We have already done three weeks of positional rankings for this upcoming draft, including running backs and linebackers, interior offensive and defensive linemen, offensive tackles and edge rushers. Now we move further outside and put the wide receivers in the spotlight.
This might the best and deepest wide receiver class we have seen in a long time. There are six names I have first-round grades on and my entire top ten will end up among the 50 best prospects for me. But even beyond that, there are a bunch of intriguing options and to me it’s the variety this class presents, that excites me the most. You can find those big-bodied targets, deep threats, advanced route-runners and YAC specialists. I would not be shocked if we ended up seeing close to 20 receivers selected within the first two days of the draft.
By the way, you can also find me on Youtube now, where I already have breakdowns of this class and a few other position groups.
Here is the list:
1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Jeudy followed the likes of Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and others as a five-star recruit at the wide receiver position and while he was in a reserve role as a freshman for the Tide, he did flash quite a bit in training camp and came out blazing hot in year two. That’s when he was the Fred Biletnikoff award winner for the best receiver in the country, as he caught 68 passes for over 1300 yards and 14 touchdown, giving him an average of 19.3 yards per reception. Last season he put up very similar numbers and repeated as a first-team All-SEC selection. Over the last two years with the Crimson Tide, Jeudy put together 2478 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air, with an average of 17.1 yards per catch.
This guy has a great cross between being a very smooth and explosive route-runner, with the incredibly loose hips to make any break and the speed to quickly burn defenses. He possesses superb body control and understands how to pace his routes and set up defenders with head-fakes and body language. You see him give some DBs a jab-step and just leave them behind in the dust. Jeudy is so creative with the way he can create separation, often times getting DBs to turn their hips in a way that makes them look completely stupid when you stop the film at certain points. He is very unique with all the different releases he utilizes. That includes slow-playing some of them and then getting off the defender with a sudden burst – especially on slant routes. Jeudy rarely allows defenders to attach to his hip. He is very advanced in his hand-work, route-running to create separation and using subtle push-offs if he does have a defender on his hip. You see him also push guys by on some curl routes, where he can stop on a dime like it’s nothing. He is the closest thing out there to a true ankle-breaker at the receiver position.
Jeudy can be the X single receiver, line up in the slot or even as the number three receiver and motion him into stacks. Alabama put the ball in his hands on slip and bubble screens and used him as deception off that. Jeudy is highly creative open-field runner who displays some ridiculous jukes, including backwards jump-cuts, dead-legs and all that kind of stuff. However, he is also more than capable of burning defenses deep, where he displays excellent ball-tracking skills and comfort in tight spaces to go with the timing he utilizes. He quickly stacks his corner on go-routes and attacks the ball in the air. He wins on a lot of double-moves, where he gets DBs to take the cheese with head-fakes and nods. Jeudy also shows excellent flexibility to pick the ball up from his feet without having to slow down. Alabama quarterbacks had a passer rating of 125.1 when targeting him last season.
Last season Jeudy proved to me in several instances that he is a very tough player to go with all those dynamic qualities. He started 2019 off with ten catches for 138 yards and a TD in the season-opener versus Duke and the coaching staff made it clear that they wanted to feature him, moving him around the formation and getting the ball to him quickly on screen passes. He set the tone right away as the alpha of that talented receiving corp and dropped his shoulder on several defenders. Jeudy also decided to play in last year’s Citrus Bowl against Michigan, even though he could have easily sat out for the draft. Not only did scouts like that, but also the fact he could not be guarded all afternoon, as he caught six passes for 204 yards and a score. As a blocker, he does an excellent job of shielding defenders from the play with body-positioning and hands inside the chest.
With that being said, Jeudy, wasn’t even the leading receiver for the Tide last season (Devonta Smith). He gets hung up with press every once in a while when he is not urgent enough to release. The Alabama receiver doesn’t have a ton of play strength and a little bit of a slender frame, having some defenders push him backwards in the run game. However, the one thing that actually annoyed me a little about Jeudy’s tape is the fact he lets the ball get into his frame too much and you see him let some passes fall to the ground, where he already turns his body downfield to make things happen after the catch, which led to seven drops last season.
This is the best overall route-runner in the draft and he is super slippery after the catch. Jeudy might not quite by as fast as his teammate Henry Ruggs or as physical as Oklahoma’s Ceedee Lamb, but he has all the tools to be a true number one receiver, who can be moved around the field and do pretty much anything you ask of him. While the comparison is a little steep for me, Odell Beckham Jr. is the receiver that comes to mind when you think about the style of Jeudy, even if the Alabama receiver doesn’t quite have those spectacular contested catches to show for it.
2. Ceedee Lamb, Oklahoma
A former four-star recruit out of Texas, Lamb made an immediate impact with the Sooners, smashing the freshman receiving record with over 800 yards and seven touchdowns, starting all but one game and earning Freshman All-American accolades. He crossed the 1000-yard and double-digit touchdown marks in year two, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades, but he really exploded last season. Lamb caught 62 passes for over 1300 yards and 14 touchdowns, with a ridiculous average of 21.4 yards a catch (highest among all WRs with 40+ catches), earning himself first-team All-American honors and making him a Biletnikoff award finalist.
Unlike Marquise Brown coming out a year ago, nobody should question Lamb’s size at 6’2”, right around 200 pounds. While he doesn’t have the flat-out speed of “Hollywood”, I would certainly argue that Lamb is a better all-around receiver and his speed is still plenty good, as he can eat up cushions and set up breaks in any direction. What I really like about his game are the different gears he uses on his routes and how physical he can get. Lamb really understands how to adjust his routes on the fly in that Lincoln Riley Air-Raid system. He comes back to the ball aggressively on routes along the sidelines, as well as being highly flexible and making tough catches look easy all the time. Lamb does a nice job swatting away the hands of the defender and using his own for some little push-offs without having the ref reaching for his flag, plus he can kind of lull defenders into thinking they are in good position and then plant the foot while being physical with his hands to create a good angle for the pass. He also tracks the ball and adjusts his body mid-air incredibly well, shielding the ball from the defender’s swipes, almost looking for contact at times to using the opponent as a jumping board to not let that guy disrupt the catch point. You see him extend outside his frame for the most part and make some big catches with multiple defenders right around him.
