The 2020 NFL Draft is upon us. In the past, I have only ranked QBs. However, given the Eagles’ high likelihood of drafting a WR, I decided to split my time between QBs and WRs this year. Last year, I wrote about the The Chain of Offense, and that still applies here. For both QBs and WRs, factors around them can greatly impact evaluation. One of the most interesting things I noticed is that quality of QB had a much bigger impact on WR evaluation than vice versa. 

If a QB is mechanically sound, has arm talent, navigates a pocket, makes good decisions, those things all stand out whether the result of a play is good or bad. If a WR runs a good route and the QB throws a poor ball, the WR can look bad. If the QB consistently throws it when the WR isn’t open but consistently doesn’t when the WR is open, the WR will look bad.

As a result, I found that consensus WR evaluation rarely matched the tape, and it was easy to see why. QBs have far more control over the result of a play than a WR. The consensus top 3 WR in this draft were thrown to by Mayfield/Murray/Hurts, Tua, and Burrow. Were those 3 WR really the top 3 WR, or were they just getting the most consistent service?

I think this is why WRs are very hit and miss at the next level. Because they are so reliant on the play of another, a good or bad situation in college or the pros can significantly change the impact a WR has. A good QB with bad weapons can still stand out as a good QB. Sometimes their draft stock still follows their weapons more than it should (Drew Lock and Lamar Jackson are two recent examples of QBs who fell due to lack of surrounding skill talent rather than personal talent). But WR draft stock often follow their QB.

Quarterbacks

You can read how I evaluate QBs here. You can read about the systems I refer to here.

Joe Burrow, LSU

Top 3 Overall

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Top 15 Overall

Jake Fromm, Georgia

2nd-3rd Round

James Morgan, FIU

2nd-3rd Round

Justin Herbert, Oregon

2nd-3rd Round

Jordan Love, Utah State

4th-5th Round

Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

4th-5th Round

Joe Burrow is almost not worth talking about. He’s the total package. The only negatives I have on him are nitpicky at best. He’s a franchise QB through and through, and if he busts, I’ll be as wrong as everybody else on him.

Tua Tagovailoa is difficult to grade without his medicals. Prior to the injury, I believe there was an argument for taking Tua over Burrow. His tools really are that special. However, there’s no guarantee Tua ever fully recovers. A hip injury can affect throwing just as much as mobility. If healthy, he’s a top 10 QB. But there’s an equal chance that he suffers the same fate as RG3, where an injury just derails his entire career. His upside means he should still be drafted highly, but some teams may not be able to stomach the risk.

Jake Fromm is the type of QB I am always too high on, but apparently I haven’t learned my lesson. His arm strength is functional, but he really shouldn’t be asked to throw the ball more than about 40 yards. He doesn’t have much in the way of running. But Fromm’s mechanics are consistently clean, he usually makes the right read, he navigates the pocket well, and does everything a QB needs to do. The only question is whether his arm strength will play. I think it’s certainly worth taking the risk, especially for teams running a dink-and-dunk system.

James Morgan has a one-setting cannon. It may be the strongest cannon in the draft, but it’s always a cannon. Touch throw? Nope. Float it deep? Nope. Cannon is cannon. The good thing about this cannon is that it generally has good aim. That’s a great basis for a QB. If a team is willing to build an offense that doesn’t ask him to make throws he can’t make and gives him lots of opportunities to throw vertical routes, he could turn out to be a star.

Justin Herbert is an enigma. There’s no other way to put it. There are some games where I’m not sure he’d even be on this board. There are other games where he’s a clear top 15 pick. Unfortunately, the former far outweigh the latter. He has a strong arm, but because of mechanical issues, it often doesn’t show up. He can read a defense, but sometimes just…doesn’t. Herbert is a project through and through. He may follow the career path of Eagles Legend Nick Foles, where he bounces between unstoppable starter and mediocre backup and you never know which you’re gonna get.

