2023 NFL Draft

TE And WR Prospects In The 2023 Draft: One More Weapon For Kenny

If nothing else, this year has already proven that Omar Khan learned two basic principles from his great predecessor, Kevin Colbert:

  1. Wants are fine but never enter the draft with a need; and
  2. Good talent at the wrong position can make your team better, but weaker talent at any position will not.

Khan’s Pittsburgh Steelers could play an NFL game tomorrow without an empty spot on the roster. Thus there are no “needs,” only soft spots we would like to address if the available talent is there. I’d list (not rank!) those wants as follows:

  • A high-ceiling boundary CB to learn behind Patrick Peterson and the expiring-contract journeymen;
  • A slot DB better than Arthur Maulet, who could be a nominal Safety or CB;
  • A cover-capable ILB;
  • A high-quality OLB3 to absorb the 60-70% of snaps that won’t be taken by Watt or Highsmith while also providing depth;
  • A high-quality DT3 to absorb the 60-70% of snaps that won’t be taken by Heyward or Ogunjobi, while also providing depth;
  • An OT3 to compete with Moore and Okorafor, while also providing depth;
  • A QB3 to develop in the weeds; and
  • The subject of this article: One More Weapon For Kenny. Or maybe even two.

Eight or nine wants with only seven picks equals the reason why so many people want to trade down.

A Global View Of Offensive Weaponry

The rules of football state that every offensive play must include a five-man offensive line, which leaves room for six players who are allowed to carry the ball: a Quarterback and five offensive weapons. The different options for those five weapons yield the different “personnel groupings” people use as shorthand:

  • 11 Personnel = 1 RB and 1 TE, plus 3 WRs;
  • 12 Personnel = 1 RB and 2 TEs, plus 2 WRs;
  • 21 Personnel = 2 RBs and 1 TE, plus 2 WRs;
  • 22 Personnel = 2 RBs and 2 TEs, plus 1 WR;
  • 10 Personnel = 1 RB and 0 TEs, plus 4 WRs;
  • “Spread” = 0 RB’s and 0 TEs, plus 5 WRs; and
  • “Heavy” = Replace a weapon(s) with an eligible offensive lineman/men (“eligible” because they are technically playing a ball-carrying position).

NOTE: For those who didn’t get the pattern, the first digit represents the number of RB/FBs on the field, and the second digit the number of TEs. The number of WRs is implied because you can’t have more than five weapons in all.

Those personnel groupings break down further into roles, such as “field stretching speed receiver,” “super quick slot receiver,” “big slot receiver,” “extra tall red zone weapon,” “move the chains possession receiver,” etc., etc., so on and so forth. I’m sure everyone reading this article understands that part because we dream so much about ideal formations.

I just deleted a whole section going over examples like the “Run & Shoot,” “1970’s Pro-Style Offenses,” New England’s “Double-TE formations,” and Big Ben’s preferred 11-Personnel teams. It’s cleaner to just get to the points. (1) Teams can succeed with any collection of positions if the talent is good enough. And (2) no offensive formation is more than the base. Every team wants to have enough different weapons to morph the offensive attack from week to week, and within games to take advantage of opposing defenses.

So here’s the bottom line. Teams need an absolute minimum of 5 starting quality players; it takes 6-7 to make a solid unit; and you would love to have as many as 8-9. Right now Pittsburgh has:

Five (5) starting-caliber players

  • RB Najee Harris
  • TE Pat Freiermuth
  • WR Diontae Johnson
  • WR George Pickens
  • WR Calvin Austin III
  • Chase Claypool [traded to Chicago]

Three or four (3) backup, role, gadget, and depth players

  • RB Jaylen Warren
  • TE Zach Gentry
  • TE/FB Connor Heyward

Many struggling wannabes, could-bes and once-weres

  • RB Anthony McFarland Jr.
  • RB Jason Huntley
  • RB Master Teague
  • WR Ja’Marcus Bradley
  • WR Dan Chisena
  • WR Dez Fitzpatrick
  • WR Anthony Miller
  • WR Gunner Olszewski
  • WR Cody White
  • [WR Miles Boykin] – still a free agent, and primarily a special teamer.

You can see the problem. We have the bare minimum number of starters, won’t have that if someone gets injured, and are missing at least one quality support player. All of which means…

Kenny Pickett Needs Another Weapon

Here’s a notorious Catch-22 of professional football. Young QBs need a few years to focus on their personal game; fixing footwork, learning NFL defenses, digesting the offensive playtome, etc. Thus they need offensive weaponry a lot more than experienced QBs. But if you’re a hot, young QB you probably got picked by a team that won’t have the weapons needed to give you the space you need to learn.

The Steelers could have been the exception to that rule. Then they traded Claypool away (no regrets). Now it’s a hole that Kahn & Co. will really want to address in this year’s draft.

