Top-15 2020 NFL Draft WR Rankings

Thor Nystrom

This is the third of seven columns coming in my 2020 NFL Draft summer scouting series. You can find quarterbacks here and running backs here

2020 NFL Draft at a glance

Better in 2020: QB, RB, WR, OT, CB, S

Worse in 2020: TE, OG, C, DL, EDGE, LB

 

Top-15 WR

1. Jerry Jeudy  (Alabama) | 6'0/192

2. Laviska Shenault (Colorado) | 6'2/225

3. CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) | 6'1/189

4. Tee Higgins (Clemson) | 6'3/205

5. Jalen Reagor (TCU) | 5'11/195

6. Tyler Johnson (Minnesota) | 6'1/200

7. Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State) | 6'0/185

8. Henry Ruggs (Alabama) | 6'0/190

9. Collin Johnson (Texas) | 6'5/220

10. Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty) | 6'4"/220

11. Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt) | 6'0/200

12. J.D. Spielman (Nebraska) | 5'9/185

13. Bryan Edwards (South Carolina) | 6'2/215

14. Denzel Mims (Baylor) | 6'2/208

15. Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan) | 6'1/208

 

Potential risers: Tarik Black (Michigan) | (6'2/215), T.J. Vasher (Texas Tech) | 6'5/190, K.J. Hill (Ohio State) | 6’0/198, Tamorrion Terry (Florida State) | 6'3/203, Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State) | 6'3/203, Devonta Smith (Alabama) | 6'0/175

Needs a leap: Demetris Robertson (Georgia) | 6'0/190

Deep sleeper: Warren Jackson Colorado State 6'5

2020 prospect to monitor: Justyn Ross (Clemson), Rondale Moore (Purdue)

1. Jerry Jeudy  (Alabama) | 6'0/192

A five-star recruit and top-20 overall prospect coming out of high school, Jeudy entered college ranked behind only Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tee Higgins at his position. He blew past both in 2018 with a ridiculous 68-1315-14 line.

During Alabama’s brutal four-game Auburn-Georgia-Oklahoma-Clemson gauntlet to end the season, Jeudy scored a TD in each game. He’s done all this at a very young age – Jeudy’s breakout age is 19.5, and he won’t turn 21 until right after the draft.

An absurdly athletic burner, Jeudy has averaged over 19 yards per reception in college. The reigning 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. Jeudy probably has an inch on OBJ as well (he’s listed as 6’1 but will likely measure in around 6’0; Beckham is 5’11). Check out the OBJ-esque slant below.

Due to his explosiveness and playmaking ability with the ball in his hands, Jeudy has also been likened to Peter Warrick.

Of course, Jeudy also draws natural comparisons to Calvin Ridley due to his school and game. Jeudy will be two-and-a-half years younger than Ridley when he’s drafted. Check out this open deep post that may remind you of Ridley and Amari Cooper from Crimson Tide squads of yore.

Jeudy is thin, and, at this time, unseasoned in contested catch situations. But a player this slippery doesn’t necessarily need to be N’Keal Harry in coin flip scenarios, and Jeudy hasn’t had durability issues in the past. He’s also one of the best deep-ball guys in all of the NCAA.

Though I don’t think that Jeudy is the lock WR1 some others might see him as, I do agree that he’s the odds-on favorite to go WR1 in the 2020 draft. Jeudy may not be Laviska Shenault’s equal as an overall player right this second, but his athleticism is going to play as sort of NFL trump card, particularly through the prism of his draft stock.

2. Laviska Shenault (Colorado) | 6'2/225

Laviska Shenault is the best receiver in college football right now. If he played for Alabama or Oklahoma, that would be a more popular opinion. For two months, now, I’ve batted around Jeudy vs. Viska. In the end, I defaulted to chalk because of Jeudy’s athleticism,

That gives Jeudy more ceiling. But Viska’s got the higher floor.

