Thor's Wide Receiver Rankings

Thor Nystrom
Rotoworld

My previous two entries in this scouting series examined the quarterback and running back classes. Spiderweb graphs sourced from mockdraftable.com, SPARQ scores from Three Sigma Athlete, Adjusted SPARQ from Rotoworld's Hayden Winks and RAS from Kent Lee Platte

1. CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) | 6'2/198

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lamb
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SPARQ percentile: 70.5

Adjusted SPARQ: .57

RAS: 7.64

Comp: DeAndre Hopkins (Mike Renner)

Neck-and-neck with Jerry Jeudy for WR1 distinction heading into the NFL Combine, Lamb pulled away by answering questions about his athleticism while Jeudy had a down week. Perhaps some of those questions were overblown. Lamb’s just so dang smooth that his hang-glider movement style didn’t steal your breath on the field as often as Jeudy’s breakneck explosion, despite the evidence of its efficacy. 

Lamb is an utterly sensational route runner, varying tempo, crisp cuts, manipulating defenders, impossible to stick to.  He’s one of those high-volume receivers who could potentially lead the NFL in receptions multiple times. And once the ball is in his hands, watch out.

Lamb isn’t a burner, with 4.50 speed, and he’s built thin at 198 pounds. Despite this, he’s a YAC monster who ranked No. 11 in the country per reception last fall. And for all the talk of his frame, Lamb forced 26 missed tackles in 2019, good for No. 2 in the country, per PFF. Because of his agility, balance, body control and innate understanding of leverage, Lamb rarely offers a square target. He bursts through arm tackle attempts like air.

Lamb has a particular skill for out-breaking routes – which require a combination of athleticism, route running, timing, footwork and contested-catch ability – and hitches, screeching on the breaks and working back to the ball in a fluid motion. 

The two biggest concerns are the skinny frame and the fact that he didn’t face much press coverage at Oklahoma. Lamb’s releases looked fine when he did, so I’m not so concerned by that. His dimensions are a little spooky just in terms of precedent, though. Lamb measured in at the Combine at 6’1 5/8 and 198 lbs. 

Since 2000, here are the 10 NFL receivers 6’1/200 (or taller/or lighter) who have drawn the most targets: Chad Johnson, Nate Washington, Keenan McCardell, Brian Hartline, Marvin Jones, Bernard Berrian, Curtis Conway, Allen Hurns, Steve Breaston and Robbie Anderson. Not an inspiring list! The best of the bunch, Ocho Cinco, Lance Zierlein’s comp for Lamb, ran a 4.57 forty. Lamb feels like an outlier – destined to move to the top of this list down the road.

2. Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) | 6'1/193

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jeudy

SPARQ percentile: 21.8

Adjusted SPARQ: .38

RAS: 6.38

Comp: Odell Beckham

A five-star recruit and top-20 overall prospect coming out of high school, Jeudy picked Alabama over Miami and entered college ranked behind only Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tee Higgins at his position. Jeudy’s breakout age was 19.5, and he won’t turn 21 until right after the draft.

An absurdly athletic burner, Jeudy boasts a killer blend of rocket propulsion movement, Ferrari body control, and pool shark feet. The former Biletnikoff winner is most often comped to Odell Beckham. When you see a sub-200 pound SEC receiver with high-octane athleticism, ludicrous body control and polished ball skills, your mind really only goes to one place. It’s a treat to watch him screech on the brakes at full speed as a hapless defender hugs the air in front of him.

Due to his explosiveness and exceptional playmaking ability with the ball in his hands, Jeudy has also been likened to Peter Warrick and additionally draws natural comparisons to Calvin Ridley due to his school and game. Like Ridley, Jeudy is a fabulous route runner who baits defenders and then steals their lunch money. When he gets picked in April, though, Jeudy will be two-and-a-half years younger than Ridley when Ridley was drafted.

He’s slightly built, with a thin frame, and he was seldom pressed in college due to his athleticism and system in which he played. He rarely came through with contested catches, though it’s fair to note that not many corners were able to force them against him. If there’s another nitpick, it’s that Jeudy turned in a surprisingly poor NFL Combine showing, with a shuttle in the Antonio Gandy-Golden range, the same vertical as Gabriel Davis and a broad jump near the bottom of his position group.

