NFL Draft Preview

Early NFL Draft WR Rankings (Analytics)

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: February 21, 2020, 1:24 am ET

For modeling wide receiver prospects, we can’t have a complete projection until we are through the Combine because athletic testing holds some predictive value. In the meantime, we’ll check out each receiver’s college production, which is a lot more predictive than athleticism anyways. I’ll share each NFL Combine invitee’s historical ranking in predictive on-field metrics, write up what I see on film with some statistical evidence to back up my opinions, and post the results of my pre-Combine model.


Pre-Combine WR


This 2020 receiver class is much, much better than the most recent classes. 10 of the top 14 prospects in my pre-combine model from the last three draft classes are 2020 prospects, including CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Tee Higgins who are the top four guys. Justin Jefferson, Laviska Shenault, Tyler Johnson, KJ Hamler, Jalen Reagor, and Brandon Aiyuk round out the top of the class and give teams a few rock-solid options in the slot or on the outside. Even the fringe Round 3/4/5 prospects have higher ceilings than we’re used to, so it’s a good time to need a receiver if you’re an NFL team or dynasty fantasy player.

If you’re curious about what goes into this pre-Combine model, it’s a mixture of age-adjusted counting stats, team share stats (in particular, receiving yards per team pass attempts and college dominator), college team strength, and projected draft capital, which helps bring in a film/playing time component. You’ll see how each prospect turned out in some of these categories below, but please note that yards per reception holds zero predictive value and is only being shown as a descriptive stat to show how each prospect was used in college (deep or underneath):


2020 WR Prospects


CeeDee Lamb


CeeDee Lamb (6’1/203) is an elite producer with above average athleticism, instincts, and competitiveness, making him a potential top 10 receiver in the NFL. Last season, he averaged 15.1 yards per target -- that easily led the class with the next highest, Henry Ruggs, down at 13.5 -- and finished inside the 99th percentile in my predictive adjusted production score, partially because he will barely be 21.0 years old on draft night. Young, first round receivers have been the best producers historically. On tape, he simply just gets things done. He wins at the line of scrimmage with quick feet, creates separation at the next level with his combination of speed and route running ability, and finishes off plays with in-air adjustments and yards after the catch (video). Per PFF, he averaged 11.0 yards after catch, the most among Combine invitees. In the NFL, he’ll be utilized in the screen game and on vertical routes as an all-around WR1 despite being an average sized player with non-elite speed. 

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 11th



Jerry Jeudy


Jerry Jeudy (6’0/192) is a multi-year producer at Alabama with exceptional route running that allows him to win at all depths of the field, making him a probable WR1 in the NFL. Despite being very young and facing top-notch competition (not just in the SEC but for targets on his own team), he averaged at least 86.0 yards per game in back-to-back seasons, leading the FBS in 15+ yard receptions over that span. He also finished inside the 96th percentile in my adjusted production metric last season. On tape, we can nitpick by noting his drop rate (8.3%) and lack of size, but that’s overthinking things. He creates separation with above average speed and the best route running in the class, picks up yards after the catch with a start/stop move that we all love (video), and can contort his body to make catches other receivers wouldn’t. In the NFL, he can be used outside or in the slot as a team’s go-to target. 

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 11th



Henry Ruggs


Henry Ruggs (6’0/190) is a rare athlete who wins behind the line of scrimmage and on vertical routes thanks to his sub-4.3 speed, making him a potential matchup nightmare, big-play threat, and special teams ace. At Alabama, he was a secondary receiver to Jerry Jeudy and Devonta Smith (that’s a red flag), but he still tested out in the 85th percentile in my predictive adjusted production metric because he was young, played on a great team, and was extremely efficient. His 13.5 yards per target average was the second best in the class, only trailing CeeDee Lamb. On tape, it’s clear he’s the fastest player on the field (video), which allows him to win behind the line of scrimmage on screens/sweeps and down the field. He’ll need to fine-tune his game to beat physical corners given his lack of size and inexperience (98 career receptions), but he can be a difference maker right away in the NFL with his speed and start/stop ability alone. 

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 17th



Tee Higgins


Tee Higgins (6’3/205) is an efficient deep threat with a massive catch radius who profiles as an NFL team’s WR2 with the upside for more. As a 20-year-old last season, he averaged the third-most yards per target (13.4) in the draft class and came down with 15-of-23 deep targets for 565 yards (24.6) per PFF. His long arms and legs, plus his ability to Moss fools like he did here (video), make him a physically dominant player, which really shined at the college level. In the NFL, he’ll need to improve as a route runner because he may not be a natural separator. Elite CB prospect Jeffrey Okudah held Higgins to a 4-33-0 line in the Playoff largely because Higgins wasn’t crafty or quick enough. As a young prospect with other athletic traits, it’s certainly possible that he can improve upon those weaknesses. Until that happens, Higgins may be destined for a playmaking WR2 role as a mismatch for undersized corners at the next level. That still makes him worthy of a late Day 1 or early Day 2 pick.