What Style of Weapon?

The coaches obviously plan to build the 2023 attack around a brutal, pounding run game. That approach opens up the middle of the field for play-action passing, which means a good slot receiver would fit in nicely. Kenny Pickett’s weakness as a rookie centered on passes in the 10- to 25-yard range over the middle of the field. Which means a good slot receiver would fit in nicely. The running game benefits in many ways when some of the offensive weapons can help with the blocking. Which means a good slot receiver who can block would be ideal. But the team has also lost its primary punt/kick returner, which means a good slot receiver of the quick-and-shifty type would [you fill it in].

QED. The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers go into the draft with a strong want for at least one and maybe two slot receivers: a “big slot” who can help with blocking, and a “shifty slot” who can handle return duties.

Quick, Shifty Slot WRs Who Block

There aren’t many, so they deserve their own section.

HV 1:20 WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio St. (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’0⅝”, 196 lbs. with 30½” arms and 9” hands. Turned 21 in February. Used by Ohio State as a ‘big slot,’ and set all kinds of records doing so. Your classic QB’s best friend type, Smith-Njigba actually had a better 2021 than either Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave, but injuries hampered his 2022. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile compares him to Jarvis Landry as a physical WR2 who brushed up against the WR1 ranks but never quite achieved it. It’s an apt comparison except that Landry’s athletic testing put him in the bottom 1% with particularly awful agility scores, while JS-N is in the top 6% with top 1% agility scores. His tape backs that up: phenomenal route-running skills, excellent football IQ, very good hands, and ideal tracking ability. Good blocker too for a WR. If he ran in the 4.3s he’d be a top-10 talent. Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report suggests Amon-Ra St. Brown as a fellow plug-and-play Big Slot WR with great skills but limited upside because the athletic profile makes it hard to expect any versatility. Tyler gives JS-N’s polish and spatial awareness special praise. Comparing JS-N to Juju Smith-Schuster as our recent model of this prototype, Tyler sees JJSS as more physical, while this year’s prospect has more burst and agility. “But he still will do the dirty work taking big hits, kicking out linebackers etc.”
HV 3:24 WR Jayden Reed, Mich. St. via W. Mich. (Senior) [Mtg. at Visit]. 5’10”, 187 lbs. with 30½” arms and 9⅛” hands. Turns 23 just before the draft. Quicker than fast, dangerous with the ball in his hands, and able to create good separation using sharp routes. Production slid in 2022 along with everything else in that offense. Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (early Round 4 grade) adds that he is a top-notch character bet with a competitive streak and work ethic to applaud. A certified tough guy when it comes to blocking in addition to receiving. This would be an ideal slot WR profile if he was more reliable on combat catches. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile loves the ball skills, attitude, and kick return ability but calls him “too tight-hipped for stop-start routes on the tree” and criticizes the number of focus drops. Tested sort of meh at the Combine with good speed, very average explosion numbers, and poor size adding up to a 60th-percentile overall profile.

Were you wondering why so many draftniks keep coming back to Jayden Reed as an option in Round 3? There you go. He isn’t a return man, but outside of that he offers a perfect fit from the skills POV.

Big Slot Options

It’s a lousy year for big slot WRs, but one of the best years ever for Tight Ends; players who can also be described as Size XX big slots that block well enough to help a struggling Tackle. The WR room is emptier and Gentry is only on a one-year deal, Heyward cannot play in-line, and this year’s group of TE prospects offers a lot of players who could be genuine stars rather than don’t forget about me types. Thus, I am going to bunch the two together in the following table.

