The NFL Combine helps us match up athleticism to how a player looks on tape, and few positions provide more intrigue than wide receiver. This position has provided us with the biggest outlier moments both positively and negatively, with players like Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green performing exactly how you’d expect someone with that athletic ability to perform, and players like Antonio Brown and Anquan Boldin, who make you question the process altogether.
All in all, the most athletic prospects tend to find success while those who struggled in the favorable conditions of the Combine and Pro Day finding a much longer road to success. The 2018 class lacks true superstar standouts, but we’ve found some who helped their case and those who’ve hurt theirs nonetheless.
Winner by pure speed: D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
The Senior Bowl is a huge opportunity for senior prospects to showcase their skills to NFL clubs that may not have seen their talents for a myriad of reasons yet. The biggest winner from the 2018 Senior Bowl was receiver D.J. Chark, and boy did he ever put on a show at the Combine. Posting one of the best times in the 40-yard dash put his name on the map, and he would go on to crush every event at the Combine.
Loser by association: Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
We’ve seen big, unathletic wide receivers from Florida State before. The excuses roll in every time. He’s got great hands, he plays faster than his timed speed, whatever it is. Tate was pushed as a more athletic Kelvin Benjamin, but what he posted was a big but slow receiver who will be limited to red zone duties in the NFL. Tate would show up during receiving drills like The Gauntlet, but his struggle to measure even passably is going to concern NFL clubs. In a controlled environment he couldn’t show NFL traits, so why would he in a real game?
Winner by traits and projection: Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
One of the top wide receiver prospects to enter the season was Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown. Intelligent, as well as big and athletic, St. Brown had to show out in almost every phase to increase his draft stock after falling off somewhat during the season. Postin great numbers for his size, St. Brown also impressed in interviews at the Combine, putting his name back into the conversation for an early round selection. Few had as much success in every phase as Equanimeous St. Brown, which speaks both to his preparation and natural ability.
Loser by expectation: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Considered the top receiver in the draft class by many, Calvin Ridley was one of only a couple of WR prospects who has seen their name in first-round consideration among experts. One of the most common picks to the Bears within the top ten, Ridley didn’t impress in any area of the Combine. Measuring far worse than expected, Ridley now has to answer questions about how his game translates to the NFL, since his athletic ability can’t do the speaking for him.
Winner by domination: Alllen Lazard, WR, Iowa State
Coming into the Combine, there was only one real truth with the wide receiver class, and that was that Allen Lazard was going to post the slowest time in Indianapolis. Not only did that not happen, Lazard would go on to post exquisite numbers all around, absolutely destroying any narrative about his athletic ability. With strong hands and a solid red zone presence, Lazard built up enough at the Combine to raise his stock a round or two at worst, since most of the problems with his game were securely answered.
Loser by tape: Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State
Marcell Ateman managed a barely above average Combine score that was buoyed heavily by his elite size. When it came to drills, however, he put up one of the worst gauntlet drills I’ve ever seen covering the Combine, dropping multiple passes in a row and falling outside the range of where he was supposed to run. Some middling scores in the broad and shuttle would help him sell himself, Ateman leaves the Combine with more questions than answers and is a player many will have to dig back into tape to find out where his draft value lies.