Ranking the 6 Receivers Selected Ahead of Cooper Kupp in the 2017 NFL Draft

The Los Angeles Rams knew they wanted Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp in the 2017 NFL Draft. Luckily for general manager Les Snead and rookie head coach Sean McVay, the football gods presented the Super Bowl 34 champions with such an opportunity.

The Rams used the 2017 draft’s 69th overall selection on Kupp, a four-time FCS All-American, and have since watched him grow into one of the NFL’s top receivers. With 13 catches and 136 yards in a Week 18 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers, the fifth-year wideout will set the single-season records in both categories.

Six receivers, including three in the top 10, were selected ahead of Kupp that year. Of that group, who have had the best careers? For this list, we are only ranking players based on their on-field achievements and numbers. We did not consider any off-field issues.

Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, the best players stack up as follows:

6. John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals (No. 9 overall)

The Cincinnati Bengals bought high on Ross’ 4.22 40-yard dash time at the 2017 NFL Combine and selected him one pick ahead of Patrick Mahomes. Considering the Bengals already had Andy Dalton entrenched at quarterback, we won’t fault them for not taking the Texas Tech product.

Even still, Ross has done nothing to help his case. He only had 51 catches (10 for touchdowns) in 27 games across four years in Cincinnati and is currently a backup receiver on the New York Giants.

5. Zay Jones, Buffalo Bills (No. 37 overall)

After a mixed first season, Jones broke out for 56 catches, 652 yards, and seven touchdowns in 16 games with the Bills in 2018. Buffalo fans hoped young quarterback Josh Allen had found a talented outside receiver he’d be able to depend on, especially if the Bills hoped to break the New England Patriots’ stronghold on the AFC East.

So much for that idea. Buffalo traded Jones to the then-Oakland Raiders in October 2019 for a 2021 fifth-round pick (which the Bills used on Miami University offensive lineman Tommy Doyle). Although he really did nothing in his first two seasons with the Raiders, Jones enters Week 18 of the 2021 campaign with 42 catches, 519 yards, and a touchdown. Don’t be surprised if a team offers him a multi-year contract in free agency next spring.

4. Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers (No. 40 overall)

Samuel might have ranked higher on this list if he hadn’t battled various injuries this season. The Ohio State product often resembled a “lite” version of San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel, someone who could line up at running back or receiver.

Curtis Samuel (no relation to Deebo) totaled 185 catches for 2,087 yards and 14 touchdowns in four seasons with the Panthers. He also added five rushing touchdowns on 6.4 yards per carry. He’s still only 25 and will play all of next season at 26, so the veteran receiver has plenty of time to climb this list.

3. Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans (No. 5 overall)

If Davis was the 35th overall pick, we’d be alright with his career totals of 241 catches, 3,343 yards, and 15 touchdowns. For those reacting skeptically, consider that Jones went 37th overall and then compare each players’ numbers.

However, Davis went fifth overall, and these numbers aren’t good enough. Although he’s done enough to avoid bust territory (for now), the Western Michigan is certainly someone who hasn’t lived up to expectations. For the sake of this list, though, he ranks third.

2. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 7 overall)

Recency bias nearly pushed Williams, who totaled 67 catches for 1,027 yards and eight touchdowns entering Week 18, to the top spot. He has two 1,000-yard seasons in the last three years and is rapidly closing in on 4,000 for his career.

Williams is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next spring, and he could earn a massive contract for his recent efforts. We’ll see if the Chargers try keeping a good thing going and do everything in their powers to keep him in Los Angeles.

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 62 overall)

If we considered off-field issues, we’d be tempted to drop Smith-Schuster for his social media antics and love of dancing. However, a deal is a deal, and the Southern Cal product earns top billing here.

Even after missing most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury, Smith-Schuster still leads these six players in catches (323), receiving yards (3,855), and touchdowns (26) over the last five years. For now, Smith-Schuster is the best of these six receivers, although the Steelers would likely be far happier if they’d selected Kupp.

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