Breaking down 5 speedy WRs from the 2022 NFL Draft to keep in mind with potential to be fantasy contributors one day.
With the draft less than a week away, analyses and opinions on the top NFL Draft prospects have been largely solidified.
We’ve all heard about the Aidan Hutchinsons, Kenny Picketts, and Malik Willises of the draft, but what about some Day Two or Three wide receiver prospects who might one day be fantasy contributors?
Below is a breakdown of 5 WRs that will carve out roles wherever they land with their speed and quickness.
Memphis WR Calvin Austin III
Career Numbers: 156 receptions, 2,541 yards, 22 TDs (49 games)
We start this breakdown with the smallest of the group and a fellow political science major. Standing at 5’7” and 170 lbs, Austin is in the bottom 10th percentile for size amongst WRs over the past 25 years. Despite the size disadvantage, he managed to earn a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.08, which roughly translates to the 90th percentile. Austin was a two-year starter at Memphis after working his way onto the team as a preferred walk-on. This tenacious disposition shows itself in every aspect of his game. Additionally, Austin was a member of Memphis’s track team, finishing 7th in the 60-meter dash (6.84 seconds) in the AAC in 2020.
Austin’s release package is sufficient for the role he is likely to fill as a slot-only receiver. He has average hands but makes up for it with a willingness to go to the ground on off-target throws. He had a good understanding of Memphis’ offense, regularly using route leverage to create his pockets of space in the vertical passing attack. Austin was often given designed touches, and he made the most of them by quickly changing from a pass-catcher to a ball-carrier and using speed to create YAC. Most of his separation package consists of manipulating his speed and leveraging his lower center of gravity. This can be seen at his route stem, where he consistently resets his feet to accelerate out of breaks. While his size may hinder his ability to high-point balls over DBs, he does track the ball well in the air and has the athleticism to adjust and get under deep balls.
Size may not be the most important factor in determining a WR’s success, but the lack thereof can definitely be a hindrance. Not many WRs of Austin’s size and length have found success in the NFL. He will likely be limited to the slot, even though he lined up all over the field for Memphis. Austin’s small stature was no more apparent than against Cincinnati, where he was dwarfed by the likes of Sauce Gardner (6’3”) and Coby Bryant (6’1”). Not only does Austin struggle on contested jump balls, but he also struggles to separate against longer CBs, especially in press coverage. He is by no means slight and has surprising functional strength (37th percentile on the bench press among WRs). However, these traits can only go so far as a receiver and as a blocker.
Calvin Austin III sacrificed a track scholarship to play football for his hometown school. This determination and his physical gifts will probably lead to him hearing his name called around the midway point of Day 2 of the Draft. While his frame probably won’t get bigger, continued development of his route tree will allow him to effectively utilize his track speed and carve out a role as a slot receiver and special-teamer.
Kentucky WR Wan’dale Robinson
Career Numbers: 195 receptions, 2,248 yards, 10 TDs (31 games)
Wandale Robinson is only slightly bigger than Calvin Austin (a difference of 1” and 8 pounds), but will ultimately fill the same role in the NFL. Originally recruited out of high school as an RB to Nebraska, Robinson quickly found a role in the slot, racking up 91 receptions in two seasons. However, he quickly became frustrated by Nebraska’s offensive potential, which resulted in a low ADOT and weak yards per reception numbers. Robinson transferred to Kentucky and set single-season records in his one year on campus.
Robinson’s versatility was highlighted by his production at Kentucky. He is capable of lining up all over the field, including the backfield. His release package is limited, but he has an excellent speed release that can sometimes beat press coverage on the outside. He has above-average hands, punctuated by his toughness to hang on even when there’s contact at the catch point. Robinson is a natural hands-catcher which allows him to quickly turn upfield after the catch. While his explosion is average, he is able to use run leverage to create YAC opportunities in the open field and in the box as an RB.
Robinson suffers from the same issues as every small WR. He will not be a contributor in the blocking game and will go down on first contact. He does not have the elite speed of Calvin Austin III nor the strength of someone like Anquan Boldin. But Robinson is more than the sum of his parts.
Robinson will hope that teams want to use him as he was at Kentucky. His toughness and versatility should gain favor among any coaching staff that drafts him. However, his limited special teams experience may limit his immediate value in the NFL. Expect Robinson’s name to be called in Round 3.
Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton
Career Numbers: 143 receptions, 2,242 yards, 19 TDs (47 games)
I would be remiss to exclude Tyquan Thornton in a discussion about speed. Thornton opened eyes at the NFL Combine, posting the 3rd best 40-yard time (4.28 seconds) in the entire class, behind only Tariq Woolen and former teammate Kalon Barnes. This speed was good enough to earn him a track scholarship offer from LSU coming out of high school.
