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2023 NFL Draft: Wide Receiver Positional Primer

2023 draft season is approaching! It's time to examine this class carefully before using those coveted '23 rookie picks. @FF_Hulsey reveals his Top 12 in this WR Positional Primer.

The calling card of the 2023 NFL Draft class may be running back, but don’t sleep on the wide receiver position. This rookie group is packed with impact prospects and plenty to debate about over the next several months. Who is the WR1? Is this class undersized? Will the household names rehabilitate their stock before the draft? These storylines will continue to surround this wide receiver class.

With the emergence of elite cornerstone NFL receivers, the league has been flooded with top playmakers at the position. This group appears to have an impressive mix of top-end talent and depth. We are here to ensure you take a level-headed approach to your rookie preparation, so you don’t miss out on the next superstar talent. Examine this class carefully before it’s time to use those coveted 2023 rookie picks.

1. Quentin Johnson | TCU | 6’4” 215 lbs

The WR1 debate is white hot right now, and Johnson is making his best case for it every week. His physical traits are unmatched in this class, and his trajectory as a prospect has me ready to move Johnston ahead of other top receivers. He is still relatively new to the position and has made massive strides every season at TCU. I think the production concerns were always overblown. Leading up to 2022, he produced at a high level relative to his team’s offensive output. As TCU has ascended, we are seeing the production that many knew was inevitable from Johnston.

With his skill set, size, and reports of his already running a verified 4.4 40, I think he is a Day 1 lock. With what we know now, I would mock him somewhere between picks 10 and 20 (Chicago, Green Bay). I love the Dez Bryant comps that have started popping up. As a receiver, he wins in a very similar way by dominating at the catch point. Johnston offers a ceiling that no other receiver in this class can match. I will start considering him at fifth overall in my dynasty rookie drafts.

2. Jaxon Smith-Njigba | Ohio State | 6’1” 200 lbs

Smith-Njigba was my WR1 coming into the 2022 season. I am still confident in my evaluation of him, but there are some legitimate questions. JSN injured his hamstring against Notre Dame, and his snaps have been very limited since then. That kind of rocky start does not concern me much, considering all that he proved as a prospect leading up to the season. What concerns me with JSN is how many scouts and draft analysts have come out and said the NFL does not view Smith-Njigba as a first-round talent. I think it’s mostly noise, but it gives me pause when I hear industry leaders mention that JSN would have been the eighth receiver off the board last April.

Let’s keep in mind that we are talking about a player who, as a sophomore, outproduced Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. I think JSN’s draft stock is relatively insulated based on what he did last year and the success of other Ohio State receivers from this coaching staff. He still has plenty of season left to build off his record-setting sophomore season. I also take note when a player like Garrett Wilson calls JSN the best he’s ever seen.

3. Kayshon Boutte | LSU | 6’0” 205 lbs

Boutte received a pass for his lack of production when LSU was struggling, but now the offense is rolling, and he’s still mostly a no-show. Boutte’s production has been on a decline since his freshman season. There are some major questions, so this is strictly an upside play based on his superstar potential. Boutte projects as a complete playmaker who can impact all levels of the field. He has the alpha skill set and size profile in a class that lacks physical prototypes.

When producing, Boutte’s film speaks for itself. He is an explosive game-breaker with many outcomes extending to dynasty WR1. We have to hope that his lackluster season is due to the nagging ankle injury or general disinterest. It seems like things have improved, but there was a lot of friction between Boutte and Brian Kelly this summer. That might explain him mailing it in early in the season. With LSU in the driver’s seat of the SEC West, Boutte will have opportunities to vault himself up big boards again. It’s also important to note that he will be one of the youngest rookies at 21 years old when he debuts.

4. Jordan Addison | USC | 6’0” 175 lbs

Everyone’s favorite riser at the position over the past 12 months has continued to dominate at USC. Over his past 19 college games, Addison has averaged seven receptions for 110 receiving yards per game. He was productive as a freshman but has gone nuclear since the third week of his sophomore campaign en route to a Biletnikoff Award.

Addison is lightning-quick off the line of scrimmage, can play in the slot or outside, and is a master route runner. At 6’0” and 175 lbs, he has a similar frame and play strength to DeVonta Smith. Addison is destined to be a WR2 at the next level, which is why he’s a tier-two prospect for me in this class. I think the receivers ranked ahead of Addison have a more complete profile with a higher range of outcomes.

