NFL draft winners and losers: 2020 draft will be the year of the wide receiver

Eric Edholm

The 2020 NFL draft could feature one of the better quarterback classes in a few years. It could offer some great options at offensive tackle, pass rusher, cornerback and even running back.

But the position that might be most loaded, top to bottom, appears to be wide receiver. We might even end up having to stack it against the greatest classes of all time eventually. That’s how deep this crop appears. Need a playmaker on the outside or in the slot? This is the draft for you? Fast guys, big guys or some combination of the two? You’re in luck for 2020 — this class pretty much has it all.

The beautiful thing is that this is not going to be the type of year where four or five receivers go off the board and then — poof! — the well dries up. There could be standout talent leaking into Day 3, the way things appear to be stacking up.

The 2019 draft was pretty good at wide receiver all in all. But the 2020 class could be terrific.

In addition to the names you likely know well by now, such as Alabama’s terrific group (Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, along with Jaylen Waddle, who might opt to stay in school), as well as Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., there are maybe a dozen more who could project to be quality NFL starters.

Clemson’s Tee Higgins has seen his production level off the past three games, but the 6-4, 215-pound is a height-weight-speed prospect with three years of strong tape.

Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace — who had a tremendous game on Saturday in the win at Iowa State — has proven that his 2018 breakout season was no fluke and is matching that production this year.

TCU’s Jalen Reagor has had a disappointing season from a production standpoint, but his separation ability is highly regarded in NFL circles.

Seniors Tyler Johnson (Minnesota), Chase Claypool (Notre Dame), Michael Pittman Jr. (USC), Aaron Fuller (Washington), Bryan Edwards (South Carolina) and K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor (Ohio State) have had strong final college seasons to this point and only seemingly have boosted their stocks.

There have been breakout stars such as redshirt sophomore Sage Surratt (Wake Forest), K.J. Hamler (Penn State), Justin Jefferson (LSU), T.J. Vasher (Texas Tech), Gabriel Davis (UCF), Devin Duvernay (Texas), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State), Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State) and K.D. Nixon (Colorado), among others.

There are some highly debated prospects such as Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones, Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb, Texas’s Collin Johnson, Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus, Texas A&M’s Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis, plus others, who are better NFL prospects than their 2019 statistics would suggest.

And on and on ...

The 1996 draft class (Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Muhsin Muhammad, Eric Moulds, Joe Horn, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Amani Toomer, Bobby Engram, etc.) will go down as perhaps the gold standard for the position in the modern era. The 2013 crop (Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins, etc.) is the best in recent years.

But the depth and talent that could end up in the 2020 class might one day force us to consider that class among the best we’ve seen in the past few decades when it’s all said and done.

Can Dolphins reel in two biggest fish in 2020?

The Miami Dolphins might want to find a way to both Tank for Tua and Disgrace for Chase.

Prior to Ohio State’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday, I started compiling players for Yahoo Sports’ upcoming top-50 prospects list. The No. 1 overall player on my board was the easiest to fill in.

Chase Young might be the highest-graded defender to come out in a few years — higher for some than Myles Garrett even — and the clear best prospect available in the 2020 NFL draft class. Then Young went out and dropped four sacks, two forced fumbles and another tackle for loss against a good Badgers team that is stout up front.

Shut it down, kids. Barring some wild, unforeseen event, Mr. Young is your best player in this coming class. He probably should be the Heisman Trophy favorite, but we know how that goes with non-offensive players.

And as a personnel man mentioned to us, the way San Francisco 49ers rookie pass rusher (and former OSU teammate) Nick Bosa is playing, being mentioned not only as a Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite but as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, it can only help Young’s cause.

There are some people in scouting who believe Young actually could have a higher ceiling as a prospect than either Nick or Joey Bosa. That’s a pretty strong statement.

Ohio State's Chase Young is special. The Dolphins should try to draft him. (Getty Images)
Ohio State's Chase Young is special. The Dolphins should try to draft him. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins will have the ammo to land both Young and a quarterback if they want to do it that way. They currently own three picks in Round 1 and a stunning six of the first 66 picks the way the draft order stands now.

