The crown jewel of the dynasty community is the stud WR. While in recent memory running backs have reigned supreme as the top picks in rookie drafts, it’s the WRs who dominate the first round of start-ups due to the longevity of their career and peak excellence. It’s only fitting that every year there are WRs who people say are the next big thing. People are always saying “He’s the next Antonio brown” or “The next Julio Jones”. I personally hate these people, there is no such thing. These guys are once in a generation talents that don’t even deserve the disrespect of being even compared to a rookie no matter how dominant they look. This year there is a near consensus top 3 WRs with ranging pedigrees and skillsets.
Courtland Sutton, a 6’4 receiver out of SMU. A 4-star recruit at safety, who switched to WR and redshirted his freshman season quickly emerged as a big play, sweet handed, potential touchdown machine at the NFL level. The quote “Next Julio Jones” is a big target, uses all of his 6’4, 215lb frame to body opposing corners and assert his dominance on the field. He had a down year in 2017 posting 68 receptions for 1085 yards but still managed 12 touchdowns. While in 2016 posted 76 receptions for 1246 yards but only 10 touchdowns. No matter where he goes he’s going to be a QBs best friend in the red zone, but is he worth his top 3-5 rookie price and what is his ceiling? As far as his skills, he’s got above average hands, the ability to go up and make spectacular plays, but catches with his body a little more than I’d like. Sutton has breakaway speed, can run routes well and has big-play ability supported by his 16 yards per reception. He isn’t the best in open field, doesn’t have the agility and quickness to make guys miss that a smaller WR would have but not a statue out there either. He’s a legit #1 talent.
Calvin Ridley is a 6’1 receiver from Alabama. A 5-star prospect, #1 recruited WR out of high school. The guy has been labeled a stud since he was 18 years old but to some hasn’t lived up to the hype. Much like alumni Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, there were years both had decreased production due to inferior competition and suspect quarterback play. Ridley had his best year as a freshman, breaking out at just 20 years of age for 89 receptions for 1045 yards and 3 touchdowns. Calvin Ridley is another victim of being on a run-heavy offense and not having the best QB at his disposal but nevertheless produced quite well in 2017. Up to this point through 13 games, Ridley accumulated 59 receptions for 935 and 4 touchdowns. On the surface, it doesn’t look great, but for a 15.8 average, nearly identical to that of Courtland Sutton. Where Ridley has an edge is his speed, quickness and in my opinion hands. He can catch anything, run any route, find a hole in the zone, locked and loaded at the next level as a go-to chain mover. Despite his advanced age, at 23 he might be readier for the NFL than some of the younger guys. Sounds like I’m describing a slot receiver, doesn’t it? Well trust me, he has the potential to be way more than that. The only concern is about him getting held up in press coverage. At 190 lbs doesn’t have the frame Sutton does but really makes up for it in the open field with his footwork which for me is very important. Playing in the SEC, which spits out all pro-DBs like nobody’s business, he’s playing against good competition every week and should be a shoe-in as a top NFL draft pick given his pedigree and solid college production.
Third in this big three is James Washington. A guy I didn’t know squat about until this year. He’s 5’11, 205 lbs and literally looks like an RB out there. Playing in that air raid offense at Oklahoma state he put up numbers that are unbelievable. Where I fall out of love is the fact that he stems from the Big 12. The conference of ZERO defense where the guy literally averaged 21 yards per reception. What the hell is that?! To be fair he had easily the best QB of the three in Mason Rudolph who is ranked as a top 5 QB, depending on where you look he could be a few spots lower. Washington put up 74 receptions for 1549 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017. He’s got above average hands, can separate downfield and has moderate playmaking ability. James can run routes decently well, I just don’t see him bringing much after the catch ability to the next level. He’s a big guy, but I see him going down easily if he doesn’t slim down and gets faster and more agile. His stats are ridiculous though, which has given him a big boost to a lot of people. I’ve even heard people saying he could replace Dez Bryant as the Cowboys #1 option. How someone who is 5’11, 205 and built like a running back can replace someone who is 6’2, 220 and had 19 touchdowns at the same school as a sophomore is crazy to me. I just don’t see this guy being anything more than a middle WR2 at best and boom or bust at that. He had a fantastic season, but I feel he’s really overvalued right now and his stock will fall after the combine.
