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Part 1, WR/TE: Does size matter?
This draft lacks a Calvin Johnson- or Julio Jones-like stud at the top, but there are starters to be found. Bob McGinn kicks off his nine-part series with a detailed look at the receivers.
This is the 38th year Bob McGinn has written an NFL Draft Series. Previously, it appeared at the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1985-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19) and The Athletic (2020-’21). Until 2014, personnel people often were quoted by name. The series reluctantly adopted an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of most scouts. The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test was not administered at the NFL scouting combine, possibly the first time it was excluded. Players generally took the test at spring 2021 timing days and at pro days in March and April. The NFL average score is about 19.
At a time when NFL teams might be overvaluing and overpaying veteran wide receivers, the rookie class this year is receiving little more than polite applause.
Oh, there’s no shortage of interesting prospects with some fast 40 times and a blizzard of stats, but those clubs hoping to draft a bona fide No. 1 receiver might not find him.
“I see guys that are going to be good No. 2’s,” an executive in personnel for an AFC team said this month, indicating there were no No. 1’s on his board.
This draft is the most mysterious in years when it comes to pinpointing how the top will play out. On Saturday, an executive with a team owning a top-10 selection said, “This isn’t going to be a normal draft. Everybody’s panicking.”
The bottom-feeding teams atop the draft are uneasy because most personnel people read the draft in much the same way. In effect, there is no elite, can’t-miss player to pick first.
In the last month, I’ve polled 17 personnel men asking them for their choice as the best player in the draft. Given the blue-chip void, one would think the increasingly valuable wide receiver position might swoop in and lead off the draft for the first time since Keyshawn Johnson went to the Jets in 1996.
Five players from three different positions garnered votes as the draft’s supreme player. Tellingly, wide receiver was a position that got shut out.
“There’s an abundance of guys but I don’t see a Ja’Marr Chase, somebody like that,” another AFC scout said. “There’s no Calvin Johnson’s, no Julio Jones’, nobody like that.”
When Johnson (6-5, 239, 4.35) came out in 2007, my poll at the time of 18 personnel men was unanimous that the Georgia Tech wideout was the best player in the draft. Jones (6-2 ½, 220, 4.39), the sixth selection in 2011, is the other prototypical outside receiver from the past 15 years.
“He’s one of the easiest picks of all time,” Chargers GM A.J. Smith said of Johnson, the Hall of Famer for the Lions, 15 years ago.
What’s the holdup this year? Six of the top eight players are uncomfortably undersized, at least when it comes to evaluators making the connection between size and durability.
“You’d certainly like bigger than (Chris) Olave, Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson, (Jahan) Dotson,” another AFC exec said. “They’re smaller guys. You get a bigger guy with (Drake) London, but you give up the speed. You hope the separation quickness is good enough, which I think it is. (Treylon) Burks is not a real polished receiver but he can do a lot of different things with the ball. If you’re going to be a smaller guy these guys at least have the speed and the separation quickness you need at a really high level.”
The aforementioned six players finished as the leading vote-getters in a poll of 16 personnel people. Each was asked to rank the receivers on a 1-2-3-4-5 basis. A first-place vote was worth 5 points, a second counted 4 and so on.
Scouts were every bit as uncertain about the order of wide receivers as they were concerning the top of the draft.
Wilson, of Ohio State, led with a point total of 57 that included four first-place votes. Williams, of Alabama by way of Ohio State, was next with 56 (five firsts). Right behind were Olave, another Buckeye, with 47 (three firsts) and Southern California’s London with 46 (three firsts).
“You could start talking about any of them (from) like 15 down,” said an AFC scout. “There really aren’t a lot of legitimate No. 1 wideouts (in the league). Not a lot of Davante Adams. But Williams, Olave and Wilson are legitimate win-with starters. I don’t see Olave or Wilson in a league with Davante Adams or a Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones or Ja’Marr Chase.”
Rounding out the vote were Burks, of Arkansas, with 18 points (one first), Penn State’s Dotson with eight, Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore with four and two players, Alabama’s John Metchie and Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton, each with two.
“There’s no transcendent player,” another AFC scout said. “None of these guys tested crazy.”
Burks, who at 224 is 11 pounds heavier than London, is considered a risky pick. When scouts were asked which of the top wideouts had the best chance to bust, the vote was 7 ½ for Burks, three for London and Williams, two for Olave and one-half for Dotson.
