Intro to the 2023 NFL Draft Class: Wide Receivers

by Cody Carpentier · NFL Draft

The 2022 NFL Draft is long in the rearview mirror, but the 2022 NFL and College Football Season is near. So, I don’t see a better time than August 1st to release an Introduction to the 2023 NFL Draft Class, beginning with Wide Receivers today.

Over the next 3 weeks, I will be breaking down prospects you need to know heading into the 2022 College Football Season and 2023 NFL Draft. From Bryce Young at Quarterback for Alabama to Bryan Breese on the Defensive Line for Clemson, you will leave this series fully equipped and prepared to talk your friend’s ear off at the local pub this College Football season.

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The Top Dawgs

(1) Kayshon Boutte, LSU – 6’0″ 205 lbs

  • Evaluation: Pro-Ready, Quick twitch athlete as a freshman at LSU. Excels at contorting his body to the catch point, but struggles to finish in contested situations. Boutte’s awareness in and out of breaks expediates his YAC-ability on every play. After suffering an ankle injury in 2021, Boutte missed the rest of the season and required surgery. Bursting on the scene during the final three games against Alabama, Florida, and Ole Miss where he combined for 527 yards and 4 touchdowns to close out his freshman season.
  • Projected Comp: D.J. Moore
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: 1st Round (Top 10)
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 9.13

Kayshon Boutte Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

(2) Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State – 6’0″ 198 lbs

  • Evaluation: Smooth and efficient in tight spaces, considered the best of the bunch at Ohio State by his peers (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave). Jaxon routinely finds the opening in zone defenses where C.J. Stroud delivers layup receptions. Smith-Njigba’s speed will not blow you away, but his ability get create separation in-route and at the point of reception helps create wins in all situations. After having a limited opportunity in 2020, playing alongside Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, and Garrett Wilson, Smith-Njigba took over in early 2021. With games of (7-145-2) against Oregon, (15-240-1) against Nebraska, and (15-347-3) against Utah in the Rose Bowl, it’s apparent JSN is primed for Sundays. As we enter the 2022 College Football Season, it’s important to look back at JSN’s Senior Season in High School, where he reeled in 109 catches for 2,132 yards and 34 touchdowns. *Note – Trevor Insley, Nevada is the only receiver in College Football history to eclipse 2,000 receiving yards, back in 1999.
  • Projected Comp: Keenan Allen
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: 1st Round (Top 10)
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 9.01

Jaxon Smith-Njigba Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The Second Tier

(3) Jordan Addison, USC – 6’0″ 175 lbs

  • Evaluation: Can separate in every quadrant, with a willingness to stick his nose in the chest of a safety on run plays. Addison is one guy that I can’t wait to see the Route Win Rate for after his Rookie Season. Breaking Out at the Age of 18.6 (96th-percentile), Addison clipped 600 yards as a freshman, 100 receptions, and 1,593 yards as a Sophomore at Pittsburgh. Coming in on the slimmer side, Jordan Addison has few question marks on his profile, but if he was 190 lbs, he may be ahead of Boutte, and Smith-Njigba for me.
  • Projected Comp: Darnell Mooney/Stefon Diggs
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: 1st Round (Top 15)
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 8.55

(4) Josh Downs, North Carolina – 5’10” 175 lbs

  • Evaluation: Possession receiver with breakaway speed. While sharing a receiving room with Dazz Newsome, and Dyami Brown in 2020 – Downs failed with crest 200 yards. But the departure of Newsome and Brown elevated Downs into the no.1 wide receiver chair for Sam Howell, since being at North Carolina his College Target Share is a class-best  39.2% (99th-percentile). Not only is Downs one of the quickest twitched receivers while in and out of breaks, but he also returned 16 punts in 2021 with an average of 9.8 yards.
  • Projected Comp: Elijah Moore
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: Late 1st Round
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 8.17

(5) Parker Washington, Penn State – 5’10” 215 lbs

  • Evaluation: Despite being just 5’10”, Parker Washington excels all over the field at Penn State almost as a 6’3″ 220 lb alpha receiver would. Washington’s mindset to play much bigger than he is, is helped by his sturdy 215 lbs frame that allows him to take those big hits and fight through every tackler. Lacking breakaway speed, Washington trusts his ability to make every catch despite contesting defenders, and linebackers coming for his head. When the DAWG rating scores are released in the spring of 2023, I will be hard-pressed not to have Washington in the Top 5 of this class.
  • Projected Comp: Pierre Garcon
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: Late 1st Round/Early 2nd Round
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 8.07

