Scouting top Fantasy Football WR and TE prospects in 2017 draft

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/24076/" data-ylk="slk:Mike Williams">Mike Williams</a> of Clemson is one of the top receiving prospects in the draft. (AP)
Mike Williams of Clemson is one of the top receiving prospects in the draft. (AP)

Our friends at PlayerProfiler, an advanced stats and metrics-focused site, outline the strengths and weaknesses of the top receiver and tight end prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. Reviewing prospects through an analytical prism, the PlayerProfiler team examined each receiver’s and tight end’s comparable players and range of outcomes in the NFL, as well their short and long-term upside for Fantasy Football.

Corey Davis, Western Michigan (PlayerProfiler #1 WR)
Height: 6-3
Weight: 209
Age: 22.2
Best Comparable: Jordan Matthews

Davis owns a place in college football history record books with 5,285 career receiving yards. He also owns the record for career games (27) with 100 or more receiving yards.

Despite the historic numbers, the combination of being hidden away in the MAC and unable to participate at the combine due to an ankle injury have worked against Davis.

Academic struggles caused big schools to pass on Davis, but he provided an immediate impact as a true freshman for the Broncos with 941 receiving yards. From there, Davis rattled off three consecutive seasons in which he exceeded 1,400 yards. Last year, Davis was able to reach 1,500 yards to go along with 19 touchdowns. It’s these types of strong returns from Day 1 that earn a receiver a 95th percentile Breakout Age (18.7) and 96th percentile College Dominator (51.6 percent) – College Dominator Rating for wide receivers calculates a receiver’s share of team receiving yards and touchdowns.

[More scouting reports for Fantasy Football prospects: QBs | RBs]

As previously mentioned, Davis missed the combine and had to skip Western Michigan’s pro day while he rehabs from an ankle surgery that was performed in January. Even with the issues ahead of the draft, Davis has a chance to become the first wide receiver taken. If not, he still figures to become just the second wide receiver from the MAC to be selected in the first round, joining Randy Moss from the 1998 draft class.

-Eric McClung

Mike Williams, Clemson (PlayerProfiler #2 WR)
Height:  6-4
Weight: 218
Age: 22.5
40-Yard Dash: 4.59 (31st percentile)
Speed Score: 102.3 (74th percentile)
Burst Score: 115.8 (24th percentile)
Best Comparable: Josh Gordon

They say things come in threes, and with Williams that’s very true. For starters, he’s the third wide receiver with that very name to enter the NFL since 2005. He’s also very likely to become the third active wide receiver from Clemson — following DeAndre Hopkins in 2013 and Sammy Watkins in 2014 — to be taken in the first round of the draft.

Williams played in 38 collegiate games, amassing 177 receptions for 2,727 yards and 21 touchdowns. During his final year at Clemson, Williams was tied for fifth in the nation with 98 receptions. All those grabs resulted in 1,361 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. That includes his performance (8 catches, 94 yards, TD) in Clemson’s victory against Alabama in the title game.

Before hoisting the trophy, Williams first had to overcome a season-ending neck injury that he suffered in the first game of the 2015 season. As a sophomore the year prior, Williams emerged from the shadow of Watkins to amass a team-high 1,030 yards. The injury occurred when Williams struck the goal post while coming down with a touchdown in the back of the end zone. Thankfully, surgery was not required and Williams showed no ill effects in 2016 while recording the third-most receiving yards in a single season at Clemson.

Even though a fast time in the 40-yard dash was not expected from one of the biggest receivers in this year’s draft class, Williams turned in a 4.5 time on Clemson’s friendly home surface. Williams did give us an average number of reps on the bench press and an average distance in the broad jump. Sadly, an abysmal vertical jump caused Williams to tank his Burst Score all the way down into the 23rd percentile.

The scouting reports make it very clear that Williams wins by using his 6-foot-4 size and long arms in order to make contested catches. Despite the poor vertical, he was tall enough to leverage his advantage in stature to high point the ball against college defenders. Tape watchers have also noted instances where Williams displayed agility when adjust his body to reel in errant throws from Deshaun Watson.

With Davis not being able to participate in the combine due to an ankle injury — as well as being a four-year player hailing from a small school — Williams seems to be the top receiver on draft boards throughout the scouting and mock draft community.

-Eric McClung

JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC (PlayerProfiler #3 WR)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 215
Age: 20.3
40-Yard Dash: 4.54 (48th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 101.2 (71st percentile)
Burst Score: 115.3 (21st percentile)
Best Comparable: DeAndre Hopkins

Smith-Schuster was a 3-year starter at USC before declaring for the NFL Draft following his true Junior season. During his time as a Trojan he amassed 213 receptions, 3092 receiving yards to go along with 25 touchdowns.

