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2021 NFL Draft: the wide receiver awards

Running through the superlatives of the 2021 wide receiver draft class.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we gave out awards for the linebacker prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. In this post, we’ll continue to work through more draft prospects by identifying the skills in which they excel — this time, looking at another position of need for the Kansas City Chiefs: wide receiver.

As with tackles, there are specific traits in which linebackers can excel. Each team will value these traits differently — and that will play a significant role in how they see these players as prospects. Thus, handing out awards for the specific skills draft prospects display can be very revealing.

Wide receiver awards

Best possession WR

The traditional “X” wide receiver (or the possession receiver) role is what this reward is based around. Simply put, on a third-and-medium play, who is the receiver that is most trusted to get open while being positioned along the line of scrimmage in the most variety of ways?

Rashod Bateman | Minnesota

Rashod Bateman checks off all the physical traits one would want from an “X” receiver. Bateman is listed at 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds, and he showcases quality play strength. What he lacks in pure physicality, he makes up for with his body control and ability to slide through contact without being re-routed. His can play big and above the rim generates one of the largest catch radiuses in the draft class.

Bateman has excellent footwork off the line of scrimmage which allows him to beat press coverage on a consistent basis. With a wide array of moves to release both to the inside and outside, he can easily get leverage on a cornerback and has the explosion out of his break to open up a throwing lane to the quarterback.

Bateman gets this nod over some other big-bodied receivers or even other better separation artists because of his ability to win in both ways.

Day three player: Austin Watkins | UAB

Best deep-threat receiver

This award is self-explanatory, with one thing to keep in mind: this isn’t just about speed but also the ability to track the football, stack a defender and the capacity to secure the catch in a few different ways.

Dyami Brown | North Carolina

Dyami Brown may be the best receiver who a lot of people may not have heard of until recently, as he’s picked up a lot of buzz. Brown has amassed 2,133 yards over the last two years while averaging over 20 yards per catch during that time. His deep speed is on the high end but where he really creates space on a vertical plane is the ability to attack a cornerback’s leverage and then stack them behind own body.

Brown has the speed to run right by some cornerbacks, but where he stands out is his capability of threatening the inside/outside and jab-step before crossing their body and getting behind them. He constantly works into the blind spot — directly behind the cornerback in which they can’t see him — before making his final break and accelerating out ahead of them.

It’s the combination of speed and the nuance of the vertical route stem that makes Brown so dangerous. Even when cornerbacks may be in contention at the catch point, he has the skill to play above the rim and make the contested catch.

Day three player: Marquez Stevenson | Houston

Most dynamic

This award is combining the ability to win both vertically but also to take any possible touch to the house. Most dynamic could also be called most dangerous — either way, this is the player that is most likely to make a big play on any single snap.

Jaylen Waddle | Alabama

Jaylen Waddle was probably a lot of readers’ best guess for the best deep threat — a role in which he is also good at — but there are some flaws to his vertical route-running ability. Where Waddle is not flawed is churning out massive play after massive play. Waddle has been the most dynamic player in college football the last couple of seasons.

Waddle has the kind of speed that allows him to simply outrun a lot of cornerbacks on deep routes and the change-of-direction skills to make guys miss in the open field. Six points are always within reach when he’s on the field and while he may not be the most polished at putting himself into the position to cash in on the big play, the potential is there from anywhere on the field.

Day three player: Jaelon Darden | North Texas

Most technical

Now we take the opposite approach and turn our eyes to the most technical or polished receiver in the draft class. This award is going to the most technically advanced player. That’s the best route runner, the best zone knowledge, the player with the ability to run the most routes on the field, etc.x

DeVonta Smith | Alabama

Alabama’s second wide receiver makes this list as DeVonta Smith is a pretty easy choice for the most technical in this class. From his ability to run clean routes on all three levels, his understanding of defensive coverage and the way he is able to win with subtle hand-fighting at his route stem, he does it all.

Smith may not be the fastest receiver, the biggest receiver or the most explosive, but he is always open for a reason. He even brings the same level of technical prowess to the catch point, where he is always approaching the football in an advantageous way. From full extension to tucking the ball into his turn upfield, there really isn’t much to fix in Smith’s fundamentals.

Day three player: Cade Johnson | South Dakota State

Best ball skills

The dedicated “best contested-catch award” is being altered to include ball skills as a whole. The only change is taking into consideration the capacity to secure varying types of receptions and the consistency in which the player can make those catches.

Ja’Marr Chase | LSU

We made it this far and hadn’t given our No. 1 receiver an award yet so it’s time to fix that. Ja’Marr Chase gets the award for best ball skills, as he can vacuum up every kind of pass thrown his way and has the ability to fight through contact to make the reception. Whether that means making a catch with a guy hanging on his back or elevating up and over a cornerback on the vertical plane, Chase is the likely player to come down with a football.

What ultimately separated Chase from others like Seth Williams or Tylan Wallace was his complete alpha dog mentality in regard to getting the football. He will run through a defender, go over them, slip under them — simply whatever it takes to get to any football near him. More often than not, he’s successful at it as well.

Day three player: Dax Milne | BYU


Next time around, we will be taking a dive into the EDGE class.