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2021 NFL Draft Rankings: WR 1-9

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: March 10, 2021, 12:37 pm ET

This is the third installment of my 2021 NFL Draft prospect rankings series (and a mega two-parter, at that!), following quarterbacks and running backs. We'll be back next week with tight ends.

Before we hop into the column, I want to encourage everyone to check out NFL Draft War Room with Thor & Lindsay, a live NBC Sports EDGE original Twitch show every week from now through the draft where I sit down with NFL agent Lindsay Crook. The show will typically be on Wednesday nights, but this week is scheduled to go live Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Those in the Twitch room can ask Lindsay questions. This week, one of the topics up for discussion is the Isaiah Wilson saga. Lindsay has some inside info on that.

1.  Ja'Marr Chase, LSU | 6'0/210
Comp: Roddy White

The title-winning 2019 LSU Tigers had the best offense in college football history. Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow would go on to become the first pick in the NFL Draft. His slot receiver caught 111 balls and went in the first round of the NFL draft, where he had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. 

But Justin Jefferson was not the best receiver on that team. The 19-year-old that played outside of him, breakout star Ja'Marr Chase, caught a few less balls (84), but for more yards (1,780) while setting an SEC record for receiving touchdowns (20) en route to the Biletnikoff award (21.2 YPR).

Chase enters the NFL young, and inexperienced, having opted-out in 2020. He isn’t the tallest, and he isn’t the fastest, but he’s just about impossible to stop. That starts at the line of scrimmage, off the snap, where you could quantify Chase as downright special. 

A muscular, physical player, Chase comes with dancer's feet, and he knows what to do with them. You’re not going to jar him off balance in the first five yards, and you’re going to have a really hard time either matching his feet or getting a bead on what they're telling you. 

The next step of the process is one of the things he became known for during the 2019 title run, which is stupid downfield acceleration. Blessed with 4.4 speed, Chase reaches it in a flash. Built like a running back, Chase is scary when he gets trucking like that.

Joe Burrow dialed his number often. Chase is a human-highlight reel at the catch point. He’s a basketball-style jumper, and boy does he have a natural knack for timing the high-point -- it’s hard to stay with Chase on the ground, but it may be harder to do so in the air. He had 24 receptions of 20-plus yards in 2019, with 8-of-20 TD catches coming from 50+.

He can absorb contact, he has fabulous hands, he can get higher than you, he timed the time jump better -- Chase is a hound-dog deep ball tracker that cheats because he separates so smoothly early on in vertical routes that he can peak back early -- and, most times, he arrived first, having gone to the considerable work of separating from his man in advance.

So that’s the special sauce. But I haven’t mentioned yet that Chase is also just a really, really strong route-runner in general. Technical, nuanced, under-control, but, of course, as his style, that constant blend of strong/explosive.

If you give him a cushion as insurance on his deep-ball shenanigans, Chase is happy to beat you in the intermediate sector and bully you after the catch (broke 22 tackles in 2019). Chase gets nitpicked for not being taller as an outside receiver. But if you think of him as a running back after the catch (Christian McCaffrey is an inch shorter and five pounds lighter) and a guy whose athleticism allows him to play 3-4 inches taller than he is downfield, you start to get a clearer picture of who he is as a player.

Chase only had one great season in college, and he hasn’t played football in over a year. But his risk is mitigated by his utter dominance in 2019, and the way in which he won, lighting up bad corners, decent corners, and first-round NFL corners -- all-comers. For instance roasting AJ Terrell in the national title game and Trevon Diggs in the regular season (interestingly, Cam Dantzler was one of the few corners that slowed Chase in 2019). 

Chase's game will translate to the NFL. His career could end up looking a lot like four-time Pro Bowler Roddy White, another 6-foot receiver that could handle heavy usage and lived in the opponent's deep sector.

2.  DeVonta Smith, Alabama | 6'0/172
Comp: Keenan McCardell

Separation is the name of the game at receiver. Smith plays like he filed for an annulment before the game. No receiver in this class enjoys more free space roaming the intermediate sector. Smith put multiple future NFL corners in a blender in college, with a dizzying array of footwork, altered tempo, head movement, joystick cuts and burst. 

It’s that skill that should kick off every conversation about Smith. But his slender 172-frame is a popular talking point, as Smith’s dimensions make him a historical Round 1 proposition. In the last 10 years, only two receivers over 6-foot and under 180 pounds have been drafted, Snoop Minnis (a 2011 third-rounder) and Paul Richardson Jr. (a 2014 second-rounder).

