played in a Wing-T offense as a high-school senior, caught 11 passes and was fortunate to land a scholarship. Productive and intelligent, he would be an outstanding developmental selection.

Scouts' Nightmare

Eric Saubert, TE, Drake: The Bulldogs were a big name in college football but that was 75 years ago. Not only does Saubert (6-5, 253) have the size but also the speed (4.69) and smarts (35 on the Wonderlic) to factor in the NFL. He doesn’t block much, however, and it’s a tough year for a small-school player to make waves at such a stacked position.

Packers' Pick to Remember

Aundra Thompson, WR, East Texas State: Drafted in the fifth round as a RB in 1976 but quickly moved outside. Started 46 of 48 games opposite James Lofton from 1978-’80. Two games into the ’81 season he was part of the deal to acquire WR John Jefferson from San Diego. Played briefly for the Chargers and Saints, ending his career in ’82. Caught 95 passes for 1,573 yards (16.6) and seven TDs for Green Bay.

Quote to Note

AFC executive in personnel: “I really enjoy watching teams in that league (Mid-American Conference) play. They’re well-coached and they play hard. They’re not spoiled brats like some others."

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