Last week, we discussed the receivers in the upcoming NFL draft and ranked them from the best vertical threats to the best-contested catch receivers. This is one of the deeper receiver classes in recent memory. As “Phoenix” said, “if you need a wide receiver in this draft, take two. If you don’t need a receiver, you should still draft one. The wideouts in this year’s class come in all shapes and sizes.
Today I’ll rank the best “X,” “Z,” and “slot” receivers; then, I’ll rank the top 15 overall. For consistencies sake, here is my list from last year. Let’s start in the slot:
Top slot wideouts
4) Devin Duvernay, Texas
Duvernay can flat out fly. The former All-American track athlete is a lot more physical than you’d expect. I saw him bounce off several tacklers. That physicality translates to Duvernay catching the ball. Duvernay was consistent catching the ball, and even better after the catch.
3) Tyler Johnson, Minnesota
When you bring up slot receivers, you don’t think of 6’2”, 200-pound players. Johnson knows how to get open, and it showed every year in Minnesota. He is not going to run by you, but that doesn’t mean you can cover Johnson. He’s great at changing pace mid-route and setting up defenders. I can see the former Gopher racking up touchdowns in the red zone the way he attacks the ball in the air and with his shiftiness. Not flashy, but a quality football player.
2) K.J. Hamler, Penn State
Hamler is going to drive a team crazy. He dropped 12 passes on 70 catchable balls in 2019 and weighed under 180 pounds, which may scare teams off. If you can look past those two issues, you can make a strong argument that Hamler separates as good as any receiver in the draft. Hamler didn’t run at the combine, but he’s a sub 4.35 guy. Inside, cornerbacks didn’t stand much of a chance keeping up with Hamler.
1) Justin Jefferson
Jefferson doesn’t have your typical slot receiver build, but his awareness in zone and “dead leg” against man coverage make Jefferson difficult to cover in the slot. Jefferson projects best inside as he’s fearless across the middle and has arguably the strongest hands in the draft. Jefferson is sneaky good at breaking tackles after the catch as well.
Top Flankers in the draft
The “Z” receiver is usually the receiver you move around the formation during the game and rely on as a “possession” receiver. Think former Steelers wideout, Hines Ward. That doesn’t mean these players aren’t going to generate explosive plays. Deebo Samuel is the ideal flanker in today’s NFL, and every time he touches the ball, you expect at least 20 yards. Here are the top flankers in the draft.
4) Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Aiyuk may have been the most difficult prospect in the past few seasons for me. He’s oozing with athleticism and talent. The issue is the former Sun Devil needs to be consistent when the ball is in the air. He struggled at adjusting to throws and using his body to get open. There were plays here and there, but not enough to say think Aiyuk is on the same level as some of the top receivers. Aiyuk plays much faster than his 4.5 40-yard dash, and it shows up as he’s eating up the cornerbacks’ cushion off the line of scrimmage and when the ball is in his hands. He’s also better at the top of his routes than given credit for.
3) Henry Ruggs, Alabama
Ruggs is going to be one of the fastest players in the NFL the second he steps onto the field, but his best trait is his hands. Ruggs has a reputation as a speed only player, but he’s more physical than his teammate. With that said, the plays that aren’t generated for Ruggs leave a lot to be desired. He’s not Tyreek Hill or DeSean Jackson because he lacks their wiggle and make you miss ability. Ruggs forced four missed tackles all season.
2) Jalen Reagor, TCU
Reagor’s 10-yard split of 1.52 (93rd percentile) is much more indicative of his play than his 4.47 40-yard dash. He’s not as physical as Ruggs, but his short-area quickness helps Reagor stop and start to get open at the top of his routes. I had to go back to 2018 to get a better idea of how talented Reagor was. He can play.
1) Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
I’d feel comfortable lining Jeudy up anywhere because a cornerback has a better chance at knowing the play than getting their hands on Jeudy at the line of scrimmage. We haven’t seen this level of route running in the past handful of years. I’d put Jeudy at “Z” to avoid as many contested situations over the middle.
X marks the spot
Split end is the receiver on the backside that you ask to win 1-on-1. He’s “your guy.”
4) Michael Pittman, USC
Pittman’s consistency across the board makes him easy to project to the NFL. Everyone wants to point to double moves, but it’s the hitches, slants, and comeback routes that are better tells whether a receiver is a legitimate route runner. Pittman ran surprisingly well and has some of the strongest hands in the draft. His physicality is also a plus.
3) Tee Higgins, Clemson
Higgins is a big receiver that plays “big.” He’s one of those, even if he’s not open, he’s open” receivers. Higgins must improve against press coverage and take fewer steps at the top of his routes, but Higgins is sneaky good after the catch and will be a very good No. 2.
2) Denzel Mims, Baylor
Easily the most fascinating receiver in the class, Mims plays as fast as he timed. The NFL is about projection and traits. Mims has elite speed, body control, leaping ability, and all of this translates to the ridiculous catches you see on film. Yes, he ran a limited route tree and must become a more detailed route runner and improve his hands as far as catching at keeping himself clean, but a lot of positives are being ignored from Mims.
1) CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
The more I watched Lamb, the more I came around on his route-running. He still has to be more consistent at the top, but early on in routes, Lamb is as good as it gets at working to the cornerback’s blind spot and manipulating a defender with a change of pace. Add in Lamb’s attacking mentality both when the ball is in the air and when it’s in his hands, and you have a star.
Separating the receivers into tiers
If a player like Aiyuk goes to a team like Arizona that simplifies his route tree where he can run slants, glance posts, and quick screens, he’ll perform like a first-round rounder. In a play-action, timing offense, Aiyuk will struggle. Because of that, I’ll separate the receivers into tiers this year.
Tier 4 is reserved for the players that are most dependent on their situation. You’ll be able to get production out of them, but there are more questions than answers. I’d put a Kendrick Bourne in this tier. These are players I’d take on Day 3 that you can produce, but likely at a WR3 level.
20) Laviska Shenault, Colorado
I’ve tried to come around on Shenault, but the lack of nuance as a route runner has me concerned.
19) Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
Edwards has the perfect mentality for a receiver and has shown he can get open, but I needed to see more athletically to have him any higher.
18) Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State
Superb ball skills and body control, but it’s tough to imagine Hodgins getting open in the NFL. Possible big slot?
17) Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan
Played with one of the worst quarterback situations in the draft. Could be a high-upside pick late in the draft with his athleticism/strength.
16) Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty
Gandy-Golden is one of the top deep threats in this class. He high points passes well, can break tackles, and provides the QB with a big target. Underneath, Gandy-Golden is very good at stopping and starting to create separation.
This tier is reserved for players that have better production than Tier 4, and aren’t as dependent on a landing spot.
15) Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky
He’s more of an offensive weapon with the way he breaks tackles. Bowden is a fun player that the NFL will love.
14) Quartney Davis, Texas A&M
Davis can be a player with consistent production in the slot. He may never be a star, but he’ll remain on a roster because he understands how to get open.
13) Devin Duvernay, Texas
Duvernay will be some team’s “old reliable” in the slot. Duvernay’s speed and strength after the catch, as well as his dependable hands, provide an ideal target.
This class is loaded, and this Tier is a great example. There are double-digit “No. 2 receivers” in this group. They may give you No. 1 production for a game, but not consistently.
12) Van Jefferson, Florida
Jefferson can create separation underneath as well as any receiver in the class. I’d be higher on him if there were athletic testing numbers.
11) Tyler Johnson, Minnesota
Like Jefferson, it’s difficult to project Johnson without concrete numbers. As a receiver, Johnson has shown consistency as a route runner. He’ll play in the NFL for a long time.
10) Justin Jefferson, LSU
I have to trust my eyes. I didn’t see a player that played fast. While Jefferson has value, especially in the slot, I can find what he can bring to the table in any draft.
9) Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
He’ll need to become more refined, but Aiyuk’s ability after the catch and down the field is better suited in today’s NFL than Jefferson.
8) Henry Ruggs, Alabama
Ruggs feels like I’m drafting Sammy Watkins. I may get 7/110 one game, but 3/45, the next four games. I need more consistency than that if I’m taking a receiver as high as Ruggs is projected to go.
Editors note: Michael Pittman was omitted on accident.
7) Michael Pittman, USC
Pittman is one of the “safer” receivers in the draft. His strong hands and ability to get open underneath make Pittman a candidate to be a high-end No. 2 receiver.
6) Jalen Reagor, TCU
With improved quarterback play Reagor should make a difference in the NFL. He has a better chance of being a Tier 1 receiver consistently than anyone in Tier 2.
5) K.J. Hamler, Penn State
All-aboard the Hamler train. I watched a lot of Nittany Lions, and #1 was a playmaker. I want him on my team.
4) Tee Higgins, Clemson
Again, trusting my eyes and ignoring the outside noise. Higgins may not be a true No. 1 receiver, but he’s going to be a quality No. 2 receiver. His numbers weren’t far off from Mike Williams of the Chargers. Even if I’m getting the homeless man’s version of Williams, I’ll take it.
These are the players that, three years from now, will be working on massive contract extensions because they’re No. 1 receivers.
3) Denzel Mims, Baylor
Over a month ago, I called Mims the best receiver in the draft. Since he’s more of a projection than the other two wideouts, he takes a backseat. I’m still the leader of the bandwagon and believe Mims will be closer to what he was at the Senior Bowl than at Baylor.
2) CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
As Lamb continues to work on his craft, it’s tough to imagine him not being a top-10 receiver in the league. As silly as it sounds, Lamb could have had even better stats had his quarterback not missed some throws last year.
1) Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
The best receiver in the draft. His frame, build, and catching over the middle may be a concern. I haven’t seen this good of a route runner since OBJ came out of the draft. Jeudy manipulates defenders at an elite level, and I expect him to get stronger and become a deep threat in the NFL. This is a superstar we’re talking about.