Wilson (5-11 ½, 184), Williams (6-1 ½, 180), Olave (6-0 ½, 185), Dotson (5-10 ½, 181), Moore (5-9 ½, 191) and Metchie (5-11, 189) are on the slight if not frail side. In addition, both Williams and Metchie underwent reconstructive knee surgery late in the season.
Probably the two best wide receivers in 2021 were Cooper Kupp (6-1 ½, 203, 4.60) and Adams (6-1, 214, 4.55). Two of the hottest younger players are Justin Jefferson (6-1, 202, 4.47) and Chase (6-0 ½, 201, 4.34).
“I don’t think people realize how big the good NFL receivers are,” an AFC scout said. “We have a data base right in front of us. There just aren’t a ton of successful receivers that are under 185 pounds. You have to be a really good player to play at that size.”
An NFC exec countered by using the examples of Stefon Diggs (6-0, 193, 4.43) and Odell Beckham (5-11, 196, 4.40).
“Everybody says you need a big, gigantic guy in the league,” he said. “There’s plenty of good players that are not huge guys.”
The AFC man wasn’t convinced.
“Speed guys have a place if they get to the right team and right system,” he continued. “They can be effective. But it’s a physical game. Look at the corners people are drafting. The corners are bigger and faster. When those guys get their hands on them the speed doesn’t show the same way it does in college.”
Among the top 25 in career receiving yards are five players with dimensions not far from the majority this year. The group includes Hall of Famers Isaac Bruce (5-11 ½, 173, 4.53), Marvin Harrison (6-0, 180, 4.29) and Andre Reed (6-1 ½, 185, 4.55), and Reggie Wayne (5-11 ½, 194, 4.55) and Jimmy Smith (6-0 ½, 200, 4.51).
From the Johnson-Jones branch are Hall of Famers Michael Irvin (6-1 ½, 200, 4.55), Randy Moss (6-3 ½, 200, 4.42), Terrell Owens (6-3, 211, 4.55) and Jerry Rice (6-2, 195, 4.58).
Of this class of wideouts, an AFC exec said, “They’re very slight and they’re fast. What we’re looking for are three guys that can play all three spots and pinball around.”
At least the failure rate at the position has slowed. Of the 11 wideouts selected in Round 1 the past two years, just one can be relegated to the bust heap. In the 10 drafts before that (2010-’19), by conservative judgment 35% (12 of 34) of the first-rounders deserve the dreaded ‘B’ for their chests.
The tight end position enjoyed its moment in the sun for a year when Florida’s Kyle Pitts went No. 4 to the Falcons. The highest drafted tight end since the advent of the common draft in 1967 had been Houston’s Riley Odoms, who went No. 5 to the Broncos in 1972.
Only one prospect, Colorado State’s Trey McBride, can sniff the first round. If the first round should be bereft of tight ends, it would mark the sixth time that happened in the last 12 drafts.
McBride dominated the poll of 16 personnel people with 13 firsts and 73 points. Following, in order, were Greg Dulcich (41, one first), Jeremy Ruckert (38), Charlie Kolar (22), Chig Okonkwo (14), Isaiah Likely (13), Jelani Woods (13), Jake Ferguson (nine), Daniel Bellinger (five), Cade Otton (four), Jalen Wydermyer (three), Peyton Hendershot (two), Gerrit Prince (two) and Grant Calcaterra (one).
“There are a lot of middle-tier guys, a lot of good backup pros,” an NFC personnel man said. “They’re all kind of the same guy, really. They’re making them all the same this year, I guess.”
RANKING THE RECEIVERS
1. GARRETT WILSON, Ohio State (5-11 ½, 184, 4.40, 1): Third-year junior was the Buckeyes’ No. 3 receiver as a freshman before starting the past two years. “Love watching him play,” one scout said. “He’s extremely athletic, has great hands and is very tough. He’s got really good separation, is as twitchy as it gets, he’ll be fine (against press) and he’s strong. He’s exactly what a lot of teams are looking for. He doesn’t have ideal size, but outside of size I don’t think you could find anything wrong with him.” Caught 143 passes for 2,213 yards (15.4-yard average) and 23 touchdowns. “Has playmaking ability with his run after catch,” a second scout said. “Good compete and toughness. Does have some concentration drops. His routes could be more consistent. Needs to get stronger and battle for contested balls. He can align inside or out. Quality No. 2 is the floor for him. T.Y. Hilton became a No. 1 but you don’t normally see the 180-pound wide receiver becoming your No. 1.” His Wonderlic score of 24 was the highest among the top 10 wideouts. His father, Kenny, played briefly in the NBA. “He wasn’t a big believer in the weight room,” a third scout said. “He recognized the importance of it once he started training for the NFL. He really pushed himself in the weight room for six to eight weeks. It really helped him.” Elected not to bench press this spring. From Austin, Texas.
