2023 NFL Draft Watch List: Wide Receivers

Summer scouting season is underway and continues with the wide receiver class. Here’s Hussam Patels’ 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver watchlist.

Summer scouting season is underway and continues with the wide receiver class. Here is my 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list.

LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte tops Hussam Patel's 2023 NFL Draft watch list at the position.
Photo Credit: MG Miller, USA TODAY Sports

Top 5 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list

Kayshon Boutte

The top wide receiver of the 2023 class had a very productive freshman 2021 season and sadly dropped off a little bit due to injuries in 2022. Boutte is an extremely well-rounded receiver. He flashes the foot quickness and toughness to handle slot duties at the next level and lines up all over the field. Boutte is dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Speaking of, the Tigers product hands’ accepts the ball fluidly on most throws and is ready to make a play afterward. He makes catches in traffic, even going up over taller defenders with vertical and toughness.

Kayson Boutte is one of the most athletically gifted players in the 2023 class, who possess great speed, acceleration, and size, and combines these traits with decent hands and outstanding route running. 

The only reservation I have of Boutte is his medical issue. If he has a quality year in 2022, Boutte could easily become the top-rated receiver come the 2023 NFL Draft. Still, Boutte is the top prospect on the 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list.

Jaxson Smith-Njigba

At the age of 20, Jaxson Smith-Njigba has fine-tuned his route running and has a great understanding of how to dissect different zones and attack the leverage on defensive backs.

As a sophomore in 2021 he played in 13 games and had 95 catches for 1595 yards for an average of 16.8 yards per catch, with 9 TDs, and a QB rating when targeted of 141.8

The Buckeyes standout has the strongest hands any NFL wide receiver coach and quarterback would covet. He tracks the deep ball over either shoulder and brings in passes fluidly without breaking stride downfield

Expect 2022 to be even better than 2021, as Smith-Njigba will be gifted the number one receiving spot on the Buckeye’s offense. I have him slated as the number two prospect to watch on this 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list.

Jordan Addison

The third pass-catcher in this 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list is USC’s Jordan Addison. Addison had a very productive season last year winning the Biletnikoff trophy at Pittsburgh.

This off-season he transferred to USC and will play for offensive mastermind Lincoln Riley. Addison is looking to replicate his 2021 season with Caleb Williams as his quarterback.

The Trojan playmaker has amazing flexibility and can pretty much make any catch you ask him to.

The speed element of his game is evident, along with the ability to break the ankles of defenders in the open field. A slippery athlete, Addison is a headache to deal with when he has the football in his hands

Addison’s catch comfortability does not instill much confidence, as he does tend to bring passes into his frame rather than working with his hands away from his chest. The further outside of his frame he has to work, the less dependable his hands become.

He has a chance this year to become to establish himself as a top-ten pick if he continues to play at the level he displayed as a sophomore at Pittsburgh.

Parker Washington

Nittany Lions’ receiver Parker Washington had an 800 yard season sitting behind Jahan Dotson as the number two option. With a prime role coming this season, he’s looking to absolutely breakout and torch Big Ten defensive backs.

Washington saw the bulk of his snaps from the slot last year, and got a lot of free releases. I expect to see him on the outside a little more, and how he handles contact at the line of scrimmage will be crucial.

He is very good at tracking the ball in the air and, for his size, does a great job timing jumps to beat defenders for contested catches. So far in his career, he has brought in 11 out of 23 attempts on contested balls. A big reason as to why is due to his strong hands.

When Washington gets in the open field, he can take it the distance. He snags the ball well and is able to fully extend on off-target passes by extending his arms rather than with pure speed.

Marvin Mims

Marvin Mims has the versatility to line up at all three receiving positions (X, Flanker, and Slot), and is able to execute at all three levels of the field. 

A savvy, natural pass-catcher with reliable hands and very good focus. He routinely looks the ball into his hands and can maintain concentration to haul in circus catches way outside of his framework.

Despite being a smaller receiver, Mims competes well above his weight class and his competitive toughness shines as a blocker. Mims is one of the few receivers in this draft class who blocks well, which catapults him to the fifth spot in the 2023 NFL Draft wide receivers watch list.

In 2023, Mims could solidify himself as a first-round talent if Oklahoma builds on his route tree. He runs the routes in his package well, but a more diverse route tree will allow him to produce more and more quickly at the NFL level.

Honorable Mentions: 

Josh Downs-UNC, Dontay Demus-Maryland, Zay Flowers-BC, Quentin Johnson-TCU, Xavier Hutchinson-Iowa State.

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Caleb Williams’ Arrival to SoCal Cements New Era at USC

The USC Trojans have their QB of the future now with Caleb Williams arrival to SoCal. See what this means for Lincoln Riley and Trojan fans!

Former Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams Down to LSU and USC

A new era for USC fans begins with the Caleb Williams’ arrival

If you thought that Lincoln Riley going from Oklahoma to USC was big, something more significant happened today. The Trojan Athletics department announced that Caleb Williams’ arrival to Southern California is complete.

