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The Brandt Report

2021 NFL Draft: Prospect-pro comparisons for top wide receivers

Last week, I provided pro comparisons for top pass-rushing prospects heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Below, I've come up with comps for six of the top receiver wide prospects.

As with last week's piece, because prospects did not run drills at the NFL Scouting Combine this year, I'm relying on numbers pulled together from pro days. Historical pre-NFL numbers for current pros are drawn from or cross-checked against combine records, or Pro Football Reference.

Ja'Marr Chase

Pro comparison: Anquan Boldin (14 NFL seasons, 76.9 catches per year, 948.2 receiving yards per year, 6 TDs per year)

Set aside for a moment the fact that Chase (who ran 4.34-second 40-yard dash at LSU's pro day) is much faster than Boldin was (4.73 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine). Throughout his 14-season NFL career, Boldin simply would not be denied whenever the ball came anywhere near him. Check out this play from Boldin's record-setting rookie season; a split second after pulling in a catch on the run, he's slammed by a pair of defenders, but instead of going down or losing his grip on the ball, Boldin shrugs off the contact and coasts into the end zone. Chase shows a similar fearlessness on the field, whether he's out-muscling the opposition on a contested catch or ripping off extra yards. No wonder Chase, who opted out in 2020, led FBS with 46 explosive pass plays (those that went for 15-plus yards) in 2019, per Pro Football Focus.

The thing is, Boldin used his strong hands and on-field moxie to outperform -- by leaps and bounds -- the ceiling suggested by his pedestrian measurables. Looking at his pre-draft numbers (6-foot 5/8, 216 pounds, 33 1/2-inch vertical, 7.35 three-cone, 4.25 short shuttle), I'd say there was no way Boldin could have become the player he became. Chase, meanwhile, carries himself with the same verve, ranking seventh in contested-catch percentage (50%) among FBS receivers with 120-plus targets in 2019, per PFF -- and he has the benefit of top-end speed and athleticism (6-0 3/8, 201, 41-inch vertical, 11-0 broad jump, 6.76 three-cone, 3.98 short shuttle). 

Jaylen Waddle
Alabama · WR

Pro comparison: Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs (five NFL seasons, 73.6 catches per year, 1,078.2 receiving yards per year, 9.4 TDs per year)

Waddle, who is recovering from a dislocated ankle that limited him to six games in 2020 (and which appears to be healing well), has not run or worked out this pre-draft season. But based on the speed and talent he shows on tape, Waddle projects to me as sort of a Hill-in-waiting, a blazing-quick offensive force ready to become one of the next great receivers in the NFL. Watch Waddle slice through traffic or outsprint the field and tell me you don’t see echoes of Hill making defenders look silly. Waddle had to split targets with Alabama's other premier receivers, including DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. But note his extremely healthy yards-per-catch mark of 18.9, including a whopping 21.1 figure in his healthy outings in 2020 -- and note also Waddle's return ability (19.3 yards per punt return and 23.8 yards per kick return). Those numbers just scream Hill-esque big-play potential.

DeVonta Smith
Alabama · WR

Pro comparison: Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings (one NFL season, 88 catches, 1,400 receiving yards, seven TDs).

Like Waddle, Smith did not run at Alabama's pro days. But if Smith were to test, I would guess he'd put up very similar numbers to Jefferson (4.43 40, 37 1/2-inch vertical, 10-6 broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine). The two players also look nearly identical in terms of body type, with both checking in at 6-1 -- except Smith is about 30 pounds lighter. I initially thought Jefferson would work primarily in the slot, but he ended up generating the majority of his yardage on the outside en route to breaking Boldin's record for rookie receiving yards. Like Jefferson, Smith is a fluid route runner. The Heisman Trophy winner is a superior athlete who often made it look like he was the only person on the field, weaving his way to big-time production (185 catches, 3,112 receiving yards and 37 receiving TDs over the past two seasons). The one question I have regarding Smith is if he'll be able to stand up to the press coverage he's sure to face in the NFL, as defenders try to knock him off-course. That said, opponents tried to do as much at the college level, and no one could really stop him.  

