The football adage “defenses win championships” largely holds true for everyone except the quarterback. If you happen to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, the loss of just about every game can come back to haunt you (just ask Tom Brady).
Of course, quarterbacks don’t carry the offense by themselves. Without someone in which to throw the ball, even all-time greats like Joe Montana and John Elway might not have had such impressive careers.
Wide receivers are regarded as one of the most important offensive positions in the game – outranking running backs and tight ends. Before entering the 2018 NFL draft, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about the standout WRs making their professional football debuts this fall. From how this crop of recruits compares to some of the best players in the game today to who you can expect to go first in their class (and where they might land), we’ve got everything you need to know. Want to get a leg-up on your own fantasy draft this year? Keep reading to see which players should be at the top of your list.
Best of the Best Wide Receivers
In 2017, three rookie wide receivers made their way to the first round of the NFL draft. Similarly, four teams also selected wide receivers with their first-round picks in 2016. While seven players earned top slots over the last two seasons, only one player is widely expected by sports analysts to go into the first 32 picks of the 2018 draft: Calvin Ridley.
Ridley, a senior out of Alabama, will be 23 years old when he’s drafted at the end of April. In a game where your shelf life as an active player might only net you three or four good years, Ridley is old for the draft by some standards. By comparison, the other four most impressive wide receivers in this year’s draft (including Jordan Lasley and James Washington) are only 21 years old. A few of the current elite WRs, Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins, were drafted when they were 20.
Also expected to be drafted within the second and third rounds are Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk and Maryland’s D.J. Moore. Both players have one crucial element in common: they’re under 6 feet tall. Pulling in at 5 feet 11 inches, both would-be rookies are shorter than many of the leading WRs they might be playing against. Still, Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton (both 5 feet 10 inches tall) have proven height might not be anything but a number to wideouts in the NFL.
If you’re a collegiate football player looking to go pro, you could have up to four years worth of tape for scouts and reporters to mull over. Of course, your college career isn’t the only way to stand out on the path to the draft. Among other things, players are also evaluated by how well they perform in the NFL combine. Even though drills like the 40-yard dash don’t occur naturally in the game, scouts and coaches are still watching closely at the numbers players post to help determine their potential value in the pros.
These seemingly meaningless variables can help decide the future of an athlete’s career. Calvin Ridley might be at the top of most prospects’ draft sheets, but he didn’t pull the fastest speed during the 40-yard dash.
D.J. Moore had both the highest vertical (39.5 inches) and fastest 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds). For a full comparison, he managed to jump higher than Odell Beckham Jr. in his draft (just 38.5 inches) and run faster than Julio Jones by one-tenth of a second. While Beckham and Jones were both drafted in the first rounds of their drafts, Moore is widely expected by experts and analysts to drop to the second round.
Skills on Skills on Skills
Unlike some other sports (most notably the NBA), football players must be out of high school for at least three years before being eligible for the NFL draft. Of course, not every player plays all three years, and often a player’s last year in college is his most notable. Players look for peak performance in their last year as college athletes before attempting to go pro. In the case of the 2018 wide receiver draft class, excellence is certainly a part of the equation.
Of the five most highly regarded wideouts in the 2018 draft, three managed to post over 1,000 receiving yards in their final college seasons. Two, James Washington (13) and Christian Kirk (10), had double-digit touchdowns.
One of these five pro-hopefuls managed to score more career yards and touchdowns in college than any other rookie or top-rated pro athlete today: James Washington. With over 4,400 receiving yards and 39 career touchdowns, this Oklahoma State WR outshined pro stars like Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton when they were in college and may have the chance to compete against them as a professional himself.
The People’s Wideout
Given everything we know about their college careers and combine performances, which of these potential stars would fans most want on their teams? According to the more than 300 NFL fans polled, the choice was clear: Nearly half voted for Calvin Ridley.
Experts are quick to point out that Ridley is fast on the field, a skill that can’t be undersold when you’re being chased down by professional cornerbacks in the NFL. He knows how to break tackles before his opponents realize he’s gone, and his size only helps lend to his evasiveness in the game.
Nearly half of fans might want Ridley for themselves, but only one team will hand him their jersey on April 26. The Colts are in need of a WR, but it isn’t their most pressing concern. The same goes for the 49ers, Bills, and Packers. So where will he land? Even though Dez Bryant is shaking the dirt off and brushing up on his route skills, the Dallas Cowboys (19th overall in the draft) might have the biggest need for wideouts this year. And really, can you ever have too many world-class weapons on offense? If anything, Dak Prescott probably won’t mind.
Drafting, Your Way
No matter which players your team takes when they get on the clock, everyone is looking for the same thing: an edge. Whether your team of choice gets one of these great wide receivers, a new quarterback, or even a fresh-faced running back to help carry the ball into the end zone, Fanatics has your back. Get your jerseys ready for the new season at Fanatics.com.