It’s NFL Draft week. Finally. 

I’ve put a wealth of content on about the incoming rookies over the last month. Both the sortable tables and player profiles pages are fully populated with prospect data.

However, I wanted to offer one last look at some of these rookies in a fun, awards show-style format. So let’s give out a handful of Reception Perception superlatives to some of the wide receivers from the 2021 NFL Draft class in the final hours before they’re matched with teams. 

Note: If you’re new to Reception Perception, this introduction/methodology article will help you understand some of the exclusive metrics referenced and explain my process overall.

Best at beating man coverage – Jaylen Waddle

The best speed receiver in the draft, without question, Jaylen Waddle’s 80.3 percent success rate vs. man coverage shows he’s got more than just wheels. There’s some undersold nuance and route technique to Waddle’s game.

The other factor that might be the biggest reason Waddle can obliterate man coverage is his ability to control his speed. Anyone can run as fast as they can in a straight line. It’s far rarer to see a prospect alter his speed, stop and start or fake out a defender mid-route when they’re as fast as Waddle.

Honorable mention: DeVonta Smith

I’m giving this to Smith (78.9 percent) over Elijah Moore (79.8 percent) because the Heisman winner faced man coverage at a higher rate. He ran against man on 53.7 percent of his routes to 37.3 percent for Moore. Smith is explosive and the best technician in the draft.

Best at beating zone coverage – DeVonta Smith 

DeVonta Smith led the charted prospects with an 84.8 percent success rate vs. zone coverage. Makes sense.

His ability to sift through and find the openings in zone coverage really shows how smart he is as a player. Smith will likely need this savvy to succeed in the pros given his size profile. Smith’s lack of mass didn’t hinder him in any discernable way in college (as Reception Perception shows you) but if he moves into a 50/50 or higher slot role in the NFL, his skills against zone coverage will be huge.

Honorable mention: Elijah Moore

The Ole Miss phenom tied with Jaylen Waddle for the second-best in success rate vs. zone coverage at 82.5 percent. However, he faced zones at a higher rate (62.7 percent). His ability downfield against deep zones is a big reason Moore will be a weapon from the slot.

Best at beating press coverage – DeVonta Smith

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to beating press coverage. DeVonta Smith isn’t the only proof but he’s just part of the case. 

If you’re 6-3, 220 pounds and your technique sucks, you won’t get off press coverage. If you’re 6-0, 166 pounds and you have flawless technique combined with foot quickness, defenders won’t be able to get their hands on you to press you successfully. 

That’s how it works.

Smith faced press on 26.6 percent of his sampled routes, an above-average amount for a college prospect, and posted a 78.9 percent success rate. That was the best in this class and falls at the 89th percentile among prospects sampled for Reception Perception all-time. That’s the best score for any SEC receiver in the database.

Honorable mention: Rashod Bateman

Bateman faced press coverage on 29.4 percent of his routes during his 2019 sample and posted a strong 73.3 percent success rate. To me, he’s not a slot prospect. Sure, he has experience there but Bateman has the upside of a true alpha X-receiver. 

Best contested-catch receiver – Terrace Marshall

Despite this class being full of smaller, slot-type receivers we have a good crop of ball-winners. The best of the bunch is LSU’s Terrace Marshall.

Marshall found himself in a contested catch situation on 23.6 percent of his sampled targets. He hauled in an absurd 88 percent of those looks. I went with Marshall over Elijah Moore, who led the class in contested catch rate at 91.7 percent because of how much more often we saw him in those situations.

Honorable mention: Amon-Ra St. Brown

This one could have gone to Moore or Ja’Marr Chase but the underrated St. Brown gets the nod. He saw a contested target on 25.5 percent of his sampled looks and maintained the third-best catch rate in the class. He’ll sneak up on you with an occasional fantastic catch.

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Best after the catch – Kadarius Toney

Kadarius Toney’s route running is a mess. His NFL team will be starting from the bare bones when it comes to building his technique. But that organization will be convinced it’s worth it because of his blistering skills in the open field.

