The term “designated” typically refers to pass rushers or edge defenders who are specialists. These specialists are not every-down players due to a combination of things like unrefined abilities, lacking physical tools, etc. As my mental wheels began to spin, I thought of another group of designated specialists. Almost every NFL offense has a receiver designated to take the top of the defense on designed shot plays. These are called “Designated Deep Threats.”
In this draft class, there are receivers that come in every shape, size, and prototype. There are multiple receivers available via the draft to fill the designated deep threats. Here are my five speed-threats in this NFL draft.
5.) WR Simi Fehoko, Stanford
6-foot-4, 220 pounds
Simi Fehoko is one of the better athletes in college football, especially with his size and frame. Fehoko is mostly recognized as a vertical threat for the Cardinals’ offense. He averaged over 15 yards per catch in back-to-back season at Stanford with his best coming in 2019 with 23.6 YPC. According to Bruce Feldman of The Athletic ($), Fehoko has posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.39. That is terrifying for a receiver of his stature to move with that level of speed and ferocity.
Fehoko is extremely raw as a receiver and could use some nurturing to become as close to his physical potential as possible. To put this into further perspective, DK Metcalf, who is 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, ran a 4.33 40-time at at the NFL combine. This speaks to the elite level of athleticism these two behemoths possess. Metcalf was not the most polished receiver in his class by any means but has spent two straight seasons terrorizing defensive backs. Fehoko has similar capabilities, a lesser role to start his career, maybe the best option in terms of longevity.
4.) WR Jaelon Darden, North Texas
5-foot-9, 174 pounds
Jaelon Darden is a shifty and explosive receiver who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Darden is limited in terms of height and weight but possesses natural play-making ability. Typically, if he gains a step on his defender he is rarely caught from behind. He is a vertical slot receiver who is dynamic before and after the catch.
Darden is electric and projects as a slot receiver at the next level. In 2020, he played nine games and averaged 16 yards per catch. He eclipsed 45 yards or more on at least five receptions. Darden converted seven of his 12 completions over 20 yards into touchdowns. In the right offense, he can carve out a role with consistent snap share, but taking the top off the defense is an important role in today’s NFL that he can fulfill.
3.) WR D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan
5-foot-9, 190 pounds
One of the fastest risers and players in this class, D’Wayne Eskridge has the elite speed/burst combination that teams covet. Eskridge presents an insane burst at the line of scrimmage to speed up the defensive back’s internal clock. Eskridge’s level of speed and acceleration can active a sense of panic in his opponent. Though a bit raw, Eskridge does have the developmental tools and traits for his future coaching staff to work with. Any team that needs to fill the void of the designated deep threats should consider Eskridge.
Eskridge performed well enough at the Senior Bowl recently, he made the Crocker Report’s All Senior Bowl Team. The former West Michigan Bronco is an explosive athlete, courtesy of his 4.33 laser time in the 40-yard dash and his 37-inch vertical. Eskridge eclipsed 20 or more yards per catch during both fully operated seasons. A pure speedster at receiver, he has the makings of a tool or x-factor with a creative offensive coordinator.
2.) WR Tutu Atwell, Louisville
5-foot-9, 165 pounds
Tutu Atwell is a big-play threat whenever he touches the football. The former Louisville Cardinal is a vertical slot threat with fearsome speed. Per 247 sports, Tutu Atwell has clocked a 40-yard dash time as fast as 4.27. Atwell presents a slender frame and his role could be limited as a result. Typically, he aligns in the slot and is utilized as a gadget weapon with manufactured touches in space.
Atwell can create natural separation with his dynamic burst and speed combination. Once in a stacked position, Atwell pulls away from defenders as he attacks vertically. There’s an old adage, speed kills and it cannot be taught. Tutu Atwell has the dangerous speed component necessary to become a dangerous designated deep threat.
1.) WR Anthony Schwartz, Auburn
6-foot-0, 179 pounds
The fastest player in college football and it is not close, Anthony Schwartz epitomizes the term designated deep threat. Schwartz is a track phenom, with world-class speed. In high school, he set the record for the fastest 100-meter dash with a 10.15, which is unreal! In 2018, Schwartz eclipsed his previous record-setting time with a 10.05 in the 100-meter dash. I assume the picture is painted, Anthony Schwartz is a speed phenom.
He does not possess the best route-running abilities at this time of his career, but he is a player that defenses will have no choice but to account for. To put it in perspective, Schwartz’s best times in the 100-meter are eerily close to (arguably) the fastest receiver in the NFL, Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs. Teams fear speed, especially when the offensive coordinator understands how to use this asset. Schwartz can blow the top off a defense and demand extra coverage. Against free releases, most cornerbacks will not be able to stay in phase on vertical routes. Anthony Schwartz possesses tools worthy of developing into more than a specialist, but as of right now, he is the best designated deep threat in the 2021 NFL draft!