The wide receiver class in the 2020 NFL Draft has been heralded since before most of these players were even eligible, and my tape evaluations of the group certainly lived up to the hype. Will they be as impactful year one as the 2014 or 2019 classes? That remains to be seen, but as prospects there is certainly a comparison to be drawn.
To each receiver’s evaluation section I’ve added their Year 1 and Year 3 outlook, not necessarily saying what I think will happen, but what is a realistic best case scenario for each prospect as they progress in their NFL careers. Tons of factors will be at work in determining if these projections actually come true, including quarterback, scheme, coaching, character, health and more, but based on what I can know at this time, I made reasonable high-end guesses as to where each player’s career could be headed in ideal circumstances.
Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III – Photo by: Getty Images
A couple of notes:
• I still hope to watch the following receivers and add them to my rankings: Boise State’s John Hightower, Rhode Island’s Isaiah Coulter, Tennessee’s JaJuan Jennings, Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus, UCF’s Gabriel Davis, SMU’s James Proche, Virginia’s Joe Reed and Texas A&M’s Quartney Davis. I will update the article if I get a chance to put those guys through the grading scale.
• I watched Ohio State’s K.J. Hill, Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden and Texas’ Collin Johnson in addition to the receivers below. Those three did not make the cut.
• My grading scale, in layman’s terms of value:
1st Round = Elite player
2nd Round = Very good-to-good starter
3rd Round = Good-solid starter
4th Round = Spot starter-good depth player
20. Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty (6-4, 233, 4.60)
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Analysis: In some ways Gandy-Golden is like a poor man’s Denzel Mims, thriving in jump ball and contested catch situations down the field, while not always showcasing the route-running nuance and separation quickness needed to create space against man coverage.
The big difference is that Mims was working against Power 5 cornerbacks, while AGG was usually battling lower-level talent. Mims also has far more athletic potential to become a complete receiver, while AGG will likely always be somewhat limited.
I love AGG’s body control, sure hands (one way he is much better than Mims) and physicality after the catch, but as a pure outside receiver, I’m just not sure he can threaten corners down the field enough to be successful with that 4.6 speed. AGG starts so slow off the snap that it can actually sometimes lull corners to sleep and leave them a step behind his build-up speed, but can that really work in the NFL?
There are tools to get off press in AGG’s game, and flashes are there, but he can also get held up by contact without an answer against better competition. His stiffness and lack of burst will always limit his ability to get separation, but AGG will have a legit shot to win a backup outside receiving job at the next level, especially if he can show out on special teams.
Year 1 Outlook: Depth/Special Teams
Year 3 Outlook: The ideal outlook at this point would be Gandy-Golden establishing himself as a starting outside receiver who has improved his get-off and routes to the point of being a solid possession option in the passing game.
Analysis: The first thing Peoples-Jones has to fix in the NFL is his massive false step in his release. That recoil delays his release and partially negates something that should be his best asset: his speed and acceleration. That’s kind of the problem with Peoples-Jones’ game in general – for as unbelievably talented as he is, a lack of overall polish and consistency is holding him back.
Peoples-Jones is a frek athlete, running 4.48 and jumping 44.5 inches at 6-2, 212 pounds, but that athleticism was not enough to create production for him even at Michigan, which is troubling when projecting him to a higher level of competition. Granted, Peoples-Jones’ quarterback situation was terrible, but that doesn’t explain why the former five-star recruit played less than 500 snaps last season, or why he was rarely able to create separation in one-on-one situations.
The flashes from Peoples-Jones are awesome at times, but his best traits are his leaping ability and long speed, yet he has almost no development as a vertical deep threat throughout his college career. DPJ played heavily out of the slot at Michigan, yet isn’t really a good enough route runner or consistent enough hands-catcher to thrive in that kind of possession role at the next level.
If you’re projected DPJ to success, you’re betting that he can consistently beat press coverage outside and win above-the-rim and in the vertical portions of the field with his athletic gifts. It sounds great given his testing numbers, but the fact that it hasn’t occurred yet in his football career has to be at least mildly concerning for NFL teams.
Year 1 Outlook: Depth/Special Teams
Year 3 Outlook: Versatile 3rd/4th receiving option who can help a vertical-based offense inside (over routes, slot fades) or outside (fly, post, corner)
Grade: 4th Round
18. Devin Duvernay, Texas (5-10, 200, 4.39)
Analysis: Duvernay is a pretty easy evaluation, the only question will be whether he can top a team’s incumbent slot receiver to make the Top 3 on the depth chart. He’s got very little experience against press or as an outside receiver, and he rarely plays to his 4.39 tested speed, but Duvernay has elite hands, ball tracking and ball skills when he gets the chance to show them.