Ironically, I think Smith’s frame actually provides him a hidden advantage. At 6-foot-1 with a 78 ½ wingspan (Senior Bowl measurements), Smith has a deceivingly big catch radius for his size. And that absolutely sneaks up on defenders.

From last year’s receiver class, Smith has the exact same wingspan as Collin Johnson (6’6/222), Denzel Mims (6’3/207) and Austin Mack (6’2/208), and Smith’s wingspan is longer than 6’4 receivers Antonio Gandy-Golden and Dezmon Patmon. So what we have here is a receiver with the length of a taller receiver, who catches everything you put within his distended catch radius. And I mean everything. The last two years, on 233 targets, Smith had 184 catches and just five drops.

Smith’s ball skills play at all three levels of the field. For all the differences in their play style and physical statures, Smith and Ja’Marr Chase essentially posted identical 90.0-plus PFF grades on contested targets over the past two seasons.

And when I talk about ball skills with DeVonta Smith, I’m not just talking about downfield throws, and I’m not even just necessarily talking about the fidelity of his hands. Smith is the best in his class at hiding his intentions from the defensive back until the last possible second, not putting up his hands to catch the ball until he absolutely has to.

Devante Adams is a current receiver this evokes. Just another trick that gives a receiver a small advantage on a play. And you know what they say about the compound power of small wins over time.

I believe, because of Smith's Stretch Armstrong arms and human contortionist body, that he ends up playing bigger than he is. Or, check that -- corralling balls you’d assume a receiver his height has no business hauling in.

Similarly, because of his burst and instincts with the ball in his hands, he plays faster than his 40 time too. Like CeeDee Lamb from the last glass, he’s a hang-glider in the opener field, slicing in and out of traffic and running frustrated defensive backs into each other like keystone cops.

So, sure. You put him on a track with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle and he finishes fourth in a race. But in 2019 when those four were on the same team, it was Smith that led the team with 1,256 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns. This before he had one of the great modern receiver seasons in college football history last season after Waddle went down with injury en route to the Heisman.

Smith is 175 pounds and he won’t get much bigger. He came to Tuscaloosa weighing 157 pounds and has had to work quite hard just to get here. And if there’s one area of his game where he can be zapped of his magic, it’s by gifted press-man corners slowing his magical feet by putting hands on him. Smith saw that everyday at practice (Patrick Surtain) but not much in games, both because Pat Surtains are rare in college, but also because you don’t press Bama. 

But the good news is that durability wasn’t an issue in college, and his thin frame scarcely seemed to bother him. Not only does he run with conviction and handle extreme volume as a receiver, but Smith was also a returner and gunner on special teams at Alabama.

Keenan McDardell seems a very reasonable outcome to me. Calvin Ridley is a more recent, more Alabama-centric comp I can get on board with as well. And if Smith hits his ceiling, we’re looking at the next Marvin Harrison. He’s that unique.

3.  Jaylen Waddle, Alabama | 5'10/182
Comp: Joey Galloway

You think Chase, you think strong/explosive. You think Smith, you think smooth operator/reliability. When you think of Jaylen Waddle, you think speed/twitch. Those are two buzzwords that make evened seasoned evaluators lose their minds in late April. 

When teammates Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs came out in last year’s draft, there was talk that Waddle was a souped-up hybrid of the two of them -- with Jeudy’s acceleration, twitch, and body control, and Ruggs’ speed-of-sound wheels. Coming into this past season, it was Waddle, and not eventual Heisman-winner DeVonta Smith, who was drew the most hype from pundits.

But Waddle broke his ankle returning a kickoff against Tennessee early in the 2020 season. This brings us to a strength of his eval I didn’t know I’d be writing last year at this time: Grit. Assumed by everyone on the planet to be out for the season, Waddle rehabbed like a banshee during the wonky COVID season when many other perfectly-healthy first-round prospects were opting out. 

He did it to give himself an outside chance to participate in the national title game if Alabama were to make it. They did. And miracle of all miracles, Waddle was cleared to play. He was badly compromised in the game, hobbling, wincing in pain, but Ohio State, as with all opponents who face Waddle, had to be aware of his whereabouts on the field on each and every play. 

This tends to open up space on the field in general and opportunities for teammates in a way we haven’t yet figured out a way to quantify in football analytics (we’ll get there) in the same way they have basketball. 