2. JAMESON WILLIAMS, Alabama (6-1 ½, 180, no 40, 1): Departed Ohio State after two backup seasons (15 total receptions). His only season for the Crimson Tide was one to remember as he caught passes, returned kickoffs (35.2) and covered punts, all with style. “He’s the one you could really hit on,” one scout said. “He’s the fastest guy in the draft. That guy can fly anywhere you want to put him. That just tells you what Ohio State had. But he’s skinnier than I am, and he’ll have a drop or two.” Third-year junior capped his career for Alabama with 79 receptions for 1,572 (19.9) and 15 TDs. “He got there (Tuscaloosa) and (John) Metchie did all the dirty work and they had Williams do all the vertical stuff,” a second scout said. “It was a nice match. (Benefited) a little bit being on a real good team with other players around him. I think he’s more of a speed merchant that takes the top off a defense. He’s got some bobbles. He’s got some double catches. He’s got some drops. He’s not real secure going inside. He’s sort of an outside vertical threat, which makes him a little bit one-dimensional. He’s slight of build. He’s not perfect, by any stretch. Little bit of a one-year wonder. But he can really roll.” Suffered a torn ACL in the National Championship Game and underwent surgery in mid-January. His speed was estimated by one scout at 4.32. “He’s more dynamic than Olave or Wilson,” a third scout said. “Excellent run after catch. He’s a deep-ball playmaker if you put the ball on him. There were some times he couldn’t make the extended catch. He’s better than Wilson and Olave, who played ahead of him at Ohio State.” Scored 14 on the Wonderlic. “So explosive,” a fourth scout said. “When they lost him, they lost the national championship.” From St. Louis. “Is he going to be (former teammate) Henry Ruggs, who goes to an offense that used him only for his deep vertical speed?” said a fifth scout. “He’s got some developing to do as a route runner. System will be more important to him than these other guys. And he’s coming off an injury so you don’t know if he can bring that same element.”
3. CHRIS OLAVE, Ohio State (6-0 ½, 185, 4.45, 1): Four-year player started for 2 ½ seasons. “I would take him by a fraction over Wilson,” one scout said. “He’s a really nifty athlete. Very smooth, really good route runner. What I like about Olave, this guy has been a major producer at a major program in big games for years. We’re leery of juniors with one-year production. Olave has legit three years production at a high level. He doesn’t have a great body type. That’s the biggest thumbs down on him. But he does not lack toughness. Used to cover kickoffs, used to be on the front line on kick returns. He’s really dangerous in the red zone because he’s such a good route runner and has good body control.” Caught 176 passes, third in Buckeyes’ history, for 2,711 (15.4) and 35 TDs. “He’s more of a smooth athlete whereas Wilson is more of a twitchy athlete,” said a second scout. “Not quite as strong and as tough after the catch as Wilson. There’s a gap between him and Wilson, but I do think he’ll be a good pro.” A third scout called him the safest wideout in the draft. “He could track down the field,” a fourth scout said. “He had good hands. I wish he caught a little more around his frame, though. He lacks strength in his play. I still think he’s a solid starter.” Wonderlic of 22. “He’s going to be a better pro than Wilson,” said a fifth scout. “I say that because for some reason the quarterbacks loved Olave. It’s probably dependability.” From San Ysidro, Calif. “He moves the sticks,” said a sixth scout. “He has a feel for zone. Clean in his routes. He can get vertical and produce against single coverage. Like him as a gunner covering punts. He’s not a true Round 1 player. He’s a No. 2 to a No. 3 wide receiver. More second- to third-round range. You just want to see more explosion and make-you-miss after the catch.”
