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2017 Rookie Preview - First Round Wide Receivers

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Three receivers were taken in the Top 10, but which will have the best rookie season?

One of the biggest surprises of the 2017 Draft was the selection of three wideouts in the first nine picks. Despite being viewed as a somewhat weak class before the draft, this marks the first time since 2005 that three receivers were taken in the top 10. After underwhelming campaigns from the rookie receivers in 2016, with only one player recording 700+ yards, how will the 2017 class fare?

Corey Davis – Titans – 5th Overall

Davis played against mostly lower-level competition at Western Michigan and put up incredible numbers, finishing his career as the NCAA’s all time leading receiver with an absurd 5,278 yards. Many were looking forward to his workouts to better gauge his athleticism, but an ankle injury held him out of the combine. This didn’t deter the Titans from surprisingly taking him with the fifth pick, hoping that he can develop into the number one receiver that former early round picks Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham never developed into. 

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Davis should soon be at the top of a receiving corps currently led by Rishard Matthews, who is coming off a career year, and newly acquired Eric Decker. The Titans mostly utilized the run heavy “12” personnel the past two years, but there is reason to believe a more pass-happy attack is on the horizon. The departure of blocking specialist TE Anthony Fasano, progression of Marcus Mariota, and addition of Davis suggests that coach Mike Mularkey is ready to air it out more in 2017. 

Davis figures to serve as the X receiver given his good size and excellent route running. While we don’t have a definite idea of his raw athleticism, it is obvious that he is a smooth athlete and has excellent ball skills. The biggest question for Davis will be if he has enough long speed to stretch defenses, an element that the Titans offense is currently missing. As Mariota continues to ascend, Davis should quickly become his favorite target and an integral piece of the Titans offense.

Mike Williams – Chargers – 7th Overall

Williams’ collegiate career was an absolute roller coaster. After nearly seeing his career end after a neck injury in 2015, Williams bounced back to have a huge season in 2016, culminating with a national championship. The Chargers want to get the most they can out of Philip Rivers’ twilight years, and giving him a big, athletic target like Williams will help. 

After injuries to Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams were forced atop the Chargers depth chart and played surprisingly well, putting up over 1,800 yards between them. However, none of these players have the raw talent of Mike Williams. Williams will immediately remind Chargers fans of Vincent Jackson, a former favorite target of Rivers, with his ability to box out defenders and high point the ball. Williams and emerging tight end Hunter Henry could potentially create a duo reminiscent of the Jackson-Antonio Gates pairing that put up huge numbers for the Chargers in the mid-2000s.

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Unfortunately for the Chargers, Williams may be forced to miss training camp and a significant portion of the season due to a back injury. Training camp is vital development time for rookies, but doesn’t necessarily spoil Williams’ shot at a strong rookie campaign. In 2014, Odell Beckham Jr. missed most of his inaugural training camp and his first four games before putting up one of the most prolific rookie seasons in NFL history.

John Ross – Bengals – 9th Overall

Washington’s speedster exploded onto the scene after breaking Chris Johnson’s 40-yard dash record with a blistering 4.22 time. He’s much more than just a track star, as his 17 TDs was the most among Power Five conference receivers. He has strong hands and catches the ball away from his body, ran a full route tree at Washington, and obviously has home run potential on every play. I see a lot more Brandin Cooks than Ted Ginn Jr. in Ross. Image title

However, given his lackluster measurables at 188 lbs and 8 ¾” hands, and his injury history (surgery on both knees, including a torn ACL), it was surprising to see Ross off the board this early. An obvious concern will be his ability to get off the line. Alabama’s physical corner Marlon Humphrey (who Ross will now face twice a year as a Raven) bullied him at the line all game, limiting him to five catches for only 28 yards in his final collegiate game. This will surely lead to NFL corners jamming Ross as the line early and often.

After five consecutive winning seasons, the Bengals faltered in 2016. One season removed from losing receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, it was clear that the Bengals needed to add another offensive weapon. Adding a player with Ross’ ability to take the top off defenses will allow Tyler Eifert (when healthy) to work underneath while simultaneously alleviating safety pressure off A.J. Green. After working with an “arm strength guru” this offseason, Andy Dalton‘s arm is reportedly stronger than ever, which is great news for Ross. 

If he stays healthy, Ross could be the missing piece that can boost their offense back to the playoffs.

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Brian Kang.

SQuiz
Who was the last WR to be selected 1st overall?
Created 7/20/17
  1. Jerry Rice
  2. Randy Moss
  3. Calvin Johnson
  4. Keyshawn Johnson

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