Next, we are breaking down four WR Prospects that will be drafted on Day 3, but could find their way onto the field with a year or two of development.
With the draft less than a week away, analyses and opinions on the top NFL Draft prospects have mostly been staked. Day 3 is for the scouts. Players are usually selected on traits that could be developed by coaches down the line.
We’ve all heard about Jordan Addison and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but what about some Day Three prospects who could one day make a fantasy splash?
Below is a breakdown of four WRs that will hear their names called on Day 3 of the Draft, but will carve out niche roles if they can develop skillsets to compensate for their deficiencies.
Maryland WR Rakim Jarrett
Career Numbers: 119 recs, 1,552 yards, 10 TDs (28 games)
It wouldn’t be an article by Barnabas Lee without alma mater bias. Last year it was highlighting Chig Okonkwo; this year, it’s Jarrett. The former five-star recruit flipped on signing day from LSU to his hometown team and was largely expected to take the Maryland program team to the next level. His rookie season was derailed by COVID, but he led the team in receiving his sophomore season with 829 yards on 62 catches for five touchdowns. That would go on to be his most productive season, as he only gained 471 yards in his final season in College Park. Having an equal-opportunity QB aside, Jarett should have been able to take greater advantage of his limited opportunities. The one year he led the team statistically was largely thanks to the WR1, Dontay Demus, suffering a season-ending knee injury. However, games like the one against Penn State in 2020 are reason enough for excitement.
Jarrett was productive enough in high school, but what really set him apart enough to be the fourth-ranked WR in the country in his recruiting class was his loose bursts of athleticism. This was most apparent when he took identical slants to the house against Penn State in Happy Valley in 2020, making the likes of Jaquan Brisker and Tariq Castro-Fields look silly. While his QB, the younger Tagovailoa, is known to spread the ball around well, Jarrett saw a fair number of prescribed touches in Mike Locksley’s offense. This was in an effort to showcase Jarrett’s stop-and-go ability as well as his plus speed trait. Additionally, he was able to demonstrate good downfield ability, despite his below-average height, thanks to good eyes and ball-tracking.
Critics of Jarrett will point to his production and usage as his main drawbacks. For a WR that could have played anywhere he chose for college, including the likes of LSU and Ohio State, one might think he would have had a much greater impact in three years. Some may say that it was because Jarrett primarily played in the slot at Maryland. Additionally, as the majority of his production came from prescribed touches, his ability to separate and create openings on an island are brought into question. There’s no question he’s fast. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a route tool to fall back on when he’s unable to simply run away from defenders. Even after he catches the ball, he needs a runway or needs to catch the ball in space to maximize yardage. He sometimes tries to create this runway by going backward, often to the detriment of the play. Finally, some of his lackluster numbers may be a result of his injury history. While he never missed long stretches of a season for maladies, there was always something ailing Jarrett.
Deebo Samuel has reinvigorated the offense’s thirst for Wide Receivers with Running Back builds. Measuring in at under six feet but being over 190 pounds, Jarrett fits the mold with similar gadget capability and the explosion to excite offensive coordinators. He will need to learn the finer points of route-running and gain maturity in decreasing his drops. But, the athletic profile should be appealing to teams and could lend itself to snaps on the outside as well. Although he may be a late Day 2 to early Day 3 selection, Jarrett will need a year or two to have a breakout year. Nevertheless, expect him to contribute in smaller doses early. And the occasional fantasy explosion should he find himself the last WR standing in a depleted receiver corps.
Cincinnati WR Tre Tucker
Career Numbers: 112 recs, 1,433 yards, 8 TDs, 2 KR TD (50 games)
When we talk about Wide Receivers that have Running Back builds, we are usually talking about thicker builds, a la Deebo and James Washington. While Tucker is built similarly thick, his height makes it look like someone dragged the corner box on his image a little too far. Will teams be able to overlook physical deficiencies to utilize a quick slot receiver? Or will they pigeonhole Tucker as a Special Teams savant?
Speed is the name of the game for Tucker. Standing at only 5’9”, it’s understandable that his 40 isn’t otherworldly. But players of that stature need outstanding burst, such as Tucker’s 99th percentile 10-yard split of 1.47s. He isn’t a single-gear accelerator, either. One of Tucker’s greatest strengths is his ability to vary his speeds to offset defenders’ pursuit angles. Whether it’s giving a dead leg to the outside, or hop-stepping before disappearing under inside leverage, Tucker is more than capable of manipulating a defender’s hips and eyes to create space. What is even more notable is that he manages to stay balanced under his pads during all the accelerating and decelerating. His speed was never in question, as he got his first kick return for a Touchdown in his sophomore season when he took it 97 yards! Tucker is also a smart player, made obvious in interviews but also in the way he is patient enough to set up his blocks on prescribed touches.
Tucker won’t be fooling anyone into thinking he’s a catch-point specialist any time soon. Not only is he short in stature, but he also has very short arms measuring 28.75”. This likely confines him to the slot in perpetuity. However, in today’s day and age, slots can be fantasy contributors as well, thanks to PPR scoring and substitute safety blanket roles. He will need a pinpoint, accurate Quarterback, though, to be able to put the ball in his frame to make sure he catches the ball. His hands are proportional to the rest of his body, meaning that catching through contact should also be a struggle. Contact at the line would also make life difficult for Tucker if he weren’t always lining up in the slot. Press coverage is probably not something that he will be beating with regularity unless he can line up off the line of scrimmage.