Either way, the injury took Waddle off the field for most of 2020. And instead of Waddle getting a chance to lock down a case for WR1 in this class, DeVonta Smith was funneled usage and submitted one of the best collegiate receiver seasons we’ve ever seen. So we have to do a little more projecting with Waddle based on his 2019 tape and first four games of 2020.

I talked about Smith’s ability to separate as a special trait. But in truth, Waddle separates more naturally, and perhaps as well as any receiver we’ve seen come into the league in the last three years. This is because, athletically, Waddle knows few equals. 

Off the snap, he’s at top speed immediately. Tyreek Hill-level speed, with the ability to swivel and pivot and cut at full speeds without losing much velocity. Waddle can throttle down from stop and come back for the ball immediately, and he can cut a 90-degree corner at Ferrari speeds that would rip the gears out of other cars.

One surprising aspect about Waddle’s game is that, despite his frame, his tape includes a catalogue of ridiculous circus catches where he uses the freak momentum he’s generated from his speed to loft himself into the air downfield and high-point balls over stunned corners who are two or three inches taller than him (Waddle went six-of-eight in contested situations over the last two seasons).

Waddle remains raw and unseasoned (971 career snaps). But he proved plenty in college. Waddle has shown that he can win both on the inside and outside, and he’s a ridiculously dangerous return man. We know all of that will translate.

It’s true that collegiate defenders never pressed him. He’s going to have to learn how to deal with that in the pros. But it's also true that pro corners are going to have to learn how to deal with Jaylen Waddle’s athleticism. 

4.  Rashod Bateman, Minnesota | 6'2/210
Comp: Miles Austin

There’s a consensus around the top-three receivers in this class. Everyone has a different WR4. Mine is Rashod Bateman, a prospect who in my opinion has been unnecessarily nit-picked early in the process.

Bateman came to Minnesota as a ballyhooed four-star recruit out of Georgia, a two-sport star that also played basketball. One of HC PJ Fleck’s first major recruiting wins after joining the Gophers from Western Michigan, Bateman immediately flashed as a true freshman, posting a 51-704-6 line. He broke out as a national star in 2019 as a sophomore, posting a 60-1219-11 line as the outside “X” receiver on a team that also had an NFL slot receiver (Tyler Johnson).

As with every other human being alive, things got a little weird for Bateman heading into 2020. Instead of preparing to become Minnesota’s undisputed WR1, with a ridiculous number of targets coming his way, COVID-19 struck, temporarily canceling the Big 10 season. That caused Bateman to opt-out. 

Bateman eventually opted back-in after the conference announced it would hold a fall season -- to his credit, by the way, he wasn’t under contract -- and posted a respectable 36-472-2 line in five starts, opting-out (for real this time) in late November when a rash of COVID cases hit the Minnesota program and caused two game cancelations (the Gophers later resumed, playing two more games). 

It’s impossible to know how much Bateman’s off-season preparation was affected by his initial plan to sit. But it couldn’t have helped. Particularly when you consider that Gophers coaches asked Bateman, upon his return to the team, to shift from WR-X to the slot -- Tyler Johnson’s old position.

You’re going to read scouting reports that ding Bateman’s athleticism, scouting reports that call him a slot receiver. I assume these writers are basing their observations on a brief perusal of 2020 tape. That tape should almost be tossed in the garbage -- it is indicative of a failure of imagination of the Gophers’ offensive coaching staff, which has an intractable offensive system going back to Western Michigan that feeds the slot heavy targets. 

The Gophers had multiple high-profile offensive lineman opt-out or get injured this fall, so perhaps there was also a thought that moving Bateman closer in the alignment to to erratic QB Tanner Morgan would increase Morgan’s odds of completing the pass, thus increasing the offense’s overall utility.

Nevertheless, the move was not in Bateman’s best interest. Bateman can function in the slot, but it is not his best position. And he absolutely did not have time to acclimate to his new post during the truncated COVID offseason, much of which he spent believing he would not be able to play in 2020.

Bateman’s best fit in the NFL is on the outside, where he brings a deep bag of route-running tricks and is impossible to stop off the line. The former basketball player player is a crossover artist off the snap, releasing with an array of moves that would squeak on the hardwood.

He’s a used car salesman running routes, constantly pitching the corner on enticing ideas that turn out to be lemons, getting them to bite on double moves, or turned around on false breaks, or skidding along the turf trying to slam on the breaks stopping with him at the top of a route, or getting their outside foot turned outside so he can flip on the jets downfield in the other direction, things of this nature. 

