Top wide receivers on the Shrine Bowl 1000: Jayden Reed, Zay Flowers among the early favorites

The Shrine Bowl 1000 has been released, complete with some of the top senior wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft. Who makes the list?

The East-West Shrine Bowl has released the Shrine Bowl 1000 — the complete list of the top prospects to watch on the all-star circuit, from now to the main event in Vegas. In light of the list’s rollout, we’re breaking down the top prospects at each position to bring you closer to the game.

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Who are the top wide receivers on the Shrine Bowl 1000 list?

The Shrine Bowl 1000 group of wide receivers is a mix of fascinating prospects, large and small, each with a unique mold and projection to the NFL. As we begin the analysis, it’s important to note that not every draft-eligible player was available for the watch list. To make the list, certain criteria must be met in terms of academic standing, class level, and other factors.

Ainias Smith, Texas A&M

The first receiver on this list isn’t strictly a receiver — He’s more of a weapon. Ainias Smith started his collegiate career at RB but moved into a more predominant pass-catching role in 2021. Even amidst turmoil at QB, Smith put up 47 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns. He’s undersized at 5’10”, 190 pounds, and needs to improve as a natural hands catcher. But as a former RB with high-end explosiveness, speed, and dynamic athleticism, he profiles as a dangerous RAC threat.

Zay Flowers, Boston College

Ever since 2020, Zay Flowers has been a star for Boston College football. Had Phil Jurkovec remained healthy in 2021, there’s a good chance Flowers could have put up massive numbers. Now, in 2022, he’s due for an explosive finish to his collegiate career. Flowers, like Smith, is undersized. But he’s a walking spark with next-level short-area twitch and speed, and his ability to maintain balance while stacking sudden cuts is awe-inspiring. If he can work more efficiently channeling his traits as a route runner, the sky is the limit.

Ronnie Bell, Michigan

Ronnie Bell had just one catch in 2021 before he was sidelined with an injury. But that one catch — a 76-yard touchdown — showed so much about what Bell brings to the table. He’s an average-sized receiver, but his ball-tracking ability and hand strength at the catch point can be truly exhilarating at his best moments. For his size, Bell isn’t fazed by contact or close coverage, and he can convert on high-difficulty throws as a result. He’s the ninth-ranked WR in the PFN Mock Draft Simulator, but he can ascend with a strong campaign.

Jayden Reed, Michigan State

Michigan’s rival, Michigan State, also has a wide receiver on the Shrine Bowl 1000. That receiver is Jayden Reed, a criminally underrated pass catcher who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2021. Catching passes from Payton Thorne once again, Reed’s arrow is only trending farther up. He’s fast and explosive, has good separation ability and better catching instincts, and competes tooth-and-nail as a blocker. He’s a receiver NFL teams should quickly grow fond of.

Jalen Cropper, Fresno State

Jake Haener and Jalen Cropper earned the admiration of late-night CFB viewers in their adventures against the Pac-12. It was Cropper at the receiving end of many crucial throws. His status as the Bulldogs’ top WR amounted to 85 catches for 899 yards and 11 scores, and it’s a role that should keep bearing fruit in 2022. Cropper is visibly underweight at 6’0″, 172 pounds, but he plays bigger than his frame. He’s an easy separator who’s authoritative at the catch point and has surprising contact balance.

Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland

Dontay Demus Jr. was on a torrid pace in 2021 before suffering a severe, season-ending leg injury five games in. Over that span, he put up 28 catches for 507 yards and five touchdowns, emerging as a premier playmaking threat on a dynamic Maryland offensive cast. Now that Demus has had time to heal, he’ll draw attention once again. At 6’3″, 217 pounds, he’s a true size/speed athlete, built for the modern big-slot role. The 14th-ranked WR in the MDS, Demus is an enticing sleeper in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Jacob Cowing, Arizona

Jacob Cowing was the latest Group of Five sensation at WR in 2021. Playing for the UTEP Miners, Cowing put up 69 catches for 1,354 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging almost 20 yards per catch in the process. Cowing has room to strengthen his frame, but he’s already a dynamic big-play threat who made more than a few gravity-defying catches in 2021 with his vertical athleticism, body control, and ball-tracking ability. Ranked 15th in the MDS, Cowing has ascension potential after transferring to Arizona.

Chris Autman-Bell, Minnesota

The Minnesota passing offense has been rather unspectacular since the departures of players like Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. But perhaps in his farewell season, Chris Autman-Bell can help give the Golden Gophers a much-needed boost. Autman-Bell was a top receiving threat for the team in 2021, putting up 36 catches for 506 yards and six scores. At 6’1″, 215 pounds, his frame density stands out, and it gives him good RAC potential. But he can also extend beyond his frame and make tough catches.

Nathaniel Dell, Houston

His nickname “Tank” may be a bit misleading — Nathaniel Dell is listed at a lean 5’10”, 155 pounds. But when you see his production from this past season — 90 catches for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns — you start to see why he’s referred to as Tank Dell. The name Tank can be interpreted as a representation of Dell’s unfailing consistency and resolve as a weapon in the passing game. His athleticism is clear, but he also knows how to leverage routes and create separation, and he’s a natural when the ball comes his way.

A.T. Perry, Wake Forest

When bigger receivers come around, they don’t often resemble A.T. Perry. There’s an assumption that larger receivers aren’t as mobile or effective as separators. Perry takes that assumption and turns it on its head. Listed at 6’5″, 206 pounds, Perry is long and lean but also incredibly smooth and light-footed as an athlete. He’s shown he can sink his hips on route breaks and transition with ease. With his size, he can box out smaller defensive backs. Fresh on the heels of a 71-1,293-15 season, Perry is just getting started.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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