Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 38: Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

38. Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.

6-foot-1, 227 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.98 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Injuries mar his projection significantly. Otherwise Shenault is an unusual, game-changing playmaker when healthy

The skinny: Shenault was a 3-star Rivals recruit out of DeSoto (Texas) High School, helping the team to a 16-0 mark and the Class 6A Division II state title as a senior. He committed to the Buffaloes over options such as Alabama, LSU and other big programs.

As a true freshman in 2017, Shenault had only seven catches in 12 games, but averaged 24 yards per catch and scored on his first college touch, returning a fumbled punt 58 yards against Texas State. The Buffaloes knew they had something interesting on their hands when Shenault was a standout at their spring game in 2018. That’s when he pulled this off:

The stop-and-start ability is tremendous.
The stop-and-start ability is tremendous.

In 2018, Shenault led all FBS wide receivers at 9.6 catches per game, totaling 1,011 receiving yards despite playing in only nine games (three missed because of foot and shoulder injuries). He also added five rushing TDs on a mere 17 runs.

Last season, Shenault missed spring practice following foot and shoulder surgeries and started the regular season slowly, especially after suffering a core muscle injury against Arizona State. He finished strong, totaling 764 yards receiving and 161 rushing with six total TDs in 11 games.

Shenault, who turns 22 in October, attended the NFL scouting combine but had his event cut short following his first 40-yard dash attempt (4.58 seconds), when he aggravated the core muscle injury. He underwent surgery to repair it in early March and is expected to be cleared for action in April or May.

Upside: Rare athlete with acceleration not typically seen in players with similar builds. Rocked up like a tailback but has the straight-line burst and sudden open-field movement skill of a receiver. Ridiculous power — has squatted more than 500 pounds and power cleaned 350. Tested in the 4.4-second range on the 40-yard dash when healthy.

Outstanding size-speed combination. Highly physical and competitive — enjoys running through people as much as he does running by them. Also elusive — can make would-be tacklers miss with hesitation and change of direction. Terrific ball skills — strong hands and competitive desire make him a 50-50 ball artist. Adjusts to off-target passes and can handle the heat (QB Steven Montez tended to throw with extra velocity at times).

Want the full Shenault experience? Turn on pretty much any tape from 2018, especially the UCLA game. He did just about everything in that game. Count the white shirts bearing down on him — how did Shenault get this first down?

Five Bruins defenders can't stop Shenault from making the first down.
Five Bruins defenders can't stop Shenault from making the first down.

Could benefit from the “Deebo effect” — teams that missed out on Deebo Samuel could view Shenault as a similar type of do-it-all difference maker. Outstanding versatility — lined up wide, in the slot, as a true tailback, wildcat QB and even as a tight end in 2018 (see Colorado State, Nebraska games).

Used on jet sweeps and end-arounds — great knack as a runner. Averaged 6.9 yards per carry past two seasons and earned first downs on 25 of his 39 rushes. “Where’s Waldo?” type of player. Could be tried more extensively as a kick returner — his one attempt in 2019 netted 54 yards.

Threatens all three levels of the defense. YAC beast who averaged more than 7 yards after the catch all three seasons and generated nearly 60 percent of his yards after the grab past two seasons.

Mentally and physically tough — has endured tragedy and battled through physical pain. Plays with warrior mentality and hate-to-lose outlook. Urgent runner who almost never goes down on first contact. Good ball security in his career — eight drops and two fumbles over three seasons.

Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. has endured quite a bit in his life. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. has endured quite a bit in his life. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Downside: Lengthy injury history. Has earned some “4” grades from NFL teams that chart health risks from 1 (no health concerns) to 5 (medical reject). Physical style appears to have taken its toll. Practice snaps and usage might have to be closely monitored.

Had several instances in 2019 when he’d come off the field after a hard tackle or sub in and out multiple times on a drive. Best tape comes from the 2018 season, even with a few impressive games down the stretch last season.

Small hands and only average arm length. Straight-line speed has been questioned, even with injury-addled 40-yard dash — has a second gear but might not have a third. More build-up speed than shoot-out-of-the-blocks burst. Plays a bit heavy and might need to slim down a tad. Change of direction skill isn’t maximized without ball in his hands.

Developing route runner — still learning how to separate from press, even with good natural strength and physical hands. Not as effective last season working out of the slot. Inconsistent tracking deep balls. Must develop a deeper route tree.

Doesn’t appear to be a prototypical No. 1 wide receiver. Bulk of his production was manufactured — nearly two-thirds of his catches were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Not as effective separating at the top of his routes. DBs would sit on his routes, waiting for the short stuff.

Drops haven’t been a consistent worry but will begin running before completing the catch at times. Blocking efficiency fluctuated significantly — appeared more hesitant in 2019 amid injuries. Will wildly throw a shoulder at times instead of squaring up defender and getting into his pads. Limited special-teams experience since 2017. Coming out early might have stunted his development, even with injury risk.

Best-suited destination: The team that drafts Shenault must have a plan for him, from how to manage his workload to how to unleash and employ his rare gifts. In the hands of a creative play-caller, Shenault could be a mismatch piece. If he can buck the poor health of his past he has strong WR2 potential.

Among the teams that could be interested in Shenault’s services include the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets.

Did you know: His father, Laviska Shenault Sr., was killed (when Laviska Jr. was 10) as he attempted to switch from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat on the side of the road. Two cars struck him after Laviska Sr. tried to swap seats with his wife, Annie, who was not hit in the freak accident.

Laviska Jr. has honored his father by not cutting his dreadlocks since that day. In fact, because of the rules by his Texas high school’s basketball coach, Shenault was not allowed to play that sport.

He played football, of course, and it was a healthy distraction from a challenging childhood. Three years after the accident, Annie contracted West Nile virus from a mosquito bite, and it took her more than a year to walk properly again. After his father died, the family also lost its home.

Shenault Jr. persevered and turned himself into one of the best high-school players in his region, a fine college player and now an NFL prospect who could crack the first round. He said at the combine that his tough path has made him appreciate the potential payoff even more.

“My dad, I know he'd be proud,” he said. “It would mean the most to me because it wasn’t easy. I had a very long, bumpy road. I had to get everything the hard way, nothing came easy. And I had to put the time and the grind in. So, it would mean a lot to go first round.”

Shenault has many nicknames — among them "Viska," "Honcho" and "2 Live." To his family, Shenault often goes by “Junior.” It’s not hard to see why.

They said it: “I see myself being a star, honestly. I think I would be able to open up more space and just do things that the other receivers don’t do just because of my size and my ability.”

— Shenault on his NFL forecast

Player comp: Imagine a mashup of Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd — minus the hand sizes — and that’s Shenault in a nutshell. The closest single NFL player we could think of is JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Expected draft range: Late first round to late second, with injury uncertainty being the critical factor for his landing spot.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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