Jordan Love and Jalen Hurts are both toolsy QBs who haven’t come close to putting everything together. Love seems to get a lot of love (pun intended) for his ability to throw off platform and create something from nothing, but he can’t throw on platform and he routinely makes the wrong play within the structure. Hurts is a runner before a thrower, but he has a good enough arm to make it work if a team wants to build the offense around his legs with occasional throws. Both of these QBs would really benefit from time in an XFL-like league to refine their skills, but it appears that opportunity will no longer exist. Still, a few years from now they may develop into interesting starters.

I evaluated 8 other QBs, but none of them received a grade higher than “late rounds”.

Wide Receivers

Moving on to WR, I evaluated WRs on the following criteria:

First Step Off Line: Every route starts with the first step. How quick a receiver gets into their route can greatly impact how fast they play. An inability to get off the line against press coverage can also be a huge liability at the next level, where opposing teams have the talent to expose that weakness.

Speed: As the NFL has legislated violence out of the sport, speed has become more and more desirable. Safeties are no longer allowed to crush speedsters coming across the middle. We are seeing more and more that pure speed is the name of the game. It is important to keep in mind the difference between college speed and NFL speed. In general, I look for guys who can run away from college defenders, not just match them step for step.

Route Running: Much like a QB’s mechanics affect the consistency of his throws, a WR’s footwork affects the consistency of his routes. Route running is all about setting up defenders and moving away from them. This encompasses not just how quick and sharp breaks are, but also ability to find soft spots in zones, ability to use the head to set up defenders, ability to adjust to help defenders, and the like.

Hands and Ball-Tracking/Adjusting: “Receivers should catch any ball they get both hands on.” Never has conventional wisdom been more damaging and more wrong. It is far easier to catch a ball thrown on the money in stride than a ball that a receiver needs to change momentum for or reach for. WRs should catch all the easy balls, but all WRs struggle when they need to stop momentum, reach behind them, or otherwise adjust to a throw. How well WRs both catch the easy ones and adjust to the bad ones are both important. That being said, a WR who has to adjust a lot more will have a lot more “drops” than one who is always receiving the ball properly, and this is the biggest place where quality of QB can affect a WR’s prospect status.

Blocking: WR blocking is different than in-line blocking. WRs are much more often asked to block in the open field, which is about angles and getting in the way rather than pancaking the man in front of you. It’s also about finding a man to block during chaos. A good WR blocker can spring plays. While this is often overlooked, it can make a huge difference.

CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

Top 15 overall

KJ Hamler, Penn State

Mid-1st Round

Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

Mid-1st Round

Devin Duvernay, Texas

Late 1st-Mid 2nd Round

Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

2nd Round

Justin Jefferson, LSU

2nd Round

Denzel Mims, Baylor

2nd-3rd Round

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State

2nd-3rd Round

Jalen Reagor, TCU

3rd Round

Tee Higgins, Clemson

3rd Round

Laviska Shenault, Colorado

3rd-4th Round

Note: I project Chase Claypool as a TE, so he is not included here. There are a number of other WR that deserve consideration and may even belong on this list ahead of some of those listed. However, as I split time between QB and WR, I simply ran out of time and limited it to those WR who are most often being mocked as Round 1-3 picks.

CeeDee Lamb is the most complete WR in this draft. He is an elite route runner with fantastic YAC ability who can play any WR spot. While I do not project him to be a top 10 NFL WR, he has a high chance to be a contributor on whatever team drafts him in whatever role he is asked to play.

KJ Hamler is the best deep threat, and far more surprisingly, the best blocker in this class. Hamler’s size is held against him, but it does not affect his play on the field. Hamler has incredible burst and quickness, is a fantastic route runner (especially for a deep threat), and doubts about his hands are far overblown. Hamler’s biggest problem was that PSU’s QB was easily the worst QB of all the tape I watched for both QB and WR. Hamler was constantly trying to rescue terrible throws. In baseball, great fielders rack up errors because they have the range to get to balls that lesser fielders can’t reach. Watching Hamler’s tape, that’s the source of his “drops.” NFL teams still love size, but whatever team gets Hamler will likely be getting a steal at his current projection.

