There are a lot of talented prospects in the 2020 NFL draft, but by far, the deepest position group has to be this collection of wide receivers. There are players not even on the top-ten that can be quality starters, and in my opinion, there are at least four true #1 wide receivers in this draft class. Several teams will target these players in the middle rounds, as each prospect comes with a completely distinct skillset, but nevertheless, there are five first-round prospects at this position, with two elite players headlining the list. Who headlines what may be the best wide receiver class of all time? Let’s discuss.
#1: CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 189 lbs
Pro Comparison: Stefon Diggs
Best Fits: ARI, OAK, NYG
Overall Grade: 91.65 (Top Five)
I could list every single one of CeeDee Lamb’s strengths, but essentially, I’d be naming every attribute needed to be an elite wide receiver. His ball skills are exceptional, as he’s able to track and adjust to the football on any throw, and always seems to come down with any 50/50 ball. He can make any sort of catch necessary to make, and better yet, he’s able to create plenty of separation with his quickness and ability to beat press coverage. His best trait, however, has to be what he does after the catch, as he’s super tough to bring down in space and has amazing acceleration. Whether it’s on a screen, back-shoulder fade, or a go route, he’s as reliable as it gets- he’s exactly what you’re looking for in a #1 receiver.
Lamb is able to run every route he’s been asked to run, but in Oklahoma’s offense, that didn’t include much over the middle of the field. That’s perhaps more about getting more experience than it being a true weakness, but it’s still worth noting. Sure, he’s also not the fastest receiver, but how many players at the position have we seen not be burners and thrive- Michael Thomas, De’Andre Hopkins, and Davante Adams aren’t exactly fast runners. Plus, he benefitted a lot from Oklahoma’s scheme, but then again, he should the ability to create plays on his own with his elite traits.
Lamb won’t be everyone’s #1 receiver in this class, but his ability to be a true outside receiver and come down with any throw, whether it’s inaccurate or in traffic, gives him the edge for me. He lacks a true weakness, is super-advanced, and should produce immediately in any offense. Pairing back up with his former college teammate in Kyler Murray in Arizona seems like a match made in heaven.
#2: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 192 lbs
Pro Comparison: Amari Cooper
Best Fits: NYJ, JAX, OAK
Overall Grade: 90.85 (Top Five)
If CeeDee Lamb is wide receiver #1A in this draft class, then Jerry Jeudy is certainly #1B. He’s undoubtedly the best route runner of this group, and honestly, I’m not sure it’s close. He can legitimately run any route at a high level, as he’s super quick, destroys man coverage, and always seems to be open. Unlike Lamb, the Alabama product also has ideal long speed, while he has the same acceleration and ball tracking skills that Lamb has. He’s not the biggest receiver, but his separation ability is strong enough for him to stick as an outside receiver, although I love what he’s able to do when working in the slot.
He doesn’t often have to be very physical since he creates much separation, but Jeudy’s contested-catch skills, as well as his hands in general, aren’t great, and are probably his greatest weakness. He also hasn’t faced much press coverage, and isn’t the type of player you’d want to count on to catch a 50/50 ball with his lackluster length.
It’s a matter of preference between Jeudy and Lamb, but in my opinion, Jeudy’s not as trustworthy as a catcher of the football, as he doesn’t have the physicality that Lamb consistently displays. Then again, he creates separation in his sleep, and is one the most polished wide receiver prospects I’ve ever seen. Prospects with his refinement, run after catch ability, and long speed are hard to find, and if a team needs a true #1 receiver with the ability to play in the slot or on the outside, then Jeudy is definitely worth a top-five pick.
#3: Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
Height: 6’0″ Weight: 190 lbs
Pro Comparison: Brandin Cooks
Best Fits: PHI, DEN, NO
Overall Grade: 86.95 (1st)
In need of a deep threat? Look no further than Henry Ruggs III, who is the definition of a burner. There’s a legitimate chance he runs a 40-yard dash in the low 4.20 range, and that shows up on tape- he simply blows by defenders due to his speed. However, make no mistake; Ruggs III is much more than just a speed-threat. Despite being just 6’0″ and 190 pounds, the Alabama product is surprisingly skilled on contested catches, as he has rare body flexibility that allows him to track and adjust to every ball. His frame at the catch point is more than just adequate, and either way, he’s doesn’t often have to come out on top on 50/50 balls- he’s able to create plenty of separation. It would also be wise for an offensive play-caller to scheme ways to get the ball in Ruggs III’s hands, as he’s extremely athletic and slippery as a runner, and is a threat to score at any point in the game.
