2020 NFL Draft: Overvalued Wide Receivers
With the NFL Combine under a week away, now is a great time to dig into the wide receiver class to identify prospects who may be overvalued at this point of the pre-draft process. The 2020 wide receiver class is as deep as any class in recent memory and also features at least two receivers who project as elite prospects. There are an average of 31 wide receivers drafted every year, but including compensatory picks, this class may see that many go in the first five rounds. History is littered with dominant college receivers who failed to make their mark in the NFL, so digging into film as well as analytics is a must. Watching full game tapes can help put context to the the numbers and can also serve to fill in knowledge gaps such as a player’s on field weaknesses and how well their game may translate to the increased level of competition the NFL will present.
The NFL Combine, perhaps more so than almost any other position, helps teams separate wide receiver prospects who may have been previously difficult to tier based on film and analytics alone. Game speed and track speed are two very different things, so even if a player does not run a great 40-yard dash, showing well in the agility drills can help to confirm the quickness that is evident on film. The NFL Combine and highlight packages alone will not give an accurate picture into a player’s strengths and weaknesses, which is why the Combine is meant as an aid in the evaluation process and — outside of a complete domination or collapse — should not be something that is weighed too heavily.
To qualify for this list, receivers have to appear on the top-10 or 15 of more than one set of rankings. They also have to be players with below-replacement-level floors. Finally, they are required to fall outside the top-20 receivers in my personal rankings, which disqualifies players like Devin Duvernay, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings who may be lower on some boards than others but still project as potential starters. Both of the receivers we will discuss have already entered the position-switch discussion.
Identifying prospects who may be overvalued in such a talented class where opinions already greatly differ is more difficult than at other positions. Ultimately, an exercise like this comes down to pinpointing prospects who may not make it in the NFL despite their obvious physical gifts. Let’s dig in.
Chase Claypool (WR – Notre Dame)
Tape evaluated: Georgia, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Navy, Iowa State
Claypool is an intriguing 6’4, 220-lb receiver from British Columbia, Canada that had to post highlights of himself on Facebook to garner the attention of American colleges. He ended up choosing Notre Dame but had multiple offers, including schools like Mississippi State, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. The start to his college career was a quiet one, as he had more special teams tackles than receptions as a true freshman. Claypool played on special teams throughout his college career, a facet of his game that should help enhance his draft stock. Claypool finally broke out as a senior, thanks to taking a huge step forward with Miles Boykin departing to the pros and quarterback Ian Cook finally turning a corner in his own relative development. Claypool recorded 66 receptions for 1,037 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns in 2019. The 13 touchdowns tied him for seventh in the nation, and tied him with Tee Higgins and Isaiah Hodgins for fifth among wideouts that will be available in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Claypool presents an exciting blend of size, power, and speed. He seems to still be learning the position at times (likely due to growing up in Canada) but has put enough wow moments, and even games, on tape, to get scouts and general managers alike excited about his upside. His demolishing of Navy’s secondary was a sight to behold, even if it came against far inferior competition. It gave us a glimpse of his potential upside if he can find a way to put it all together with the help of an NFL receivers coach. Claypool thrives high-pointing the ball and using his excellent body control to haul in what may otherwise be wayward targets. If he lands in the right offense with an offensive coordinator who is willing to scheme him the ball, he can become something special. He stood out from an analytical perspective as well. He ranks fourth in the draft class in big-play percentage, with 34.85 percent of his receptions going for 20 or more yards. He also ranked fourth with 19.7 percent of his receptions going for touchdowns. There is a lot to get excited about in terms of his long term upside.
There is, however, a wide range of outcomes when it comes to the still raw, but intriguing Claypool. If he lands with a demanding quarterback like his former teammate Equanimeous St. Brown did in Green Bay, he may never become anything more than a fourth or fifth receiver. He may never be technically sound enough to earn the trust of someone like Aaron Rodgers. While he has shown flashes of unbelievable upside, there are some concerns with his game. He drops far too many passes and shows a poor overall awareness when running routes other than slants and drags.
