2023 Senior Bowl Position Preview: Wide Receivers
FTN's Jeremy Popielarz previews the top wide receivers set to appear in this year's Senior Bowl.
Jan 30, 2023, 9:30 PM EST
The Reese’s Senior Bowl arrives this week, with practices starting Tuesday leading up to Saturday’s game. Over the past few seasons, we have seen some of the best talents in the draft go through Mobile, Alabama, to get one-on-one time with NFL coaching staff and personnel in an effort to boost their draft stock. Over the next few days, I’ll preview some of the top names at the skill positions at this year’s event. Today, we will tackle wide receivers.
Wide receivers can boost their draft stock significantly during the Senior Bowl. We saw this last year with Jalen Tolbert and Kyle Philips. Just like the running backs, they see limited touches during the game but will be able to showcase their skills all week during the drill sessions.
Nathaniel Dell, Houston
5-foot-10, 155 pounds
Nathaniel Dell is coming off back-to-back 1,300-yard and double-digit touchdown seasons for the Cougars. In his career, he finished with 3,155 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns. This past season, Dell led the nation with 1,398 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns – this was also his second straight season leading the American Athletic conference in both categories.
Dell is an electric playmaker who uses his quickness and speed to beat defenders. He has great footwork and twitchiness at the line which helps him stack defensive backs. Then, he has the long speed to make them pay. That paired with an ability to track the ball well allows him to stretch the field against the best of them. He is not just a one-trick pony, as he possesses great quickness and fluidity in his routes that make him one of the hardest covers out there. However, he struggles to break free if the press coverage gets hands on him, and he also struggles in contested-catch situations. The biggest hurdle he'll face is the fact that he has an extremely light frame, which may limit him at the NFL level and force him into more of a one-trick pony role than he deserves.
Puka Nacua, BYU
6-foot-2, 205 pounds
After a limited role in Washington, Puka Nacua transferred to BYU and was a force in both the receiving and ground game for the Cougars. This season, he was on pace for career-highs but fell short because of injuries throughout the year. Despite that, he produced 834 scrimmage yards – 625 receiving and 209 rushing. He was fourth among Independent schools with 10 scrimmage touchdowns, five receiving and five rushing.
Nacua is a sturdy and tenacious perimeter weapon, with strength being his greatest attribute. Nacua pairs this strength at the catch point with reliable hands and a willingness to high-point the ball and win contest catches above the rim. This power and toughness translate as a runner as well. He creates large amounts of YAC and has the vision to be used as an effective weapon in the ground game. He also is one of the better blockers in the class and is relentless in these reps. The downside is he struggles against press coverage and has had limited exposure to different routes – both of these areas need improvement.
Rashee Rice, SMU
6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Rashee Rice was third in the nation with 1,355 receiving yards and fifth in receptions with 96, both of which were second in the American Athletic Conference. Rice added 10 receiving touchdowns during a career campaign. Over his four seasons at SMU, he has amassed 3,111 receiving yards, 25 touchdowns and 233 receptions, all very impressive numbers.
With the size to be a true X wide receiver at the next level, Rice offers versatility. He has played from both the slot and perimeter with effectiveness throughout his career. He has displayed good acceleration and deep speed as a field stretcher. There is a good amount of fluidity in his routes as well which allows him to create good separation. However, SMU asked very little of him when it came to route diversification – and he will need to learn more of that in the NFL. This athleticism translates to after the catch, as he almost always made the first guy miss on his way to significant yards after the catch. His ball tracking and ability to adjust to poorly-placed balls are other strong areas of his game – he makes circus catches look easy. On the other hand, he leaves us wanting more at the catch point at times, and he struggled with drops (credited with nine last season alone via PFF). On the plus side, he brings a tenacious attitude and willingness to the blocking game.
Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State
6-foot-3, 205 pounds
Over the past three years, Xavier Hutchinson has been extremely productive for the Cyclones amassing over 2,900 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns on an impressive 254 receptions. This past season, he set career-highs with 1,171 yards receiving on 107 receptions – both of which led the Big 12. This was also the third straight season he led the Big 12 in receptions. He tacked on a career-high six touchdowns to this career campaign.
Outside the numbers, Hutchinson profiles as a well-rounded versatile receiver who can play from any alignment point. He offers an incredible package of releases that allow him an advantage against any coverage. He pairs this with fluidity in his routes that create solid separation regularly. However, when asked to stretch the field, he struggles with it. There are serious concerns about his deep speed. This lack of explosiveness carries over to the rest of the field, as most defensive backs can sit on the routes with little fear of him gaining an advantage deep. Conversely, he does an excellent job adjusting to the ball mid-air and winning in contested situations, making these plays a higher percentage play than most.
Trey Palmer, Nebraska
6-foot-1, 190 pounds
After transferring to Nebraska this offseason, Trey Palmer exploded onto the scene. He more than doubled his production from the three years prior at LSU. This season, he broke a Cornhuskers record for single-season receiving yards with 1,043 – 500 yards more than the next-closest pass-catcher. He also led the team in receptions with 71 and scrimmage touchdowns with nine (all receiving).
Palmer is a dynamic speedster who regularly wins on deep routes and forces a defense to stay honest. He operates the best in space and worked mostly from the slot this year at Nebraska. He has the ability to set up the defenders well and is a smooth mover within his routes. Pairing this with a tremendous ability to track and adjust to the ball, he’s a big play waiting to happen. However, he is not an explosive or sudden athlete who creates a ton of separation through an expansive route tree. In fact, one could argue he has a limited route tree at the moment. He leaves room for improvement when it comes to his strength, as he struggles in press coverage and in using strength to leverage his way free at the top of routes.
Additional wide receivers attending
We are also going to see Charlie Jones out of Purdue, who exploded this year posting a Big Ten-leading 1,361 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Jayden Reed (Michigan State) and Ronnie Bell (Michigan) are two more Big Ten wide receivers we will see. Both produced over 600 yards receiving this year for their teams. We will also see Andrei Iosivas (Princeton) who is gaining some steam as of late after an impressive 900-plus-yard season. This group also contains Derius Davis (TCU), Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss), Tre Tucker (Cincinnati), Jalen Wayne (South Alabama), Dontayvion Wicks (Virginia) and two players out of Stanford, Elijah Higgins and Michael Wilson.