If you’ve been keeping up with the pre-draft process, you likely know that the wide receiver group is probably the deepest position in this year’s class, and it has the potential to shatter some records. There have never been more than seven wide receivers taken in the first round (2004) or 12 in the first two rounds (2014).
In addition to it being a very talented group, this might also be the toughest position to rank, but the show must go on! These opinions might not be popular with everyone, but the tape never lies!
No. 1: CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)
Measurables: 6-foot-2, 198 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.50 seconds
2019 Stats (13 games): 62 receptions, 1,327 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor (Big 12 Championship)
Analysis: The top two are virtually a coin flip, and it largely comes down to what your favorite flavor is. With that said, Lamb plays bigger and faster than even his Combine measurements indicate. He has an elite catch radius for a receiver his size and excellent playmaking ability that may give him a slight edge over the rest of the pack.
I often find myself struggling to understand how a player can be as elusive as he is. He’s not remarkably quick, but his ability to make tacklers miss him is seemingly unrivaled.
If you want to take him to the ground, you’d better either wrap him in a bearhug or really hit him.
And even if you do that, you can expect retaliation.
Most of all, he seems to spark the imagination. He’s not simply a Lincoln Riley product. If anything, his diverse skillset is what has allowed Riley’s plug-and-play approach at quarterback — with guys who aren’t super polished passers, relatively speaking — to be as successful as it’s been.
His route-running ability does require some refinement, but it also wasn’t necessarily required of him at an advanced level in college. Given how excellent he is in other areas, it seems safe to bet on him improving that aspect of his game. But even if he doesn’t, a top-flight offensive-minded coach would have no trouble making the most of him.
No. 2: Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
Measurables: 6-foot-1, 193 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.45 seconds
2019 Stats (13 games): 77 receptions, 1,163 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Clemson (Jan. 2019 National Championship), South Carolina, LSU, Auburn, Michigan (Citrus Bowl)
Analysis: Any praise towards Lamb isn’t meant as a knock on Jeudy. If you want a well-developed route runner that appears to be a more finished product from the moment he steps into your organization, Jeudy is your guy.
Jeudy doesn’t quite have Lamb’s hands or physicality, but he does have an uncanny knack for getting open, and his straight-line speed definitely plays — although I’m not sure him running a quicker 40-yard dash than Lamb convinces me that he’s actually the faster player on the field.
His route running is very refined, often drawing the eyes of extra defensive backs, and his attention to detail as a receiver appears to be strong, but he’s not immune to an occasional case of the dropsies.
He doesn’t appear to be as strong as Lamb, but his overall savviness — particularly his sharp footwork within his routes — typically allows him to get away with it.
Certain teams will likely have a higher grade on Jeudy than Lamb. I don’t think that’s incorrect; it just depends on whether you want to follow the school of Bill Belichick or take the immediately pro-ready player.
No. 3: Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)
Measurables: 5-foot-11, 188 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.27 seconds
2019 Stats (12 games): 40 receptions, 746 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Tape Watched: New Mexico State, South Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn
Analysis: There’s a slight drop-off after Lamb and Jeudy, but not a substantial one. In comparison to the top two, the first thing I notice about Ruggs as a receiver is that he doesn’t run a very extensive route tree. For now, he makes a living off crossing routes over the middle of the field — much like Tyreek Hill initially did in Kansas City.
I’m not a fan of boxscore scouting, and I’m well-aware of how loaded Alabama was at wide receiver, but I do find it somewhat unsettling that Ruggs only had 40 catches, and seven touchdowns isn’t a large number for such a perceived playmaker, either. Returning kicks or punts more frequently could’ve provided me with some more confidence, too.
But still, he jumps off the screen at times when I watch him — particularly in space. Every bit of that 40-yard dash time shows up on the field.
Press coverage is the biggest concern, but that could be remedied by using him as a move receiver instead of an X — although you’d typically look for the latter in an early-first round guy.
All in all, the comparisons to Tyreek Hill or prime DeSean Jackson do appear to be legitimate. His straight-line speed is elite and he does have decent ability to win at the line of scrimmage against solid cornerback play. For a guy who wasn’t thrown to a whole lot, his hands are also more consistent than you might think, too.