Nobody makes more happen after the catch than this guy. His ability to change up his steps, set up guys with little body-fakes and just surprise them with some of the moves he makes is impeccable. At the same time he is also a very physical runner, who can run through tackles and gain yards after contact with great balance. If you pause the tape at times and see how defenses have Lamb corralled, it is ridiculous how many of them he turned into touchdowns. The former Sooner excels at reading leverage, understanding angles and seeing the entire field. There are instances where he is the primary option on a pass play and he seemingly already has a plan of how to make the defender miss. Lamb even returned some punts for the Sooners because of his ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands. OU put the ball in Lamb’s hands on some jet sweeps and tunnel screens as well as running a bunch of crossing routes at different levels, plus then Lincoln Riley used the receiver as deception quite a bit, faking those sweeps and running fly motions. Overall he forced 26 missed tackles last season.
That led to recording a passer rating above 145 when targeted in each of the last two seasons. He he already put up 12.7 yards per target in 2018 it improved to a stupid 15.1 last three, all while dropping only three passes and not fumbling once during his entire collegiate career. Last year he had seven different games of 100+ yards and he was out of this world in last year’s Big 12 Championship game versus Baylor, when he brought in eight of his nine targets for 173 yards. When nobody on the Sooners could really do anything and Jalen Hurts struggled mightily versus LSU in the Peach Bowl, Lamb was the only one to put his foot down and actually made some huge plays versus those talented corners for the eventual national champs. As much of a star receiver as he was for the Sooners, Lamb did not shy away from getting involved as a blocker. He does a good job breaking down in space and at least make the defender work. Oklahoma used him on some crackback blocks off near motions. His vision also helps him identify the biggest threat as a blocker, even when he is actually engaged with another defender already.
However, Lamb struggles a bit on pivot and angle-type routes, which kind of led to a game-changing pick-six for TCU in their 2019 game. He simply can not drop his hips and make those dramatic cuts quite like Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy. I also think he gets his body in front of defenders in the run game more than actually driving them. While I love the YACability, sometimes I would like him to be a little more efficient with just getting downhill and not always looking for the big play, as his eyes get glued to the second and third level instead of simply reading the block right in front of him first. He can get a little too fancy at moments.
This was really a tight race for my number one receiver spot, because Lamb is more physical receiver who adds so much after the catch. He has a plan off the line and even though he faced a lot of soft Big XII coverages, I don’t think he will have a lot of problems releasing from press at the next level. And if you want to question how good his hands are, just check out one of the most ridiculous one-handed catch along the sideline I’ve ever seen versus UCLA in 2018 (even if it was ruled out of bounds).
3. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
This former five-star recruit from Montgomery, Alabama scored twenty times on 102 touches as a high school senior, before joining the Tide. After putting up over 500 all-purpose yards on just 31 touches as a true freshman, Ruggs caught 46 passes for 741 yards and eleven touchdowns in year two. Last season he put up similar numbers. While he “only” put up right around 1500 yards through the air over the last two years combined because of all the talent on that Bama receiving corp, he averaged 17.5 yards per reception and caught 18 touchdowns.
Nothing shows you more what kind of blazing speed Ruggs has than the face of disappointment he had when he realized he “only” ran a 4.27 in the 40 at the combine. And he does not need much time to get to that final gear, as he can get from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye. Nobody in college football has struck more fear into defenders with his ability to beat them deep than this guy. Opposing teams put a safety over the top of him whenever they could, because he could change a game at any moment. And even with that, you see safeties flip their hips after a second sometimes, as he can run by both of them with ease. Ruggs tracks passes over either shoulder with ease and he adjusts very well to underthrown balls and back-shoulder fades along the sideline.
However, he is much more than just a speedster, who can work the underneath areas as well. Ruggs was borderline uncoverable on deep curl and comeback routes, where he puts DBs on their heels and makes them open up their hips all the way, before hitting the breaks and creating a good five yards of separation a lot of times. He is also a nightmare when the offense runs a vertical concept with him breaking inside 10-15 yards deep and he has all the space to work with over the middle, That’s how he had an almost perfect passer-rating on routes in the teens in terms of depth. Alabama put the ball in Ruggs’ hands on jet sweeps, bubble screens off fly motions and reverses. He gives you the ability to take some easy yardage that way and then come off that with some fakes to make the defense commit, in order to open something else up. He took a quick screen 75 yards against New Mexico last season, where he killed five different angles down the sideline and versus South Carolina, there was a play where Ruggs caught the ball on a slant route and worked across the field to get to the end-zone untouched on an 81-yard touchdown untouched, where a lot of guys would have been cut off after like 15 yards.
Ruggs has this incredible quality of gaining distance on multiple trailing defenders during one play. However, he also has good contact balance and strength to run through some wraps and have defenders slip off him, plus he has this side-step as initial defenders try to dive at his feet. Nothing illustrates Ruggs’ big play ability more than the fact 24 of his 98 career receptions went for touchdowns – a ridiculous rate. He also does a nice job adjusting his routes due to blitzes and coverage rolls and he dropped just one catchable pass last season, which is very uncommon for those speedsters. To go with that, he is an excellent open-field blocker for a guy at 190 pounds, who squares up his target and rises up through him. You see him turn into a blocker quickly once a teammate catches the ball and spring them loose that way.
Be that as it may, Ruggs only made up 11.2 percent of the Alabama offense last season. He did not run a very complex route-tree for the Tide, limited to slant, shallow cross, go and post routes. It is kind of crazy to think he didn’t run more double-moves for the Tide, which makes you question why he didn’t, since the coaches down in Tuscaloosa certainly didn’t just not think about that. He is a bit of a straight-line route runners, instead of using different speeds to set up his breaks, plus he didn’t have the same kind of success versus press than he did when defenses gave him space to work. He is simply not as well-rounded as the two guys in front of him are at this point.