HV 2:01  WR Quentin Johnston, TCU (Junior). 6’2¾”, 208 lbs. with 33⅝” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turns 22 in September. The best of the big & tall, move the chains, X receivers in the draft, Johnston is also a fine athlete with elite burst for someone his size. He’s the 12-point stag in a year when the roebucks rule until Day 3. Particularly effective at breaking tackles, but he definitely needs to work on his craft. Georgia’s Kelee Ringo shut him down completely in the national championship game because he had the rare talent to match up physically. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile worries that even with the assumption that he’ll have a more accurate deep-ball QB in the pros, Johnston “still feels more like a good WR2 than a high-volume WR1.” Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report says “his floor is a very good number two receiver, but he could blossom into a very good number one.”
HV 2:01 TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’4½”, 249 lbs. with 9½” hands. Turns 22 as a rookie. Here’s a lazy but true comp: Pat Freiermuth, but better (at least in college). Mayer does everything you could ask as a receiver, and is even a good, solid blocker albeit a little inconsistent when it comes to pure strength and technical details like hand position. A top 20% athlete for the position, which may hurt his stock in this weird year when there is a full dozen who tested even better. OTOH, everyone and his brother could have told you going in that Mayer is a better football player than an Olympian. Bottom line? Nothing but injury will keep Michael Mayer from a decorated 10-year NFL career, and he could be better than that. The TE3 (#26 overall) on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial top-50 list, but a clear TE1 who deserves a Round 1 grade, according to Chandler Stroud’s gif-supported Depot scouting report: “An old school Tight End body but plays like a new school tight end,” similar to Mark Andrews. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile has him as TE2, calling him a “safe pick,” who is reminiscent of Jason Witten.
HV 2:01 TE Luke Musgrave, Oregon St. (Senior). 6’5⅞”, 253 lbs. 10⅞” hands. Turns 23 in September. Went into Week 3 on a white-hot streak of two fantastic games, and then injured a knee and was out for the season. Nephew of NFL QB/coach Bill Musgrave. An elite top ½% athlete with ridiculous speed among the other assets, but you are betting on those physical tools because his snakebit college career included little in the way of stats. Blocking in college was smart and basically effective – more positional than violent – but it looked more physical at the Senior Bowl. Proper TE security blanket hands. He earned the clear TE1 position in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile, along with a pair of direct player comps to Dallas Goedert and Mike Gesicki. Here is a solid looking PFN scouting profile from December.
HV 2:01 TE Darnell Washington, Georgia (Junior). 6’6⅝”, 264 lbs. with incredible 34⅜” arms and 11” hands that let him [watch this!]. Turns 22 in August. A height/weight/speed phenom who can genuinely block and has room to improve? Definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially after he used the Combine to put up a top 2% athletic score with elite grades in every category, and make one of the most impressive catches I have ever seen. His 2022 production was only okay, but he had a foot injury for the first half of the season, played for a notoriously run-first offense and had to compete with a sophomore phenom named Brock Bowers, who was good enough to win the Mackey Award as an underclassman. Came in at #17 overall on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial top-50 list, along with a description as ”a sixth offensive lineman in the run game and he’s a moving billboard in the passing game.” Jacob Harrison’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 2 grade. Washington’s blocking is so good that Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile suggests he could almost be considered as a candidate for conversion into a true tackle.
HV 2:12 TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah (Senior). 6’3⅝”, 246 lbs. with 32⅝” arms and 10¼” hands. Turns 24 in October. The sort of player you like to root for as a fantastic move TE who plays with a competitive toughness beyond his small (for a TE) frame. Add 2” and 15 pounds, and Kincaid would be a clear TE1, even in this astonishing class. He looks for ways to put his face into even a rusty fan. Came in at an astonishing #9 overall on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial top-50 list, based on “exceptional quickness, route polish and run-after-catch ability.” That led DJ to describe him as “a more explosive version of Zach Ertz coming out of college.” Has proper TE hands, and genuine “wanna” as a blocker but with very suspect size when it comes to fighting off NFL athletes. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile calls him a Round 1 “move tight end whose premium talent as a pass-catcher will be the primary focus for evaluators,” and who does that job well enough to earn a comparison to Zach Ertz if he can carry on as expected at the next level. “Impeccable ball skills and sticky hands… [but] a liability as a run blocker.” Ross McCorkle’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a late 1/early 2 grade, comparing Kincaid to none other than Pat Freiermuth. “I came away very impressed by his blocking while acknowledging his size won’t fly in the NFL.” In fairness that should be “might not” since Ertz weighed 249 at his Combine and has shorter arms with only an inch of extra height. On the pass catching side, Ross describes Kincaid as “a wide receiver who just happens to be 6’4”, with fluid cuts, really good adjustments to balls in the air, flawless hands, and the “acceleration to turn a 2-yard catch into a 20-yard gain.”
TE Tucker Kraft, S. Dak. St. (RS Junior). 6’4¾”, 254 lbs. with 32¾” arms and 10” hands. 22, turns 23 in November. An athletic TE (top 4-5% for the position) who comes from a run heavy offense where blocking was job #1, who likes to do it and gets the job done even though he could improve, and has the full package of receiver talents that are only going to improve. It’s a formula that’s worked many times before, and no one seems to doubt it could work for Tucker Kraft just as well. Heck, the gif-supported Depot scouting report by Jon Heitritter (Round 2) ends with… I’d better quote it: “When watching Kraft on tape, I couldn’t help but think of what Travis Kesce was like coming out of Cincinnati. I’m not saying that Kraft is going to have the same career Kelce has had (although that would be [the] best-case scenario, but rather that the two are nearly identical when it comes to measurables… athletic testing… college production…” and the fact that Kelce was a HS QB while Kraft was a RB. Kelce improved as a pro and plays with that awe inspiring Chiefs offense, but the analogy as prospects has real legs. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile agrees that Kraft projects as a Day 2 combination TE talent [who] should see the field early with a chance to become a TE1. His comp is Pat Freiermuth. The TDN scouting profile follows right along: “He will be a complete tight end that has the athleticism to be a high-volume pass target who can make plays on his own thanks to his run instincts and strength while also being a solid run blocker.” I have yet to find a dissenter. The Bleacher Report scouting profile offers a few specific critiques (“as of now, he is a clunky route-runner [though he] clearly has the movement skills to improve”), but ends with the same Round 2, jump in Round 3 grade.
