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Tall wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft, and their many niches

Tall wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft, and their many niches

We all know the type. The ones who can “reach the cookie jar,” as the announcers like to say. Separation is the name of the game in the modern NFL, but there’s still very much a role for tall wide receivers, and in the 2021 NFL Draft, there’s a very intriguing group on deck.

Traditionally, smaller receivers are associated with better separation skills, enhanced agility, and more prevalent long speed, and larger receivers are perceived as the bullies in the game of football — the guys who can out-muscle cornerbacks for the ball and win in contested situations with tireless efficiency.

Generally, these notions will have some degree of truth to them, but as you’ll see below, even receivers in the same size class have various sub-types among them.

Some are true alphas, while others compound their reach with agility and elusiveness in space. Some make their money by maximizing their ability to secure the catch, while others have the burl and contact balance of a running back with the ball in their hands, saving the best for last.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the NFL Draft’s tallest receivers, and how they each use their physical traits in unique ways, to ultimately provide an impact.

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Tall wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft

Warren Jackson, Colorado State

Let’s start with the fundamentals of being a tall receiver: Using the tools you have to your advantage. A lot of receivers look to supplement their skill set, but if you can’t perform the basic components of the job — secure the catch — then you can’t expand off of that.

Colorado State’s Warren Jackson is a textbook catcher, and he uses his size to perfection in contested situations. Standing at 6-foot-6, 219 pounds, Jackson is one of the largest receivers in the class, even larger than some tight ends, and he approaches his unique role with absolutely no timidity.

The play below is a stellar introduction to Jackson’s pallet of traits. His route breaks aren’t very sharp, and he’ll always be limited there, but when it comes to securing the catch, he’s one of the better overall receivers in the class.

Here, Jackson extends away from his body to snag the ball downfield and then uses his frame to absorb contact from two different directions. And just for good measure, he stays on his feet, fights through that contact, and manages to reach the end zone.

Just as Jackson’s size helps him on the ground, it also helps him in the air. In this next clip, Jackson shows his ability to contort in midair and use his body control to maximize his range.

He manages to reach over the shoulders of the man covering him and snags the end zone pass by imposing his dominant frame. Receivers with size need to be able to use that size, first and foremost, and Jackson lives up to that reputation.

Jackson may not have the size-speed combination that scouts flock to, but he has the potential to be a superb red zone and downfield threat at the NFL level, for his ability to secure the catch alone. That’s the most important fundamental task of any receiver, and Jackson fulfills that role very well.

T.J. Vasher, Texas Tech

Some receivers are better at using their size to impose physicality at the catch point, amidst contact. Others excel at instead extending the range of the catch point with their length and flexibility. T.J. Vasher is one of the prime elongation specialists of the 2021 wide receiver class.

Vasher is somewhat polarizing in the scouting community, and into the lead-up of the 2020 season, he’s been buried by the depth of the receiver class. Vasher can work on smoothing over the details of his game, and he’s not nearly as physical as Jackson. But Vasher’s foundation of traits will leave onlookers swooning. His flashes are brighter than most.

At 6-foot-6, 210, Vasher has elite size, and he’s also very flexible in midair. He offers innate body control and length, which he uses to reach areas that defensive backs simply can’t.

But Vasher is not just tall and long. He’s a freaky athlete, as evidenced by his vertical leap on this catch below. Watch Vasher bound up in the middle of three defenders and come away with the football, showcasing his explosiveness and timing ability.

Vasher also has enough speed to be a threat downfield, but for all his traits, his production has fluctuated throughout his career. He’s never logged over 687 yards or seven scores in a given year, and in 2019, he only caught 42 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns.

In an Air Raid offense like Texas Tech’s, you’d think a player with Vasher’s traits would be more productive. Vasher does need to work on becoming more consistent, but his ability to make uncatchable passes catchable is rare, and it’s something NFL teams will bank on in 2021.

Tamorrion Terry, Florida State

While Jackson hangs his hat on his toughness and physicality, and Vasher prides himself on being an athletic, rangy threat downfield, Florida State’s Tamorrion Terry is perhaps the most dangerous receiver of this group.

Terry is an example of what can happen when a larger receiver manages to implement elements of a smaller receiver into his game, but also the potential such a receiver has when he’s still raw.

Terry is a living big play. He stands at 6-foot-4, 210, but has legitimate sub-4.4 speed, and has the agility to take screens to the house, as exemplified by the clip below. He plays like a smaller receiver, in a good way, always light on his feet, fluid through crowded areas, and explosive in open space.

https://twitter.com/SportsDGI/status/1167838556494028801

Terry is a favorite among draft writers because of his tantalizing combination of size and athletic ability, and as shown below, he does know how to use his size. He has the body control to adjust when he needs to, and he’s a very natural receiver in this sense, having a feel for where he needs to be.

While Terry may be the most complete receiver on this list, he can further maximize his skill set as one of the tall receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft. If Terry can be more consistent imposing his size and being aggressive in contested situations, and if he can elongate when the circumstances demand it, he can set the standard for larger receivers at their position, and perhaps even become an anomaly.

While Terry, Vasher, and Jackson are some of the most compelling tall wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft, there are others to take note of, and all of them have potential. Whether it’s Trevon Grimes of Florida or Branden Mack of Temple, all receivers with exceptional size have one necessary trait that they can use to carve out a role at the NFL level. From there, they can carve out their niches, and find success on the gridiron, just as these three will do.

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