(6) Quentin Johnston, TCU – 6’4″ 212 lbs

  • Evaluation: Size! Since the 2019 NFL Draft class featuring D.K. Metcalf, the NFL Draft, and Fantasy community has been looking for another Big Prototypical X receiver with 1st Round upside. Johnston has a chance to be that guy, he lacks the 4.33 speed that Metcalf brings. Unlike Metcalf, Johnston has been a fluid route runner in college, with YAC-ability on any given snap. Despite the inability to separate in the RedZone, he is a contested-catch machine, and Johnston claimed in an interview at Big-12 Media Day that he is pushing a 46″ vertical jump.
  • Projected Comp: Alec Pierce
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: 1st Round (Top 25)
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 8.00

Quentin Johnston Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

(8) Jermaine Burton, Alabama – 6’0″ 200 lbs

  • Evaluation: Transfer from Georgia after the 2021 season, Burton slides into the perceived no.1 wide receiver chair for Bryce Young. Burton’s athleticism and ball skills have gone wildly underrated in the 2023 class to this point, but being in the Alabama spotlight in 2022 should elevate Burton a bit more in the National eye. Despite just 400+ yard seasons each in 2021 and 2022, Burton was a pivotal part of the Georgia offense, cresting 3 touches or 30 total yards in 11 of 22 games. Burton is very obviously missing the big games of output, and that is why he will be wearing Crimson this fall.
  • Projected Comp: Golden Tate
  • 2023 NFL Draft Projected Round: 2nd Round
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.62

Seniors to Watch

(7) Jacob Cowing, Arizona – 5’11” 175 lbs

  • Evaluation: The theme of the class of 2023, is transferring to a Power 5 school, this time around it is Jacob Cowing headed to Arizona after dismantling all of Conference USA in 2021. As a “small-school” prospect at UTEP, Cowing racked up 18.2 College YPR (87th-percentile), 40.6% (84th-percentile) College Dominator, and 31.6% (94th-percentile) College Target Share.
  • Projected Comp: Emmanuel Sanders
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.81

(9) Jayden Reed, Michigan State – 6’0″ 185 lbs

  • Evaluation: After a freshman season at Western Michigan that saw Jayden Reed outplay Junior, D’Wayne Eskridge with 797 yards and 8 touchdowns. Reed transferred to Michigan State in 2020, and since arriving he has tallied 1,400 receiving yards playing with 2022 NFL Draft Picks Kenneth Walker and Jalen Nailor.
  • Projected Comp: Brandin Cooks
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.48

Jayden Reed Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

(12) Zay Flowers, Boston College – 5’11” 172 lbs

  • Evaluation: Extremely loose body, used all over the field, similar to Ainias Smith in the 2023 NFL Draft Class. At Boston College, Flowers has 45 carries and 122 receptions through three seasons while accumulating All-ACC first-team honors.
  • Projected Comp: Taylor Gabriel
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.32

(13) Ainias Smith, Texas A&M – 5’10” 190 lbs

  • Evaluation: Ainias Smith was a late add to this list due to some off-field legal issues, despite his talent, it will be an extreme uphill battle to get into the Round 1-2 conversation while clearing his name of any wrongdoing or worries from the National Football League. As a prospect, Smith is a hybrid super tool, through 3 seasons he has 54 punt returns, 64 carries, and 112 receptions.
  • Projected Comp: Bo Melton
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.09

(14) Elijah Higgins, Stanford – 6’3″ 235 lbs

  • Evaluation: Multi-Time Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll, Higgins came to Stanford as a four-star prospect by Rivals, 24/7, and ESPN services. After breaking out as a Junior, both Higgins and Quarterback Tanner McKee return to the Cardinal to improve on a disappointing 3-9 season. During a three-game stretch in 2021 against UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona State – Higgins finished with 18 receptions, 275 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
  • Projected Comp: Devin Funchess
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.01

(15) Marvin Mims, Oklahoma – 5’10” 184 lbs

  • Evaluation: After a ridiculous 2,600 yards, and 31 touchdown Senior season at Lone Star High School in Texas, Mims signed with Oklahoma. In two seasons, Marvin Mims has 600+ yards in both seasons while playing with the likes of Charleston Rambo, Jadon Haselwood, and Mike Woods. With a new Quarterback for the third straight season, the undersized burner is joined by transfer QB Dillon Gabriel, and Freshman Nick Anderson.
  • Projected Comp: Hunter Renfrow
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 6.77

(17) Dontay Demus, Maryland – 6’4″ 215 lbs

  • Evaluation: After a gruesome knee injury during the latter half of his 2021 Senior Season at Maryland, Demus is rumored to be “ahead of schedule” and the expectation is that he will be ready for week 1 of the 2022 season. Demus has crested 75+ receiving yards in 13 of 29 career games.
  • Projected Comp: Bryan Edwards
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 6.52