For me, I like to judge consistency against competition and use some basic metrics along with the eye test to evaluate WRs. Everyone has their own skills they look for, but for me, I want a guy that is day in day out consistent. I looked at the three players against top 50 defenses and the field to determine how they fared against better competition in 2017.
|Vs Top 50 D||4||4||84||2|
|Vs Non-Top 50 D||9||6.4||134.8||11|
|Vs Top 50 D||6||4.5||72.7||2|
|Vs Non-Top 50 D||7||4.6||71.3||2|
|Vs Top 50 D||2||4||61.5||2|
|Vs Non-Top 50 D||11||5.5||87.5||10|
Firstly, James Washington had success no matter where he went but it was significantly harder for him when playing against a better defense. For those who are aware of the Iowa State defense, he only had 1 catch for 25 yards vs them but had 6 for 153 and a TD against TCU another top defense. Undoubtedly, he has that ability to perform against the top defenses which are good to see when looking to the next level, and clearly beat up on inferior competition, but he was SOOO efficient. It is hard to know if that level of efficiency or something close to it can continue in the NFL, making him worth a top pick. I don’t think it can, or will, period.
When analyzing Ridley to me it is astounding his stats are mirrored no matter who he plays. Part of this I think is attributed to the crimson tide run game which absolutely beat up inferior opponents making Ridley not overly involved in the game plan. You can look at this lack of dominance either way, but his consistency speaks for itself. His mass is a concern regarding his ability to assert himself against the more physical corners but his footwork and hands are undeniable. All these Alabama receivers seem to have trouble getting in the end zone, but each had undeniable talent coming out of college and Ridley is no exception. I’m not overly concerned about his ceiling especially when he’s projected near the back of the 1st in rookie drafts for now. He’s going to be a late riser I hope because people need to take notice that the big WR is going out of style. The days of the prototypical receiver are transitioning and the big stars have to be quick and fast enough to run routes from everywhere, not just live outside, which is why I love Ridley.
Courtland Sutton is everyone’s favorite prototypical stud WR. I wasn’t really a big fan prior to looking deeper into him. I thought he had a few very spectacular catches that people saw and said ‘WOW’ which is great but I don’t care about that. I need a guy who can run routes really well catch any pass and makes plays day in and day out. He goes up and high points that ball, and is athletic enough to complete the process. I know he can do all of that so I don’t really have any concerns about Sutton at all. I just hope he goes somewhere with an established QB because I don’t think he has the IT factor to do it on his own. UBER TALENTED, but not enough to do it on his own.
When comparing the BIG 3 I was also able to gather some target data for some of the years, this is very, very, difficult to find for college because it’s not a regularly tracked statistic and has to be done independently. The target share numbers through 9 games were as follows; Calvin Ridley, 40% target share in 2017, up 10% from 2016 when he still had a 30% target share. Second is Sutton, who managed a 27% target share in 2017, down slightly from 30% in 2016. James Washington had a 24% target share in 2017, which may not sound like a lot, but caught 67% of those targets, only adding to how hyper-efficient he was this season. Ridley has a target share that should make you confident he can handle a large share at the next level and when he catches 63% of his passes why wouldn’t you give him lots of targets.
After all this, I feel I’ve walked out the same way I’ve always felt, but I hope along the way I swayed people with some stats they may not have expected. Ridley should be your first target because he’s got the safest floor with a lot of upside. Think Emmanuel Sanders with Jarvis Landry+ type upside because of his height. Sutton will go higher in most drafts because of his prototypical size and knack for the spectacular but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. Easily, he’s got the highest upside but think of the Michael Crabtree with Andre Johnson upside where it may take him some years but he will be a major contributor for 4-5 years of his career. Washington you should leave until mid 2nd at best. Let someone else take him and bust on their roster, not yours, he was a product of the system, he didn’t make the system what it was.