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INDIANAPOLIS — In what might be considered the deepest crop of draft talent at wide receiver in years, there still will be only one WR1.
Some might be awed by the speed and competitiveness of Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III. Others might be fascinated by the unique skills of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault or the productivity of Clemson’s Tee Higgins or LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Perhaps the wingspan and burst of Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk will blow a few NFL teams away.
For our money, the battle for top honors in the 2020 NFL draft at receiver should come down to an either-or proposition between Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
Do you want the slippery quickness and route-running savvy of Jeudy?
Or do you favor the yards-after-catch prowess of Lamb?
“I feel like everybody should think they’re the best receiver coming out in the class,” Jeudy said. “Everyone should have the feeling that they’re the best. That’s the mindset you need to have.”
Added Lamb: “We’re pretty different receivers. [Jeudy is] very talented. ... I feel like I am talented enough to be in that position and that argument [for the top spot].”
In their one career meeting, Lamb had the statistical edge, catching eight passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the 2018 Orange Bowl. Of course, Jeudy wasn’t too far off with four grabs for 73 yards and a score — and his team won the game.
Several teams in the middle portion of Round 1 — including the New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles — all could be in the market to make either of them the first receiver taken off the board.
With the slimmest of differences between them, the combine could split just enough hairs to determine which one hears his name first.
Tale of the tape
Jeudy loses the size battle to Lamb, but not by much. Lamb measured in at 6-foot-1 5/8 and 198 pounds, with Jeudy checking in at 6-1 and 193. Lamb has the slight edge in arm length, by a quarter of an inch (32 1/4 inches to 32), but Jeudy has the slim advantage in hand size (9 1/2 to 9 1/4 inches).
Their production also checks out similarly. In 36 career games with the Crimson Tide, Jeudy logged 159 catches for 2,742 yards (17.2 average) with 26 TDs. In 40 games for the Sooners, Lamb registered slightly higher per-game averages with totals of 173 catches for 3,292 yards (19.0 average) and 32 TDs.
Of course, Lamb didn’t play with quite the same skill-position talent at OU that Jeudy did at Alabama, first taking a back seat to 2018 first-rounder Calvin Ridley and later sharing the spotlight and then having to share the receiving load with Bama’s riches at the position the past two years with Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith and others.
One area where Jeudy and Lamb will be scrutinized this week at the combine will be in the athletic-testing portion, especially in the 40-yard dash (which measures straight-line speed) and the 3-cone drill (lateral quickness).
Jeudy might have the edge in both, but the speed concerns over Lamb appear to be overblown. When asked about the projections of him running a middling 40 time, Lamb couldn’t help but smile with confidence.
“I’ve seen [projections of] 4.54 [seconds],” Lamb said. “I am aware of that. Don’t worry, I got it.”
Even though Lamb’s game is not wholly speed-dependent, him running anything under a 4.5 could be a huge victory in this head-to-head battle.
The QB who knows them best
Jalen Hurts is a fascinating prospect in his own right. The Heisman Trophy finalist has a unique style of quarterbacking and is here at the combine to prove that his game can translate to the next level despite his unorthodox skills.
But any team interviewing Hurts during the pre-draft process might also want to slip in a question or two about Jeudy and Lamb. After all, Hurts spent two of his first three college seasons throwing to Jeudy at Alabama and his final college season at Oklahoma throwing to Lamb.
In front of the media, Hurts didn’t tip his hand on which one was better.
“I think they’re dogs,” Hurts said, lumping his former Alabama teammate Ruggs into his answer. “They’re great players. They catch the ball well, they get open, they can run.
“You kind of get the best of both worlds — you get it all with those guys.”
Jeudy turned in his best work with Tua Tagovailoa as Bama’s primary QB the past few seasons, and then later with Mac Jones in 2019 after Tagovailoa went down with a dislocated hip.
Lamb actually saw his numbers increase with the QB switch from 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray — whom Lamb considers to be one of his best friends — to Hurts last season. In their one season together, Lamb’s receiving average jumped from 17.8 yards per catch to 21.4 and his touchdowns went from 11 to 14 despite playing one fewer game.
Rivalry? What rivalry?
Lamb and Jeudy have been dragged into a Twitter debate by fans, arguing which one is better. It’s a war neither is ready to engage in, at least not personally.
“We just met each other, coming out here in Indy,” Lamb said. “Social media would have [you] assume that we are against each other. But at the end of the day, we’re still boys and it’s all [good].”
Said Jeudy, “It’s definitely not a personal thing. It’s just us being competitive and wanting to show every team what we’ve got. He’s cool, I’m cool, we’re both cool with each other. We’ve been talking about that [the past few days].”
Part of that process will begin during the testing and positional work at the combine, which gets underway Thursday. It’s an important step, but they each know what they’ve put up on tape in college far outweighs one workout against air this week.
And they each pledge to be the best versions of themselves, no matter where they’re picked. They might be hyper-competitive on the field, but which one goes first isn’t going to determine their ultimate fates as players.
“This is just such a great receiver class in general,” Lamb said. “We were just talking about it yesterday, me and Jeudy ... you really can’t go wrong, whether you draft one of us in the first, second, third [or] fourth round. You’re going to get a great pick.”
Added Jeudy: “I don't really care where I get chosen, where I get picked. I just know wherever I go at, they're going to get the best out of me. I'm going to come out and compete, work hard each and every day to show them why I'm the best.”
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