Though Ruggs III is a better route runner than the prototypical speedy receiver prospect, he didn’t run a diverse route tree in college, and also could use some nuance with those routes. Right now, he’s winning only with his traits, which is fine, but won’t consistently work in the NFL. Because of how opened-up Alabama’s offense was, he also didn’t have to deal with contact much, and his release versus press coverage could use some work. When he did deal with contact, he did sometimes lose some of that elite speed, so he’ll have to work on his technique with his new team.
Being able to stretch opposing defenses vertically is extremely important in today’s NFL, which is what makes Henry Ruggs III such a valuable prospect. He’s a dark-horse candidate to break the 40-yard dash record, but even when he somehow doesn’t create separation, his ability to come down with contested catches and adjust to the ball is impressive. With a little bit more work on his route running and release versus press coverage, you’re looking at a Tyreek Hill-type receiver who is nearly impossible to defend.
#4: Tee Higgins, Clemson
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 205 lbs
Pro Comparison: Kenny Golladay
Best Fits: BUF, IND, JAX
Overall Grade: 85.775 (Late 1st)
Whereas is the best deep threat in this draft class, Tee Higgins is certainly the best contested-catch prospect. He seemingly comes down with every 50/50 ball throw to him, as his 6’4″ frame gives him the type of catch radius and length that he utilizes to perfection. Furthermore, his speed and release off the line of scrimmage makes him the prototypical deep threat on the outside, and his ability to play through contact is incredible. For someone of his size, Higgins is much more smooth than you’d expect, and he’ll create more than enough separation to succeed at the next level.
Although Higgins shows aptitude with tracking the football, that trait is very inconsistent right now, and he wasn’t used much over the middle of the field in Clemson’s offense. He’s also not very quick or fast, and won’t be someone who “wows” scouts at the scouting combine. A limited route tree, lack of physicality versus press coverage, and occasional drops are also concerns with the 6’4″ receiver, and it’s also worth noting that he had the luxury of playing with arguably the best QB in college football (Trevor Lawrence).
#5: Laviska Shenault, Colorado
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 225 lbs
Pro Comparison: Deebo Samuel
Best Fits: NO, BAL, GB
Overall Grade: 84.65 (Late 1st/Early 2nd)
Versatility is a critical trait for a receiver in the modern game, and that’s exactly what Laviska Shenault Jr. brings to the table. In college, he played every position besides offensive line, including quarterback on direct-snaps, so he’ll be a very exciting swiss-army knife for offensive play-callers. Built like a running back, Shenault Jr. contact ability, vision, and explosiveness make him an absolute menace with the ball in hands, his run after catch ability is unparalleled. He’s also got sturdy hands and works well in traffic, and is very physical with opposing defenders.
Shenault Jr. is an absolute playmaker, but he isn’t a super polished wide receiver. His routes aren’t very crisp, and he also will have to work on beating press coverage with more than just his speed. This past year was the first season he ran a somewhat diverse route tree, and it shows in his inconsistency tracking the football- he too often puts himself in compromising positions when trying to make contested catches.
With a smart offensive play-caller, Laviska Shenault Jr. has the potential to be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. He’s very similar to Deebo Samuel, who was one of the 49ers’ best players down the stretch, and although his run after catch ability will garner most of the attention, don’t overlook his hands and physicality. He’s the type of prospect that a contending team has to take a chance on at the back-end of round one, with the Saints, Ravens, Packers, Chiefs, 49ers, and Patriots among the logical fits.
#6: Justin Jefferson, LSU
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 192 lbs
Pro Comparison: Tyler Boyd
Best Fits: JAX, ATL, DET
Overall Grade: 83.9 (2nd)
Few receivers produced at the level this season that Justin Jefferson did at LSU, and as a result, his stock is certainly trending up. He has great height and length, and because of that, he is able to track and catch the ball proficiently in traffic. He attacks the ball tremendously, and with that length, will be a dynamic weapon in the red zone for whatever teams drafts him, as he’s a havoc to deal with in the slot. For someone of his size, his route running technique is also superb, and he surprisingly is strong after the catch.
Though Jefferson is a great slot receiver, he actually played more tight end than outside receiver in LSU, as his play speed is well-below average. Therefore, he’ll never be asked to be a deep threat, and that lack of speed will prevent him from being able to separate from man coverage. If he’s not going to be able to separate, then he must add some strength to his frame, as at the moment, he’s not physical enough. Overall, he’s a very limited receiver.
