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Published: July 11, 2017 at 11:01 a.m.
Updated: July 11, 2017 at 06:16 p.m.

Top 10 college football receivers to watch in 2017

» Top players to watch at each position

Editor's note: NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein will reveal the top CFB players to watch in 2017 at each position over the next two weeks, continuing today with wide receivers.

NFL scouts are always looking to the CFB ranks to find next-level talent. While we won't speculate about where these potential future NFL stars will go in the draft one day, it's not too soon to take a peek at their game tape and start to stack them as the top players to watch.

Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done in evaluating each player during and after this season. Of the WRs I've studied, here are the top 10 to watch.

10 Photos Total

  • Gallup's a bounding athlete with light feet. He finds ways to get open and has a good feel for creating late space to make the catch. Has an exceptional spin move that he unleashes on would-be tacklers and his ability to stack yardage after the catch is appealing. He appears to be a step counter in his routes, though, and needs to sharpen his breaks. 10

    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    10. Michael Gallup, Colorado State

    Gallup's a bounding athlete with light feet. He finds ways to get open and has a good feel for creating late space to make the catch. Has an exceptional spin move that he unleashes on would-be tacklers and his ability to stack yardage after the catch is appealing. He appears to be a step counter in his routes, though, and needs to sharpen his breaks.

  • I really like Kirk and the way he competes. His sense of urgency is almost always higher than the man across from him and he has a deft feel for separation as the route progresses. I'm not sure how fast he is after watching the tape. At times I feel like I see it, but at other times I'm not sure he will scare defenders off the line of scrimmage at the next level. When the ball is in his hands, he's a talented runner and is almost a lock to pick up some extra yards after the catch. Kirk will be a slot-only target in the pros, which could limit his value for some teams. 9

    Aaron M. Sprecher/Associated Pre

    9. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

    I really like Kirk and the way he competes. His sense of urgency is almost always higher than the man across from him and he has a deft feel for separation as the route progresses. I'm not sure how fast he is after watching the tape. At times I feel like I see it, but at other times I'm not sure he will scare defenders off the line of scrimmage at the next level. When the ball is in his hands, he's a talented runner and is almost a lock to pick up some extra yards after the catch. Kirk will be a slot-only target in the pros, which could limit his value for some teams.

  • Weah has a big, overpowering frame that he uses as a tool to box out defenders and keep them away from the football. Weah was a sprinter in high school and has impressive build-up speed for a receiver his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds, per school measurements). He saw a whopping 13 of his 36 catches go for 25-plus yards and he averaged a touchdown for every 3.6 catches last season. Weah has experience in a pro-style passing attack and is a willing blocker in the running game. Weah's biggest concern could be finding a quick release against press corners. 8

    Jared Wickerham/Associated Press

    8. Jester Weah, Pittsburgh

    Weah has a big, overpowering frame that he uses as a tool to box out defenders and keep them away from the football. Weah was a sprinter in high school and has impressive build-up speed for a receiver his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds, per school measurements). He saw a whopping 13 of his 36 catches go for 25-plus yards and he averaged a touchdown for every 3.6 catches last season. Weah has experience in a pro-style passing attack and is a willing blocker in the running game. Weah's biggest concern could be finding a quick release against press corners.

  • Washington has been one of the most consistent vertical talents in college football over the last three seasons with a career average of 19.2 yards per catch and 26 career touchdown receptions. He's a long strider who can rip into cornerback cushions and climb on top of them quickly. Washington is a sensational ball tracker who is able to go up and come down with the deep ball with the best of them in college football. He also flashes runaway speed after the catch and can take a slant the distance if a safety makes a mistake. Washington tends to fight some underneath throws as a pass-catcher and will need additional work with the route tree once he gets to the league. 7

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    7. James Washington, Oklahoma State

    Washington has been one of the most consistent vertical talents in college football over the last three seasons with a career average of 19.2 yards per catch and 26 career touchdown receptions. He's a long strider who can rip into cornerback cushions and climb on top of them quickly. Washington is a sensational ball tracker who is able to go up and come down with the deep ball with the best of them in college football. He also flashes runaway speed after the catch and can take a slant the distance if a safety makes a mistake. Washington tends to fight some underneath throws as a pass-catcher and will need additional work with the route tree once he gets to the league.

  • One of the fastest players on the team and has the ability to yank the top off the defense with his vertical speed. Able to run away from defenders without even trying and 8 of his 26 catches went for 25-plus yards last season. Chark is very talented at finding and tracking the ball and then finishing difficult catches down the field. He also showed a willingness to work the middle of the field and take huge hits (see Chark vs. Justin Evans from Texas A&M). He's a little spindly and has to prove he can hold up against stronger cornerbacks. He also needs to run his routes with the same urgency all the time. 6

    Aaron M. Sprecher/Associated Pre

    6. D.J. Chark, LSU

    One of the fastest players on the team and has the ability to yank the top off the defense with his vertical speed. Able to run away from defenders without even trying and 8 of his 26 catches went for 25-plus yards last season. Chark is very talented at finding and tracking the ball and then finishing difficult catches down the field. He also showed a willingness to work the middle of the field and take huge hits (see Chark vs. Justin Evans from Texas A&M). He's a little spindly and has to prove he can hold up against stronger cornerbacks. He also needs to run his routes with the same urgency all the time.