Underclassmen with Upside

(10) Corey Rucker, South Carolina – 6’1″ 212 lbs

  • Evaluation: Another Transfer at the wide receiver position in 2022, Rucker comes to Columbia, South Carolina from Arkansas State, a program that has seen Kirk Merritt, and Jonathan Adams fade out of the NFL over the past few years. Rucker transfers to South Carolina, joining Spencer Rattler at Quarterback. After setting an FBS Freshman receiving record with 9 receptions, 310 yards, and 4 touchdowns in the final game of the 2020 season, Rucker never looked back – finishing with 50 yards or a touchdown in 9 of 12 games in 2021.
  • Projected Comp: Michael Gallup
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.44

(11) Isaiah Neyor, Texas – 6’3″ 216 lbs

  • Evaluation: The Junior transfer from Wyoming will be in a special situation in 2022, playing alongside Xavier Worthy at WR, Bijan Robinson at RB and Quinn Ewers throwing the ball. At 6’3 216 lbs, Neyor is my favorite to be the biggest riser through the 2022/23 draft process. The drive to get better each day, great bend in his hips, contested catch success, and a projected upper 80th-percentile speed score. Isaiah Neyor will be a game changer at the University of Texas in 2022, and a pivotal piece in their success.
  • Projected Comp: Preston Williams
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 7.39

(16) Rakim Jarrett, Maryland – 6’0″ 190 lbs

  • Evaluation: Quick, undersized receiver that has the ability to make anyone miss in a phone booth. However, if you get your hands on Jarrett, it’s likely over. Possessing short are quickness and breakaway speed, tight ankle mobility is evident at the college level but likely doesn’t affect him until facing better talents in the NFL. Jarrett’s catch radius at 6′ tall is that of an Odell Beckham, or Ja’Marr Chase, though he lacks the talent and speed of those two.
  • Projected Comp: Olamide Zaccheaus
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 6.60

Rakim Jarrett Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

(18) Jalen McMillan, Washington – 6’1″ 186 lbs

  • Evaluation: Redshirt Sophomore with 2022 Preseason All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors. McMillan finished with just 470 receiving yards in 2021, despite the team passing for just 2,700 yards – the result was a 22.4% College Dominator. In 2022, McMillan should see an increase in output and Quarterback play as Michael Penix transferred to Washington from Indiana, and 2nd-year super prospect Sam Huard settles in with Division II head coaching phenom Kalen DeBoer
  • Projected Comp: Dante Pettis
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 6.46

(19) Gary Bryant, USC – 5’11” 180 lbs

  • Evaluation: One of the small noticeable things with Gary Bryant is his ability to show his hands LATE – almost every throw downfield he doesn’t show hands until the ball is IN his hands. This is big deal because in college especially, cornerbacks are reacting to the receiver, not the quarterback – obtaining quick and phenomenal hands this early in his career is a small thing that will help propel him into the NFL. Bryant has requisite speed, and with below-average size, the 2022 USC offense should help elevate his NFL draft stock.
  • Projected Comp: Mike Harley
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 6.40

(20) Malachi Wideman, Jackson State – 6’5″ 190 lbs

  • Evaluation: Transfer? No Way! Yes, from Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to play with the Shedeur Sanders and family. Wideman is a massive target on the outside and despite his excessively lean frame, he was able to crack the starting lineup and finish 2nd on Jackson State with 540 receiving yards. In the 2020 ESPN Recruiting rankings, Wideman entered at WR39, smack dab between the likes of Josh Downs, and Jordan Addison.
  • Projected Comp: Tyler Vaughns
  • Cody’s Early Draft Grade: 6.11

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The Rest of the Class of 2023 (21-40)

Jadon Haselwood, Arkansas – 6’3″ 211 lbs

Traeshon Holden, Alabama – 6’3″ 208 lbs

Ronnie Bell, Michigan – 6’0″ 192 lbs

Justin Shorter, Florida – 6’4″ 226 lbs

Cedric Tillman, Tennessee – 5’9″ 170 lbs

Jaden Walley, Mississippi State – 6’0″ 185 lbs

Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss – 6’2″ 215 lbs

Jordan Whittington, Texas – 6’1″ 203 lbs

E.J. Williams, Clemson – 6’3″ 195 lbs

Chris Autman-Bell, Minnesota – 6’1″ 215 lbs

Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee – 6’3″ 216 lbs

Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia – 6’1″ 205 lbs

A.T. Perry, Wake Forest – 6’5″ 206 lbs

Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State – 6’3″ 210 lbs

Malik Heath, Ole Miss – 6’3″ 215 lbs

Theo Wease, Oklahoma – 6’3″ 192 lbs

Josh Vann, South Carolina – 6’1″ 185 lbs

Joe Ngata, Clemson – 6’3″ 220 lbs

Cornelius Johnson, Michigan – 6’3″ 205 lbs

Jalen Cropper, Fresno State – 6’0″ 172 lbs

2021-2023 Wide Receiver Draft Grade Comparison

Cody Carpentier’s Rookie Wide Receiver Draft Grades 2021-2023 – past classes stay unchanged

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