Shenault is the guy you feed touches to as often as possible and in as many ways possible because he’s so difficult to tackle. He’s both a big-play maven and a high-volume playmaker. He’s drawn ubiquitous comps to Sammy Watkins. Anquan Boldin works better from a strength/toughness perspective.

I first saw the Boldin comp from, of all people, USC DC Clancy Pendergast, who served as defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals during Boldin’s time out in the desert. In the lead-up to last October's USC-Colorado game, Pendergast noted that Shenault “can really handle the ball in the open field but (he) also create[s] mismatches down the field.”

Though Shenault’s skill with the ball in his hands leads to plenty of passes caught around the line of scrimmage, he’s also the Pac-12’s leading returning receiver in yards per route run (3.44; the next highest is USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown with 2.65).

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 be cognizant of all the damage he can do around the line of scrimmage and in the intermediate sector. He's impossible for corners to tackle one-on-one on the perimeter.

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. Last year, Colorado lined up Shenault outside, in the slot, at tight end and as a Wildcat quarterback. When he has the ball in his hands, you hold your breath.

I’m not convinced that Jeudy is the best receiver in the 2020 class. I think it very well may be Shenault. Doesn't mean he'll get drafted first, though. Jeudy is going to blow the roof off at the NFL Combine, whereas Shenault is likely to test as “just” a “very-very-very good” athlete.

3. CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) | 6'1/189

I think Lamb is a better prospect than Hollywood Brown. The athleticism is a given, and the hands are pure magic.

What gives Lamb such a high ceiling is his skill on top of those gifts. In terms of body control, downfield tracking and hands made of glue, this kid is a SportsCenter Top-10 catch waiting to happen. 

Lamb has a particular skill for out-breaking routes, which require a combination of athleticism, route running, timing, footwork and contested-catch ability. On 15 out-breaking targets last year, Lamb had 14 catches with 11 combined first downs or TDs. Per PFF, Lamb was the nation’s best on those routes last fall.

Lamb is also a high-effort player who gets after it. Check out this murderous block for Kyler Murray downfield against Alabama in the Playoff.

One thing to keep an eye on: Lamb had the pleasure of working with Heisman winners and 1.1 NFL picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray the past two years. This time around, he’ll work with Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts, whose arm rarely impressed in Tuscaloosa. If nothing else, Lamb should get plenty of opportunities for the circus catches he’s become known for.

4. Tee Higgins (Clemson) | 6'3/205

Higgins, a former five-star recruit, is such a gifted athlete that basketball programs were all over him before elected to choose a football future. Following a forgettable true freshman season back when Kelly Bryant was Clemson’s quarterback (he's now a fifth-year senior at Missouri), Higgins broke out last year as a sophomore.

Higgins didn’t post a PFF game grade of 70.0 or more in any of Clemson’s first five games last year after posting a 74.9 season grade as a true freshman. Middling production. But after true freshman prodigy Trevor Lawrence replaced Bryant, Higgins earned game grades over 70.0 in nine of Clemson's last 10 games, over 75.0 in seven of 10, and over 78.0 in five of 10.

This guy is going to be an NFL touchdown machine. Higgins is really difficult to deal with down the field and in the red zone. He’s one of the top jump-ball guys in the nation, he has a huge catch radius, and he’s surprising physical for a former basketball player.

I think we're gonna see The Leap from Higgins in 2019, with a full season to work with Lawrence, the carve-it-in-stone 2021 1.1, who'll no doubt be taking a developmental jump forward himself.

The biggest key to Higgins’ eventual draft slot is how he shows in agility and fluidity drills during the pre-draft process. In the meantime, he should set out to prove to us this year that he can run a full route tree confidently now that he’s full-time working with a quarterback who has no limitations throwing the ball.

5. Jalen Reagor (TCU) | 5'11/195

The son of Montae Reagor, who played in NFL for nine seasons and won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts in 2006, Jalen is a blur of an athlete who already has a nice catalogue of breathtaking runs in the open field.