4. DRAKE LONDON, Southern Cal (6-4, 213, no 40, 1): Third-year junior, three-year starter. “He’s so unique compared to these other guys,” one scout said. “He’s a problem because he’s a mismatch kind of player. If he doesn’t go Top 10 it’ll be very soon after.” Finished with 160 receptions in 27 games (23 starts) for 2,153 (13.5) and 15 TDs. “He’s a backboard,” the scout continued. “His catch radius is phenomenal. He can really go up and reel the ball in. He’s excellent on back-shoulder fades and posts, things he can use his body position. When he’s covered, he’s still open because of the radius and the length (33-inch arms) and his ability to play basketball in the red zone. Very forgiving target. He’s most similar to Mike Evans. I don’t know if he’s quite as fast as Evans but I’m not sure it really matters because he can do all the same things.” Was an outstanding basketball player at Moorpark, Calif., and even played two games for the USC basketball team after his freshman football campaign. “Intangibles aren’t awesome,” a second scout said. “It’s diva football character kind of deal. Coming off the injury. There have been some hits but there have been quite a few misses for the USC receiving corps.” Suffered an ankle injury after eight games in 2021 season and sat out the remainder of the season. Worked out for scouts April 15 in LA but didn’t run the 40. His speed was estimated by two scouts between 4.58 and 4.60. “His first three steps are explosive enough, but once he gets past five yards the lack of speed, you can see that,” a third scout said. “Everybody’s starting to shit on him because he didn’t run a 40. But he’s not getting out of the top 20.” Wonderlic of 19. “He can get off the jam but he can’t really get down the field,” a fourth scout said. “He can make acrobatic, over-the-top catches. He just has really unique skills, which he has to have because he’s not that fast.”
5. TREYLON BURKS, Arkansas (6-2, 224, 4.59, 1-2): Started all three of his three years in Fayetteville. “He’s a big, physical body but he’s not a great separator,” one scout said. “He doesn’t have top quickness. He’s a basketball body playing wide receiver. He’s going to have to learn how to run routes and how to work to get open. He is (a roll of the dice).” The vast majority of his snaps came from the slot or the backfield. Finished with 146 catches for 2,399 (16.4) and 18 TDs. “The comparison a lot of people draw is Deebo Samuel because he’s really good after the catch,” said another scout. “He’s very similar to (Laviska) Shenault. He’s tough with the ball in his hands but he’s not as physical as Deebo. He doesn’t have the compact movement and pad level like Deebo does, but he does have that strength. He’s not as good as Keenan Allen.” His arm length (33 ½) was the longest of the top 15 wideouts. Wonderlic of 11. “He has the best chance to (bust) because he is not a mental giant,” a third scout said. “He learned what they wanted him to do there, and they used him all over the place. I just think if he goes to the wrong team and they pencil him in as a Z or an X and don’t utilize him moving around, I think he’ll struggle. He’s really more of a running back that’s a wideout. He’s not super fast. He’s a little bit like Cordarrelle Patterson.” From Warren, Ark. “You’re going to have to develop him a little bit,” a fourth scout said. “The (concerns) are slot only, limited exposure, route-running ability, his 40. But he plays really fast.”
6. JAHAN DOTSON, Penn State (5-10 ½, 181, 4.44, 1-2): Started 38 of 42 games in a four-year career. “I’d rather have Dotson at the top of the second than Olave or Wilson (near) the top of the first,” said one scout. “He’s a very similar player.” Finished with 183 receptions for 2,757 (15.1) and 25 TDs. “Really good NFL deep speed,” said a second scout. “Good eye focus. Makes over-the-shoulder catches. Can get off the jam even lining up on the line of scrimmage as an X. Has some shake and acceleration inside and has the quickness to avoid the jam outside.” Solid punt returner with a 13.5 average in the last two seasons. “He’s better than KJ Hamler,” said a third scout. “Plays smart and aware. Instinctive, diminutive playmaker. He’s just small.” Wonderlic of 14. “Just a guy,” a fourth scout said. “I don’t see what people are making of him. He’s just OK. They scheme him open. Average size, average athlete. Does everything kind of average.” From Nazareth, Pa.
