After examining the more underrated wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft class, it’s time to move over to players who seem to be viewed too highly.
Last season in the overrated column I highlighted Justyn Ross, Jahan Dotson, and Drake London. Ross was, at the time, ranked 66th on the PFF big board, but major foot problems would see him fall to the 7th round. Dotson actually wasn’t bad on a per-play basis, to his credit, and given that he played for a terrible Washington team, perhaps there’s something there. He averaged 14.9 yards per catch as a solid deep threat and tied for the lead among rookies with 7 scores. But all of that said, one of Dotson’s issues as an extremely small receiver was availability, and he just wasn’t that available, missing five games with a hamstring injury, and catching just 35 passes.
All of that said, I think the jury is still out on Dotson, and as the 16th overall pick, he was the 5th receiver off the board, after London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams. I may yet take an “L” here, though we’ll check back in a few years. While history is against small receivers like Dotson, the occasional Santana Moss does come around.
But oh, Drake London. I never understood the love for Drake London, and I suspect if Atlanta had it to do over again, they would opt for Olave or Garrett Wilson or perhaps George Pickens, who led rookie receivers in Yards per Target, or Christian Watson, who looked amazing in the back half of the season. London’s WROPS of .832 turned out to be absolutely indicative of the kind of receiver he is in the NFL: a possession-focused big slot with almost no explosiveness to his game. For rookies with 35 or more receptions, London was 2nd last (to Romeo Doubs) in yards per catch with 12, despite a mediocre 61.5% catch percentage — a lower number than Pickens, Watson, and Doubs, and only marginally better than Chris Olave, who averaged 14.5 yards per catch. Here is last year’s column for full context.
London wasn’t bad exactly, and I think it’s important to keep in mind that overrated does not equal bad. But it does mean that, for where a player is likely to be drafted, you probably could have done a bit better.
We covered the underrated receivers earlier here, and for those new to WROPS and WRAPS, you can see the glossary here. In short, WROPS tells us which receivers are catching a high percentage of their targets while accounting for how many yards they gain per catch. We can then add in a pinch of Kent Lee Platte’s invaluable RAS scores to give us a WRAPS, a single number on a 20(ish) point scale, which tells us who are the most productive AND athletic receivers in the draft. If you have a 20, you were both incredibly productive and incredibly athletic. If you have a 15 or lower, you likely struggled in one or both areas.
If you click here you can see my “WROPS 2022 Draft Sheet.” It’s sorted by WRAPS, and also lists each player’s current spot on the Consensus Board compiled by Arif Hasan. Please note that the consensus board changes occasionally, and that previous versions are recorded to the far right. By comparing those receivers who were both athletic and productive in college against their projected draft status, we can often unearth diamonds in the rough, who may possess the ceiling of a prospect with an earlier round grade. A few other notes:
- The name of each prospect is color-coded for size. This draft is full of smaller prospects, and those in red are undersized relative to the typical NFL receiver. Smaller prospects, even when productive in college, tend not to perform as well in the NFL.
- Column K contains every prospect’s 3-cone time, if they have one. The 3-cone drill has long been an important metric for the Packers specifically, and if a prospect doesn’t run a 7.05 or faster, it decreases the chances that the Packers are interested.
- Finally, both Cedric Tillman and JSN did not play enough this season to qualify for a WROPS score, and so I have substituted their outstanding 2021 metrics in place. Please use additional skepticism for both, for this reason
- Andrei Iosivas ranks very highly due to his outstanding athletic testing, but please note that Princeton plays a poor schedule, and his production metrics are hugely inflated as a result. We had a similar issue with Christian Watson last season, but he has, I think, proved doubters wrong. Iosivas’ production profile is quite a bit worse, as his QBSLG is laughably low given his competition.
Let’s get to it.
Kayshon Boutte – LSU
Consensus Board - 86
WROPS/RAS/WRAPS – .759/4.99/12.58 (40th in this class)
2022 Stats: 74 targets, 48 receptions (65%), 538 yards, 2 touchdowns.
Boutte is, in many ways still trading on his status as an elite prospect out of high school as a dynamic, multi-sport athlete, a five star football recruit, and the number two wide receiver in his recruiting class, and we got so see some of that explosiveness during the end of the 2020 Covid-shortened season. We’ll get to the past in a second, but here in the present, it’s an open question as to whether Boutte is anything close to the superior athlete he once was out of high school.
After an explosive start to the 2021 season, when he played exceptionally well against UCLA, Mississippi State, and Auburn, Boutte would suffer an ankle fracture in game six against Kentucky. That injury failed to heal properly and required a second surgery in the offseason, which seems to still be impacting Boutte to this day. His 2022 season was terrible, as he caught an extremely low percentage of his passes for an extremely low yards per catch average. Quarterback Jayden Daniels doesn’t excel at pushing the ball down the field, but he completed a robust 68.6% of his passes on the season, and receiver Malik Nabors had no issues excelling in the offense, averaging 14.1 yards per reception while ranking 26th out of 244 qualifiers in catch percentage (Boutte was 94th). And keep in mind that Boutte’s catch percentage is probably artificially high, as he was a frequent recipient of screens and well-schemed RPOs. Also worth noting, Boutte and Daniels seemed to have chemistry issues and Daniels’ return to LSU may have played a part in Boutte’s decision to turn pro.
