As the NFL Draft process began, we heard that this wide receiver class was the “deepest in years” and “better than the 2014 class that featured superstars.” The closer we get to the NFL Draft, the more you hear the football community disappointed in the receiver class. Perhaps not disappointed, but there isn’t a “lights out superstar” that you feel is a can’t-miss prospect.
Bob McGinn of The Athletic asked NFL scouts how they felt about some of the top prospects in the NFL Draft, and these scouts weren’t as high on the wide receiver class, either. Here is what a few scouts told McGinn:
“I think this is a really good wide receiver group, but this isn’t a slam-dunk, top-five group,” one scout said. “It’s loaded from like (picks) 20 to 50. There are ten guys in that one. But there’s no Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, those types of guys.”
The problem with that train of thought is that if you are only looking for those two players, then you’re never going to be satisfied. You can be a No. 1 receiver in the league and not be Calvin Johnson. That said, the scouts do have a point and aren’t caught up in the highlight plays.
We know the San Francisco 49ers are going to draft a wide receiver. Many have the Niners taking a wide receiver at No. 13, but there’s a real possibility that the top prospects aren’t available. Even if they are, is the value there just because the 49ers have a need? Here is what the scouts had to say about the top wideouts in the draft.
On Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy
“He has good speed and runs great routes. Gets a lot of separation. More of a polished guy than Ruggs and also taller.” “He’s very, very quick,” said another scout. “Reminds me somewhat of Amari Cooper with the quickness, the routes, the run after the catch. He’ll play, but I don’t think he’ll be a big-time receiver.”
On Oklahoma’s Ceedee Lamb
“Best run after the catch since Amari Cooper. Every time he touches the ball, it’s a potential touchdown. He had one drop in the six games I watched. He’s just so quick. Gets separation. Excellent on fly sweeps. He’d be a bigger Marquise Brown from there last year.”
“You see him in person; you’re kind of turned off a little bit,” a third scout said. “Then you watch the guy after the catch. For a guy that’s his build, he plays stronger than you would expect. He’s a big-time playmaker.”
On Henry Ruggs
“He’s super-fast,” said one scout. “Speed, speed, speed. He’s really good.”
“Go look at the top 20 receivers that have run fast, and none of them are any good,” another scout said. “People say, ‘Ruggs ran 4.2. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer.’ He was essentially, in Alabama’s offense, the third guy. He was really a specialist where they designed certain plays for him, mainly that over route where he goes from one side of the field to the other … and outruns everybody. He is fast, but when people get on him, you don’t see the same speed and route-running. He’s not a make-you-miss player. If you use him for what his strengths are, he’ll be good in your offense. If you expect him to come in and be your No. 1 receiver, I don’t see that. He’s a space-vertical linear route runner that needs space to catch the ball.”
The argument for passing on a receiver at 13
This can be a deep class, and the top receivers may not be worth the 13th overall pick. Both of these can be true. The closer we get to the draft, the more I feel like it isn’t Jeudy. We’ve talked about this a bit, but think of the two receivers that were phased out of the offense in 2019: Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin. Why? They both lacked physicality, and you didn’t see the “dog” in them, from attacking the ball to blocking. These are also concerns for Jeudy, who looks less “superhuman” the further down the field he gets.
Jeudy would be a terrific scheme fit for the 49ers, but you can’t ignore his inconsistencies when it comes to catching the ball when he’s not wide open—which is why I believe Kyle Shanahan would be out on Jeudy.
With Lamb, all of his questions come before he has the ball in his hands. You can tell Lamb wasn’t asked to run nuanced routes at Oklahoma. While he has great releases off of the line of scrimmage, CeeDee’s routes lack imagination, and that hurts him when it comes to separation in man coverage. Lamb will round his routes, and that will lead to defensive backs undercutting him or crossing his face. Yes, you can teach this. While there are fewer questions for Lamb, there are more projections compared to Jeudy. Lamb has the dog in him that Shanahan values, and I’d guess he’d be the team’s preference if available. That said, Lamb will need to continue to develop as a route runner if he is going to be worthy of the 13th pick.
I understand why people are infatuated with Ruggs. I can give you 4.2 reasons why. What the scout above said about the former Crimson Tide receiver is a has a lot more truth to it than many are willing to accept. Rugg’s big plays came from off coverage and when he was able to use his world-class speed without being challenged. That’s not how the NFL works. Yes, he has good reps that you can use. No, he’s not consistent as a receiver. Ruggs leaves a lot to be desired off of the line of scrimmage and general underneath route-running. Mississippi State’s Cam Dantzler locked Ruggs down. There are too many holes in Rugg’s game for me to be on board with taking him at 13 in this draft, knowing I can get 80-90% of the production I’d get from Ruggs later in the draft.