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Who Are the Best WR Draft Prospects in NFL History? Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, Julio Jones Defy Logic

Who are the best WR prospects ever to be picked in the NFL Draft? Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones may have set the boundary of what's possible.

Who are the best wide receiver draft prospects in NFL history? Countless wide receivers have traveled through the halls of the NFL over the years — but only a select few can boast being one of the best prospects to hit the draft circuit.

Top 12 WR Draft Prospects in NFL History

12) Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Ask a casual fan who was the first WR selected in the 2014 NFL Draft class, and they might say Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., or even Brandin Cooks. But at the time, there was a prospect who was held in even higher regard than these greats: Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.

Watkins was supposed to reinvigorate the game. The 6’1″, 211-pound brawler — who logged a 4.43 40-yard dash and a sub-7 three-cone at the NFL Combine — awed evaluators with his physicality and dynamic run-after-catch ability in college. His toughness at the catch point was a mere confirmation trait.

Watkins — who went fourth overall to the Buffalo Bills — never quite reached his ceiling, and injuries played a role. But he nonetheless had a respectable career and can forever boast that he blended the line between “college football star” and “blue-chip prospect.”

11) Malik Nabers, LSU

There are two WR prospects from the 2024 NFL Draft class who made our “greatest positional prospects of all-time” list, and a third (Rome Odunze) nearly found his way onto the ranking as well. But this spot goes to Marvin Harrison Jr.’s closest challenger: Malik Nabers.

After a freshman season that showed promise in 2021, Nabers emerged as a 1,000-yard receiver in 2022. In 2023, he dominated with 89 catches for 1,569 yards and 14 scores — after which he was selected sixth overall in the 2024 class by the New York Giants.

Down the stretch, Nabers was compared favorably to a host of NFL stars — among them Sterling Sharpe, DJ Moore, and Torry Holt. The 6’0″, 200-pound powder keg has an explosive component few receivers can match, and he’s a transcendent weapon in waiting.

10) A.J. Green, Georgia

Often, WR classes are broken up into two archetypes: The larger receivers who excel more at contested catches and the smaller ones who excel as separators and RAC threats. It’s rare for a WR prospect to come along and fit both of these categories, but A.J. Green did just that.

Green first made his way onto the scene as a freshman at Georgia in 2008. Playing with future No. 1 pick, Matthew Stafford, Green caught 56 passes for 963 yards and six touchdowns in his first year. When Stafford left, Green’s production didn’t waver — letting NFL evaluators know that he, too, was legitimate.

At 6’4″, 211 pounds, Green ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and logged a 6.91 three-cone — numbers that somehow sell short his natural athleticism. After going fourth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, Green rattled off seven straight Pro Bowl seasons to start his career.

9) Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

The 2019 LSU National Championship team produced some of the greatest stars on the NFL stage — a contingent clearly led by the trio of quarterback Joe Burrow and WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson.

Chase was the last one to make the leap to the NFL, but that’s only because he wasn’t eligible in the 2020 NFL Draft cycle. He exploded for 84 catches, 1,780 yards, and 20 TDs over the course of LSU’s 15-0 run. And when he sat out in 2020, no one cared — because Chase had already proven he was good enough.

After logging a 4.38 40-yard dash, 41″ vertical, and 11′ broad jump at the NFL Combine, Chase was taken fifth overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Beyond his elite functional athleticism and RAC, Chase won mass appeal with his icy contested-catch ability and robotic focus in the clutch.

Reunited with Burrow, Chase has quickly become a top-10 NFL wide receiver, and he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years.

8) Keyshawn Johnson, USC

Here’s a piece of trivia for you: Who was the most recent WR prospect to go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft?

In truth, it’s only happened three times, and the most recent honoree was USC’s Keyshawn Johnson in 1996.

Johnson’s status as a No. 1 overall selection has a caveat. The 1996 class was notoriously weak at quarterback. In fact, the first QB taken didn’t go until the second round, while in other years, it’s often a position that drives other players down the board.

Nevertheless, Johnson was a dominant physical specimen and catch-point threat at 6’4″, 211 pounds, and produced at every stage of his football career. His rare size-adjusted athleticism was rivaled only by his steely toughness and unnatural focus at the catch.

7) Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Watkins was the first WR selected in the 2014 NFL Draft for a reason. But in hindsight, that class may serve as a lesson: Don’t overthink the less flashy WR prospect who makes everything look easy. In 2014, that prospect was Mike Evans.

At 6’5″, 231 pounds, Evans didn’t have domineering speed, nor did he pose the same kind of RAC potential that Watkins and Beckham presented. But in an often off-schedule offense led by Johnny Manziel, Evans just won — time and time again.

The quintessential “smooth operator,” Evans turned winning reps with route running, fluidity, positioning, and play strength into an art as early as 2012. In 10 NFL seasons, he’s never fallen below the 1,000-yard mark. In a 2014 redraft, Evans would be the first wide receiver taken.

6) Amari Cooper, Alabama

Amari Cooper has been a fixture in the NFL for almost a full decade. And his production has been so regular, normal, and expected that sometimes we forget just how good of a prospect he was.

