Deep group of receivers taking center stage at NFL combine
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — David Bell and Treylon Burks were the first receivers to speak Wednesday at the NFL’s annual scouting combine.
Drake London, Jahan Dotson and John Metchie followed them, and by the time Day 2 wrapped up, former college teammates Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams also had taken the stage. Each wanted to accentuate why he should be the top pass catcher selected in this year’s draft.
It’s a scene that could be repeated in April when at least a half-dozen receivers are projected to be first-round picks — though the exact order is likely to change.
“All of us are pretty versatile in our own ways,” London said, summarizing the group. “I can’t really say I‘m the best because we all have different tools, so I can’t really pinpoint that right now.”
Sorting out the pecking order for one of this year’s most talented position groups could prove more challenging than it has previously. The talent pool is just that deep, even none if is a top-10 pick.
But unlike years ago when teams needed time to develop polished route runners, today’s NFL coaches and the introduction of some recent college football principles have produced a series of immediate impact pros.
Cincinnati receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the league’s 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Minnesota receiver Justin Jefferson are recent examples. Many believe it could happen again in 2022.
“It’s a great wide receiver draft,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I feel like we could copy and paste the comments on wide receivers and use it for the next 20 years, because the college game is giving us a ton of these guys every year.”
All those options are giving coaches, scouts and general managers plenty to contemplate.
London, for instance, has the size to win jump balls at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, as well as a basketball background that helped him refine the art of boxing out defensive backs. Add the nimble moves he picked up from former NFL receiver Keary Colbert while he was at Southern California and it’s no wonder London was selected as last year’s top Pac-12 offensive player despite missing the final four games with a broken right ankle.
Olave and Wilson, teammates at Ohio State, spent last season waging a friendly competition to prove who was better — and who should go higher in the draft. They essentially wound up playing to a draw with rare skill sets that aren’t always embraced with the most flattering descriptions.
“My mom didn’t like that word when they used freak to describe me, but I know what that means,” Wilson said before promising to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.55 seconds this week. “I would say the way you would describe me is competitive. I’m really passionate about what I do, I put a lot of effort into what I do, and I’m going to show that in the next few days.”
Williams got an up-close look at the two Buckeyes stars as a teammate in 2019 and 2020. Last year he found a perfect fit at Alabama, where he lined up opposite Metchie, who also had been biding his time behind future NFL receivers.
Together they became the second 1,000-yard receiving tandem in Crimson Tide history before both suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments — Metchie in December’s SEC championship game, Williams in January’s national championship game.
It’s unclear how much the injuries will affect their draft stock, but as they continue to rehab together Metchie insists there’s one skill that sets him apart.
“I’m the best blocking receiver in this draft for sure,” he said. “It’s something we take pride in, something we talk about in the room a lot. We take pride not only with the ball but playing just as well without the ball.”
Bell, Burks and Dotson present different packages.
At 6-2, 205, the knock on Bell is he doesn’t possess breakaway speed. But he’s elusive, a good route runner with strong hands and posted impressive stats at Purdue: 232 receptions, 2,046 yards and 21 touchdown catches in 29 career games.
Burks has the biggest body at 6-3, 225 and has been a do-it-all kind of player at Arkansas. He’s played in the slot, logged 38 career carries, returned punts and kickoffs and still averaged 16.4 yards per catch.
Dotson checks in at 5-11, 184 but has electric speed and a knack for making the kind of big plays Penn State fans came to embrace.
“When I get the ball in my hands, it’s exciting,” he said. “I’m very fast, I can take the top off defenses.”
And it has raised the stakes for everyone in this receiver class who is trying to make a statement to NFL decision makers over the next several weeks.
“It was must-watch TV with Ja’Marr Chase this past year,” Olave said. “It was motivation for me because I want to be one of the best. I want to retire as one of the best.”