Smith-Schuster’s finest collegiate season came as a Sophomore when he finished No. 16 in the country with 89 receptions, No. 4 with 1,454 yards and No. 15 with 15 touchdowns. During that season, he posted a similar stat line to fellow draft hopeful Corey Davis and even bested the numbers posted by Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints.

Smith-Schuster’s final season at USC could be considered a disappointment as his stats regressed across the board except for his touchdowns, which shows his nose for the end zone. Some of the blame for the disappointing numbers can be attributed to a back injury that slowed him as did the departure of Cody Kessler, his quarterback during his first two seasons.

Smith-Schuster is a precocious talent who made an immediate impact on the field during his true freshman season as evidence by his 18.8, 93rd percentile, Breakout Age according to Playerprofiler.com.

Smith-Schuster had a solid combine as his 4.54 40-yard dash time tested in the 49th-percentile, which gave him an impressive 101.2 Speed Score (71st-percentile). His size and speed allow him to rack up yards after the catch.

While not an explosive athlete, Smith-Schuster’s underwhelming Burst Score of 115.3 is in the 21st percentile, Smith-Schuster wins with strong point-of-catch and physical play. He is a refined route runner and uses his size well to shield defenders from making plays on the ball a la DeAndre Hopkins, who also happens to be his most comparable player.

While not the biggest or best athlete in the draft class, Smith-Schuster should find himself a home in the NFL as possession receiver who can do most of his damage after the catch against smaller defensive backs as well as in the painted area where touchdowns mean fantasy points. Smith-Schuster should be the third or fourth receiver off the board.

-Craig Wambold

Chris Godwin, Penn State (PlayerProfiler #4 WR)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 209
Age: 21.1
40-Yard Dash: 4.42 (88th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 109.5 (88th percentile)
Burst Score: 124.2 (68th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.01 (70th percentile)
Catch Radius: 10.14 (75rd percentile)
Best Comparable: Pierre Garçon

Godwin was a three-year producer at Penn State, and really took off his sophomore year of college when he exploded for 69 receptions for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 16.0 yards per catch.

He closed out his career with 154 receptions, 2,421 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns all while averaging 15.7 yards per catch. His College Dominator rating of 34.9 percent (66th percentile) is above average for a player at his position, and his 19.5 Breakout Age puts him in the 77th percentile among NFL wide receivers.

Godwin had one of the more impressive days at the combine, posting a 4.42 40-yard dash (88th percentile), 109.5 Height-Adjusted Speed Score (88th percentile) and 10.14 Catch Radius (75th percentile). His most impressive workout metrics is his 128.3 SPARQ-x Score which puts him in the 95th percentile among wide receivers at the NFL level.

With sure hands and good size, Godwin projects to be a productive player for whatever team he goes to. His 6-foot-1, 209-pound frame is enough to matchup with most NFL cornerbacks, and his explosion will leave him with plenty of speed to burn and ability to get open.

Affectionately dubbed by some scouts and fans as “Allen Robinson 2.0”, Godwin appears to fit that bill pre-draft. Had he stayed one more year at Penn State, we could be talking about Godwin as a potential first-round pick, but the 21-year old will instead turn into a later round steal for one lucky team.

-Zachary Krueger  

Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech (PlayerProfiler #5 WR)
Height: 5-11
Weight: 199
Age: 22.2
40-Yard Dash: 4.46 (75th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 97.8 (61st percentile)
Burst Score: 126.7 (80th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.53 (13th percentile)
Catch Radius: 9.87 (23rd percentile)
Best Comparable: Sterling Shepard

Henderson may very well be the most dominant receiver prospect you never heard of. He finished his final season at LA Tech with 82 receptions for 1,535 yards, No. 5 in the country, and 19 touchdowns, tied for No.1 with Corey Davis. Henderson’s profile is one of the most exciting of this year’s class.

Henderson is best securing short passes and using his 126.7, 80th percentile, Burst Score to pile up yards after the catch. Henderson also excels on deep balls where he can use his 4.46 40-yard speed to blow past defenders anticipating the short routes. Henderson also used those YAC skills as a kick returner where he was named Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2016.

Henderson did not have a supreme combine. His 11.53 Agility Score was 12th percentile and his 97.8 height-adjusted Speed Score was 60th percentile. He will need to overcome these deficiencies as well as his underwhelming 9.87 Catch Radius, which is 23rd percentile.

Let’s hope that this productive, older one-year wonder can put his doubters at the next level to rest and take the path of his most comparable player Sterling Shepard, according to PlayerProfiler.com. Henderson needs to prove he’s not a flash in the pan. If he’s able to show he has staying power, he could be a steal in the later rounds of the NFL draft and for your fantasy football team.