You can chalk some of that stuff up to a bad week at the office. Jeudy’s athleticism pops off the tape in a way that can’t be denied. And despite questions about his build and ability to pluck the ball in cramped quarters, Jeudy’s hasn’t had durability issues in the past and his athleticism generally enforces a sort of social distancing at the catch point. He’s going to be a star at the next level.

3. Henry Ruggs III (Alabama) | 5'11/188

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ruggs

SPARQ percentile: ~99

Adjusted SPARQ: .99

RAS: 9.66

Comp: Tyreek Hill

If you’ve seen Ruggs’ basketball highlights floating around the internet, you know that he was a multi-sport star in high school. His highlight reel of dunks is unreal: alley oops, 360s, jumping over kids… well, see for yourself.

The former five-star recruit, also a prep track standout, ultimately hung up the sneakers to focus on the gridiron as a junior in high school. And by his senior year, all the bluebloods had come calling, with Ruggs choosing to stay home to play for the Crimson Tide.

Ruggs will be one of the fastest players in the NFL the moment he’s drafted. Not just a finesse pop-the-top WR2 behind Jerry Jeudy, Ruggs’ catalogue of unthinkable catches is quite long. He boasts one of the largest set of mitts in the class (10.13) and he only dropped five balls his entire career in Tuscaloosa, including just one last fall. He plays with a dog-on-a-bone desire to come down with the ball, and the same attitude can be seen after the catch, where in addition to speed he runs with balance and verve.

Where Ruggs lags behind Jeudy is route running and polish. Jeudy buys separation by setting up corners via footwork, head movement and varying of tempo before shaking them with crisp cuts. Ruggs is a bit more of a straightforward proposition, leaning on his touched-by-God straight line speed and throwing in some pitter-patter steps along the way.

Ruggs’ speed is a field-tipping trump card. It will have to be accounted for on every play. And he’s going to be a fabulous special teams contributor, which needs to be baked into his eval. He ought to be returning kickoffs from Day 1, and should be a tremendous gunner on the punt team.

4. Laviska Shenault (Colorado) | 6'1/227)

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shenault

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: 7.18

Comp: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Daniel Jeremiah)

I’ve been obsessed with Viska since he clowned the Pac-12 for 1,126 all-purpose yards in nine games in 2018 despite playing with a cannon-armed quarterback who refused to throw the ball 20 yards downfield. Last year, all creativity seeped out of Colorado’s offense. Viska was a marked man. His body inevitably (and perhaps predictably) gave out on him.

Shenault is a fortified 227-pounder – he measured in almost identically to Ezekiel Elliott – who’s hell to bring down. Shenault is not only physically dominant – legendary Colorado coach Gary Barnett said he’s the best player to play for the Buffaloes in the past 20 years – but he's extremely versatile. The Buffaloes lined him up all over the place, including all three receiver positions, tight end, and Wildcat QB. He gets to top speed so quickly you’d think he had a head start, and once he’s there, he runs over defensive backs (44 broken tackles over the past two years to lead the WR class, per PFF, despite all the missed time).

He’s both a big-play maven and a high-volume playmaker. Shenault is so tricky to defend because he can pop the top off the defense whenever he's sent on a fly route, but you have to simultaneously be cognizant of all the damage he can do around the line of scrimmage and in the intermediate sector. 

Shenault has drawn comps to Anquan Boldin, Mike Williams, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Sammy Watkins. The comp he doesn’t want is Mr. Glass. A foot injury wiped out three games of his breakout 2018 campaign, and he underwent shoulder and turf toe surgeries that offseason. Last year, a nagging core muscle injury stole one game and haunted him in others. He was diagnosed with an inflamed pubic bone over the winter. And then he underwent core surgery after the combine. 

The medicals are scary, and that, along with work-in-progress route work, introduce an element of risk into Shenault’s profile that is too great for some. His detractors assume he’ll never shake the injury bug and comp him to Cordarrelle Patterson. I saw Shenault take on mobs of opponents and prevail too many times in college over the past few years to dismiss him, though. With a good quarterback and a sharp coaching staff, I go the other way: I wonder what he can become. 

5. Denzel Mims (Baylor) | 6'3/207

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denzelmims

SPARQ percentile: 94.6

Adjusted SPARQ: .89

RAS: 9.78

Comp: DJ Chark

A track star who moonlighted on the hardwood in high school, Mims entered 2019 as a post-hype sleeper after taking a backseat to Jalen Hurd in 2018, a season in which Mims struggled to acclimate to a supporting role (11 drops on 66 catchable balls, per PFF). Mims roared back with a strong 2019 campaign (66-1015-12) followed by utterly dominant showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.

