The likes of Marvin Harrison Jr., Keon Coleman, Emeka Egbuka and Malik Nabers may already be household names in the 2024 NFL draft class at the wide receiver position, but who are the players who will unexpectedly have their names called in the draft? Beyond the draft, who are some players who are currently not on, or barely on, the radar of NFL fans at the wide receiver position who have skills that can translate to the next level?
There are eight college wide receivers within this list, broken into two categories, slightly underrated and highly underrated. The players in the slightly underrated categories are players you may have heard of but aren't going to be guys on the radar until maybe around the draft season. They'll be guys who could make an impact at the NFL level that you didn't really know that well in college.
The highly underrated guys are players that essentially nobody is talking about, guys that could either be late round picks or even undrafted and then seemingly come out of nowhere, a guy like Puka Nacua who was a 5th-round pick and then was essentially Cooper Kupp for four weeks.
Slightly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Tre Harris
Tre Harris is a wide receiver for #13 Ole Miss and has an NFL-ready body. Harris is 6'2", 204 pounds. With his size, he is a decent blocker at the wide receiver position and has some strong statistical backing that should be getting him some more recognition than he's currently getting.
Harris has only played in five games due to a minor knee injury that required an in-season surgery, but Harris hasn't missed a step. In those five games, Harris has 17 receptions for 367 yards and six touchdowns. These numbers aren't mind-blowing on the surface but Harris is averaging 21.6 yards per reception.
As for the touchdowns, six in five games is impressive, what's incredible about Harris' touchdown numbers is that five of his first eight receptions of the season were for touchdowns, four of them in one game! In Ole Miss' season opener against Mercer, Harris had six catches for 133 yards and four touchdowns to contribute to a 73-7 victory for the Rebels.
I know the Mercer Bears, like the NFL team they share a name with, don't really scare anyone, but Harris made some pretty impressive plays in the Ole Miss shootout win over LSU a few weeks ago. Harris was fantastic, recording eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown. Tigers defenders were having fits with Harris after the catch and he put several defenders on skates while running with the ball.
One area that Tre Harris could look to improve is contested catches, Harris despite being a solid size at 6'2" is just 3-for-11 (27.3 percent) on contested catches.
It is worth noting that Tre Harris could have been a bigger blip on the college football radar this season after transferring to Ole Miss, last season at Lousiana Tech Harris finished with 65 receptions for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns. For Tre Harris to make the jump from Conference USA to the SEC and still look the part of an elite wide receiver, gives me confidence that he'll be able to hold his own at the NFL level.
Slightly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Jacob Cowing
If you watched Arizona play USC then you may have already heard the name Jacob Cowing. If you are a USC fan then it is entirely possible that hearing the name Jacob Cowing gives you nightmares. USC and Arizona faced off on October 7th and while USC did escape with a 43-41 victory, Jacob Cowing feasted on USC's defense. Cowing finished the day with 10 receptions for 88 yards and four touchdowns!
All Jacob Cowing does is score touchdowns, so far in 2023 he has recorded 55 receptions for 440 yards and eight touchdowns. Prior to being at Arizona, Cowing played at UTEP. So far through 42 career collegiate football games at UTEP and Arizona, Cowing has caught 28 touchdowns! That's two touchdowns every three games, a pace that he's already matched if he didn't score again for the rest of this season.
Jacob Cowing is a 5'11", 176-pound slot receiver with a nose for the end zone. If your favorite NFL team is in need of a possession receiver, put a big circle around Jacob Cowing. He has quick feet, allowing him to get open and strong, trustworthy (only two drops on 77 targets) hands and is a beast after the catch. Of his 440 yards this season, 294 (66.8 percent) are after the catch.
Cowing is one of those wide receivers you look to right after the snap, get the ball in his hands and let him go to work. In the red zone, you can trust he will be open nearly every time and you know he's going to score the ball.
Jacob Cowing is the only player on this list that is on Sports Illustrated's list of wide receiver prospects and he checks in at number 20, he is underrated.
Slightly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Tory Horton
Tory Horton from Colorado State is an underrated wide receiver and is a major problem for opposing defenses running crossing routes. Horton is constantly running crossing routes not far from the line of scrimmage and in doing so is giving opponents fits. Tory Horton is a serious threat in the middle of the field, between the numbers, from 0-19 yards downfield, Colorado State's quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi is 36-for-41 for 441 yards and four touchdowns when targeting Horton.
