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NFL Team Building: Receivers are like Basketballs and Ice Cream

In such a deep receiver class, which one should the Redskins select in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Washington Redskins Rookie Camp Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The 2020 draft class is loaded at the wide receiver position.

Recently, former NFL scout and current NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he has given 27 different receivers a grade in the first three rounds.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper predicted “There is going to be at least 25 receivers taken in the first three rounds” before adjusting it to “About 18-20 in the first three, and if you extend that to Round 4, there’s probably 25 receivers taken.”

As far back as the Senior Bowl, his ESPN counterpart Todd McShay stated he has seven WRs ranked in Rd1 and predicted “close to 20” will be selected in the first 3 rounds.

Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline wrote “Right now most NFL general managers expect six receivers to be selected in the first round and a total of 15 off the board by the time the second round is complete.”

To keep all this in perspective, the average number of WRs drafted since 2010 is 31.3, with 3.4 in Rd1 and 12.3 in the Top-100.

In 2019, the numbers were 2 in Rd1, 13 in the top-100, and 29 drafted, making 20-25 receivers taken before the fourth round seem unlikely.

In theory, this should mean that starting with the third round, and with each and every passing round, there should be more value in selecting a receiver than just about any other positions.

In short, the Redskins would be foolish not to fish from this overstocked pond.

What to look for at Receiver? A basketball team and ice cream

When discussing the receiver position, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler asks the question “What flavor ice cream do you like?

It’s just really depends about what you look for at the position. What I look for first is two things. You have to be able to get open and you have to be able to catch the ball. After that, route athleticism route awareness. Your releases, yards after catch. Physicality, power, and blocking. What are your pass catching skills, your focus, are you a natural hands catcher. Do you track the ball naturally. Do you have a “my ball” mentality. Can you finish at the catch point.”

The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has often said he thinks teams should build their receiving corps like a basketball team.

“You need to have a variety of different body types and skill sets to take advantage of mismatches.”

Jeremiah grades receivers based on size, toughness, production, dependability, release off the line of scrimmage, quickness in and out of breaks, routes, hands, concentration in traffic, play speed, contact strength, run after catch, how does he adjust to the ball, 3rd down value, and effort and finish as a blocker.

When it comes to team building, and creating a complementary receiving corps, keep two things in mind.

1. Most NFL teams carry SIX receivers, and if you don’t start, you need to prove yourself on special teams.

2. While receivers should be as athletic as possible, they do not require peak ability in every area.

Since the offense dictates the plays and the route concepts, a wide receiver can get away with being either quick/elusive, or fast (elite top speed), or outstanding at competing for the ball against tight coverage (contested catches).

Football Guys’ Sigmund Bloom says “that’s the challenge for these teams. NOT to rank these receivers 1 through 27, but to understand for these parts of our playbook and this role, this receiver is going to translate well.”

NFL films Greg Cosell explains “wide receivers who can line up on the outside and win against man-to-man coverage at the short, intermediate and deeper levels (Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson come to mind), always have more value.”

In the ideal world, you’d want your “big” receiver to play the “X”. The “X-iso” boundary receivers (the single receiver to the boundary side) are critical to passing games. You get a lot of man coverage.

Sometimes these guys win because of thier size, physicality, and strength. Alshon Jeffery isn’t what you’d call fast. This type can win by basically breaking tackles and win in the air against tight coverage and contact.

Probably the player which most represents the prototype is Clemson receiver Tee Higgins. At 6’3 ½, 215 his ceiling could he that of AJ Green, and he is expected to be drafted in the first round.

A pair of day two options are South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards (6’2 ½, 212), Baylor’s Denzel Mims (6’2, 207) and USC’s Michael Pittman (6’4, 223).

Finally, some day three options who could potentially beat the odds are Oregon State’s Isaiah Hodgins (6’3 ½, 210), Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden (6’4, 223), Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland (6’2, 209), and Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings (6’3, 215).

The “Z” receiver, or flanker should have a good all-around game (Marvin Harrison, Calvin Ridley, Stephon Diggs), but normally are somewhat average in size. Fortunately for Washington, Terry McLaurin fits the bill perfectly.

Certain first rounders Jerry Jeudy (Alabama) and CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma) would make ideal flankers, but so might fringe top-100 prospects such as Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson and Florida’s Van Jefferson.

Some receiver prospects profile as vertical threats. Many time their skills (hands, route running) are lacking in several areas, but their “trump card” is so rare that they are drafted ahead of better all-around prospects (Hollywood Brown, John Ross, Will Fuller).

However, their ability to “take to top off the defense” can assist the running game by decreasing the number of defenders in the box and loosen underneath coverage.

Alabama’s Henry Ruggs is the guy whose speed will be coveted on draft day. Day three options include Miami’s Jeff Thomas, who profiles similarly to former Hurricanes’ receiver Travis Benjamin.

One the Move the Stick’s Podcast (Ep. 401), NFL Networks’s Bucky Brooks and Lance Zierlein discussed the value of the slot receiver. The classic slot receiver is somewhat undersized (Wes Welker, Jamison Crowder) with more quickness (3-cone, Short Shuttle) than speed (40 time) who can find the soft spot in the zone.

Brooks says “I like guys with some return skills in their background. Part of it is Because I know they’re tough. Second, it means you do have some wiggle. Can they catch it, then make that first guys miss.”

However, now more and more NFL teams are incorporating the “Big Slot” (Marques Colston, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Boyd). Zierlein explains “so it’s less about separation, and it’s more about body (posting you up) and making contested catches in traffic.

Historically, you don’t have to spend a first round pick on a slot receiver, but LSU’s Justin Jefferson fits the Boyd/Kupp profile and has a chance to break into the top-50. TCU’s Jalen Reagor and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler are each expected to be selected early because they bring an extra gear (each should time in the 4.3s) into the slot and additional value as a return specialist. The idea that outside receivers run deep routes and inside receivers run short routes is an antiquated approach to the game.

Texas’ Devin Duvernay (deep speed), Ohio State’s K.J. Hill (size/body), and SMU’s James Proche (quickness) all have different styles but each will likely still be on the board at the top of Round 4.

The WR/RB hybrid (for reverses/sweeps/screens) who is YAC threat, has been around for many years (Percy Harvin, Ty Montgomery), but Daniel Jeremiah says that Deebo Samuel is a great example of a growing trend toward “positionless players”.

Bucky Brooks classifies Samuel a “Wing Back” and says offensive coordinators are going to categorize some of these guys (2020 draft prospects) as wing backs, and they are going to put them into the offense, not only as pass catchers, but they are going to find a way to get them 5-6 rushes per game.

Colorado’s Laviska Shenault leads a bunch that include Memphis WR/RB Antonio Gibson and Kentucky QB/WR Lyne Bowden. Listed at 6’0 ½, 227, Shenault is the most physical runner after the catch in this (or any??) draft class, but the rest of his game isn’t developed.

If you are not one of a team’s top three receivers, you need to bring special teams value. Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool brings Tight End size (6’4, 238) and is the best gunner on punt return coverage I saw this past Fall, but his “tweeter” size will likely push him into day three.


So in review, I have classified many of the 2020 wide receiver prospects into either a classic “X” receiver, a flanker, the deep ball specialist, the small/shifty slot, the “big slot”, the “wing back” (RB/WR hybrid), and finally the back-up with special teams value.

In such a deep class, no matter what flavor you prefer, every NFL team should get a scoop from this historic group of receivers.