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Will the 2023 NFL Draft Produce One other Class of Elite Receivers?

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For the third straight season, the NFL’s rookie receiver class has made an instantaneous impact. In 2020, we saw Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, and a handful of others quickly break out, and in 2021 Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Amon-Ra St. Brown wasted no time in establishing themselves as future stars. This yr, teams are seeing early returns once more on receiver investments: Drake London is already the Falcons’ most efficient pass catcher, and so is Chris Olave for the Saints. Jahan Dotson has already reeled in three touchdowns; Garrett Wilson has shown he generally is a big-time playmaker for the Jets; and George Pickens, Treylon Burks, and Alec Pierce have all earned starting roles for his or her respective teams.

There appears to be a gentle stream of talented receivers flowing from college to the professionals, but no two classes are ever the identical. With the school football season now in full swing, it’s time to check out the playmakers who could headline the 2023 receiver class. We don’t yet know whether any of those guys will likely be future NFL superstars, but next yr’s receiver group has no shortage of talent. Here’s a breakdown of six receivers who could make waves within the NFL this time next yr, together with a watch list of a couple of others who could rise quickly because the season goes on.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (6-1, 200)

Smith-Njigba was hampered by a hamstring injury that limited him to simply two games this season (and he’s been quiet in those outings, reeling in just 4 passes for 36 yards), but looking back at his record-setting 2021 campaign, it’s easy to see the potential he brings to the subsequent level. The previous five-star prospect out of Rockwall, Texas, notched Ohio State records last yr with 95 receptions and 1,606 receiving yards (scoring nine touchdowns), ridiculous production that’s much more impressive if you realize he was lining up and playing alongside a pair of early first-round picks in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave (drafted tenth and eleventh, respectively). Smith-Njigba put an exclamation point on his season with 15 catches for 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns within the team’s Rose Bowl win over Utah.

Smith-Njigba isn’t the largest or fastest player on the sphere, but he has excellent body control, good acceleration, and sudden-movement skills to select up yards after the catch (he knows easy methods to use a stiff-arm in space, too). You may see a few of those traits on this catch-and-run against Penn State last season: He uses quick footwork to avoid the press, gets into his route, hits the brakes to create separation, and after catching the ball effortlessly turns up field in a single fluid motion to interrupt free for an enormous gain.

Smith-Njigba is robust on the catch point and shows a knack for catching the ball in traffic. He has incredible ball-tracking skills and knows easy methods to separate late in his route, creating room at the proper moment. That was apparent from this play on the Rose Bowl.

NFL scouts and decision makers will likely have questions on Smith-Njigba’s top-end speed and average frame, but he’s a smooth, savvy pass catcher with loads of quickness and body control to separate in any respect three levels. His production from 2021 speaks for itself. Hopefully he can get onto the sphere for the Buckeyes soon and proceed to construct on his already impressive résumé.

Jordan Addison, USC (6-0, 175)

Addison began his college profession at Pitt, where he put himself on the national map catching passes from future first-round Steelers pick Kenny Pickett. The previous four-star prospect out of Frederick, Maryland, totaled 160 receptions for two,259 yards and 21 touchdowns over two seasons there, adding 16 carries for 114 yards and a rating on the bottom. He won the Biletnikoff Award (given to the nation’s top receiver) as a sophomore in 2021 after totaling a mind-blowing 100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 scores in 14 games. Addison took his talents to USC in the course of the offseason, where he’s wasted little time syncing up with Caleb Williams in Lincoln Riley’s high-octane offense. The junior pass catcher has totaled 21 catches for 337 yards and 6 touchdowns in 4 games thus far, together with his best game coming against Stanford (seven catches for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns).

Quickness, burst, and after-the-catch creativity are three hallmarks of Addison’s tool set. Those attributes were apparent when he was making plays at Pitt:

And he’s already showing those traits off in cardinal and gold:

Addison is a smooth route runner with excellent acceleration and the form of contact balance that belies his limited size. He recurrently spins away from tackle attempts to remain on his feet and is slippery in space, keeping his legs churning to select up extra yards. He’s a dangerous deep threat with the build-up speed to take the highest off a defense. He lets a couple of passes go off his fingers, but has a big catch radius and shows competitive toughness on the catch point. He plays larger than his listed height and weight.

Evaluators can have questions on his slender frame, which shows up at times when he’s knocked around early in his routes—but there’s little doubt he has playmaking talent, and he’s on pace to place up big numbers within the Trojans offense this season.

Kayshon Boutte, LSU (6-0, 205)

Boutte’s going to be some of the interesting prospects to trace throughout the season. A former five-star prospect out of Latest Iberia, Louisiana (the no. 2 receiver within the country and twenty fourth ranked player overall, per 247Sports), he arrived in Baton Rouge facing sky-high expectations—and quickly delivered. He collected 45 catches and a team-high 735 yards as a freshman in 2020 (tallying five touchdowns), capping his season with a 14-catch, 308-yard, three-touchdown day against Ole Miss. Boutte began strong again in 2021, reeling in 38 catches for 508 yards and nine scores in only six games—but a broken ankle ended his season prematurely. His injury didn’t heal properly initially, and he had a second surgery to correct it, extending his rehab and forcing him to miss spring practices. He’s subsequently gotten off to a rough start under latest LSU coach Brian Kelly; Boutte scrubbed all mentions of LSU from his social media accounts after the team’s opening loss to Florida State, and on the sphere he’s caught just 10 passes for 93 yards in three games.