Of course, ball skills for a 5-10 receiver are a bit less value than traits like separation and run-after-catch ability. Duvernay checks both of those boxes, albeit not emphatically, making him a solid, reliable slot option than can offer more of a vertical dimension than others in his mold. There isn’t a lot of upside here, but he can play early if needed.
Year 1 Outlook: Should compete for starting slot receiver
Year 3 Outlook: Solidified as starting slot receiver
Grade: Early 4th Round
17. Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State (6-4, 210, 4.61)
Analysis: Hodgins’ ball skills are up there with any receiver in the class. The dude is an absolute highlight reel when the ball is in the air, catching through contact, outside his frame, dancing on the boundary, high-pointing a pass thrown behind him – it doesn’t matter. Body control, smooth adjustments and strong hands are Hodgins’ game, and boy is he good at it.
The problem is that Hodgins’ is a 4.6 receiver who looks even slower on tape at times. He simply cannot take man coverage deep, and NFL corners won’t allow him the space underneath from off coverage that college corners did. They’ll know his limitations and jump into his release space far more often.
Hodgins is a smooth route runner who sells fakes in his stems at a high level, but most of those reps came in the slot, where he’ll likely transition to on a more full-time basis in the NFL. I’d be more excited about that role if he had more separation ability, or if he was more dynamic after the catch. Hodgins is kind of a mismatch of traits with the size and ball skills to play outside, but a big deficiency in speed and explosiveness. It would be a true shame to see his elite ball skills go unused at the next level, but his athletic traits will be up against it to earn a starting spot in the NFL.
True confession – I love Hodgins’ tape, but I recognize he’s not what the league is coveting at the position these days. He is going to need to be an absolute grinder to make it in the NFL, but he competes like crazy on tape, and his hands are so good they’ll keep him around for awhile even if he struggles elsewhere. I’m going about as high as I think is reasonable with my grade for him.
Year 1 Outlook: Depth/Special Teams. Red zone specialist.
Year 3 Outlook: No. 3 receiver on the roster with the versatility to play inside/outside, but might be part of a rotation at the position that gets speed on the field in his place at times.
Grade: Early 4th Round
16. Van Jefferson, Florida (6-1, 200)
Analysis: Jefferson will be 24 years old by the time his rookie season begins, and he never eclipsed 657 yards or six touchdowns in a season at Ole Miss or at Florida. Regardless of what you think of his tape, that is a brutal lack of production that needs to be considered.
For Jefferson, route-running and separation are like an art, and he takes pride and joy in painting a picture that leaves defenders off balance and scrambling to recover. But interrupt that artistic expression with physicality or strong press play, and the beauty of Jefferson’s work can be quickly forgotten.
It isn’t that Jefferson isn’t tough or competitive, he is. But cornerbacks looking to set a tone like Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene found much more success in a physical approach than even LSU’s Derek Stingley, who afforded Jefferson too much clean space to work in. The NFL may need to find a home for the lanky Jefferson in the slot or provide him space by keeping him off the ball in bunch or stacked alignments.
There are ways around that concern, and Jefferson is one of the best short-intermediate separators from man coverage in the class. That, combined with strong hands and attention to detail, are good weapons for any offense to have, even if Jefferson provides very little in the way of splash plays down the field or after the catch. There are limitations here which should push his value into the 90-130 range of the draft, but Jefferson can fill a possession role right away in the NFL, even if his ceiling is pretty limited.
Year 1 Outlook: Inside/outside versatile possession receiver
Year 3 Outlook: I don’t see Jefferson’s game changing much at the next level. Maybe he adds a little muscle to his frame, but at 24, this is likely who he is.
Grade: Late 3rd Round
15. Antonio Gibson, Memphis (6-0, 228, 4.39)
Analysis: Gibson touched the ball 77 times in his entire career at Memphis, 71 of which came during the 2019 season, but he still scored an absurd 14 touchdowns. Easily one of the most dynamic players in the class with the ball in his hands, Gibson beat tacklers with power, violence, acceleration and elusiveness, and he did it in the open field and in tight quarters running between the tackles.