  • Pettis was fun to watch on tape because his footwork and route running are so much better than most other receivers. Pettis has good initial-release explosion upfield. He runs his routes with good balance and at sharp angles. He can uncover on all three levels with rare short-area foot quickness for a receiver with his stride length. Pettis catches everything and has outstanding concentration in traffic. His five punt return touchdowns in three years will give his draft stock a boost. Pettis needs to add more muscle to his frame to help him play through contact. 5

    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    5. Dante Pettis, Washington

    Pettis was fun to watch on tape because his footwork and route running are so much better than most other receivers. Pettis has good initial-release explosion upfield. He runs his routes with good balance and at sharp angles. He can uncover on all three levels with rare short-area foot quickness for a receiver with his stride length. Pettis catches everything and has outstanding concentration in traffic. His five punt return touchdowns in three years will give his draft stock a boost. Pettis needs to add more muscle to his frame to help him play through contact.

  • A classic Clemson wide receiver with a good combination of size and speed. Cain will work the middle of the field with courage and refuses to give in to physical cornerbacks in press coverage or when they are mauling him down the field. Cain has a big second gear for vertical separation once he gets past a cornerback's edge. He is a physical presence when ball is in the air,  and 90 percent of his catches went for first downs last season. Cain uses a powerful, aggressive stiff-arm to punish tacklers after the catch and he refuses to give defensive backs a free ride before the catch, or after. Cain needs to catch the ball with consistent focus this season. 4

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    4. Deon Cain, Clemson

    A classic Clemson wide receiver with a good combination of size and speed. Cain will work the middle of the field with courage and refuses to give in to physical cornerbacks in press coverage or when they are mauling him down the field. Cain has a big second gear for vertical separation once he gets past a cornerback's edge. He is a physical presence when ball is in the air, and 90 percent of his catches went for first downs last season. Cain uses a powerful, aggressive stiff-arm to punish tacklers after the catch and he refuses to give defensive backs a free ride before the catch, or after. Cain needs to catch the ball with consistent focus this season.

  • Callaway's feet are light and electric. He shows off explosion potential early in his routes. He makes man coverage a nightmare when he's allowed to operate in space. He can get away from press coverage with ease on inside or outside releases and does a good job of playing to his top speed throughout his routes. Has extended catch radius with ability to make challenging grabs high, low or behind him. His 17 punt returns for 15-plus yards over the last two seasons simply adds to his overall value. There are questions surrounding his maturity and decision-making off the field and he needs to become more productive as a red-zone threat. 3

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    3. Antonio Callaway, Florida

    Callaway's feet are light and electric. He shows off explosion potential early in his routes. He makes man coverage a nightmare when he's allowed to operate in space. He can get away from press coverage with ease on inside or outside releases and does a good job of playing to his top speed throughout his routes. Has extended catch radius with ability to make challenging grabs high, low or behind him. His 17 punt returns for 15-plus yards over the last two seasons simply adds to his overall value. There are questions surrounding his maturity and decision-making off the field and he needs to become more productive as a red-zone threat.

  • Ridley was <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000670729/article/alabamas-calvin-ridley-leads-top-cfb-wrs-to-watch-in-2016">No. 1 on my list last year</a>, but he moves down a spot this season. Ridley still has the long speed of a human torch who is just waiting to embarrass his defender, but he needs to improve his hand fighting and body positioning this season to help him win more 50-50 balls. Ridley's long speed is exceptional, and so his his ability to separate on short and intermediate routes. His feet are quick and quiet in setting up his breaks. He has an outstanding feel for how to create lean in his defender before breaking his route off in the opposite direction. He still has room for improvement with his decisiveness as a runner after the catch. Look for big things from Ridley in 2017 with a year of seasoning under the belt of Alabama QB Jalen Hurts. 2

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    2. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

    Ridley was No. 1 on my list last year, but he moves down a spot this season. Ridley still has the long speed of a human torch who is just waiting to embarrass his defender, but he needs to improve his hand fighting and body positioning this season to help him win more 50-50 balls. Ridley's long speed is exceptional, and so his his ability to separate on short and intermediate routes. His feet are quick and quiet in setting up his breaks. He has an outstanding feel for how to create lean in his defender before breaking his route off in the opposite direction. He still has room for improvement with his decisiveness as a runner after the catch. Look for big things from Ridley in 2017 with a year of seasoning under the belt of Alabama QB Jalen Hurts.

  • Right off the bat, you know you are watching a receiver with true NFL size. Sutton is able to overwhelm smaller defenders down the field and in tight quarters. He shows an ability to play through contact off his release or down the field. Sutton has the on-field demeanor and confidence of a top-flight target. He's excellent with his subtle, calculated hand-fighting that allows for sudden, late separation on jump balls and he's very quick to locate back-shoulder throws. Sutton is a downfield receiver who isn't going to light it up with his ability to catch it and elude tacklers for yards after catch. He needs to sharpen his route running like Corey Davis was able to do headed into his senior season. However, he's big with good speed and an alpha demeanor that will lead him to a huge season. 1

    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    1. Courtland Sutton, SMU

    Right off the bat, you know you are watching a receiver with true NFL size. Sutton is able to overwhelm smaller defenders down the field and in tight quarters. He shows an ability to play through contact off his release or down the field. Sutton has the on-field demeanor and confidence of a top-flight target. He's excellent with his subtle, calculated hand-fighting that allows for sudden, late separation on jump balls and he's very quick to locate back-shoulder throws. Sutton is a downfield receiver who isn't going to light it up with his ability to catch it and elude tacklers for yards after catch. He needs to sharpen his route running like Corey Davis was able to do headed into his senior season. However, he's big with good speed and an alpha demeanor that will lead him to a huge season.

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