Still, Boutte has time to salvage what’s thus far been a disappointing junior campaign. With a thick, muscular construct and explosive run-after-the-catch speed, the LSU star is a threat to attain from just about anywhere on the sphere. He has the blazing speed (he was a sprinter in highschool and ran 20.87 within the 200 meters, which ranked top three nationally on the time) to take crossing routes to the home, and the dynamism to interrupt a couple of tackles and switch short catches into long plays. He showed off that skill set last yr against UCLA.

Yeah, I do know he got a bit help from an official within the above clip, but Boutte can also be technically nuanced as a pass catcher. He shows excellent awareness of the sideline and unflappable concentration to trace the ball downfield. This pair of catches against Auburn last season function prime examples.

Boutte has special physical traits, but evaluators could have concerns about inconsistencies catching the ball. That said, I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of do over the remainder of the season for LSU.

Quentin Johnston, TCU (6-4, 215)

Johnston is a former four-star prospect out of Temple, Texas, and boasts the precise form of long, sinewy frame you’d expect a former highschool state medalist high jumper and basketball star to have (my first thought was that he jogs my memory of Sidney Rice). Johnston broke out early for the Horned Frogs, catching 22 passes for 487 yards and two scores as a real freshman. He followed that up with a 33-catch, 634-yard, six-touchdown line in nine games as a sophomore, and while he’s began slowly this yr (eight catches for 73 yards in three games), there’s loads of time for him to complete strong.

Johnston is a bendy and versatile athlete who routinely reaches low or leaps up high to reel in off-target throws. He brings with him an enormous catch radius and incredible body control. He’s a protracted strider with gazelle-like speed and might pick up yards after the catch.

He’s an efficient deep option (19.0 profession yards per catch average) and is able to a circus catch, even when double-covered.

Johnston is greater than able to winning jump balls, but he’s a bit inconsistent on the catch point. He has long speed, but his long, lanky frame limits his short area quicks. Johnston’s lack of production this yr is a priority (and he’ll surely be connected to TCU’s recent highly drafted busts, Jalen Reagor and Josh Doctson), but it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back in the course of the remainder of the yr.

Josh Downs, North Carolina (5-10, 175)

Downs is fun to look at. An undersized speedster with lightning-quick feet, he’s a former four-star prospect out of Suwanee, Georgia, who dabbled in track as a prep star (ending third in state within the triple jump, and fourth within the long jump). He’s an explosive, twitched-up athlete who racked up 101 catches for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns for the Tar Heels in 2021, earning first-team All-ACC honors. He’s missed two games this season after suffering a knee injury against Florida A&M, but he’s still managed 14 catches for 110 yards and 4 touchdowns in two games of motion.

Downs’s short-area quickness and overall suddenness are the primary things that stand out. He easily discards coverage and has one in every of the nastiest whip routes in college football.

He’s also a lid-lifting deep threat and surprisingly competitive on the catch point; despite his lack of size, he’s shown the flexibility to go up high and pluck the football at the very best point—even when he knows successful is coming.

Downs is a creator after the catch and blows by defenders with burst and acceleration. He shows a very good feel for spacing and finding the soft spot within the zone. Teams will likely have some concerns about his lack of bulk, but Downs makes up for it with blazing speed and short-area elusiveness.

A.T. Perry, Wake Forest (6-5, 205)

I’d contend that scoring touchdowns is a crucial a part of playing football. A.T. Perry seems superb at this particular skill. A former three-star prospect out of Lake Price, Florida, Perry won first-team All-ACC honors as a redshirt sophomore in 2021, on the back of a 71-catch, 1,293-yard, 15-touchdown performance (tied for third within the FBS). An enormous-bodied receiver, he brings excellent coordination and ball-tracking skills. He has the foot quickness to get off press and into his route, uses shoulder leans and head fakes to sell routes, and has each legit build-up speed and talent to increase plays after the catch.

Perry has a talent for the circus catch, too. On this walk-off touchdown against Syracuse last yr, he showed excellent concentration and Gumby-like bend to achieve back and reel in an underthrown ball.

Perry isn’t essentially the most sudden athlete within the short area, but he knows easy methods to use his frame to win on the catch point or separate late. He has tallied 16 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns in 4 games this season, including a five-catch, 142-yard, one-touchdown performance against Vanderbilt. He’s a possible sleeper this yr and is on my short list for favorite receivers to look at thus far.

The Prolonged Watchlist

Those six receivers are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of prepping for next yr’s draft. I’ll be watching along and putting together in-depth breakdowns on the very best of the remainder of next yr’s draft-eligible receivers because the season progresses, but here’s a handful of names to trace within the run-up to #draftszn.

Marvin Mims, Oklahoma
Jermaine Burton, Alabama
Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia
Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland
Jayden Reed, Michigan State
Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
Rashee Rice, SMU
Rakim Jarrett, Maryland
Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State
Zay Flowers, Boston College
Tyler Harrell, Alabama
Bru McCoy, Tennessee
Charlie Jones, Purdue
Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
Chris Autman-Bell, Minnesota
Jacob Cowing, Arizona
Joe Ngata, Clemson
Jalen McMillen, Washington

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