With less than a month until the 2022 NFL Draft, our SCB Steelers Draft Profiles are rolling along. Today we take a look at a deep wide receiver class. After losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and RayRay McCloud in free agency, the Steelers wide receiver room is relatively thin. Diontae Johnson will be entering the last year of his rookie contract while Chase Claypool will be in his third season. Johnson will be the clear #1 while Claypool will look to rebound from a disappointing sophomore campaign. The Steelers parted ways with WR coach Ike Hilliard and brought in Frisman Jackson to reinvigorate the group. The Steelers have a definite need for a slot receiver and need to add depth to the receiver position as a whole in the draft. Fortunately, there will be options available to them in every round of the Draft.
Top Tier – First Round Prospects
There is not a clear top receiver in this draft class, but nearly every ranking of has the same group in the top five. Two of them are coming off significant injuries – Alabama’s Jameson Williams who tore his ACL in the National Championship Game and USC’s Drake London who broke his ankle in October. Two Ohio State speedsters (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave) are also in the conversation. Arkansas’ Treylon Burks is a big play machine that was used all over the field for the Razorbacks.
What to Like
The two Ohio State receivers are absolute burners. Garrett Wilson ran a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash at the Combine and Chris Olave followed with a 4.39. Wilson had a decorated career, earning first-team All-Big Ten in 2020 and second-team All-American in 2021. He also flashed his speed as a punt returner for the Buckeyes and is dangerous after the catch. Wilson’s burst enables him to create separation and he snags the ball away from his frame. Olave is a smooth route-runner who can carry his speed through breaks and can track the ball down the field.
Jameson Williams started his collegiate career at Ohio State but in a deep receiving group with the aforementioned Wilson, Olave, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba (who lit up the Rose Bowl but is not draft-eligible this year), he transferred to Alabama in 2021. Williams was an All-SEC receiver, first team All-American, and co-SEC Special Teams Player of the Year with two kick return touchdowns. In the Crimson Tide’s offense, Williams racked up over 1500 yards and 15 TDs in 15 games. Given his injury, he did not do athletic testing at the combine but his game speed absolutely flashes on tape and he can run away from anyone on the field.
Drake London is a lanky receiver and at 6’4″ has the frame to dominate in jump ball situations. He played both outside and in the slot for USC and uses his body to box out defenders to go after the ball. With the ball in the air, London is one of the best receivers in the class at going to get it, winning on contested catches and with leaping grabs.
Treylon Burks is a big target that was used all over Arkansas’ offense. He was first-team All-SEC this year and had a monster game against tough competition in Alabama (8 receptions, 179 yards, 2 TDs). Burks is very good on back-shoulder throws using his body to box out corners and can track the ball well on downfield targets.
What Not to Like
Garrett Wilson’s speed is almost all straight-line speed and he doesn’t have much wiggle in his game. Wilson might be the most “raw” of any of the top-tier prospects and his route-running needs some work. Olave is a bit better of a route-runner but has inconsistent hands. Olave’s physicality (both at the catch point and as a run blocker) leaves a little to be desired.
Jameson Williams and Drake London are both coming off injuries. Williams tearing his ACL in the National Championship game was a brutal ending of the season. Any team that drafts him in the first round will need to make sure he checks out medically to have a chance to play this season. With London, coming off an ankle injury he also did not test at the Combine. London can dominate with his size but doesn’t have the breakaway speed of some of the other receivers in this class. His footwork needs improvement and he is not super elusive.
Burks did not have the greatest showing at the Combine. In a year when a lot of players put up record numbers in athletic testing, Burks tested just average. His agility times were on the slower end which also showed up in his tape when he struggled to carry speed through his breaks. For a player of his size (6’2″ 225) Burks can play small.
Wilson and Olave are both burners. Wilson is raw but also has tremendous upside thanks to his speed. Olave has fantastic footwork along the sidelines and bursts out of his cuts. Both have some holes in their games with Wilson needing to improve his footwork and Olave having some questions about his hands and physicality. On tape, Williams has similar breakaway speed but he is also working his way back from the ACL injury. If you want a player that is a threat to find the end zone any time they touch the ball, these three guys are the best bets. They are the home-run hitters of the class and all of them have also flashed on special teams. London has the ball skills and size to be a big-time NFL receiver, but also lacks the burner speed to run away from defenders. Burks looks like a boom or bust candidate. Arkansas manufactured a lot of touches for him. He is capable of playing out of the slot or outside and is a willing blocker in the running game.
