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Wide receivers to watch for the Falcons at the NFL Combine

With the 2022 NFL Combine coming soon, we’ll be breaking down the players to watch at every position. We continue with wide receiver, one of the biggest offensive needs for the Falcons. Luckily, 2022 features an exceptionally deep class.

Arkansas v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with workouts kicking off on Thursday, March 3. To prepare Atlanta Falcons fans and fellow draft enthusiasts for the “underwear olympics”, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch at every position heading into the event. In case you missed any of my previous entries, you can find them all listed below:

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

OFFENSE: QB | WR | TE | RB | OT | C/G

Today, we continue on offense with wide receiver. A position of significant need for Atlanta—particularly with the knowledge that Calvin Ridley is likely to be traded this offseason—the Falcons could be looking at an entirely reshaped receiving corps in 2022. All the other receivers who played significant snaps in 2021 are free agents, including Russell Gage, Cordarrelle Patterson, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Tajae Sharpe. While it’s very likely at least a few of these players return, the need for a serious talent infusion is striking. Luckily, this is an excellent wide receiver class, with high-end talent available deep into Day 2.

Read on for some of the top wide receivers to watch in Indianapolis.

Calvin Austin III, Memphis

Calvin Austin III was one of the best receivers at the Senior Bowl despite his small stature. He won in all the ways you’d want a player of his size to win: with separation, long speed, and route running. Austin would be a great late-Day 2, early-Day 3 option for Atlanta and I expect him to test well at the Combine. Here’s how I described his talents in my Senior Bowl preview:

One of the most fun tape watches for me this offseason has been Calvin Austin III. The athletic marvel out of Memphis is a spark plug with the ball in his hands and consistently puts out highlight reel plays. His lack of ideal size (5’7, 173) makes his NFL projection a little more challenging, but his ability with the ball in his hands in undeniable. As a deep threat and short-yardage weapon, Austin brings a dynamic presence to the WR position. He’s never going to be the primary guy, but I think Austin could be a high-end WR3 that makes the most of his opportunities in the passing game.

David Bell, Purdue

This is a deep receiver class, which means a high-end WR2 talent like David Bell will still be available on Day 2. Bell lacks the traits of a true WR1, but he’s a well-rounded player who will be a very good complement to a dominant threat like Kyle Pitts. Here’s how I described Bell in a previous mock draft:

Bell (6’2, 205) is a physical receiver who can win in a variety of ways. He’s strong at the catch-point, can win in contested situations, and has great hands. While Bell isn’t an elite athlete at the position and lacks short-area quickness, he does have solid long speed and can use his size to make plays on deep throws. He’s a physical runner after the catch and offers a big, reliable target for Matt Ryan. While I’m not sure he’s a WR1 at the NFL level, I think he can be a high-level WR2 who fits really well into what the Falcons want to do.

Treylon Burks, Arkansas

A somewhat trendy pick in recent weeks for the Falcons at 8, Treylon Burks is without a doubt one of the top WR prospects in the 2022 class. A versatile, do-it-all receiver with great size (6’3, 225), Burks has the traits of a high-end WR1 who can play all over the field. Whether it’s outside, from the slot, or even lined up in the backfield, Burks was one of the most productive receivers in all college football. He’s a tremendous contested-catch receiver and wins with physicality after the catch. Burks lacks advanced route-running skills and doesn’t create much separation with his athleticism, but he has consistently found ways to win. If used creatively, Burks could be one of the best receivers in the class—but he’d probably be disappointing as a traditional outside-only option.

Jahan Dotson, Penn State

I was sad to see Jahan Dotson pull out of the Senior Bowl, as I was expecting him to put on a clinic as the top-rated receiver in Mobile. Dotson has terrific tape and looks the part of a high-end WR2, but his lack of size might limit his ceiling and overall appeal to some teams. Here’s what I wrote about Dotson in my Senior Bowl preview:

A terrific athlete and playmaker at wide receiver, Jahan Dotson would probably be in the conversation for WR1 if not for his size: at 5’11, 185, he simply lacks the prototypical frame that NFL teams desire. He certainly doesn’t play like a smaller receiver, though, as Dotson has terrific hands and is tenacious at the catch point. Dotson is a technically advanced route runner who can provide value at any alignment, including outside and from the slot.

Drake London, USC

One of my favorite receivers in the class, USC’s Drake London is without a doubt the most physically imposing receiver in the class. Coming in at a towering 6’5, 210, London wins in the ways you’d expect: at the catch point, on jump balls, and as a deep threat. He also wins in some unexpected ways: he’s a very good athlete capable of surprising agility, can win with separation on his routes, and generates pretty good yards after catch. London is a WR1 prospect who would probably be in contention for the first receiver off the board if not for a fractured ankle suffered in late October. As it stands now, he could fall a little, possibly even into the early second round.

John Metchie III, Alabama

A possible option for the Falcons early on Day 2, John Metchie III is a very good prospect who simply got outshined by other elite options during his time at Alabama. Whether it was Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith last year, or Jameson Williams this year, Metchie never got a chance to be the unquestioned WR1. That could lead to him being available at a bit of a discount, but a great day of testing at the Combine could change things. Here’s what I wrote about Metchie in a previous mock draft:

Metchie has good size at 6’0, 195, and his thicker stature allows him to play a versatile role in the offense. Outside, in the slot, in the backfield on gadget plays, screens—Metchie can do it all at a high level. He’s likely to test out as an elite athlete, and that combined with his advanced technical skills and route tree will make him an instant-impact starter in the NFL. Metchie’s one big area of improvement is his hands: while not bad in this area, he has some drops on tape and didn’t always track the ball well downfield. The Falcons need a dynamic short-yardage outlet for Ryan, and Metchie can immediately fill that void.