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 23rd



Justin Jefferson


Justin Jefferson (6’1/185) is a young, elite SEC producer who profiles as a slot receiver with plus route running and athleticism. He was the primary slot receiver and go-to target for the most prolific offense in college football history, which led to a 98th percentile adjusted production score for the 20-year-old prospect. His 11.5 yards per target average was among the best in the class last year, and he only trails Jerry Jeudy in 15+ yard receptions over the last two seasons. On tape, he wins on short-area routes with nuanced route running and creates yards after the catch with his competitive attitude despite lacking elite top-end speed. That’s where he’ll do most of his damage in the NFL, but he can win downfield thanks to his hands and ability to make in-air adjustments. It’s possible that Jefferson ends up as the best slot receiver in this stacked draft class.

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 32nd



Laviska Shenault


Laviska Shenault (6’2/225) is a powerful receiver with strong short-area explosion who battled injuries and questionable usage in college, making him a risky prospect with high-end upside. In 2018, he had the second most receptions per game (9.6) among FBS sophomores since at least 2000, only trailing Davante Adams, but he was slowed down by injuries last season. Those setbacks were brought on by his physical playing style and usage. Per PFF, only 25% of his targets traveled beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage with Colorado deploying him as a gadget player who even lined up as a Wildcat runner in goal-line situations (video). In the NFL, he will likely do most of his damage underneath as a human truck stick -- 58% of his receiving yards came after contact last season per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler -- but he has flashed the ability to win deep, too. Just watch him smoke this future corner prospect with reported 4.4 speed on a vertical route from the slot. It will take some development to make him an all-around receiver, but his athleticism alone should him a rookie year contributor if his health cooperates.

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 24th



KJ Hamler


KJ Hamler (5’9/168) is an extremely fast, but unpolished and undersized, playmaker with the potential to be a mismatch right away. He finished inside the 91st percentile in my adjusted production metric because he was productive at a top-end program despite being a very young prospect. His high-end burst and top-end speed made him a big-play waiting to happen at Penn State, particularly on crossing routes and vertical shots from both inside and out. It’s hard to get a hand on him because of his athleticism, although he does have some issues winning in traffic given his slender frame. His other weakness is his hands. He tied for the most drops (12) in the FBS because he can be a body catcher at times. In the NFL, Hamler profiles as a playmaker like Marquise Brown but needs some time to develop before he becomes a more well-rounded receiver. 

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 53rd



Tyler Johnson


Tyler Johnson (6’2/200) is a young, multi-year producer with nice hands and size, but his average athleticism has limited his draft stock, making him an underrated prospect as a starting-caliber slot receiver. He has three 677+ yard seasons, scored in the 99th percentile in my predictive adjusted production metric, and was PFF’s highest graded receiver of 2019. He doesn’t have great top-end speed, but he looks to be average to above average in most other traits, which led him to being the only draft-eligible receiver to catch at least 70% of his deep targets and finish inside the 99th percentile in my favorite team share stat (receiving yards per team pass attempt). On tape, he plays bigger than what he’s listed and uses his hands very well, plucking the ball away from his body with ease. He is at his best in the slot and may never be a functional outside receiver in the NFL given his athletic limitations and struggles against physical boundary corners. Still, there is more good than bad to his game, which is leaving me confused as to why he’s being so overlooked by those with ties to the league. Hopefully the Combine gives us some clarity.

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 83rd



Jalen Reagor


Jalen Reagor (5’11/195) is an explosive, undersized outside playmaker with a track background who wins downfield but struggled in his final season, making him a boom-or-bust prospect with upside. He “broke out” as an 18-year-old freshman (33-576-8), ascended as a sophomore (72-1,061-9), and then tanked last season (43-611-5 with a 6.9 yards per target average, by far the worst among the top receiver prospects of the class). Playing with a struggling freshman quarterback contributed to the down season, but his team share of receiving yards declined from 38% to 25% last year and that can’t be put on the quarterback change. Ultimately, he had a slightly above average adjusted production score (62nd percentile), which does pass the historical minimum threshold. On tape, he has fantastic get off speed, leaping ability, and body control. Those traits led to him catching 23-of-50 contest-catch opportunities over the last two seasons per PFF (that’s good). In the NFL, those contested catches may not fully translate to the league given his size, so he’ll need to improve upon his releases instead of relying on his competitiveness to win. What will translate is his athleticism and that’s what makes him a potential playmaking WR2 on Sundays.

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 36th



Brandon Aiyuk


Brandon Aiyuk (6’0/201) is a late-blooming playmaker as a receiver and returner with natural ability to win in space, making him a potential WR2 and return specialist in the NFL. After spending two years at junior college, he played behind N’Keal Harry as a junior before breaking out last season. He needs to be knocked for his lack of early-age production, but he still had a decent score in my adjusted production metric that accounts for age and other factors. His speed and instant acceleration show up on punt/kick returns, vertical routes, and screens. He averaged an elite 11.1 yards after the catch and 12.0 yards per target, which was the fourth best in the class despite playing with a freshman quarterback. On tape, he’s still developing as a route runner, but he’s so smooth with the ball in his hands. I’d rather bet on him improving than him leveling out given his background as a transfer. He can be a playmaking WR2/3 and special teamer almost immediately and has the athleticism to exceed expectations.

Predicted Overall Draft Pick: 44th


Page 2 has the rest of the WR profiles.