A majority of NFL teams are expected to load up on defense in April's draft -- and rightfully so, with the sheer number of talented prospects on that side of the ball.
But ... that doesn't mean offensive players, specifically wide receivers (my favorite position), should take a back seat. Forty-eight wideouts were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and it seems pertinent to examine the high-profile prospects, as well as some under-the-radar players who could make an immediate impact in the league (the Phillip Lindsay types, if you will).
Over the next week, all of these receivers will get an opportunity to prove their worth, regardless of their eventual draft position (most are Day 2 or Day 3 prospects). The most glaring questions evaluators have about every receiver prospect are:
1) How big is the player's route tree?
2) How quickly can the player process different game scenarios?
3) How well does the player handle high-pressure situations?
The best receivers in the NFL do all of these things extremely well. This week, we could get a glimpse at the next wave of superstar receivers.
That said, what you'll find below isn't my list of the top 10 receivers in this draft class. Rather, it's the 10 wide receiver prospects (in alphabetical order) who have piqued my interest, the guys I'm most looking forward to seeing in Indy.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford: I met this kid about seven years ago at a camp in Charlotte, and it's incredible to see his growth. Back then, he was playing tight end and some flanker in the slot. Now he's a monster on the perimeter. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, J.J. is a big-bodied red-zone threat who finished with 28 receiving touchdowns in his three seasons at Stanford. He also runs precise routes and boasts a remarkable catch radius. The main question scouts have entering the combine: How fast is this touchdown maker?
Miles Boykin, Notre Dame: Boykin's a player who just keeps getting better with each passing year on the gridiron, and he still has plenty of room for growth. His one-handed touchdown catch in last year's Citrus Bowl put him on the map, and he's continued to be a receiver to watch. Boykin is in the driver's seat heading into the combine, meaning he'll move up the charts without question if he can dazzle scouts with his speed and ability to perform at a high level under pressure this week.
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss: A member of the Ole Miss "nWo" (a.k.a. "Nasty Wide Outs") since 2016, Brown has breakaway speed, great hands and he routinely high-points the ball -- attributes all great receivers possess. The 6-1, 230-pounder set the school record for single-season receiving yards (1,320) in his last year as a Rebel. I'm interested to see how precise his route running is, and if he's fluid in and out of breaks.
Hakeem Butler, Iowa State: At 6-6 and 219 pounds, Butler is a very physical receiver -- watching him play is like seeing LeBron James on the gridiron. Butler plays above the rim, and anything thrown his way is a catchable ball. Quarterbacks love players like him who make the contested catches and big-time plays. Butler's another prospect in this class who set a school record in single-season receiving yards (1,318) -- as well as yards per catch (22.0). Scouts have seen all of Butler's numerous highlights; now they want to fill in the blanks on his testable speed and agility.
Kelvin Harmon, N.C. State: Harmon's speed and physical attributes are impressive, but he still has a lot to prove. N.C. State isn't on a ton of radars, but Harmon showed up against some good competition. He has active hands and will lull you to sleep by changing his pace during routes, but after watching this kid on tape, I really believe his ceiling is higher than what we saw in the Wolfpack's system. I think he could wow some teams at the combine, showcasing skills on routes he may not have run in college and handling off-target throws with aplomb.
N'Keal Harry, Arizona State: I love what this kid brings to the table. Harry has the potential to turn a screen pass or slant into a 60-yard touchdown. It's obvious when defenders blink, because there's Harry separating in the middle of the field. Arizona State's style of offense didn't allow him to display how crafty of a runner he is, so that's what I want to see this week. Just how precise of a route runner is Harry? With a great combine, he has the potential to be a top-20 draft pick.
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo: I'm a big fan of Johnson's after watching his film. The 6-2, 211-pound wideout has breakaway speed, playmaking ability and showed up each and every game. Coming out of Buffalo, his value might not be as high as some of the other guys on this list. But talent is talent, no matter the competition. Johnson, who finished second in the FBS in 2017 with an average of 113.0 receiving yards per game, has the potential to be the next Cooper Kupp coming out of the draft. At the combine, he'll need to fill in the blanks for evaluators who didn't watch him extremely closely during the college season. He's too much of a talent to fall below the third round, in my opinion, and he could creep into the second round with a good showing in Indy.
D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss: Metcalf is a receiver who checks all the boxes. He's explosive with a big catch radius and breakaway speed, but he also displays patience at the line against press coverage. Projected to be a first- or second-round pick, Metcalf is set up to do well in Indy. And honestly, I don't think he can do wrong there barring injury, something that has affected his college career (broken foot in 2016; neck injury in 2018). The one thing I want him to answer: Does he have true Metcalf speed? I've seen flashes on film, but I'm curious to see just how fast this top prospect -- and nephew of former NFL burner Eric Metcalf -- is.
Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska: Nebraska is traditionally known to have a run-first offense, but its passing game evolved with Morgan at the center of it. With good hands and big-play ability, Morgan demanded defenses to have safety help over the top. The 6-1, 200-pound Cornhusker set the school record for most receiving yards in a single season (1,004) in 2018 and became Nebraska's all-time leader in receptions (189) and receiving yards (2,747). He's great on paper, but I'm really eager to see how broad his route tree is. How much work does he need there? Or is he polished?
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina: My first thought when watching Samuel: What a fantastic talent! His film is unbelievable, as he makes play after play. Even at 5-11, Samuel is hard to take down and requires gang tackling by the defense. Three questions he'll have to answer at the combine: 1) Is he a pure hands catcher like we see on film? 2) Is he fluid in and out of breaks? 3) What kind of pure speed are we looking at here? Samuel is a playmaker and a guy to fear on the field. I strongly believe he'll move up on some draft boards after his week in Indy -- like he did after a great Senior Bowl showing.