You simply cannot teach Gibson’s natural feel for defeating tacklers in multiple ways, which screams of a player that will have a long career in at least an exciting reserve role and return man on special teams. But Gibson’s physical and athletic ceiling suggest a player capable of much more, provided he can ever master the intricacies of route-running and learn how to beat press coverage (he played in the slot at Memphis and almost never was pressed).
Gibson carried the ball 33 times for Memphis last year and caught 38 passes and 11 times for 68 yards in the Senior Bowl, but he’s definitely a wide receiver at the next level. The fact that there’s even a conversation about it tells you what you need to be concerned about with him; he’s far from refined in any way as a receiver, and there is a very limited sample size of anything that could be deemed high degree of difficulty targets in the passing game.
Having said that, I don’t think Gibson dropped a pass all season long, and he has all the athletic traits to create separation at a high level once he becomes a more nuanced player. A lot of his catches were fairly routine, but he tracked a few deep shots beautifully, and there are a couple examples of him extending and snagging outside his frame in the middle of the field. His hands look pretty natural in the five games I studied.
It will be crucial for teams to figure out a development plan for him early on in his career, otherwise they’ll run out of time to get the most out of him. Gibson’s interview process will be key too, as they’ll need to know what kind of a worker and football junkie he is. His body suggests a player that has put his time into the weight room. His arms are like legs and his legs are like people.
I don’t know that one could be conceivably higher than this on a player with 44 career college catches, and it may ultimately be a bit too high to take that kind of a chance on a raw player like Gibson. I’m a sucker for these types of big RB/WR slots. I liked Jalen Hurd in the same area last year, and Gibson’s ceiling may be even higher – especially with his 4.39 speed. I’d always take a chance on raw skill players that can create space for themselves before and after the catch over more polished players who can’t. Gibson is the kind of big, competitive, versatile athlete you swing for the fences with in the mid-rounds.
Year 1 Outlook: This will really depend what team Gibson ends up on, but he’s most likely to be a package player who could see an increased role by season’s end if he can show progress in his routes.
Year 3 Outlook: It would be great to see Gibson as a starting slot receiver by this time, likely in an offense that likes to build their receiving corps like an NBA lineup. Gibson has the size and explosiveness to play outside too, if his work against press is up to snuff by year three.
Grade: Late 3rd Round
14. Tyler Johnson, Minnesota (6-1, 206)
Analysis: As long as teams understand what they are getting in Tyler Johnson, it is hard to see how he won’t stick in the NFL. He’s a slot receiver, but he does stuff other slots can’t, which should make him more valuable than guys like Hill or Bowden, or even slightly more-so than Jefferson.
Johnson lacks great speed and acceleration, but I don’t think he’s a 4.7 guy like some make him out to be. Yes, him not getting invited to the Senior Bowl suggests the NFL isn’t super high on him and he’ll likely get drafted sometime on Day 3, which are obviously things to consider when evaluating his tape.
Still, Johnson’s ability to win above-the-rim and even create a little after the catch are great assets in a slot receiver. He makes difficult catches look routine, and he has enough size and strength to play big boy ball when needed as well. No, his physical tools aren’t salivating, but Johnson dominated at the catch point in college by attacking the ball with sure hands. I know drops can be an issue, but they were almost always of the focus variety, not as a product of bad hands.
Whispers of off-field stuff have been out there with Johnson, and I have no clue if they are true. For my purposes, I don’t care. He can get open and he makes tough catches at all three levels of the field. That’s what you want a slot receiver to do. Add in his toughness after the catch and the savvy to get behind corners on slot fades despite not having great speed, and Johnson should be the slot receiver teams target in the mid rounds.
Year 1 Outlook: Competing for starting slot receiver
Year 3 Outlook: Starting slot receiver
Grade: 3rd Round
13. Chase Claypool, Notre Dame (6-4, 238, 4.42)
Analysis: I’ve heard for years that Claypool was going to blow the doors off the NFL Scouting Combine, but checking it at 6-4, 238 pounds and running 4.42 and jumping 42 inches is just absurd. The big receiver’s tape, on the other hand, is very hit-or-miss, but he’s still come a long way from the incredibly raw pass catcher we saw at Notre Dame until the 2019 season.