Reagor has sort of been lost in the shuffle among this high-wattage receiver class, in part because TCU’s bumbling quarterback corps didn’t help him out much last year. Reagor ran a 4.32 in high school and was the Texas state long jump champion during his prep days.

He has similar holy-cow athleticism to Jeudy. If he played at Alabama, Reagor would be getting quite a bit more pub right now. Per PFF, Reagor actually received more downfield targets than Jeudy last year. TCU’s quarterbacks left a ton of yards on the field when they couldn’t hit Reagor after he’d torched some hapless Big 12 corner.

Circumstance alone – the depth of the 2020 receiver class, plus the non-ideal circumstances he’s playing in -- may conspire to make Reagor available at a discount next April. It’s possible that some team will get 96.3% of Jeudy by waiting til the end of Round 1 to take Reagor.

6. Tyler Johnson (Minnesota) | 6'1/200

Right this minute, Johnson probably has the best ball skills in the 2020 receiver class. I would absolutely put him in N’Keal Harry’s neighborhood in this department. Like Harry, Johnson sometimes forces you to pause and rewind live TV so you can figure out how he came down with the ball.

Johnson’s situation is even worse than Reagor’s. PJ Fleck has upped Minnesota’s talent level the past few years, but he’s yet to figure out the quarterback position. The Gophers intend to roll back the replacement-level combo of Zach Annexstad and Tanner Morgan. If one could make the leap to average-B1G-starter, it would be a big coup for Johnson’s numbers, film catalogue and, perhaps even his ultimate draft slot. I’m not holding my breath.

Even so, Johnson is going to put on a show this fall. He gets off the line quickly, and he comes down with just about any ball he’s physically able to reach. The Gophers feed him the ball as much as he can handle; Johnson easily finished No. 1 among returning receivers with a 52.30% dominator rating. Nobody else finished above 46.5%.

Johnson is also a red-zone killer. He ranks No. 1 among returning FBS receivers with 10 touchdowns on red-zone targets, per PFF. Interestingly enough, PFF also grades Johnson as the nation’s best receiver in crunch time, with 12-of-16 receptions going for either a first down or TD on 29 targets. Johnson did not drop one ball in the entire sample, which includes all play after the third quarter.

The biggest question mark about Johnson is his athletic testing numbers. I think he may have bypassed this past draft out of a fear that he could tumble into Day 3 with poor testing numbers.

This is the area Harry pulls away from Johnson a bit. And it’s the reason that I currently see Johnson as a Round 2 prospect, despite the fact that I absolutely adore his game (I live in Minneapolis and catch most Gophers games live). Round 1 is in play with a sensational season and above-average tests. But Day 3 is also in play if Johnson’s numbers stagnate and his tests disappoint.

7. Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State) | 6'0/185

Where did this guy come from?!

Oklahoma State was expected to regress significantly on offense after losing Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Marcell Ateman to the NFL Draft after the 2017 season. After posting a forgettable 7-118-0 receiving line as a freshman, Wallace was seen as one guy in a handful that was going to replace Washington and Ateman by committee.

Nah. Wallace went ballistic, posting a 86-1491-12 line that basically duplicated what Washington had done the previous year.

Wallace showed in 2018 that he is an elite ball-tracker downfield. Oklahoma State’s staff is so good at cultivating this skill – Washington was also incredible finding the ball over his shoulder and coming down with it while hurtling down the field at breakneck speeds. But where Okie State giveth, Okie State taketh away.

Because just as Washington faced questions about his release and route running, so will Wallace. This is in part because Wallace is raw and unseasoned, and in part because of the scheme itself – the Pokes are so desperate to light you up deep that sometimes their receivers never totally develop an overall nuance to their games.

Okie State’s deep-ball mantra, of course, also forces corners to give a cushion off the line. This cushion, by extension, makes it difficult for a prospect like Wallace to get live reps against press coverage.

