Ranking the Top 10 Wide Receivers of Potentially Historic 2020 NFL Draft Class

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterNovember 27, 2019

Ranking the Top 10 Wide Receivers of Potentially Historic 2020 NFL Draft Class

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    In 2004, the NFL was graced with the presence of wide receiver prospect Larry Fitzgerald. Fresh off two amazing years at the University of Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald anchored a deep position group that saw seven players selected in Round 1—a number that hasn't been topped since. 

    Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods all heard their names called on the first night of the event. As far as the deepest wide receiver classes go, this holds the standard for the last 15 years regarding first-rounders. 

    The 2020 group has a chance to beat this.

    Some will instead want to look at the most overall talent in a draft. The 2014 class is often heralded as the deepest in modern history. Not only were five receivers taken in the first round (Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin), but the subsequent rounds also saw Jarvis Landry (Round 2), Davante Adams (Round 2), Allen Robinson (Round 2), John Brown (Round 3), Martavis Bryant (Round 4), Quincy Enunwa (Round 6) and even the undrafted Willie Snead all become good producers at the position. 

    The 2020 class might be better than that.

    This year has strength in numbers—21 wide receivers are ranked inside my top 100 overall players—but it also has top-tier talent with nine pass-catchers ranked inside the top 40 prospects.     

    It's a good year to need a wide receiver. Here are the pro comparisons and prospects for each of the top 10.

          

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10. Justin Jefferson, LSU

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Davante Adams

    Round Projection: Round 2

    Team Fits: Colts, Eagles, Saints

    Justin Jefferson is a precise route-runner with excellent timing and agility in his movements. The 6'3", 192-pounder is more of a possession receiver than an oversized physical marvel or speed demon, but there's consistency in his game.

    As a potential late second-rounder, Jefferson offers high upside but also plug-and-play ability. He's been running an offense that's basically the same as the Saints' attack with offensive assistant Joe Brady now at LSU, which makes the move down the state to New Orleans a good possibility for the junior if he declares early.

    Jefferson will need a good showing at the NFL Scouting Combine—particularly in the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill—but as long as he takes care of business, a top-64 selection seems wrapped up.    

9. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest

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    Pro Comparison: Courtland Sutton

    Round Projection: Round 2

    Team Fits: Colts, 49ers, Dolphins

    A shoulder injury shut down Sage Surratt's redshirt sophomore season, but before he suffered the injury he looked like a rising star. At 6'3” and 215 pounds, Surratt has physicality to match an aggressive, pressing style of route running that will make him a dynamic option on the outside of the formation for run-heavy teams where he'll see more man coverage.

    Yards after the catch are a devastating trait Surratt brings. On breaking routes he's fast enough to pull away from coverage and then explode post-catch into the open field. He's also big enough to beat press coverage or win over the top.

    Surratt is no lock to enter the 2020 draft given his remaining two years of eligibility, but his strong play this year and the question marks surrounding the quarterback position at Wake Forest make him seem more likely to enter. As long as his shoulder checks out healthy by the late-February scouting combine, he could push even higher in the draft order.    

8. Michael Pittman Jr., USC

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Kenny Golladay

    Round Projection: Round 2

    Team Fits: Bills, Patriots, Seahawks

    Michael Pittman Jr. has been a shining beacon for the USC Trojans throughout a year with inconsistent quarterback play. He's 6'4" and 220 pounds with a ripped, muscular build that lets him body defensive backs at the line of scrimmage or with the ball in his hands.

    Pittman, like a Kenny Golladay, will simply outmuscle many defenders. It's what he's done in the Pac-12 while showing that his skill set is developed enough to work in the NFL. He won't run exceptionally well in the 40-yard dash, but his play isn't that unlike what we saw from DK Metcalf last year in that he's just too strong for most cover men.

    Pittman would be a dream for Russell Wilson or Josh Allen as an intermediate threat. In New England, he would see many over-the-middle targets and seam routes that used to belong to Rob Gronkowski.   

7. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Sammy Watkins

    Round Projection: Round 1-2

    Team Fits: Giants, 49ers, Saints

    No wide receiver has improved his stock more this season on my board than Brandon Aiyuk. After taking a back seat to N'Keal Harry in the ASU passing attack last year, Aiyuk has exploded onto the scene now that he's the primary target.

    Aiyuk is nothing like Harry as a player. Instead he's a silky-smooth operator with exceptional after-the-catch moves. Many might not remember just how dominant Sammy Watkins was at Clemson, but he was impressive enough to be the No. 4 pick in 2014. That proved to be a reach, but Aiyuk gives off similar vibes as a weapon.

    Imagine a guy like that in a Kyle Shanahan or Sean Payton offense as the No. 2 option? It's unfair. He'd also be a great fit with the New York Giants, where Daniel Jones needs more targets given Sterling Shepard's uncertain future after multiple concussions. 

    Put Aiyuk in a position to run after the catch and enjoy the touchdowns.

6. Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Percy Harvin

    Round Projection: Round 1-2

    Team Fits: Bills, 49ers, Saints

    Laviska Shenault Jr. is the type of player you can fit into any offense, especially if the coordinator is willing to scheme him touches. Shenault is a jack-of-all-trades for the Colorado Buffaloes, who showcase his ability as a runner and receiver each week. 