Jefferson’s route running, length, and run after catch ability is intriguing, but since he essentially cannot play outside receiver, he’s not worth a first-round pick. We’ve seen a “big slot” prototype receiver succeed in the NFL with Tyler Boyd in Cincinnati, but there are several glaring flaws to his game, and since he’s limited athletically, he has a lot of work to do. I’m not trying to bash on Jefferson, as I’d invest a day-two pick on him, but he’s coming from the perfect situation in LSU, and is rather scheme-dependant since he’s forced to play simply in the slot.
#7: Tyler Johnson, Minnesota
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 200 lbs
Pro Comparison: Michael Gallup
Best Fits: IND, BUF, NO
Overall Grade: 83.85 (2nd)
Tyler Johnson is a very confusing prospect to evaluate, but it’s hard to not fall in love with his strengths. He displays the sort of route-running savvy needed to succeed at the next level, as he changes directions extremely well. Furthermore, he’s super comfortable working in traffic, and whenever he needs to catch a 50/50 ball, he always seems to find a way to do so. He’s able to work on the outside or in the slot, and with the ball in his hands, he can do damage with his shiftiness and explosiveness.
I mentioned that Johnson is a confusing prospect, and it starts with his catching ability. He’s great on contested catches, but when he creates separation, he really struggles to concentrate and haul the ball in. It’s very frustrating, and may be what is driving down his stock, though his lack of long speed and his struggles getting off the line of scrimmage versus press coverage are also important factors. Overall, he’s a very inconsistent prospect, which more than anything else, will drive scouts crazy.
Tyler Johnson’s highlight reel will showcase an elite route runner with elite contested-catch ability but there’s a reason you cannot rely on highlights- his inconsistency is troubling. If he could even be average with concentration catches, then he’d be a first-round pick, but in the end, he’d be best served as a #2 receiver to a more dynamic #1 option, similarly to Michael Gallup with Amari Cooper in Dallas. He’ll fit in a lot of offenses, but coaches will have to be willing to deal with his unreliable nature of play.
#8: Jalen Reagor, TCU
Height: 5’11” Weight: 195
Pro Comparison: Percy Harvin
Best Fits: GB, NO, PHI
Overall Grade: 83.45 (2nd)
If you want speed at the receiver position, but aren’t sure if you want to spend a first-round pick on Henry Ruggs III, then Jalen Reagor could be a perfect fit. To be frank, he’s as explosive and fast as it gets, and is able to change directions with ease. He’s able to easily defeat press with pure quickness, which allows him to create separation, and when he can’t, he’s better on contested catches than you’d expect. Perhaps most importantly for a deep threat, he’s proven to be capable of tracking deep throws, and is able to adjust his body to catch inaccurate throws. At TCU, he was excellent as a returner, and if you’re worried about his lack of receiving production, don’t be- he dealt with very poor quarterback play.
Reagor is able to create separation with his athleticism, but his route tree and overall technique will have to improve. As a smaller receiver, he’ll struggle against more physical cornerbacks, and his reluctance to catch the ball over the middle means he probably can’t be utilized in the slot. You’d also hope for more consistency with simple catches, as even when the throw is on the money, he often tries to catch the ball with his frame rather than his hands. Plus, if he’s going to be a true impact vertical threat, he needs to vary his releases, as at the moment, he uses the same move every time.
With his elite athleticism, Jalen Reagor is the type of player that you want to incorporate into your offense, whether it be on go routes or on jet sweeps. I’m a little wary about his lack of physicality and his incomplete skillset as a receiver, but as long as you’re not taking him in the second round, you’re likely getting tremendous value by taking a chance on him.
#9: Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Height: 6’1″ Weight: 206 lbs
Pro Comparison: Cordarelle Patterson
Best Fits: DET, GB, KC
Overall Grade: 83.3 (2nd)
As you can tell by now, there are a lot of explosive playmakers in this draft class, and Brandon Aiyuk is no exception. Not only is he slippery and loose when running his routes, but he’s also super dynamic with the ball in his hands, as he truly has running back ability. Since he’s able to create separation, he’s a great weapon in the slot with that run after catch ability, and I also like what the Arizona State product brings to the table as a returner. He’s perfect for teams in need of a versatile player capable of creating big chunk plays, which is essentially every team.