Claypool is never going to be a great separator from man coverage if he stays outside at receiver, but he has the traits and mentality to be dominant in contested catch situations, which is a huge part of how he made his hay this past season at Notre Dame. There are enough similarities in size and athleticism to Darren Waller that the comparison makes sense, as long as an NFL team is comfortable with the fact that Claypool may never be a great in-line blocker.
That being said, Claypool is an excellent blocker out wide, a special teams demon and a highly competitive player who won’t back down from any physical challenge. That demeanor bodes well for a potential positional change, but whatever team drafts him better know how to use him.
He can run 4.42 as many times as he wants, Claypool simply doesn’t play fast enough to be a big-time vertical threat on the outside at the next level. He can win there with ball skills and strength in the air, but asking Claypool to win down the seams from a slot alignment could be the ticket to success at the next level. I’m intrigued enough by what he offers to take a flier in the third round.
Year 1 Outlook: Depth wide receiver or No. 2 tight end who the coaching staff can’t wait to get on the field more as the season goes on.
Year 3 Outlook: Developing into a player like Waller is probably the peak outcome for Claypool by his third year.
Grade: 3rd Round
12. Tee Higgins, Clemson (6-4, 216, 4.54)
Analysis: The thing about athletic testing is that it should at least confirm that the way you win in college can be the way you win in the NFL. For Higgins, I’m just not sure a pro day 40 in the high 4.5s, a 1.66 ten-yard split and a 31-inch vertical confirms a player that can win vertically and above-the-rim.
We already knew Higgins struggled to separate while running the full route tree, but I could live with that because his ball skills and body control are so good. And by good, I mean ridiculously good. The problem is that while both of those things remain true, his opportunities to show those traits will occur far less often because he is such a below-average athlete.
Higgins did do a much better job of getting off press coverage as the season went on, with some highlights coming against LSU in the National Championship Game. However, even as that part of his game shone, drops arose and Higgins was not nearly as impactful in either College Football Playoff game as the Tigers needed him to be.
Overall, Higgins’ inconsistencies on tape – lack of great speed or acceleration and his limitations in creating separation as a route runner – have me concerned. Higgins has a healthy stack of unreal catches and eye-popping production over the past two years at Clemson, but I’m struggling to see through his deficiencies in my evaluation.
Year 1 Outlook: Depth/package player who could see increased reps in the red zone
Year 3 Outlook: Developing strength and technique against press could make Higgins a starting outside receiver whose primary value comes in the vertical passing game. He needs a quarterback who isn’t afraid to put it up. I keep thinking of Malcolm Floyd and Phillip Rivers’ connection for years in San Diego as an ideal outcome for Higgins in the NFL.
Grade: 3rd Round
11. Laviska Shenault, Colorado (6-1, 227, 4.58 *may have been running on injured groin)
Analysis: Shenault and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk are cut from a similar cloth and will probably be used in a similar fashion at the next level. Shenault’s 2018 tape was probably better than either player’s 2019 performance, but during this past season, Aiyuk seemed more effective with the ball in his hands and better at winning down the field.
Shenault has an outstanding physical and athletic ceiling, but injuries and a lack of overall polish and consistency to his game leaves you wanting more. He isn’t a polished route runner at all right now, so separation can be hit or miss depending on the coverage scheme and level of competition. Shenault didn’t show a lot of examples of creating space one-on-one on tape, and that concerns me a bit for the next level.
Still, when you consider how awful his quarterback play was at Colorado, it’s impressive that Shenault has still been able to produce big plays. He’s not so much elusive in the open field as he is strong and slippery, capable of breaking tackles and mashing the gas when he gets into space. Shenault offers flexibility as a direct snap rusher and gadget play option too, a role Colorado often used him in.
In 2018 we saw more examples of Shenault’s physical dominance at the catch point and in breaking tackles, but his 2019 tape lacked the same sizzle. He has plenty of raw talent to outplay this ranking, and even if he doesn’t, his year one role can still be a pretty impactful one.
Year 1 Outlook: Package player that has value with manufactured touches in the screen game and maybe even out of the backfield. Usage could range significantly depending on the creativity of the offensive coordinator.
Year 3 Outlook: Starting outside receiver whose development against press and as a route runner has made him a consistently effective three-level threat.
Grade: Early 3rd Round
10. Jalen Reagor, TCU (5-11, 206, 4.47)
Analysis: Reagor’s game against Baylor is one of the more brutal I’ve seen from a prospect this season, but even in the midst of a four-drop performance, the junior’s ability to separate as a route runner was clear. Reagor doesn’t consistently run the full route tree and will need to grow into a bigger role as his career goes on, but it is difficult to find guys who can create space with quickness, burst and long speed like the Horned Frogs big play threat can.
