The 2020 NFL Scouting Combine begins next week. As I have for the past decade-plus, I will travel to Indianapolis, Ind., for the festivities.
This is the biggest job interview these players will ever have in their lifetime. It’s a rigorous process where they work out for teams, get interviewed by almost every franchise and they undergo medical checks by interested teams.
The Combine is often called the “Underwear Olympics” by some in the media; many poke fun at the process. That’s a foolish outlook from the more ignorant minds.
While it’s not a huge part of a player’s grade – I say roughly one percent – the Combine does reveal a lot about a player coming into the league. Scouts and general managers can see how players respond to workouts, how they’ve prepared for this process, and how intelligent they are during interviews and work on the whiteboard. Film is the largest part of a player’s grade, but the Combine is not to be overlooked.
Here is my 2020 Combine preview for wide receivers.
Best Class Ever
This is the best wide receiver class to ever enter the NFL. In the first round, we may see as many as five wide receivers go off the board.
The talent of these top receivers is off the charts and we should see instant impact from these top receivers that will get picked on the first day of the draft. There are multiple playmakers available at the top of this draft – and these are big-time playmakers who should become star players in the NFL.
The best of the bunch is Jerry Jeudy from Alabama. He’s a near-perfect wide receiver prospect who excels at the nuances most young receivers have little to no grasp on. Jeudy knows how to get open and he can create separation with quickness, footwork and jab steps. He’s not afraid to run up on the toes of a cornerback and really push his man to turn in a way that will maximize the amount of room he can operate in.
CeeDee Lamb is my No. 2 receiver in this amazing class. I see some of Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to his game because of his amazing body control. He can work the sidelines and the back of the end zone with ease. Lamb has an amazing catch radius and will get physical to get to the ball. He lacks elite speed but Lamb does have good speed which he knows how to vary in his route.
Henry Ruggs III is a prospect that many people misevaluate. I’ve heard the comparisons to Tyreek Hill – I’ve even used that myself – but it’s incorrect. Sure, Ruggs is super-fast like Hill, but he lacks the aggression that Hill has when the ball is in the air. Ruggs might be more like Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and that’s something that needs to be worked on or developed at the pro level.
Laviska Shenault is a first-round talent, but he may fall in the draft due to medical concerns. He’s one of the most versatile players in this draft and can line up all over the field – including in the backfield as a running back or wildcat quarterback. Shenault is incredibly dangerous after the catch and he can easily find angles to make an entire secondary look foolish. If his medical reports check out at the Combine, then Shenault could cement himself as a top-20 pick.
Jalen Reagor might be a first-round pick because of his speed and ability to be a dangerous return man on special teams. He gets to top speed in a hurry and understands how to set up defenders in his route. Not only is he fast, but Reagor doesn’t lose much speed when changing direction and that makes him incredibly tough to get a line on when defenders are trying to tackle him.
There are going to be some talented wide receivers that fall through the cracks because of this jam-packed class. In other years, these players might be first- or second-round picks in a normal year, but this this around, we could see some quality starting-caliber receivers go in the third or fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
K.J. Hill from Ohio State was the first player the Broncos talked to at the Senior Bowl earlier this year. It could mean something, it could mean nothing, but the interest in Hill is clearly there – and for good reason. Hill is a fighter and knows how to pick up yards after the catch. While he’s not the fastest guy, Hill can make defenders look silly in the open field with moves that he can stack on top of other moves. He’s got great concentration as a receiver and doesn’t let passes hit the ground, especially near pay dirt, as evidenced by his 10 touchdown grabs in 2019 on just 57 receptions.
Michael Pittman Jr. is a big and physical receiver who plays “above the rim.” I was excited to see him at the Senior Bowl earlier this year, but he did have a disappointing week of practice in my eyes. The size, wingspan and leaping ability are there, but I wanted to see him be more aggressive when playing against physical corners – especially because of his strength. I’m going to chalk it up as a bad week and go back to watching his USC film, where Pittman shoved around some smaller defenders.
Taking a Chance Late
It’s not just the first-round superstars or mid-round gems, there are some players who are worth taking a chance on with a late-round pick, as well. These players may need a bit of time to reach their potential, but the upside is there to get incredible value and big steals in this draft class.
I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t watch much Rhode Island film before I saw Aaron Parker during the week of practice at the East-West Shrine Bowl earlier this year. He was an immediate standout from the first practice, but Parker continued to shine during the whole week. Parker has great body control and concentration to make difficult catches seem routine. He’ll be a fine late-round pick with Pro Bowl potential if he continues to develop.
James Proche from SMU is another one of my favorite late-round receivers in this draft class. He’s not tall, strong or fast – stick with me here, he can be good – but his game is all about incredible concentration and strong hands. Proche is a slot receiver and that’s about it. However, he’s quick underneath and understands how to set up defenders on underneath routes. When a pass is coming in, Proche has fantastic “my ball” mentality and can even rip away targets from defenders. Proche is a fighter, and he goes all out to make a catch. That’s a skill set I would be more than willing to take a chance on late in the draft.