HV 3:01 TE Davis Allen, Clemson (Senior). 6’5⅞”, 245 lbs. with 32¼” arms and 10” hands. Turned 22 in February. A solid receiving TE and equally solid run blocker with wonderful hands. Has the ability to make over the rim combat catches, while also screening the ball with his body in the midfield. A good, all around prospect – but does he have a superpower to fall back on besides those hands? Tested as a top 12-13% athlete with very good burst (10-yard split and leaps) but limited long speed. Came in at #50 in Daniel Jeremiah’s initial top-50 list. The TDN scouting profile ends in a Round 5 grade because of questions about his top end speed and COD ability and his lack of ability as a true, inline run blocker. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile awards something more like an early-3rd, calling Allen “a human vacuum [who uses] instinctive body positioning, mid-air adjustments and exceptional catch focus for consistent 50/50 wins.” The blocking is solid and will get better after a year or two in an NFL training regimen.
HV 3:01 WR Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss (Senior) [Mtg. at Visit]. 6’1¾”, 220 lbs. with 32⅛” arms and 10⅜” hands. Turns 22 on April 20. A solid Big Slot option, he looked like only a bully-boy possession receiver in college. Then he sent everyone back to the tape with an awesome top 1% athletic profile at the Combine. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends with what looks like a Round 3 grade. Ross McCorkle’s gif-supported Depot scouting profile also ends in a Round 3 grade, noting that Mingo suffered through poor QB play during his 2022 run.
HV 3:12 TE Zack Kuntz, Old Dominion (RS Senior). 6’7⅜”, 255 lbs. with 34” arms and 10¼” hands. Turns 24 in June. A Pennsylvania kid from Harrisburg and supposedly a good friend of Pat Freiermuth, Kuntz started his career at Penn State but couldn’t find his way onto the field. He then followed along for a graduate year when his OC won a head-coaching gig. It turned out to be the best thing he could have done. The 2022 results were miles better than he’d had in the years before. Just as tall as Zach Gentry but vastly more athletic (10.00 vs. 2.55), Kuntz is quite likely to be a red zone and move-the-chains terror but even more likely to be a blocking liability for at least the next few years. This is one of the rare young men who earned a perfect 10.00 RAS score at the Combine as the single-most athletic TE prospect measured from 1987 to date, according to the RAS website (click on TE as the position with no date). “Plays more like a big receiver than a Tight End” according to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. Here is a good-looking scouting profile from the end of January, which makes it that much more reliable than the sudden spurt after his show at the Combine. The Sports Illustrated scouting profile adds that Kuntz “won the State Class AA Championship in the 110-meter hurdles in 2017; claimed district titles in the 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles three times each. Was a member of the National Honor Society and four-time distinguished scholar.” Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 3 grade and a comparison to Mike Gesicki as a good receiver who “isn’t known for being a good blocker, but at least has shown the desire and has room to improve his technique.” Steelers fans should view Kuntz more as a huge, very physical big-slot WR with only adequate speed, at least for the start of his career. There is certainly room on the team for that profile.
HV 3:12 TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa (Senior) [Mtg. at Combine, Brass at Pro Day]. 6’3¼” 245 lbs. with 32⅛” arms and 10¼” hands. Turned 22 in January. A fiery tough guy with an unending motor, he loves to block (with moderate but real success) and has good but criminally underused receiving skills because of how the staid Iowa offense worked. Runs good routes with secure TE hands. Did himself a lot of good by putting up a top 8% athletic profile great in every area but size. Came in at #36 in Daniel Jeremiah’s initial top-50 list. The TDN scouting profile (Round 3 grade) notes that he was Iowa’s offensive MVP (amazing for a Tight End), but worries about his ability to hold up against pure power, and also the number of combat catches he failed to make; You want TE’s to win 80% of the 50/50 balls, and he only wins his proportionate 50%. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends with something more like a Round 4 grade over a set of concerns you could characterize as ‘lack of the desired physicality and aggression.’ Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report sees a Day 3 player who would have more value in a different year, serving as an athletic move TE who can create after the catch while still contributing as a size-limited but capable blocker.
HV 3:12 TE Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan (Senior). 6’5¼”, 251 lbs. with 32⅞” arms and 9” hands. Turns 25 in September. [Discount applied for his age]. An old fashioned, throwback TE who can run block, pass block, and play receiver with decent competence across the board… and compiled a top 3% athletic profile with no real weakness. Someone we’d have been drooling over before Freiermuth arrived in town. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends on a Round 2 grade. “He could see action early but might need a year or so before he works himself into a full-time TE2 role,” with hard work in the training room as job #1. The TDN scouting profile agrees with the projection of a high-floor, multi-purpose TE2 who can do it all at good but not great levels. “A technician as a blocker… good inline and as a lead… [who has] good versatility and the ability to line up all around the formation,” according to Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report, which ends in a solid Round 3 grade and a comparison to Dalton Schultz.