Thornton’s strengths all stem from his ridiculous speed. His release is easy and he quickly gets into his route at the snap. With his long strides, he accelerates immediately and can reach top gear within ten yards. He doesn’t fight the ball at the catch point and easily brings it into his body. He will be a QB’s best friend when it comes to creating vertical space. Thornton also possesses the ability to gear down and mix up his acceleration patterns to add some nuance to his route-running. He doesn’t win too many contested-catch situations but can utilize his length on some off-target throws.
Thornton may be taller than most speedsters in the NFL, but his physical profile otherwise leaves much to be desired. With small hands and a wiry frame, Thornton is limited at the catch point and as a YAC threat. He will need an offensive system that values routinely stretching the field to maximize his potential. He is primarily a catch-and-fall receiver, but when his catches are deep downfield, a team may be willing to live with those limitations.
Tyquan Thornton has speed to burn, and he maximizes this strength on the field. Despite his physical deficiencies, Baylor was able to utilize his athleticism to the tune of top-10 in school history for most receiving categories. If a team can find ways to mask his lack of strength, he can find a role similar to a healthy Will Fuller without the YAC. I expect him to be drafted in the front half of Day 3.
Miami WR Charleston Rambo
Career Numbers: 155 receptions, 2,352 yards, 16 TDs (48 games)
Charleston Rambo is another WR that found huge success in his final college season after transferring. After committing to and playing for Oklahoma out of high school, Rambo found his stride in Miami. In his final season, Rambo averaged 97.7 yards on 6.6 catches per game and broke several receiving records at the U.
Rambo may not have the same timed speed as the other WRs on this list, but he has outstanding burst coming out of breaks. He has a very narrow release package and needs to work on his hand fighting to break out of jams at the line. He does display a pretty decent stab release as his go-to. However, he uncovers with ease once he gets into his route. Rambo is an expert at changing speeds and using stop-starts to manipulate his space with DBs. This is clear at the top of his routes where he can vary his speed both going in and coming out of the break. Once he is out of his break, he becomes very QB-friendly with the ability to track and possesses a decent catch radius. He has deceptive quickness that shows up sporadically in YAC situations.
Rambo is a hair shorter than ideal and should probably put on some weight and gain some strength at the NFL level. This would mitigate some of his issues with hand fighting at the LOS. His athletic testing was a surprise but explained his modest production before coming to Miami. His RAS of 5.82 suggests the explosion and agility of a much larger player. This likely comes from some tight hips and ankles. When coming straight back to the ball on routes, he can sometimes bend too much at the knee rather than the hip, which can slow the stem at times.
g results for Rambo. Teams will hope for special teams contributions early in his career and I expect him to find value on teams that have injuries to their top WRs. I expect him to be drafted around halfway through Day 3.
SMU WR Danny Gray
Career Numbers: 82 receptions, 1,251 yards, 13 TDs (18 games)
A former JUCO transfer, Danny Gray has shown consistent growth throughout his career and should continue to develop on whichever team drafts him. Measuring at a unicorn’s whisper below 6 feet, Gray will need to use his speed and explosion to continue to develop as a WR.
Gray may have some of the best pre-route traits in this draft class. He has an easy release that doesn’t take too many steps. Once in his release, he does an outstanding job gaining on DBs in soft coverage and forcing them to create their own cushion. At the stem, Gray does just enough to find soft spots in the coverage and will catch many balls in traffic. Once he’s out of the break, he understands how to use his small frame to stack DBs in bad trail positions. After the catch, Gray has an uncanny knack for creating YAC by taking away angles for defenders. He smoothly recognizes where defenders are pursuing and changes his own angles in a single stride.
WRs with track backgrounds tend to struggle to change direction, and Gray is no exception. While posting speed metrics above the 95th percentile (4.33 second 40 yard), he posted agility scores under the 35th percentile (4.37 SS, 7.38 3-cone). Gray must polish his route-running and develop techniques to overcome his poor agility to be successful at the next level. There were way too many easy drops on Gray’s tape. In fact, there were also enough fumbles to be of concern as well, even before turning upfield. Gray is a willing blocker, but really only manages to get in the way for the briefest of moments. Teams will also question his production against a weak conference.
Danny Gray will be a projection going into the NFL. While promising due to his consistent growth throughout his college career, he will require significant development with a technical WR coach to be a regular contributor on offense. His ball-security issues will also limit his special teams opportunities. But, a creative offensive coordinator might fall in love with his track speed before and after the catch: maybe enough to draft him early Day 3.
Barnabas Lee may be a data scientist by day, but he’s an All-22 enthusiast and freelance contributor by night. Obsessed with all things NFL Draft, he will be featured on a post-draft show at twitch.tv/hubbsywubbs. He roots for the All-22, Korea, Cowboys, Terps, Nats, Mavs, G2, and Noles, in that order.