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2021 NFL Draft check-in: potential Chiefs targets at wide receiver

A look ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft with a peek at some top wide receiver prospects.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Louisiana State Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This season, we plan to devote more posts for our readers who also happen to be NFL Draft enthusiasts. These weekly college football check-ins will focus on potential targets for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2021 NFL Draft.

If there is a college football season, the dialogue found here will include big-time matchups, top prospects facing off against each other and more.

With the uncertainty of a college football season looming, there is a chance that the last bit of actual football has been seen out of the 2021 NFL Draft class. Considering that, I wanted to kick off this series by talking about potential prospects for the upcoming draft.

The plan is to work through positions that could be of high importance to the Chiefs and provide an early watchlist of players to keep an eye on during the college football season.

2021 preseason wide receiver prospect rankings

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, we previewed the wide receiver position of the current Chiefs’ roster and noted how the team currently has a solid group. The issue is that the second and third most-targeted wide receivers of the group — Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson — are both set to be free agents after 2020.

General manager Brett Veach has made it clear that they are going to continue to provide Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes as many offensive weapons as they can. The hope is Mecole Hardman continues to develop, becoming a high-end wide receiver. Still, even if he does, his skill set doesn’t replace what Robinson and Watkins provide. It shouldn’t come as a major surprise if the Chiefs are looking for another wide receiver early in next year’s draft.

Luckily for them, the 2021 draft class is loaded.

A cut above

1) Ja’marr Chase, LSU

2) Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

LSU’s Ja’marr Chase is seen as an elite wide receiver prospect, and rightfully so after he had a monster year in 2019. Chase’s strength and fluidity stand out and overwhelm defensive backs at every level.

Rashod Bateman may have garnered less attention than Chase, but he’s right there with him. Bateman doesn’t play with quite the same level of strength as Chase does, but similarly, he’s a three-level threat that showcases natural movement skills. Bateman dominates the catch equally as well as any wide receiver in college with top-notch ball tracking and body control in the air.

What separates both of these players from everyone else is their complete game. Both players are not only three-level threats, but also profile as potential fits for any of three wide receiver positions at the next level. While neither are top 1% athletes at the position, they are more than capable of winning deep and have the body type and strength to operate as a true “X” receivers.

Top-tier players

3) Devonta Smith, Alabama

4) Rondale Moore, Purdue

5) Chris Olave, Ohio State

These three receivers are all round-one prospects but fall short of the first two. They could make that jump by showing to be a bit more polished in 2020.

Devonta Smith was the best wide receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2019 despite playing with at least two other first-round draft picks at the same position. His route running and hands are fantastic and he was often trusted as the “X” wide receiver in isolated situations.

Rondale Moore burst onto the scene in 2018 by playing out of his mind against Ohio State and throughout the entire season. He’s one of the best wide receivers with the football in his hands, showcasing elite athleticism. Similar to Tyreek Hill, Moore plays much bigger than his size.

Chris Olave probably has the most to prove out of this group, but his understanding of leverage and route stems is already great. Ohio State has been churning out well-coached wide receiver prospects lately, and Olave follows that same mold with high-end athleticism and acrobatics in the air.

Smith has been at Alabama for three years and is still struggling to break over 180 pounds, which would make him a unicorn if he goes on to have a great NFL career. His slim frame makes it hard to believe he’ll be able to continue to play as an “X” wide receiver at the next level. A lack of elite speed muddles his final fit. Moore has played almost exclusively out of the slot. Being listed at 5 feet 9 raises questions as to how he’ll handle press coverage off the line of scrimmage and win vertically down the field. As mentioned, Olave hasn’t flashed the same level of elite play as most other players on this list, and he could add some extra weight in order to handle NFL play.


6) Tamorrion Terry - Florida State

7) Justyn Ross - Clemson

8) Jaylen Waddle - Alabama

The players in this group have high potential but need to show significant improvement in at least one area of their game to justify climbing up this list.

Tamorrion Terry is the best blend of size and speed in this entire draft class and is a walking home-run threat. His ability to eat up cushion or blow by defensive backs crowding him is top-notch and that long speed also translates to yards-after-catch ability with matching acceleration.

Justyn Ross’ improvement needs to come just as much off the field as it does on the field. On the field, Ross has the best hands in the draft class but falls just a step short as an elite catch-point player. He’s been well trusted in the Clemson offense and flashes incredible releases off the line of scrimmage.

Waddle is a lot of analysts’ No. 1 wide receiver this year, and it’s easy to see why. The explosive ability and fluidity in his hips make him equally dangerous with yards after the catch and as a deep threat. He could be in for a huge year with more opportunities, given Alabama’s other receivers are moving on.

Like mentioned at the top, all of these players have a significant skill or two they need to improve upon to take the next step. Terry is a prototypical high risk, high reward prospect that relies on his athleticism over technique. There are flashes of nuance but it’s too inconsistent at this point to be relied upon. Ross recently underwent spinal fusion surgery and first and foremost needs to return to full health. Afterward, his route tree needs to be a bit more complex and has to answer speed questions with his game. Waddle simply needs to be given the opportunity to be a full-time wide receiver and showcase he can be relied on in the intermediate and deep areas of the field.

Big players who need to separate

9) Sage Surratt - Wake Forest

10) Seth Williams - Auburn

11) Terrace Marshall - LSU

This group is made up of massive wide receivers that need to separate themselves.

Sage Surratt looks incredibly fluid for his size and runs solid routes. He’s used to operating off of the line of scrimmage and his basketball background shines when attacking the ball in the air.

Seth Williams may be the best back-shoulder receiver in college football right now and looking at his physically dominating play style, it’s no surprise. His size and contested-catch ability, along with good footwork, lead some to believe he could be more than a 50-50 receiver.

Terrace Marshall is a little different than the other two, as his usage was predominantly as a deep receiver. He used his size and long strides to get on top of defenses and catch passes up and over the top.

All three of these players need to showcase talent in 2020 to go along with their size advantage. The NFL doesn’t value contested-catch, “X” wide receiver-only prospects the same way as their quicker running mates.

If one of these players can showcase a consistent ability to separate more than the other, they should take the title as the top “big wide receiver” in this class.

Until we get real college football news, this weekly check-in will mostly include preseason 2021 NFL Draft positional rankings, working through positions that could be of higher need to the Chiefs. Note — this is not a comprehensive list (or even close), but it’s a good place to start looking at the upcoming draft class.

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