While Jeudy and Lamb are more complete receivers at this point with more production to hang their hats on, some teams may value Ruggs’ speed and that capability of creating yardage as you give him the ball on the move even more. He could easily have the type of impact Deebo Samuel had for San Francisco last season, while being able to finish plays in the end-zone at an even higher rate. I love to watch his tape, seeing him pull away from defenders in a way nobody else can, and neither is he small nor does he play like it.
4. Laviska Shenault, Colorado
After helping his Texas high school team win their first ever state title his senior year, Shenault joined the Buffs as just a three-star recruit. His freshman season, he only caught seven passes, before kind of exploding out of nowhere as a sophomore, when he caught 86 for 1,011 and six touchdowns, while adding five more scores on the ground, in just nine games. That earned him team MVP and first-team All-Pac-12 honors. Last season he took a bit of a step backwards with a little under 1000 yards and six TDs from scrimmage in 11 contests, leading to a second-team all-conference selection.
At 6’2”, 225 pounds, Shenault is almost built like a linebacker. When I first watched him play, I thought he looked pretty much like a clone of Julio Jones coming out of Alabama. Watching him go off over those first six games of the 2018 season was what really sold me on this guy. Shenault amassed 867 yards and five touchdowns from scrimmage, before banging up his toe and not looking like himself when he returned for the final three weeks of the year. Unfortunately the Buffs could not keep up their hot 5-0 start to the year, losing seven(!) straight games, but whilst they were still winning, their star receiver was an actual Heisman trophy contender. Shenault does everything for the Buffs. He lines up out wide by himself, in the slot, is put in stacks, runs jet sweeps and even bangs into the end-zone as a wildcat QB.
Shenault can run routes like a lot of sub-six feet guys, go over the top over defenders with size and just take the top off the opposition. While he caught a bunch of quick passes for Colorado almost like an extended hand-off, he also tracks the deep ball very well and has the late burst to create some more separation. He loves those inside fades, where tracks the ball exceptionally well over his head. He makes some tough catches with defenders draped over him or putting a hit on him as the ball arrives. There was one play versus UCLA in 2018, where two defenders basically hit him at the same time high and low to almost helicopter him, but he still brought in the catch. Shenault uses his big frame exceptionally well to shield the ball from defenders on stop- and in-breaking routes, plus he works back to the ball aggressively and bails out his QB on the scramble drill at times
What stands out about him after the catch is how quickly Shenault brings the ball into his body, to not allow defenders to rip it out of his hands. You see him drop the shoulder as soon as he turns upfield and he protects the ball with the off-hand wrapped over it. He is as strong a runner at the wide receiver position as you will see in college football, just blasting through a couple of awaiting defenders or dragging them on his back for a couple of extra yards. Shenault is not scared to running into three or four defenders in front of him either. However, he can also set up defenders with little dips of the shoulder and creates angles to get to the sideline that way or give little hesitation moves to put those guys off balance. He reads defenses tremendously well on jet sweeps and consistently found creases as a goal-line runner.
Altogether Shenault forced 29 missed tackles in 2018 and averaged 7.4 yards after the catch on average. Last season he averaged 7.5 yards after the grab with just over 10 yards depth of target on average. While he did fail to reach the 1000-yard mark in 2019 in more games, he improved his yards per touch by 0.8 yards despite being the only real weapon on that Colorado offense. However, if you think he can’t take over games anymore the way did as a sophomore, just watch his a monster game versus USC last season, when he turned his ten touches into 189 yards and two scores. One of them came on a simple square-in, where he immediately cut upfield and turned on the jets to the take it to the house from 71 yards out. Shenault also shows good awareness for situations, knowing where the marker and what the time on the clock is.
Injuries are the biggest concern with investing a high draft pick in Shenault, with toe and labrum surgeries before last season and a medical red flag at the combine. He is not nearly as schooled with his releases or route-running as some other guys on this list and allows some defenders to get back into the picture. He is also not close to being the type of physical blocker he probably could be, even if some of that probably has to do with the volume of touches he receives and how the Buffs just moved him around. Shenault doesn’t come off the ball with the same kind of burst, misjudges some angles and does not land his hands in the proper areas. The passer rating was around 87 when targeting him on passes thrown for ten yards or more and he should be more of a beast boxing out defenders downfield, with only six contested catches last season.
While there are still some refinements Shenault needs to make in his game, he is already a highly versatile and dynamic playmaker. His upside might be greater than anybody in the entire draft class, because physically there is nothing he doesn’t have or can’t do. I think he needs to use his physicality in all areas of his games and the medical still needs to check out fine, but if he starts to fall and is healthy for whoever selects him, that team could see a major pay-off. For a big receiver he has unbelievable burst and explosiveness after the catch.
5. Justin Jefferson, LSU
A star receiver and kick returner in the New Orleans area, Jefferson became the third Jefferson brother to suit up for the Tigers. Even though he didn’t catch a single pass as a freshman, he really came along since then. As a sophomore he led LSU in catches (54) and receiving yards (875) with six trips to the end-zone. While sophomore sensation Ja’Marr Chase led the Tigers in receiving yards and TDs last season, Jefferson’s 111 catches for 1540 yards and 18 touchdowns were all more than the number three and four receivers for the Tigers had combined. His total receptions in particular stood out as an all-time school record despite all those talented guys coming through Baton Rouge, while helping the program win a national title and making second-team All-SEC in a loaded conference for pass-catchers.
Jefferson presents a nice frame at 6’1”, just over 200 pounds. He has this unique style of running routes with adding a little shake at the top of his break and giving some hesitation, almost in a Keenan Allen-type of way. You see him hop-step into some routes, slow-play some off-man defenders and just keep them off balance with how he gets into his stem. Jefferson also excels reading leverages and adjusting on the fly, making him a problem on option routes. He does an outstanding job reducing the shoulder to avoid defenders trying to get into his chest and slow him down. While he wasn’t on-line on too many snaps, when the Tigers had him as the front receiver on bunches and stacks, he did not seem to have much trouble getting off press. On the scramble drill, Jefferson helps out his quarterback by coming back towards him or continuing to work across the field. He makes some beautiful snags extending outside his frame with those 33-inch arms and catching the ball with his finger-tips, when the ball is slightly off target.
