In this week’s Bucs Briefing, I release my 2022 NFL Draft wide receiver rankings and round grades. There are a few pro days left, so a couple things may still shift before the draft. But this is likely to be my final ranking of the class. Keep in mind, my round grades are handed out in a vacuum. Each round grade is tied to the caliber of player I believe each prospect will be in the NFL. It is NOT a projection of where I believe they will or even should be drafted in the actual draft. Instead it is a level of valuation I have tied to each player’s outlook for the NFL.
Here are the 2022 NFL Draft wide receivers I still need to complete evaluations for.
Pierce proved at the Combine that he has the long speed (4.41) and leaping ability (40.5 vertical) for his style of play to succeed in the NFL. But I still have concerns. Pierce is a big, stiff route runner who struggled to separate at the line of scrimmage or in his route breaks against man coverage. He also didn’t impress much at the Senior Bowl. However, he does flash awesome ball skills and late speed to pull away vertically. But I don’t think any of Pierce’s traits are good enough to consistently make up for his lack of separation. Pierce could be a solid big slot with inside/outside potential and special teams value in the NFL. The prototype of an ideal No. 4-5 receiver.
11. Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama – Early Round 4 (Spot Starter/Quality Depth)
South Alabama WR Jalen Tolbert – Photo by: USA Today
Tolbert could be better than some of the players ahead of him, but a few things are giving me pause. First, the level of competition he faced in college was very low in quality. I could live with that if he had A) lit up the Senior Bowl or B) lit up the Combine. But Tolbert was up-and-down in Mobile, and was good, not great at the Combine. Also, he’ll be a 23-year old rookie who needs to add muscle. Still, his ball skills and acceleration on tape give me enough hope to swing on him in the middle of the draft. Tolbert could be a legit deep threat in the NFL.
10. David Bell, Purdue – Early Round 4 (Spot Starter/Quality Depth)
To succeed in the NFL, Bell will need to be the outlier of all outliers. At 6-1, 212 pounds, Bell ran a 4.65 40 at the Combine and tested in the 26th percentile or lower in every other exercise. But how do you succeed as a bottom-tier athlete wide receiver in the NFL? With outstanding hands, elite football IQ, exceptional work ethic and willingness to do all the dirty work. Bell has all of that. I see a lot of Jarvis Landry when I watch Bell. He’s a power slot/No. 3-No.4 option in the NFL. He may be a disappointing athlete, but I still think he’ll carve out a career somewhere on the Landry to Jason Avant scale of success.
9. George Pickens, Georgia – Late Round 3 (Solid Starter)
Pickens has talent, but we just haven’t seen any growth since his freshman year. He’s a solid athlete with flashes of great ball skills. The physical and athletic traits are there to be a good X-receiver in the NFL, but he needs a lot of polish to his routes and releases. He’s pretty reminiscent of Devante Parker as a prospect.
8. Jahan Dotson, Penn State – Round 3 Grade (Solid Starter)
My wife Brittany is a Penn State graduate and a diehard fan of the Nittany Lions. So I saw more of Dotson over his career than probably any other receiver on the list. He’s an awesome college player who I think will struggle to find the same level of success in the NFL. Simply put, there aren’t a lot of 178-pound outside receivers in the NFL. And the ones who succeed there typically have more juice out of the blocks than Dotson.
Penn State WR Jahan Dotson and Auburn CB Roger McCreary – Photo by: USA Today
That doesn’t mean he can’t help a team, however. Dotson has a lot of great traits to be a slot receiver, including the smarts to read coverages and the toughness to make plays over the middle of the field. He’s exceptionally sure-handed, with just two drops on 138 targets last year! Dotson has enough athleticism and wiggle to be ok after the catch, even though he won’t break many tackles. He’ll compete in the air too, with awesome ball skills and tracking ability.
The problem with Dotson is that it’s painfully obvious on his tape that things change when he faces press man coverage. Michigan was physical with him at the line of scrimmage, and it impacted his performance. Dotson is tough, but just slight and not explosive enough to consistently evade jams. Cornerbacks who were physical with him throughout the route presented much more significant challenges than zone coverage looks. Dotson is likely a slot-only in the NFL, but in the right offense he could be awesome in that role (Patriots?).
7. Christian Watson, North Dakota State – Round 3 Grade (Solid Starter)
I don’t really need to write that much about Watson. If you’ve followed the draft at all, you likely know who he is as a prospect. Following Combine testing, Watson is now one of the most athletic wide receiver prospects in draft history. And he stands 6-4, 208 pounds of muscle too. Oh, and he tore up the Senior Bowl, putting a mile between him and the next best receiver there.