If he has a strong Combine, he could be drafted high enough to have a chance to compete for a starting job. However, if he does not perform as well in the speed and agility drills as hoped, he could end up as a late day-three pick who never pans out in the NFL. The depth of this draft class does not help matters, as Claypool may not even be in the top-20 on the big boards of some teams. With that being said, he has the skill set to operate as a big slot, and if the wide receiver position does not work out for him, he could eventually consider a conversion to tight end. His run blocking and special teams prowess will likely keep him on NFL rosters, however, is going to need to land in the right situation (coach/scheme/quarterback/depth chart) to ever become a starter in three wide sets for teams that value receiving skill over blocking.
The most underrated prospect in the NFL draft.
Chase Claypool Notre Dame highlights pic.twitter.com/ChsUr2uQDZ
— (•_•)(•_•) (@comedy_motion) January 1, 2020
Collin Johnson (WR – Texas)
Tape evaluated: LSU, Utah, Oklahoma, TCU, TCU (2018), USC (2018)
It is hard not to get excited about a 6’5 plus receiver that flashes some elite tools. Johnson was a sought-after four-star recruit who turned down offers from Arizona State, USC, TCU, and even SEC powerhouse Alabama to join the Texas Longhorns. Despite his physical gifts, Johnson has not been the most productive receiver on the team since his sophomore season when he recorded 54 receptions for 765 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Johnson’s best season came as a junior when he hauled in 68 receptions for 985 yards and seven touchdowns. He saw his senior season cut short to just seven games but managed to up his receptions from 5.2 to 5.4 per game, his receiving yards from 75.8 to 79.9 per game, and his yards per reception from 14.49 to 14.71. He finished the season with 38 receptions, 559 yards, and three touchdowns.
Johnson’s game tape is filled with highlight-worthy plays. He excels at high-pointing jump balls and is terrific along the (college) sideline. He has a great catch radius which — when combined with his contested catch ability — allows him to dominate on fade routes. While he may not be a day-one starter, his prowess in the red zone should get him on the field near the goal line where he can use his instant mismatch size to win one-on-one battles versus smaller defenders. He has a good release and double move when he is not jammed at the line of scrimmage and has the long stride length to eat up yards in a hurry. His positives are enticing enough that he was discussed as a possibility to be one of the first five wide receivers off the board in the 2019 NFL Draft had he declared.
Johnson did a higher percentage of his damage on big plays in 2018, with 29.41 percent of his receptions going for 20 or more yards, compared to 23.68 percent in 2019. He had 20 receptions of 20 or more yards in 2018, a number higher than any wide receiver in the 2020 draft class not named Jerry Jeudy or Antonio Gandy-Golden. Johnson has the tools to be a tremendous weapon downfield but will need to clean up his drop issues on deeper targets. He measured with 8 3/4″ inch hands at the Senior Bowl, smaller hands than are ideal for an NFL receiver, and remarkably small for someone who measured at over 6’5. Johnson has massive potential future upside if he lands in the right offense with an accurate quarterback.
Like his former teammate Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Johnson is going to need to have a strong Combine to avoid getting lost in the shuffle in what is a much deeper wide receiver draft class than what Humphrey faced in 2019. He has enough warts on film to keep him no higher than a day-three prospect on most teams’ draft boards, so timing could well be a key correlative factor to his NFL success. Johnson, despite his size and catch radius, displays average hands at best outside of high-pointing situations, which somewhat negates the minor separation he creates. While he looks clean on comebacks, fades, and slants, running more traditional downfield routes has been an issue as far as maintaining separation. He often fails to stack cornerbacks properly and drops an alarming number of catchable targets in the process.
Johnson could turn into a good NFL receiver with some seasoning, but taking a risk on him before the fifth round seems unlikely for teams who have a wealth of other options in this extraordinarily deep and talented draft class. Johnson, much like Claypool above, may be best served by adding 20-30 pounds, and considering a switch to tight end. He has the frame to do it and would be a highly intriguing tight end prospect. While he does not have more than a few snaps of experience blocking in-line, today’s tight ends often line up in the slot or out wide, two spots where Johnson has proven his mettle as a blocker.
This touchdown catch against TCU is ridiculous. Severely under thrown ball and tight coverage over the top underneath. He muscles the ball away from the defender and secures the TD. pic.twitter.com/OPHPukqIcn
— Brad Ashby (@brad_ashby) May 26, 2018