The dependable LSU receiver is very strong once he has the ball in his hands and can spin out of the tackler’s hands. His ability to start and stop is what makes some defenders slip and look stupid, as they run past him. Jefferson forced 23 missed tackles last season. He caught a bunch of quick slants over the middle – especially as the number two receiver in a trips set – where he knew he would take a big hit, but still held on to the ball pretty much every time – often times for crucial first downs. He was relied upon when third downs quite a bit in general and came through time and time again. Jefferson also faced a lot of tough assignments as a blocker in the slot versus safeties and even some linebackers, which he took very serious. You see him quickly make up the space to his target, get his hands inside the frame of the defender and keep moving his feet. He is technically sound in that area and did not lack any effort. LSU even lined him up as a wing-man almost at times and seal the back-side of run plays.
As much as space as he usually creates underneath, Jefferson’s 92.3 percent contested catch rate is the best among draft-eligible receivers. He caught a huge game-clinching touchdown on third-and-17 in the Texas game – his third of that game – and went bonkers in the Peach Bowl versus Oklahoma with 14 grabs for 227 yards and four(!) touchdowns. His best catch of the season however might not even be found on the stat sheet, as he elevated for the potentially game-deciding onside kick and came down with it in that huge showdown at Alabama, which set off their run for the SEC. Jefferson was basically the most reliable receiver on the most explosive offense in the country with the Heisman trophy winner throwing him the ball. He also might have had the most helpful 40-yard time among all receivers at 4.43 at the combine, after being labelled a slot receiver with modest speed.
Despite that, he only caught two passes when lined up out wide and with an average depth of target of just 9.4 yards. His nine receptions of 20+ air yards may look great on paper, it isn’t something to brag about either for maybe the most explosive passing offense in college football history and 6.4 yards after the catch is okay under those circumstances. While his timed speed is obviously is good, I never felt like defenders were particularly scared of Jefferson beating them over the top, with several inside fade routes towards him finding no success. He has a bit of a kick-back whenever he gets off the ball and he still has to perfect the balance between being deceptive and losing time to get into his route. With as many passes as he caught, he still dropped seven balls in 2019 and his hand usage needs some work against press.
While he simply isn’t the type of dynamic deep-threat or jump-ball target as his former teammate Ja’Marr Chase – who will probably be a top-ten pick next year – Jefferson can be one of the premiere slot receivers as soon as he steps onto an NFL field. He is already highly diverse with his ability to set up defenders and create separation to be one of the quarterback’s best friends. If you are looking for a true outside threat, look elsewhere. But if you need somebody for easy completions to keep the chains moving, Jefferson is your guy.
6. Denzel Mims, Baylor
Expectations were high for Mims ever since he first arrived at Baylor, after being one of the best athletes in high schools of Texas in football, basketball and 200-meter sprint. While he only caught four passes for 24 yards buried on the depth chart as a true freshman, Mims blew up in year two with 61 passes for 1,087 yards (17.8 per catch) and eight touchdowns, earning himself second-team All-Big 12 accolades. As the Bears struggled in 2018, the receiver’s production dipped a little as well, but he cracked the 1000-yard mark and score 12 TDs last season again and was a first-team all-conference selection. Over those three years with the program, Mims put together 2900 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air.
Few players have helped their draft stock more since the end of the college season. For a Baylor receiver with the reputation of running a small route tree, Mims went down to the Senior Bowl and put highlight tape over three days one-on-ones, while showcasing the ability to run a multitude of routes. He was basically uncoverable on any type of curl or comeback route and was a big talker throughout practices. Then Mims’ combination of size, speed and agility were on full display at the combine, where he ran a 4.38 in the 40 and had the best three-cone drill (6.66) among all combine participants, while also adding a 38.5-inch vert and almost broad-jumping 11 feet.
Mims looks like he was built in a lab, measuring in at 6’3”, 215 pounds with 34-inch arms. He uses several different releases against and off- and press-coverage, where he makes those DBs freeze their feet and uses his hands very well to not allow them to grab any cloth. He gives defenders different speeds, footwork and overall looks. Mims plays extremely physical against press-coverage and uses push-offs on a bunch of routes. He will take what he wants and not let DBs dictate where he is going. He shows tremendous quickness and ability to lean into guys to create separation in that area, plus he has improved his ability to drop the weight and break back towards the quarterback on curl routes. You see him quickly turn his body away from the defender along the sidelines, which makes him a perfect pairing with QBs who like to win with ball-placement. He routinely makes 50-50 catch situations look more like 80-20, with an incredible catch radius to make grabs at the very end of his reach look easy routinely, while judging the ball’s flight beautifully. He made 32 contested catches over the last two years. Mims was heavily targeted on back-shoulder fades and jump-balls into the boundary, where he does a great job overall working the sideline and keeping his feet in-bounds on balls with a trajectory outside the white lines time and time again. However, if corners play that back-shoulder too much and don’t respect his speed, Mims can also run right by him.
His 66 catches on 113 targets last season do not nearly tell the full story. On a bunch of the targets his way it was the underneath defender on a dig or deep-in route that got his hands on the ball, or the ball simply landed out of bounds. He made an absolutely stupid catch on a crucial fourth down versus Texas last season, before ending that drive with a big touchdown on a post route with a defender right on him. Mims is strong like an ox after the catch, running through wraps and driving his legs through contact for extra yardage. He also shows has pretty good quickness and is kind of shifty with the ball in his hands. Mims is very efficient with turning upfield instantly and picking up yardage. To along with that, he really gets after it as a blocker, taking smaller DBs off balance all the time and controlling them by staying chest-to-chest. He stays engaged, redirects and does not stop working. Mims is fantastic at transitioning from route-runner to blocker to give his teammates room to run.
