2023 Senior Bowl Position Preview: Wide Receivers

Reese’s Senior Bowl is coming up this week, with practice starting Tuesday and leading up to Saturday’s game. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen some of the best talent in the draft roam across Mobile, Alabama to have one-on-one meetings with NFL coaches and staff to bolster their draft roster. Over the next few days, I’ll be previewing some of the top names in skill positions from this year’s event. Today we’re going to tackle wide receivers.

Wide receivers can significantly increase their draft pool during the Senior Bowl. We saw this with Jalen Tolbert and Kyle Philips last year. Just like the running backs, they see limited touches during play but get to show off their skills during drill sessions throughout the week.

Nathaniel Dell, Houston

5-foot-10, 155 pounds

Nathaniel Dell has had back-to-back 1,300-yard and double-digit touchdown seasons for the Cougars. He ended his career with 3,155 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns. Last season, Dell led the nation with 1,398 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 quickness to beat defenders. He has great footwork and line twitches, which helps him stack defensive backs. Then he has the long speed to make them pay. This coupled with the ability to follow the ball well allows him to stretch the field against the best of them. He’s not just a one trick pony as he possesses great speed and fluidity in his routes making him one of the toughest covers out there. However, he struggles to break free when press coverage gets its hands on him, and he also struggles with contested catch situations. The biggest hurdle he will face is the fact that he has an extremely light build, which could limit him to NFL levels and force him into a one-trick pony role than he deserves.

Puka Nacua, BYU

6-foot-2, 205 pounds

After a limited role in Washington, Puka Nacua joined BYU and was a force in both reception and ground play for the Cougars. This season he was on his way to career highs, but was left behind throughout the year due to injuries. Still, 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 tough perimeter weapon, with strength being its greatest trait. Nacua pairs that strength at the catch point with reliable hands and a willingness to throw the ball high and win contest catches over the edge. This strength and toughness also translates as a runner. It generates large amounts of YAC and has a vision to be used as an effective weapon in ground play. He’s also one of the better blockers in the class and is relentless on those reps. The downside is that he’s been struggling against press coverage and has had limited exposure to various avenues – both areas need improvement.

Rashee Rice, SMU

6-foot-3, 206 pounds

Rashee Rice was third in the nation with 1,355 yards and fifth in receptions with 96, both of whom were runners-up in the American Athletic Conference. Rice added 10 touchdowns during a career campaign. In his four seasons with SMU, he has 3,111 receiving yards, 25 touchdowns and 233 receptions, all very impressive numbers.

With the size of a true next-level X-Wide receiver, Rice offers versatility. He has played effectively from both the slot and the perimeter throughout his career. He has shown good acceleration and low speed as a field stretcher. There is also a good amount of fluidity in his routes, which allows him to create a good separation. However, SMU asked very little of him when it came to track diversification – and he’ll need to learn more of that in the NFL. This athleticism means after the catch, as he almost always missed the first guy on his way to significant yards after the catch. His ball tracking and ability to adapt to poorly placed balls are other strengths in his game – he makes circus catches look easy. On the downside, he sometimes leaves us wanting more at the catch point, and he struggled with drops (nine credited via PFF last season alone). On the plus side, he brings a tenacious attitude and a willingness to block play.

Xavier Hutchinson, State of Iowa

6-foot-3, 205 pounds

Xavier Hutchinson has been prolific for the Cyclones over the past three years, amassing over 2,900 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on an impressive 254 receptions. Last season, he set career highs for 1,171 yards on 107 receptions – both leading the Big 12. This was also the third straight season that he led the Big 12 in receptions. He has notched a career-high six touchdowns in that career campaign.

Outside the numbers, Hutchinson excels as a well-rounded, versatile receiver who can play from any alignment point. He offers an incredible package of releases that give him an edge over any coverage. He combines this with fluidity in his routes that regularly create a solid separation. However, when asked to expand the field, he struggles with it. There are serious concerns about its low speed. This lack of explosiveness carries over to the rest of the field as most defenders can sit on the routes without fear of him gaining an advantage at depth. Conversely, he does an excellent job of adapting to the ball in the air and winning in contested situations, making these plays a higher play percentage than most.

Trey Palmer, Nebraska

6-foot-1, 190 pounds

After moving to Nebraska this offseason, Trey Palmer exploded onto the scene. He has more than doubled his production from the three years prior at LSU. That season, he broke a Cornhuskers record for single-season yards with 1,043-500 yards over the closest passcatcher. He also led the team in receptions with 71 and scrimmage touchdowns with nine (all received).

Palmer is a dynamic speedster who regularly wins down deep stretches and forces a defense to stay honest. He runs the best in space and has been working primarily from the Nebraska slot this year. He has the ability to set up defenders well and moves smoothly on his routes. Coupled with a tremendous ability to track and adapt to the ball, it’s a big game waiting to be passed. However, he is not an explosive or sudden athlete who creates a lot of separation through a sprawling route tree. In fact, one could argue that he has a limited route tree at the moment. He leaves room for improvement when it comes to his power as he struggles with press coverage and using power to break free at the top of the routes.

More wide receivers present

We’ll also see Purdue’s Charlie Jones explode this year for a Big Ten lead of 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jayden Reed (Michigan State) and Ronnie Bell (Michigan) are two other Big Ten wide receivers we’ll be seeing. Both hauled over 600 yards for their teams that year. We’ll also see Andrei Iosivas (Princeton) picking up some momentum lately after an impressive 900+ yard season. Also included in this group are Derius Davis (TCU), Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss), Tre Tucker (Cincinnati), Jalen Wayne (South Alabama), Dontayvion Wicks (Virginia) and two Stanford players, Elijah Higgins and Michael Wilson.

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