7. SKYY MOORE, Western Michigan (5-9 ½, 191, 4.44, 2): Third-year junior, three-year starter. “I compared him to Deebo,” one scout said. “He’s an athletic slot. He ran powerful, explosive routes. He has good hands. He can set a guy up once he had the ball in his hands. He had some games this year where he lit it up. It wasn’t just, you kind of chalk it up to kind of the MAC shit. He had good games against Pitt and San Jose State.” Finished with 171 receptions for 2,482 (14.5) and 16 TDs. “His hands were the biggest (10 ¼) in the class, which wasn’t surprising the way he catches the ball,” said a second scout. “He’s a tough guy, a smart player. He came on the radar late but he probably made a good decision coming out early. The combine helped him.” Compares favorably to D’Wayne Eskridge, Moore’s ex-teammate who was drafted in the second round by the Seahawks last year. “Eskridge was just a straight-line fast guy,” said a third scout. “This guy is the exact opposite. Knows how to play. He was their whole offense. I compared his run-after to a mini-Deebo Samuel because he breaks so many tackles. He’s just a player.” From New Kensington, Pa. “I ain’t seeing it,” a fourth scout said. “He’s a small slot receiver that doesn’t do returns. I don’t see an outside receiver because he’s not big or fast enough. I just don’t see the top-end speed, even at the pro day. I saw kind of an average guy.”
8. JOHN METCHIE, Alabama (5-11, 189, no 40, 2-3): Third-year junior, two-year starter. “More smooth, than fluid,” one scout said. “He’s got release quickness, crisp route runner, instinctive runner. More short and intermediate production with some deep-ball ability. Competitive and tough on screens. Will catch in a crowd. Reliable and steady. I didn’t see real elite deep speed or a second gear. He’s a No. 3 with the flexibility to play inside or out. Possibility to be a No. 2.” Suffered a torn ACL in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. “The injury will hold him back,” said another scout. “I don’t know what he’d run. Nobody will know. You find out after you draft him. He’s a solid receiver. He won’t bust.” Was born in Taiwan, and also lived in Ghana and Canada. Played high-school ball in Hagerstown, Md. “Real dude,” said a third scout. “He’s a little faster than that (possession). More of a combo guy. Inside-outside-X-Z-slot. Can do it all.”
9. GEORGE PICKENS, Georgia (6-3, 200, 4.51, 2-3): Third-year junior led the team in receiving as a freshman non-starter. Finished with 90 catches for 1,347 (15.0) and 14 TDs. “He’s not a speed guy like Olave but he does have enough speed to run the full route tree,” one scout said. “He make catches at the high point. He can develop into a No. 3 rotational starter. Kind of a boom-or-bust prospect. A lot of his issues come off the field. Work habits, how he’s going to fit on a team. His talent level is up there with guys in the second and third round but a lot of people have him further down because of his football makeup and personal character.” Was thrown out of one game and suspended. Removed from one team’s draft board because of off-field issues. “Very talented,” a second scout said. “There’s some boom or bust with him. The injury, and being sort of coddled at Georgia … there’s maybe some football character concerns.” Suffered a torn ACL in 2021 spring practice and missed the first 11 games of the Bulldogs’ title season. “He’s got great ball skills,” a third scout said. “I wouldn’t take him in the second. He’s got a big ego. He’s not a bad guy.” A fourth scout said Pickens was his top-rated receiver coming off 2020 tape. “I kind of squashed him a little bit,” said a fifth scout. “He’s got talent, a shitload of talent. But Georgia receivers never pan out.” From Hoover, Ala.
10. ALEC PIERCE, Cincinnati (6-3, 208, 4.44, 2-3): All-around athlete from Glen Ellyn, Ill., where he also participated in volleyball, track and basketball at Glenbard West. “He’s big and fast,” said one scout. “Straight-line and rigid, but he plays big and with urgency. He’s not really a good route runner but he can get down the field. He’s got decent enough hands. He won’t be a playmaker on the ball. He looks like he has that backup-special team temperament that you need. I’d take him probably third round, but somebody might jump on him earlier because he is big and can run and you can develop him. People still get enamored with that (size).” Finished with 106 receptions for 1,851 (17.5) and 13 TDs. “If you just watch his workout, you kind of think he’s sort of just a guy,” a second scout said. “But he is a gamer, man. He’s a physical receiver who isn’t afraid to take a hit. He’ll go up and get it. His workout was a little disappointing. His testing was pretty good, but he dropped some balls. He does have small hands (9), which shows up every once in a while on the quicker stuff where he has to track it and react quick. But on back-shoulder fades and jump balls, he’s all over that stuff. Excellent, excellent makeup. Played well in big games. Notre Dame. Ohio State a couple years ago.” His vertical jump of 40 ½ inches led the position. Wonderlic of 27. “I like him but he certainly doesn’t play to his speed,” a third scout said. “Not explosive. One speed, no burst. It wasn’t like they really relied on this guy. He was similar to London in that he was very strong in traffic.”