He’s a downfield killer, with world-class athleticism at 6’3/207, a helipad catch radius and that ever-rare ability of seeming to be able to float in the air for an extra split-second longer than ought to be humanely possible. Those 4.39 wheels sneak up on you with the long, giraffe-like strides he takes. Near the sideline, you won’t believe his body control.

Few receivers in this class have the reel of highlight catches that Mims does. If he has a chance to come down with the ball, he’s taking to the sky, and he’s willing to splay himself up there for the catch. He was also dominant in the intermediate sector at Baylor, ranking No. 11 in the nation with a 92.3 receiving grade 11-19 yards down the field (and No. 1 with nine TD), per PFF. Charlie Brewer loved taking advantage of his size and speed on slants.

Some depict Mims as a loafer, but I saw plenty of examples on tape of him getting after it as blocker. And for all the fear of drafting Baylor receivers, keep in mind that Mims wasn’t playing in the Briles offense these past three years. Mims caught one screen pass for zero yards last year and did very little damage within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

That said, his route tree is absolutely pruned at the moment, limited to his downfield specialty and in-breaking stuff in the intermediate area. And while he’s a bear to defend because of his athleticism, Mims gives defensive backs a bit of a break by sprinting through his assignments, generally tipping his hand immediately as to what pitch is coming. Perhaps the scariest element of the profile is the drops, with 19 over the last three years. The discrepancy between his highlight reel and his lowlight reel is jaw-dropping – Mims has numerous catches on his resume that shouldn’t be possible, and several drops that your nephew could have secured.

Despite the risk profile, I’m sky-high on him. Mims played with a noodle-armed quarterback in college but ended up as one of college football’s most dangerous receivers beyond 10 yards downfield. At worst, he’s a very strong pop-the-top No. 2 NFL receiver. And there’s the possibility for a lot more.

6. Jalen Reagor (TCU) | 5'11/206

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reagor

SPARQ percentile: 93.3

Adjusted SPARQ: .57

RAS: 7.48

Comp: Brandin Cooks (Lindy’s)

The son of former Colt Montae Reagor, Jalen is a blur of an athlete. He’s sort of been lost in the shuffle among this high-wattage receiver class, in large part because TCU’s bumbling quarterback corps made sure to deprive him of as many YAC opportunities as possible.

A guy with this much juice will level up in the NFL with a quarterback who can facilitate space.

Only 31% of the passes Reagor saw last season were "on target", per PFF – by far the lowest percentage among the top receiver prospects in this class. Justin Jefferson had 69%, Laviska Shenault 62%, Jerry Jeudy 60% and CeeDee Lamb 59%. Such a tragedy! This guy is utter magic with the ball in his hands.

Reagor tested fine, but his NFL Combine didn’t do his athleticism justice. As one example, he turned in a 4.47 forty after he’d been clocked by TCU coaches at 4.29. Turn on the tape: He’s a 4.3 guy.

More than just a burner, Reagor is a flashy sports car of an athlete, explosive and sleek. When the quarterback play is right, he wins all the over field. His movements are so sudden, and they come at such high speeds, that the feet of defensive backs sometimes get confused. 

Reagor is a victim of circumstance. The school he chose just so happened to go through a spat of rough quarterback play at the end of his career. And once he set off for the NFL, he found himself in one of the most loaded receiver classes of all-time. I think all of that could conspire to make Reagor available at a discount in April. He’s a unique weapon with a game that’ll play up at the next level when he unites with a quarterback that can hit him on the hands.

7. Justin Jefferson (LSU) | 6'1/202

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jjefferson

SPARQ percentile: 81.8

Adjusted SPARQ: .68

RAS: 9.84

Comp: Chris Godwin

Despite being the brother of noted LSU alumni Jordan (QB 2008-2011) and Rickey (S 2013-2016), Justin Jefferson was scarcely recruited. ESPN didn’t even give him a star rating. The 247Sports Composite listed him as the No. 2,164 prospect in the 2017 class. Outside of LSU, only two other FBS schools made an offer: Northwestern and Tulane.

Jefferson played at a powerhouse high school program, put up strong numbers as a senior and had collegiate bloodlines in spades – how could he have been overlooked like this? Because he ran a verified 4.88 forty coming out of high school with a SPARQ score of 82.8 (100 marking average athleticism).

