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2023 NFL Scouting Combine: wide receivers for Giants to watch

Giants set to turn to deep class to solve biggest need

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret what the New York Giants’ biggest need is heading into the 2023 NFL Draft: wide receiver.

While positions such as linebacker, cornerback, and edge rusher warrant attention as well, general manager Joe Schoen and company know that finding quarterback Daniel Jones a surefire star at wideout is a top priority.

With Darius Slayton set to be a free agent and Sterling Shepard’s contract recently voided, Jones’ top returning targets at the position next year are slated to be Isaiah Hodgins, Richie James, and Wan’Dale Robinson. Hodgins proved to be a breakout star for the G-Men and he figures to factor in as a WR2 going forward. James’ fumble and drop issues throughout the course of the year make him hard to trust with a larger, more expanded role. Robinson flashed potential throughout his first NFL campaign, though a torn ACL in week 11 ended his season prematurely, making him somewhat of a wild card in terms of production expectations next year.

To bolster their wide receiver room, the Giants will almost certainly look to this year’s draft. Luckily for them, this year’s crop of pass-catchers is arguably one of the deepest classes in recent memory. With a plethora of potential future stars to break down, let’s dive in and see which wideouts are likely to be on the Giants’ radar this week for the NFL Scouting Combine:

Wide receivers to watch

Quentin Johnson, TCU

In a loaded wide receiver class, Quentin Johnson appears to be gaining traction as the consensus leader in the clubhouse. Out of TCU, Johnson burst onto the scene as an absolute superstar for the National Championship finalist Horned Frogs, totaling 60 catches, 1,069 yards, and six touchdowns. At 6’4, Johnson’s frame is impossible to ignore, and his penchant for winning jump balls and catches in traffic made him one of the nation’s most surefire wideouts in 2022. Johnson also possesses an elite first step and breakaway speed, routinely burning opposing defenses on long pass patterns and showing tremendous run-after-the-catch ability. With his imposing frame complimenting his blazing speed, Johnson is a difficult assignment for opposing defensive backs to keep up with — and even harder to bring down.

While Johnson possesses just about every trait an NFL team could want in a wide receiver, his skills were noticeably hindered when facing press-man coverage. With less room to work with, Johnson can find himself thrown off, and often attempts to use his physicality to find an opening rather than releasing into a route. In addition, Johnson can struggle with physical contact from opposing defenders, which routinely takes him out of his rhythm. Overall, Johnson has all the makings of a future superstar in the NFL and possesses weak areas that are extremely coachable. While he would be a perfect fit for Brian Daboll’s offense, the Giants will almost certainly fail to acquire him unless they trade up, with Johnson likely to be a top 15 selection and off the board by the time Big Blue picks at number 25.

Jordan Addison, USC

A superstar at two iconic college football institutions, Jordan Addison is one of the most polished receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft. Following a sophomore season at Pittsburgh that saw him score 17 touchdowns and win the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top wideout, Addison stunned the college football world when he transferred to Pasadena to team with Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams at USC. Addison became a favorite target of Williams once arriving, using his tremendous route running and ability to create separation to net 875 yards and eight scores on 59 grabs. Addison is particularly adept on RPO and bubble screen plays, using his awareness and run-after-the-catch ability to generate massive chunk plays. Watching Addison, it’s hard not to see flashes of another USC product — current Kansas City Chiefs wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, who similarly became a star in the early stages of his career through his game-breaking speed and surefire hands.

While Addison’s hands and speed may not be questioned, his height certainly does pose a few concerns. His physical frame is not as large as that of a traditional WR1 at the pro level, and standing at 6’ causes him to often be overmatched by defensive backs on contested balls despite his undeniable skill in space. That being said, Addison possesses all of the traits to become a do-it-all type of wide receiver at the next level. With many drafts projecting him to be on the board at 25, Brian Daboll may struggle to pass him up.

