News & Analysis

Breaking down the talented second tier of wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft class

We’ve been banging the drum for the 2020 receiver class since about this time a year ago, it seems. It has a chance to match 2014 for not only top-end talent, but depth as well. So far at PFF, we’ve focused heavily on those guys at the top of the class listed below:

Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Ceedee Lamb, Oklahoma
Henry Ruggs, Alabama
Laviska Shenault, Colorado
Tee Higgins, Clemson
Jalen Reagor, TCU
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Denzel Mims, Baylor

What we haven’t dug into is the second wave of talent — the Day 2 and early Day 3 guys who can still be long-term starters in the league. Those are the players that take this receiver class from special into the realm of best we’ve ever seen. Let’s break down some of PFF’s favorites.

[Editor's note: PFF's 2020 NFL Draft Guide is live! Subscribe to PFF's EDGE or ELITE subscription today to download your copy.]

The Deep Threats

K.J. Hamler, Penn State

Most of the legit deep threats in this class are expected to go early on in that first tier, but Hamler is firmly in that second wave of wideouts expected to come off the board on Day 2. Hamler hauled in 11-of-21 deep targets from the slot for five touchdowns. Those 11 deep receptions were the third most of any receiver in the country from the slot last year. The modern NFL passing game is trending toward vertical threats from the slot, and Hamler’s elite speed and quicks will play at the next level.

The worrisome thing about Hamler at the moment is his ball skills. He has far too many drops on tape for a team to feel comfortable taking him ahead of the guys in the top tier of this class. Hamler dropped an astounding 12 balls on only 68 catchable throws last season — that’s an astounding 17.6%. We’ve seen guys clean up drops in the NFL, though, and you can’t coach a player to be as electric in space as Hamler.

John Hightower, Boise State

Hightower is yet another wideout with some speed to burn as he clocked in with a 4.43 at the Combine in Indianapolis. That showed up repeatedly on tape as he averaged 18.5 yards per catch this past season. The Boise State wideout is exceptionally fluid and he isn’t simply winning by striding straight past slower defensive backs on go balls. He sells post-corners and other downfield double moves exceptionally well. We’d love to see him continue to add muscle to his frame, though, as he still only checked in at the Combine weighing 189 pounds — and his ability to fight through contact was inhibited because of it.

The Big Dogs

Michael Pittman Jr., USC

Pittman is my bet for this year’s most overthought prospect. You can chase high-end athletic tools all you want, but give me guys like Pittman who know the receiver position like the back of their hand. He can not only separate on the underneath and intermediate route trees, but Pittman is terrific at using his size to stack cornerbacks down the football field. In terms of completeness at the receiver position, Pittman is right up there with anyone in the draft class. What really separates him are his hands. He’s dropped only five passes on 176 catchable targets in his career.

Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty

Gandy-Golden is a very productive and intriguing small school wide receiver. He was pumped 263 targets over the past two seasons at Liberty and went for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns each season. Maybe more impressively, Gandy-Golden broke 17 tackles on 70 catches in 2018 and then 16 on 79 this past season. He’s far more nimble than you’d expect from a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wideout, and it really showed after the catch. While he looked impressive with his releases at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, his route-running is still a work in progress. Gandy-Golden has the type of background that you bet on developing exceptionally well in the NFL. He started off as a gymnast, can solve a Rubik's cube in a minute, bowled a perfect game only a few months after he started bowling, and has a Michael Vick-esque cannon for an arm.

Whatever Gandy-Golden puts his mind to, chances are he’ll get it done.

The Route Runners

Tyler Johnson, Minnesota

Johnson won’t be wowing anybody with his athleticism anytime soon. The fact that he healthy scratched himself at the Combine should tell you all you need to know about how his numbers would have looked. No matter, all Johnson did at Minnesota was follow up his 90.7 receiving grade as a junior with a 92.2 receiving grade this past year — the highest in the country. Whether it’s from the slot or out wide, Johnson gets open. And even when he’s not, Johnson will still haul in passes. He went 16-of-24 in contested catch situations this past season. While he may not blaze the fastest 40 or have the highest vert, Johnson is solidly built and arguably the craftiest route-runner in the draft class.

K.J. Hill, Ohio State

I said Johnson was ‘arguably’ the craftiest route-runner because Hill has a legit claim to that title. Don’t let the lack of raw numbers fool you with Hill — the Ohio State receiving corps was loaded in his career there. At the Senior Bowl, Hill cooked every single defensive back he faced en route to a 92% win rate. He’s right up there with Jerry Jeudy in his ability to separate immediately at the line of scrimmage and on the underneath route tree. Plug him into the slot in your offense and don’t look back.

The YAC-stars

Jauan Jennings, Tennessee

In a class that features upward of five first-round-type talents at wide receiver all with dynamic athletic profiles, it was actually Jennings who led the entire country last season in broken tackles. He broke a ridiculous 30 tackles on only 59 catches last season — four more than any other receiver in the country. His balance and ability to slip free from defenders is second to none in the draft class. Unfortunately, he is limited athletically and ran only a 4.72 40-yard dash at the Combine. Still, Jennings can fill the big-slot role in an offense and turn underneath targets into first-downs routinely.

Devin Duvernay, Texas

Duvernay is on the opposite end of the YAC spectrum from Jennings. He’s a former track athlete who blazed a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. Jet-sweeps and screens are his bread and butter as Duvernay had the second most receptions on screens of any player in the country (42). He converted those into 17 first downs or scores and broke 14 tackles on them — both figures that led the country. With his combination of speed, power and elusiveness, he’ll quickly find a role in an NFL offense.

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