HV 3:24 TE Payne Durham, Purdue (RS Senior). 6’5⅝”, 253 lbs. with 33⅜” arms and 9¾” hands. Turns 23 in June. A high school teammate of Connor Heyward, Durham has evolved into a solid receiver and effective blocker who enjoys doing all the tasks required of a true TE. Good hands with the ability to get up a seam and make tough catches despite very average movement skills. A slightly better than NFL average athlete, but no more. This goes to the Sports Illustrated scouting profile, which ends in a Round 4 grade. The TDN scouting profile calls him Round 3 value due to his “impact blocking” along with his toughness, competitive approach, and ability in the red zone. Stock went up at the Senior Bowl where his blocking shined, and his receiving looked quite competent. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report likewise ends with a Round 3 grade, along with a comparison to a slightly more limited Pat Freiermuth. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends in late Day 3 grade based on a need to add strength, with very little faith in his “speed to threaten the seam [or] functional agility to beat coverage underneath”.
HV 3:24 TE Brenton Strange, Penn St. (RS Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’3⅞”, 253 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 9⅝” hands. Turns 23 in late December. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile (Round 2-3 grade) describes him as an “H-back option with a compact frame and a nice blend of athleticism and toughness to fuel his game… [T]he demeanor and play strength are where they need to be to succeed.” Tested as a top 10-11% athlete for the TE position. The gif-supported Depot scouting report by Jacob Harrison expands on that, emphasizing that Strange may be undersized, but he is a standout blocker “who consistently moved bodies… lining up as an in-line tight end, H-Back, and split out wide.” Excellent hands and RAC talent too, though “there’s not much nuance in his route running.”
HV 3:24 WR Michael Wilson, Stanford (Senior). 6’1⅞”, 213 lbs. with 31” arms and 9¾” hands. Turned 23 in February. Tore up the Senior Bowl with his impressive combination of size, route running, and hands. A multi-year team captain, Wilson film is scarce on the ground because he’s been so snakebit on the injury front, including wacky things such as a broken foot that he re-broke the day after he was cleared to go back to work. A Combine winner, excellent size and explosion scores that led to a top 7% athletic profile. The NFL.com scouting profile ends in a Round 3-5 grade, saying “Wilson plays to his top speed at all times, but he needs to become a more efficient route runner… The ball skills are a little below average, but he’s a cantankerous run blocker and has the potential to become a very good gunner on special teams.” Sounds very Miles Boykinesque, with the potential to be a better position player.
HV 4:01 TE Josh Whyle, Cincinnati (RS Senior). 6’6½”, 248 lbs. with 32½” arms and 9¾” hands. Turns 24 in September. The TDN scouting profile describes Whyle as a very good athlete who excels in the passing game due to his body control, ball skills, and surprising ability to snap off good, sharp routes. Top 11-12% athlete. A willing and developing blocker but not yet a good one. Has the stuff to be a multi-purpose TE both on the line and as a receiver if he can add some grown-man strength – which it’s easy to see him doing, since the photos make him look like one of those still-beardless kids who hasn’t fully matured yet. This goes to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile.
HV 4:16 WR/TE Elijah Higgins, Stanford (Senior). 6’3”, 235 lbs. with shorter 31¾’ arms and big 10½”.Turns 23 in October. A big slot WR in the mold of JJSS but without as much juice. A fine, top 10% athlete overall, but more smooth than quick. Knows he is big and likes to use it. Likely to succeed better as a situational mismatch player than someone who can line up and beat coverage. Lance Zierlein is a fan based on the NFL.com scouting profile. It ends in something like a Round 3 grade based on a projection that Higgins could become a Move TE instead of a true WR.
WR Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa St. (Senior). 6’1⅞”, 203 lbs. with 31⅜” arms and 9⅜” hands. Turns 23 in June. A classic, high-floor WR2 who could dominate in college but looks to be only “very good” in the NFL; as in very good size, speed, hands, savvy, technique, etc. Dead reliable. Fine route runner. Tested with a basically average athletic profile across the board. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile notes a lot of flashes, a “competitive demeanor and… consistent improvement each year,” but still ends in a Day 3 grade based on “average speed and ball skills [that] force him into a lot of contested catch situations.” Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 4 grade for this “ideal candidate for the ‘big slot’ position that the team currently lacks.”
HV 4:16 WR Puka Nacua, BYU (Junior). 6’2”, 201 lbs. with 31½” arms and 9½” hands. Turns 22 in May. Yes, Puka is one of my draft crushes of the year. Why? Because he deserves to be, that’s why! Nacua is a tough, nasty, old-school physical possession receiver who could legitimately model his game on Hines Ward, right down to the love of blocking. Tom Mead’s gif-supported Depot scouting report prefers Juju Smith-Schuster as a comp, but you know what? Either one will do. Fine hands but needs to work on his route running and has average athletic talent when measured against NFL receivers. The speed is acceptable, but far from special. The NFL.com scouting profile is more cynical, ending in something like a Round 5-6 grade due to issues with his ability to separate against NFL coverage experts.
HV 5:01 TE Will Mallory, Miami (Senior). 6’4½”, 239 lbs. with 32¼” arms and 9⅜” hands. Turns 24 in June. A solid but not special TE who could be better after a few years in an NFL training room to add some grown-man strength. Decent skills across the board, but only decent. Coach’s son. Compiled a top 10% athletic profile despite being undersized, which bodes well for his future chances as a Move TE.
HV 5:01 TE Blake Whiteheart, Wake Forest (RS Senior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 6’3¾”, 247 lbs. with 32⅛” arms and 8¾” hands. Turned 23 in March. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile includes a lot of the cheat code clues we tend to look for in TEs who are likely to outplay their draft position. “Whiteheart has below-average size and mass for a blocking tight end, but he makes up for it with above-average grit and technique,… [is] a better pass-catcher than the production might indicate… [and] shows impressive concentration and soft hands when the ball comes his way.” Tested as a top 18% athlete, held back by limited size.
HV 6:16 TE Noah Gindorff, N. Dak. St. (RS Senior). 6’6”, 263 lbs. with 33⅛” arms and 10” hands. Turned 24 in February. Team captain. An accomplished and effective blocker with “below average pass-catching and athletic traits,” according to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. Has lost both of his last two seasons to ankle injuries, so the medicals will matter.
HV 6:16 TE Cameron Latu, Alabama (RS Senior). 6’4”, 242 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 9½” hands. Turned 23 in February. High IQ zone beater but lacks the speed to beat man coverage and the size to dominate as a blocker. Well-rounded but average until you hit the red zone, where he knows how to get those tough yards.