Zay Flowers, Boston College

Let’s be blunt right off the bat here with Zay Flowers: this is the consensus pick for the New York Giants in most mock drafts. If you watch him play, it’s easy to see why, too: this past season, he hauled in 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns on 79 catches. In space, Flowers is a constant threat to create a big play, average 13.8 yards per reception, and his tremendous speed makes him dangerous at all levels. Coupled with his tremendous route running ability, Flowers is also adept in coming away with balls in traffic despite his small 5’10 frame, winning 50% of his contested catches over the course of the 2022 campaign. He also has tremendous tracking ability, routinely reeling in high-pointed passes and tracking deep balls with remarkable efficiency.

Flowers is an intriguing and polished prospect, but his frame remains a major concern for pro scouts. While he recently showed off the 13 pounds of muscle he packed on prior to the NFL Combine, Flowers’ 5’10 frame may limit his ceiling, with some seeing him as a slot receiver rather than a true number one. In addition, Flowers greatly struggles with drops, oftentimes looking to begin to try and create run-after-the-catch plays before hauling a ball in, as our Chris Pflum articulates in his prospect profile. There are absolutely questions surrounding Flowers, but his speed, route running, and tracking ability make him an extremely intriguing prospect. Don’t be surprised if he is ultimately the Giants’ selection at 25.

Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Perhaps no wide receiver had a bigger year in 2022 than Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt. After a season that saw him win the Biletnikoff Award with 67 catches for 1,269 yards and 15 scores, Hyatt has positioned himself as a potential first-round prospect. When you watch his film, there is one thing that will be evident right away: he’s fast. Josh Huepel utilized Hyatt’s track-star speed to devastating effect all season long, with the wideout running everything from deep routes to bubble screens and delivering the same result: chunk plays. He also possesses great ability to track passes, and his separation ability coupled with his aforementioned speed could make him a matchup nightmare for years to come.

While Hyatt’s speed is unquestionably his greatest asset, questions still remain regarding his ability to win contested catches. Standing at 6’, Hyatt doesn’t possess the physical build to win contested catches, and while his speed will garner him a role in an NFL offense his ceiling is somewhat limited by his stature, possibly limiting him to a slot role similarly to Flowers. That being said, strictly speedy wideouts can be the catalyst for an incredibly dangerous offense (just look at Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill in Miami!), and Schoen may have trouble passing up on Hyatt’s game-breaking speed should he be available at 25.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

In 2021, Jaxon Smith-Njigba burst onto the scene with a Big Ten-record 1,606 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 95 catches. Entering the 2022 campaign, he was even considered a Heisman dark horse by some, but his follow-up campaign was not one of triumph, as he was limited to just three games and five catches for 43 yards after battling injuries all season. While the injury concerns are present, what he can do when healthy is unmistakable. Hailing from Ohio State, arguably one of the premier universities for developing wide receivers, Smith-Njigba has the tools that may end up making him the best. His route running and separation ability are tremendous, he’s able to catch just about anything thrown in his general vicinity, and his polished footwork routinely allows him to readjust routes on the fly to throw off opposing defenders with ease.

While there is a lot to like about Smith-Njigba, it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room: injuries. Despite posting one of the best collegiate receiving seasons of all time in 2021, Smith-Njigba only has one real season of production under his belt, and his injury history this past campaign coupled with questions regarding his breakaway speed ability may cause some teams to be cautious in selecting him. While there are questions, Smith-Njigba’s raw skillset and sky-high potential may end up outweighing them all and seeing Big Blue pull the trigger at 25.

Others of note

  • Cedric Tillman, Tennessee: big-bodied wideout with great body control and catch radius
  • Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State: a versatile pass-catcher who can play both on the outside and in the slot
  • Kayshon Boutte, LSU: a natural athlete with game-breaking speed and agility
  • Justin Shorter, Florida: poses a threat to defenses with deep route ability and large frame
  • Trey Palmer, Nebraska: big-play threat with great quickness
  • Andrei Iosivas, Princeton: with good physicality, route running, and hands, could be one of the draft’s biggest steals
  • Michael Wilson, Stanford: imposing deep threat who excels in space
  • Parker Washington, Penn State: reliable pass-catcher whose vision makes him dangerous in open space