In the 2020 NFL draft 4 wide receivers have strong grades as top 22 players in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma end CeeDee Lamb, Alabama speedster Henry Ruggs III and LSU’s Justin Jefferson.
If any of those 4 wide receivers are on the board when the New Orleans Saints pick at 24 it would be hard to pass on any of those talented ends. But what if all are off the board and you get a deal to acquire extra picks and trade down?
Under Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis the Saints have been known to trade up for player and not to trade back to acquire extra picks, but there is a first time for everything and the Saints don’t have a second round choice or a seventh round pick.
The debate is who goes 5th overall as a wide receiver and where will the next run on wide receivers occur. Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk also have 1st round pick grades and Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault and TCU’s Jalen Regor follow them closely, but when we gets late in Round One the lure to take the big lineman comes into play.
I have always felt that as we get closer to draft time the “Big Man” wins the battle. Back in 1987 then-New Orleans Saints general manager Jim Finks gave me this draft nugget. Finks told me “You know most fans want a running back, wide receiver or a defensive back, but the Greeks selected this many, many years ago. If you have a chance to select a talented big man or a talented smaller guy, you go with the big man. And I think that applies to the NFL draft also.”
And I think it will apply to the 2020 NFL draft also. The names you will hear as possible late 1st round pick offensive linemen wise are Josh Jones (Houston) and Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) and defensively players like Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State), Ross Blacklock (TCU), Marlon Davidson (Auburn) and Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M).
Not to mention a host of cover cornerbacks the Saints may also eye at #24 or in a trade down scenario.
There is an overload of top ranked wide receivers and in a league that puts a premium on offensive linemen and defensive linemen and so the wide receivers we think may go in Round One- will drop into the second round and some even into Round 3.
From 2007-2019 there has just been 4 drafts that have produced 5 wide receivers or more go in Round One.
1st Round Pick WR’s from 2007-2019……
2007- 6, 2008- 0, 2009- 6, 2010- 2, 2011- 3, 2012- 4, 2013- 3, 2014- 5, 2015- 6, 2016- 4, 2017- 3, 2018- 2, 2019- 2
Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in my opinion is the fifth wide receiver to come off the board. The former JUCO All-American is a big time threat every time he touches the ball as a receiver, runner and return man. Last season he caught 65 passes, averaged 18.3 yards per catch and scored 8 touchdowns. He also averaged 31.9 yards per kickoff return and 16.1 yards per return as a punt returner. Aiyuk is a high-point end with a huge wingspan and he is an elusive runner in the open field.
Denzel Mims is also a talented wide receiver who could be a late 1st round selection. The 6-2, 210-pound end from Baylor has tremendous foot speed (sub 4.40 40-yard dash speed), he has a 38 ½ -inch vertical leap and he is known for his physical/box-out skills as a receiver. Over the past two seasons the talented Mr. Mims has caught 121 passes and 20 of them went for TD’s. While he still needs some work as a route runner-he is tremendously gifted as a receiver and his ability to excel in the red-zone are obvious.
Clemson’s Tee Higgins has been a big-play threat in the Tiger passing game. The lengthy 6-3, 215-pound wide receiver has averaged 20.3 yards per catch in 2017, 15.9 yards per catch as a sophomore and 19.8 yards per catch as a junior. He has scored 25 TD’s over the past two seasons and he possesses an 81-inch wingspan to reach out and make grabs. While Tee is not a super quick or a super-fast end getting off the line of scrimmage, but once he gets those wheels turning, he is explosive.
Laviska Shenault, Jr. from Colorado would be a sure-fire 1st round pick if there were not some question marks about his long term durability at the next level. He has had surgeries for a turf toe injury, a torn labrum and now he has undergone surgery for a soft-tissue issue in the groin area. The 6-0, 228 pound end is built like a running back and he runs like a halfback with the ball in his hands. He is a dynamic football player as a runner on the jet sweep plays and reverses, and Shenault is a savvy route runner. Shenault came to the 2019 Manning Camp and he wowed the top QB’s there with his physicality, his sure hands and his ability to quickly turn up the field.. But his injuries just might keep him out of Round 1.
TCU’s Jalen Reagor is another end with late 1st or early 2nd round pick grades. Jalen’s dad, Montae, was an NFL defensive end for 9 seasons. Reagor is a former standout in track in the sprints and also as a long jumper. The big play end is known for his ability to go over the top of a defensive back and catch the ball at the high point due to his 42-inch vertical leap. Reagor, 5-10, 205, will need some refinement work with his route-running skills, but his speed, leaping skills and openfield running vision are outstanding. And Jalen is also a skilled punt and kickoff return man.
Michael Pittman is a player I really like in this draft class. The USC standout is no speed merchant, but he has a huge frame and length at 6-4, and 225 pounds. The sure-handed Pittman caught 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 TD’s last season for the Trojans. Pittman is so good at using his big body to shield defenders from the ball, he has excellent concentration skills and he is a playmaker in the short to intermediate areas of the field. His dad, Michael Pittman, was also a very good NFL halfback.
Another big man wide receiver is Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool. The former Canadian prepster caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards, averaged 15.7 yards per catch and caught 13 TD’s last season for the Irish. The 6-4, 238 pound end has great size, he is physical battling for contested footballs and he has great leaping skills with a 40 ½-inch vertical leap. Chase will need some work on getting into and out of his cuts and breaks quicker, but he is very talented and he has some untapped potential as an end. He wowed the NFL scouts with his (4.42) 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine at 238 pounds. Claypool is also a very good special teams performer in the coverage part of the game.