On the flipside, Mims averaged only 2.8 yards after the catch and forced just seven missed tackles last season. He also dropped seven passes as well, including a potential game-winning touchdown versus Texas Tech, even if the Bears came back to finish the job in overtime. He still has to learn when to sit or slow down against some zone looks and he will have some of those aggressive push-offs called against him at the next level. Mims does not really sell sharp double-moves either, gliding too much into the route and not dropping his weight the way he seems capable of. He will not quite be able to throw around NFL corners the way he did with Big 12 DBs.
I already liked Mims from the limited tape I had watched up to that point, but watching him basically put together a highlight reel over three days of practice at the Senior Bowl and then blowing up the combine the way he did put him in a different light for me. Similar to D.K. Metcalf coming out of Ole Miss a year ago (my WR1 back then), people seem to label Mims as a workout warrior and overthink him a little. This guy is a freak athlete with great versatility in his release and special ability to come up with the ball in tight spaces. I love him at the end of the first round.
7. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
After two stellar years as a receiver and kick returner at Sierra College in California (2500 yards and 21 TDs altogether), Aiyuk was one of the top JUCO transfers in the nation. He landed at Arizona State, where he didn’t quite reach the 500-yard mark and reached the end-zone three times, starting only three of the Sundevils 13 games. Last season he took a major step forward, leading his team with 65 receptions for 1,192 yards (18.3 per catch) and eight scores. This already earned him first-team All-Pac-12 and third-team All-American recognition, but he also averaged 16.1 yards per punt and 31.9 yards as a kick returner.
This guy has the body of a Greek god. Aiyuk’s 80-inch wingspan at 5’11” is bigger than the one of 6’6” Collin Johnson from Texas. He is much better suited to play on the outside full-time than his former teammate N’Keal Harry with the speed to win on straight go-routes, but also the quickness to make things happen underneath. Aiyuk can slow-play the release and then give a sudden burst to create separation – especially on slant routes, as he really snaps his head when he comes out of breaks. He was targeted quite a bit on stutter-release fades into the boundary, where he has that extra gear to catch up to a ball that seems to be overthrown and made eight receptions of 20+ yards. He is also lethal on whip routes, where he can really drop those hips and redirect, leading the corner to run past him initially. Aiyuk shows great flexibility and twitch in his lower body to sell routes and made several defenders grab him as he got out of some post-corner or flat-to-wheel routes.
He routinely makes catches with the ball out of in front of him, where he has to dive and fully extend for it. There are also some passes that look like he would be overthrown, but Aiyuk uses his condor-like wing-span to haul in the catch. He does not panic when the ball seems to be able in the air forever and puts his body in position to secure the catch, even when it is badly underthrown. At ASU, he mostly lined up out wide to the left, but has experience out of the slot, motioning around the field and as part of stacks. Aiyuk is a creative and dangerous runner after the catch. For a very powerful receiver, his ability to shake or spin away from defenders in the open field is pretty impressive. You see some hesitation steps followed up by turning on the jets to get right by underneath defenders. The Sun Devils used his YACability on several tunnel and slip screens last season, as well as a couple of reverses or bubble screens off a motion. His extreme competiveness with the ball in his hands manifested itself in an average of 10.9 yards after the catch and 14 missed tackles forced last season.
Aiyuk showed off that ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands in the return game routinely. He displays excellent contact balance and pulls himself out of a bunch of tackles. He gad a 96-yard kick return versus USC and even when the Trojans tried to squib-kick it to him the very next time, it still looked like he had a shot to go the distance. Aiyuk clinched the Oregon game with an 81-yard touchdown and caught a deep ball along the sideline at Michigan State to set up the game-winning score, which he would have already delivered if that pass wasn’t horribly underthrown. If he didn’t catch passes from a freshman QB last year, he would have probably been even more productive.
With that being said, he dropped six passes in 2019 and only two of his total came in contested situations. Overall he brought in just three of the 14 targets in those spots over his two years with the Sundevils. When he is in a 50-50 situation with a defender, I want him to high-point the ball more instead of trying to cradle it. Aiyuk is not an overly physical blocker, who looks at the ball-carrier as he is out in front, rather than finding targets in space to clear the way. His hand technique is severly underdeveloped at this point to defeat press off the line and he has to learn how to deal better with hands-on DBs overall to translate to the pros.
This kid is a big play threat, who can run away from defenders and refuses to down with the ball in his hands. While he is far from being a perfect route-runner to win routinely on the outside, you can manufacture touches for him and let him create for you. Aiyuk probably needs a year to take on such a role, but if you use him in creative ways in the slot and let him show off those talents in the return game.
8. Jalen Reagor, TCU
The son of former Texas Tech standout and eight-year NFL veteran defensive lineman Montae Reagor, Jalen was a four-star recruit out of Texas and quickly announced himself to the nation, winning Big XII Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year, as he led the Horned Frogs in all the major receiving categories (33 catches for 576 yards and eight TDs). Reagor was TCU’s team MVP and a second-team all-conference selection in year two with 1231 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage on 85 touches, while helping out as a return-man. Last season he once again was a second-team all-conference pick for his efforts as a receiver and returner, even if his numbers went down a little.
While he may seem slightly undersized at 5’11”, Reagor presents a dense frame at 195 pounds. Body-wise he reminds me a lot of the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel and his game is somewhat similar. He has the speed to run right by guys on the outside, where you see him rapidly eat up the cushion, stack and then separate against corners. He judges the ball in the air beautifully and attacks it at the highest point consistently, playing way taller than his size indicates and coming down with a bunch of 50-50 deep balls. A lot of DBs panic when the TCU receiver breaks back to the post and they have no help behind them. Reagor also made some excellent plays on corner routes, where safeties had to stay on their heels because of the way he fired off the ball. Eight of his 43 catches last year came in contested catches, which is also the amount of balls he brought in that travelled 20+ yards through the air, as he average depth of target for him was at 14.9 yards.
