INDIANAPOLIS — There’s something for everyone in this year’s crop of wide receivers, a class that is maybe not as spectacular as some in recent history but one that has very good depth.
Teams seeking big possession receivers will love SMU’s Courtland Sutton, but the two-time 1,000-yard-plus pass catcher also has the strength and hand-fighting ability to win 50-50 balls down the field.
“There’s a lot of benefits to being 6-foot-4 and 218 and being able to run real fast,” Sutton said, drawing laughs for stating the obvious. “There are a lot of benefits to being that guy, and I try to make sure I’m maximizing that.”
Sutton caught 31 TD passes and never averaged less than 16.0 yards per catch in any of his three seasons before leaving with a year of eligibility remaining. He arrived at SMU as a safety after having played on both sides of the ball in high school but converted to wide receiver so quickly that he saw the field as a true freshman. He played just two games before injury ended his season, giving him an extra year, which he ultimately declined. The next year he was a USA Today freshman all-American and, after the season, played some basketball for SMU.
A likely first-round pick, Sutton says his mental and physical toughness and his strength (he did 225 pounds 18 times in the bench press) comes from working on his parent’s farm on weekends and in the summer.
“It really plays a huge part in who I am, and my work ethic when it comes to practice, and that translates over to the game,” he said. “My parents were really hard on me in understanding the importance of: ‘You have to earn everything you get.’
“So my dad would take me to the farm every weekend. The summer before going into high school, my dad and my grandpa acquired some new land and we had to fence about 100 acres, (installing) barbed wire, digging postholes, and that’s how I earned my money for school clothes that summer. My parents were really big on teaching me the importance of earning the things that you really want and need in life.”
Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis did not follow the same path as his father, Gary, a five-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder who had an 11-year Major League Baseball career.
“I think he kind of knew that football was where I was leaning,” the 6-foot-1, 192-pound wideout said. “I had a lot of fun playing baseball, but there’s something about football that’s just different than any other sport. I think he saw that, and that I had that kind of passion for the game.”
The younger Pettis lacks the size and bulk of Sutton, but he’s a polished receiver who had 15 TD catches in 2016. In addition to being a four-year starter, he was a spectacular punt returner with nine touchdowns, including four last year. Pettis will be an immediate difference maker on special teams if his play-making ability as a returner carries over to the next level.
“I would like to think it’s very transferrable,” said Pettis, who averaged 14.2 yards on 90 career punt returns. “There’s a lot of hidden yards, and you can change field position pretty quickly.”
Oklahoma State’s James Washington is built more like a running back, but he went over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his final three seasons, averaging 20.2 yards per catch. Like Sutton, he ran a limited route tree, but he reached the endzone 33 times in three years, and he says the team that takes him will get a model citizen.
“I’m a guy you can trust on and off the field,” said Washington, who could sneak into the first round. “I’m going to represent, and I’m going to represent well. You don’t have to worry about any character issues or anything.”
His quarterback, 6-foot-4 Mason Rudolph, another possible first-rounder, vouched for the 6-foot Washington, calling him “a credit to the program and a great human being.”
Washington returned the compliment, saying the two had a lot in common.
“He’s a little taller than me I guess, but other than that, I feel like we’re the exact same person,” Washington said. “We’re both humble, and we love the opportunity we’ve been put in, and we cherish every minute of it.”