Penn State’s K.J. Hamler is not the biggest or strongest wide out in the 2020 draft class, but he is electrifying as an openfield runner, taking a short pass and breaking it for big yardage and he is also a very good kickoff return man. Hamler is just 5-8 and 179 pounds, but he is jet-fast and cat-quick and he can turn and move on a dime. His (4.45) 40-yard dash time is plenty fast enough to blow the top off of deep coverages and he has improved as a route runner.
So with Jeudy, Lamb, Ruggs and Jefferson as top 22 players, I also have Aiyuk, Higgins, Shenault, Mims, Reagor, Pittman, Claypool and Hamler as top 50 selections.
So if you are a team looking for a wide receiver late in Round One and get a chance to secure extra picks and an early second round selection you will have to think about that a long time due to the talent pool and depth of the 2020 wide receiver class.
And then there is the third tier of wide receivers.
Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones was touted as one of the elite prep wide receivers in the nation when he came out of high school. Donovan never hit the high mark as a receiver in college, but he is a thickly built 6-1, 212 pound end who has sure hands, he has really upgraded his route-running skills and he has sub (4.5) 40-yard speed and great leaping skills with a 44 ½-inch vertical leap. Peoples-Jones runs with power after the catch and he is very good at boxing out defenders from getting near the football when it is thrown in his direction.
Antonio Gandy-Golden physically matured a little later as a teenager, but now the Liberty standout has grown into quite a big man end. The 6-4, 222 pound receiver has caught 240 passes at Liberty and 33 of them went for TD’s. Golden has excellent leaping and timing skills with the ball in flight and he is a MAN fighting for the ball in contested spots. His box out skills and strong hands will have NFL scouts intrigued with his potential and his continual growth as a route runner.
Texas’ Devin Duvernay in many ways reminds me of former New Orleans Saints WR. Devery Henderson when he came out of LSU. Duvernay’s cousin is former Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner and current Arizona Cardinals QB. Kevin Murray. Devin was a former standout wide receiver and halfback in high school and he also was the Texas 6A state champion in the 100-meter dash. Duvernay is still rough around the edges as a route runner, but last season he caught 106 passes for 1,386 yards and 9 TD’s for the Longhorns. The 5-10, 200 pounder’s ability to catch a short pass and break free was impressive to watch in 2019.
Other than Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy the best router runner in this draft class is Florida’s Van Jefferson. Van’s dad, Shawn played wide receiver in the NFL for 13 years and is now a WR’s coach in the NFL. Last season Jefferson caught 49 passes, averaged 13.4 yards per catch and scored 6 TD’s. He is just so smooth to get into and out of his cuts and breaks and he is at the highest level in setting up a defender and gaining separation downfield. It was discovered at the NFL Combine that Jefferson had a Jones Fracture in his right foot and he will need some recovery time, but he should be ready to go for summer work. Van is an impressive athlete and a skilled route-runner.
South Carolina WR. Bryan Edwards is another big man end at 6-2,212 pounds and he knows how to wall off defenders from the football. What is so impressive about Edwards other than his redzone presence is his ability to break a tackle near the line of scrimmage and quickly get up the field. Edwards is known for his ability to move the chains in the short to medium areas of the field, but he can also break the big gainer. Bryan had a setback in training for the NFL Combine when he suffered a broken foot which will lay him up a few months but is expected back for summer training camp.
And there is also Ohio State’s top route runner in K.J. Hill, a tremendous athlete making the transition fulltime to wide receiver in Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden, Jr.-who has played quarterback, slot receiver, wide receiver and returned punts and kickoffs, Boise State speedster John Hightower, Central Florida’s big play artist Gabriel Davis, Miami (Fla.) undersized, but dynamic speedster Jeff Thomas and SMU’s super productive receiver in James Proche.
And that’s not all of them, but you get the point. For all the talent in this draft class some teams and history tells you the complete story that you will be able to drop down a little and get some quality ends to fall in Rounds 2 and 3 and even into Round 4.
Remember that Michael Thomas (Saints), Jarvis Landry (Miami/Browns), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Steelers), Davante Adams (Packers), Deebo Samuel (49ers), A.J. Brown (Titans), D.K. Metcalf (Seahawks), Courtland Sutton (Broncos) and D.J. Chark (Jaguars), were all 2nd round selections.
And Chris Godwin (Buccaneers), Keenan Allen (Chargers), Cooper Kupp (Rams), Tyler Lockett (Seahawks), Kenny Golladay (Lions), T.Y. Hilton (Colts) and Emmanuel Sanders (Steelers, Broncos and 49ers), were all third round selections.
Mike Detillier is the editor and publisher of Mike Detillier's NFL Draft Report. Since 1985, Mike has done scouting and research on the top college football players available for the annual pro draft.
Purchase Mike Detillier's 2020M & D Draft Guide at www.mikedetillier.com.
Mike Detillier, based in southern Louisiana, is editor and publisher of Mike Detillier's NFL Draft Report. He's also the college and pro football analyst for WWL 870 AM Radio in New Orleans, a sports columnist for several newspapers and Web sites, and a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country.