Reagor certainly has the ability to win one-on-one on the outside, but the Horned Frog coaches also manufactured touches for him off motions and different screens. They got him involved on some jet sweeps and reverses to take advantage of his speed and even a few swing screens off fly motions. He has the explosive burst to make defenders who are seemingly leveraged correctly be wrong. Reagor has a sick backwards juke at the sideline and pretty creative with the ball in his hands in general. I’m not afraid at all about sending him on slant routes over the middle and deal with some hits in there because of how thick his frame is either, being built more like a running back. Reagor meant so much for his team in 2018 – his 72 catches accounted for over 30% of TCU’s completions, and his 1,061 receiving yards were more than 600 yards better than the next closest pass-catcher for them. Last season he once again didn’t have much help around him, but opposing defenses knew that they had to commit more to him, which the TCU coaches helped them with by putting Reagor in the slot, while his quarterback was wildly inconsistent.
Unfortunately, Reagor dropped seven passes last season and his six fumbles are pretty alarming for a receiver, which were the most at his position. He also does not really move his feet as a blocker and doesn’t seem overly interested in getting involved that way altogether. Reagor doesn’t run very sharp routes at this point and there is not nearly enough nuance in his double-moves, barely drawing the DB in on the initial break. He put up the third-worst three-cone time at the combine and I expected him to be somewhere in the 4.3s instead of 4.47, even if he was impressive in the leaping events. He just looked like he added excess weight he didn’t have to.
There are some things I don’t love about Reagor, like his poor blocking and unrefined route-running at this point, but he was already very productive for the Horned Frogs and I can see how offensive coordinators could deploy him in a multitude of ways at the next level. I see him playing that Deebo Samuel role on jet sweeps and quick slants over the middle, but he is also a great vertical threat, who plays the ball in the air better than a lot of 6’4” receivers.
9. K.J. Hamler, Penn State
This kid was a first-team all-state selection in the Detroit Metro area before transferring to the Florida IMG academy. While he missed his senior year of high school, he still was a four-star recruit and receiving many offers. Hamler was forced to redshirt his freshman season with a torn ACL, but in his first year as an active player, he went for a team-high 754 yards on just 42 receptions to go with over 600 return yards, resulting in six total TDs, earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Last season – as just a redshirt sophomore – he went for over 900 yards on 56 grabs and reached the end-zone eight times, improving to second-team all-conference, while continuing to excel in the return game, where he was an honorable mention by league coaches to go along with his efforts as a pass-catcher.
Measuring in at 5’9”, 178 pounds, Hamler was a do-everything guy for the Nittany Lions. He has the ability to become a very unique route-runner with the way he snaps out of his breaks and can set things up. He freezes defenders with head-fakes and certain body-language. He makes some guys look stupid trying to push him towards the sideline by attacking the outside with a jab-step and then continuing to work down the seams. When he pushes upfield against a safety from the slot, Hamler makes those guys look like their feet are stuck in quick-sand as he breaks inside on post and deep in-routes. On corner and deep out-routes he creates a ton of separation by swiveling his head to the inside and then exploding the other way. Hamler can cut off on one step on short out-routes, which Penn State used him on from a tighter split and stack. He was also a problem on inside fade routes as the number two or three receiver, where he just blazed by some safeties and nickels. Altogether he caught 11 passes that were in the air for 20+ yards last season and scored on five of them, tracking the deep ball exceptionally well, almost like a center-fielder.
Hamler was working with a first-year starter in Sean Clifford last season, where there were a lot of opportunities for big plays with him breaking free over the middle and having a couple of steps on his defender. You see him keep working across the field and create throwing windows constantly as the QB moves around. This guy is like lightning in a bottle with the ball in his hands. Sometimes you think he is completely dead to rights, but somehow he finds a way to escape. Hamler is lethal in space and simply brought juice to the Nittany Lions offense whenever he touched the ball. He was also a weapon for them in the return game, averaging 26.2 yards per kick return. To go along with that, he was heavily utilized as deception on fake bubbles or to run guys off for underneath completions and even took a few handoffs from the backfield. Hamler might not be too strong at his slim stature, but he doesn’t mind throwing his body around as a blocker and puts in plenty of effort. However, he is more valuable running guys off and binding them by pushing upfield or faking bubble screens anyway. At below-180 pounds, Hamler put up an impressive 15 reps on the bench press, and while we have no 40-yard dash time on him, he claims to run a 4.27 and I would certainly put him in the low-4.3 category.
As much as you like his ability to separate at the collegiate level and how scrappy he is, there is no way around Hamler’s diminutive size. He gets knocked around quite a bit by underneath defenders, who can move their feet a little and while I barely saw any tape of Hamler facing press, his lack of size could certainly be an issue even with how dynamic he is in his lower body. The biggest concern for him however were his 12 dropped passes and a drop rate of 16.9 last season. His catch radius isn’t overly exciting and defenders will be able to work through his frame as the ball arrives there
While the drops are certainly a problem, you also see Hamler come down with some catches right in the middle of a crowd or with balls low from the ground. There are certainly some limitations due to his size, but he is a dynamic player in space, who eats over the middle and can just run by DBs. The way he erases cushions even when defenders are lined up way off is mind-boggling and he could be a big-play machine.
10. Tee Higgins, Clemson
A dominant high school player in Tennessee, Higgins was named the Class AAAAA Mr. Football in each of his last two years there, making him a top 20 national recruit. He also was a finalist for the state’s Mr. Basketball as a junior. Higgins had some highly encouraging moments as a true freshman, averaging over 20.3 yards on his 17 catches that year. As a sophomore he caught 59 passes for close to 1000 yards and 12 TDs (all leading Clemson), earning second-team All-ACC recognition for the title-winning Tigers. He was even better last season, when brought in the same amount of receptions, but for 1167 yards and 13 scores, improving to first-team all-conference. He is leaving Clemson tied for the school’s record for career receiving touchdowns (27) with DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins – not a bad company to be in.