While many in Los Angeles, California, were excited about acquiring the former head coach in Norman, OK, they should have been even more excited about his pairing with his elite signal-caller.

Last year, Williams almost was a Heisman candidate at season’s end despite only playing 11 games after being Spencer Rattler’s backup.

Caleb Williams’ arrival probably wouldn’t have happened without Riley

Say what you will about the college transfer portal, but Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams have taken full advantage of it within the past few months. More than likely, both realized chances at winning a national championship were slim to none in a watered-down Big-12 conference. Especially with the pending departures of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. With that being said, there was no better time to revive the once feared Trojan program than now.

The time for USC to return to glory is now

After being questionably sanctioned for recruiting violations years ago, USC was looked at negatively for many years from those outside California. In reality, those schools have done similar, if not worse, actions in recruiting talents. Many talented athletes have come out of the state in recent years. Talents such as Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young left the state he grew up in to play elsewhere.

That should be no longer the case, as the Trojans now have both a top coach and quarterback for years to come. There is little resistance to the best school in California returning to glory. Especially with talks of an expanded college football playoff soon.

Austin Jackson: Allowing Pressure?

From a historically bad 2019 season, the 2020 Miami Dolphins’ offensive line made considerable strides towards improvement, nevertheless question marks remain. One particular uncertainty is that of the position of Austin Jackson. Despite what can only be regarded as a trying season, having been asked to be the starter from the outset, Jackson appears to have his position locked down heading into 2021, with there being no heir apparent at the position. If this is true, it is Jackson who needs to make the biggest jump in his second year to live up to the expectations of the 18th overall selection.

From a historically bad 2019 season, the 2020 Miami Dolphins’ offensive line made considerable strides towards improvement, nevertheless question marks remain. One particular uncertainty is that of the position of Austin Jackson. Despite what can only be regarded as a trying season, having been asked to be the starter from the outset, Jackson appears to have his position locked down heading into 2021, with there being no heir apparent at the position. If this is true, it is Jackson who needs to make the biggest jump in his second year to live up to the expectations of the 18th overall selection.

Coming out of the 2020 draft we knew that Jackson was a very raw prospect. Aged only 20 he was a great athlete with all the physical traits required, but needed to refine his technique to make it in the NFL. Not to mention the obvious challenges that all rookies faced last season, that have been repeated endlessly, it would be unfair to think that those concerns had just gone away and he was NFL ready week one. Contrast this with the analysis of Liam Eichenberg, the Notre Dame, NFL ready tackle who hasn’t allowed a sack in his last 33 games; the positions of the two are very different indeed.

PFF ranked Jackson 78th out of 83 qualifying tackles, a rating is not necessarily a true reflection of his play. Jackson started 13 games, missing three games with a foot injury allowing 4 sacks. In fact 18 tackles allowed more sacks including Andrew Thomas, who the Dolphins were at a point rumored to be trading up for (farcical I know) yielding 10 sacks, whilst Mekhi Becton allowed 7 with the Jets. However, Jackson did allow a further 40 QB pressures, whilst his run blocking was nothing to write home about either, which was ranked 76th among 83 qualifying tackles. Jackson’s performance becomes more open to question following the relatively successful rookie campaigns of Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt, who were both selected after Jackson. From week 12 onward, Hunt was the fifth best right tackle in the league with a PFF grade of 76.4.

Jackson’s worst performances unsurprisingly coincided with the offenses worst games, the matchup with the Broncos immediately comes to mind. Looking back it is almost painful to watch, as time after time Bradley Chubb dominated the rookie. There were several instances whereby Jackson would be beaten without actually ever getting his hands on the rusher, with Chubb merely running round him untouched. Coming into his second year, Jackson needs to work on his reactions; at times it seems like he focuses too much on where he is supposed to be blocking according to the playbook, rather than anticipating where the pressure is coming from in real time. Whilst all of this may seem like an indictment of Jackson, this is nothing that cannot be resolved with more and more reps. Let us not forget that tackle is one of the toughest positions to play as a rookie in a normal season, it is evident that at present the game is merely moving too quick for Jackson.

There were times throughout the season where it was a benefit that Tua is left handed, meaning that the left side was not his blindside.

Jackson appeared to play his best football when there was not as much space around him, in essence when he had tight ends blocking alongside him, making him more akin to a guard rather than a tackle. However, with Solomon Kindley the favorite to lock down the left guard position, whilst Robert Hunt has also moved from tackle to guard. It is expected that Hunt’s ceiling is much higher playing as a potential pro-bowl guard, so playing Jackson on the interior may not be an option. This is where the versatility instilled within this roster can be extremely beneficial and could potentially be season saving if things dont go to plan. If Jackson continues to struggle, the Dolphins do have the fallback option, if needed to shift Eichenberg to LT and then Hunt/Davis/Fluker or even Eluemunor back out to RT and then play Jackson and Kindley at guard. It is hoped that Jackson’s performances improve so that such contingency options are not required. So what is Jackson doing to improve?

“There’s a lot of new things, new adjustments from college to the pros, but one little thing I try to live by is I try not to make the same mistake twice. So whenever I come into a situation, make sure I do what I’ve got to do to get past it and get better, and make sure I’m getting better every single day.

