Here’s the third story of our position-by-position NFL draft series. Today, we’ll look at the top wide receivers.
Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney made the most of the 2020 season and is now likely to hear his named called in the first round of the NFL draft, which is set for April 29 to May 1.
“In his junior year, he was starting to develop as receiver,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “He had some injuries he dealt with. When I talked to him, I said ‘for your future, you have to become a wide receiver.’ ”
Toney, who’s 6-foot, 193 pounds, was the Class 6A back of the year as a senior quarterback at Blount High in Mobile, Ala., in 2017. After bouncing around positions, he turned in a big season for the Gators with 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He also ran the ball 19 times.
“I thought he really came into his own at the receiver position this year (with) learning how to be a route runner,” Mullen said. " I still think he has a huge future in front of him that way.”
Toney could be used in the NFL like Carolina used Curtis Samuel as a wide receiver/running back. Samuel signed with the Washington Football Team in free agency this offseason.
“He’s a guy, you can move around,” Mullen said. “You can play him in the slot. You can move him outside. To be honest, he’s a powerful runner. You can put him in the backfield and he can run the ball.”
Toney also returned kickoffs (22.1 average) and punts (12.6 average). He was voted second-team All-American as an all-purpose player by the Associated Press.
“He’s another guy that going to be fun to coach at the next level because I still think his receiver skills are developing,” Mullen said. “He was a high school quarterback, came in our first year here, we kind of used him as a get-it-to guy. Just put the ball in his hands and had him do different things.”
LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, who did not play last season, is considered the top receiver in the draft slightly ahead of Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
After the scintillating performance in which Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the FBS national championship win over Clemson, he opted out of the 2020 season.
There was some controversy over his decision to skip the 2020 season: if he was leaving school after being convinced by agents not to return and work on his speed or if he opted out for COVID-19 reasons. He contended that he opted out for family reasons.
Three quarterbacks are expected to go first in the draft. The Falcons have the fourth overall pick and scouted Chase’s Pro Day. If the Falcons move in another direction, Chase could reunite with former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. The Bengals have the fifth pick. He is not projected to get past Miami, which holds the sixth overall selection.
“I wouldn’t mind going back with Joe,” Chase said. “If we get back together we won’t do (anything), but try to reconnect the chemistry and go and have some more fun.”
Chase and Terrance Marshall Jr. are projected to be the latest in a recent line of LSU receivers to thrive in the NFL. Last season, Justin Jefferson caught 88 passes for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Marshall came back and played seven games before opting out.
“I just felt like I had more to prove,” Marshall said. “I felt like I hadn’t did everything I needed to do to prove myself. I just wanted to go out there and play, compete.”
Waddle’s final season was marred by a broken ankle, but Smith stepped up and ended up with 117 catches.
Waddle and Smith are the latest in a strong line of wide receivers from Alabama that dates back to Falcons superstar Julio Jones and budding star Calvin Ridley. Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy went in the first round of the draft last season.
Waddle and Smith are projected to go in the first round.
“I think it’s kind of a flavor thing with Waddle and DeVonta Smith,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “Waddle gives you a little bit more juice, but DeVonta Smith plays plenty fast, as well. DeVonta Smith, is a pristine route runner.”
The draft is deep with wide receiver talent.
Clemson’s Cornell Powell, who was buried on the depth chart for most of his college career, will get an opportunity to make a NFL team. With Justyn Ross injured with a spinal condition and Tee Higgins off to the NFL, Powell earned third-team All-ACC honors in 2020.
He caught 53 passes for 882 yards and seven touchdowns.
“It was my fifth year, my last year of eligibility, I knew I had to go get it,” Powell said. “Be a difference-maker, go out there and showcase my talent on my last go-round.”
Powell believes his versatility will help him in the NFL.
“Being here at Clemson I learned how to play all three (flanker, split end and slot receiver),” Powell said.
AJC’S POSITION-BY-POSITION SERIES
QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? | Top 10 QBs
RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs
WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs
Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the top 10 picks in D. Led’s Mock Draft 4.0:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, (QB, BYU)
3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)
4. Atlanta Falcons: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)
6. Miami Dolphins: Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)
7. Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)
8. Carolina Panthers: Jaylen Waddle (WR, Alabama)
9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain (CB, Alabama)
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