Second Tier – Day Two Prospects
The Steelers have done very well in the past to scout out wide receiver prospects in the second and third rounds of the draft. There will be talented players available on Day 2, and the Steelers have spent some time scouting them during the pre-draft process. Notably, new wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson attended Pro Days at Georgia, Clemson, and SMU. This tier of prospects includes Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, everyone’s favorite draft crush Christian Watson from North Dakota State, Georgia’s George Pickens, and Clemson’s Justyn Ross.
What to Like
Jahan Dotson might have the best hands of any prospect in this draft class. Penn State did not have the best quarterback play the last few years, but Dotson was a reliable target, consistently winning combat catches. Dotson has the ability to play either outside or in the slot as well as the short-area explosiveness to return kicks. Christian Watson is the athletic freak of the draft class. After performing well at the Senior Bowl and blowing up the Combine, Draft Twitter (and likely some NFL teams) took notice. Watson ran a blistering 4.36 40-yard dash at 6’4″. A name familiar to Western Pennsylvanians (and long-time SCB readers) is Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore. At Shady Side Academy in high school, Moore became the first WPIAL player ever to pass for 1000 yards and rush for 1000 yards in multiple seasons. At Western Michigan, he turned into an explosive receiver who lit up Pitt last year. Moore was two-time first-team All-MAC and is fearless going across the middle. He is a solid route-runner who can carry speed through his breaks and make guys miss in the open field.
Two players in this tier that the Steelers have shown particular interest in is Georgia’s George Pickens and Clemson’s Justyn Ross. New wide receiver coach Frisman Jackson attended both Pro Days and put both players through their workouts. Pickens and Ross are both lanky and slender receivers. Pickens measured at 6’3″ 195 lbs and Ross at 6’4″ 205 lbs. They both have the ability to develop and grow into their frames. Pickens ran a great 40 at the Combine but did not take part in agility drills. He has the burst and speed on tape to be a big play-maker and a downfield deep threat with good hands. Ross’ best game film came from his freshman and sophomore campaigns when he was Clemson’s leading receiver. Unfortunately he missed the whole 2020 season and the Tigers offense was a mess in 2021.
What Not to Like
While Jahan Dotson has the best hands in the draft and can win combat catches, he can also get physically overmatched by corners. He does not use his body well to box out defenders and gets the ball batted away. Dotson and Moore both struggled a bit in agility drills at the combine. Moore’s times were okay but did not necessarily match up with the route-running abilities he showed on tape. Athletically, Watson checks all the boxes of an NFL player. That said, coming out of North Dakota State he is certainly in for a big step up in competition going against NFL cornerbacks.
Pickens and Ross are both coming off injuries though they closed the 2021 season well. Pickens tore his ACL prior to the season but came back for Georgia’s final four games. Ross missed the entire 2020 season after having spinal surgery but started 10 games in 2021 and averaged 11.2 yards per catch, down from 13.1 as a sophomore when he led Clemson in receiving. Both players need to build up more strength on their frame and despite their length can be defeated by more physical corners.
Day 2 is the area where the Steelers have typically struck gold on drafting receivers. There will be plenty of talent to choose from. Moore and Watson definitely have the most upside of the group. Moore can be used all over the field as well as on special teams. Watson is more of a traditional outside receiver. Assuming Pickens’ medicals check out he also profiles more as an outside receiver with his 6’3″ frame. I would worry a little about Ross’ injury history, with the spinal surgery from 2020 and having season-ending foot surgery in 2021. Due to that, Ross may fall to Day 3 of the draft where his upside makes him a worthwhile pick. I could definitely see the Steelers making a play for a wide receiver in the second round, possibly George Pickens or Skyy Moore.
Other Names to Watch
This is a deep draft for wide receiver talent and the Steelers have certainly taken a look at a few of them. Wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson attended SMU’s Pro Day for a look at Danny Gray who they also saw at the Senior Bowl and met at the Combine. Two names flying under the radar are Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce and Ole Miss receivers Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders. The Steelers saw all three at the Senior Bowl and had the full cohort of Colbert, Tomlin, and Matt Canada at their Pro Days while watching QBs Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral. Pierce was a deep threat for Cincinnati with the size (6’3′) and speed (4.41) to create mis-matches downfield. The two Ole Miss receivers struggled a bit at the Combine and probably won’t hear their names called until later in the third day. The Steelers brass also got a look at Virginia Tech’s Tre Turner who worked out with Malik Willis at Liberty’s Pro Day. Turner is a former basketball player and has quality ball skills and an ability to move in close quarters. Tennessee’s Velus Jones blew up the testing at the Senior Bowl and Combine and could be another later round target. Both Gray and Jones are speedsters that have the short-area quickness to play out of the slot.