Higgins has excellent size at 6’4”, 205 pounds with a prototype body that features an 81-inch wingspan. He has the size and speed to win against pretty much anybody and I really like the way he snaps his head around on in-breaking routes. He uses a diamond release on slant routes, where he gets corner off balance with wide steps. He also does a nice job of avoiding contact with underneath defenders by turning his shoulder before breaking inside. Higgins has been the most productive player in college football on post-routes, as he tracks the ball really well over either shoulder and lets it smoothly drop into the bucket. In balls at his chest, he catches it away from his frame and when the it lays up there, he is easily lifts himself and pluck it out of the air with excellent body-control. Higgins uses his long arms perfectly to go over the top of defenders and shows strong hands to hold onto the ball through contact. He is a big threat in the red-zone with his ability to high-point and go over the top of smaller DBs.
Last season the Clemson wideout recorded a passer rating of 131.0 when targeted and he had the same amount of catches in 2019 as he had in his sophomore season (59), but for 234 yards and two touchdowns more, averaging almost 20 yards a grab. Higgins hauled in 15 of his 23 targets of 20+ yards for 565 yards and six scores, proving his vertical prowess. I think he is also kind of underrated after the catch, forcing 12 missed tackles last season and averaging 5.6 yards after the catch in 2018 despite being such a big guy. Higgins understands angles and lets overaggressive defenders reach for air. He is also a pretty good blocker, who puts his large frame in front of defenders and keeps moving his feet. Higgins’ best fit is probably as that classic long-levered X receiver, but his skill-set suggests he can move around a bit and produce as a big slot as well
After choosing to not perform at the combine, Higgins came back for his pro day to run a 4.54 and put up average leaping numbers. He needs to become more efficient with his hands on releases and stack corners on the go-route. He is not incredibly sudden at the top of his route and rounds off too many breaks, giving defenders a chance to disrupt the catch point or undercut it. In last year’s Syracuse game, Higgins ran a curl route and as he tried to come back towards the QB, the corner knocked the ball up and intercepted it. Sometimes I want to see more urgency from the Clemson wideout to get into his route and work downfield to uncover. He also dropped six passes last season. Higgins almost exclusively lined up on the perimeter, but does not show very good sideline awareness and was already called for a few push-offs at the collegiate level. What sticks out in his game logs is the fact averaged under 55 receiving yards in Clemson’s four playoff games over these last two years.
I think Higgins can be a highly productive pro if used the right way. His route tree was fairly limited, but when you let him win on slants, posts and back-shoulder fades, he will come through for you. I wouldn’t call him a burner necessarily, but he’s really smooth and has a massive catch-radius to glide into routes and catch balls over defenders down the field. The guys in front of him are simply too dynamic for him to put him any higher, but Higgins will certainly be among my top 50 prospects.
Just missed the cut:
Michael Pittman Jr., USC
This kid was USA Today’s All-California Offensive Player of the Year his senior season of high school with over 2000 receiving yards and 24 TDs, including over 350 yards and five scores in his final game. He enrolled at USC as a four-star recruit and quickly impressed his coaches by being named a first-team All-Pac 12 special teamer and from that point on he basically was the Trojans number one target. Pittman led the Trojans in receiving yards in each of the last two years, with 1275 as a senior and 11 touchdown receptions, which was a second-team All-American.
Pittman is a big-bodied stud at 6’4”, 220 pounds with just under 80-inch wingspan. He is long strider with nice ball-tracking skills and good vertical speed, who does a great job adjusting to the ball in the air. Last season he brought in 12 of 22 targets that went 20+ yards and he scored on five of them. his 17 catches of 30+ air yards since the start of the 2018 season Pittman also led all Power-Five receivers. Not only can you toss him those 50-50 balls along the sideline, but his size and ability to glide is also a problem on post routes. At the same time he has remarkably quick feet for a big receiver and the way he can snap off routes at his size is very impressive, winning off the line with stagger releases and changing up his footwork. Pittman is very physical at the top of the route on curls and hitches, where his frame is a huge plus to shield the ball from defenders and he works back towards the ball aggressively. USC fed him the ball on a bunch of quick out-routes when the defense gave him off-coverage. To me it is also remarkable that he only dropped five of 176 catchable passes in his collegiate career and hauled in 76 percent of his targets last season.
Rarely do you see big receivers like Pittman be heavily involved in the screen game, but in 2019 the Trojans threw him 27 passes behind the line of scrimmage and his 14 missed tackles forced are pretty strong as well, considering he is looked at as more of a jump-ball specialist by some. When he has the ball in his hands, you see him bang through tacklers with good balance and he consistently stretches ahead with those long arms to maximize yardage. Pittman Was used quite a bit to draw attention from the defense on jet and fly motions, as well as screen fakes to bind defenders. As a blocker, he does a good job identifying the biggest threat and when he puts those large mitts on a defender, they usually don’t get away from him. You see him knock some of those guys to turf, when he gets a good shot at them from the side. Pittman played on several special teams for the Trojans even when he had established himself as the best player on that offense.
At his size, it is tough have a lot of quick-twitch muscles and Pittman has that lanky frame that limits what he can do to some degree. He won’t be able to routinely create a ton of separation against NFL athletes and Pittman himself has to build up his speed through the route. Not a lot of corners dared to play press against the big wideout, but when someone did play him tight and could feel those routes develop, that guy did beat him to the spot at times with the ball arriving there. With as tall as he is, he will have to add to his repertoire of press-beaters, where his chest presents a large area to hit. He doesn’t seem to have particularly great awareness for the sideline either.
Pittman is one of my favorite receivers in this class and I think not enough people talk about. He is a big-bodied gilding pass-catcher with sweet feet and a massive catch-radius. Last year he almost beat Utah by himself with ten catches for 232 yards, including an amazing 77-yard catch-and-run on a 50-50 ball. At the Senior Bowl he beat up pretty much everybody as well, before having to fly home after the second day with a banged up foot.