Chris Olave, Ohio State

It seems like I’m in the minority here, but I prefer Chris Olave over Ohio State teammate Garrett Wilson. They’re both first-round caliber players to me, but something about Olave’s exceptionally smooth game really stands out to me. Olave might be the best route-runner in the draft, which means his path to early playing time in the NFL is clear. He’s an elite athlete with solid size (6’1, 190) who wins by creating separation. Olave has excellent hands but he’s not a contested-catch specialist, and is best deployed in the intermediate and deep levels of the field. He’s also got experience playing in both the slot and on the outside, which adds to his schematic versatility.

George Pickens, Georgia

Another WR1 prospect who is likely to fall in the draft due to injury, George Pickens only had a chance to play in a few games at the end of the season after his recovery. He’s close to full strength now and could significantly increase his stock with a good Combine. Here’s what I wrote about Pickens in my latest mock draft:

Pickens has seen his stock fluctuate quite a bit this offseason—and a strong Combine performance could lift him yet again—but he’d be a fantastic value this late on Day 2. A true WR1 prospect, Pickens has ideal size at 6’3, 200 and pairs it with dynamic athleticism. He’s a threat at all levels of the field, with terrific hands, deep speed, and a big route tree. Pickens could stand to add some weight to his frame, and his work as a run-blocker needs improvement. Atlanta shouldn’t hesitate to jump on a falling player like Pickens, should the opportunity arise.

Alec Pierce, Cincinnati

If the Falcons elect to wait on receiver a bit or choose to double-dip, Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce is a great late-Day 2 choice for Atlanta’s offense. A big-bodied receiver with an all-around skillset and physicality in spades, Pierce looks like an ideal WR2. Here’s what I wrote about Pierce in a previous mock draft:

At 6’3, 213, Pierce has a big frame, long arms, and the strength to make an impact as a blocker in both the run and screen game. Pierce is a very good athlete for his size, with quality long speed and surprising agility. His route running is advanced and nuanced, which could give him an immediate role in the offense. Pierce’s best traits are his hands and catch radius, and his tape is littered with circus catches. I think Pierce is an ideal WR2 at the NFL level who can win in any way you need, whether that’s short, intermediate, or deep.

Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky

One of the most dynamic receivers in college football, Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson had a bit of an unexpected path to his current status as a Day 2 receiver. A former RB, Robinson made the transition to receiver after transferring to Kentucky from Nebraska. He’s steadily improved his skills as a receiver, culminating in a terrific 2021 season. Robinson is a player you’ll need to manufacture touches for, and I’m not sure he profiles as a difference-maker as an outside receiver. He’s also a bit small for a backfield role at just 5’11, 185.

There’s no doubt that he’d be an exciting complementary receiver, but I’m not sure how well he fits into Atlanta’s offense—which tends to de-emphasize the slot receiver in favor of 12 personnel (2TE) sets.

Christian Watson, North Dakota State

The bigger winner among the receivers at the Senior Bowl, Christian Watson cemented himself as a potential WR1 prospect by demonstrating his incredible long speed and measuring in at a legit 6’4, 215. If he tests as well as expected at the Combine, it wouldn’t be surprising to start seeing him mocked in the first round. Watson would be a tremendous fit in Arthur Smith’s offense, but could wind up going even before Atlanta’s second-round pick. Here’s how I described Watson in a previous mock draft:

Not only did he measure out with a massive frame at 6’4, 215, Watson put on a show with his deep speed and proved he can also make contested catches. This is a potentially elite athlete with a WR1 frame, and if he’d played in a better offense in 2021, he might be getting mocked even higher than this. Watson has extremely high upside and looks tailor-made for Arthur Smith’s offense. NDSU ran the ball a ton this season, and Watson is an accomplished and willing blocker. His athleticism is rare for his size, and I don’t really think there are many holes in his game outside of needing to learn a bigger route tree. He can potentially help you all over the field—both outside and in the slot.

Jameson Williams, Alabama

If not for an ACL injury in the CFP Championship, Jameson Williams would almost certainly be the first receiver off the board in this class. After transferring out of Ohio State’s crowded receiver room, Williams took over the leading role at Alabama and posted a season for the ages: 79 catches for 1572 yards (19.9 YPR) and 15 TDs. Williams is a dynamic athlete with good size (6’2, 190) who dominates as a deep threat and creates tremendous separation with his routes. While he’s not a plus jump-ball or contested catch receiver, he offers a ton of run-after-catch ability and is a threat to take it to the house on every play.

The downside: Williams isn’t likely to see the field until Week 7 or 8 at the earliest. I doubt he falls far enough for Atlanta to consider him, but I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger in the second round (or with a late first) if he’s there.

Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

Even though I prefer Olave—particularly for the Falcons—I still think Garrett Wilson is a very good receiver with clear WR1 upside. Primarily playing out of the slot, Wilson has a solid frame (6’0, 190) and a dynamic athletic profile that enables him to dominate with his run-after-catch and route-running ability. Unlike Olave, who excelled in the intermediate-to-deep area, Wilson is a short-to-intermediate specialist who thrives on manufactured touches and quick-hitting plays. That area of the field is a specific need for the Falcons, but I’m not sure how well Wilson profiles on the outside. Slot receiver is typically not an area of emphasis for Arthur Smith’s offense, but Wilson is a talented enough player that you should probably find some sort of multiple role for him. I’d expect him to test very well at the Combine, too.

I hope you enjoyed this NFL Combine prospect preview! Stay tuned for our next position group tomorrow.