Quick and Shifty, Return Capable Slot WRs

HV 1:25 WR Jordan Addison, USC by way of Pitt. (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 5’11⅛”, 173 lbs. with 30⅞” arms and 8¾” hands. Turned 21 in January. The WR who helped to make Kenny Pickett look like a genius in 2021, and to win Caleb Williams a Heisman Award in 2022. Addison is the sort of guy who makes opposing DBs look like they’re playing in boots; amazingly quick, slick, and sneaky, with a sudden burst that creates separation at the catch and RAC points. He also has tremendous hands, all of which adds up to an extraordinary “create separation and then make yards” talent, who will kill you deep if you rely on him using those brakes. Great kick and punt returner too. But there is an issue. He lacks both size and grown-man strength, and it does show up at times. The sort of player who will benefit greatly from a QB who can hit him in stride. The sort of player who will terrify one group of CBs, but might be erased the next week by a Joe Haden-level technician who won’t fall for his combination of slickness, agility, and sneaky speed. Came in at #10 overall on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial top-50 list. He was WR5 for Lance Zierlein, whose NFL.com scouting profile ends in a Round 2-ish grade due to worries about the “[lack of] size and catch strength generally associated with high-impact performers on the next level.” Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting reportends in an early-2nd grade, noting that Addison does have the frame to bulk up a bit if he needs to. Surprisingly average athletic testing at the Combine raised questions his Pro Day needed to answer.
HV 2:24 WR Zay Flowers, Bost. Coll. (Senior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 5’9¼”, 182 lbs. with 29½” arms and 9½” hands. Turns 23 in September. Discounted here because this skill set is already on the team. Almost a stereotype of the small, shifty, high-octane WR who gets open with sharp, turn-on-a dime route running, and good but not great speed. Tested with 2% size and 90th% speed, yielding an overall to 25% average. The special thing is that he’s small but solid and won’t go down as easily as others with this profile. Might be compared to a smaller, poor man’s version of Diontae Johnson though Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 3 grade) preferred the Bears’ Darnell Mooney as the comp. Note that Pittsburgh will have some extra insight on Flowers, since he’s a teammate of fellow WR Dino Tomlin. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends in a Round 2 grade despite the size concerns and worries about dropped passes.
HV 3:01 WR Josh Downs, N. Car. (Junior). 5’9”, 171 lbs. with 30⅜” arms and 9¼” hands. Turns 22 in August. Downs is extremely quick and shifty, quite fast, and possesses that knack of playing bigger than he is; but that last doesn’t say too much given his genuine lack of size. Tested as a 77th percentile athlete overall but that was after the massive adjustment for his 0.80% size. The real point is simpler: he gets open, makes difficult catches (with occasional focus drops), and can turn short crossers into big gains. Consistent, high-level production from a classic, agility-oriented slot receiver. The issues have to do with his size. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting profile notes that he avoided bump-and-run coverage in college, suggesting that he really is vulnerable to getting big-boyed by larger opponents. Came in as the WR2 in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile, which describes him as a “free-flowing athlete with dynamic footwork and an instinctive feel for how to elude opponents.” Reportedly had a near-perfect Pro Day.
HV 3:01 WR Marvin Mims, Oklahoma (Junior). 5’10⅞”, 183 lbs. with 31⅝” arms and 9” hands. Turned 21 in March. A somewhat undersized receiver who would grade higher if his route running, speed, and shiftiness were up to the standards of his amazing hands and body control. Wins as a deep threat but it tends to be in combat-catch situations more than you’d like from someone his size. A somewhat limited athlete on the NFL scale but a winner who “plays much bigger than his size suggests,” according to the gif-supported Depot scouting report by Jonathan Heitritter. Unbelievably good production and his success as a punt returner supports the idea of hidden assets that add up in actual play. Has the knack for finding soft spots in a defense. A willing and capable blocker despite his size limitations. Performed exceptionally well at the Combine in both drills and measurables, putting up a top 9% athletic score headlined by a 4.38 dash that showed excellent burst and even better long speed.
HV 3:01 WR Tyler Scott, Cincinnati (Junior). 5’10”, 177 lbs. with 30⅞” arms and 9” hands. Turns 22 after the draft. A classic, undersized slot receiver with “electric top-end speed [and]… dynamic versatility,” according to Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. “Has the makings of an outstanding No. 2 receiver,” according to the TDN scouting profile. Has a history of playing RB when younger but lacks the mass and frame to do so even in college – though the vision and general skill set remain. The February PFN scouting profile has some worthwhile and specific notes like “explosive athlete who carries sudden burst out of cuts… short-area agility and body control to stop on a dime… elite hand-eye coordination… very reliable hands… [and] tracks the ball in the air with predator-like precision and effortlessly adjusts.” 