11. CHRISTIAN WATSON, North Dakota State (6-4, 208, 4.32, 2-3): Lightly recruited out of Tampa, he redshirted in 2017 and caught just nine passes in ’18 before starting for three years. “He’s a beautifully sculpted mold of clay that’s going to have to be developed,” one scout said. “He’s got the skill set and traits. Unfortunately, he played in an offense that runs the ball and never showcased his skills. He’ll be a really good slot receiver in the NFL.” Posted a career-best 43 receptions in 2021, pushing his career numbers to 105 receptions for 2,140 (20.4) and 14 TDs. His 40 time and Wonderlic score (38) were the best among the top 12 wideouts. “Reminded me a lot of Marquez Valdes-Scantling,” said a second scout. “Another 6-4 guy who ran 4.3. He’s going to need a lot of polish. Issue I have is, he played at North Dakota State and at one point he had a top-3 quarterback (Trey Lance) and he was never a dominant player. He had a lot of really good flashes but he never dominated. Most of the corners at that level are running 4.6, 4.7. Maybe some of that had to do with the offense. Guys with those traits that come from that level, like Vincent Jackson, they dominate.” His 11-4 broad jump led the position. “He doesn’t play as if he knows how to play or play aggressively,” said a third scout. “He plays like a small-school guy that’s got some decent tools. He’s a fifth-year guy so I don’t know how much upside he has. He’s a linear, straight-line, build-up speed guy. I don’t see him as a starter.”
12. DAVID BELL, Purdue (6-1, 209, 4.69, 3): Declared a year early after starting 26 of 29 games over three seasons. “Dynamite football player,” one scout said before the combine. “Routes, ball skills, sneaky after the catch because he’s instinctive. He just can’t run. I’d be shocked if he breaks 4.6. You can have one guy like him in your wide-receiver room.” When Bell barely broke 4.7, another scout lowered his grade by three rounds. “It’ll be hard for some teams to even consider him with that kind of number,” he said. “He’s definitely good enough to give a shot to. I think he’ll ultimately be fine in the NFL because he runs good routes and has good hands and is able to create enough separation. But speed is real, and it does make a difference.” Finished with 232 catches, fourth in Boilermakers’ history, for 2,935 (12.7) and 21 TDs. “I didn’t see much in him,” said a third scout. “He catches a ton of balls because they scheme him a lot. Just one gear. Never gets separation. Has to push off. Drops the ball for being that kind of guy.” From Indianapolis.
13. JALEN TOLBERT, South Alabama (6-1, 193, 4.52, 3): Suffered a knee injury as a freshman in 2017 and redshirted. Played four seasons, starting the final three. “Baseball player,” said one scout. “Went there to play both. Then he hurt his knee and focused on football. He’s a good fit for this West Coast offense all these teams are running because he is very versatile. He makes plays. You cannot discount this kid’s playmaking ability. Second round is a little rich, but people will be all over him in the third. He’s sturdier than the top guys. He’ll be close to 200 (pounds). Little more rocked-up than those other guys. I like him as an underneath guy and I think he runs good enough to get over the top.” Finished with 178 receptions for 3,140 (17.6) and 22 TDs. Wonderlic of 27. “He’s got really good hands but he had too many concentration drops,” another scout said. “He tries to run too much before the catch. He’s basically their entire offense. He is talented.” From Mobile, Ala.
14. TYQUAN THORNTON, Baylor (6-2 ½, 183, 4.30, 3-4): Ran the fastest 40 by a wideout this year. “I know he’s skinny as a stick but I see quickness and great speed,” said one scout. “He’s explosive. He can get vertical. He’s just got to get stronger and put on some weight, but those are things you can do. He’s a big-play threat waiting to happen. He’s a better version of Darius Slayton or Will Fuller. What (Henry) Ruggs was. He’s got that caliber impact. But this guy can actually run routes.” Has tiny hands (8 ¼). “That league (Big 12) does have some speed and he just ran by people,” said a second scout. “Quick feet, loose hips, good change of direction. He runs through the deep ball. A lot of guys try to lunge at the deep ball. He doesn’t get his arms up until the last minute.” Finished with 143 receptions for 2,242 (15.7) and 19 TDs. “Just smooth,” a third scout said. “Just an immature kid. I think once he gets into a pro camp he’ll be fine. He looks like more of a track guy than a football guy. Looks like an 800-meter guy.” From Miami.