What may lead to Tory Horton being underrated is the fact that Colorado State is just 3-3 in the 2023 season, although due in large part to the defense allowing 50, 43, and 44 points in their three losses. Horton does, however, similarly to Tre Harris, have an NFL body. Tory Horton stands 6'2", 190 pounds. That isn't the only similarity that Harris and Horton share as Horton could also stand to improve his contested catch rate, Horton is just 2-for-7 (28.6 percent).
Tory Horton has 58 receptions for 690 receiving yards and six touchdowns. 420 of his receiving yards are after the catch, 60.8 percent of his total. What his success after the catch may be due to is the fact that Horton has forced 15 missed tackles so far this season.
Similarly to Cowing, Horton has trustworthy hands, on 78 targets he has 58 receptions (74.4 reception percentage) and has only has three drops.
Two other things that may make Horton attractive at the NFL level are the facts that he is a decent blocker and has a punt return for a touchdown this season against Utah State, meaning he has some versatility to offer at the next level.
Slightly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Jamari Thrash
Jamari Thrash of Louisville is another wide receiver prospect who has an NFL body at 6'1" and 185 pounds. Thrash could stand to add a little bit of weight but is a very fast and slippery wide receiver.
Jamari Thrash has been targeted 60 times and has 39 receptions for 636 yards and six touchdowns. Of his 60 targets, Thrash has just four drops, so like others on this list, he is a reliable, sure-handed receiver. What's impressive about Thrash is that of his 39 catches, 33 of them have either gone for 1st downs or touchdowns, putting the ball in his hands means good things for Louisville's offense.
Like others on this list, he could stand to be better at the contested catch, Thrash is just 1-for-8 on those opportunities.
Thrash was a crucial part of Louisville's comeback win over Georgia Tech to open their season. Georgia Tech took a 28-13 lead into halftime, Jamari Thrash's first touchdown late in the 3rd quarter brought the Cardinals within five points of the Yellow Jackets. Midway through the fourth quarter, Thrash scored again, making it back-to-back touchdowns and giving Louisville a lead they would not relinquish. Thrash finished the game with 7 catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
In addition to his six receiving touchdowns, Jamari Thrash has one carry on the season that resulted in a 12-yard rushing touchdown, showing that his speed can be useful in versatile ways. Thrash has also forced 14 missed tackles after the catch, showing his elusiveness.
Highly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Will Sheppard
The first of the highly underrated wide receivers, Will Sheppard of Vanderbilt. With these highly underrated wide receivers, it is not to say they should be considered top 10 at their position or anything, however, these players have skills and/or performances that simply should be getting more attention.
Will Sheppard in 2023 so far has 36 receptions for 574 yards and eight touchdowns. Like other players on this list, Sheppard has a nose for the end zone and showed it by starting the season with three straight two-touchdown games against Hawaii, Alabama A&M, and Wake Forest.
Sheppard also like others on this list, has an NFL body, 6'3", 190 pounds, like Jamari Thrash, Sheppard could stand to put on some weight but Sheppard does know how to use his body well to shield opposing defensive backs away from the football. This skill does contribute to Sheppard having one of the best-contested catch rates of any player on this list. Sheppard is 9-for-22 (40.9 percent) on contested catches, a skill that could serve him very well at the next level.
On 65 targets, Will Sheppard does have 7 drops, a number that isn't quite as good as some of his peers on this list and one he'll likely look to correct as the season goes on. Also, Sheppard, despite being 6'3" is not much of a blocker.
However, Sheppard is working on a second straight season of good production as a wide receiver, in 2022 he posted 60 receptions for 776 yards and nine touchdowns.
Will Sheppard may not leap off the page but a team could get a solid contributor next April.
Highly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Jerjuan Newton
Jerjuan Newton could be considered a highly underrated wide receiver simply for the fact that he has scored nine touchdowns as a member of the Toledo Rockets, who have the third-best rushing offense in all of college football. Toledo is #110 in passing attempts in college football, making it hard to stand out as a wide receiver, but Newton is doing that. Toledo is 6-1 and first in the MAC West, their only loss, a two-point road loss on the road against Illinois, a team that put a bunch of players in the NFL last season.
