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NFL draft WR rankings 2017: Clemson’s Mike Williams leads a thin group

The three best wide outs are apparent, but after that the class is average.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Since the underlcassmen declaration date for the 2017 NFL draft, it was clear there was a top-three group at wide receiver and then a dramatic drop off in the position.

That top three is slotted differently if you talk to three different people. For me, the top wide receiver this year is Mike Williams. He’s not a flashy wideout, nor does he blow people away with speed. Instead, he’s an incredibly physical receiver. If you like Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys, you should like Williams.

Corey Davis of Western Michigan holds down the No. 2 spot in the position. He’s a little less physical than Williams, but a little faster and more precise as a route runner. If speed is your thing, Washington’s John Ross is the choice. It’s not just that Ross is fast, though. He knows how to use it.

After those three, it’s hard to pinpoint a sure thing of a receiver in the draft this year. There are several good slot options like East Carolina’s Zay Jones, but he doesn’t profile as a true No. 1 wideout. The same can be said for Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington. He’s an unbelievably productive player, but his lack of an elite athletic trait leaves you wanting just a little bit more from his game.

1. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

When Anquan Boldin was at his best in the mid-2000s, he was a dominating and physical receiver who excelled at the catch point. Williams is exactly that type of player. Clemson could line Williams up on the outside and toss it up to him and more often than not he’d come down with the ball. On contested-catch situations — even those against multiple defenders — Williams can pull in catches because of his timing and body control. Few wide receivers play as angry as Williams does on the field. Williams’ get off at the line of scrimmage is good. Naturally, he can overpower defensive backs but he has a good initial burst to create separation.

Williams isn’t the type of elite super athlete we’ve seen at the position in the past, but he gets the job done with enough speed and leaping ability. Generally, Williams has reliable hands and consistently catches the ball outside his frame. He will sometime take his eye off the ball, though, and miss a catch. It’s not a regular thing, though. A neck injury caused him to miss all but one game of the 2015 season.

2. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

If stats count for anything, then Davis has it. Just look at these stats in four years at Western Michigan: 332 receptions, 5,285 yards, and 52 touchdowns. Who cares if it was in the Mid-American Conference. No one else in FBS history has that many yards. Davis could have come out after his junior season and been a top-100 pick. In returning to Western, he turned himself into a first-round pick. Despite being put against two defenders, Davis excelled as a senior. He tightened up his routes every year at Western and has few flaws in his game. At just under 6’3 and 209 pounds, Davis has good size for the position to go along with good enough speed and agility.

The offense at Western put Davis all over the play, and he was just as effective out of the slot as he was outside. It helped that he had the same quarterback (Zach Terrell) for four seasons, and the pair had perfect chemistry. That allowed Davis to freelance a little bit on his routes, so he may face some timing adjustment in the NFL.

3. John Ross, WR, Washington

There are plenty of fast wide receivers every year in the draft. None of them are as fast as Ross and, more importantly, none of them know how to use it as expertly as the Washington star. Ross uses his 4.22 40-yard-dash speed not just on deep passes. On drag routes Ross gets up to speed in such a hurry that he creates separation going over the middle and the cornerback covering him often times can’t keep up. The acceleration Ross gets out of cuts also makes him a better red zone threat than you’d imagine for a 5’11 receiver. And when he hits a double move? A slow-footed cornerback has no chance. He’ll be an asset as a kick returner. At Washington he averaged 24.4 yards per return.

Ross is going to be good as long as his speed holds up. That’s why it’s noteworthy that he’s suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and a torn meniscus in his right knee. He also had to have surgery for a torn labrum after the NFL Scouting Combine. At 188 pounds, Ross doesn’t have a lot of power in his game, and when defenders get their hands on him he can be easy to take down.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Southern California

Sometimes in the draft you have to gamble on some potential. That’s what I’m doing with Smith-Schuster and why he’s rated so highly. Many of the same qualities Williams possesses, Smith-Schuster does as well. He’s a physical receiver who is hard to tackle and willing to go over the middle. After the catch he knows how to shake tacklers with his strength. That’s a good thing, because his speed for the position is only average and he’s not going to run away from a lot of defenders.

Smith-Schuster excels against zone because he can find a hole in coverage and let the pass come to him. He’s also really good at bringing in back-shoulder fades. In the red zone — particularly when his team has the ball within 10 yards — he should poach touchdowns. He’ll have to go to a team with a good wide receivers coach that will really drill route running, because he has a tendency to round out routes and take unnecessary steps. He’s not a great start/stop receiver because he labors a little and takes longer than other prospects to get back up to speed. One of the youngest players in the draft this year.

5. Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

In today’s pass-happy NFL, the slot receiver is undervalued no longer thanks to players like Doug Baldwin, Randall Cobb, Jarvis Landry, and plenty of others. Jones is at his best when he’s lined up in the slot and can pick apart the middle of a defense. He has reliable hands and has an impressive catch radius. With 158 receptions in 2016, Jones caught nearly everything thrown his way. He can also be used on screens that take advantage of his quickness. At East Carolina, Jones wasn’t used as a deep threat, but the 4.45 speed he had at the combine means he could be used more in that fashion.

6. Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

If you give Davis credit for his gaudy statistics, then same has to be done with Kupp even though he played in the FCS. Similar to Davis, he was used all over the field and finished his career with 428 receptions for 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns. That includes 65 receptions for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in five games against FBS teams.

Simply, Kupp catches everything. Kupp is a crisp route runner and knows how to set up defensive backs to create separation. Kupp only has average play speed and decent size, so he has to take advantage of his route running. After the catch he employs an effective stiff arms to push away tacklers.

7. Chad Hansen, WR, California

Sometimes a wide receiver evaluation can be hard because of the system they played in. That argument could be made against Hansen who is coming out of the California air raid offense. Hansen should be an exception. Although Cal only put him on the right side, he had 92 receptions for 1,249 yards and 11 touchdowns in nine starts and 12 games last season.

Hansen is a good all-around receiver who can adjust to badly thrown passes and pull in balls away from his frame. Although Hansen’s time speed is only above-average, he was a very good deep ball target in Cal’s offense and he knows how to work the sideline. He didn’t have to run a lot of complex routes at Cal, so there will be some catch up in that part of his game.

Best of the rest:

8. ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama

9. Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma

10. Carlos Henderson, WR, Lousiana Tech

11. Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky

12. Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

13. Amara Darboh, WR, Michigan

14. Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia

15. Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina

16. Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State

17. Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

18. Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech

19. Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M

20. Travin Dural, WR, LSU

21. Mack Hollins, WR, North Carolina

22. Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

23. Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State

24. Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State

25. Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State

26. Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan

27. Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M

28. Damore’ea Stringellow, WR, Ole Miss