2019 NFL Draft receiver rankings: Breaking down the skills of top WRs, from contested-catch ability to speed

A long time ago, during the midway point of the 2018 season -- well before it collectively scorched the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium at the combine -- I fell in love with this wide receiver class. 

With an unusually high amount of big, physical power forwards and a nice collection of true downfield burners, there's a lot to like about it. This is the class to double up on the receiver spot. For real. 

Below I've ranked each of the consensus top seven wideouts in the qualities I deem most necessary to be successful at the position in the pros (listed in order of importance). I've also added one player who should be available a bit later in the draft that excels at each particular trait.

As for the actual draft, you'll be able to stream our live coverage right here on CBS Sports HQ (or download the CBS Sports app for free on any mobile or connected TV device) breaking down all the picks and everything you need to know during draft weekend. 

Other installments in this series: Quarterbacks, Running Backs

High-Pointing/Contested-Catch Ability

  1. JJ Arcega-Whiteside
  2. N'Keal Harry
  3. Kelvin Harmon
  4. Hakeem Butler
  5. A.J. Brown
  6. D.K. Metcalf
  7. Marquise Brown

Arcega-Whiteside is Ben Wallace in his prime. Rebounding monster. He's just missing the headbands at the top of his biceps, which were so awesome. Harry can make circus grabs and is keenly aware of how to use his big frame to shield defenders downfield. Harmon is a body-control wizard. Butler is simply too big and too lengthy for every corner he faces, and he plays with a scary "my ball" mentality. Brown isn't known for his contested-catch skills but wins in that area relatively often. Metcalf has flashes of high-pointing mastery. And for being a small wideout, Brown is fairly reliable in jump-ball situations.

Sleeper: Gary Jennings

Jennings isn't a rebounder. He's just awesome at tracking the football through traffic down the field, and his hands are magically more consistent in those situations than when he's created separation. Anthony Johnson (Buffalo) was also considered here, as he's an elite downfield ball tracker too.

Route Running

  1. M. Brown
  2. Butler
  3. A. Brown
  4. Harmon
  5. Arcega-Whiteside
  6. Harry
  7. Metcalf

Browns is a dazzling route runner. Don't pigeon-hole him into the raw, bubble screen wideout label just because she's small, quick, and fast. Butler, for his size, is a flexible route runner capable of making multiple cuts to free himself at the intermediate level. Brown wasn't asked to run an assortment of routes at Ole Miss but can stop and change directions on a dime. Despite his lack of elite athleticism and larger body type, Harmon sells his routes well. Arcega-Whiteside, Harry, and Metcalf are more linear receivers than anything else. 

Sleeper: Deebo Samuel

Samuel's one of the most experienced receivers in this draft, and that shows in his route running. Not only can he cut rapidly off his initial step, he really sells his routes with hip and head fakes to generate separation with ease. 

Yards After The Catch

  1. M. Brown
  2. A. Brown
  3. Butler
  4. Metcalf
  5. Harry
  6. Arcega-Whitside
  7. Harmon

At Oklahoma, Brown showcased the ability to create yards after the catch with lightning quick jukes in space or flat out speed. The other Brown is a running back in space. Butler is smooth for his size and can flip on the afterburners down the field. The latter portion of that is true for Metcalf. You don't want to get in a foot race with him after he's snagged the football. Harry flashed some deceptive wiggle at Arizona State, and Arcega-Whiteside's long strides can occasionally pick up additional yardage, although he and Harmon won't make many defenders miss in the open field. 

Sleeper: Parris Campbell

Campbell is a speed yards-after-the-catch receiver. Get him the ball with a head of steam and a big play is bound to happen. His burst is impressive, and his long speed is elite, as evidenced by his 4.31 time at the the combine. 

Downfield Speed

  1. Metcalf
  2. M. Brown
  3. A. Brown
  4. Butler
  5. Arcega-Whiteside
  6. Harry
  7. Harmon

Metcalf is a train at 233 pounds with 4.33 speed. He will run by you. Brown is electric downfield, and while we haven't gotten a timed 40-yard dash from him, somewhere just under 4.40 seems like what he'd run. Brown is sneaky fast. Butler glides past you, and Arcega-Whiteside takes time to build speed but cornerbacks will be surprised how fast he is down the field. The same goes for Harry.

Sleeper: Andy Isabella

Isabella ran 4.31 in Indy and can click into top gear in a hurry. This receiver class is historically fast. Emanuel Hall (Missouri), Campbell (Ohio State), Darius Slayton (Auburn), Terry McLaurin (Ohio State), Mecole Hardman (Georgia), and Ashton Dulin (Malone) were also considered here. Of the "honorable mention" group, Dulin ran the slowest 40 at the combine at 4.43. 

Position Fits 

Outside

  1. Metcalf
  2. Arcega-Whiteside
  3. Harmon
  4. Butler
  5. A. Brown
  6. Harry
  7. M. Brown

At his size, with his linear explosiveness, Metcalf was born to play on the outside in the NFL. Arcega-Whiteside is a prototypical perimeter receiver too. As is Harmon. Butler, because of his unique flexibility, can dominate as a big slot if need be. Brown proved he can win on the outside after Metcalf went down with injury in 2018 but is best inside. Harry's best fit is in the slot too, where he can win the size battle against nickel corners. Brown isn't a "slot only" wideout but would be most effective there in the pros. 

Sleeper: Miles Boykin

At nearly 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with otherworldly dynamic athletic traits, Boykin can be a successful go-route and comeback receiver at the NFL level when playing on the outside.

Slot

  1. M. Brown
  2. A. Brown
  3. Harry
  4. Butler
  5. Metcalf
  6. Harmon
  7. Arcega-Whiteside

With more space in the slot, the former Oklahoma star can shine instantly as a pro. Brown from Ole Miss, while a totally different body type, is tremendous in the slot too. Harry can be Marques Colston on the inside. Butler too proved to be fully capable of creating separation in the slot. Metcalf, Harmon, and Arcega-Whiteside are all classic perimeter pass catchers. 

Sleeper: KeeSean Johnson

The more I've watched Johnson, the more I've liked. He was the backbone of the Fresno State passing offense the past few seasons, and he's a smooth, crafty separation-creator from the slot. He's instantly aware of his surroundings after the catch and has the fluidity to make defenders miss. Greg Dortch (Wake Forest) and Olamide Zaccheus (Virginia) were also considered for this sleeper spot.

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