Ed Orgeron took a stab on the legacy and boy oh boy did he strike gold. As a sophomore, Jefferson broke out for a 54-875-6 line on a team whose next-highest receiver had 23 receptions (read that again – in 2018, LSU’s WR2 had 23 catches!). Last fall, in Joe Brady’s pyrotechnic attack, Jefferson went supernova with a 111-1540-18 line, ranking first, third and second nationally, respectively, in those categories.

And then he arrived in Indianapolis and put the athleticism questions to bed once and for all, running a 4.43 forty with a 37.5” vertical and elite showing in the 10- and 20-yard splits. He ranked No. 1 among all receivers in RAS score, even above athletic freaks Henry Ruggs and Denzel Mims (Hayden Winks’ adjusted SPARQ was a little lower on Jefferson’s showing but still had it in the 68th percentile). 

Of Jefferson’s 949 snaps last year, 870 came in the slot. He proved to be exceptional at shooting off the line of scrimmage, picking through garbage, keeping his man guessing with shiftiness, and catching any ball within the distended halo around the frame. Kid’s hands are magnets, and Joe Burrow, if you remember the graphic above about on-target throws, seemed especially connected to them.

Jefferson may be relegated to the slot in the NFL, but he’s likely to be a very, very good one. Don’t put outside work beyond him, either. Jefferson spent most of the 2018 season outside, and he averaged over 16 yards per catch while dominating the aerial touches in what was at the time a ground-oriented offense. 

His move inside was inspired. Jefferson is extremely comfortable in congested quarters, not only finding space while maneuvering around bodies, but snatching balls outside his frame while under heavy duress. And he’s a tougher runner after the catch than you’d assume by looking at him, ranking No. 3 in the country last year with 23 missed tackles forced, per PFF.

8. Tee Higgins (Clemson) | 6'4/216

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SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: 4.2

Comp: Mike Williams

Higgins, a former five-star recruit, is such a gifted athlete that basketball programs were all over him before he elected to give his athletic future to football. Following a forgettable first season-and-a-half playing with QB Kelly Bryant, Higgins immediately began to live up to his mega-stud billing after Trevor Lawrence took over six games into his sophomore campaign. PFF graded Higgins as a top-10 national receiver in each of the last two seasons.

With Lawrence at the helm, Higgins became a cheat code. Arguably the most reliable jump-ball player in the nation the past few years and equipped with an enormous catch radius, the former hoopster would reliably come down with the rebounds Lawrence served up downfield. Higgins finished in the top-10 of the nation in both downfield receptions and deep yards.

Not only does Higgins’ frame and leaping ability give him the ability to reach just about any ball, but his hands are amongst the surest in the class. He was a touchdown machine at Clemson because of this skillset, and he’ll continue to terrorize defensive backs in the red zone in the NFL.  

My concern with Higgins is the lack of athleticism. He sat out NFL Combine testing and then had a thoroughly underwhelming pro day, with decent showings in the 40 (4.54) and broad jump (10’3) and unsightly showings elsewhere, save for the 3-cone, which he declined to run. Maybe for the best. Higgins is a straight-line mover (101.69 speed score) who is otherwise an underwhelming athlete (4.2 RAS). 

He does not change directions crisply, which hurts him both running routes and after the catch. Good college corners were able to crowd him, though Higgins many times got the last laugh by introducing a sliver of cushion before taking off for flight and then out-skying his opponent. For a presumed first-round receiver in a stacked WR class, the translation of his game into the speed-and-space NFL concerns me slightly. But Higgins' ball skills and downfield acumen are so strong that you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

 

9. Michael Pittman Jr. (USC) | 6'4/223 

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pittman

SPARQ percentile: 85.7

Adjusted SPARQ: .47

RAS: 9.19

Comp: Kenny Golladay

A steady riser at USC -- he posted escalating receptions, yards and touchdowns in every season of his career -- Pittman topped out with a robust 101-1207-11 receiving line in 2019 playing in a revamped offense under HC Graham Harrell and a sudden-star freshman quarterback in Kedon Slovis.

Harrell’s involvement in Pittman’s ascension is an important one for the next level, because it allowed Pittman an opportunity to play in a wide-open, up-tempo system -- the kinds which are blossoming in the NFL -- after two years in the wilderness with Clay Helton and Tee Martin.

