Yes, I said pass catchers. Mostly because the TEs aren’t worth an article of their own. Strap yourself in, this is going to be a long one…
Corey Coleman – High 1st Round – OK, let’s start with the elephant in the room. Yes, he is a Cleveland Brown. Yes, they will struggle to win more than 4 games this year. And no, none of this matters. RG3 is the best QB Cleveland have ever had. I’m not even joking, look it up. Cleveland have only ever had two QBs with over a 100 passer rating for the season – neither started a game and the second of them finished the season 1 for 1 for 8 yards. Josh McCown’s 2015 half-season is basically the best anyone’s ever properly played the position for Cleveland. If you exclude players who didn’t start a game, RG3’s truncated, disastrous, worst-of-his-career 2014 campaign would be the 4th best performance in reborn Cleveland’s history (two of those only started two games). I’ve watched Jay Gruden’s and Hue Jackson’s Bengals and while I’m not as enamoured of Jackson as some, there’s no doubt Jackson runs a better offence that works to the strengths of his players. I’m genuinely excited to see if he can turn around RG3’s career. But you know what… it doesn’t entirely matter if he doesn’t. Cleveland still produces notable fantasy players – Travis Benjamin, Josh Gordon and Gary Barnidge have all had decent returns with awful quarterbacks. Coleman is small, but he elevates well and he’s got quick hands. He’s rapid, with impressive acceleration and a good range of moves. He won’t likely bulk up, Baylor offensive products haven’t generally translated to the NFL particularly well, and he could do to cut out some of the drops that have plagued him, but he compares nicely with someone like Emmanuel Sanders and he won’t have to share the field with someone like Demaryius Thomas or Antonio Brown unless Josh Gordon makes a triumphant return. I like a lot of what the Browns did in this draft, and Coleman is a big part of that.
Will Fuller – Low 1st Round – As you might have noticed in the RB one, I’ve been trying to work in draft order, so Fuller goes next. Was Fuller worth a mid-1st pick? I wouldn’t say so. Is he a player worth owning? I wouldn’t say so. This pick, the whole draft in fact, suggests Houston aren’t enamoured with Jaelen Strong and that they want to invest in speed over all else. Hopkins proves (much as the point above) that talent can overcome even the worst of quarterbacking situations, and Osweiler is more unknown than terrible, but will have to struggle terribly to not be an improvement over last year’s Hoyer et al mess (statistically, Brandon Weeden was the best QB in Houston and Dallas last year). The question is more whether Fuller has the talent. At Notre Dame he showed explosive speed, and he attacks the ball well, and he’s good at drawing contact from defenders by putting himself in the right spot. The problem is that he’s very likely to lose those battles. He was shoved around fairly easily by college DBs, the NFL ones will flatten him. And his hands are not great. He might lose a size-off with Teddy Tiny Hands, and as a result he tends to body catch, which a lot of drops as a result. For every highlight catch he has on film, there’s at least one highlight drop. What separates the elite receivers in recent years isn’t speed, or athleticism – it’s the combination of speed and jump with the ball-handling skills to make catches when extended, to secure the ball under pressure. Fuller isn’t that guy and he’s not going to be much more than a boom or bust downfield threat in an offence that will run the ball a lot, and throw it to Hopkins at every chance.
Josh Doctson – High 1st Round – What stands out most about Doctson is his catch radius. He has the hands I talked about above in discussing Fuller, and the ability to make the sort of circus catches on bad throws that make QBs love you. You’ll also find it near impossible to find anyone willing to talk down his attitude or work-ethic. He doesn’t have the speed or ability to take the top off of a defence like Fuller or Coleman, but he runs hard. He does lack power, and he doesn’t really have a frame to suggest he’ll add it. And there’s that surgically repaired wrist that ended his season early. But perhaps the worst habit Doctson has is that he’s not strong over the middle. He tends to lose focus on the ball, instead watching the safety and making bad drops as a result. There’s a lot of plays go in that direction and unless he fixes that, it’s going to be unlikely he gets looked for on them. Doctson is in a relatively favourable position, with Garcon and Jackson out of contract, and no particular reason why Washington would bring them back, but it could be 2017 before he offers more than a glimpse.
