Top 10 receivers to chase among free agents, draft prospects


Over the next several months, the rosters of all 32 teams will begin to take shape for the 2018 season. In this series, writers and analysts look at the best players available via free agency or the NFL draft at the following positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back, pass rusher. Today, Matt Harmon looks at the top 10 receivers worth pursuing.

1) Allen Robinson, free agent

Robinson caught just one pass for 17 yards with Jacksonville before a torn ACL forced him to take an early exit from the 2017 football proceedings. His recovery pace and current health status will be major factors as teams, including the Jaguars, decide where his worth lies. However, among this crop of wideouts, Robinson's resume includes easily the best NFL season: In 2015, he caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns. Robinson is a dangerous downfield threat when at his best, with over 50 percent of his yardage that season coming on passes of 20-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. He's shown the most potential for greatness among all the receivers set to hit the market this offseason. Yet, it's likely he never makes it there, as reflected by his placement at No. 3 on Gregg Rosenthal's list of the most likely candidates to receive the franchise tag. If he gets free and his knee checks out, teams should shove each other out of the way to pitch Robinson on working with their quarterbacks for 2018 and beyond.

2) Jarvis Landry, free agent

Receivers as consistently productive as Landry rarely hit the open market, and yet, it feels all but certain that the 2014 second-round pick will test the free-agency waters this offseason. Landry has averaged an even 100 receptions per season since he joined the Dolphins four years ago, and he enters 2018 having just posted a career-high nine touchdowns. He certainly has a compelling case to be called the NFL's best slot receiver. Since he's not a traditional outside No. 1 wide receiver, the market for Landry will be one of the more fascinating stories to watch in the early goings of free agency. It appears whatever price Landry has in mind for himself, it's already too rich for the organization that's known him best.

UPDATE: Landry will not hit free agency, as the Dolphins announced Tuesday they've placed the franchise tag on him.

3) Sammy Watkins, free agent

The Rams could elect to use the franchise tag on Watkins, who is ranked fourth on Rosenthal's list of tag candidates, just behind Robinson. While Watkins didn't crack 600 yards in 2017, Los Angeles gave up a second-round pick and a starting cornerback to pry the wideout away from Buffalo last preseason. The ship has likely sailed on Watkins ever being the player the Bills imagined when they traded up to draft him fourth overall in 2014, but there's no doubting his ability to help an offense, especially as a big-play threat. Of the four Rams receivers with 70-plus targets last season, Watkins led in yards-per-catch with 15.2. And Jared Goff posted a 93.1 passer rating when throwing to Watkins in tight windows, per Next Gen Stats, ranking fourth last season. Several teams will find the idea of securing his services quite tantalizing, should he find a way out of L.A.

4) James Washington, draft prospect

Having amassed nearly 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns combined over his final two collegiate seasons, Washington enters the NFL with a notable resume, and the Oklahoma State product will be one of the top players selected at the position in the 2018 NFL Draft. Washington has great build-up speed and was a vertical playmaker in college. He's also a combative receiver, both with the ball in his hands and when tracking misplaced passes down the field. The NFL Scouting Combine will be a good test to not only see exactly where his timed speed falls, but how he checks out in agility drills. Washington shows the skills to find his way onto the field as a big-play threat and possibly develop into a quality starter. So far, he's been my favorite receiver prospect to watch.

5) Calvin Ridley, draft prospect

The wide receiver out of Alabama looks like an overall clean prospect. Ridley's 967-yard final season doesn't look all that impressive when stacked up with other players, but he was the only pass-catcher to clear 300 yards on the Crimson Tide's 2017 offense. Not bad. Ridley's strong technical discipline as a route-runner could pave his way into a rotation early in his career. He can struggle a bit with contact in physical coverage, but that can be alleviated by playing at the flanker position in the NFL and operating off the line of scrimmage. All six of our draft analysts have Ridley mocked in the first round, but with a wide projected range in which he'll be picked. Ridley has the profile of a long-time starting No. 2 receiver in the pros.