-Craig Wambold

Next three receivers …
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State (PlayerProfiler #6 WR)

Height: 5-11
Weight: 196
Age: 20.6
40-Yard Dash: 4.31 (99th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 110.5 (90th percentile)
Burst Score: 122.4 (58th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.42 (21st percentile)
Catch Radius: 9.99 (46th percentile)
Best Comparable: Randall Cobb

John Ross, Washington (PlayerProfiler #7 WR)

Height: 5-11
Weight: 188
Age: 22.3
40-Yard Dash: 4.22 (100th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 115.3 (95th percentile)
Burst Score: 129.4 (86th percentile)
Best Comparable: Mike Wallace

Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky (PlayerProfiler #8 WR)

Height: 5-11
Weight: 203
Age: 22.0
40-Yard Dash: 4.50 (65th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 96.3 (54th percentile)
Burst Score: 123.0 (60th percentile)
Agility Score: 10.78 (92nd percentile)
Catch Radius: 10.01 (50th percentile)
Best Comparable: Doug Baldwin

Tight Ends
David Njoku, Miami (PlayerProfiler #1 TE)
Height: 6-4
Weight: 246
Age: 20.7
40-Yard Dash: 4.64 (80th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 105.6 (74th percentile)
Burst Score: 132.1 (96th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.31 (79th percentile)
Catch Radius: 10.30 (92nd percentile)
Best Comparable: Virgil Green

In two years at Miami, Njoku was only credited with nine starts yet averaged 16.6 yards per reception on 64 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns in 22 games. That earned him a 76th percentile College Dominator rating. In one game against Duke, he only caught two passes but made the absolute most of them resulting in a 76-yard touchdown and a 58-yard touchdown.

Njoku turns 21 in July, and we all know by now that we should be tempering expectations on rookie tight ends.  Yes, even one coming from the school that also produced Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham, among other notable tight ends hailing from The U.

But it’s really hard to not get excited about an elite athlete like Njoku. To this point, he’s gotten it done by simply crushing smaller defenders with his speed and his size. Njoku can get by as an adequate blocker, especially if he adds some weight. Nonetheless, this is a physical freak that is best utilized when lined up detached from the formation and asked to run down the seam in order to make contested catches for big gains aided by his 98th percentile arm length.

At the combine, Njoku drew from his high school days on the track team to obliterate the broad jump and vertical jump for a 96th percentile Burst Score. He also ran a 4.64 in the 40 — good for 80th percentile among tight ends — and also recorded a 79th percentile Agility Score.

While far from a finished product, Njoku checks all the boxes that NFL teams want to see from someone in this new wave of athletically-gifted receiving tight end. The team that misses out on O.J. Howard in the first round be very tempted to select Njoku as a consolation prize.

-Eric McClung

O.J. Howard, Alabama (PlayerProfiler #2 TE)
Height: 6-6
Weight: 251
Age: 22.3
40-Yard Dash: 4.51 (96th percentile)
Height-adjusted Speed Score: 123.9 (98th percentile)
Burst Score: 113.0 (27th percentile)
Agility Score: 11.01 (98th percentile)
Catch Radius: 10.20 (85th percentile)
Best Comparable: Greg Olsen

There’s always a handful of “can’t-miss” prospects in every draft, go ahead and consider Howard one of them. If his comparison to superstar tight end Greg Olsen isn’t enough for you, then hear out the rest of his profile.

As a four-year player for the Crimson Tide, Howard made an immediate impact for Nick Saban, starting five games as a freshman in 2013. He hauled in 14 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging a ridiculous 19.2 yards per catch. As a sophomore, Howard put up similar numbers, posting 17 receptions for 260 yards, but failed to find the end zone.

During his junior year in 2015, Howard finally had an opportunity to shine, hauling in 38 receptions for a career high 602 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He followed up his junior year with another productive senior season, where he recorded 45 receptions for 595 yards and a career high three touchdowns.

Playing offense for Alabama seldom yields productive seasons for tight ends, as they are more often called to run block for a backfield that features elite running back prospects. Considering that Howard is viewed to be an elite tight end coming out of Alabama should speak volumes about him, and the fact that Saban thought enough of him to develop him into something other than a run blocker.

Howard was already viewed as an athletic freak prior to the combine, and did not disappoint when all eyes were on him. The 6-foot-6, 249-pounder stood out head and shoulders among a very deep tight end class, posting a 4.51 40-yard dash (96th percentile), 123.9 Height Adjusted Speed Score (98th percentile), 11.01 Agility Score (98th percentile) and 10.20 Catch Radius (85th percentile).

While Howard’s pass-catching prowess will make him an attractive option to NFL teams in today’s pass-heavy offensive attacks, his run-blocking ability is just as solid. While there is still room for Howard to improve in all aspects of the game, his measurables and explosiveness alone should make him a first-round pick.

Barring any setbacks, Howard should find himself in a starting role come Week 1. Howard should transition easily to most pro style offenses, and could turn into an immediate impact player among all tight ends in the league.

Fantasy owners will look forward to turning him into late-round gold next year.

-Zachary Krueger

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