His footwork is really advanced, yes. But I mean for my compliment to extend beyond that -- Bateman, as a route-runner, seems to have a knack for manipulation, understanding what the cornerback is thinking, that is advanced (independent of his physical skills).

He’s a well-built, strong kid who plays through contact efficiently without the ball. And fights through it with the rock, breaking 36 tackles on 147 career catches. Bateman has a catalogue of some of the craziest circus catches we’ve seen from any prospect the past few seasons. His concentration level while retaining spacial awareness and body control is phenomenal, and those traits show up in more mundane contested situations.

Bateman can lose focus, or, conversely, try to do much, leading to 19 drops on 166 career catchable targets. This is an area he needs to clean up. But just to be clear: This is a concentration issue, not a “hands” issue. If you’ve seen his highlight reel, you know his hands are phenomenal. 

Bateman has always been dinged as good-but-not-great athlete that lacked great speed. I always thought that stuff was a bit overblown, as with J'Marr Chase. But even I was stunned when it was reported that Bateman had run a 4.39 hand-timed 40 at the EXOS combine last month.

Bateman’s pro day workout is set for April 1. If he runs a 4.39 again, or a time close to it, Twitter is going to explode. I’m not exactly sure why Bateman isn’t currently seen as a consensus first-rounder. But I think he could turn the tide on that narrative quickly with a time in the mid-4.4s or below.

5.  Elijah Moore, Mississippi | 5'9/184
Comp: Antonio Brown

Football player. Lane Kiffin’s first Ole Miss offense was shockingly explosive, and Elijah Moore was a big reason why, posting an 86-1193-8 line out of the slot (in only eight games!). Moore is a feisty, darting, crafty, extremely-reliable slot receiver that is open as much as Wal-Mart.

Moore’s special sauce is that combo of athleticism and craftiness out of the slot, because it makes him an extremely deceiving route runner that is hard to keep up with besides. But what makes him an especially tricky proposition is that he hangs onto every ball he touches (only 10 career drops on 200 catchable targets), even if you absolutely rock him, and he’s filthy after the catch (No. 6 in nation with 18 broken tackles after catch in 2020).

Fearless on the field, the negatives of his evaluation tend to come from his intensity or balls-to-the wall style. For instance, as you might be aware, Moore famously celebrated a late Egg Bowl touchdown against hated Mississippi State by pantomiming urinating like a dog (I suppose because they’re the Bulldogs?). 

Or, for instance, on the field, though he does such a devilish job tying slot defenders’ legs into knots in man, you’ll sometimes see him, in lieu of dropping into a nice soft spot in a zone short, slicing upfield toward sectors that are manned. Now, to Elijah Moore, he would tell you that Matt Corral can make the throw, I can make the catch. 

Fair enough, young fella. But there are plays when we need Moore to understand it’s not in our best interest as a team for him to beg Corral to throw him a hospital ball for a possible 22-yard completion down the seam over a freebie seven-yarder that could turn into more. Simple math, really.

Moore should be a strong starting slot receiver from Day 1.

6. Rondale Moore, Purdue | 5'9/180
Comp: D.J. Moore

Two years ago, when Rondale Moore was single-handedly destroying the Big 10 for a 114-1258-12 receiving line (2,215 all-purpose yards), I would have sworn to you that he was going to be a top-10 pick. When I saw Rondale Moore take the field for Purdue as a freshman, I thought I was seeing college football’s answer to Tyreek Hill.

It’s interesting, fast-forwarding to today, that Rondale Moore isn’t even the receiver in his own draft class getting the Tyreek Hill comps. Much less getting mocked into the first round anymore. 

Rondale kept right on dominating into the first four games of 2019 (29-387-2 receiving line) but -- ominous narrator’s voice -- this is where our story turns. Moore was knocked out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury. He initially opted-out for 2020, but then opted back-in, but then was held-out at the beginning of the year due to a mysterious “lower-body” injury that was never really explained. 

The three games he played were disjointed from the rest of Purdue’s season. They featured an awkward offensive strategy, transparently force-feeding touches to Rondale in such a way that made him a sitting duck for the defense. Particularly because he still didn’t appear 100-percent healed from his mysterious lower-body ailment.