Part of Alabama’s WR pipeline in the 2010s, Cooper finished third in Heisman voting in 2014 after racking up 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns. He had an obvious RAC profile at 6’1″, 211 pounds, with 4.42 speed, but Cooper instead hung his hat on his devastating route-running nuance and strong hands.

Cooper represents the rare case where high upside meets high functional utility, and the results have spoken for themselves. Across 10 seasons, he’s been to the Pro Bowl five times and is closing in on the exclusive 10,000-yard club.

5) Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

Harrison hasn’t taken a down at the NFL level yet, and he’s already one of the greatest WR prospects in NFL history. Is that too hasty of a declaration? Perhaps. But there’s no denying how relentlessly complete Harrison’s profile is.

Every time Harrison stepped on the field at Ohio State, his impact was clear. Over his final two seasons with the Buckeyes, he accumulated 144 catches, 2,474 yards, and 28 TDs — and he was the near-undisputed WR1 in a stacked 2024 NFL Draft WR group.

At 6’3″, 209 pounds, Harrison’s profile had almost no holes to poke. He had the size, with the speed and burst of a gazelle in open space. Yet, Harrison’s most impressive traits were his deadly route-running ability 1-on-1 and gravity-defying body control.

The son of Hall of Fame WR Marvin Harrison Sr., legacy has been a talking point for the younger Harrison — who was picked fourth overall by the Arizona Cardinals. But if he can live up to his potential, it won’t be an issue.

4) Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh

If you played EA’s NCAA Football 2005 back in the day, you’ll remember that there was a WR from Pittsburgh on the cover. That was Larry Fitzgerald — a true college football star who also established himself as a blue-chip NFL Draft prospect.

In just two seasons with the Panthers, Fitzgerald amassed 161 catches for 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns. The 6’3″, 218-pound pass catcher was an elite athlete — that much was clear — but his steely play strength, acrobatic catching ability, and unflinching resolve made him truly different.

Fitzgerald won over evaluators with his on-field traits as a prospect, but his longevity was perhaps the primary factor in him becoming an NFL great. He played 17 seasons (all with the Cardinals) and finished second all-time in receiving yards behind Jerry Rice.

3) Julio Jones, Alabama

The best WR prospects bend our perception of what’s possible on the football field. That’s something Julio Jones can say he accomplished, after entering the 2011 NFL Draft on the heels of a 1,133-yard, seven-TD junior campaign at Alabama.

At an incredibly imposing 6’3″, 220 pounds, Jones put up logic-defying athletic numbers — among them a 4.34 40-yard dash, a 38.5″ vertical, an 11’3″ broad jump, and a 6.66 three-cone in the 93rd percentile.

There was no physical comp for Jones as a WR1 with his speed, bend, and play strength. He maximized those skills with his cool focus and versatility as a separator.

In his prime, Jones was a two-time All-Pro, a seven-time Pro Bowler, and arguably the best WR in the game.

2) Randy Moss, Marshall

You’ve read off the names of Green, Harrison, and Jones on these NFL Draft WR prospect rankings, but Randy Moss was the precursor to them all.

Though Moss fell to No. 21 overall in his respective draft, that fall was not on account of his talent or play. Legal and disciplinary troubles, combined with Moss’ status as a small-school prospect, played a role, but he only fell so far before the Minnesota Vikings took advantage.

Moss’ nickname was “The Freak” — not as creative as others, but nonetheless ever so honest. At 6’4″, 210 pounds, his reported numbers — a 4.25 max 40-yard dash time and a 47″ vertical — were simply jaw-dropping. Later in his career, Moss weaponized these athletic gifts with sharp, nuanced, and relentless route-running chops.

Not only was Moss impossible to keep up with as an athlete, but he inadvertently coined a new verb in the English dictionary — “moss” — with his ability to box out, overwhelm, and outreach defenders at the catch point with his length and catch-point instincts.

1) Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech

To understand just how absurd Calvin Johnson was, look no further than his “Megatron” nickname.

Named after a behemoth mechanism from the fictional planet of Cybertron, every inkling of Johnson’s career is meant to convey one thing: He wasn’t just different, he was impossible to replicate and borderline fictional.

Johnson was the WR prospect who monopolized over half of Georgia Tech’s receiving output and 60% of the team’s total passing touchdowns in his final season. And at 6’5″, 239 pounds, he registered a freakish 4.35 40-yard dash time.

No one had seen a player like Johnson to this point, and when he was on his game, there was no stopping him unless you triple-teamed him. Catching most of his passes from Stafford, Johnson earned All-Pro honors three times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2021.

Honorable Mentions

  • Rome Odunze, Washington
  • Braylon Edwards, Michigan
  • Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
  • Justin Jefferson, LSU
  • Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
  • Herman Moore, Virginia
  • Tim Brown, Notre Dame
  • Irving Fryar, Nebraska
  • Corey Davis, Western Michigan
  • Tavon Austin, West Virginia