But receivers with Wallace’s athleticism, fluidity, recruiting pedigree, downfield tracking ability and prolific production don’t grow on trees. That stuff alone gives him Round 1 upside if everything breaks right. Wallace is a high-variance prospect, but in the exact opposite way of Tyler Johnson.

8. Henry Ruggs (Alabama) | 6'0/190

Ruggs is a 4.3 burner who’s reportedly even been clocked in the 4.2s. Some believe him to be the fastest player in the nation. My colleague Mark Lindquist says Ruggs has “Break-the-Matrix speed.” As mentioned below, Ruggs’ speed is in the Tyreke Hill neighborhood.

But Ruggs is not just a pop-the-top WR2 behind Jerry Jeudy. Ruggs’ catalogue of unthinkable catches is already quite long.

Ruggs is a bit raw at present. When he wins, it’s typically with touched-by-God athleticism and a dog-on-a-bone desire to come down with the ball. If Nick Saban and crew can keep polishing his route running and technique, Ruggs is going to skyrocket up the board.

He’s the last guy on this last that I can see a clear path to Round 1 with. Nine of those guys in one receiver class in July? Yeah, the 2020 receiver class is insane.

9. Collin Johnson (Texas) | 6'5/220

Even more so than Tyler Johnson, Collin Johnson’s NFL Combine is crucial. No receiver in this class could rise or fall with testing results quite like C.J.

Johnson has a few elite skills, particularly length and catch radius. He uses his body well when the ball is coming down and is top-notch in contested situations. Johnson also gets after it as a run blocker.

But the burden of proof will be on Johnson to prove that he has the speed, agility and overall athleticism to become an NFL star. But say this for him: For a 6’5/220 outside guy, Johnson sure has flashes of smaller-guy athleticism in non-speed/agility categories.

One extremely positive note for his evaluation: Johnson’s route running has improved each and every year at Texas. Especially if he isn’t able to impress in Indianapolis, Johnson needs to prove that he can become a route-running technician.

10. Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty) | 6'4/220

Gandy-Golden overcame a summer car accident and a one-game absence for a mono diagnosis (turned out to be a false positive) to ramp up the hype with a 71-1037-10 receiving line. That production was nice to see after Liberty made the leap from the FCS to the FBS in 2018.

A rangy, well-built 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, Gandy-Golden’s 23 receptions of 20-plus yards are the second-most among returning FBS receivers (behind Tylan Wallace). He’s a classic high-point guy who tracks the ball downfield and gets higher than the defender.

In addition, Gandy-Golden is a competitor who tries to bully corners when run blocking. He frequently succeeds. He’s an odd prospect in that Gandy-Golden was a childhood gymnast who didn’t reach six-feet tall until his junior year of high school. He was overlooked in recruiting because of that. And while he remains raw, you get plenty of flashes of the smaller gymnast he once was. In particular: Balance and body control.

Where he needs to improve is technique, release and route-running. Gandy-Golden can do damage when he’s left free to his own devices at the line of scrimmage. But when teams press him, he sometimes appears not to have a plan.

He’s also a rather straightforward route-runner who wants to get where he’s going in a hurry and forgets to set up and bait defensive backs to offer his quarterback a larger throwing window. Gandy-Golden is raw, for sure, but he has a chance to surge up boards if he shores up a few weaknesses and tests as an upper-echelon athlete for his size.

11. Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt) | 6'0/200

After leading the SEC with 87 catches last season -- the fourth-best mark in Vanderbilt history – Lipscomb briefly considered entering the draft. He went through this process efficiently and privately, and made his decision quickly, announcing in early January that he’d return for his senior season.

That was an enormous coup for Vanderbilt, which has fellow Day 2 prospects at RB (Ke’Shawn Vaughn) and TE (Jared Pinckney) and a potential Day 3 sleeper QB in Ball State grad transfer Riley Neal.

