The previous two draft classes have brought a lot of wide receiver talent into the league, so let’s see what the 2023 NFL draft has in store.
With how important having multiple good wide receivers is today’s NFL they are always amongst the most discussed position groups. The 2023 NFL draft wide receiver group isn’t as strong as the classes we saw in 2021 and 2022, but it’s still a talented group.
There’s some round one quality receivers, as well some guys that you’d be happy to land on day two who project well to have roles in an NFL offense. We’ll go through them here with a top five ranking, as well as some honorable mentions.
Without further ado, let’s kick it off with the wide receivers that just missed the top five.
I also want to note that any stats used in this article come via PFF Premium Stats.
Evaluating receivers is always interesting because every team is going to value different types of receivers. It’s important when building a receiving core that you get a variety of different skillsets. This class has plenty of options that’ll likely be available on day two of wide receivers who project to fill a more specific skillset for a team.
There are five honorable mentions to the top five receivers in this class. The reason I chose to list them as honorable mentions and not rank out a top ten is because I see them all in a similar tier and their draft position will likely depend more on what type of receiver specific teams are looking for.
Nathaniel Dell, WR, Houston
The first honorable mention was someone that was one of the most fun players to watch that I’ve scouted so far. Houston’s Nathaniel Dell would make for a good day two pick for a team looking for a dynamic, slot receiver, with YAC ability.
Dell was a massive part of Houston’s offense as he doubled the next closest player in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. He’s also amongst the most productive receivers in college football as he went for over 1300 yards in 2022 and 2021.
He did everything for that Houston offense. He could win vertically and track the ball on deep routes, he could win in the short and intermediate area with his route running, and he could create extra yards with how dynamic he was with the ball in his hands.
It was apparent watching him that he was simply at another level athletically than his opponents. His selling point in the NFL will be how dynamic he is with the ball in his hands.
That thing that holds me back from putting Dell in the top five receivers in this class is his competition level and size. Playing in the American he was at another level athletically than everyone else, which won’t be the case in the NFL.
He’s also listed at just 5-foot-10, 165 pounds which I don’t think will drastically effect his draft stock but he will likely need to put on some weight to deal with the physicality of the NFL.
Rashee Rice, WR, SMU
The next honorable mention also played in the American conference as it is SMU’s Rashee Rice. Much like Dell, Rice was also the focal point of the offense for his team as more than doubled the next closest on his team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards.
Rashee Rice is a big-bodied receiver at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. His biggest selling point in going to the NFL is his ability to make contested catches although that is not all he brings to the table.
Rice consistently won on vertical routes last season at SMU where he was very good at using his size advantage to fend off DBs and make catches downfield. He brought in 18 catches of 20+ air yards last season with eight of them being contested catches.
He is also pretty dynamic for his size as part of SMU’s offense was to just get the ball in his hands and let him work. I’m not sure quite how effective he’ll be after the catch against NFL defenders, however it’s good that it’s something that he’s shown and he’s not just a possession receiver.
I see Rashee Rice as a good bet for a team to make on day two, probably somewhere in the second round as he has the skillset to play a role in an NFL offense.
Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma
It will be interesting to see where Marvin Mims comes off the board as he doesn’t really have a specific calling card, but in watching him it’s clear he has the talent to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL.
Mims was a productive receiver for Oklahoma over his three seasons there. He lead the team in receiving yards in all three seasons even in his true freshman season which is quite impressive at a school like Oklahoma.
He did a lot for the OU offense but his ability to win vertically was perhaps his best attribute. He utilized his speed and explosiveness to separate from DBs and also adjusted to the ball very well. He actually has amongst the best collection of high difficulty catches in this draft class as he often made good plays on the ball downfield, sideline catches, and even some circus type catches.
Mims produced from both the slot and the outside at OU. I believe he projects well to play either in the NFL which provides good versatility. He’s another receiver that I would feel good about taking in the second round and developing into a top two or three receiving option for a team.
Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
The Biletnikoff winner for the Tennessee Vols is the next honorable mention in this list. Jalin Hyatt was phenomenal all season long, but his absurd 207 yard, five touchdown performance in the upset of Alabama that put him on the map as one of the best players in college football.
Jalin Hyatt is someone whose combine performance will have a big influence on my evaluation of him and his draft stock. The reason for is because his biggest attribute last season was winning vertically by just being faster than the DBs across from him. The question I kept coming away with was whether he’d be able to do that in the NFL as well, so what he runs in the 40 yard dash will be important.
Hyatt also did a good job of utilizing space that DBs gave him to prevent him from winning vertically to win on slant and hitch routes.
As I said earlier Hyatt’s evaluation may change based on what he runs in the 40 yard dash, but currently somewhere in round two seems like a good spot for Hyatt to come off the board.
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
The last of the honorable mentions was probably the most difficult projection for me to make. Kayshon Boutte came into the season as a projected first rounder. This was for good reason as well as his talent was apparent and he was off to a good start to the 2021 season before missing the second half of the year with a leg injury.
However, Boutte wasn’t as consistent as you would expect out of a top receiver in the draft in 2022. Across 11 games he had two performances of 100 plus yards where he looked a first rounder, but finished with just 538 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Obviously, the competition level in the SEC is better than perhaps any other receiver faces, but you still want to see more production if you’re going to take a receiver in the first round.
With that being said however the ceiling for Boutte is the highest of any receiver I listed in this honorable mentions. Not many receivers have combination of quickness and explosiveness.
He projects well as a route runner because that quickness and ability to come in and out of breaks. He also projects well as a YAC receiver due to his short area explosiveness, elusiveness, and burst.
