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Summer Scouting 2023: Wide Receivers

Taking a look at pass catchers who are entering the year on draft radars.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Summer scouting can be a rather fickle process. One of the hardest aspects that separates the college domain from the pro side is the gray area of projection and development. I think a lot of evaluators get too caught up with what they see in the immediate and struggle on how many eggs they can reliably put in the “Well this is gonna improve” basket simply because there’s so much variance from player to player. So this time of the calendar is less about nitpicky details and more about collecting names in the database while getting a feel for what archetype these players fall under.

Without further ado, here are some receivers that I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress next season.

Jordan Addison (USC)

  • The reigning Biletnikoff winner has been dominating the offseason news cycle with the new pseudo-free agency landscape college NIL has provided for the bigger name transfer players. Addison is projected to make more for the fighting Lincoln Rileys in college than he would on the rookie wage scale which is a bit jaw dropping to say the least. It’s hard to argue with Southern Cal’s motives for acquiring the young pass catcher after watching his career unfold at Pittsburgh and I’m sure the recently drafted Kenny Pickett can attest to his added value on the field. A 4-star recruit out of high school, Addison was able to see the field immediately as he proceeded to lead the team in all major receiving categories as a true freshman. That momentum kept building going into last season where he was used anywhere and everywhere(X, Z, Slot, and even some returning duties) due to Pittsburgh being fully aware that Addision was the most dangerous weapon at their disposal. All in all Addison projects to be one of the few stars in a receiving class that is a bit of a tier down from previous drafts we’ve been spoiled by. The only real concern I have with him would be his rather thin frame (listed at 6 ft. 175 lbs.). It’s not as though the league is turning their nose at these prototypes though. In fact three receivers with similar size concerns went in the first round this past draft with the Ohio State wonder twins and Jahan Dotson being selected a year after Devonta ‘Slim Reaper’ Smith became a top 15 pick. Addison has shown numerous examples of avoiding press, getting physical in the run game and showcasing his hands in contested situations. However my main pause would be the tier of defensive backs he’s played against is not the most threatening. That issue is further compounded by the fact that USC’s schedule this upcoming season doesn’t feature many (if any) enticing matchups to quell my worries.

Zay Flowers (Boston College)

  • The only person more excited to see Zay forego the NFL draft and return to school than I am is probably his injured quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Early in the season these two produced magic while working behind a solid offensive line including first round pick Zion Johnson buying time for some spectacular deep ball connections. However it was watching Flowers operate without big Phil that truly caught my eye. No offense to Chris Hogan but I am very tempted to change ‘Big play Zays’ nickname to 7-11 because he appears always open. Probably one of the more dangerous receivers after the catch, Zay acts almost like a running back in open space utilizing a nasty jump cut. His ability to consistently stop on a dime and accelerate past defenders that bite the bait is incredibly entertaining to watch. A 3-star recruit coming out of Florida, Flowers has only had eyes for Boston College and remained loyal to the program. Not only with his decision to return to the team with a healthy starting quarterback but he also reportedly turned down multiple large NIL offers to remain with the program. While his yards after catch ability is well noted I’m excited to see what kind of production he can achieve having a full season of a NFL caliber signal caller actually able to consistently deliver him the ball.

Josh Downs (North Carolina)

  • Recent Washington Commanders pick Sam Howell had a bit of a regression last season after seeing his top two options at both receiver and running back move on to the NFL. This was not Josh Downs’ fault however. The speedy wideout was one of the few bright spots on the Tar Heels offense and tied Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison for the most touchdowns from the slot in the nation. This upcoming season will probably be an even larger test for Downs as once again he must put North Carolina’s offense on his shoulders but will be doing so without Sam Howell delivering him the ball. Downs knows how to weaponize his speed to create separation and demonstrates great ability to break tackles on the rare occasions a defender takes a good angle on him. But at a tiny listed weight of 170 lbs. he shows a bit more of a bleak outlook when projecting him as an outside receiver. His light frame shows up in his run blocking which honestly made Jordan Addison’s ability stand out a tad more to me. While there is a chance he could survive on the outside as a ‘Z’ type of threat, it’s hard for me to anoint him as the next T.Y Hilton. Downs is a very difficult cover and will probably once again put up monster numbers as the primary target for this offense. But I’m very curious to see how the league will value his skill set even with the record setting inflation receivers have seen in draft capital recently.

Marvin Mims (Oklahoma)

  • Say what you will about the now Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley but I enjoy the receivers he’s recruited. The 2019 Mr. Texas Football Player of the Year is looking to elevate his league perception this year around evaluation circles to join the likes of ‘Hollywood’ Brown and Ceedee Lamb as a first round caliber wideout. Mims is the definition of a field stretcher and is at his best when working vertically. Despite being on the slighter side (5’11” 179 lbs.) Mims has zero issue playing the jump ball game and has strong hands in contested situations. Last season was supposed to be what was viewed by many as a potential breakout year where both he and former starter Spencer Rattler would take the next step in development. In reality Mims ended up suffering from inconsistent quarterback play whether it was Rattler or USC transfer Caleb Williams manning the huddle. Now being paired with a new offensive coordinator and transfer quarterback in Dillon Gabriel there are a lot of variables that could affect Mims ability to produce consistently while the offense likely goes through some growing pains. If the cards don’t fall in his favor this is somebody I could easily picture staying another year until he is satisfied with his resume. The other key that could help Mims ascend in a world where evaluators often elevate the deep threats would be his ability to consistently get off of press coverage which at the moment is the major flaw in his game aside from size concerns.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State)