A starter since his true freshman year (19.0 breakout age), Lipscomb is a clever, high-volume receiver who plays tough, always 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 Jeudy/Reagor athleticism, he’s able to create separation and do damage after the catch due to his nifty feet.

Lipscomb is one of my favorite under-the-radar receivers in the nation. He plays for Vanderbilt, he’s under 6’1, he only weighs 200 pounds, and he isn’t a freak athlete. But man oh man is he a pest to defenses. Ultra reliable route-runners who can beat you from anywhere on the field and catch everything in their vicinity carve out long NFL careers. Expect Lipscomb to do the same.

12. J.D. Spielman (Nebraska) | 5'9/185

The son of Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman, JD is one of this class’ best slot prospects. Despite having a famous father running an NFL team, JD flew under the recruiting radar as a three-star Minnesotan.

He wound up at Nebraska and has once again proven this size is no limitation at the higher level. A volume receiver who gobbles up targets and reliably converts them into catches, Spielman becomes a real headache for defensive backs from there due to his elite YAC ability.

A former lacrosse standout, Spielman has a fearlessness when weaving through traffic at breakneck speeds that was honed darting around with a wicket in his hands.

In addition to big potential as a slot receiver, Spielman is also one of the game’s most dangerous kick returners.

13. Bryan Edwards (South Carolina) | 6'2/215

I like Edwards’ game, I LOVE his breakout age (17.9, the best in the class), and I’ve been led to believe that his testing numbers will be a bit better than some believe (Edwards himself says that he’s been timed running 22.3 mph).

But man, you do get serious whiffs of Kelvin Harmon when watching his tape.

He’s a well-built, polished receiver who competes. But Edwards’ lack of a top gear allows defenses to crowd him. Even if he gets behind the opposition’s last-line-of-defense, he’s a threat to get dragged down from behind. And he doesn't exactly seperate with ease. I wanted to rate Edwards higher. But the truth is, with a nod back to Harmon’s draft-day free fall, I'm a little spooked by the profile.

14. Denzel Mims (Baylor) | 6'2/208

A track, star who moonlighted on the hardwood in high school, Mims is something of a post-hype sleeper after taking a backseat to the NFL cameo Jalen Hurd shot in Waco in 2018.

Mims should be healthy in 2019 after undergoing hand surgery in the spring. Hopefully all is well, because those hands are his money-makers. Mims bring a bloated catch radius, good speed and impressive body control to his craft.

Mims hasn’t been tested with a full route tree nor a ton of experience against press coverage. He needs to improve his consistency and become more polished. But man is he fun to watch when he locks onto a ball. How about one more circus catch for the road?

15. Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan) | 6'1/208

A ballyhooed five-star recruit out of Detroit, Peoples-Jones was a Michigan football folk hero before he ever stepped on the field for the Michigan Wolverines.

But Peoples-Jones thoroughly 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.

After proving too raw to make a difference as a true freshman, Peoples-Jones bounced back in a big way as Shea Patterson’s go-to receiver in 2018. He’s a slick athlete with feet sharp enough to cut defensive backs in the open field after the catch.

In 2019, we’ll find out if Peoples-Jones is more than the Rashan Gary of receivers – he’s got the physical talent, now he has to stop disappearing for stretches. A part of that will involve embracing the idea that football is a tackle sport.

Quick hitters...

K.J. Hill (Ohio State) | 6’0/198

Hill considered declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft but backed off at the last second. He’s quietly turned himself into one of the best receivers in Ohio State history over the last two years, posting the bulk of his career 144-1696-10 line between 2017-2018.

With a big year, Hill could pass David Boston as Ohio State’s all-time catch leader (191). 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 his hands, quicks and craftiness.

Devonta Smith (Alabama) | 6'0/175

Devonta Smith could have a 15-year NFL career and never have a more iconic catch than the last one of his freshman season in college.