6) Paul Richardson, free agent

Coming off the best season of his four-year career, Richardson is one of the more appealing under-the-radar free agents. Known for highlight-reel flashes in big moments and injuries prior to 2017, Richardson put it together this season to finish second on the Seahawks in receiving yards (703), tacking on six touchdowns. What Richardson does best is rare and valuable: win the ball in tight coverage down the field. The 6-foot, 183-pound receiver averaged 27.3 yards per reception on catches where he had less than a yard of separation, per Next Gen Stats. If Robinson and Watkins don't hit the open market, Richardson makes an ideal consolation prize (who should come at a lower price) for teams seeking a starting split-end receiver.

7) John Brown, free agent

One of the top reclamation projects in a free-agent receiver market full of them, Brown comes with a good amount of intrigue. The 27-year-old has a 1,000-yard season on his resume and looked to be ascending to star status with the Cardinals before lower-body injuries ravaged the last two years of his career. After being diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle-cell trait, Brown hasn't been able to escape the injury report. He's dealt with hamstring, toe, back and quad maladies since the start of the 2016 season. However, it's plain to see that Brown is a gifted player, and he demonstrates it every time he hits the field. In addition to being a dangerous vertical threat, he's a clean route-runner who creates separation at all levels. Signing Brown is a risk worth taking for a receiver-needy team this offseason.

8) D.J. Moore, draft prospect

With "11" personnel dominating the league today and "slot receiver" no longer being a pejorative term, Moore finds himself set to enter the NFL at the perfect time. He snaps away from defenders in a flash at the breakpoint of his routes and is comfortable dealing with traffic. Some of Moore's best work comes with the ball in his hands, and the loosely defined term "grit" will get thrown his way during draft season. His game is quite reminiscent of Lions receiver Golden Tate, who has hit 90 catches in each of the past four seasons with Detroit. Moore could carve out a similar career, should he find the right fit. The former Maryland Terrapin, who entered the draft following his junior season, looks like a strong Day 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

9) Courtland Sutton, draft prospect

Sutton stands out, both among his peers in this receiver draft class and the players he lined up against in college. And he does so because he's big. Sutton was listed at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds at Southern Methodist University, and he looks every bit of it when you watch him on film. Sutton can box out opposing defensive backs at the catch point, and that could make him a threat in the contested-catch game early in his pro career. Some will question his play speed, but Sutton has such long strides he can eat up chunks of yards in a hurry if he gets rolling. There's room for growth in Sutton's game, especially as a route-runner. If, with his frame, he becomes a consistent technician, he can access tantalizing upside. Sutton's stock feels like something that will be the subject of great debate in the coming months.

10) Donte Moncrief, free agent

You can tell yourself a pretty convincing story that the lack of a true breakout in Moncrief's career has been due to one stroke of bad luck after another. Moncrief looked ready to take the next step with the Colts after usurping a finished Andre Johnson in 2015, but it never happened, for one reason or another, as he totaled just 698 yards over the last two years. We've seen different sections of the puzzle piece since, but the full picture is still quite scattered across the floor. A fractured shoulder suffered in mid-September derailed his 2016 season, even though he would still show well in the red zone with seven touchdowns. He was only useful in the deep game in spurts last year without Andrew Luck, as 36.8 percent of his yards came on throws of 20-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. And yet, there's some merit to the idea of chasing whatever's left untapped inside this clearly talented 24-year-old receiver, should he hit the market. Teams will weigh taking a cheap flier for the potential home run of Moncrief against paying the beefy market value to hit a double with Marqise Lee.

One more for the road: Terrelle Pryor's one-year stint in Washington did not, to put it kindly, go as planned. After a deafening amount of offseason hype followed his signing, Pryor offered 20 catches in 2017 and lost his starting job to Josh Doctson before an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve. However, Pryor was legitimately good in his 1,000-yard campaign with the Browns in 2016 and still offers a unique skill set that's worth taking a low-risk chance on. He's yet another receiver teams will weigh against signing someone with a bit more dependability. Rumors are already swirling that he will return to the Cleveland, which makes plenty of sense for all involved.

Follow Matt Harmon on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.



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