The pre-draft process is just getting started but the 2020 NFL Draft is already shaping up to be an interesting one. For one, I can’t remember the last time a draft class had this many potential game-changing wide receivers.
This week in Indianapolis, there are 55 wide receivers participating in the NFL Scouting Combine — the second-most to participate in the event since 2003. The sheer depth at the position puts a huge emphasis on the combine and college pro days, as every prospect will influence the draft stock of their peers and team scouts will do their due diligence to find the perfect fit for their offense. Over the next week, each player in this vast receiver group will get an opportunity to prove his worth, most notably during Thursday’s on-field workout, and the three most glaring questions evaluators have about every receiver prospect are:
1) 40-yard dash: How fast are you really?
2) Vertical jump: Can you high-point the ball, win contested catches, make a big catch near the sideline?
3) Three-cone drill: How explosive are you?
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Players can’t fake or manufacture these things, and they certainly cannot be coached. How you perform during these specific drills weighs heavily on where you fall in the receiver food chain. Scouts fall in love with great testing, especially in these three categories. (If you don’t believe me, look at a Bengals team still looking for the fruits of John Ross’ record 40 time.)
I believe seven or eight wideouts from the 2020 class are worthy of a first-round pick. But because of this year’s highly touted QB group, I could see many talented receivers falling to Days 2 or 3. Several teams are going to get steals in April that should pay off huge come the fall.
Here’s a list of nine instant impact receivers that will turn heads in Indy but won’t cost a first-round pick in Las Vegas.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State: The way this kid moves around the field is so impressive considering his size (6-foot, 201 pounds). He’s an open-field nightmare who makes 60-, 70-, 80-yard catch-and-run plays look quick, and a short run feel like a microwave minute. Aiyuk’s breakaway speed is really something to watch.
Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty: With Liberty being a stone’s throw away from Charlotte, there are several things that come to mind at the mention of Gandy-Golden. The first being why didn’t he play at a big-time school? Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Liberty. But this university is better known for its No. 1-ranked dining hall than its football program. Well, this young man is putting the Flames on the map. Fourth in receiving yards (1,396) in the FBS last season, he can outrun you, out-muscle you and make any defender wonder: Do I really want to cover this guy all all? Gandy-Golden has the IT factor and I think his stock can really climb at the combine depending on what he does with the ball in his hands.
K.J. Hamler, Penn State: He’s an explosive jitterbug who brings a lot to the table — chairs AND the meal. I know there will be teams that pass on him because he isn’t the right size (5-9, 176 pounds), but they will realize just how foolish that decision was once he gets in the league. Hamler has a ton of upside and will be a troublemaker for NFL defensive coordinators. Don’t let his stature sway you.
John Hightower, Boise State: The concern for some is that Hightower didn’t regularly face big-time competition at Boise State. SO WHAT!? This kid can flat out play. The 6-1, 185-pound wideout has talent and a track background, and the combine will give him a great opportunity to showcase his skills in a high-pressure environment. Looking ahead to April’s draft, he’ll benefit most from a great receivers coach who can help him excel and get the most out of his gifts.
Tyler Johnson, Minnesota: The two-time All-Big Ten selection is coming off a monster season in which he set multiple school records. Johnson has quick feet, is a good route technician and will force defenders to be confident in their cover skills because he’s not likely to give them any sort of break. He high-points the ball well and routinely makes the tough catches, so expect scouts to look for answers about his speed and quickness this week.
Van Jefferson, Florida: I believe he was the odd man out at Ole Miss, likely in the shadows of D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. After transferring to Florida, the 6-3, 215-pound receiver led the Gators in receiving in consecutive seasons. His effectiveness is evident on film, as Jefferson just makes plays with every chance he gets. If he plays like that at the next level, the team that drafts him should be very happy with the results.
Denzel Mims, Baylor: The 6-3, 206-pound wideout is a big target who plays with a lot of physicality. It’s hard to know what his game speed is because Mims often out-muscled his opponents in college. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the NFL is full of grown men who are just as strong if not stronger than Mims. Expect the young man’s 40 to be under the microscope in Indy.
Michael Pittman Jr., USC: I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m not happy about the way Pittman handled a few Utah defensive backs this past season. As a former Ute and a strong supporter of Utah athletics, my fingers hurt typing this man’s evaluation. In all seriousness, though, Pittman is a big target (6-3, 219 pounds) who a lot of teams covet. He’s quick but must run a good 40 and three-cone drill to separate himself in this deep receiver class.
Jalen Reagor, TCU: The only question I have is: What can’t he do? He boasts lightning speed with scoring potential from anywhere on the field. More impressive is his work ethic. Coaches will not have to teach Reagor that quality because it’s clearly part of his DNA. Projected to be a Day 2 selection, Reagor will be an impact player for the team who drafts him.
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