Toney broke two-plus tackles on 19.2 percent of his “in space” attempts. That’s truly special work. If Toney is a success in the NFL, he’s going to need a coach to create a specialized role for him to show off those skills and hide his clear weaknesses as he grows. Thankful, there is a good example with Deebo Samuel in the 49ers’ offense, among others.

Honorable mention: Rashod Bateman

There are many contenders for this spot but I’m going with a dark horse here in Rashod Bateman. He is surprisingly strong in the open field. Bateman went down on first contact on just 35.3 percent of his “in space” attempts. He consistently gets more than what’s given with the ball in his hands.

Best downfield receiver – Ja’Marr Chase

The consensus WR1 hasn’t made the superlatives list yet but he absolutely earns his place here. Ja’Marr Chase was one of just two prospects to clear the average success rate on all three of the nine, post and corner routes. 

Chase just eats up ground on vertical plays and can outrun most cornerbacks. He plays bigger than his size against press and isn’t bothered by physical combat down the sideline. What really nails his placement here are his ball skills. Chase has a top-five contested catch rate in the class and got to show off his elite traits in this area often in 2019.

Chase is the WR1 in this class because he’s just so good at every facet of playing wide receiver. But this area is his trump card. 

Honorable mention: Jaylen Waddle

You couldn’t give it to anyone but the speed merchant here. Waddle’s juice is so apparent when watching him run go routes. His 73.7 percent success rate on nine routes is the best in this year’s class.

Best hands – DeVonta Smith

DeVonta Smith got the honorable mention in the contested catch superlative and we’ll continue to boast about his mitts here. Smith was one of just two prospects to not have a drop throughout their entire Reception Perception sample and caught a pass on 30 percent of his charted routes. 

Smith just continues to check boxes in the “reliability” parts of the game. Perhaps his ceiling isn’t a top-10 alpha receiver in the league but I have a tough time seeing him fail to develop into an ultra-safe target as a pro.

Honorable mention: Elijah Moore

Tylan Wallace almost got this one but it has to go to Moore. In addition to his ultra-impressive contested catch rate, Moore came out of 2020 with a mere one-percent drop rate. That was all while being the engine of his team’s offense, drawing a target on 35.6 percent of his routes.

Best X-receiver – Ja’Marr Chase

Chase could probably play and thrive at any receiver position but the reason he’s universally praised among this class is his perfect projection to the X-receiver spot. He lined up outside on 83.8 percent of his snaps and was on the line of scrimmage for 94.1 percent during his Reception Perception sample. 

As a result, he saw press coverage on 47.7 percent of his charted routes, the highest rate in the class. And as we know, Chase was still a productive phenom in this extremely difficult role. 

Honorable mention: Rashod Bateman

The 2019 film shows us a dominant X-receiver in the making. Bateman lined up on both sides of the field and was on the line of scrimmage for 81.3 percent of his sampled snaps. He gets open at all levels, wins at the catch point and against press off the line. This guy is a stud.

Best slot receiver – Elijah Moore

If you can’t tell, Reception Perception loves Elijah Moore. 

Moore’s strong numbers against press coverage lead me to believe he can fill a Tyler Lockett-like role where he can win outside but is a true vertical weapon in the slot. Moore scored about the 79th percentile against man, zone and press. 

Honorable mention: Rondale Moore

I get that Rondale Moore’s best season (and it is the one sampled for Reception Perception) was about 100 lifetimes ago in football years but his best season absolutely blows Kadarius Toney’s out of the water. For whatever reason, the latter is usually ranked much higher. 

Rondale Moore is such a perfect Golden Tate comparison to me. His Reception Perception route charts look just like prime Tate years. Just like Tate, Moore rarely went down on first contact – just 42.2 percent of his “in space” attempts.

NOTE: This article was 100 percent free for anyone to view but Reception Perception is a paywall site. If you enjoyed the exclusive metrics and analysis in this article, sign up for one of our three tiers of access to get Reception Perception content on wide receivers all year-round.

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