Chiefs

Rating the top receivers in the 2017 NFL Draft with an eye on Chiefs’ needs

NFL Draft Talk: Chiefs don't need another wide receiver

Kansas City Star sportswriter Terez Paylor says stop talking wide receiver, imagine another impact corner while discussing the Chiefs' needs and the NFL Draft with Sam Mellinger, Vahe Gregorian and Blair Kerkhoff.
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Kansas City Star sportswriter Terez Paylor says stop talking wide receiver, imagine another impact corner while discussing the Chiefs' needs and the NFL Draft with Sam Mellinger, Vahe Gregorian and Blair Kerkhoff.

Included in measurables are height, weight, age they turn this year (if available) and 40-yard-dash time. Grades and rankings are based on film study (at least six games worth, whenever possible) and proprietary reporting. Quotes are harvested from conference calls, individual interviews and television broadcasts. Grades are intended to convey a general sense of the draftee’s value, and where he might be selected.

1. JOHN ROSS III, Washington

Measurables: 5-11, 188, 22, 4.22

Bio: Two-year starter who caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards (14.2 ypc) and 17 touchdowns in 14 games in 2016. Rushed eight times for 102 yards and a touchdown. Returned 17 kicks for 411 yards (24.1 ypr) and one touchdown. Three fumbles. Missed 2015 because of a torn left ACL. Declared after redshirt junior season.

Strengths: Blazing, elite speed. Field-stretcher who set the Combine record in the 40. Can take the top off a defense and run past anyone. Also boasts a 133-inch broad jump, among the best at his position. Outstanding acceleration and burst out of his breaks; consistently creates separation easily. Can go zero-to-100 real quick and has some DeSean Jackson in him. Started some games at cornerback and has terrific feet; made Adoree’ Jackson look foolish on one occasion in press coverage with his route running. Can locate and track the red-zone fade and deep balls. Gobbles up ground quickly against off coverage. Flashes the ability to adjust to low balls. Very elusive and surprisingly strong after the catch; has shades of Peter Warrick in that respect. Will block when he has to and even flashes nastiness. Competitive, emotional player who is into it. “He can take the top off the defense,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “He’s a big-time playmaker. He’s a guy that reminds me a little bit of T.Y. Hilton, a guy that starts out his career as a number two, but eventually grows into the role as a number one receiver. John Ross is dynamic, really explosive.”

Weaknesses: Smallish frame and hands (8  3/4 inches). Not sure how he’ll fare against the long, physical press corners in the NFL; few college corners had the patience and technique to press him adequately due to his short-area explosiveness. Not a consistent downfield jump-ball winner. Has the occasional focus drop. Needs to do a better job securing the football. Has had injury concerns — including surgeries to both knees and recent labrum surgery — and will need to check out medically. “He’s not that big,” Kiper said. “He’s super fast, he’s got the versatility. But the knee, the shoulder, those issues are whey he could drop a bit.”

Grade: 7.2

Games I watched before grading him: Stanford 2016, Oregon 2016, California 2016, Southern California 2016, Washington State 2016, Colorado 2016

2. COREY DAVIS, Western Michigan

Measurables: 6-3, 209, 22, N/A

Bio: Four-year starter who caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards (15.5 ypc) and 19 touchdowns in 14 games in 2016. Did not work out at the Combine or his pro day due to ankle surgery.

Strengths: Outstanding career production but took a jump, physically, from 2015 to 2016, when he looked more explosive. Has NFL size with good burst off the line and out of his cuts. Shows good body control when keeping his feet inbounds and can win contested jump balls downfield. Tremendous focus and hands; can make the tough, one-handed catch. Runs very hard after the catch — flashes a nasty stiff arm — or can juke and make guys whiff. “I have Corey Davis as the No. 1 receiver, because I think he’s a better athlete with good size,” Mayock said. “Better run after the catch than Mike Williams.” Competitive and loves football. Gives good effort when blocking and shows good patience and a killer instinct. “We talked to P.J. Fleck, the former head coach, before the year and he raved about his work ethic,” Kiper said. “Said he’s the first one on the practice field, last one to leave. Loves the game. Works hard, practices hard. You’ve got to like that part of it.”