Laquon Treadwell – High 1st Round – I think it’s pretty clear I love Treadwell – a 5 star recruit out of high school and a record-breaking receiver at Ole Miss. He’s going to go up and win the ball if it’s there to be won, and he is another, like Doctson, who will catch it if it’s there to be caught. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s not as slow as is sometimes made out. More importantly, he’s a clear number one in the Minnesota offence. Diggs will take the top off and make big plays, but Treadwell will be the go to guy, in the red zone (when not AP) or on medium to long third downs. He’s capable of turning screens into big gains and he thrives on contact, before and after the catch and particularly as a blocker. I’ve seen comparisons to Dez Bryant, but Bryant’s a mouthy fucker and I get the impression he’s more respected for what he can do than liked for who he is, so I’m going to go one better: Larry Fitzgerald. Treadwell is a quiet leader, highly respected in the locker room, and he’s a good fit for the Vikings in that sense. Whether he will end up quite the receiver these two are/were is a different question, but the similarities – outstanding hands, the ability to win the contested catches and to win the physical battles both in the air and on the ground should not be doubted, and the lack of top speed is perhaps not too important when you’ve noodle-arm throwing you the ball and Stefon Diggs on the other half of the field.
Sterling Shepherd – 1st / 2nd Round – A quick, shifty receiver who put up good numbers for OSU, Shepherd fits nicely in New York’s pass first offence as a number two to OBJ. Shepherd is small, and easily pushed around, but when he can get a clean release, he’s basically a cornerback’s nightmare – he easily changes direction, can create clean throwing lanes for his QB and will turn quick slants or a yard of separation into a big gain. His hands are about average. He’s soft to the ball, so doesn’t drop many, but doesn’t have the elastic catch radius and ability to catch everything that Doctson or Treadwell do. If a lot of this sounds like what you read about Cooks a couple of years back, that’s not a surprise. He’s not going to be as good as Cooks – who’s a bit more physical, despite his size – but there’s a lot to like. If he can avoid getting pressed out of games by physical corners, he’s an upgrade on whatever the Giants have had at #2 for quite a while, and could be a top 20ish receiver, but that’s a pretty crowded field with a lot of guys separated by a small number of points and it’s more likely he averages out somewhere around a WR3 or 4.
Michael Thomas – 2nd Round – I think Thomas probably goes in the 1st, but give me a second here. Don’t be fooled, New Orleans is a pass-first team and probably is when Brees moves on, but it’s not necessarily a great spot for a receiver. It’s a pass-first team with a lot of options. Only Brandin Cooks broke the 1k mark last year, with Snead putting up 900 and Colston, Ingram and Coleman also getting reasonable yardage. All of which means… It’s good to own Drew Brees and his 5,000 yards. But it’s not so great to own his targets – with the exception of Ingram and the TE. There’s simply too many passes spread between too many targets. Thomas simply slots in where Colston was, and that’s probably around the 600-800 yards mark with 4-5 touchdowns. There’s nothing particularly exceptional about Thomas, and little to get excited about. He’s a good size – 6’3 and 212 – so he’s going to do well against physical corners, but he’s not exceptionally quick, and you’re not going to get excited about his ball-handling skills (no sniggering back there). He’s probably the best route runner of the wide receivers mentioned so far – most of the rest ran limited route trees in college – but he’s also one of the least-worked. Ohio has a lot of players and spreads it around a lot when they’re not simply pounding it on the ground with QB or RB. I have Thomas down as a low ceiling player who’s not consistently going to be a top 30 receiver, and I’d not spend a first rounder on a player who could be an occasional flex or bye week cover.