HV 4:01 WR Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, Houston (Senior). 5’8⅜” 165 lbs. with 30½” arms and 8⅝” hands. Turns 24 in October. [Discounted significantly on this board because of size and age.] One of the great stories of the Senior Bowl, he stood out as the best flag football player in the draft. Flat out uncoverable in practice drills. But how many snaps does that get you in the tackle football in the NFL? He’s so talented that a role does exist; just not as a WR1, 2, or 3. As your gadget guy? Heck yeah. Chandler Stroud’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 4 grade. “If I had one adjective to describe Nathanial Dell, it would be FUN,” says this impressive Giants-oriented February scouting profile that ends in an admiring Round 2 grade with an asterisk because of the size concerns. Here is a Senior Bowl interview Dell did with Tyler Wise. The NFL.com scouting report also suggests a Round 2-ish grade.
HV 4:16 WR Ronnie Bell, Michigan (Senior). 5’11⅝”, 191 lbs. with 31” arms and 9½” hands. Turned 23 in January. A two-year captain for an elite college program who understands the game, runs good routes, gets open, and has decent if not good speed when needed. Punt and kick return experience. Led the team in 2020 and then tore his ACL in 2021. Mostly back to form in 2022. Has had trouble with physical CBs and combat catches and lacks the statistical production you’d expect. A very good return man as well. Josh Carney’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes him as a reliable, chain-moving possession receiver and ends in a Round 5 grade. The NFL.com scouting profile loves the young man but worries about his speed and ability to separate in the pros. Tested as a 75th percentile athlete with very good burst and COD, but with fairly average long speed.
HV 4:16 WR Jalen Moreno-Cropper, Fresno St. (Senior) [Mtg. at Shrine Bowl]. 5’11⅛”, 172 lbs. with 30⅛” arms and 8⅞” hands. Turns 22 in May. A quick, fast, and smart receiver who knows how to release off the line, get open, and brings some punt return prowess for added spice. Tested as a top 30-35% athlete headlined by a 4.40 dash. Played RB as well his freshman year, which shows in his highly effective jukes and fakes, and QB in H.S. with enough arm to be useful on gadget plays. Ball security is the biggest issue, particularly through contact. He can make difficult catches so the hands are okay. He just loses the ball after he has it when the big folks come crashing down. Joe Cammarota’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 3-4 grade. The NFL.com scouting profile by Lance Zierlein ends in something more like a Round 4-5 grade. Both reviewers note a tendency to get casual when he isn’t the focus of a play, which won’t fly at the next level.
WR Tre Tucker, Cincinnati (Senior). 5’8⅝”, 182 lbs. with very short 28⅞” arms and 8⅝” hands. Turned 22 in March. Really exceptional track speed but isn’t limited to running straight lines. Profiles a lot like Calvin Austin III but better as a return man and weaker as a true WR. Compiled an overall top 15% athletic profile despite his size. Plays with the fierceness of a Jack Russell Terrier but has about that size compared to the NFL big dogs. This goes to a January scouting profile from Sports Illustrated, and this to the NFL.com scouting profile. The gif-supported Depot scouting report by Tyler Wise (Round 5 grade) describes Tucker as a classic Ryan Switzer/Ray-Ray McCloud/Steven Sims type of return expert/wannabe slot WR, except that Tucker has better measurables on the athletic front.
HV 4:16 WR Parker Washington, Penn. St. (Junior) [Mtg. at Combine]. 5’10”, 204 lbs. with very short 29” arms and big 10⅛” hands. Turned 21 in March. Josh Dobbs’ cousin. A WR who’s built like a RB with fantastic hands and a true RBs contact balance. He just doesn’t go down for anything but a very solid tackle. But… where are the numbers to match up with those assets? Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report suggests that limited agility may be one key factor, tied in with very elementary route running that could derive from the same flaw. Tyler used Amari Rodgers as the player comp, a prospect who thrilled draftniks two years ago (2021 draft) with his WR/RB build and its potential but who has never clicked in the NFL. Another issue may be his somewhat laughable blocking skills. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile provides this summary: “Washington plays with well-developed ball skills and the toughness needed to make challenging catches, but finding open windows against man coverage will be difficult, due to his lack of shake and separation.”
HV 5:16 WR Derius Davis, TCU (Senior). 5’8⅜”, 165 lbs. with 29¼” arms and 8” hands. Turns 23 in September. A CB who moved to offense, Davis will have early value as a punt and kick returner. On offense, he was TCU’s just get him the ball gadget guy and will likely serve the same role in the NFL. Easy 4.3-something speed.
HV 6:16 WR/KR Demario Douglas, Liberty (RS Soph.). 5’8¼”, 179 lbs. with 30¾” arms and 8¾” hands. Turns 23 in December. Joe Cammarota’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes a really likable punt and kick returner who is just as good as a short-but-not-small WR. He dominated against small-school opposition, looking like someone who’d run in the low 4.3s but when tested he ran “only” a 4.44. Would he also be fast enough to dart past NFL athletes, or is the timed speed really a limitation? The impressive athletic testing showed special levels of explosion but was dragged down significantly by his size. OTOH, he doesn’t go down easily and plays bigger than he measures.
HV 6:16 WR Malik Knowles, Kansas St. (RS Senior). 6’2”, 196 lbs. with 32¼” arms and 8¾” hands. Turns 23 years old in August. Big, tall kick returners always catch the eye, and this one has good, smooth athletic talent to match. The NFL.com scouting profile expresses concern that he “requires a runway to find his speed, [and] lacking suddenness, he will struggle beating press.” The Sports Illustrated scouting profile agrees that he has shown NFL potential as a deep threat, gadget player, and return man, but “did not show the ability to run crisp routes.”