Boutte may have had his draft stock slip with his lack of production this season, but he’s still a talented receiver who should come off the board in the first two rounds.
Top Five Wide Receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft
5) Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
Kicking off the top five of the wide receiver rankings is North Carolina’s Josh Downs. Teams looking for a slot receiver late first or early second round will covet Downs.
He was one of the best receivers in college football over the past two seasons. In 2021 he was fifth in the power five with 1,335 yards and followed that up with another 1000 yard season this season.
Downs brings an intriguing skillset to the table. He is a good route runner simply because of how effortlessly he moves, not often do you see receivers in college with his quickness and ability to change directions. He also has shown an ability to win on a variety of different routes, which is excellent for his projection as a route runner.
He not only can win as a separator but he also can track and adjust to the ball well when it’s in the air. Often times with shorter, slot receivers like him it’s assumed that he’ll need to create a lot of separation in order to win, but that’s not necessarily with him.
The fact UNC utilized him as a punt returner shows you how dynamic he can be in the open field with the ball in his hands as well. One particular play that stood out to me came against Virginia when he made about four different players miss on a punt return.
Ultimately, Downs is someone that I think brings a lot to the table and shouldn’t last long on day two if he gets there as teams should always be looking to add weapons on offense.
4) Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
The number four receiver in my rankings is someone who I’ve recently seen a lot more of in mock drafts and evaluating him I can see why.
With how highly coveted speed is in today’s game Zay Flowers could easily hear his name called on night one. Out of all the receivers I watched so far Flowers certainly appears to be the fastest.
Flowers produced across four seasons for Boston College as he was the leader on the team in receiving yards in each of the last three seasons.
He not only can separate vertically with his speed but he also tracks the ball on deep balls. He’s someone who even when he doesn’t create too much separation downfield he’s still a threat to go up and make a great catch.
That speed not only helps him on deep routes but also short and intermediate routes. He provides a constant vertical threat which means DBs always have to make sure they’re not getting beat deep which allows him to win on other routes.
At the end of the day, speed kills and Zay Flowers certainly has speed, so I think there’s a lot of teams in the second half of the first round who need to consider what he can bring to their offense.
3) Jordan Addison, WR, USC
The third ranked receiver for me is the 2021 Biletnikoff winner, Jordan Addison. He is for good reason a big name in college football and I think a very good bet to hear his name called on night one of the draft.
Addison lit up college football in 2021 with Pittsburgh. Playing with Kenny Pickett he caught 100 passes for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. He transferred to USC for this season and was the teams leading receiver with 875 yards even with three missed games.
Addison isn’t someone who necessarily blows you away from an athleticism standpoint as he has average size at 6-foot-0, 175 pounds and he has good, not great speed. He is however very good technically and as a route runner.
He’s also someone who can make tough catches as he adjusts to the ball well in the air. In his Biletnikoff winning season in 2021 he was quite effective on contested catches as he came down with 15 of his 27 targets in those situations.
With how complete of a receiver Jordan Addison is it’s hard to imagine someone won’t take him in the first round and as of now I think he goes in the top 20.
2) Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
My number two ranked wide receiver in the 2023 NFL draft is someone who I’m not quite as high on as some analysts are, but I still think he’s a first round player. That player is TCU’s Quentin Johnston, who perhaps has the highest ceiling of any receiver in this class.
Johnston brings a lot to the table as a receiver but his most notable trait is his size at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds and his ability to leverage that size to his advantage. He’s someone that even if he doesn’t create much separation, he’s still a threat to come down with a jump ball.
Aside from his size I think the thing that makes him unique from other big receivers is how well he moves at that size. Watching his tape he’s certainly more elusive than you would expect.
One of the biggest plays he made this season showcased this. It came in the playoff semifinal against Michigan as he caught a shallow cross made one man miss in space and was gone down the sideline for a 76 yard touchdown.
He’s also someone whose shown he can win vertically and in intermediate areas. He doesn’t necessarily win with speed vertically but his ability to shield off defenders and come down with deep balls is impressive. He also won quite a bit in the intermediate area as he runs hitch, curl, and comeback type routes very well.
Ultimately, I’ve seen Johnston in the top ten in some mock drafts. I don’t see him quite as a top ten pick quality player, but he’s still a very good receiver who most definitely deserves to be a first round pick.
1) Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
The number one receiver in the 2023 NFL draft for me is someone who came into the season as a consensus top ten player, but fell down draft boards because of a hamstring injury. Jaxon Smith-Njigba unfortunately missed most of the 2022 season, but I’m still a believer that he’s a top ten player in this class.
Smith-Njigba played in a wide receiver group that also included two future top 15 picks in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. He was the one who set a big-ten record with 1,595 receiving yards.
The best way to sum up Smith-Njigba’s game is that he’s simply always open. One of the most important traits for route running is suddenness and he has that for days. His ability to stop on a dime and change directions like it’s nothing is second to none.
He has impressive body control and ability to come down with contested catches. In his first career game at OSU, he made a spectacular catch on a throw that was essentially a throwaway. On the play, he stretched out to get his hands on the football, and then contorted his body to somehow get a foot down inbounds for a TD.
He’s also dynamic with the ball in his hands. This YAC ability was on display in the Nebraska game last season. He hauled in a short pass, made one guy miss with a dynamic move in the open field, and then exploded down the sideline and outran the DBs to the endzone.
I’m probably higher on Smith-Njigba than most analysts and NFL teams. However, I think with the skillset he brings to the table and how much he produced in 2021 he deserves to go top ten in this draft.