Weaknesses: Did not regularly face top competition and might need some time to get accustomed to the NFL. Grade is nicked a bit (would be a 7.0) due to his lack of workout numbers (ankle injury). “Corey Davis is a little bit of a wild card because he hasn’t been able to do anything with his injury,” Jeremiah said. “Had an ankle, some ligaments that required surgery. We haven’t seen him run. He can play inside, outside, he’s got the size. Can he win on third down. He’s great after the catch. He’s been productive throughout his career. There’s a long track record there. Pretty durable until he had this injury when he was training for the Combine.”

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before grading him: Michigan State 2015, Central Michigan 2016, Ball State 2016, Toledo 2016, Ohio 2016, Wisconsin 2016

3. MIKE WILLIAMS, Clemson

Measurables: 6-4, 218, 22, 4.56

Bio: Two-year starter who caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards (13.9 ypc) and 11 touchdowns in 15 games in 2016. Redshirted in 2015 with a fracture in his neck.

Strengths: Big-bodied possession receiver who bounced back by emerged as Deshaun Watson’s security blanket after missing nearly all of 2015 with an injury. Good bad ball catcher; is adept at scooping low throws. Jump-ball and slant specialist; consistent 50-50 winner who can work the middle and win on the fade ball and the Michael Irvin Honorary skinny post. Has a big catch radius and is an eraser for quarterbacks. Can track and high point the deep ball. Not susceptible to jams at the line. Is crafty with his hands at creating separation. Isn’t nifty after the catch but runs hard and with power and isn’t easy to bring down. Willing blocker who can overwhelm defensive backs. Good focus, body control and hands; snatches the ball away from his frame. Competitive and will talk to you if he gets you on one. “Mike Williams will use that big body, wall people off,” Jeremiah said. “I think you’d have some success. In the red zone, Mike Williams could have a big-time impact. Throw it up, let him go get it. He would be a nice complementary piece.”

Weaknesses: Not a blazer. Long juice is a question; one-speed receiver who never seems to create much separation despite good footwork, an issue that will only be exacerbated in the pros. Balance and burst out of his burst out of his breaks needs to improve if he wants to get open in this league. Has the occasional focus drop. “He’s great at just about everything, but what’s his true top-end speed,” ESPN’s Todd McShay said. Positional blocker you’d like to see more nastiness from.

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before grading him: Auburn 2016, Florida State 2016, Pittsburgh 2016, Virginia Tech 2016, Ohio State 2016, Alabama 2016

4. CURTIS SAMUEL, Ohio State

Measurables: 5-11, 196, 20, 4.31

Bio: One-year starter who caught 74 passes for 865 yards (11.7 ypc) and seven touchdowns in 13 games in 2016. Also rushed 97 times for 771 yards (7.9 ypc) and eight touchdowns and returned six punts for 19 yards. Declared after true junior season. Had a formal interview with the Chiefs at the Combine.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Ran a blazing 4.31 40 at the Combine; doesn’t get caught from behind and his field speed is very close to that. Very elusive with the ball in his hands; is adept at making the first man miss. Promising route runner with functional hands, quick feet and outstanding burst off the line and out of his breaks. Unguardable on short routes when lined up in the slot. Comfortable working over the middle. Has played running back as well and could be impactful there on a full-time basis, too. Accelerates like a missile after taking the handoff. Looks good running the outside zone and has the speed to turn and burn. Tailor-made to be a dual threat in a system like Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s. “With that 4.3 speed, it doesn’t always translate to the field, but as a multidimensional player, I think he could go in the second or third round,” Kiper said. NFL Network draft analyst Bucky Brooks agrees. “He’s a terrific player,” Brooks said. “He’s very, very talented. I think the comparison that a lot of people would like to make is Percy Harvin in terms of his ability to make an impact as an occasional running back, a slot receiver and an impact player in the return game.” Occasional wildcat quarterback. Sells out to catch tough passes.