North Dakota State WR Christian Watson – Photo by: USA Today
So why isn’t he a Round 1 lock? Well, because Watson hails from run-heavy North Dakota State, where he simply ran past opposing corners to get open. And Watson got open a lot, averaging over 20 yards per catch with the Bison. In fact, Watson had 59 plays of 20 yards or more in his college career! Considering he had just 164 touches, that’s absolutely nuts.
The question is, what happens with Watson in the NFL? He dropped too many passes in college, and isn’t as consistent as you’d like in contested spots. He only ran a couple routes at North Dakota State, so he’s underdeveloped there, too. There are definitely some red flags with Watson on tape, when he just simply out-athleted everyone else on the field.
But his flashes of ability at the Senior Bowl have me excited about his potential. Watson has an incredible combination of size, length and athletic ability. Yes, there is room for Watson to get better. But by all accounts he is teachable, tough and works hard. His competitiveness as a blocker in college shows his physicality. In the draft, there are a few unknowns every year because of how the player was utilized in college. Watson is one I’m taking a chance on in 2022. His ceiling is the best receiver in the draft, but his floor is probably Mack Hollins. He’ll be a clear risk for NFL teams, but the payoff could be massive.
It’s pretty easy to like Moore’s tape. He separates from everyone, makes tough catches and bounces around like crazy after the catch. In fact, per PFF, Moore made 26 tacklers miss last season. That’s more than every other FBS receiver!
Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore – Photo by: USA Today
If there is a knock on Moore, it’s his size. However, at 5-10, 195-pound weigh-in at the Combine was a big win for him. And Moore’s hands are 10 1/4 inches – bigger than any other receiver in the draft. That shows up on his tape, as Moore catches everything thrown his way, including more than a few contested grabs. His ball skills are solid, and it’s rare to see him drop the football.
What’s most encouraging about Moore is that you don’t see him get pushed around very often. That’s important considering I don’t think he always plays quite to his 4.41 speed. Still, Moore wins vertically enough to be accounted for in that area of the field. And his ability to play inside and outside, as well as pick up manufactured touches and produce with them, should allow him to contribute in different ways. He’s a nice piece to an offense with 1-2 established options already.
I’m really surprised that Williams’ game hasn’t been picked apart a little more over the past few months. It’s like people saw that he’s absurdly fast and didn’t care about anything else. Yes, Williams has elite speed. It’s why I believe he’ll be a good starter in the NFL. But beyond his ability to make plays down the field, what else does he offer right now?
Alabama WR Jameson Williams – Photo by: USA Today
Williams has a long way to go to become a complete NFL receiver. His route-running is rudimentary, and physical press man coverage could be an issue in the NFL. Williams’ slight frame has room to bulk up, but coming off a torn ACL it will take some time. To be a premier vertical threat, more than just speed is required. You have to win at the line of scrimmage consistently and adjust to the ball down the field. That’s what separates Tyreek Hill and Desean Jackson from Will Fuller. Which receiver is Williams most likely to be in the NFL?
He has the speed, acceleration and size to be Jackson. But there’s a lot more to it. I think there’s a lot better chance that Williams ends up like Mike Wallace, who had several great years in the NFL. There have been flashes of strong catches outside his frame and even some good YAC plays. But right now, Williams’ success is primarily tied to Alabama’s scheme and his ability to run past people. In the NFL, he’ll need to diversify his skill set or perfect his best trick in order to reach the ceiling many project for him.
I’ve watched almost every game of London’s 2021 season. My opinion on him has elevated from early in draft season, when I was sure I’d be the lowest analyst on him. London’s college tape is good, but I have some questions about how he’ll win in the NFL. Jump ball receivers have rarely become quality No. 1 options in the league, and London has been considered a top 10-15 pick throughout the draft process. Rarely are receivers with his size and lack of speed top options for an NFL team’s passing attack in the NFL.
USC WR Drake London – Photo by: USA Today
But what London lacks in speed and quickness, he does his best to make up for with terrific execution. Although his route tree could be more expansive, London is great at dropping his hips at the top of the route and exploding back to the ball. Technically, he’s a very clean receiver. He’s fantastic at playing the football in the air, he doesn’t give up his hands early and he finds space against zone coverage like a pro. All of those things will allow London to play early and often in the NFL.
So what’s the ceiling? I think people need to stop with the Mike Evans’ comparison. Evans had 10-15 pounds on London and was much faster. He ran by guys in college, and he’s done the same thing his entire pro career. London’s lack of speed will be an issue in the NFL. You can’t back-shoulder catch all game long against every corner at the pro level.