Whoever picks Ruggs will have to be creative, but with any luck, they could end up with one heck of a player.
No. 4: Justin Jefferson (LSU)
Measurables: 6-foot-1, 202 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.43 seconds
2019 Stats (15 games): 111 receptions, 1,540 receiving yards, 18 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Texas, Florida, Georgia (SEC Championship), Oklahoma (National Semifinal), Clemson (National Championship)
Analysis: Whereas Ruggs feels like more of an offensive weapon, Jefferson is a much more polished receiver. He spent most of his career as a true wideout, but he transitioned into a bit more of a slot receiver role in 2019 — and boy, was he a star in that role.
That was four fingers for four touchdowns in that game, by the way.
His insane production certainly won’t hold up in the NFL, where there will be less freedom in space, but he should be a very solid possession receiver that can be moved inside or outside.
My biggest fear with Jefferson is that the offensive system he was in — with a quarterback like Joe Burrow — bought him some chunk plays that he won’t get in the pros, but he at least has a strong sense of how to get open on- or off-script.
Jefferson seems to have a higher floor but lower ceiling than Ruggs. I don’t think that 40 time is quite legitimate, either — not that I think he faked it, but he doesn’t appear to play to his speed like CeeDee Lamb, for example. Still, I’d bank on him as a productive receiver who can play multiple roles.
No. 5: Denzel Mims (Baylor)
Measurables: 6-foot-3, 207 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.38 seconds
2019 Stats (13 games): 66 receptions, 1,020 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Texas Tech, Texas, Iowa State, Baylor (Big 12 Championship)
Analysis: First of all, I think this next group of four (maybe even five) players is very interchangeable and scheme- or need-specific. Mims appears to be the best blend of everything, though, and I’ve tried to rank them along those lines.
Mims’ Combine and Senior Bowl performances essentially reaffirmed (or slightly — but only slightly — boosted) what I already thought of him. Honestly, I was higher on him all year than most analysts were.
For starters, while his 40-yard dash time opened some eyes, I had never viewed his speed as a concern in any way. Even playing through a fracture in his foot last season, he had no trouble blowing by defensive backs.
Nonetheless, the only reason I wasn’t — and still am not — convinced that Mims is a solidified, no-doubt first-round pick is that his hands are alarmingly inconsistent, and he often isn’t the same star player when he isn’t running up the perimeter of the field.
Still, he makes so many contested catches and so frequently extends for balls you don’t think he can catch that it makes you dream of what he could become under the right tutelage.
Baylor receivers have a label at the next level: guaranteed busts. If ever there was a player to buck that trend, it appears to be Mims. The size-and-speed combination he possesses is something NFL franchises drool over.
No 6: Tee Higgins (Clemson)
Measurables: 6-foot-4, 216 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.54 seconds (Pro Day)
2019 Stats (15 games): 59 receptions, 1,167 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Texas A&M, Syracuse, South Carolina, Virginia (ACC Championship), LSU (National Championship)
Analysis: Higgins’ production isn’t as overwhelming as I feel like it could be, but that doesn’t bother me. In my mind over the course of the season, I thought he was going to rank higher than this — probably in the top four, and possibly even the top three. But now that there’s a full set of tape on every other player, it’s more difficult than I expected to make a case for Clemson’s top receiver. I still have high expectations for him, though.
He didn’t test exceptionally well, but he’ll always be a matchup problem. He can line up anywhere, and it’s difficult for anyone to guard him — although that may change as he faces better cornerbacks in the NFL.
If you try to match him with size, he’ll blow past the coverage.
But if you try to put a smaller — perhaps quicker — cornerback on him, he’ll climb the ladder for a big play anyway.
Just face it; if the ball is anywhere near Higgins, he is going to find a way to catch it.
And then, even if you think you have him stopped in coverage, he can find another way to make a play.
He’ll have to become a bit more creative in his routes and in beating press coverage at the next level, but his experience at all three receiver positions could make him a mismatch. A.J. Green may be a high-end comparison, and he has some work to do if he wants to tap into that, but it’s honestly attainable.