Elijah Moore
Mississippi · WR

Pro comparison: Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (six NFL seasons, 62.7 catches per year, 815.3 receiving yards per year, 6.2 TDs per year)

Like Lockett (5-10, 182 pounds), Moore's impact on the field far outstrips his lack of size (5-10, 178). Lockett logged 36 explosive plays in his final season at Kansas State, according to PFF, fourth-most in FBS -- a ranking that Moore matched in 2020 (with 27). Since being selected by the Seahawks in the third round of the draft in 2015, Lockett has proven himself as a top-end NFL receiver, averaging 1,025 receiving yards and 79.7 receptions over the past three seasons. Moore and Lockett tested similarly (Moore reportedly registered a 36-inch vertical, 10-0 broad jump, 4.00 short shuttle and 6.65 three-cone at Mississippi's pro day, while Lockett posted a 35 1/2-inch vertical, a 10-1 broad jump, a 4.07 short shuttle and 6.89 three-cone at the combine). But when you factor in Moore's superior speed (he clocked a reported 4.32 40, compared to Lockett's 4.4 40), Moore's ceiling projects to be a little bit higher than what Lockett has accomplished thus far in Seattle.

Kadarius Toney
Florida · WR

Pro comparison: Percy Harvin (eight NFL seasons, 44.1 catches per year, 503.3 receiving yards per year, 2.8 receiving TDs per year)

Like Harvin, Toney can line up in multiple spots; consider that 55 of Toney's 70 catches, 784 of his 977 receiving yards and nine of his 10 touchdowns came out of the slot in 2020, per PFF. Also like the former Gator, Toney is a dynamic and dangerous player with the ball in his hands -- except he's a better athlete with more wiggle and superior route-running ability. While they put up similar times in the 40 (4.37 for Toney at Florida's pro day, 4.41 for Harvin), Toney was a tad better in the vertical jump (39 1/2 inches to 37 1/2) and broad jump (10-4 to 10-1).  Harvin was more of a straight-ahead guy, which is perhaps why injuries ultimately derailed his NFL career. Toney tied for fourth in the NCAA in explosive plays (27) and ranked sixth in missed forced tackles (20), per PFF. Harvin was never able to make good on his potential, failing to break 1,000 yards in any season, but I think Toney's got the ability to be a productive pro.

Rondale Moore
Purdue · WR

Pro comparison: Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team (four NFL seasons, 46.3 catches per season, 521.7 receiving yards per season, 3.5 receiving TDs per season)

Anyone who wants to see a receiving clinic should just pop on film of Moore's performance against Ohio State in 2018, a 12-catch, 170-yard, two-touchdown demonstration of what he could do against top defensive competition. Though Samuel and Moore clocked the exact same 40 time (4.31 seconds), Moore's profile doesn't map perfectly on to Samuel's -- Samuel is more of a straight-ahead guy, whereas Moore is a nimbler, more agile receiver. At Purdue's pro day, Moore outperformed Samuel's combine numbers in the vertical jump (42 1/2 inches for Moore, 37 for Samuel), broad jump (10-6 to 9-9), short shuttle (4.1 to 4.3) and three-cone (an excellent 6.68 for Moore, compared to 7.09 for Samuel). Samuel is also heavier (196 pounds) than Moore (181) and, of course, taller (5-11 to 5-7).

Though it took Samuel some time, he emerged as a productive player over the past two seasons, culminating in a 2020 season with 1,051 scrimmage yards (851 receiving, 200 rushing) for the Panthers that led to a three-year, $34.5 million deal with Washington this offseason. The question with Moore is, can he convert his potential to pro production on a consistent basis? If he hits his ceiling -- and critically, stays healthy -- Moore could be a powerful and compact slot weapon in the NFL. 

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