OTHERS: Khalil Shakir, Boise State; Calvin Austin, Memphis; Wan’dale Robinson, Kentucky; Kyle Philips, UCLA; Erik Ezukanma, Texas Tech; Justyn Ross, Clemson; Danny Gray, Southern Methodist; Bo Melton, Rutgers; Kevin Austin, Notre Dame; Braylon Sanders, Mississippi; Velus Jones, Tennessee; Makai Polk, Mississippi State; Charleston Rambo, Miami; Romeo Doubs, Nevada; Jalen Nailor, Michigan State; Tre Turner, Virginia Tech.
1. TREY McBRIDE, Colorado State (6-3 ½, 245, 4.56, 1-2): With scouts guessing he would clock between 4.7 and 4.8, he stunned them with the 4.56 at pro day after electing not to run at the combine. “If he had run 4.7s I’d have been happy,” one personnel man said. “Now that he ran 4.55, he might go at the very end of the first round. I’ve been a fan of his for three years. I knew he would be undervalued. He’s going to walk in and be a Day 1 starter. Led his high school (Fort Morgan, Colo.) in home runs, played basketball, he’s done it all. Everybody knew that the ball was coming his way and he still caught 91 passes (actually 90) and dropped three.” Three-time team captain. “There’s nothing I don’t like about him,” said another scout. “You could say lack of height. Blocking might be the best part of his game. He is freaking tenacious. He’s also reliable and sure-handed. He’s not as long as (George) Kittle. I see more Kyle Juszczyk. H-back, fullback, bad ass.” Finished with 164 catches for 2,100 (12.8) and 10 TDs. Wonderlic of 18. “I compared him to a mini-Jason Witten in that he’s not a naturally gifted athlete but he’s very, very efficient, has excellent feel and really good hands,” said a third scout. “Not a blow-the-top-off explosive tight end but he knows how to get open and is going to catch everything. He was their offense. Without a doubt (he’ll start).” His hand size (10 1/8) tied Jeremy Ruckert for the largest at the position.
2. JEREMY RUCKERT, Ohio State (6-5 ½, 251, no 40, 2-3): Backed up for three seasons before becoming a starter last year. “He was underutilized, but it wasn’t his fault,” said one scout. “They had two first-round wide receivers and two more coming next year as well. He just kind of got lost in what they do. He was their sixth option. He is a really good athlete. He can move. He’s got good hands. McBride is a better player right now, but Ruckert probably has more to work with. Taller, longer, bigger.” Suffered a foot injury at the Senior Bowl and won’t run or work out for scouts before the draft. “He’s good at everything, great at nothing with the exception being his hands,” said another scout. “I think he has the best hands in the draft. He’s not going to be a matchup issue but he can run routes. He’s not going to be a threat but he’ll do dirty work. He improved a lot as a blocker. He’s not a bona fide ass-kicker but he tries. He’ll be a good, solid No. 2 (tight end).” Finished with 54 receptions for 615 (11.4) and 12 TDs. Wonderlic of 24. “He’s the most complete tight end,” a third scout said. “Really good football player.” From Lindenhurst, N.Y.
3. GREG DULCICH, UCLA (6-4, 242, 4.73, 2-3): Walked on in 2018 and redshirted, caught eight passes in ’19 and was put on scholarship in early 2020. “Like him the best because he’s a vertical receiver,” said one scout. “He had a 17.3 average this year and 19.9 last year. Somehow, he separates from people and makes big plays. He makes a good run and pass block effort. Not real strong but he does stick his nose in there.” Two-year starter with 77 receptions for 1,353 (17.6) and 11 TDs. “Liked his attitude,” another scout said. “He was a captain after walking on. This kid’s got something to him. He may not be a great player but he’ll be a backup.” Wonderlic of 36. “He’s a seam guy and he gets in the way as a blocker,” said a third scout. “He’s got really nice hands. I don’t think he’s got explosive quickness but he’s pretty good. Consistent. Like him.” From Glendale, Calif.
