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Denzel Mims is the wide receiver the 49ers are missing

Breaking down one of the top prospects in the NFL Draft, and why he should be the Niners lone investment at wide receiver in the draft.

NFL Combine - Day 3 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The NFL Draft is entertaining for several reasons. One of the main reasons is 20 people can watch one player and come away with 20 different opinions on a player. As we get into breaking down prospects, I think it’s important to understand that nobody is going to be 100% right. Just because a person is on TV, that doesn’t make their opinion of a player superior to Joe Schmo on the internet. We’re all guessing. We all have different pieces of information we use to come to these conclusions. A player’s situation usually has just as much of an impact on their success as their ability. If you see a 0writer the next couple of months have a player ranked high, instead of dismissing them, try and figure out the “why.”

Knowing what wins in the NFL matters. Take my wide receiver rankings from 2019, for example. The four best receivers who I thought had the best release? Hollywood Brown, Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf, and Diontae Johnson. Each of those players was awesome in their rookie seasons. Winning at the line of scrimmage is a big deal. Contested catches? Not so much. If you’re thriving in contested catches, you’re probably not getting open. I had N’Keal Harry, Miles Boykin, and David Sills V as the best-contested catch receivers in the draft.

This year’s home run

Thanks to blowing the doors off the Combine, Baylor’s receiver Denzel Mims is now a household name. I took some flack calling him the best wide receiver in the draft, and still will, but I’m fine with that. There are about a dozen potential starters at receiver in this draft. Mims gives you the best of all worlds. When you stop scouting the names on the back of the jersey and analyze the player, Mims is the top guy. Where Jerry Jeudy struggles with physicality, Mims has the frame and ability to go outside of his frame to offset any strength issues. Where Ceedee Lamb lacks in route running savvy, Mims can win, as a route runner, at each level of the field. You can go down the list and do this with each receiver in the draft, which is why I believe Mims is the top receiver.

The 49ers could use a young, big-bodied, vertical threat that can contribute in every area. Mims said at the NFL Combine that he believes he’s a perfect match for the 49ers:

”I love it. I feel like I fit in good with that type of offense. They want to block. I’m going to go block. If they want me to catch the ball. I’m going to go catch some balls. Whatever they want me to do, I’m going to go do it.”

Mims came in a hair under 6-foot-3 at the Combine, weighing 208 pounds. His 4.38 40-yard dash was impressive, but not surprising if you’ve seen him play. A 10-foot-9” broad jump and a 38.5” vertical is another good measure for Mims’ explosiveness. The number that caught everyone off guard was Mims running a 6.66 3-cone drill, which was about three tenths faster than everyone else at his position.

What Mims did at the Combine was give the people that hadn’t watched him a reason to watch him, and the ones who did a chance to go back and figure out what they were missing. Mims is far from a workout warrior, and I’ll highlight that in each aspect of wide receiver. Understand that just because I show one or two clips, that doesn’t mean he’s not consistent at this. There are plenty of areas where Mims can improve, but he’s consistent where it matters.

Winning with variety at the line of scrimmage

If you can win at the line of scrimmage, you can play in the NFL. It doesn’t matter if you’re a top-five pick or undrafted. Kendrick Bourne is a prime example of that. Bourne ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but because he is so sudden, cornerbacks can’t keep up with him early on in the route. If you can win with variety, you have a chance to be special. That’s another reason I’m so high on Mims. Here are three plays, one target, and two non-targets.

Tempo is the name of the game on a release. Generally speaking, you want to lull the defender to sleep, then blow by them. Mims does a great job of selling he’s going one way, only to explode the other way.

Mims has shown time and time again that he can get instant separation off the line of scrimmage. It shows up on underneath routes, and it turns into more significant plays down the field.

That’s a beautiful rep for Mims. There’s a hesitation off the line of scrimmage, then Mims dips his shoulder to ensure the defender can’t get a clean jam to reroute him. That subtle detail is critical. The hand fighting is nice, but it’s when Mims “stacks,” or steps in front of the defender so only he can make a play on the pass, that makes this play perfect.