Pittman catches seemingly everything that's on target, dropping just five passes on 176 catchable targets for his career at USC. Pittman is a killer possession receiver, but the exciting part is that his upside is beyond the short-to-intermediate. Last season, Pittman posted a deep grade on PFF of 90.6.

Pittman had an eye-opening showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, with a 4.51 second 40-yard dash and 85th percentile athleticism. Think Kenny Golladay, who might as well be Pittman’s clone in terms of college production and athletic testing.

He might make his bones as a possession receiver while offering a high floor as a starting WR2, but I’m intrigued by what he could develop into given what he’s already shown on the field and what he proved about his athletic profile in Indy.

10. Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State) | 6'0/205

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aiyuk

SPARQ percentile: 89.4

Adjusted SPARQ: .76

RAS: 8.62

Comp: Robert Woods (Zierlein)

A former JUCO All-American who took a backseat to N’Keal Harry in 2018, Aiyuk exploded for a 65-1192-8 line in 2019 as Arizona State’s go-to receiver. That earned him third-team All-American honors. Aiyuk continued to be a menace as a return man, too, both on kicks and punts.

Aiyuk is a fascinating prospect who requires some projection, as he’s early on the developmental curve. He’s short but well-built, with a fascinating physiological quirk: Aiyuk boasts an 80-inch wingspan. That’s the same wingspan as Chase Claypool, and it’s bigger than guys like Colin Johnson and Michael Pittman. Those unnaturally long arms give Aiyuk a deceivingly large catch radius for a player his size. 

He’s also a home-run hitting athlete. Aiyuk tested near the 90th percentile athletically in Indianapolis, and every ounce of it translates to the field. Per PFF, he led this WR class in yards after the catch between 2017-2019 with 9.9 (minimum 500 snaps). The next closest was Henry Ruggs with 9.0. Whereas a decent chunk of Ruggs’ YAC yards came on sprints across green grass after getting behind the defense, Aiyuk’s elusiveness, power and vision evoke a running back in the open field. He broke 14 tackles last year. And once he finds a crack of daylight, the defense is toast.

There’s a lot to love about the package, especially since Aiyuk will likely be available at a discount because of the depth of this receiver class. He falls outside of the first few tiers of receivers because he was only an FBS standout for one year and remains raw. Despite his athleticism, Aiyuk has had problems consistently separating deep, an issue he tried to solve at ASU by using his long arms as barriers. 

That’s not sustainable. This issue is exasperated by his Achilles heel of coming up short in contested situations (only three contested catches on 14 targets in his career). To become more than a special teams standout and No. 3 WR specializing in underneath stuff, Aiyuk will have to improve in those areas.

11. KJ Hamler (Penn State) | 5'9/178

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hamler

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Tavon Austin (Zierlein)

An undersized slot with a glaring issue of letting balls gobble him up, Hamler nonetheless declared for the NFL Draft following his redshirt sophomore season. It was difficult to blame him due to the one elite trait he possesses: Athletic explosion. He has it in spades.

But oh those hands. Hamler dropped 12 balls on 70 catchable targets last year (17.1% drop rate). Hamler also had four drops in 2018. He’s a body-catcher with a tiny catch radius. You have to fit it in there just so, and even when you do, he may not haul it in. Over the past two years, according to PFF, Hamler ranked No. 103 out of 106 qualifying slot receivers in percentage of catchable balls caught (80.7%). He gets lost in traffic, and he hasn’t yet learned how to naturally locate the ball over his shoulder while traveling at high speeds.

Luckily for Hamler, he isn’t often in contested situations. His athleticism is a true trump card – PFF ranked him No. 4 in the country last year on percentage of balls thrown 10+ yards downfield where he had his man beat by at least a step. He’s a bullet off the snap and a blur from there. And on any ball he hauls in, hold your breath – Hamler has a knack for slicing into open spaces and hitting the jets. 

This kind of athleticism out of the slot, coupled with the punt return contributions Hamler will make from Day 1, give him a Draft Day floor of Round 2. Despite all the drops. 

12. Chase Claypool (Notre Dame) | 6'4/238 

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claypool

SPARQ percentile: ~98

Adjusted SPARQ: .83

RAS: 10

Comp: Evan Engram

Those Notre Dame wideouts know how to prepare for the NFL Combine, eh? A year ago it was Miles Boykin posting a 99th percentile SPARQ score. Claypool just about matched him at 6-foot-4, 238 pounds. Another 10 pounds or so and Claypool is at or near the top of an underwhelming tight ends class. 

