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Wide receivers who profile as first-round NFL Draft selections in 2025, 2026 and 2027

Thursday’s first round of the 2024 NFL Draft produced seven receiver selections. Teams selected 21 first-round receivers in the previous four drafts (2020-23), which almost doubled the total number of first-round receivers (11) in the prior four-year span (2016-19).

We are firmly in the NFL’s era of the receiver, as teams are trying to stack alpha upon alpha at the position — and even better if they’re both on rookie deals for as long as possible. The trend began in 2020 and has only continued. 

In addition to the game prioritizing perimeter playmakers, the athletes we’re seeing — entering high school and entering the NFL — increasingly improve the value of taking receivers higher. In the past four Top247 final rankings, the number of five-star receivers — we tab 32 five-stars every cycle to represent future first-round potential — has increased year-over-year from two to three to four to seven in the 2024 cycle.

Headlining our seven-receiver top 32 in 247Sports’ final 2024 Top247 rankings was Jeremiah Smith, who not only took the WR1 label but finished the cycle No. 1 overall. He also leads our five-pack of elite receivers who will debut this fall as true freshmen and potentially lead the way in the 2027 or 2028 NFL Draft. Here’s a closer look at receivers to follow in the coming college football seasons to familiarize with future draft candidates.

2025 FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATES

Luther Burden III, Missouri: One of the most dynamic run-after-catch high school playmakers in the past several years, Burden has spent two seasons at Missouri doing exactly that — making defenders look foolish with his combination of agility, fluidity, and speed. Burden is built like a running back with the open-field wizardry of an elite receiver who could also provide a return-game option.

Tetairoa McMillan, Arizona: The tall-framed McMillan played basketball and volleyball in high school and clearly puts the body control, spatial awareness, and elevating abilities to good use in pads. A top 40 overall prospect coming out of high school, McMillan’s 2,100-plus receiving yards in his first two college seasons speak to his playmaking ability.

Evan Stewart, Oregon: A former top-ranked wideout in the Top247, which put him in the top five overall in the 2022 class, Stewart not only blew us away every time we saw him live, but his track and field prowess reflected the athleticism we saw on the field. He’s a bona fide speedster as a sprinter, but Stewart also logged some of the most explosive jumps we have seen in recent years, including a 24-6 long jump and nearly 49-foot triple jump. After a couple of solid seasons at Texas A&M, expect a huge 2024 for Stewart in Eugene.

More names to watch: Ohio State’s Emeka Egbuka, Boise State‘s Chris Marshall.

2026 FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATES

Zachariah Branch, USC: Branch, owner of 10.2-second 100-meter speed, is one of the elite track stars in recent CFB recruiting classes. Branch’s great-uncle is late Raiders legend Cliff Branch, and his older brother Zion is a safety for USC, so the football pedigree is strong. As a true freshman, Zachariah caught 31 passes for 320 yards and two TDs and electrified with his return-game prowess, scoring twice (one kickoff, one punt) and amassing 774 return yards in 40 combined kick and punt returns. A former five-star, Branch ranked No. 1 nationally at receiver and No. 7 overall in the final 2023 Top247.

Carnell Tate, Ohio State: One of the most natural prospects at the receiver position in recent years, Tate is primed for a breakout sophomore year after the former five-star and top 25 overall recruit caught 18 passes for 264 yards and one TD as a true freshman. From frame and body control, to route-running feel and hands consistency, Tate did virtually everything well coming out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Nyck Harbor, South Carolina: Frankly, Harbor is one of the most unique prospects in recent history, regardless of position. Legitimately 6-5, 240, Harbor is a potential Olympic sprinter who recently ran a baffling 10.12-second 100-meter time for South Carolina track, in addition to living below the 21.00-second 200-meter threshold. The “freak” label gets thrown around a lot in today’s scouting parlance; Harbor possesses a truly rare, if not singular, combination of frame and speed.

More names to watch: USC’s Makai Lemon and J’Kobi Lane, Alabama’s Jalen Hale, Florida‘s Eugene Wilson.

2027 FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATES

Jeremiah Smith, Ohio StateJust about everybody has to wait his turn in the Ohio State receiver room, including Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Well, Smith will test that. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder not only overpowers defenders but wins with acrobatic body control and startling after-catch athleticism. The Top247’s No. 1 overall prospect in the 2024 cycle, Smith should provide yet another Day 1 receiver selection for the Buckeyes.

“I think Jeremiah Smith can be better than Marvin Harrison Jr.,” said 247Sports Director of Scouting Andrew Ivins earlier this month. “He’s got to show up, take care of business, but I think that potential is there.”

Cam Coleman, Auburn: Coleman’s 6-3 frame and basketball-influenced athletic ability make him a nightmare matchup. He eclipsed 1,300 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Alabama 7A state champions this past fall after leading his team to the basketball title game in Spring 2023. Basketball is a common data point in countless high-end receiver prospects (and other positions, too) in recent NFL Drafts.

“Projects as an immediate contributor at the next level and a potential Day 1 NFL Draft choice with a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism that differentiates him from the rest of his peers,” 247Sports National Scouting Analyst Cooper Petagna writes in Coleman’s official scouting report. “Will turn 18 in August 2024, indicating he’s in the infancy stages of his physical growth and on-field development.”

Ryan Williams, Alabama: Re-classifying from the 2025 class to the 2024 cycle, retaining your five-star status, and finishing in the top 10 overall speaks to Williams’ talent and potential. A legitimate top-end burner with an elite track profile, Williams has produced enormous numbers for an Alabama 6A title contender the past couple of seasons while showing not only field-stretching speed but terrific run-after-catch creativity. Williams reminds us of former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.

Micah Hudson, Texas Tech: One of the most prolific receivers in TXHSFB the past few years, Hudson did not go through spring practices following arthroscopic knee surgery. But make no mistake, Hudson, who ran track as a freshman and played basketball throughout high school, will see the field plenty this fall. He’s one of the most natural playmakers in the freshman class with exceptional body control and devastating open-field speed-changing nuance..

“I’ll be shocked if he’s not an instant contributor,” said Texas Tech head coach Joey McGuire said at the Red Raiders’ Dec. 20 signing day presser. “We’re expecting him to play as a freshman. I don’t think you’ll ever hear me say, ‘We’re gonna redshirt Micah Hudson.’ I think from Day 1, he will have a presence on this football team.”

Ryan Wingo, Texas: Another Top247 five-star and high school track star with 10.5 100-meter speed, Wingo combines that gear — which certainly translates in pads — with a college-ready body (6-1.5, 210). Wingo flashed this spring, including his two-touchdown performance in Texas’ spring game. Texas has no shortage of receiver talent thanks to portal and recruiting success alike, but Wingo’s combination of size, athleticism and position-specific skill should get him early snaps.

More names to watch: Clemson’s TJ Moore and Bryant Wesco, Tennessee’s Mike Matthews, Michigan State’s Nick Marsh, North Carolina’s Jordan Shipp, East Carolina’s Yannick Smith.

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