Moore ended up posting a 35-270-0 receiving line (a ghastly 7.7 average) and rushing six times for 32 yards and one TD. Moore’s 2018 film catalogue will give you a better idea of his NFL utility.

When Moore signed with Purdue, we knew, at the very least, that he was an athletic freak. He ran a 4.33 in high school and ranked No. 1 in his class in SPARQ rating. Every bit of that athleticism translated with the ball in hands. Accelerates to 4.33 faster than it took you to read this half-sentence and one of the few guys on earth that can make a sharp cut at that speed.

But what was shocking about Moore as a freshman was how dang tough he was with the ball in his hands, running with the vision in the open field of the stud returner he is and the toughness, strength and fearlessness of a running back. Moore broke 37 tackles as a true freshman in 2018. He’s now bulked up even more, earning a Mini-Saquon” moniker from the Action Network’s Matt Freedman.

But, like a mini running back, you can think of Rondale as a guy who has, to this point, basically only proven he can take extended handoffs down the line of scrimmage and every so often convert them into crazy-explosive plays. In Moore’s one full season in 2018, 47-of-his-117 catches were screens.

In the NFL, you’d love to see Rondale ripping defenses on crossers and shallow posts over the intermediate area, where he might get himself into space with a head of steam behind him. But he had only 11 catches in the intermediate area in 2018. None of this is to say he isn’t battle-tested (12-170-2 vs Ohio State in 2018) or capable. But he’s going to have to be taught. And he’s going to have to stay healthy.

A slightly-smaller DJ Moore feels like a reasonable comp to me. Both were explosive, tackle-breaking machines on undermanned Big 10 teams that showed admirable chippiness when playing the big boys. If Moore ends up busting, he’ll probably look a lot like Curtis Samuel. Whereas, if he finds the right situation, stays healthy, and has a bonanza of a career, he’s Steve Smith. 

What I’m saying is the guy is destined to play for the Panthers. It’s science.

7.  Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU | 6'3/203
Comp: Courtland Sutton

A consensus five-star recruit coming out of high school and an early declaree after his true junior season, Terrace Marshall Jr. is a baby. He is a year-and-a-half younger than DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and Kadarius Toney. In fact, among the top guys in this class, the only guy as young as him is Rondale Moore. Moore and Marshall were born on the exact same date, June 9, 2000.

Moore and Marshall’s ages should be kept in mind during their evaluations, because there is still raw elements of their games that would have been addressed had they played another season or two at the college level. In Marshall’s case, that has to do with body composition and focus.

Marshall is fabulously gifted, an athletic legacy, the great nephew of former NFL RB Joe Delaney, who heroically drowned in 1983 attempting to save three children at the bottom of a pond. Marshall’s calling card is his long frame, legitimate deep speed, and hops downfield to clown you at the catch point.

In 2019, in LSU’s aforementioned “greatest offense in college football history”, Marshall was the fourth option on the offense, a designated deep threat -- and that was just so patently unfair. He’s gone 25-of-41 on contested targets the past two years, mostly downfield.

Last year, with Justin Jefferson and Clyde Edwards-Helaire off to the NFL and J’Marr Chase opting out, Marshall became the primary receiver in the offense. But as Minnesota did to Rashod Bateman, LSU forced Marshall inside to the slot, likely to help its young, struggling quarterbacks who had taken over for Joe Burrow.

Marshall did just fine in this role, posting double-digit touchdowns again and averaging over 100 receiving yards per game. But his role in the NFL is as an outside pop-the-top guy. What Marshall struggles with right now is running crisp, convincing routes that don’t end downfield.

He’s a tall drink of water, a long-strider that chews up grass. He became better, working in the slot, at picking up tricks to increase his utility in the underneath and intermediate areas. But he still is jarred by contact due to his thin frame, a quirk press corners will pick on mercilessly until he fortifies himself in the weight room.

He’ll need to continue to work on these areas, as the difference between Marshall being a niche deep-ball receiver and a difference-maker lie here. If nothing else, we know that Marshall is always going to be dangerous downfield and in the red zone, with his Indian God catch radius and ability to get deep at will.

Concentration drops also bubbled up in 2020 and must be nipped in the bud ASAP. Marshall dropped only four balls in his first two seasons but flubbed seven of them in 2020. Invariably, almost all of these drops would be categorized “concentration” drops. Ala Bateman, Marshall was playing out of position in a new spot after a truncated offseason on a tire-fire team with poor quarterback play in a historically-wonky season last year, so I’m willing to cut him a little slack. 

