It's a fun exercise finding NFL player comps for draft prospects.
Far-fetched? Accurate? Who knows. Drafting is an inexact science. It's difficult to predict with any certainty who will take off and who won't in the NFL, and all of these individuals are unique; comps are not predictions of the types of careers each player will have but are merely one of the many tools used to relate skills and attributes among players. But it's at least a window into what has talent evaluators excited about top-end college players as they get set to make the transition to the pros.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has been a student of the process for four decades. We drew on that wisdom by asking him to pull from his mental Rolodex and identify comps for some of the top wide receivers in the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App).
Check out some of the big-time names.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Player comp: Marvin Harrison (Indianapolis Colts, 1996-2008)
How they stack up: The pre-draft focus has been less on Smith's production -- the Heisman Trophy winner caught 117 balls for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns last season -- and more about his build (6-foot-1, 170 pounds). Harrison (6-foot, 178 pounds) had a similar frame coming out of Syracuse, where he posted a Big East-best 20.2 yards per reception. He went 19th overall to the Colts in the 1996 draft and was the fourth wide receiver taken behind Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn and Eddie Kennison. Of all the receivers drafted that year, only Harrison and Terrell Owens (third round) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Smith could "drop just a little bit" in the first round because of his size, according to Kiper, who "would not count out" teammate Jaylen Waddle being taken ahead of him. A team will end up getting a bargain on Smith if he ends up anything like Harrison, who went to eight Pro Bowls and ranks fifth all time in career receptions (1,102).
"He was 178 pounds, and look at the career he had," Kiper said.
Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
How they stack up: Kiper said it's hard to find a direct comp for Chase (6-foot, 208 pounds) but likened his physical style of play to Jones (6-foot-3, 220 pounds). They have nearly identical speed, with Chase running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at LSU's pro day to Jones' 4.39 at the 2011 NFL combine.
Chase has Jones beat on production in their final college seasons, with 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 TDs in 2019 to Jones' 78 catches for 1,133 yards and seven TDs for Alabama in 2010.
Pending official numbers from @LSUfootball pro day...— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 31, 2021
Ja'Marr Chase (4.38 40-time) is the only wide receiver in the Next Gen Stats model dataset - since the 2003 NFL Draft - with a production and athleticism score over 95.
🔹 Production: 98
🔹 Athleticism: 96*
🔹 Overall: 99 pic.twitter.com/SFyYtCnYJk
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
How they stack up: Kiper likened Waddle to Hill "because he is so explosive." Waddle did not work out at Alabama's pro day, so we're left to wonder how close he would have gotten to Hill's blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.29 seconds, but Waddle has shown off his wheels plenty on the field. He was the fastest wide receiver in college football last season, according to the GPS data, and had 11 career touchdowns of 50-plus yards for the Tide.
Hill (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) and Waddle (5-foot-10, 177 pounds) are built similarly. The likeness extends to their playing style and impact, according to Waddle's former teammate, running back Najee Harris.
Najee Harris on teammate Jaylen Waddle: "He's small but he's dynamic. He's explosive. Really really explosive. Closest thing to Tyreek Hill. You gotta see him in person, how he plays how he gets in and out of cuts, how he stops and goes 60 right away."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 6, 2021
Kadarius Toney, Florida
How they stack up: Samuel (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) and Toney (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) are of similar stature, with Samuel (4.31 40-yard dash) holding an edge in speed to Toney's 4.39.
Samuel is known best as a do-it-all playmaker, making an impact in the run game -- he had 41 rushes for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers last season -- to go along with his significant contributions as a wide receiver. Toney showed a similar skill set at Florida. He rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in 2020 to go with 70 catches for 984 yards and 10 scores.
Tutu Atwell, Louisville
How they stack up: Kiper likes the "Hollywood" Brown comp for Atwell "because of the way he can fly." Atwell ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds at his pro day. That's in line with Brown, who didn't run at the combine but was reportedly clocked at 4.33 seconds while in community college. Atwell (5-foot-9, 153 pounds) and Brown (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) are both on the lighter side and are going to survive and win with speed.
Their best years in college were similar: Atwell had 69 catches for 1,272 yards (18.4 YPC) and 11 TDs as a sophomore, compared to Brown's junior year at Oklahoma in which he posted 75 catches for 1,318 yards (17.6 YPC) and 10 scores.
Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
How they stack up: Bateman (6-foot-2, 213 pounds) and Adams (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) are close in size, while Bateman (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) holds the edge in speed over Adams (4.56 seconds). That 40 time likely factored into why Adams wasn't drafted until the second round (No. 53 overall) despite putting up some serious numbers at Fresno State.
Both Bateman and Adams showed the ability to adjust to the ball in the air and make tough, contorting catches.
Adams' college production is difficult to match. He led the country in receptions (131) and touchdowns (24) as a sophomore in 2013. Bateman's best season also came as a sophomore, catching 60 balls for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019.