Tyler Boyd – 1st / 2nd Round – Boyd is almost the exact opposite of Thomas. There’s a real dearth of options for the Bengals, and I’d suggest he plugs straight in as the second option, behind AJ Green – much like Sterling Shepherd in New York. Boyd mostly worked shorter routes, and projects as a slot receiver in the NFL. I could talk about how he broke Larry Fitzgerald’s (him again!) records for freshmen receivers at Pitt, but that massively oversells his ability. Boyd is a lovely mover – he’s quick, with fast-twitch acceleration and easy changes of direction, and along with Treadwell and Doctson, he’s one of the best ball-catchers in the class. He’s not Treadwell, but his hands are strong, and his catch radius is way bigger than it has any right to be thanks to a frankly absurd acrobatic / contortionist type of body control. So why isn’t he the best receiver in the class? At the combine he weighed in at 197. I’m assuming he wore a lead lined suit. He’s not just thin, he’s skinny. He’s not winning in the tackle. Hell, he’ll do well to survive his first decent hit. He will struggle in traffic, and unsurprisingly, he has had problems with drops as he tends to flinch at the sound of footsteps. He’s also had ball security issues, perhaps because his lack of functional strength makes the ball quite heavy to him. Boyd is a bit of a boom/bust candidate – there’s so much to like about his movement and freakish acrobatic skills, and he’s a good competitor. But unless he can find a way to overcome his lack of strength, he could find himself limited to gimmicky plays, in other words he could end up anywhere from Jarvis Landry to Cor!Darelle Patterson. One other concern – he got himself suspended for a DUI in college.
Braxton Miller – 6th Round – I know someone will take him before this, bigger fool them. Miller joins a receiving corps with Strong, Hopkins and Fuller – so in theory he could end up being the #2. But what does he offer exactly? Well, he performed well at the combine. Not exceptional, but one of the better players in the class. And that’s it. He has 26 career catches in college, as injury ruined his shoulder and forced a conversion from QB to WR, and none of note. So what can you learn from that? Bugger all. A total gamble by the Texans, and by anyone who drafts him. I don’t know anyone who had him as anything other than a late round flier, and I know I’ve consistently trashed the Texans draft class, but this was the shit cherry on top of the shit sandwich – a reach of the worst kind. I’d love to see Miller succeed – a former #1 prospect out of high school who had his QB hopes ruined by injury – he’d be a great story. But 5,000-1 shots don’t happen all the time and Leicester already stole his chance.
Leontee Caroo – 3rd Round – OK, he’s got a great name. And he’s a physical receiver who put up good numbers for the Big 10, and played bigger than his 6’0 frame suggested. But he’s gone to Miami where there’s already Parker, Stills and Landry, so he’s not exactly going to see a lot of chances initially, if at all. And he served a two game suspension for being the sort of cunt who gets arrested for hitting a woman. Fuck him and his magnificent name. You draft him and you’re a cunt too.
The Rest – I’d start with MoBo, but it’s more fun to keep Jay waiting. Chris Moore (4th) is another deep threat receiver for the Ravens. In case Mike Wallace is still shit, and Perriman is actually a total bust. At best he’s a Torrey Smith type boom-bust receiver who might crack the top 20. A proper burner though, with the ability to win at the line and run away from defenders. Malcolm Mitchell (3rd) is a prototypical Belichick pick – a former 5 star recruit who’s suffered a string of injuries to drop off the radar – the talent is there and he has everything to be as good as anyone in this whole class. He can win the physical battles, has great hands and terrific speed and he comes out of a programme with an NFL style offense, so should transition well. If he can stay fit. Ricardo Louis (7th) was a bit of a reach by Cleveland in the 4th, he’s a development project, who flashed the ability to make impressive catches, and also to make simple catches look much harder than they really were. Pharoh Cooper (5th) is a bit of a do-everything weapon, on a team who already have one in Tavon Austin and don’t really know what to do with him. Demarcus Robinson (4th) took a lot of drugs and picked a lot of fights. I’ve seen Justified. No way is Kansas a bad fit for him, no drugs or fighting there. No sir. As a receiver – he’s got the right sort of natural size and shape for it, and good hands, he’s quick and he’s a tough one to chase down. He’s capable of breaking tackles, and won’t be brought down by arm tackling. Of course, just standing in his way is going to be enough, as he generally avoids tackling like the plague, and will probably turn and run for the nearest sideline. If Andy Reid can instil a set of balls in him (and keep him off the reefer) he could be alright.