Marshall is a 6-foot-3 former five-star recruit with 4.4 wheels that consistently makes plays downfield and had a 46.5% college dominator (92nd percentile) and a 19.2 breakout age (86th percentile) at a blueblood school that won a national title his sophomore year -- those profiles do not grow on trees. Despite the risk, I can’t rank him lower than this. The upside is too high.

8.  Tutu Atwell, Louisville | 5'9/165
Comp: Hollywood Brown

A stick-thin slot with blazing speed (reported 4.27 in the past), Louisville coaches liked to either hit Tutu with a quick-hitter and let him make a play (28.6% of his career catches were screens, and more than one-third came behind the line of scrimmage over the past two seasons), or send him screaming deep on nine-routes.

Not many players in NFL history possess this kind of speed (John Ross holds the NFL record with a 4.22 forty; Tyreek Hill ran a 4.29). Atwell not only does, but has proven he can win down the field. That immediately makes him extremely intriguing in terms of the NFL Draft. 

But his drafting team takes him knowing that he’s comically thin, which makes Atwell reluctant to work the middle of the field (perhaps one alternate theory for his usage) and averse to contact in general. So while Atwell has the athleticism to suggest he could become a more varied player, it’s possible he'll mostly remain a screen/go/gadget-type guy.

Atwell absolutely lit up the ACC in 2019, with a 69-1272-11 line (18.4) in 13 games. That’s a better season to judge than 2020, which featured worse quarterback play and Atwell’s eventual opt-out. 

Atwell dropped five balls on 49 catchable targets as a freshman, an abysmal rate. But over the past two seasons, he caught 116-of-175 targets with six drops. Considering he’s a 5-foot-9 slot guy who saw a ton of deep-sector targets over those two years, that’s a perfectly reasonable drop rate. Especially for a guy who has shown to be a strong tracker of the ball over his shoulder downfield.

Atwell is tiny, but he has a deceivingly large ceiling because of those world-class wheels and his ability to catch the deep ball. 

9. Kadarius Toney, Florida | 5'11/194
Comp: Curtis Samuel

Unlike Rondale Moore, Toney had several years to develop a more-complete game and just never did. In three seasons at Florida heading into this fall, the most yards from scrimmage Toney had ever posted was 500. As mentioned earlier, Toney, ostensibly further along developmentally than Moore, is also a year-and-a-half older. 

When you can get Toney the ball in his hands in space, he can do damage. He changes directions as violently as any player in the class, cutting corners at high speeds and remaining in-sprint. He matadors stunned defenders, disappearing out the back door. He stops and starts like a water-bug, sending errant defenders on their way.

Toney broke 32 catches on 80 catches the last two seasons, mostly through movement. In 2020, he averaged nearly seven yards after the catch and ranked No. 5 in the country, per PFF, in forced missed tackles.

So much of Toney's production was manufactured. He finished with the second-least yards per route run among the top-40 receivers in terms of receiving yardage in the FBS last season. Only 10 of Toney's 120 career catches, 8.3%, were contested. Much of them came within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

Though it’s true that Toney needs space to corral the ball, he at least doesn't drop the ball (only three on 123 career catchable balls). Toney began to venture into the intermediate sector more last year, and I can report he showed the consistent ability to separate, but at this time he's mostly getting by on an athleticism advantage.

I wonder if he'll ever acquire a feel for the wide receiver position that Paris Campbell and Curtis Samuel have searched the globe for (Samuel finally started to show flashes last season).

Toney will be a slot in the NFL (where he lined up 83% of the time last season). We know he’ll be great fun on gadget plays, be an awesome returner, and provide an offense value on schemed touches. But for Kadarius Toney to be worth a top-40 pick, he needs to become a legitimate route-runner in order to receive the ball at all levels of the field. The more the ball is in his hands, the better.

I just wonder if he can get there. Toney had four years in college, and he comes with an injury wrap sheet. Injuries limited him to 239 snaps in the 2017 and 2019 seasons combined. His one awesome season came playing next to Kyle Pitts and Trevon Grimes in Dan Mullen system quarterbacked by Kyle Trask

He’s a great athlete, possessing all-world movement and burst if not world-class speed, and an interesting prospect, but we’ve been burned by space prospects too often in the past, and Toney is a particularly risky one -- I’d let someone else take the gamble.

Click here for Part 2, my WR 10-50 rankings......

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!