He’d be a nightmare up the seam. He’s so hard to deal with downfield because of his size/speed combination – he ranked No. 11 in the country in PFF’s receiving grades 20+ yards downfield last year. But he was scarcely used in the intermediate area. 

He’s a straight-line athlete on the field; his breaks lack snap, which telegraphs his intentions in advance. You get it to him quick and let him bamboozle would-be tacklers – he had 14 forced missed tackles last fall – or you chuck it to him deep.

Like former Irish receiver Will Fuller, Claypool bedevils with drops, with seven in 2019. He dropped six passes in 2017, four in 2018. But Claypool will offer his quarterback is a huge and accessible target downfield. He knows how to use his frame in jump ball situations, and his hands seem to play up in contested situations – he ranked No. 17 in the country with 15 such catches last year, according to PFF. 

Claypool offers sneaky value in other phases, as well. He’s a vicious blocker. He’s an ace special-teamer. And you have the potential to bulk him up for a shift to move-TE if the whole wide receiver thing doesn’t work out. He can already block – let’s just do this thing. All of that raises the ceiling and makes Claypool, in my mind, a safe Day 2 pick.

13. Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty) | 6'4/223

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gandy

SPARQ percentile: 57.0

Adjusted SPARQ: .67

RAS: 6.72

Comp: Michael Floyd

Gandy-Golden is a wildcard in this historically stocked wide receiver class. He was overlooked in recruiting. He went to tiny Liberty, which didn’t even move up to the FBS until 2018. He was a childhood gymnast. He didn’t reach six-feet tall until his junior year of high school. 

You get regular flashes of the smaller gymnast he once was. In particular: Balance and body control. The agility and ability to throw on the brakes at high speeds are rare for a rangy, well-built 6-foot-4, 223-pounder. And with his hops and arm length, Gandy-Golden can steal balls over the centerfield wall that others can’t.

His technique, release and route-running need work. Gandy-Golden does damage when he’s left to his own devices at the line of scrimmage. But when teams press him, he sometimes appears to be a man without a plan. It’ll be interesting to see how he does against more of that in the NFL, because it’s coming – Gandy-Golden’s large frame and lethargic setup off the snap will invite press coverage until he proves he can beat it.

14. Lynn Bowden (Kentucky) | 5'11/204

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bowden

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Randall Cobb

Bowden starred all over the field in Lexington on his way to winning the Paul Hornung Award as the country’s most versatile player in 2019. Bowden did the following in the fall at various times: caught passes, returned punts, returned kicks and (due to multiple injuries at the position) started the final eight games of the season as a Wildcat quarterback. 

He wreaked havoc as a rusher out of the ‘Cat, rolling for 1,468 yards rushing on 185 attempts. It was an incredible display – a slot receiver shifting to quarterback in the middle of the season, running into the teeth of SEC defenses that knew he was coming and averaging over seven yards a carry. Bowden simply sees the field differently, and he’s a banshee to tackle despite his diminutive size, with 48 broken tackles on his rushing attempts last season and 17 broken tackles on 67 receptions the year before. Which is good, because he lacks true top-gear athleticism.

Bowden is ticketed for the slot in the NFL, along with return duties and gadget plays. His NFL team will need to work with him on his receiving craft, as Bowden exasperates his lack of elite juice with a one-size-fits-all pace to his routes. Because he has struggled at the catch point, it’s imperative that Bowden clean up his routes to buy separation. If he can, Bowden could be a dangerous slot for a long time.

15. Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan) | 6'2/212

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dpj

SPARQ percentile: .97

Adjusted SPARQ: ~99

RAS: 9.83

Comp: Hakeem Nicks (Joe Marino)

A ballyhooed five-star recruit out of Detroit, Peoples-Jones was a Michigan football folk hero before he even stepped on campus at Michigan. He left Ann Arbor having not fulfilled his promise. Peoples-Jones underwhelmed as a freshman after Tarik Black went down with an injury, failing to provide Michigan’s sputtering aerial attack with a much-needed WR1. Over the next two years, his last two before declaring, he barely cracked 1,000 receiving yards – combined.

