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2022 NFL Draft WR Class Chock-Full Of Talent

  • The Draft Network
  • November 10, 2021
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As enticing and high-powered as the 2021 group of eligible pass-catchers were, the incoming crop of prospects has just as much flair and dazzle as the preceding pool of talent. While there are no Ja’Marr Chases—or a Heisman winner this winter like DeVonta Smith—the deep group of talent currently set to explode onto the NFL scene has presented an overflowing amount of optimism as offenses continuously add more weight to the success of their aerial attack.

The onus on pass-catchers, specifically, to immediately serve a role in consideration to their draft allotment has become a must-hit gamble for general managers across football that expend assets in hopes of hitting the jackpot. As we all saw this preseason with worry surrounding Chase’s inability to catch a football, when a wideout is taken in the first round, let alone the top five, it carries a load of expectation. While he’s put skeptics in bed since, proving to be one of the top wideouts in all of football this fall, when a class as deep as this year is set to enter the fold, the stress on general managers to “get it right” has more slack.

Although we won’t see any boundary talents taken in the top five selections when the draft rolls around this spring, what you can expect is headlining talent from the opening round to the final selection, as the 2022 wide receiver class looks to represent one of my favorite positional groups this season.

Big Ten Standouts

At the top, it starts in Columbus, where the tandem of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson looks to be the first two pass-catchers off the board when things are all said and done. Two wideouts with drastically different skill sets, Olave would have been a first-rounder last spring if he hadn't decided to return to Ohio State for a final season. Two explosive, sure-handed talents, they both currently slot sixth and seventh in total receiving yards among all-Big Ten wideouts, and projecting their impact on Sunday, they’ll both have immediate roles wherever they end up in April. 

As good as Olave and Wilson can be, the story in the Big Ten once again revolves around a boundary talent out of Purdue. After an offseason circuit that saw executives, and media alike fall in love with the lighting in a bottle talent that was Boilermaker stud Rondale Moore, David Bell has become the go-to target for the Purdue offense, with similar pop to that of the current Arizona Cardinals weapon. The Big Ten’s current leader in receiving yards, and sixth among all pass-catchers (1,003), Bell, a 6-foot-2 combo blend of speed and route-running prowess, has presented one of the conference's best-kept secrets as we near the final stretch of the season. Along with Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, whose flair for the dramatic and knack for finding paydirt will result in early success on Sunday, and Nebraska’s Samori Toure, whose 1,495-yard campaign in 2019 initially drew eyes to his skill set as an imposing 6-foot-3 aerial threat, the Big Ten alone presents a handful of wideouts to red dot as the pre-draft circuit rapidly approaches. 

SEC Pipeline Proving Fruitful Once Again

With Chase, Smith, and Jaylen Waddle gone from the collegiate ranks, the Southeastern Conference, as it always has, finds a way to replenish and spit out NFL talent year in and year out. And, just like everything does in the SEC, it starts with the high-octane talent set to depart from Tuscaloosa.

An Ohio State transfer, Jameson Williams has been a transfer portal godsend for Nick Saban’s Tide. A boundary presence with the ability to take it the distance at a moment’s notice, Williams has also shown a knack for the spectacular, returning two kicks for touchdowns (second in the nation). A pass-catcher that dominates at the onset of a route due to his explosive quickness and short-area burst, Williams’ ability to couple his isolation skills with sure hands and YAC ability is unmatched by many in college football. With an eerily similar frame to that of former Crimson Tide standout and Denver Broncos first-rounder Jerry Jeudy, Williams’ streamlined build allows him to blow past defenders at a moment’s notice while also touting the necessary footwork and route-running prowess to break off his routes in the blink of an eye. 

Did you think ‘Bama was a one-trick pony on the outside? Didn’t think so. 

Working behind Smith last fall following the ankle injury to Waddle, John Metchie III amassed nearly 1,000 yards and is once again on his way to matching his impressive totals from last season. A tough, middle-of-the-field threat with the ability to dominate in tight confines, there aren’t many wide receivers in CFB with the foot quickness and get up and go that Metchie touts from a standing position. Along with his deep bag of traits down the field, he is excellent on designed touches behind the LOS and represents everything that scouts desire at the NFL level on the outside. 

The talent stems far from Alabama, as the physically dominant Treylon Burks out of Arkansas is the best player you probably haven’t heard of this college football season. Averaging nearly 17 yards per reception, his 800 yards after the catch the last two seasons leads all SEC wideouts. With an NFL-ready frame and a return-specialist-like approach when met with wimpy tacklers, he’s been the centerpiece on offense for the 6-3 Razorbacks. 

Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson and Mississippi State’s Makai Polk round out the cream of the crop in the conference, with both sitting tied atop the league in receptions (71). Wideouts who find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to skill sets, the 6-foot-3 Polk and the 5-foot-11 Robinson have been excellent stories this fall for two programs who have enjoyed their fair share of success this autumn. While Polk thrives via an exquisite route tree behind the air raid offense deployed by the Bulldogs, Robinson is a YAC monster with extremely quick feet and elite vision. While prospects present tough studies when attempting to project their status at the next level, production is production, and if you can succeed in the SEC, you’re on your way.

Under-The-Radar Must-Haves

In the recruiting cycle, the cliché adage that “if you can play, they will find you,” is for the most part, true. However, as the trail has become an increasingly competitive path to sign the stars of stars from the prep level, players slip through the cracks and land at some of the country’s smallest programs. Add in the transfer portal and the slew of talents unhappy at their current institution, and college football has become a dog-eat-dog environment in which the importance of programs across the nation to keep tabs on prospects from Arizona to Maine has become an impossible task. Unlike any class in recent memory, the talent set to declare for the draft is a group that matches up with any of the Power Five’s most star-studded draft-eligible pass-catchers. 

Meet Jerreth Sterns, the nation’s most dominant player, regardless of position. Don’t helmet scout, and don’t let his lack of vertical prowess fool you, Sterns will soon represent a high-impact receiver with the ability to haul in targets if placed in the correct offense. Despite what opposing coordinators have attempted to do to counter Sterns’ dominance, he continues to improve while showcasing a skill set NFL circles drool over in the passing game. 

The same can be said for Southern Alabama standout Jalen Tolbert, Nevada’s Romeo Doubs, Boise State’s Khalil Shakir, and Utah State’s Deven Thompkins, who leads the nation with 1,314 receiving yards in through 10 weeks. Each with eye-popping talent that, outside of Tolbert, call the west coast home—if you haven’t seen either of them line up, do yourself a favor and stay up for the late-night slate of ball in the upcoming weeks.

Arguably the top wideout in CFB is USC’s Drake London, who finds himself out for the rest of the season. After suffering a fractured ankle, London’s senior season came screeching to a halt, ultimately placing him on the shelf for the rest of the Trojans’ campaign. A boundary threat that recorded 88 catches in just eight games, his ceiling, when healthy, remains the highest of any pass-catcher in the entire class. 

One of the most exciting position groups to follow as the season comes to a close, expect many of the aforementioned names to waste little time in asserting themselves as wideouts to reckon with once the 2022 NFL season kicks off next fall.

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