That said, perhaps no receiver on this list had tape that left you wanting more as often as Reagor’s did. He creates separation on an in-breaking route, then he drops the ball. He creates separation on a fade or fly pattern, then he doesn’t go attack the football and play through and contest the catch. He finally makes a grab through contact – then he fumbles on run after the catch. I must have seen him drop three or four simple screens with no one on him. He’s a maddening player.
As talented as Reagor is, he’s going to have to develop as a route runner and in his releases against press coverage (he rarely saw any and when he did, there were some concerns) before he can even think about being a top option in an NFL passing attack. Reagor is much more suited to be an explosive role player in an offense, something that can certainly add a good bit of value, even if his level of play remains Jekyll and Hyde.
Year 1 Outlook: Reagor can play inside or out right away, but most teams will probably find a way to get him touches as a package player first, then eventually grow him into an every down player.
Year 3 Outlook: Can he ever find consistency and polish in his game? Cut down on the mistakes, and he’s a versatile, big play threat waiting to happen.
Grade: Early 3rd Round
9. Denzel Mims, Baylor (6-3, 207, 4.38)
Analysis: Second only to maybe Reagor in the most maddening of the wide receiver evaluations, Mims has the natural talent to be one of the best wide receivers in the class, but he simply doesn’t play with the focus, intensity or attention to detail to be on that level. Yet, anyway.
Mims’ three biggest issues: he drops way too many passes, many of them due to poor concentration or allowing smaller defenders to work through his hands and crowd the catch point. A big reason why they can do that is because of his second issue: Mims doesn’t create enough separation as a route runner because he fails to consistently move at the level his athleticism and his best reps show that he can.
And the reason all of that happens is because Mims simply didn’t play hard enough on a rep-to-rep basis in college. If that gets fixed in the NFL, eventually his routes can get to an acceptable level, and his natural traits are so dominant he’ll have a fruitful career. If he continues to run upright routes and work at half-speed, especially against man coverage, Mims is going to bust at the next level. It’s as simple as that.
Fortunately for him, he’s got a lot going for him, too. He’s one of the best athletes at the position in Combine history, and his tape shows a player with rare ability to drop his hips, throw on the breaks and move suddenly for a big receiver. Mims has the speed to beat cornerbacks deep, the strength to bully through press coverage and some of the best ball skills and body control in my recent scouting memory.
If Mims doesn’t succeed in the NFL, it’ll be because he failed to grow as a route runner, in his releases against press coverage, and as a consistent competitor against much tougher competition. He’s the definition of boom-or-bust, but his Senior Bowl performance was so dominant that I wonder with his incentive at an all-time high if we’re about to finally see what a fully unleashed Denzel Mims can do. I kept coming back to a Devante Parker comparison for Mims, but hopefully it doesn’t take him five years to blossom.
Year 1 Outlook: If he competes in camp like the dude we saw at the Senior Bowl, he could start on the outside right away. More than likely, Mims sees his role steadily increase as his rookie season goes on, but his inconsistencies vs. press, as a route runner, and in catching the ball may not earn him a pivotal role right away.
Year 3 Outlook: His ceiling is through the roof. There’s very little Mims can’t physically or athletically do. He just has to master the details and become a workhorse at his craft. If that has happened by year three, he could be a true No. 1 pass-catcher for whatever team he ends up on.
Grade: Late 2nd Round
8. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State (6-0, 205, 4.50)
Analysis: Aiyuk was one of the toughest evaluations for me in this class, not because it is hard to identify his strengths and weaknesses, but because he is so extreme in either direction for most of his evaluation. That made his proper valuation difficult for me compared to the other receivers in the class.
The concerns are clear: Aiyuk isn’t the most polished or nuanced route runner, but he also has an ability to hit breaks at full speed without losing an ounce of juice. That’s a rare gift. Unfortunately, his attention to detail also comes and goes, as Aiyuk will often run patterns half speed, fail to really sell vertical against off coverage and come out of his route breaks back to the ball too slow and upright.
Contact can bother Aiyuk at the line of scrimmage and at the top of his route, and it is imperative that he becomes better at defeating physical press coverage. He has the quick feet and acceleration to eat up soft press if corners don’t get their hands on h