Jerry Jeudy is good. And about as exciting as that last sentence. Jeudy lacks a single standout skill, like Lamb’s YAC ability or Hamler’s speed. I didn’t rate a single skill of his below average or a single one higher than good. He was the second best WR for Alabama this year and he should be a solid #2 WR for a long time, but you’re going to have to really believe in both his route running and hands to project him as more than that, and I don’t quite see it.

Devin Duvernay seems to be flying under the radar despite catching over 100 balls for a major conference team, running a sub 4.4 40 at the combine, and being a top 5 WR recruit out of high school. It’s hard to do any one of those things, much less all three. His scouting reports all appear to be written before this season, because they simply don’t reflect this year’s tape. Duvernay largely played out of the slot, though it appeared to be a choice made by the coaching staff rather than any specific limitation. He’s fast, runs good routes, tracks balls well, and has good hands. The biggest difference between him and Hamler is Duvernay’s blocking is really poor, and it often affected the team on running plays. Not acceptable at the next level.

Henry Ruggs III is really fast once he gets going. Unfortunately, he often gets really poor releases off the line, making his game speed play far slower than it should. His route tree is limited, and he’s a merely okay route runner. It’s hard to assign a first round grade to a receiver who was the 3rd best receiver and 2nd best deep threat on his own team. His pure speed earns him a 2nd round grade, but he needs to improve every other area of the game to be more than just an occasional deep threat.

Justin Jefferson is a fine slot receiver. Much like Jeudy, he doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses, but he doesn’t have any obvious strengths. Like Ruggs, he wasn’t the best receiver on his own team, and he often operated in the space left vacated as teams dealt with Ja’Marr Chase’s deep threat. Burrow ensured that every throw was right on the money. Jefferson will be a helpful slot receiver for whoever drafts him but offers little upside beyond that.

Denzel Mims has size, speed, and contested catch ability, making him an interesting outside prospect. He struggles to get separation and really needs to clean up his footwork and route running at the next level to get the most out of his abilities. If he does, he has #1 WR potential. He’s more of a boom-or-bust prospect.

Brandon Aiyuk ran routes that left CBs on a slip and slide. However, much of his value came from YAC, and his speed will not play nearly as well at the next level. In college, he got a step on a DB and kept that one step. At the next level, he will be caught more often. If he can still get open, he’ll make a very nice #2 receiver.

Jalen Reagor has earned first round talk, but it’s hard to see it on tape. He is an extremely poor route runner with straight line speed and little else. He dropped far too many good, easy-to-catch passes on shorter stuff. This is reflected in his numbers. He is good with the ball in his hands, and I project him as a 3rd rounder because he should have value on special teams, but he may never develop into anything more than a #4 speedster.

Tee Higgins is like Mims but not as fast. The potential is salivating, but is likely to remain nothing more than potential. He’s a guy to take a flier on knowing that more likely than not you’re never getting notable contributions from him.

Laviska Shenault is a gadget player/offensive weapon. There’s value in those guys, but it’s usually not top-3-rounds value. He’s simply not good enough at anything as a wide receiver to merit a high pick. He’s another WR who was hurt by his QB, but even separated from that, he simply didn’t show enough with or without the ball.

As a final note to the WRs, I have seen seemingly infinite different orders of this WR crop, many including players I never scouted. For those of you who are ride-or-die on a first round WR, remember that most top WRs were drafted in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, not the 1st round. When it comes to the draft, the general rule of thumb is that nobody is smarter than anybody else. If the Eagles pass on a 1st round WR for a later one, it doesn’t mean they are wrong or stupid. They’re just playing the value.

Enjoy the draft, everybody.