The game slows down the longer you play. I think the first year, you learn a lot. The second year, you kind of handle more. So I would say I would expect to get a lot better next year, and then the year after that and then the year after that.”

Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson has been working on all aspects of his play throughout the offseason. One particular point of emphasis he states is in his knee bend and being able to get lower giving him more flexibility. Coming into his second year he acknowledges that he has seen strides in his development as a result of having a years playing experience under his belt. With the knowledge he has learnt from a trying rookie season, he is using that to put into his training, whilst refining his approach and technique to be consistent in his performances week in week out.

Whilst this tweet may not have aged well since Jackson was drafted, it is hoped that Jackson will be able to assert more dominance in his matchups in 2021 like he did for the Trojans.

Conclusion

While it may be Tua the highlighted player in the national media as being the Dolphins player under the most pressure to perform, it is the development and performance of Austin Jackson that will be just as vital to this offense. 2020 was not a disaster of a season for Jackson, but was very much below par of the 18th overall selection and pressure is mounting to show a quick improvement. Once again this article is by no means an indictment on Jackson or a call to move on. There is no doubt about it he is a stand out guy, an excellent character off the field and most importantly a team guy. He has everything Brian Flores and Chris Grier could want off the field, the question is can he dominate on it? Over the past three drafts whilst Brian Flores has been at the helm, the Dolphins have drafted 7 offensive linemen, signing 4 free agents this season alone on the line. Flores and Grier seem like men possessed to fix the holes within the line. Be in no doubt, Jackson will be under the microscope this season to improve, or risk looking over his shoulder next offseason for the next experiment on the line. Fins Up!

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Summer Scouting: Isaiah Pola-Mao, S, USC

In the most recent NFL draft, the USC Trojans had a safety, Talanoa Hufanga, drafted in the fifth round, and in the upcoming draft they could have another safety, Isaiah Pola-Mao, drafted as well. However, Pola-Mao has a much better chance to be a high draft selection than Hufanga who fell to day three of the draft. Pola-Mao will likely be a day two selection with the ability to sneak into the first round if he can increase his turnover production and his tackling. Palo-Mao has the versatility to play in any alignment and can be a fit for just about any defensive scheme.

Strengths:

  • Not afraid to stick his nose into a pile
  • Versatile – Can play single-high and in the box, no limitations
  • Excellent in coverage – good instincts
  • Eyes in coverage, use of peripheral vision
  • Very active in run support
  • Clean footwork
  • Smooth/oily hips
  • Always going full speed
  • Quality reps in man coverage, playing on the LoS and in off-coverage
  • Played multiple roles in the defense with success
  • Good athlete with the requisite range to play single-high
  • Play strength
  • Evading blockers in space

Weaknesses:

  • Attempts to undercut blockers and gives ball carriers open lanes
  • Needs to improve his angles to the football
  • Not the most consistent tackler, drops his eyes
  • Slight frame
  • Turn plays on the ball into turnovers

2021 Season Statistics:

19 solo tackles, 21 assisted tackles, 40 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, and 4 pass deflections in 6 games played

Preliminary Round Grade:

6.5 – Second Round Grade

Summer Scouting: Drake London, WR, USC

Drake London is a two-sport athlete for the USC Trojans, playing both basketball and football, and when you flip on his tape it is very easy to see why that is the case. He is 6-foot-5, 210-pounds, but he moves extremely well for his size. His basketball background shows up on the football field when he is forced to track the ball vertically down the field as well as in jump-ball situations when he has to rise up over defenders. London spent most of his time in the slot this last season due to Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown taking most of the reps on the outside. With both of those players gone we can hopefully see London take more reps on the outside so we can see how he deals with press coverage since that wasn’t the case last year. If he can win with a man on him at the line-of-scrimmage it will only help to boost his stock that is already quite high and we could be talking about a first-round prospect in next year’s draft, especially with his athletic profile.

Pros:

  • Natural ball skills, plucks the ball out of the air with ease.
  • Dog w/ the ball in his hands, scratches and claws for every yard.
  • Active as a blocker, moves defenders off their spot.
  • Acceleration through cuts/breaks.
  • Working through contact in his routes.
  • Lowering his hips at the top of the route.
  • Crafty at the top of his route.
  • Attacks defensive backs leverage/blind spots.
  • Flexible/loose hips makes transitions appear to be easy.
  • Finding the soft spots in the coverage/zone.
  • Tracks the football exceedingly well.
  • Plays tricks on the defensive back w/ his eyes.
  • Contested catch ability.

Cons:

  • Small route tree.
  • Operates mostly out of the slot, doesn’t face very much press coverage.
  • Needs to add tempo to his route, runs most of his routes at full speed.
  • Doesn’t possess great speed.
  • At times his feet can expand too far out of his frame, results in slips and trips.

2021 Season Statistics:

33 receptions, 502 receiving yards, 15.2 yards-per-reception, and 3 total touchdowns in 6 games played.

Preliminary Grade:

7.25 – First Round Grade