Based on records and opponents’ strength of schedule, the Dolphins would be picking second overall (their own first-rounder); 10th (from the Pittsburgh Steelers for Minkah Fitzpatrick); 22nd (from the Houston Texans for Laremy Tunsil); 33rd (their own second-rounder); 62nd (the New Orleans Saints’ second-rounder); and 66th (their own third-rounder). They also have extra picks in Round 6 (at least two and possibly three picks in that round) and Round 7 this year. They don’t have a fourth-rounder but are projected to receive a Day 3 compensatory pick for losing Ja’Wuan James.

Oh, and the Dolphins also own the Texans’ first- and second-round selections in 2021. That’s ample ammo to move up into the range to select a QB — that is, if the Dolphins want one high in the draft this year.

Of course, that means potentially passing on Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, or perhaps LSU’s Joe Burrow. Would the Dolphins be satisfied with taking Young and, say, Oregon’s Justin Herbert? What about Washington’s Jacob Eason? The Dolphins also could take the riskier route, punting on a QB in 2020 and hoping for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields in 2021.

That’s likely what we are talking about here unless the Dolphins opted to move up into the top three picks. If they could find a team such as the Washington Redskins, New York Jets or New York Giants — assuming those clubs are picking high enough — to trade with, Miami might be able to get both Young and either Tagovailoa or Burrow.

The Dolphins are in the bottom five in most offensive categories prior to Monday’s game against Pittsburgh. But they also rank in the bottom five in many defensive categories, too. They’re 29th in sack percentage and 31st and 32nd, respectively, in rush yards and pass yards per attempt. Other than maybe CB Xavien Howard (who hasn’t had a good season), is there a young Miami defender who can be considered a franchise building block? Last year’s first-round pick Christian Wilkins has yet to show top-15 talent to this point, but adding Young to the same line could help bring out the best in both.

The Dolphins will be the biggest players in the 2020 draft with all their picks, and they could pull off a rare Daily Double in Round 1: landing the best overall player and a top QB prospect. Even with all the Dolphins’ needs, that’s the approach that makes sense rather than trying to stockpile as many solid to very good players as they can.

Highly rated offensive tackle done for the season

We are big fans of TCU’s massive blocker, RT Lucas Niang, and were prepared to fit him into our top 50 prospects. We even mocked him in the first round a few weeks back — No. 26 overall to the San Francisco 49ers.

But the forecast on the 6-foot-7, 328-pound Niang has changed dramatically with the news that he’s going to miss the rest of the season with a torn hip labrum. Although Niang is said to be getting a second opinion on the matter, the initial rehab timetable has him out for the next three or four months.

TCU's Lucas Niang might miss the Senior Bowl after his season-ending hip injury but could be healthy before the NFL scouting combine. (Getty Images)
TCU's Lucas Niang might miss the Senior Bowl after his season-ending hip injury but could be healthy before the NFL scouting combine. (Getty Images)

That likely would wipe out the idea of Niang playing in the Senior Bowl in late January. The one-on-one pass-rush drills in Mobile could have been the ideal testing ground for him in the eyes of NFL evaluators, many of whom camp out each day of practice down there to watch these battles up close.

Niang still could be invited to Mobile to observe practice and participate, the way players such as former Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph and former Mississippi State S Jonathan Abram have in years past. But it’s clear that Niang’s injury is going to make it harder for him to gain any tangible boost from the Senior Bowl experience if he does attend.

The good news is that reported timetable would allow for Niang to return ready to compete at the NFL’s scouting combine and TCU’s pro day. A first-round landing spot is still a possibility, even if the road to get there might be a bit harder.

The Horned Frogs’ forgotten standout

When we did a sweeping scan of 2020 prospects this summer, one name was recommended to us by a scout whose turf includes the southwest: TCU CB Jeff Gladney, Niang’s teammate. We really liked what we saw in the 6-foot, 185-pound corner, even if there were questions about his slim built. Prior to this season, however, we saw a player who really took a jump in 2018, as Gladney appeared blessed with outstanding makeup speed, underrated toughness and really nice discipline in coverage.

Nothing has changed so far in 2019. In fact, other than a rough outing vs. Iowa State that included a few missed tackles, penalties and slipups in coverage, Gladney has been mostly excellent this season.