Boutte then did himself no favors at the combine, posting a 4.99 RAS with extremely poor explosion and agility, lending credibility to the notion that he simply isn’t the receiver that he once was. In addition, he is a bit on the small side at just 5-11 and 195 pounds, and compounding everything else, there are whispers about off the field problems which may have played a part in his decision to leave school.
So the question becomes, can you get vintage Boutte back with some NFL coaching and more rehab time? Maybe you can, but the 86th pick is a pretty high price to pay to find out. I’d also like to point out that while his sophomore season was off to a nice start with nine TDs in just 6 games, he was strangely “boom and bust” with bizarre no-shows against McNeese State and Central Michigan. In the aggregate those games pushed his WROPS line to a less-than-dynamic .430/.442/.873 in 2021, which is a line frequently possessed by slot receivers and tight ends. Boutte definitely had a few games that would make the average scout salivate, but he would too often follow it up with a poor effort.
With a poor RAS, a poor 3-cone, a poor 2022 season, and a poor offseason, there are too many red flags to justify a 3rd rounder here. Boutte might make for an interesting reclamation project, and maybe he turns it around, but I’m not even sure the upside is as real as is commonly understood.
Zay Flowers - Boston College
Consensus Board - 31
WROPS/RAS/WRAPS – .816/8.3/16.46 (22nd in this class)
2022 Stats: 130 targets, 78 receptions (60%), 1077 yards, 12 touchdowns.
I think there are some similarities between Flowers and undersized Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. Let’s start with the positives. Flowers is obviously very talented, and every single scouting report written on the man cites his incredible work ethic and leadership qualities. He’s a willing blocker and went all out, even for the lost cause that was the 2022 Boston College football season. He was also versatile, shifting from a lower-volume deep threat in 2020 and 2021 into more of a high-volume possession receiver in 2022, giving up some yards per catch to be a more reliable stick-mover.
Flowers also has one of the best releases in college football, and scouts are unanimous in their use of the phrase “silky smooth” to describe his route running. So what’s the problem exactly?
As is the case with most of the receivers in this draft, and with Bryce Young, size is a big deal. Let’s start with a stat that I usually don’t care about: Arm length. Kayshon Boutte has 31.375 inch arms. Even the comically small Tyler Scott of Cincinnati has 30.875 inch arms. Flowers has 29.25 inch arms, which, combined with his slight frame, gives him one of the smallest catch radii in football, and unfortunately, it shows up in his production.
As mostly a deep threat in 2021, Flowers WROPS slash line was .318/.561/.879. In 2020, his line was .317/.526/.843. The .318/.317 should set off immediate alarm bells as even an average college deep threat should be catching more than that, and while Boston College had bad quarterbacking, a lot of colleges have bad quarterbacking. Flowers’ catch% ranked 310 out of 333 qualifiers in 2021, and 340 out of 393 qualifiers in 2020, and no matter how bad the quarterback is, a first round receiver shouldn’t rank this low.
Changing his role was almost certainly a good idea for 2022, and is likely more reflective as to how he’ll be used at the next level, but his overall production was still lackluster. He was 2% worse than average per WROBA, and catch percentage still weighs heavily on his overall numbers. At the next level, his silky smooth route running and release may serve him well as more of a slot receiver, and a more accurate passer may do him wonders, but his size is going to limit his upside, and likely keep him in the slot. While it’s a minor point, and I don’t really doubt his agility, it’s also worth noting that he didn’t run agility drills, which are the best indicators for a successful NFL slot receiver.
I will happily have Zay Flowers in my team and in my locker room, but not at 31, where he currently sits on the consensus board. Sometimes players can transcend their physical limitations, but Flowers’ limitations have had a negative impact on his college production, and things only get more difficult at the next level.
Jordan Addison - USC
Consensus Board - 17
WROPS/RAS/WRAPS – .911/5.88/15.04 (30th in this class)
2022 Stats: 84 targets, 59 receptions (70%), 875 yards, 8 touchdowns.
Let us dispense with the “broken record” portion of this write-up, both for Jordan Addison and our next entry: Addison is small, at just 5-11, 171 pounds. It’s easy for yet another small player in a small class to simply fade into noise, but it’s important to keep in mind that just because there are so many small receivers in this draft doesn’t suddenly mean that being small doesn’t matter. Addison, Josh Downs, Zay Flowers, Jalin Hyatt, Marvin Mims, and Tyler Scott are all extremely small receivers, and all of them will have a more difficult road to NFL success because of it.
But Addison isn’t on this list because he’s small, and neither is anyone else. Everyone listed in the overrated column is here because of a combination of lack of production, a lack of athleticism, or both, and while size can impact these factors, size is not itself the reason.