Chase Claypool, Notre Dame
Growing up in British Columbia, Claypool did not receive a lot of attention early on and only when he started posting his highlights on Facebook, people started noticing him. He did ultimately become a top-20 receiver recruit out of high school and landed at Notre Dame. His first year with the Fighting Irish he had more special teams tackles (eight) than receptions (five), but started eight of 12 games as a sophomore. The following season he became a full-time starter, but it was last season when he turned into the Irish’s number one target, as he broke out with 66 catches for 1037 yards and 13 touchdowns on 15.7 yards per grab.
Much like Baylor’s Denzel Mims, Claypool has had an outstanding pre-draft process. He showed up at Senior Bowl week weighing in at 229 pounds, where he already flashed as a big-bodied target who could really move, and added another nine lbs until the combine. While it seemed he would fully embracing the label of a move tight-end at the next level, according to him that was mostly due to the amount of water he drank and his testing would certainly suggest that he is a receiver. The Notre Dame standout ran an incredible 4.42 and blowing up the leaping events (40.5-inch vert and 10’6”). This put him as the only player in combine history with those types of measurements to run sub-4.5 not named Calvin Johnson.
Claypool is another one of those long strider, who can quickly eat up cushions versus off-coverage. He tracks the ball over his head really well and made a bunch of back-shoulder catches along the sideline with a defenders right there or hauled in comeback routes. Claypool is highly physical against DBs when he wants to get them out of his face and runs an excellent curl route at the goal-line, where he really attacks the outside shoulder of the defensive back and then snaps off his route back towards the QB to not give the defender any angle to get back. You see him soar through the air and make some outstanding catches with the ball at the highest point.
After the catch he is extremely physical, using his off-arm well to keep guys away from his body and dropping the shoulder one some defenders trying to get in his way. He was brought across the field on shallow crossers as the single receiver on trips sets or other ways to run off the defense and give him space to work with. Claypool still got down the field as a gunner for the Fighting Irish as the established number one option last season and plays that face of the game with great pride. He looked like a man amongst boys in Notre Dame’s bowl game versus Iowa State and over the course of last season he came up with several big catches when his team needed him most.
With that being said, Claypool Has to show more urgency getting into some of his routes and being more effective at getting off press. He doesn’t create a large distance between him and the defender at the top of his routes all the time. Claypool dropped seven passes last season and is not the most natural catcher of the ball, often times guiding it into his frame. Added to the fact he is not super excited to get involved as a blocker. He kind of a one-year wonder for the Irish and is far from a finished product at this point.
The big question is – Do you evaluate Claypool as a wide receiver or more of a move tight-end? To me he is a big slot with incredible athletic upside and a lot of room to grow. If you need somebody to be a productive right away, he might not be your cup of tea, but Claypool has improved every single season and his best football is still ahead of him. I wouldn’t mind investing a mid-day two pick in such a prospect.
Van Jefferson, Florida
The son of 13-year veteran receiver and current New York Jets assistant coach Shawn Jefferson, Van was a four-star recruit himself and chose Ole Miss initially. After redshirting his first year on campus, he started 12 games the next season, when he caught 49 passes for 543 yards and three TDs, earning himself Freshman All-American honors. The following year his numbers went down just a slither, but he decided to transfer to Florida after graduating. He was already the Gators leading receiver in 2018, but as a senior he put up a career-high 657 yards and six scores. Altogether, he caught 175 passes for 2159 yards and 15 touchdowns through two years with Ole Miss and Florida respectively.
Jefferson may not have the size these last few guys I talked about do, but at 6’1”, 200 pounds with almost 33-inch arms, Jefferson is certainly not small and uses his body exceptionally well. He became the number one receiver for the Gators in 2019, really connecting with backup quarterback Kyle Trask, who was inserted into the lineup once the starter got hurt. Jefferson does a great job getting off press with different release techniques to keep defenders off balance. He is extremely sudden and runs incredibly crisp routes. Jefferson has incredibly loose hips and keeps corners on their heels with a bunch of different gears and footwork. He can break off towards the comeback in basically one step and when he runs in-breakers, he can actually have his shoulders pointed slightly towards the sideline to sell the outside release and then plant that far foot to cut across the DBs face. Jefferson then uses his tendencies as a route-runner against his opponents on double-moves.
The crafty route-runner also shows the ability to elevate and pluck the ball out of the air. He works back towards the ball and snatches it, doing a nice job putting his body in-between himself and the defender on routes back towards the QB, before quickly securing the ball. I think his ability to adjust to zone coverages on the fly is also excellent. Jefferson was one of the guys to actually give LSU’s superstar cornerback Derek Stingley some work and in the Auburn game he made Noah Igbinoghene commit consecutive pass inference penalties. For anybody who wants to label Jefferson a slot receiver only, all but nine of his 49 receptions came as the outside guy, even if he primarily was the number two receiver in trio sets. He is also pretty slippery with the ball in his hands, giving little nods and jab-steps, and does not leave free yardage on the table, as he averaged 5.4 yards after the catch per reception last season. Jefferson was the best and most consistent all-around receiver during Senior Bowl week, winning with his ability to get off press and his exquisite route-running. He had some absolutely perfect reps down in Mobile.
While he definitely shows enough aggressiveness and willingness to be a good blocker, Jefferson is not particularly strong and slips off guys by not being balanced enough. I also wouldn’t call him a true burner and I’m not sure how much better of an athlete he can become. Jefferson’s production in college has been more consistent than overly impressive and he will turn 24 before his rookie season even starts. He is pretty close to being a finished product without the same kind of upside some of these other guys have.
That background as a coach’s son is very apparent with Jefferson. He is technically advanced in several areas of the game, even if he isn’t the biggest physical freak out there. I think he can come right be and be an outstanding number two receiver with the ability uncover thanks to his loose lower body and route-running savvy. I like him over a large group of talented yet unrefined receivers.
Right behind them:
Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan), Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty), Gabriel Davis (UCF), Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky), Tyler Johnson (Minnesota), Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin), Bryan Edwards (South Carolina), James Proche (SMU), K.J. Hill (Ohio State)
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