What is absolutely wild about the fact that Newton has nine touchdown receptions is the fact that he has just 25 total receptions. That means that Newton is scoring touchdowns at a better rate than one of every three catches he has goes for a touchdown! Is it sustainable? Not likely. Is it something that would translate to the NFL seamlessly? Also not likely. However, it is just too ridiculous to be ignored.
Last week against Ball State was the first game this season that Newton didn't find the end zone. On a team that barely passes the ball, that is impressive. Jerjuan Newton uses his speed to get to the end zone, he's not a big yard after catch guy, however, Newton has scored touchdowns of 37, 34, 20, 42, and another 20 yards.
Jerjuan Newton is 5'11" and 192 pounds but to his credit, is a good blocker, despite not having overwhelming size. Also to his credit, despite his size, Newton has an impressive contested catch rate, the best of any player on this list, 5-for-11 (45.5 percent).
On his 38 targets, Newton has 25 receptions and 349 yards to go with his nine touchdowns. Newton, like others on this list, is reliable when targeted, only two drops when targeted.
The first of two wide receivers from Utah State is Terrell Vaughn. Utah State as a team may not jump off the map due to their 3-4 record in the American Athletic Conference, however, similarly to Tory Horton and Colorado State, may be more the fault of their defense than their offense. To their credit, Utah State has some pretty exciting offensive players, especially at wide receiver.
Starting with Terrell Vaughn, the more consistent of the two Utah State wide receivers to make this list, Vaughn has 53 receptions on 74 targets (71.6 reception percentage) for 609 yards and eight touchdowns. On his 74 targets, Vaughn has only two drops, reliable hands for sure.
Vaughn is likely locked into a slot role as he is just 5'7", 175 pounds, he is similar in size to Devonta Smith, who has shown that wide receivers who are smaller in stature can succeed in the NFL. However, what Vaughn possesses is burner speed and shifty feet, skills that absolutely translate to the next level.
Terrell Vaughn may be considered a possession receiver but he has been the model of consistency this season, there is no boom or bust to his game, he is just a rock-solid performer. Outside of the UConn game in which Vaughn did not play, the consistency in which he performs cannot be ignored:
There are some good football teams on this list, Air Force and Iowa are both in the top 25 and James Madison has the most votes to be in the top 25 that didn't make the list in the rankings this week.
Terrell Vaughn could become a reliable possession wide receiver for an NFL team next April.
Highly underrated 2024 NFL Draft Class wide receivers: Jalen Royals
Jalen Royals, the second of two Utah State wide receivers to make this list, is the epitome of the big game wide receiver. Royals has put up some absolutely video-game-like numbers in games this season. If the NFL team you cheer for is looking for a gamebreaker-type wide receiver, Jalen Royals could be your guy.
Through seven games, Royals has 39 receptions for 647 yards and nine touchdowns. Those numbers have come on 52 targets (73.1 percent reception rate).
Jalen Royals, like his teammate Terrell Vaughn, has burner speed with better size. Royals stands 6'0", 195 pounds, he has an NFL body. Together, this pair has put pressure on defenses similarly to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle do on the Miami Dolphins. Using their speed they make nightmares for opposing defenses. However, unfortunately, Utah State's defense is also a nightmare, hence their 3-4 record. To be fair, Utah State, as mentioned with Vaughn, has played some good teams.
Utah State to their credit, does average over 30 points per game, and Jalen Royals is a big part of that, he has put up some absolutely monstrous outputs this season, with a couple decent games to start the season before exploding:
Jalen Royals' last three games are just absolutely ridiculous. The UConn game is almost understandable because Terrell Vaughn was unavailable and Jalen Royals absolutely stepped up in his absence. However, he hasn't slowed down, even a little bit even with Vaughn back in the fold.
In their last two games against Colorado State and Fresno State, both wide receivers have put up over 100 yards and both found the end zone, Vaughn once in both and Royals twice in both.
I never thought I would see the day that I would be hunting the box score of a Utah State game and eagerly awaiting highlights, but here we are, Utah State has two wide receivers who should absolutely be on the radar of NFL teams.