Unfortunately for Aiyuk, he’s not very refined as a receiver, outside of his route running. His hands are inconsistent, and if you’re trusting him to catch the ball in traffic, it’s probably ill-founded. He prefers to not be physical, and though he’s a solid deep threat, he’s not on the same level of Ruggs III and Reagor. That lack of physicality is a major issue, as he can’t beat press, struggles to create separation at the top of his route, and is very inconsistent at the catch point. Plus, he didn’t produce until his senior year, and although that may have been due to N’Keal Harry’s presence, you’d like for him to play better as a complementary option, as that’s the role he’ll have in the NFL.
Brandon Aiyuk is a work in progress as a receiver, but he’s already proven to be above-average as a route-runner, so there’s reason to believe he can properly develop into a starting-caliber NFL receiver. Either way, his running back ability after the catch means he’ll always have a meaningful role in the NFL, and will be very useful piece to the puzzle for any offense. You’d hope for him to be a better deep threat or be more physical than he currently is, which means he’s not a first-round receiver, but he should be a popular target on the second day of the draft.
#10: Van Jefferson, Florida
Year: RS Senior
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 197 lbs
Pro Comparison: Juju Smith Schuster
Best Fits: SF, NE, OAK
Overall Grade: 83.225 (2nd)
Outside of Jeudy, Van Jefferson is the best route runner in this draft class, as his route tree is very diverse and his attention to detail is tremendous. Therefore, he’ll always have a place in the NFL, as he creates plenty of separation from opposing cornerbacks, and works well on the outside and in the slot. Coaches will love his pre-snap intelligence and ability to manipulate defenders, and his overall purification as a receiver means he’ll be ready to contribute right away.
Jefferson better is an instant NFL contributor, as he’ll be 24-years-old by the time he plays in his first NFL game. Though he has enough speed and wiggle, he’s limited overall in terms of athleticism, so he doesn’t create much after the catch nor is much of a vertical threat. The most concerning aspect of the Florida product’s game, though, has to be his lack of play strength, as for someone of his age, you’d expect he’d have filled out his frame a little better. That shows up on tape, as he clearly struggles with contact, and must add more muscle to succeed at the NFL level.
Jefferson will never be a #1 receiver due to his definite limitations, but his polish as a route-runner should excite scouts, as he’ll thrive as a #2 receiver. He’s not as physical as Juju Smith-Schuster, but his ability to play in the slot or on the outside, his reliability, and his lack of upside is very similar to the Steelers’ top receiver. The 49ers and Patriots, who really rely on strong route runners, would make a lot of sense, though several teams should be looking at Jefferson if they are searching for instant impact from the receiver position.
As mentioned, this is a very deep receiver class. Here are the other players who were evaluated and considered for this list, ranked with their overall grade.
11) Michael Pittman Jr., USC (82.95, Late 2nd/Early 3rd)
12) John Hightower, Boise State (82.85, Early 3rd)
13) Devin Duvernay, Texas (82.675, Early 3rd)
14) Denzel Mims, Baylor (82.525, Early 3rd)
15) Gabriel Davis, UCF (82.4, 3rd)
16) James Proche, SMU (82.15, Late 3rd)
17) Isiah Hodgins, Oregon State (82.15, Late 3rd)
18) KJ Hamler, Penn State (81.7, Late 3rd/Early 4th)
19) Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan (81.675, Late 3rd/Early 4th)
20) Bryan Edwards, South Carolina (81.1, Early 4th)
21) Quartney Davis, Texas A&M (80.8, 4th)
22) Collin Johnson, Texas (80.575, 4th)
23) Jauan Jennings, Tennessee (80.3, 4th)
24) Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt (79.9, Late 4th)
25) KJ Hill, Ohio State (78.775, 5th)
26) Aaron Fuller, Washington (78.525, 5th)
27) Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty (78.375, 5th)
28) Chase Claypool, Notre Dame (77.95, Late 5th)
29) Austin Mack, Ohio State (74.475, Late 6th/Early 7th)
30) Kendrick Rogers, Texas A&M (72.025, UDFA)
Lamb and Jeudy are can’t-miss prospects who should be top-five picks, and you can’t go wrong with either of them as your top receiver. However, Ruggs III, Higgins, and Shenault Jr. all have first-round value, but if that’s too rich, there are several mid-round picks that could be absolute steals. This has to be one of, if not the deepest receiver class in a long time, and whether it’s a red-zone threat, run after catch weapon, vertical threat, or polished route runner, each team can find what they’re looking for from this group.