Separating at the top

It’s not easy to change directions at full speed. It’s especially challenging to do so as a “big” receiver. That’s why Adam Thielen and Keenan Allen are so special. Both receivers are over 6-foot-2 and have excellent quickness. Mims needs to develop as a route runner. I’d categorize him as “borderline good,” which is more than enough in college. His flashes are as impressive as his combine. When you watch a player, the situation matters. In this play below, Baylor is in their hurry-up offense as the first half is winding down.

Mims wins the release and gains inside leverage; he then does a nice job of not working too far inside. That’s when you see Mims stop on a dime as the cornerback hits the deck. He wasn’t expecting Mims to be able to stop like that, and that’s the luxury of having a vertical threat that can win underneath. As you can see, Mims has to wait for the ball. The route above was the best route I saw Mims run.

It’s always a circus

The article is not a fluff piece, I promise. You’ll hear people call Mims a “raw route runner,” that runs routes on a “limited route tree.” I don’t buy that. The biggest critique I have with Mims is the whole catching the ball part of receiver. Mims will make the circus catch look routine. Check this thread out:

There are more than a handful I could add to that thread. Mims had a drop issue as a junior when he dropped 11 passes on 93 targets. He cleaned that up in 2019, where Mims had only five drops on 116 targets. With that said, Mims needs to do a better job of using basic fundamentals to catch the ball. Too many body catches or “double catches” in traffic. By double catch, I mean it bounces off his hands initially before he catches the ball.

At an early age, they teach receivers to get their palms toward the quarterback. That makes it easier to catch the ball. Mims doesn’t do that in the first clip below, and that’s why the ball ricochet’s off his hands. He’s in the slot on the first clip.

The second play in that clip is an excellent example of Mims being open even when he’s not open, but that’s still a pass you’d like to see him haul in. Mims is inconsistent at catching the ball, and that’s why he may fall out of the first round.

Creating for yourself

Mims is sneaky good after the catch. You wouldn’t expect him to create the way he does when the ball is in his hands the way Mims can. He’s not in the same breath as the top wideouts in the class, but very few are from years past as well. When Mims gets some space, that’s when you see his athleticism take over when the ball is in his hands. On this play below, three routes earlier, Mims turned hard outside. Running the same route, he changed it up this time around.

You know whose offense gives you space? Kyle. Shanahan. You live in the open field as a wide receiver playing under Shanahan. There isn’t an offense out there that can’t use a player that can outrun anyone, but is strong enough to bully his way for extra yards but quick enough to avoid initial tackles. That’s Mims, and that’s why he has star potential written all over him.

Ridiculous in the red zone

Mims is at his best in the most crucial part of the field: the red zone. If you google the phrase “catch radius,” there’s a picture of No. 5 leaping over a poor Big 12 cornerback. Time and time again, Mims made plays near the goal line. Mims is a special player because he’s not your typical “jump ball receiver.” He can win on in-breaking routes down in the red zone as well. He scored on an out route against Oklahoma, where Mims looked like he was covered, but once the ball left the quarterbacks hands, Mims accelerated away from the defender. His quickness down in the red area makes Mims an impossible matchup.

Let’s start with a fade.

Mims showed over, and over that, if the ball is in play, he’s going to come down with it. There’s not much the defensive back can do in this situation.

While the jump balls Mims hauled in last season are the plays that make the highlights, his ability to lull defenders to sleep only to blow by them with his speed was more impressive.

On those same slants/Bang 8’s, Mims showed off his ability to go outside of his frame and make a play. Mims’ size is invaluable down near the goal line. A (smart) coach is going to give Mim a few red-zone targets a game. With plays like this one below, why wouldn’t you?

Best of all worlds

Mims is a mismatch. When your margin for error doubles as a quarterback, you’re going to give a player like this every opportunity to make you look good. I could show you 15 or so clips of Mims blocking a cornerback into the sideline or 15 yards down the field. His physicality shows up when the ball is in the air, or when Mims stalk blocks. He’ll post you up in the red zone and run right by you between the 20s. Is he without flaws? Of course not. Mims needs to improve his overall consistency, mainly his hands. Whether that’s using them to disengage from contact, or, ya know, catching the ball. There are too many top qualities he showed during his time at Baylor for me not to have him as the top receiver in the draft.

Is that a popular opinion? Nope. As I mentioned above, scout the player, not the name on the back of the jersey. If you do that and compare it to what wins in the NFL, it’s tough not to fall in love with the prospect of drafting Mims.