But receivers who are this big, and this athletic, with this much pedigree can’t be dismissed. Particularly when baking in the context of playing with accuracy-allergic Shea Patterson in college, and thus theoretically being wasted. The size and athleticism are rare, and Peoples-Jones plays with plus power. With a better quarterback, in a more advantageous system, might his skillset finally be unleashed?

I have my doubts. Despite his impressive physical package, and even trying to cut him slack for all the off-target throws Patterson heaved in his general direction, it’s hard to jive what we know about DPJ’s athleticism with how few times we saw him legitimately beat his man at Michigan. 

His routes are lethargic, static and straightforward, and he tips off any change of direction by bending and rounding instead of snapping. Peoples-Jones did little damage downfield in college, and he’s exceedingly poor in contested situations, both unskilled at separating and unsure of himself when the ball is baring down. Even acknowledging potential unrealized upside, it’s a pass for me at his list price. The path feels too steep. He’s more track athlete than football player at present.

16. Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State) | 6'4/210

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hodgins

SPARQ percentile: 70.7

Adjusted SPARQ: .45

RAS: 7.04

Comp: Geronimo Allison (Zierlein)

The former four-star recruit finished No. 16 (31.96%) in the nation in market share last fall, a target hog for Jake Luton. Hodgins brings a sturdy frame, nice length and utterly sensational hands to the field. He only dropped three balls on 179 catchable balls over his career and recorded an absurd 67.4% contested catch rate, per PFF. A clever player who doesn’t create much separation but opens throwing windows despite lacking high-end athleticism with nifty feet and good feel for leverage, Hodgins has WR2 upside. 

17. Tyler Johnson (Minnesota) | 6'1/206

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johnson

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Mohamed Sanu (Solak)

Johnson was snubbed by the Senior Bowl – indicative of NFL pessimism – before pulling out of the Shrine, citing preparations for the Combine. He then pulled out of Combine testing, citing a need to work on his technique more for pro day. You know what happened next – Johnson won’t be testing at all. Johnson has reams of strong game film. He’s a big slot who feasts over the middle, with 953 of his receiving yards last year coming on catches 0-20 yards downfield in the middle of the field (with 547 of them coming between 10-20), per PFF. His ball skills are insane – his highlight reel of top catches can compete with any prospect in this class. 

But Johnson lacks short-area quicks and long speed. That’s the reason he was ducking – er, waiting on – the testing. It’s the reason for the NFL’s reported pessimism. He didn’t do much damage downfield in college. It’s great that he’s so skilled in contested situations. Not so great that he’s always in them despite not working downfield much. He should have just tested. It doesn’t feel like the NFL is going to give him the benefit of the doubt on that front.

18. Devin Duvernay (Texas) | 5'10/200

duvernay
duvernay

SPARQ percentile: 68.2

Adjusted SPARQ: .93

RAS: 8.24

Comp: Albert Wilson (Renner)

Only Henry Ruggs, Quez Watkins and Denzel Mims out-blazed Duvernay’s 4.39 seconds in the combine 40 among receivers. No surprise from the former trackster. Duvernay was used heavily on screens at Texas -- 42 of his 106 catches in 2019 came on screens -- with his route-tree pruned by the system. He dropped just five balls on 180 career catchable passes, per PFF, one of the best rates in the class. He’s also a tackle-breaking machine, ranking No. 3 in the class with 23 last year. That combination of speed, hands and elusiveness will need to carry the day early as Duvernay acclimates to pro ball, where he will surely be asked to do a bit more than the Longhorns did. Nifty starter kit, though.

19. John Hightower (Boise State) | 6'1/189

tower
tower

SPARQ percentile: 74.3

Adjusted SPARQ: .46

RAS: 9.05

Comp: Kenny Stills (Renner)

It’s easy to envision Hightower being ragdolled in the NFL with that frame, but it’s just as easy to envision him roasting a pro corner down the sideline. Hightower’s 18.5 yards per catch in 2019 were fifth most in this class and his 4.43-second 40 at the combine confirmed what we already knew. He’s a pop-the-top guy who isn’t going to win many contested situations or break many tackles, but your safeties must account for him.

20. Bryan Edwards (South Carolina) | 6'3/212

edwards
edwards

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Marcell Ateman (Marino)

Edwards broke his foot while prepping for the NFL Combine but should be fine going forward. His breakout age 17.9, the youngest age in the class, with an ethos that blends violence after the catch and majestic beauty in the air on 50-50 balls. But Edwards’ lack of a top gear and wiggle allows defenders to crowd him, and he’s not as good in contested situations as he needs to be for a player who’ll rarely separate on his own. 