As is the case with all Crimson Tide receivers, he’s become quite used to performing on the big stage. Smith is rail-thin, and he’s going to leave college having never served as one of his team’s top options. But the athleticism, route-running and big-game bonafides could make him an attractive option early on Day 3.

Just ask Shawn Davis. The bursty Smith plays stronger than his frame suggests and times his catches like a pro.

Tarik Black (Michigan) | (6'2/215)

An extremely physical receiver who lacks elite athleticism, Black’s eval is clouded by a pair of foot fractures that have limited him to nine games total over two years.

Black profiles as a reliable possession receiver in the pros. But it’s imperative that he stay healthy this fall. Receivers who can’t stay out of the trainer’s room and don’t create much separation don’t impress the NFL much.

T.J. Vasher (Texas Tech) | 6'5/190

Let’s start with the Week 1 catch against Ole Miss last year, an OBJ-ish jaw-dropper that had Vasher all over SportCenter for 24 hours.

Vasher is a contested catch maven with Slender Man’s catch radius. Blessed with NFL bloodlines as Nathan Vasher’s nephew, T.J. needs to add bulk and work on his routes as he heads into his redshirt junior campaign.

We’ll get a little more film variety with Vasher moving out of Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid into Matt Wells’ balanced spread system.

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State) | 6'3/203

Terry is all upside at this point. He’s a long outside receiver with good athleticism and ball skills who needs to improve his polish, add some weight, and become more than a circumstantial flash player.

The calling card right now is his skill in contested situations, and the weapon which that skill that makes him in the red zone (eight TD last year, over one-quarter of FSU’s total TD last fall). Terry’s blend of athleticism and ball skills also led to 21.3 yards per catch last fall with a 31.13% dominator rating.

And not for nothing: Terry is a gunner on the punt team.

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State ) | 6'3/203

One of the most gifted players on the Oregon State roster, the former four-star recruit finished No. 16 (31.96%) in the nation in market share last fall.

Hodgins brings a sturdy frame, nice length and great hands to the field. A clever player with nifty feet who lacks elite wheels, Hodgins has WR2 upside at the next level. It would be nice if Oregon State would open up his route tree this fall.

Demetris Robertson (Georgia) | 6'0/190

With Georgia having dismissed Jeremiah Holloman earlier in the summer, there is good news and bad news for Robertson this year.

The good news is that the Bulldogs have plenty of targets to distribute with Holloman, Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, Terry Godwin and TE Isaac Nauta all off to the NFL. The team’s leading returning non-RB receiver is Charlie Woerner. Robertson looks like the leader in the clubhouse to assume the WR1 role for pocket-passing QB Jake Fromm in a run-first offense that offers its receivers plenty of one-on-one opportunities.

The bad news is that Robertson will officially be out of excuses if he doesn’t make his star-turn this fall. The former five-star recruit posted a 50-767-7 line in 2016 as a true freshman at Cal, but has recorded only seven catches total the past two seasons, including zero last year for UGA.

This’ll be a make or break year for the speedy Bulldog wideout.

Warren Jackson (Colorado State) | 6'5/205

A Gumby-type who excels in jump ball situations. Jackson is all length and limbs. He evokes some Hakeem Butler vibes with his angular running style and contested catch skill downfield, a galloper who needs a few steps to get to top speed but chews up swatches of grass quickly after that.

After missing two games with a knee injury last year and playing a supporting role to Preston Williams and Bisi Johnson, Jackson will break out in 2019 across from Auburn import Nate Craig-Myers. Jackson can get pushed around, and he doesn’t create the most separation, but man does he have a skill for creating a little space and palming the pigskin from off-angles.

Justyn Ross (Clemson) | 6’4/205

Big, sturdy receiver who excels in contested situations and rips the ball out of the air with talons.

Ross isn’t an elite athlete, but he creates more than enough window room for Trevor Lawrence via show-me steps and space manipulation.

With a big year, Ross could be the leading contender next offseason to become WR1 in the 2021 class.