Look, there’s fucking loads of these guys, and I’m not doing them all. Who cares about Tyreek Hill or Seth DeValve really, anyway? You shouldn’t be drafting either of them. So, the last four receivers – Rashard Higgins (4th) is worth drafting for his hair alone. I’m not suggesting you draft anyone just for their hair though – that way lies chaos. Higgins was the best receiver in college in 2015 with Garret Grayson throwing him balls and earned a consensus All-American pick for his work. He’s a polished route-runner who’s very efficient in his movement and without having standout skills in any particular area, puts up startling production and always seems to find a clean lane for his QB to put the ball in. He could be a real surprise, and unlike Ricardo Louis or Seth DeValve, he could be the second good receiver in this class for Cleveland. Mortiz Bohringer (undrafted) unlike the NFL, he doesn’t get the umlaut from me because I can’t remember how to do it. Could easily be cut by the end of training camp – he’s a physical specimen at 6’4 227lbs and deceptively quick for a big man, with a big catch radius. But he’s not actually ready for the NFL as a receiver. Most likely he’s a draft and stash for two years and then cut sort of player. If he survives with the Vikings. I just don’t see a ceiling for him where he’s worth a pick. Kolby Listenbee (6th) will need to develop into a fantasy relevant NFL receiver. He is a former track All-American, and ran a very limited number of routes in college. There’s skills there – he attacks the ball well, has a good jump, good hands and obviously ridiculous speed and acceleration, but until he learns to do more than just race downfield he’s going to be very limited as a fantasy option. It’s not clear he has much room to bulk up either – and he doesn’t look likely to survive being hit by some very big, very strong men. The Other Michael Thomas (4th) another speedy, skinny receiver with durability concerns. This one however can catch the ball, ran a lot of routes and got good production for Southern Miss. Tends to flinch from contact and drops the ball as a result when he shouldn’t, he’s a better bet than most of the guys I’ve mentioned here.
Hunter Henry – 1st Round – Probably not a first round pick in other years, but this class isn’t that strong. Henry is probably the best TE prospect I’ve seen in ages. Fuck the rest, this guy is a stud. 90 targets, 2 drops. He’s a perfect fit for what Whiz and Rivers like to do in San Diego, and unlike a lot of TEs he could be effective in 2TE sets as a pass catcher in his rookie year. He’s not going to be a Gronk style do-everything stud, but he’s a proper tight end, not a receiver pretending he can block like Eifert or Reed. And he’s not got the same issues with durable. A first might be a reach, but then a lot of those in the second half of the first round are. Why not reach for the one player with the potential to be a proper talent at his position, rather than another mediocre bench receiver?
Rico Gathers – 3rd/4th Round – There’s a lot of reasons not to make this pick – he’s never played football properly (pretty much the same as MoBo there then). But basketball tight ends are a thing and there’s fewer more basketball-y than a guy who only played basketball and never suited up for a game of football in college. Gathers is a total gamble pick, but these guys when they work out are the ones you want – Eifert, Reed, Graham. And he’ll have time to develop and learn from a genuine great at the position in Dallas.
Austin Hooper – 5th Round – Hard to get over-excited about any of the other Tight Ends, but Stanford have 6 former players at the position in the NFL, so Hooper should stick around. He’ll need a year or two to learn the position properly and he was often the last guy on the line to move at the snap, which would be a problem against NFL defenders. Probably just another mediocre tight end. And he’s a Falcon – so he’s guaranteed to be shit – the new Levine Toilolo.
Nick Vannett – Undrafted – Don’t bother. He’s a good tight end, he blocks and plays well in the run game, but he’s not a fantasy relevant player and never will be.
Tyler Higbee – 4th Round – He’s a Ram, so he’ll be shit. And he’s not as excellently named as the Rams’ other TE prospect (Temarrick Hemingway), but Higbee could be the other fantasy relevant TE in this draft if you’re willing to look past the whole Rams thing. He’s a converted wide receiver so he runs routes well and has the ability to separate, make catches under pressure and in traffic. However, unexpectedly, he’s also a pretty good blocker, and he does his job in the running game too. That makes him an every down sort of player who can release and make catches. Might take some time to develop at NFL level, but he’s a sneaky good pick and stash. [Ed: Of course, he’s (allegedly) a violent racist hick so, you know, factor that in, or don’t, when you think about picking him]