Just to add a bit more heft to this exercise, note that it generally takes receivers about three NFL seasons before we really know if they’re good. If we take a look back at those receivers drafted between 2017 and 2020, the top 20 (all over a .900) are Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DJ Chark, James Washington, Tre’Quan Smith, Hollywood Brown, CeeDee Lamb, DeVonta Smith, Brandon Aiyuk, Justin Jefferson, Elijah Moore, Darius Slayton, Keke Coutee, AJ Brown, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, DaeSean Hamilton, and Tee Higgins. It’s not perfect, as no metric will ever be perfect, but it’s a good list. There are, of course, some good receivers with poor WROPS scores as well, including Christian Kirk, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Hunter Renfrow, and Deebo. WROPS sometimes struggles with slot guys.
Of the players in the top-20 list, Jaylen Waddle, James Washington, Hollywood Brown, Elijah Moore, and Keke Coutee are under six feet tall, and I would argue that outside of Waddle, these are among the less impressive of the group. Addison’s .911 WROPS isn’t bad in a vacuum, and is the best of anyone in this article, but at just 5-11, 171 pounds, Addison tends to resemble the short folks more than he should for the 17th overall pick, with his best comp almost certainly Keke Coutee. Addison’s .421/.489/.911 splits are quite similar to Coutee’s .454/.507/.961, and their RAS scores…
Addison is as smooth as advertised and his route running is quite good. He’s at his best finding open space when the play breaks down, and quarterback Caleb Williams excelled at finding him. USC was clever and moved him all over the formation, including in the backfield, to spring him, which also served to protect him from any press, but in that strategy, we can see his limitations. He will likely struggle with press man in the NFL. He will likely be confined mostly to the slot in the NFL. And as the options shrink, and the plays on which he can reasonably contribute shrink, his ceiling shrinks as well.
By WROPS, he wasn’t even the best receiver on USC. That honor goes to Tahj Washington and his .411/.518/.929 splits on a robust 73 targets. Having Caleb Williams throwing in a Lincoln Riley offense did wonders for everyone’s efficiency numbers.
The bottom line is that the consensus board currently has Addison one spot ahead of Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and that is, frankly, ridiculous.
Josh Downs - North Carolina
Consensus Board - 40
WROPS/RAS/WRAPS – .831/8.99/17.29 (16th in this class)
2022 Stats: 120 targets, 94 receptions (78%), 1029 yards, 11 touchdowns.
What Downs has over Jordan Addison in RAS, he gives up, and then some, in WROPS. I’m always wary of high-volume performers, as they often get a pass – sometimes justified – on per-catch efficiency. There were 76 players to catch at least 60 passes in college football last season, and Downs ranked 64th in yards per catch among them, tied with fellow prospects Bryce Ford Wheaton and Xavier Hutchinson. Downs did manage to catch an absurdly high number of his targets (to his credit), but his .470/.361/.831 splits tell the story, as it’s a slash line more typical of a running back. I’ve mentioned that WROPS sometimes has a bit of a blind spot for slot receivers, but it’s very unusual for a successful player to have an OBP and SLG upside down like this. Downs was similar in 2021 with a .409/.436/.845 line, and indeed, he took over 90% of his snaps from the slot in college. We know exactly what we’re dealing with here.
It’s not a crime to be a slot receiver, and so the question becomes whether Downs can be a good one. After all, Cooper Kupp was the best receiver in football just two years ago as a slot receiver, and if you can replicate that kind of production, it doesn’t really matter where you line up. His impressive RAS, and impressive agility scores, make him a prototypical athlete for the slot, and you will find nothing but praise for his route-running, which does indeed pop on tape.
That said, there are plenty of problems once Downs has the ball in his hands. His size means he rarely breaks tackles, and the same agility that gets him open in the first place seems to desert him once he makes the catch. There is stutter stepping all over his tape, and his 4 YAC/Rec is among the worst in the class, and the primary driver of his poor Y/C numbers. At the next level, he’ll have to be shiftier and more decisive, because defenders will only be bigger and faster.
To conclude, it’s also worth noting that Downs wasn’t efficient even among high volume performers. Eleven receivers caught 85 or more balls this season, and among those eleven, only Isaiah Williams of Illinois (8.7) and Khaleb Hood of Georgia Southern (10.7) averaged fewer yards per catch. Xavier Hutchinson, who caught 107 passes for Iowa State, had an identical 10.9. Charlie Jones of Purdue caught 110 balls for 12.4 yards per catch from a pretty brutal Aidan O’Connell. Nathaniel Dell of Houston averaged 12.8 on 109 catches with Clayton Tune. Rashee Rice, currently 66th on the consensus board, averaged a robust 14.1 yards per catch on 96 receptions from future Badger Tanner Mordecai.
But Josh Downs was only able to average 10.9 from Drake Maye? Yeah, I’m not interested, especially in the early second round.