No. 7: Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State)
Measurables: 6-foot-0, 205 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.50 seconds
2019 Stats (12 games): 65 receptions, 1,192 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Michigan State, Washington State, USC, Oregon State, Oregon
Analysis: Aiyuk is the definition of a playmaker; there’s just a bit less known about him than other receivers. He has good hands, he’s a physical specimen for someone as small as he is, and he’s great at creating yards after the catch.
One of the other things I like about him is something that also makes me pause. He’s a two-year player after starting his career in Junior College. That could either mean he’s a late bloomer, or it could mean he’s not as good as his production and film look — especially since he did it in the Pac-12, which is generally accepted as the worst Power-5 conference. I think he’s the real deal, though, and his pre-draft process has done him a lot of good — although his performance against Oregon did, too.
He honestly doesn’t look like an incredibly comfortable wideout, although that may partly be a product of the the system he played in. He looks most natural when he either receives bubble screens to the boundary or lines up inside.
Even if teams aren’t as confident in him as some of the other name-brand receivers — which is fair — Aiyuk has an elevated floor, since he also excels at returning kickoffs and punts.
He’s more quick-twitch than straight-line fast, which could make him the ideal slot receiver.
There’s a bit of Deebo Samuel to him, and I think he would be great in a complimentary move receiver role in a similar offense to Kyle Shanahan’s in San Francisco.
No. 8: Jalen Reagor (TCU)
Measurables: 5-foot-11, 206 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.47 seconds
2019 Stats (15 games): 43 receptions, 611 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns (2 punt return TDs)
Tape Watched: Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, West Virginia
Analysis: Reagor is a much better vertical threat than Aiyuk, although some of the same versatility elements also apply to him.
Whereas Aiyuk has been on the rise over the last couple years, Reagor’s 2019 production was split nearly in half compared to 2018 due to inconsistent quarterback play.
That’s a great showcase of athleticism by Reagor, but it’s also one of far too many missed throws by freshman Max Duggan from last season. Don’t hold that against Reagor.
His physicality in press coverage will be nitpicked by some — and it is an area where he could stand to improve — but that likely just means he should be used as more of a move receiver initially. That’s not to say he can’t be physical at the catch point, though.
He gives me Terry McLaurin vibes. I see him likely being more of a downfield threat like Brandin Cooks — I think his 40 time is much closer to Cooks’ (4.38) than he showed at the Combine. In fact, he supposedly ran a sub 4.3 prior to last season.
He could also end up becoming somewhat of a multidimensional decoy — deep flies, crossing routes, and some jet sweeps — to give defenses a guy to keep their eyes on at all times. He doesn’t have extensive experience in a true offensive weapon role, but his ability as a kick returner leads me to believe he has it in him.
No. 9: Michael Pittman Jr. (USC)
Measurables: 6-foot-4, 223 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.52 seconds
2019 Stats (13 games): 101 receptions, 1,275 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns
Tape Watched: UCLA (2018), BYU, Utah, Washington, Colorado
Analysis: If you’re looking beyond the first round talents — I’ll cut that list off after Higgins, for this argument’s sake — for a true X receiver, Pittman is who you want. He is the prototypical big, 4.5-plus 40-yard dash possession receiver. He doesn’t have top-tier ball skills, but they’re not far from it.
Pittman has a lot of the same qualities I saw in N’Keal Harry last year, and he snuck into the first round. He’ll bully cornerbacks that can’t match up with him physically, and he knows how to turn himself into a runner with the ball in his hands — even if he doesn’t become a bowling ball to tackle, like Aiyuk.
I wouldn’t call it a strength, but he also has the ability to beat you vertically if you give him the opportunity.
It’s in vogue to search for the latest version of the best players in the league. Former second-round pick Michael Thomas has cemented himself near the top — if not at the top — at wide receiver, and he got there without a large track record of production in college or stellar pre-draft testing, aside from his large frame. Pittman might fit that mold better than anyone in this draft class, so don’t be shocked if he gets taken sooner than I’m projecting him to — mid-to-late second round.
