JACKSONVILLE – This is a strong draft for wide receiver.
Get used to hearing that. It was true in 2019 and 2020. It's true again in 2021 – and the trend that has helped define the NFL Draft lately shows no signs of ending soon.
And while the wide receiver position in '21 may not be as deep as a historically strong '20 class, there is elite talent at the position this season – and the strength of the class doesn't end early.
"There's going to be a lot of depth at wide receiver all around," ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "There are a lot of good receivers in this draft. It's the strongest position overall in this draft."
The top three receivers – Ja'Marr Chase of Louisiana State, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith of Alabama and Jaylen Waddle of Alabama – are widely projected as Top 15 selections, with at least three more often projected in Round 1: Rondale Moore of Purdue, Kadarius Toney of Florida and Rashod Bateman of Minnesota.
The trend in recent drafts has leaned toward strong receiver classes. The '20 class was considered perhaps the best in the history of the draft, and Kiper is among the analysts projecting 30-to-35 receivers with grades in the first five rounds.
"Wide receivers, pass catchers … they're doing a really good job of developing them at the lower levels," NFL Media and Jaguars Media analyst Bucky Brooks said. "Those guys catch it and make it happen. The top three guys (Waddle, Chase and Smith) in whatever order … those guys right now are plug-and-play players; they should be able to have immediate success. Each of those guys has potential to be a dominant No. 1 pass catcher. Beyond them, it's loaded."
HANDICAPPING THE JAGUARS
While this isn't a glaring area of need for the Jaguars, it's not a position that should automatically be ruled out as a possible selection – even early in the draft. The Jaguars moved strong at receiver to start the league year, reshaping the position by signing 10-year veteran Marvin Jones Jr., seventh-year veteran Phillip Dorsett Jr. and fifth-year veteran Jamal Agnew as unrestricted free agents and allowing veterans Keelan Cole, Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook to leave as unrestricted free agents. That leaves a strong core of youth (DJ Chark Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr.) and leadership (Jones) along with a significant dose of young potential (second-year veteran Collin Johnson). So, the Jaguars don't need to draft receiver. But is there still room to add a dynamic, fast impact player in a draft considered talented and deep at the spot? Absolutely.
PROJECTED FIRST-ROUND WIDE RECEIVERS
Ja'Marr Chase, Louisiana State; DeVonta Smith, Alabama; Jaylen Waddle, Alabama; Rondale Moore, Purdue; Kadarius Toney, Florida; Rashod Bateman, Minnesota; Terrace Marshall, Louisiana State.
BROOKS BREAKS DOWN THE CLASS
The 2021 wide receiver class is loaded with impact players with the capacity to deliver Pro Bowl-caliber production early in their careers. The elite prospects Smith, Waddle and Chase flash impressive ball skills, route-running ability and explosiveness on the perimeter. Each pass-catcher appears to have the tools to thrive as a WR1 in any system, but they are also joined by a collection of borderline first-round talents with comparable impact potential. Bateman, Toney, and LSU's Terrace Marshall could outshine their counterparts if they land with the right team. With pass-catchers like Ole Miss' Elijah Moore and Amon-Ra St. Brown also showing five-star playmaking ability as slot receivers, the 2021 class of wide receivers could rank as one of the top classes in recent years due to the overall talent and depth within the group.
Dyami Brown, North Carolina. Brown is the most explosive big-play weapon in the class with a 20-plus yards per catch average that reflects his playmaking ability as a vertical threat. Brown's combination of speed, quickness and burst enables him to blow past defenders on deep routes while also flashing outstanding hand-eye coordination skills coming down with 50-50 balls. Although Brown battles an occasional case of the dropsies, the speedster is an ideal WR2 with the home run potential to upgrade an offense as a big-play specialist.
Ja'Marr Chase, Louisiana State. The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner is a dazzling plug-and-play pass catcher with crafty route-running skills and strong hands. Chase is a WR1 in any offense with a well-rounded game that makes him an easy target to design game plans around. As a speedster with strong hands and A-plus ball skills, the LSU product is a star waiting to happen as a pro.
POSITION RANKING: 2 of 10.
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE A WIDE RECEIVER IN ROUND 1
Greater than many might believe, but it would still be a bit of a surprise.
WRs ON THE JAGUARS ROSTER
DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr., Marvin Jones Jr., Phillip Dorsett, Jamal Agnew, Collin Johnson, Terry Godwin, Josh Hammond, Jon'Vea Johnson.
Brooks: "We have seen in the last few years guys who have been drafted on Day 2 emerge quickly as Pro Bowl players. This class also has the opportunity to produce some of those gems as well."
ESPN analyst Todd McShay: "This class is loaded."