5. Josh Downs | North Carolina | 5’10” 175 lbs

Downs is one of my favorite prospects to evaluate in this class and someone I expect to have several shares of. Yes, his size is a valid concern, but he is as gifted as any receiver in this group. Downs has elite footwork, quickness, and hands with skills that translate to the next level. I think he is a borderline first-round selection in the NFL Draft and one of the best second-round picks you can make in dynasty rookie drafts. If he was 191 lbs. instead of 171, I think Downs is squarely in the WR1 conversation.

There are two legitimate knocks against Downs right now. One is size; the other is the system he comes from at UNC. Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome are a combined 17-299-2 in their NFL careers from the same system. North Carolina has produced zero impact receivers… ever. Around pick 13-15 in rookie drafts, I am willing to take the chance that Downs hits as one of the best slot receivers in the game.

6. Cedric Tillman | Tennessee | 6’3” 215 lbs

One of the biggest risers in the devy community this summer was Tillman, coming off a breakout 1,081-yard season as a junior. Along with his 6’3″ frame, he showcases excellent ball skills and hands. Another major strength is his ability to fight through contact to make the catch. Many in the community were hyping Tillman as a top-five receiver in this class. This is mostly just noise until April because so much of Tillman’s stock will depend on his draft capital. One thing I love about his game is how well he adjusts positionally and uses his frame against defenders. Tillman has been fighting through an injury this season, but he should be 100% back and looked strong against Georgia last weekend. I expect him to produce at a high level for the rest of the season and gain momentum heading into the draft season.

7. Zay Flowers | Boston College | 5’10” 172 lbs

Another prospect I will likely be higher on than consensus is Flowers. He is uber-athletic and ruins defenders in one-on-one situations. Nearly identical in size to Downs, the biggest knock against Flowers will undoubtedly be his frame. Again, I am not willing to bet on him as a size outlier in the first round of rookies drafts, but late in the second round? You betcha. Flowers is a threat to all levels as a field stretcher and a major run-after-catch threat. He continues to produce at a high level through inconsistent quarterback play and multiple stretches with the backup. I am actively targeting Flowers around pick 20 in rookie drafts.

8. Rashee Rice | SMU | 6’2” 203 lbs

When it comes to the Group of 5 receivers, the conversation begins and ends with Rice. He leads the nation in receiving yards and continues to impress week after week. I like my dynasty receivers to be bullies, and Rice is just that. His play strength jumps off the film, and he overpowers defenders at the catch point. I like his size in a class that lacks it. He has a great feel for the game and is always in a position to make a big play. This is a guy I want to bet on.

9. Jacob Cowing | Arizona | 5’11” 170 lbs

A few high-pedigree prospects from bigger schools in this range have faltered this season, paving the way for guys like Cowing to rise through the ranks. He is a plus route runner with a ton of fluidity to his game. He profiles as an impact slot receiver at the next level. Cowing was a force at UTEP in 2021 and has not slowed down since moving to the Power 5. Cowing has a 65-846-7 receiving line in nine games at Arizona so far this season. Thanks to the depth of this class, he will likely be a third-round selection in your rookie drafts.

10. Marvin Mims | Oklahoma | 5’11” 182 lbs

Enough slot guys, for now, at least. Mims is known for taking the top off a defense as one of the best deep threats in college football. I like his ball skills and ability to create leverage against defenders. His 96th percentile breakout age (18.5) is all the more reason to buy into this guy. Once again, we are talking about a receiver that weighs under 180 lbs. I think managers can stomach that a bit more with a later-round pick. Mims’ value will swing drastically one way or another based on testing and landing spot.

11. Parker Washington | Penn State | 5’10” 212 lbs

It had been a mostly quiet season for Washington until he erupted against Ohio State for 11-179-1. I entered the season thinking Day 1 draft capital was on the table for Washington, but Day 2 is far more likely at this point. There is no prospect with better coordination and body control. I love the way he absorbs contact and works for yards after the catch (see below). He hauled in another one of his patented circus catches against the Buckeyes a couple of weeks ago, showing off his mitts. Washington is set to have a productive career as an NFL slot receiver. 

12. Rome Odunze | Washington | 6’3” 205 lbs

On an explosive Washington offense with NFL talent, Odunze is the featured playmaker. His ascension as a prospect should not come as a surprise. He was a four-star recruit and produced well in his redshirt freshman season, but DeBoer’s arrival was what unlocked Odunze. He has the NFL size and length you like to see, combined with an explosive skill set and ability to beat up on man coverage. Jalen McMillan had been considered the Washington receiver to roster in devy circles, but Odunze has quickly proved to be the better asset.

Honorable Mentions

  • Rakim Jarrett, Maryland
  • Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
  • A.T. Perry, Wake Forest
  • Antwane Wells Jr., South Carolina
  • Andrei Iosivas, Princeton

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