Weaknesses: Not bulky enough to handle a full-time workload as a running back. Not a between-the-tackles guy. Runs hard and is elusive but isn’t gonna run over guys. Doesn’t have much tape tracking the deep ball and/or making big plays downfield as a receiver. Hands are only functional; didn’t make many tough catches. Reminds Brooks of Tavon Austin, someone you need to have a plan for to get the most out of him (something that isn’t easy to do for most coaching staffs). “When you take on a player like, that you must have a very clear plan for getting him the ball, putting him in at position to thrive,” Brooks said. “He’s an 18- to 20-touch per game guy. That’s a combination of rushes, returns, possessions.” Didn’t see much blocking in the games available, either.

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before grading him: Bowling Green 2016, Oklahoma 2016, Rutgers 2016, Michigan 2016, Clemson 2016

5. ISAIAH “ZAY” JONES, East Carolina

Measurables: 6-2, 201, 22, 4.45

Bio: Four-year starter who caught 158 passes for 1,746 yards (11.1 ypc) and eight touchdowns in 12 games in 2016. Rushed four times for 24 yards (6.0 ypc) and returned one kick for 23 yards. Son of former Cowboys LB Robert Jones, nephew of former Bengals QB Jeff Blake. Older brother Caleb spent 2016 preseason with the Eagles.

Strengths: Was among his position’s top testers at the Combine in the broad jump (133 inches), 20-yard shuttle (4.01 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.17). Superb college production. Tall, rangy athlete with tremendous football bloodlines. Natural receiver who attacks the ball in the air, shows the ability to catch the low ball and makes difficult, contested catches. Tough and willing to take punishment over the middle. Good at finding the soft spots in zones. Aggressive blocker who needs to add strength but gets after it. “He was very impressive at the Senior Bowl; outstanding route runner, very skilled and polished in the way he sets up defenders, does a great job of catching the ball away from the frame of his body,” Brooks said. “He’s been very, very productive in that offense at East Carolina. Because he has had so much production, because he has natural skills as a route runner, I believe he’s a guy that goes in the top 40, 45 picks.”

Weaknesses: Lanky and needs to add strength; can be boxed out by stronger players on jump balls and overpowered and shed as a run blocker. Field speed is only OK; wins with his burst off the ball and consistent hands; makes sharp cuts, too, but seems to make a lot of his catches contested, anyway. Isn’t going to run away from people in the NFL and is only OK after the catch. Video-game like numbers had something to do with East Carolina’s wide-open, Air-Raid attack with lots of stick routes, ins and screens.

Grade: 6.7

Games I watched before grading him: NC State 2016, South Carolina 2016, Virginia Tech 2016, South Florida 2016, Cincinnati 2016, Navy 2016

OTHERS TO WATCH

Chris Godwin, Penn State; Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington; JuJu Smith-Schuster, Southern California; ArDarius Stewart, Alabama; Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma.

GRADING SCALE

7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick

7.0: picks 11-20

6.9: 21-32

6.8: Top half of the second round

6.7: Bottom half of the second

6.6: Top half of the third

6.5: Bottom half of the third

6.4: Fourth round pick

6.3: Fifth-round pick

6.2: Sixth-round pick

6.1: Seventh-round pick

6.0: Priority free agent

5.9: Non-prospect

2017 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: RECEIVERS

Chiefs’ need at this position: Low. With Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs already have enough mouths to feed in the passing game. They’ve also invested developmental time the last few years in a pair of athletic mid-round picks in Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson, while former undrafted free agent Albert Wilson knows the playbook and has been a useful player. Perhaps the Chiefs could use another weapon, if there’s good value to be had, but making this roster won’t be easy for a rookie this year, especially given the amount of time it takes to acclimate to Andy Reid’s playbook.

QB: With no consensus on draft’s top QB, Chiefs could have plenty to choose from | rankings

RB: Chiefs could draft big-play threat from loaded crop of running backs | rankings

FB: Chiefs try Lindenwood’s Connor Harris at fullback during local pro day | rankings

WR: Curtis Samuel showed he can be more than a receiver at Ohio State | rankings

TE: Mizzou’s Sean Culkin eager to prove he can do more in the pros | rankings

OL: Story | rankings, to come

DL: Story | rankings, to come

EDGE: Story | rankings, to come

ILB: Story | rankings, to come

CB: Story | rankings, to come

S: Story | rankings, to come

The Terez A. Paylor All-Juice Team: 2017 (to come) | 2016 | 2015

Terez A. Paylor, tpaylor@kcstar.com

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