    Like a young Percy Harvin, Shenault should be drafted with the idea that you'll find a mismatch for him every week. Smart coordinators will attack the defense with Shenault on jet sweeps, designed runs, quick hitters over the middle and fades down the field. 

    Because of his need to be schemed, Shenault could get lost if he's drafted and expected to simply line up at wide receiver. The Bills, with Greg Roman's mind dialing up plays, or the Saints, with Payton, make Shenault a dream fit.         

5. Tee Higgins, Clemson

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Tyler Boyd

    Round Projection: Round 1

    Team Fits: Bills, Dolphins, Eagles

    Two years ago, Tee Higgins was looked at as a potential WR1 as the Clemson offense exploded and the Tigers became known as an NFL pipeline for the position. Higgins has been caught by some prospects and eclipsed by others, but he's still a viable Round 1 target—especially for teams that value a 6'4", 215-pound pro-style receiver.

    Higgins, who is a very good route-runner and natural hands-catcher, is also fast enough off the line of scrimmage to run past physical cornerbacks who try to press him there. At 215 pounds, he's also big enough to beat players with similar size.

    Higgins doesn't have a great comparison among NFL receivers—there's some A.J. Green to his build—but his play reminds me more of a Tyler Boyd-type breaking route-runner. That's exactly what the Bills need for Allen. The Eagles so badly need reliability for Carson Wentz, and the Dolphins just need talent across the board.     

4. DeVonta Smith, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Calvin Ridley

    Round Projection: Round 1

    Team Fits: Panthers, Jaguars, Packers

    At first glance, DeVonta Smith looks like a lean, almost undersized receiver who has made a living in the soft zones the Alabama offense creates. But then you notice his explosive burst off the line or once the ball is secured in his hands. You see what he does as a playmaker in the return game. The 6'1", 175-pound Smith, after two or three viewings, starts to look like a diverse playmaker.

    That's a need for many teams that will draft at the end of the first round. The Carolina Panthers don't have a huge hole at wide receiver, but Smith would give whomever is under center a legitimate route-runner with yards-after-the-catch speed. The same goes for the Jaguars, where Smith would complement D.J. Chark beautifully. And in Green Bay, Smith would fill a hole, as Aaron Rodgers needs more weapons and Matt LaFleur needs more options in the passing attack.

    Smith doesn't have the route-running pedigree of Jerry Jeudy or the nightmare speed of Henry Ruggs III, but he's putting together a picture as a complete wide receiver prospect.    

3. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: DeAndre Hopkins

    Round Projection: Top 15

    Team Fits: Cardinals, Eagles, Jets

    The no-brainer for the Biletnikoff Award following the 2019 season, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb has been fantastic for the Sooners all year. The only thing that's slowed Lamb has been a head injury that caused him to miss one game and limited him in another.

    Lamb won't blow you away with his catches-per-game production, but what he does as a physical route-runner and awesome playmaker with the ball in his hands is eye-opening. He doesn't have amazing size (6'2", 189 lbs), and he likely won't run that well in the 40-yard dash, but Lamb is a great football player. Sometimes it's that easy.

    The Cardinals need a WR1 for life after Fitzgerald; Lamb can be that. The Eagles badly need consistency and playmaking; Lamb represents both. The Jets need a real WR1 to grow with Sam Darnold; Lamb is an ideal match for his strengths.    

2. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Tyreek Hill

    Round Projection: Top 15

    Team Fits: Raiders, Eagles, Cardinals

    Henry Ruggs III has legendary speed. Not elite, not generational. Legendary.

    Unlike a John Ross or Corey Coleman before him, Ruggs isn't just a speed guy. He can run diverse routes and show body control, footwork and nuance when setting up defenders and using his speed to get open. That's why Ruggs should be a legitimate top-15 prospect in this class.

    The best way to explain how he can be used in the NFL is to look at Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, but Ruggs is a more developed route-runner than Hill was when he came into the league in 2016. Ruggs will be used on vertical routes like Hill was early on, but he's also talented enough to excel on breaking routes where he can explode for yards in the open field.

    Smart teams will get Ruggs in one-on-one situations. Jon Gruden and Doug Pederson badly need his speed in their slow, stale wide receiver corps. The Cardinals, with Kliff Kingsbury spreading everyone out, would be unfair as Ruggs' speed stretched defenses vertically.    

1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Pro Comparison: Odell Beckham Jr.

    Round Projection: Top 10

    Team Fits: Jets, Raiders, Cardinals

    The best receiver in a loaded class, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy has the goods when it comes to route running, agility, burst out of his breaks and big plays in pressure situations. 

    Jeudy is a natural. The type of player who makes scouting easy. As one evaluator told me earlier this year, he’s a glitch. His ability to set up defenders with subtle route variations is matched by his special agility, balance and speed. He's eerily similar to Odell Beckham Jr. with his running style and movement skills.

    Jeudy is a fit for any NFL offense thanks to his route tree and traits, but teams such as the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals are in dire need of a true No. 1 receiver, and Jeudy is that through and through.