Still, London’s physicality and awareness make him hard to completely bet against. His game will need to be grimy at the next level, and I think he’ll embrace that. London’s ability to play as a power slot possession receiver could make him a fun mis-match option in the right offense. And he’s tough enough after the catch to wear a few different hats in the NFL too. London’s limitations will show up more in the NFL, but not to the point where he can’t help an offense with some good pieces around him.
3. Chris Olave, Ohio State – Early Round 2 Grade (Very Good Starter)
Obviously Olave and Garrett Wilson are going to be compared as college teammates. But really, they are very different players. I think Wilson is more versatile and wins in more ways, so I have him a tiny bit higher. But if an NFL team needs an outside vertical threat in their offense, Olave is a great option. And he’s more polished than Jameson Williams, even if he isn’t as fast.
Ohio State WR Chris Olave – Photo by: USA Today
What you’re getting in Olave is pretty much a finished product. He’s capable of winning through the full route tree against most cornerbacks, but I don’t know if he’ll ever have the size and explosiveness to defeat top defenders in man coverage. When I watch Olave, I see a surefire contributor to a team’s passing game that will be at his best if he’s not the main focal point of the offense.
Simply put, there will be ways for defenses to take Olave out of the game. He’s not that physical, despite his refined technique. Olave is fast, but not a burner that will force a safety to cap him. And he’s a non-factor after the catch. Also, I’m not sure how often he’ll move inside in the NFL. Olave seems like mostly an outside receiver.
Because of his usage limitations, I doubt Olave will ever be a top threat in a high-quality NFL passing attack. But as a No. 2 or 3, he could thrive. Olave’s ability to win vertically, coupled with sure hands and excellent ball skills, will give him an obvious early role in the NFL. He may never be much more than that, but in the right situation he’ll have a good career.
2. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State – Early Round 2 Grade (Very Good Starter)
I have questions about every receiver in this draft. I don’t view any 2022 pass catcher on the level of Ja’Marr Chase last year. But with Wilson, my questions are more about how high his ceiling can be. I think he’ll at least be a quality No. 2 receiver in the NFL. Will he be Stefon Diggs, as many have suggested? He’s definitely capable of it. The height of Wilson’s peak will almost certainly be determined by how willing he is to improve as a route runner. Right now, that’s his biggest question mark for the NFL.
Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson – Photo by: USA Today
Don’t get me wrong – Wilson has great separation ability. And when he runs a good route, that separation quickness is on full display. The problem is that his route timing and movement is still all over the place. He can take too long to get open, using a bevy of moves on a defender rather than being crisp and decisive. If Wilson’s cuts down on all the gyrations and extra jab steps, he could become a strong route runner rather quickly. The ability is already there.
But what puts Wilson on another level is his ability to make tough catches. He’s not just a finesse receiver, and you see that when he’s asked to block or win in a contested spot. There’s no question he has to get stronger, or at least savvier with his hands. But Wilson doesn’t mind playing in tight quarters when he has to. PFF has him with a 62 percent contested catch win rate last season. That’s an outstanding number.
Wilson is already good at almost everything, including being a threat after the catch. But he’s probably never going to become a physically dominant player in the NFL like Treylon Burks can be. So Wilson will need to perfect his craft as a route runner. All the tools are there for him to do so. I’ll bet on him succeeding in the NFL.
Burks’ Combine wasn’t great, but it was still ok, especially when you consider how big he is compared to a normal receiver. At 225 pounds, Burks is a rare build with rare explosiveness for the position. He dominated quality competition in the SEC as an inside and outside receiver. His 4.55 40 time may not have impressed at the Combine, but on tape he runs by good cornerbacks. His “flying 20” acceleration is eye-popping. And he catches everything.
Arkansas WR Treylon Burks – Photo by: USA Today
Some have used D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel as comparisons for Burks’ game. Those aren’t quite on the nose to me. A.J. Brown is a more likely comparison. Burks might not be quite as athletic as Brown, but stylistically they play very similarly. Both receivers were predominantly slots in college, and showed great instincts after the catch. They accelerate into space and pick up yards after contact.
Brown never really impressed in his limited reps outside in college, but has made a complete transition in the NFL. Burks only played outside in a handful of reps for Arkansas last year, but his tape there was unbelievable. He blew by press coverage at every opportunity, then made back shoulder or over the head catches downfield. I have very little concerns about his ability to play outside. He just gets it.
To me, Burks is the most instinctive receiver in the draft. Yes, he might never be an elite separator through the full route tree. But he makes contested catches at an incredible rate, and he consistently wins down the field. He has the best chance in the 2022 draft to become a true WR1.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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