The diminutive WR from Akron, Ohio, is defined by his speed, oft-compared to cartoon characters with zip. Despite his size, slot receivers have a role on teams and can even latch onto fantasy teams in deeper leagues. Tucker’s measurables may not hit all the desired minimum thresholds but consider this. His numbers and RAS are better than that of Cole Beasley. While that isn’t necessarily a perfect comparison, the point is that most would consider Beasley to have had a fairly successful career, all things considered. And yet, Tucker is taller, heavier, and faster than Beasley at all three splits of the 40. He will need additional development in using his small frame to create a leverage advantage. It is encouraging, all things considered that he had production every year in college. The hope is that the trend continues into his professional career. Tucker projects favorably as the second-best slot-only Wide Receiver in this class.
BYU WR Puka Nacua
Career Numbers: 107 recs, 1,749 yards, 14 TDs, 5 rushing TDs (32 games)
It seems like there is a Mountain West route technician in the draft every year. This year’s iteration, Nacua, is another smooth athlete with about-average size. Had he stayed healthy, his statlines would have been much more impressive, and he might have been thought of as a solid Day 2 selection. As it stands, it sounds like Nacua will be a steal when he eventually comes off the board.
Although he finished his career at BYU, Nacua was a highly sought after Wide Receiver in the 2019 recruiting class. He ended up at Washington but only amassed 319 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons. In contrast, his two years in Provo resulted in 1,430 yards and 11 Touchdowns. Nacua has smooth acceleration and good toughness. With an ideal height at roughly 6’1”, he balances good change-of-direction and contested-catch skills. His strength and weight are copacetic as well, as he isn’t easily set off course and quickly recovers when he gets off schedule. He can beat zone with heady spatial awareness or man by creating space using fundamental route-running. Combined with his verticality, Nacua has the profile of an athlete that hits sufficient thresholds but won’t need to rely on them in order to produce, even at the next level.
The problems with Puka stem from his injuries. A broken foot, along with a gaggle of lower-body injuries in college, seems to have sapped much of the explosiveness that made Nacua an all-state basketball and track athlete. Perhaps this is why he relies more on applying pressure on DBs over time, rather than quick-twitch cuts, to get open. Even his long speed is only good, with a 40-yard dash of 4.56s (at his Pro Day). Even during the pre-draft evaluation process, Nacua suffered an injury on the first day of practices at the Senior Bowl in Mobile. A toe kept him from participating at the Combine.
If he can stay healthy, Nacua can easily outplay his likely draft capital. Right now, he is projected to go around Round 5. However, his skill set suggests that he should be more highly valued. Nacua is on the bigger side of this receiver draft class thanks to some of the smaller-than-average WRs ranked above him. But in a day and age where athleticism catches coaches’ eyes, Nacua remains a steady presence as a route technician in the vein of Mike Vallerie’s favorite: Khalil Shakir. Until his two-dimensional speed can heal up and unlock with a pro-level strength and conditioning program, QBs should feel safe giving Nacua some vertical throws. He will need to bide his time to get an opportunity, but his inside-outside versatility may get him on the field sooner than you think.
West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton
Career Numbers: 143 recs, 1,867 yards, 15 TDs (44 games)
Considering the top of every receiving draft class is often touted for their athleticism, you’d think that Ford-Wheaton would be rated higher. Running a sub-4.4s 40-yard dash at almost 6’4” is rare. Combine that with almost 2,000 yards in his college career, and Ford-Wheaton profiles as a good prospect.
Ford-Wheaton has potential out the wazoo. He has trench-length arms, is over 220 pounds, and is one of the tallest WRs in the class. I already mentioned his speed, but it should be mentioned that he had the fastest back half (20 to 40 yards in the 40-yard dash) in Indianapolis. He maximizes this height with phenomenal jump numbers that pop off the tape on high-point grabs. He terrorized Big 12 Defensive Backs with his physicality and verticality, then leveraged it to create angles and windows. With his speed, he is also capable of simply running past defenders, especially when a route doesn’t require him to change directions on a dime.
Though Ford Wheaton has 32 starts over five years under his belt and 15 Touchdowns in Morgantown, he also has 18 Drops. This can be infuriating to coaches as it shows a lack of concentration and confidence. Though I hate the term, many would question whether he has the “dawg in him”. Additionally, his route-running is solely linear with his high hips and lack of discipline. Granted, some would categorize his level of explosion as “loose” route-running. He needs to gain a better understanding of how to stack DBs and utilize his frame on the horizontal plane.
I am higher on Ford-Wheaton than many due to my principle of consistency of value on evaluative criteria. If the top prospects will succeed because of their athleticism, why shouldn’t he? I will concede the extensive development that will have to come with concepts that are probably second nature to some of the other prospects. However, with the added confidence of better training and greater nuance in route-running, Ford-Wheaton could develop into an everyday starter in a couple of years. For now, he will probably create a highlight reel or two on long Touchdown grabs, but won’t regularly see the field for at least a couple of years. He will be drafted in the late fifth round or later, and he is probably worth a long-shot dart throw in fantasy leagues as a long-term investment.