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Teams Feel 2018 NFL Draft is Weak at Wide Receiver

Updated Oct. 26, 2017
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Over the past few years, NFL Drafts have featured a series of strong classes at wide receiver. The 2014 NFL Draft had five first-round receivers, the 2015 NFL Draft had six, the 2016 had four receivers taken as top-25 picks, and last year, three wideouts went as top-10 selections. The 2018 NFL Draft looks, however, poised to break the string of talented classes of receivers as scouts from around the league say that it is a down year at the position.

Surveying sources from five teams revealed the most common top receiver as Alabama's Calvin Ridley. The talented junior gets a lot of praise for his route-running, quickness, and generally having good hands. Ridley has 41 catches for 523 yards with two touchdowns on the season, but his production is held back by Alabama featuring its ground attack while using a running quarterback with passing limitations. While Ridley is the top consensus wideout, he doesn't come without some concerns as multiple sources say independently that his thin frame worries them for the NFL. He is listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, but team sources say that he has weighed in somewhere in the 180s. With that being one factor, some scouts have said they are grading Ridley as a late first-rounder. He could end up going high out of team need at a premium position.

One national scout told WalterFootball.com that if it weren't for a broken leg suffered in September, South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel might be their highest-graded receiver. Another source who likes Samuel said they had him graded similar to Sterling Shepard. Samuel is hoping to return to the field this year and pick up where he left off after dominating as a receiver and returner to open the season.

Another national scout said that he has Notre Dame's Equanimeous St. Brown in the discussion with Ridley as the top receiver. They think that St. Brown has an intriguing skill set with size and speed, but his production is getting killed by Notre Dame using a running quarterback who struggles to pass the ball. Other team sources said they graded St. Brown as a second-day prospect.

Other players mentioned as candidates to be first-round picks, too, particularly Florida State's Auden Tate and SMU's Courtland Sutton. Both Tate (6-5, 225) and Sutton (6-3, 205) are bigger receivers, so their timed speed is going to be important for each of them.

Another receiver who has created some positive buzz in the scouting community is Memphis' Anthony Miller. However, Miller is viewed as more of a second-day talent who could be a weapon as a slot receiver in the NFL.

Some other highly touted receivers have disappointed evaluators this fall. One of those disappointments is Texas A&M's Christian Kirk - see below -, while another is Clemson's Deon Cain. Kirk is receiving a large variety of grades. Cain is seen as a one-trick pony vertical receiver, he has had some bad drops this season. Cain is going to need development to be more than just a vertical receiver.

Another receiver who has gotten a lot of media buzz but isn't high rated by some teams is Oklahoma State's James Washington. Sources say that Washington has a running back's build, is not really twitchy, and while he is deceptively fast, he needs to build up in order to hit that speed. They say that Washington has really good hands and makes plays vertically, but doesn't make defenders miss after the catch or run through tackles despite his thick build. One director of college scouting said he graded Washington as a late fourth-round pick.

There still is a lot of games left to be played and plenty of receivers could rise up with strong performances at all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine and pre-draft workouts. Heading into the final stretch of the regular season, however, sources from around the NFL think this is a down year at wide receiver.






Mixed Grades for Christian Kirk

Updated Oct. 19, 2017
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Entering the 2017 college football season, one of the wide receivers who had the most buzz about him was Texas A&M's Christian Kirk. Since his freshman season, Kirk has jumped out to NFL evaluators in games and in practice. He caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards with seven touchdowns in his first season, plus impressed as a punt returner. That year, some scouting sources said there nickname for Kirk became "Baby Beckham" in reference to Odell Beckham Jr. The same team sources, however, say they've been disappointed in Kirk this year and that their round grade for him is lower than the first-round grade that Beckham received. WalterFootball.com reached out to sources across the league to see where they had Kirk and came back with results that were very mixed.