4. CHARLIE KOLAR, Iowa State (6-6 ½, 248, 4.62, 3-4): Most productive tight end in Cyclones’ history. “Not dynamic in any way,” said one scout. “One of those dependable, beat-zone sort of guys. Blocking is OK. He’s good enough with it. He gets his face on people and gives some effort. He will be a system production guy, never a star.” Won the Campbell Trophy (academic Heisman) in 2021. Graduated with a 3.99 grade-point average in mechanical engineering and has done graduate work in finance. His 39 on the Wonderlic was surpassed at the position by his teammate, Chase Allen. “He’s almost too smart for his own good,” a second scout said. “He questions everything. A lot of people don’t like him because of the way he comes across. He questions the coaches. He just wants to know everything. You don’t want to fault the guy for that but sometimes that rubs the wrong way.” Grew up near the Oklahoma campus in Norman but wasn’t recruited by the Sooners. His arm length (34 ½) tied Jelani Woods for the longest at the position.
5. CHIG OKONKWO, Maryland (6-2 ½, 243, 4.56, 3-4): Played off the bench for two seasons before missing all of 2020 after being diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). Sidelined for six months before returning to start 13 games in 2021. “He’s one of my favorite down-the-line guys,” one scout said. “He can play fullback. He’s not a true on-the-line tight end but he’s very athletic and can be a mismatch against linebackers in the passing game. He plays hard. This kid has a chance to be a good situational player.” Caught 77 passes for 717 (9.3) and eight TDs. “There’s a Delanie Walker element to him,” said a second scout. “He’ll never be the traditional guy with his hand down in line but he can separate. He’s got the best speed and athletic ability ratio. A Jonnu Smith-type athlete with receiving upside and run after the catch.” From Powder Springs, Ga.
6. JELANI WOODS, Virginia (6-7, 252, 4.64, 3-4): Signed with Oklahoma State as a quarterback but shifted to tight end during a redshirt year in 2017. Started 28 games for the Cowboys from 2018-’20 but caught just 31 passes. “No issues when he left Oklahoma State,” said one scout. “He wanted to play in a more pass-oriented offense. He’s really just learning the (tight end) position. He ran a good time. He’ll make it.” Had a big single season for the Cavaliers. Finished with 75 catches for 959 (12.8) and 12 TDs. “I’d rather take a chance on him because there are some prototypical traits there in terms of great size,” said a second scout. “He might be the one guy in the class that could be a true Y, in-line tight end that can actually run a little bit. There’s more potential with him than some other guys. Has a chance to be in the same mold as Darren Fells or Leonard Pope.” Paced tight ends in the vertical jump (37 ½) and on the bench press (24 reps). From Ellenwood, Ga.
OTHERS: Cade Otton, Washington; Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina; Daniel Bellinger, San Diego State; Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin; James Mitchell, Virginia Tech; Gerrit Prince, Alabama-Birmingham; John Fitzpatrick, Georgia; Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M; Cole Turner, Nevada; Grant Calcaterra, Southern Methodist; Peyton Hendershot, Indiana; Chase Allen, Iowa State; Teagan Quitoriano, Oregon State; Austin Allen, Nebraska.
Wan’dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky: At 5-8 and 179, he’s one of the smallest wideouts on the board. Thus, it was shocking to see him throw up the bench-press bar 19 times (at 225 pounds), more than any wideout. He ran 4.44 and tested well, too, but his arm length (27 5/8) was the shortest at the position. He’s a slot receiver with instant acceleration. His spotty return production must increase for him to enjoy a legitimate career.
Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M: Until scouts looked at their stopwatches at pro day in College Station, he was regarded as one of the top 10 tight ends. When the reading showed 5.02, his stock collapsed. At 6-4 and 257, he looks the part. A three-year starter, he became the most productive tight end in Aggies’ history. Maybe it’s as a free agent, but it’s hard to believe a talent like this won’t get an NFL shot.
SCOUT TO REMEMBER
Jack Faulkner: When he died on Sept. 29, 2008 in Newport Beach, Calif., the 82-year old still was working as pro personnel administrator for the Rams. Faulkner was an approachable and genial presence in NFL press boxes for years as he performed his scouting duties. In a football career that spanned seven decades, he originally joined the Rams in 1955 as an assistant coach under Sid Gillman. When the franchise departed LA for St. Louis in 1995, he was one of the few Rams’ employees that continued to work out of Orange County. Three of his 59 NFL seasons (1962-’64) were spent as coach-GM of the Denver Broncos. He was a native of Youngstown, Ohio.
QUOTE TO NOTE
NFL executive in personnel: “I would say about one out of every five (players) we interviewed this year brought up mental health as an issue they’re having. They’re very open with it. If I was trying to get a job, I would never reveal that. Kids wear this mental health badge as a badge of honor.”