No. 10: Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado)
Measurables: 6-foot-1, 227 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.58 seconds
2019 Stats (11 games): 56 receptions, 764 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Nebraska (2018), UCLA (2018), Nebraska, Oregon, USC
Analysis: Shenault seems to come with a lot of risk/reward potential. I understand what people like about Shenault. To state it concisely, it’s the combination of wide receiver skills…
…and downhill running ability, including via direct snaps.
But there are also things I’m not a fan of. I think his route running is significantly below NFL quality right now, although he is young and moldable.
When you see him on the field — just physically standing there — he looks like a No. 1 guy. He’s big, and he uses that size to his advantage. The trouble is he also seems to use it to his detriment. He’s a bit on the slow side, and he also has a considerable injury history, much of which can be attributed to him taking too much punishment.
In fact, he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash with a core injury that he has since undergone surgery for — maybe that’s why he ran a bit slower than he appeared to during games.
To be clear, I don’t hate Shenault as a prospect, but I do think some things need to change. Some coach needs to find a middle ground between his 2018 — 86 catches for 1,011 yards in only nine games — and 2019 seasons while also keeping him healthy. That’s absolutely a challenge, but I also think that with the right coach — one who both has an innovative system and commands enough respect to get Shenault to change his mentality on absorbing unnecessary contact — his upside is very high. I’m just not certain which direction he should go.
Is he a Cordarelle Patterson-like offensive weapon, or does he likely become a Sammy Watkins-style possession receiver. Is he even as fast as either of them? His (potentially injury-impacted) 40 time is about 0.15 seconds slower than both of theirs.
Who knows? Maybe he can even throw the ball a little bit and become the new Taysom Hill. Whatever he is, there will be some risk involved, but he also has franchise-altering upside.
Just Missed the Cut
I know we committed to ranking the top ten players at each position, but there are two more receivers I really like and wish I could’ve gotten into “The 10”. Truthfully, I think they’re probably also second-round talents — that’s how deep this year’s wide receiver group is.
KJ Hamler (Penn State)
Measurables: 5-foot-9, 178 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: 4.27 seconds (Pro Day — or so he claims)
2019 Stats (13 games): 56 receptions, 904 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Ohio State (2018), Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota
Analysis: Hamler is my favorite slot receiver in this class after Aiyuk, and he’s also a solid kick and punt returner.
I wish I knew his 40-yard dash time, but he unfortunately didn’t have a chance to run it. Still, it’s quite apparent that he’s faster than any of the top receivers other than Ruggs. He’d probably garner more attention if he played alongside a better quarterback.
Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)
Measurables: 6-foot-1, 206 lbs.
40-Yard Dash: N/A
2019 Stats (13 games): 86 receptions, 1,318 receiving yards, 13 touchdowns
Tape Watched: Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Auburn (Outback Bowl)
Analysis: I really wish Johnson would’ve run the 40-yard dash. Speed is the aspect of his game that I’m the most uncertain about, but I like everything else. He’s the one relatively under-the-radar player that I’ll really “pound the table” for.
He’s the type of receiver that’s average in every way but still manages to consistently get open, catch a lot of passes, and occasionally make a highlight grab that makes your jaw drop. He’s also managed to be extremely productive on third down, “near the sticks” and in the red zone, and all of those things have immense value. He was also arguably most productive in the five-game stretch to end the season, despite the fact that four of the teams he faced were ranked with strong defenses. If he had more game-breaking ability, he’d easily be in my top 10.
I’d like to quickly make note of the fact that the clips I’ve included are not my own. The film I’ve included comes via Youtube from Mark Jarvis, Jesse Fritsch, Christopher Ransom, kielpro88, SkolMitzel Cuts, Devy Deep Dive, Radish Cutups, Traskismo, Cachorro NCAAF, FF Astronauts, and Brad Kelly — one of my favorite Twitter follows.
As for this position group, expect to hear these names and more called early and often late next week. And keep those records — seven in the first round and 12 in the first two rounds — in mind. Don’t be surprised if this group matches or shatters those marks.