Although Gladney allowed a back-shoulder completion for 21 yards against Texas’ 6-foot-6 receiver, Collin Johnson

TCU CB Jeff Gladney allows this back-shoulder completion to Texas' Collin Johnson.
TCU CB Jeff Gladney allows this back-shoulder completion to Texas' Collin Johnson.

… and was credited with allowing his first touchdown on what looked like a blown coverage or miscommunication by more than one member of the TCU defense, he also forced two incompletions while covering Johnson in the end zone (which ended up being massive after Texas missed the ensuing field-goal try), broke up one other pass and tackled well in the open field.

Gladney might not be a shutdown corner, and his size will always be a worry against bigger, stronger receivers — a la Johnson — in the NFL. But we’ve seen enough of what appears to be a pretty tough-minded and confident man-cover corner to think he’s a candidate for the second round in what should be a deep CB class.

Fifth-year WR steps up for Volunteers

When Jauan Jennings committed to Tennessee in the fall of 2014, it was as a four-star dual-threat quarterbacks in the same recruiting class as current NFL QBs Kyler Murray, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Drew Lock. But Jennings quickly made the switch to receiver after arriving in Knoxville.

Before long, Jennings had emerged as a pretty solid receiver for the Volunteers, contributing in a notable way in 2015 and 2016. In addition to catching passes, Jennings also operated as a gunner on special teams, intercepted a Hail Mary pass in 2016, ran the ball several times and threw for two trick-play touchdowns those first two seasons.

But injuries really hindered Jennings in 2017 and 2018 — along with the Vols falling from the top 25 to back-to-back losing records — and forced him to take a redshirt year and come back in 2019 as a fifth-year senior. Somehow, though, it has turned into a blessing for Jennings in the long run.

Jennings has turned in his finest statistical season in 2019, even with only eight games played so far. The 6-3, 206-pound receiver already notched career bests in receptions, receiving yards and rushing production, as well as tying his career-high for touchdowns with seven. On Saturday, Jennings was a man possessed in Tennessee’s 41-21 whipping of South Carolina, logging a career-high 174 yards — beating his previous best by 60 yards — with two touchdown catches.

His most impressive effort was breaking four would-be tackles on his 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the second quarter. Jennings’ 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave Tennessee the lead for good. He was named Co-SEC Offensive Player of the Week and became the first Vol since 2001 (Donte Stallworth) to log 150 or more yards and two TDs in a game.

And Jennings, who is right now viewed as a possible Day 3 pick among this loaded WR group, will earn high marks for his versatility, his passion and his work ethic.

“Jauan has passion for the game,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “He has passion for his teammates, and he has passion for the University of Tennessee. He shows it every single day. What you see on Saturdays is what we see on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He is consistent in the way he prepares and the way he practices. It shows up on Saturdays. I think sometimes that can be contagious, and you need guys like that. Jauan has that way about him.”

Jennings might get lost in the 2020 WR discussion, but his arrow has been pointing up this season after a circuitous route through five years of college.

There’s a sleeper safety at SMU

Rodney Clemons will be among the more fascinating studies when it comes to the 2020 safety crop.

On the one hand, the SMU safety will earn high marks for some standout performances this season. We watched him earlier in the year against South Florida and liked what we saw, and his play on Friday night against Houston also will help his draft cause.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Clemons led the 8-0 Mustangs in tackles with eight and had a big fourth quarter with an interception and a late fourth-down pass breakup in a one-score game to preserve their unbeaten record.

SMU's Rodney Clemons had a big performance Friday against Houston. (Getty Images)
SMU's Rodney Clemons had a big performance Friday against Houston. (Getty Images)

Clemons also has had a few bouts with poor tackling this season; Pro Football Focus credited him with missing a total of eight tackles in three games (Arkansas State, North Texas and Tulsa) and he’s had a few games (North Texas, TCU and Tulsa) where he’s been a little shaky in deep coverage.

But the senior’s versatility will serve him well. He’s lined up deep, in the slot, out wide as a corner, as a blitzer and on multiple special-teams units. Clemons’ up-and down play, along with only average measurables and athleticism, likely will mute his draft stock a bit.

But there’s enough, we feel, in this plucky player’s makeup to make him an interesting Day 3 option.

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