2020 NFL Draft: Under-the-Radar Wide Receivers
Scouts often say “there’s no such thing as a sure thing” when projecting how talent will translate from college football to the NFL.
While that may true on an individual basis, many pundits have hailed the 2020 wide receiver class as one of the best position groups to enter the league in recent memory, meaning that the group itself likely is, on some level, a sure thing.
At least one reputable draft outlet has projected eight (!) wide receivers in the first round, led by All-American CeeDee Lamb and 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy. Casual football fans likely know of these guys by now, but it’s the depth of this wide receiver class that stands out.
Last season, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin and D.K. Metcalf — none of whom were first-round selections — finished as the only rookie receivers to top 900 receiving yards, and each ranked as a top-35 PPR wide receiver by the year’s end.
In this primer, we’ll highlight four under-the-radar receivers who could find themselves playing significant rookie snaps in 2020. Note that it’s a bit of an oxymoronic task in nature, as so much attention has already been paid to this special group of pass-catchers.
Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR – Colorado)
2019: 56 receptions, 764 receiving yards, four TDs; 23 rushes, 162 rush yards, two TDs
Draft Projection: First round
Explanation: Shenault is a do-it-all playmaking wide receiver who can maximize his versatility in a Deebo Samuel-like role at the next level. The junior out of Colorado carried an underwhelming stat line in 2019, but he was held back by below-average quarterback play and defenses’ ability to home in on him as a lone receiving threat. His tape shows an explosive athlete who initiates contact after the catch, with quickness to separate from defenders and straight-line speed to break away upfield. There are questions about Shenault’s health and route-running ability, but if he blows away the combine as he’s expected to, he could shoot up draft boards in the coming weeks.
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – USC)
2019: 101 receptions, 1275 receiving yards, 11 TDs
Draft Projection: First or second round
Explanation: Pittman carries NFL bloodlines, as his father played 11 seasons at running back and won a Super Bowl with Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers in 2003. The four-year Trojan saw his production and role increase each season at USC, capped by second-team All-American honors in 2019. Scouts love Pittman’s strong hands and 6’4″ size, which make him one of the better endzone and jump-ball receiving targets in this class. While he isn’t a burner by any means, he has the strength and length to become an excellent run-blocker at the next level. Scouts also rave about his intangibles, which suggest Pittman’s steady rise will continue throughout his career.
Jalen Reagor (WR – TCU)
2019: 43 receptions, 611 receiving yards, five TDs
Draft Projection: First or second round
Explanation: Henry Ruggs III out of Alabama gets all the speed hype in this draft, but it’s possible Reagor is the fastest receiver in this year’s class. Even if he doesn’t land the top spot among wide receivers in the 40-yard dash, Reagor’s frontline speed and shiftiness will vault him up draft boards for teams looking to stretch the field in 2020 and beyond. The biggest questions for Reagor are his hands and his route-running, the latter of which his explosiveness masked in college but won’t play as well in the NFL without improvement. If Reagor is closer to the sophomore version of himself, who totaled 72 receptions, 1,061 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns, he could be a Tyreek Hill-like weapon in the NFL.
KJ Hamler (WR – Penn St)
2019: 56 receptions, 904 receiving yards, eight TDs
Draft Projection: Second or third round
Explanation: Hamler won’t run the 40-yard dash at the combine because of a nagging hamstring injury, but his quickness on tape lands him among elite company in this class. He’s a fluid route-runner in and out of his breaks, showcasing a craftiness that rivals that of draft darling Jeudy, who’s expected by many to be the first receiver off the board. Hamler’s after-the-catch skills also stand out, and similar to Shenault, he needs to be in an offense where he can be utilized in open space. Although undersized at 5’9″, Hamler will succeed with the ball in his hands regardless where he’s lined up in the NFL. He profiles as a more polished version of Tavon Austin with Wes Welker upside.