Widely regarded as one of the strongest positional groups in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft, the wide receivers are a skilled and diverse group. I can see up to six receivers being selected in the first round, each with different and unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are premium athletes, others are dominant at the catch point, while some make their living as route running savants. This 2021 wide receiver superlatives article is to crown the top collegiate receiver categorically based on some of the most vital skills and traits of a great wide receiver. Who’s the fastest, the most elusive, the best at 50/50s?
2021 Wide Receiver Superlatives
Size: Warren Jackson, Colorado State
Listed at a ridiculous 6’6 and 215 pounds, Warren Jackson has a very real chance of measuring in as the tallest receiver in the class. However, it’s not just his height that separates him from others in his class, it’s how he uses it. When the ball is in the air, Jackson acts as if he’s a power forward awaiting a rebound. He boxes out opposing defensive backs, shielding them from the ball with his body, and then leaping in the air to high point the football before the corner ever had a chance.
It’s not just contested-catch situations where Jackson’s size is apparent, he also uses his massive frame as a blocker and as a runner after the catch. Jackson relishes in the opportunity to embarrass a defender even if the ball isn’t coming his way. Rarely will you see him losing a battle of strength, whether he’s moving a defender to clear space for a teammate or trying to gain extra yardage after securing the football.
Honorable mentions: TJ Vasher, Texas Tech and Tamorrion Terry, FSU
Speed: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Another first-round Alabama receiver, Jaylen Waddle might be the most athletic of the group. This includes 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III who ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash in the most recent NFL Combine. Ruggs and Waddle have been traped in a footrace where it’s nearly impossible to dictate a winner.
Waddle has legit sub 4.3 speed, and he uses it as both a receiver and a returner. Whenever the ball touches his hands, he’s a threat to score. Expect him to provide value to an NFL team in all facets of the game, as whichever team drafts him tries to find a way to use his elite speed as often as possible.
Honorable Mentions: Rondale Moore, Purdue and TuTu Atwell, Louisville
Route running: Chris Olave, Ohio State
Outside of Alabama, there isn’t another team in the nation that has been producing receivers as Ohio State has. What separates Ohio State is how well developed their receivers come into the league. Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin, and KJ Hill were also considered some of the top route runners in their respective classes.
Related | Driscoll’s 7-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft
Despite what some analytic enthusiasts may tell you, route running is one of the most vital parts of a receivers game. It can lead to instant production at the NFL level, and if you need proof just look at how Thomas and McLaurin produced as rookies despite not being ultra-productive in college. Chris Olave is the next elite Buckeye route runner, and he projects as a very productive NFL player from the get-go.
Honorable Mentions: Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC and Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Hands: DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Yet another elite Alabama wide receiver prospect. While the crown for the most athletic ‘Bama receiver is still up in the air, the argument for who has the best hands is not. The entire receiving unit recognized DeVonta Smith as the player with the top hands on the team, and frankly, it isn’t close.
Smith sports a 2.9% drop rate on 118 career receptions, and also regularly makes difficult catches look easy. He’s also an above-average athlete and route runner, it’s easy to see why some draft pundits are so high on Smith for the 2021 draft class.
Honorable Mentions: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU and Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Explosion: Rondale Moore, Purdue
I said earlier that Waddle is arguably the fastest receiver in the class, but I don’t think he’s the most athletic. I saved that 2021 wide receiver superlative for Purdue’s Rondale Moore. Moore, as an under-recruited high school senior, posted a SPARQ score of 133.62, nearly double what Waddle posted at the same age.
If we compared Moore’s high school testing numbers to the NFL Combine results of the 2020 wide receiver class, he would be at the top of nearly every category. Despite being just 18 years old, Moore would’ve finished second in the 40-yard dash, second in the vertical jump, and first by a wide margin in the 20-yard shuttle. It’s obvious that Moore is an elite athlete but he might also have one of the most impressive Combine performances we ever see.
Honorable Mentions: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama and Tamorrion Terry, FSU
Contested catches: Ja’ Marr Chase, LSU
Admittedly, this was one of the easiest decisions I had to make. Ja’Marr Chase is not only the top 50/50 receiver in the class but he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. The most shocking part about this is that he does it without possessing elite size. Chase measures in around 6’0, yet when you watched him he makes it seem like he’s 6’10 lining up against 5’4 corners. It’s a truly impressive skill and while I don’t think it’s as easily translatable as route running or athletic ability, Chase will likely find success against NFL corners when the ball is in the air.
Honorable Mentions: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota and Sage Surratt, Wake Forest