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Top wide receivers to watch at the Senior Bowl

With the Senior Bowl kicking off next week, we continue our preview series with the one of the biggest needs on offense: wide receiver.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 16 South Carolina at Georgia Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2023 NFL season is over for most NFL teams—our Atlanta Falcons included—and that means it’s time to turn our attention to 2024. With free agency fast approaching and the 2024 NFL Draft close behind, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover over the coming months. The first big event on the offseason calendar is the Senior Bowl: a massive scouting event collecting some of the top prospects from college football in Mobile, AL for a week of practice and interviews. This year’s event takes place from Tuesday, January 30 through Saturday, February 3.

I’ll once again be on-site in Mobile to cover the event for The Falcoholic and the Dirty Birds & Brews podcast, and will be providing daily updates here on the site. Before we get down to Mobile, I’ll be previewing some of the most critical positions for the Falcons and giving you a breakdown of some players to watch heading into the week.

Today we take a look at Atlanta’s second-biggest need on offense: wide receiver.

Devontez Walker, North Carolina

The Falcons offense is in desperate need of a vertical threat opposite Drake London, and North Carolina’s Devontez “Tez” Walker could be a top target on Day 2. Walker has a good frame (6’2, 200) and thrives on the outside, where he uses his high-end speed and hands to make explosive downfield plays. He’s an explosive straight-line athlete and is a strong contested catch player.

Walker runs a limited route tree at this stage and lacks overall polish as a receiver. He’ll need time to grow into a feature role, but projects as a field-stretching specialist early in his career. Long-term, Walker could be an ideal long-term WR2 complement to London in Atlanta.

Xavier Legette, South Carolina

Outside of the top prospects, South Carolina’s Xavier Legette is the prospect who looks the most like a prototypical NFL WR1. At 6’3, 220+ and with outstanding athleticism and long speed—he’s reportedly been timed at over 22 MPH—Legette has the physical ability to become a high-end NFL starter. Pop on the tape and you can see all the traits: terrific hands, deep speed, contested-catch ability, physicality and run-after-catch acumen. The whole package is there.

The reason he’s currently projected outside of the first round is that he’s largely a one-year wonder, and as a result isn’t particularly advanced from a technical standpoint. He struggles to get off press coverage and runs a very limited route tree—though what he does run, he excels at. As a converted former QB, Legette has a lot of learning still to do to reach his ceiling. But that ceiling is exceptional, and Legette has some incredible upside. I’m really excited to see how he performs in Mobile.

Ladd McConkey, Georgia

One of the other end of the spectrum from Xavier Legette is Georgia’s Ladd McConkey. McConkey isn’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but he’s incredibly technical and polished and a lot more agile due to his stature (6’0, 185). McConkey is a Week 1 starter who can play inside or outside, and has the entire route tree at his disposal. While he’s not an elite speedster, he’s got more than enough to stretch the field vertically. He’s quick and fluid in the open field and is dangerous after the catch due to his elusiveness. McConkey also brings high-end punt return ability to the table.

While he’s unlikely to ever be the focal point of an offense, McConkey can help a team immediately and at multiple spots. With the Falcons potentially switching to a more 11-personnel heavy offense, McConkey could bring an immediate boost in the slot as a dangerous separator and run-after-catch threat. I expect McConkey’s skillset to translate very well to the Senior Bowl.

Brenden Rice, USC

One of the most hyped players entering this week of practice is USC’s Brenden Rice. The son of NFL legend Jerry Rice, Brenden has already begun to make a name for himself thanks to his athleticism and prototypical frame (6’3, 205). Rice is a very polished receiver who plays with a lot of savvy. He’s got excellent hands and contested-catch ability along with the speed to separate vertically, and he’s dangerous after the catch thanks to his instincts with the ball.

Rice isn’t particularly agile and doesn’t create much separation with his routes, instead winning with subtle movements and savviness. He’s a fun receiver to watch and doesn’t have problems at the catch point, but I feel like he should be a bit more physical given his stature. This week in Mobile could be big for his draft stock, which is currently in the Day 2 range.

Roman Wilson, Michigan

One of the fastest receivers in college football, Michigan’s Roman Wilson is an enticing deep threat who also handles the “dirty work” in the middle of the field much better than typical receivers with his size profile. At 6’0, 192, Wilson is a little on the smaller side but brings terrific speed, acceleration, and explosiveness to create separation with his routes. He does a lot of the little things well and knows how to get open at all levels of the field.

Wilson does seem to be a little bit limited in terms of lateral agility. While he’s undoubtedly physical enough to handle contested catches, he’s not a tackle-breaker and doesn’t offer a ton of production after the catch. He has played extensively both outside and in the slot, but may be more of a slot specialist at the NFL level.

Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky

One of the more unique receivers in college football and a player who has often drawn comparisons to Deebo Samuel, Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley is a stout (5’11, 210), versatile weapon. A cornerback convert, Corley physicality from his days on defense is immediately apparent. He’s a physical runner and doesn’t shy away from contact, and has no issue dealing with press at the line of scrimmage. Corley is also explosive, with terrific short-area movement skills and agility to evade tacklers. His deep speed is very good and he’s shown an ability to win on the outside and in the slot.

Corley has all the traits of a high-end route runner and executes his current tree well, but he needs to add more to his repertoire. He also has a limited catch radius due to his smaller frame and is a bit of a body-catcher. While he’s not a finished product yet, Corley is a dynamic playmaker who could add another wrinkle to Atlanta’s skill position group.

More players to watch

Jamari Thrash, Louisville
Javon Baker, UCF
Jacob Cowing, Arizona
Ricky Pearsall, Florida