 

21. Gabriel Davis (Central Florida) | 6'2/216

davis
davis

SPARQ percentile: 38.9

Adjusted SPARQ: .51

RAS: 7.11

Comp: Quincy Adeboyejo (Benjamin Solak)

The big-bodied wideout packs a punch down the field, using brute force physicality to bully his way through single coverage downfield and in one-on-one jump ball matchups. A size-speed brawler, Davis’ physical potential is obvious, but there’s a real danger he falls flat in the pros if he can’t shore up his messiness with the basics. Put it this way -- he had a tendency toward running blasé routes in a system that was demanding nothing of him at UCF. 

22. Collin Johnson (Texas) | 6'6/222

collinjohnson
collinjohnson

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Malcom Floyd (Renner)

Johnson probably should have declared for the NFL Draft following the 2018 season. His 2019 was riddled with injuries. When he did make the field, slot WR Devin Duvernay saw far more targets. Johnson is an enormous outside option with elite length and catch radius who’ll plant a corner in the turf when run blocking. But he gets suffocated in coverage because of labored cuts and breaks at his size. And while Johnson dropped only 11 balls over 306 targets at Texas, his low contested catch rate troubles when considering the issues he’s going to have separating.

23. K.J. Hill (Ohio State) | 6’0/196

hill
hill

SPARQ percentile: 18.9

Adjusted SPARQ: .32

RAS: 3.77

Comp: DaeSean Hamilton (Zierlein)

Hill considered declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft but backed off at the last second. He left Ohio State as one of the best statistical receivers in school history. Hill’s upside is capped as a sub-200 pounder who lacks burner speed, but he’s going to carve out a long NFL career due to the work he’ll do in the short-to-intermediate areas with his hands, quicks and craftiness. 

24. Van Jefferson (Florida) | 6'1/200

vanjefferson
vanjefferson

SPARQ percentile: N/A

Adjusted SPARQ: N/A

RAS: N/A

Comp: Rashard Higgins (Marino)

Jefferson runs professional routes, using subtle quick steps and even subtler hand maneuvering to break himself open. He doesn’t rely on supreme athleticism -- because he doesn’t have it -- but he makes up for that at least in part with an intrinsic feel for manipulating the defense, even if that manipulation trick wears off after he gets the ball in his hands (Jefferson forced just three missed tackles in 2019, per PFF). By the time September rolls around, he will be 24 years old. And on top of that, it was reported at the end of February that Jefferson required Jones surgery. An older rookie undergoing foot surgery and lacking for standout athleticism is a difficult sell to make, creative as he might be.

25. Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt) | 6'0/207

lipscomb
lipscomb

SPARQ percentile: 53.8

Adjusted SPARQ: .64

RAS: 6.06

Comp: Malcolm Mitchell (Zierlein)

A starter since his true freshman year (19.0 breakout age), Lipscomb is a clever receiver who plays tough, willing to take a shot in order to complete a catch. The calling cards here are route running, sure hands, agility and versatility. Lipscomb is an awesome route-runner – fluid, sudden and deceptive – from both the outside and in the slot. And while he lacks high-end wheels, he’s able to create separation and do damage after the catch due to his nifty feet. I see Lipscomb and Jefferson as similar players, only it appears you’ll be able to get Lipscomb a few rounds later.

Best of the rest

26. James Proche (SMU) | 5'11/201

27. Quez Watkins (Southern Miss) | 6'0/185

28. Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin) | 6'1/202

29. Jauan Jennings (Tennessee) | 6'2/215

30. Quartney Davis (Texas A&M) | 6'1/201

31. Trishton Jackson (Syracuse) | 6'1/197

32. Isaiah Coulter (Rhode Island) | 6'2/198

33. Darnell Mooney (Tulane) | 5'10/176

34. Dezmon Patmon (Washington State) | 6'4/225

35. Omar Bayless (Arkansas State) | 6'1/212

36. Marquez Callaway (Tennessee) | 6'1/205

37. Joe Reed (Virginia) | 6'0/224

38. J.F. Thomas (Miami) | 5'9/170

39. Juwan Johnson (Oregon) | 6'4/230

40. Freddie Swain (Florida) | 6'0/197

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