A director of college scouting for a AFC playoff team said they were giving Kirk a late second-/early third-round grade. They liked him as a slot receiver, but didn't see him as a first-rounder. Another NFC scout said he had a "2/3" estimate on Kirk as well. They said that Kirk is similar to Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, except Kirk is a little smaller but faster than Landry. A general manager of a NFC playoff team that grades players very hard has Kirk as a third-rounder. One AFC director of college scouting said they had a late first-round grade on Kirk.

Kirk has 29 catches for 360 yards and five touchdowns this season. His production has been limited by a lot of double coverage and the struggles of freshman quarterback Kelly Mond. If Kirk catches fire in his potential final six games - regular season and bowl game - that would definitely help his draft stock. Sources say that Kirk is planning on entering the 2018 NFL Draft even though there is big discrepancy in his draft grades. During the leadup to the 2018 NFL Draft, Kirk has potential to be a significant riser or slider considering the large differences in the grades he is getting from teams across the league.




Teams Grading Clemson LT Mitch Hyatt on Day Three

Updated Oct. 12, 2017
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

In recent years, one of the top college programs for producing NFL talent has been the Clemson Tigers. They have had a string of special wide receivers, a number of first-rounders from their defense, and a franchise quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Many thought that Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt might continue that trend by being an early-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Hyatt broke into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2015 and was Watson's blind-side protector over two seasons, during which Clemson reached the National Championship game in back-to-back years. However, scouts from NFL teams have been disappointed in Hyatt's play this season, and some sources say they have been grading Hyatt on the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft.

The biggest issue for Hyatt for the NFL is a lack of strength. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 305 pounds, yet has been getting pushed around this season. Here is how one area scout discussed Hyatt, "I graded him in the fourth [round] right now, but if he keeps getting his butt whipped, I'll drop him to the fifth [round]. That being said, offensive tackles rise in the leadup to the draft, and they are getting harder to find. So it wouldn't surprise me if a team reached on him late in the third [round]. But I can't see him going higher than that right now."

Hyatt does have a lot of experience as a 3-year starter who has gone against a lot of good talent during his collegiate career. Sources also say that at Clemson, along with many other spread-option college offenses, offensive linemen aren't being taught to fire off the ball the way they are required to in the NFL. The read-option offenses don't put a priority in knocking defenders off the ball, finishing them off and blocking through the whistle, because the emphasis is on hurrying to the line to play uptempo. To help his draft stock, Hyatt will need to play better in the second half of the season. His best course of action could be returning for his senior year to get stronger before going to the NFL.

Hyatt has gotten some hype with some projections in the first round, but many in the scouting community are much lower on Hyatt and view him as a third-day talent for the 2018 NFL Draft.




Kentucky Junior LB Josh Allen Generating First-Round Buzz

Updated Oct. 5, 2017
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

When NFL media and fans discuss the name Josh Allen, they are typically talking about the quarterback at Wyoming. Allen has a great skill set, and as a result, he is in the discussion to be a high selection in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, or at least an early-round pick, as a potential franchise quarterback. However, there is another Josh Allen who is creating first-round buzz in the scouting community, and that is Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen. Sources from multiple teams say that the Wildcats' Josh Allen could end up being a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as well.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder has been one of the leading defenders in terms of sacks in the early going of the 2017 season. Allen is tied for ninth in the nation with 5.5 sacks. He also has 30 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and a pass batted. Allen produced well as a sophomore in 2016 with 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles. One national scout compared Allen to Leonard Floyd coming out of Georgia with Allen's ability to rush off the edge. That scout said Allen isn't as freaky of an athlete as Floyd was, and Allen is not a top-10 pick, but he did grade Allen as a first-rounder.

Another director of college scouting said he gave Allen a high second-round grade, but thought Allen could definitely end up going in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. That director said Allen was an interesting player because he also can play inside linebacker. whereas Floyd was just an outside edge defender. That college director said as an inside linebacker, Allen has similarities to current Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham in terms of his height, speed, length, and athleticism in the middle.

Allen has his junior year off to an excellent start, and that along with his impressive skill set has NFL scouts thinking he could be a first-round pick next April.




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