The Claypool trade looks absolutely brilliant. A struggling WR3/4 nearing the end of his rookie deal for the #32 overall pick? Wow! But it did leave a roster hole that ought to be filled. Doing so will probably yield one of two different players: a “big slot” WR or TE who could reinforce the running attack, and/or a “quick slot” WR who could take over the punt and kick return duties. The presence of a young QB makes the desire for at least one of those players as big a need as any other soft spot on the roster.

My personal preference would be to use a Round 2 or 3 pick on one of the many fringe-1st TE talents in this year’s draft class, with a return man coming down on Day 3. But that’s just me, and I will own up to a bias in favor of both TEs and bargain hunting.

My second option would be a Round 3 pick spent on WR Jayden Reed or WR Jonathan Mingo; or maybe Round 4 if you believe in long shot gambles. This could also be followed with a Day 3 or UDFA prospect.

The third option would be to cash in on a shocking steal at 2:01 in the form of Jordan Addison or Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Unlikely for sure, but worth some serious consideration if it happens.

What are your favorite options? Let’s discuss them down in the comments.

NOTE: The tables above do not include the WR and TE options that fail to meet my criteria as potential weapons in the middle of the field. That excluded the lightning-fast field stretchers, oversized jump ball specialists, and even the all-around possession receivers who lack unique physicality or returner-level quickness. Those prospects have and will be included in the full Big Board posts.

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