By: Matt Meusel
Feature image courtesy of John David Mercer/USA Today Sports
With virtually no sports on the horizon (unless you’re super into Taiwanese baseball), the NFL Draft on April 23 will provide quite a bit of relief for U.S. sports fans who are desperate for anything other than old highlights.
The talk of this year’s draft — other than where the big name quarterbacks will land — has been the stellar wide receiver group. There could easily be a scenario where five wideouts are selected in the first round. That hasn’t happened since 2015, where six receivers were taken in the first round, highlighted by Amari Cooper as the fourth overall pick.
In no particular ranking order, let’s take a dive into why this year’s wide receiver class has so much hype, from the known studs to some potential late-round sleepers:
Jerry Jeudy – Alabama
He’s a burner — plain and simple. He made secondaries look silly throughout the past two seasons. Using his agility at the line to break free and his top-end speed to his advantage, almost no one at the college level could keep up. He finished with 24 touchdowns in his final 28 games. It would be surprising if he isn’t the first receiver taken off the board. Just watch AlexRollinsNFL’s breakdown of Jeudy (above).
Henry Ruggs – Alabama
It seems like the Crimson Tide are just as good as producing top level receiver talent the past few seasons as they have with running backs. Ruggs is another speedster who ran a mind-boggling 4.27 40-yard dash at the combine in March. He seems to have slightly better hands than Jeudy but wasn’t as lethal breaking off of press coverage. These two stars from Alabama may very well be the first two receivers selected next Thursday night. I’m sure Nick Saban won’t find any problem producing points in 2020, though.
CeeDee Lamb – Oklahoma
Here’s a guy with big-play ability every time he touches the ball. Lamb is always a threat to break ankles, but it should be noted he’s a sneaky good tackle breaker for being just a tad over 190 pounds. Maybe the best footwork of any of these prospects. He showed a keen ability to pivot away when defenders closed in. He’ll provide an instant impact wherever he lands.
Brandon Aiyuk – Arizona State
Maybe you didn’t see too much of Aiyuk because of late game times on the West Coast, but he’s been flying up draft boards and for good reason. He showed an incredible ability to catch balls in contested coverage and was never easy to take down. Arizona State was one of the most fun teams to watch in college football a season ago because of their big-play ability and Aiyuk was at the center of all of it. He had six games with a reception of at least 50 yards in 2019. Aiyuk could also be an asset on special teams for an NFL team. He showed great vision and anticipation when returning punts during his time as a Sun Devil.
Tee Higgins – Clemson
This is your big wide receiver prospect that scouts drool over, who can go up and grab any ball out of the air based on their sheer size. 6’4’’ and 216 pounds – you can’t ask for much more. 2019 was his first year over 1000 yards. He had 25 touchdowns over the last two years combined and cemented himself in the elite Clemson receivers of this decade along with Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow. Higgins high points the ball exceptionally and could be a real threat down in the red zone. Go back and watch his touchdown on a reverse in this past year’s national championship. He sheds a defender and runs another one over on his way into the endzone. It’ll make your jaw drop.
Justin Jefferson – LSU
Besides watching him seal the deal against my Texas Longhorns in Week 2 Jefferson was a pleasure to watch all season long. He was a key piece to a title run for the Tigers, which included 14 receptions for 227 yards and four touchdowns in the semifinal game against Oklahoma. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. Jefferson is as fast as anyone off the line. His first steps are lethal. He’s not one of the best route runners, but he’s an amazing athlete that can make any catch. He’ll develop a lot more with pro coaching and could be a star one day in the NFL.
Now for two late rounders to keep an eye on:
Michael Pittman Jr. – USC
The biggest question marks surrounding Pittman are injury concerns. He dealt with nagging injuries throughout most of last year but still finished with over 1000 yards. He’s got the size for a NFL wideout at 6’3’’ and 219 pounds, but didn’t show a lot of speed last season. He may fall all the way to the fourth round or lower but has a lot of upside to provide production for a team as a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver.
KJ Hill – Ohio State
Hill was a very important player last year for the Buckeyes as he hauled in 10 touchdowns and showed his versatility playing both inside and outside. He’s got good hands and did a nice job of picking up yards after the catch. It was a bit concerning to see him run a 4.6 at the combine in the 40-yard dash, but he has the makeup to be a solid receiver in the league.