  • The next in line to emerge from the crowded Ohio State receiving room Smith-Njigba left a ‘big’ba (apologies) impression on college football fans last season after his breakout performance. The former fifth ranked receiver of his recruiting class broke numerous Buckeye receiving records while lining up adjacent to recent first round picks Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Which dovetails nicely into what his overlying storyline will be this upcoming season. How much of that magical previous year can he replicate now that he is the primary concern for opposing defenses? Having the wonder twins sandwiched on both sides of Smith-Njigba really helped push him into an ideal role as a crafty slot threat that won with crisp routes and took advantage of the openings defenses gave him. More of a quick than fast athlete he was never truly asked to be the vertical stretch option in that offense and his opportunities on the outside were in a flanker capacity to minimize issues against press. Still, even as a predominantly slot receiving threat that isn’t a homerun threat there is a lot to like. Mature is probably the best way to describe his game. He has a great understanding of how to attack coverage, and plays with a noticeable spark when turning up field allowing him to maximize yards after the catch. Ultimately I’m curious to see how consistent his catching ability unfolds throughout the course of the season. For every spectacular grab he seemed to make there were multiple attempts to juggle underneath throws that weren’t even contested. I’m not opposed to taking a slot in the first round if he’s going to make Deandre Hopkins-esque catches like he did against Michigan on a more routine basis.

Ainias Smith (Texas A&M)

  • One of the few glimmers of hope for the Aggies offense Ainias Smith will be the newest subject of the “Debo Samuel role” discussion that has been en vogue with the media this past year. But this is a bit of a different story than Treylon Burks or Khalil Shakir from last season, Smith is literally listed on his Wikipedia page as a receiver/running back based on how he was utilized. At 5’10” 190 lbs., listed Smith certainly gives off the appearance of a running back especially when showing off his impressive lateral agility making cuts and showing off his explosive burst. But what truly separates Smith is that running back skill set combined with his route running. Smith just oozes with potential to be a playmaker at the next level and his dynamic athleticism is apparent from the get go when watching him. Now with Isaiah Spiller and reigning target leader Jalen Wydermyer out of College Station, this season becomes the best chance for Smith to show off his unique skill set that evaluators have already started to put a premium on.

Quentin Johnston (TCU)

  • The 14th ranked receiver in his recruiting class, Johnston is your prototypical height-weight-speed ‘X’ receiver (6’4” 212 lbs.). Like most players in his mold he ran a rather limited route tree playing pseudo flag football in the Big 12 (kidding). The Temple, Texas native is very clearly a basketball transplant when you watch him go up for contested catches. Which is something I think most draft media evaluators have grown fairly wary of after the likes of Hakeem Butler and N’keal Harry. Going into this season I would love to see more games like the Baylor or West Virginia matchups where his yards came with him running in stride as opposed to the monotonous amount of comebacks that he usually displayed his boxing out defenders jump ball acumen with.

Dontay Demus Jr. (Maryland)

  • For the first half of last season Dontay Demus looked like he was making his case to be firmly in the discussion for a mid round draft pick. Unfortunately, an absolutely brutal leg injury derailed what I thought was a promising season from Demus (you can look it up but be warned it is fairly graphic and a bit unsettling). If a step was lost after the injury I would love to see him turn a negative into a positive and begin to show off more to his game than his vertical ability that was Demus’ main calling card. While his teammate Rakim Jarrett is poised to receive a lot of attention this year if he breaks out, a healthy Demus is the Terrapin I have my eyes on.

Cedric Tillman (Tennessee)

  • Velus Jones may have gotten most of the attention but Cedric Tillman was the Volunteer that really stood out to me. A big play threat albeit not in a typical sense, Tillman wins more with quickness than vertical speed. With that observation in mind I would love to see him develop more as someone who wins in the intermediate area of the field and show off some more wiggle or agility on his breaks.

A.T. Perry (Wake Forest)

  • With the exception of Virginia’s Lavel Davis who at 6’7” moonlights as a skyscraper in the offseason, Demon Deacon A.T. Perry is likely one of the tallest receivers of this class listed at 6’5 206lbs. After a breakout campaign last year some of the biggest questions following Perry entering the year will be how much higher can he can ascend now that he will be the primary target for his offense after teammate Jaquarii Roberson moved on to the big leagues. The other burning question will be how much ceiling in his game is left to be tapped into for a prospect that will likely be a 24 year old rookie.

Kayshon Boutte (LSU)

  • The next legacy receiver in line for the Tigers Boutte has shown legitimate playmaking potential as an outside receiver. The 2nd ranked receiver coming out of high school he hopes to join the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Terrance Marshall as the next tiger to make an impact on the league. After stepping up as a true freshman after COVID opt outs during the ‘20 season Boutte had a mixed for ‘21. Despite showing some impressive flashes his season was derailed by an ankle injury after only 6 games. The biggest question going into next season will be how severe that injury was and did it take away a step since it apparently took multiple surgeries to correct. Another storyline worth monitoring would be how much of a chance to show off he will receive after the new Brian Kelly regime has taken root as Boutte was not necessarily his guy. If Boutte is able to pick up where he left off there is a good chance he could be one of the more exciting names this draft cycle as he has a remarkable propensity to track the ball in the air that reminds me of a young Sammy Watkins.