News & Analysis

Kremenjas: Ranking the top 15 rookie wide receivers through Week 5 of the 2020 NFL season

Entering the season, the 2020 rookie wide receiver group was lauded as one that could possess the most potential of maybe any class ever. The early returns have proven that it has plenty of potential, as many players have already separated themselves from their peers with solid play.

Not all players have been given the opportunity for a solidified role, a strong snap share or a hefty number of targets, but we can combine a mixture of raw statistics, quality of play and efficiency to help rank the rookie receivers through six games into their rookie seasons.

Listed below are the top 15 rookie wide receivers through Week 6.

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1. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

While Lamb’s 65.2 overall grade (ranks 72nd) won’t blow anyone away, his ability to immediately step in and produce outstanding results needs to be credited. The former Oklahoma Sooners star ranks fifth in the league in receiving yards (433) and leads the Cowboys — who have two more tremendous receivers.

Lamb’s rankings across the board have been great (min. 10 targets):

    • 20 1st downs (eighth)
    • 117 yards after the catch (14th)
    • 11 explosive pass plays (fifth)
    • 2.26 yards per route run (19th)

Lamb’s production out of the slot has been downright dominant, as he ranks first in receptions and receiving yards and second in first downs and contested catches among all receivers from a slot alignment.

It's clear why he was such a coveted first-round draft pick by a Cowboys team that already had two Pro Bowl receivers on their roster. And they may now have three players capable of putting together Pro Bowl seasons at any time from the same positional group.

2. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

There is absolutely a discussion to be had between the top two players on this list — it feels like more of a coin flip as opposed to a legitimate gap between Jefferson and Lamb for the top spot. The main reason Jefferson lands at No. 2 behind Lamb is really due to having fewer opportunities. It took Jefferson a few weeks to finally get involved in the Vikings’ offense, but he absolutely showed out when he got his chance. The rookie has reeled in 19 receptions on 25 targets for 371 receiving yards. Even with his slow start to the season, Jefferson ranks just outside of the top 10 (11th among all receivers) in receiving yards.

The first-round pick’s after-the-catch ability has been on full display, as he’s racked up 122 yards after the catch, ranking 11th among all receivers in that category. Jefferson’s 19.5 receiving yards per reception (fifth) and 2.77 yards per route run (sixth) figures both rank incredibly highly among all receivers in the league, too.

The transition from Stefon Diggs to Jefferson has been absolutely seamless; the rookie looks to have replaced the former Viking in fine fashion. Jefferson’s 90.6 elite overall PFF grade ranks second among all receivers in the NFL.

3. Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

Rounding out the top three rookie receivers thus far is the one they call “Mapletron.” Claypool, who some believed was far better suited at tight end, has demolished all expectations. He was predicted to come along slowly in a developmental role in his rookie season.

To hell with that, as Claypool absolutely erupted in Week 5 to the tune of four touchdowns and another 40-yard touchdown that was wiped off the board due to a tacky pass interference penalty. The Canadian has received only 19 targets on the season but has reeled in 13 of them for 261 receiving yards and a whopping four touchdowns. The big-bodied weapon has also hauled in three contested catches (ranks second among rookies) and is absolutely dominating with his 3.53 yards per route run figure, ranking second among all receivers in the NFL with 10-plus targets.

Claypool’s vicious start to his rookie season has resulted in a tremendous 82.7 overall PFF grade, which currently ranks seventh among all receivers in the NFL.

4. Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Shenault is one of the few players on this list who has the versatility to legitimately play two different positions on offense, as some believed he was best-suited as a receiver and others as a running back. Either way, Shenault has produced in both positions:

    • 28 targets (tied second among rookies)
    • 23 receptions (second)
    • 270 receiving yards (third)
    • 1 receiving touchdown (fifth)
    • 16 first downs (second)
    • 8 explosive pass plays (third)
    • 1.99 yards per route run (sixth)
    • 53 rushing yards (second)
    • 2 missed tackles forced as a runner (second)

Shenault has immediately established himself as a dual-threat weapon for a Jaguars offense that severely needed it, and it’s led to his 79.8 overall PFF grade that ranks third among rookie receivers and 15th among all receivers in the NFL.

5. Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Jeudy's 68.8 overall PFF grade ranks seventh among rookie receivers, tied with the aforementioned Higgins. The majority of his production and opportunities have come from the slot, as he’s totaled 11 receptions on 23 targets for 139 receiving yards from that alignment.

His lone touchdown — which was an absolute beauty — came from an outside alignment, flashing the sick contested-catch ability and deep toolbox of skills the former first-round pick possesses.

Jeudy’s 2.03 yards per route run figure ranks fifth among rookie receivers and 34th among all receivers with five-plus targets on the season.

6. Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

The first receiver selected in the 2020 NFL Draft not cracking the top five, at minimum, would typically lead you to believe his team made the wrong draft choice, but Ruggs’ injury sidelined him for multiple contests and left us with little in terms of production and game time to evaluate.

Still, the speed demon has flashed a ton of the vertical ability that got him drafted so highly on his 68 receiving snaps. Ruggs has pulled in only six of his 11 targets, but for 177 receiving yards, one touchdown and three explosive pass plays (15-plus yards downfield). His raw box-score totals won’t blow anyone away, but his efficiency metrics are awesome; Ruggs ranks third in average depth of target (21.6), second in receiving yards per reception (29.5), third in yards after the catch per reception (10.8) and 14th in yards per route run (2.60) among all receivers with five-plus targets on the season.

The only thing holding Ruggs back from being higher on this list is his lack of playing time.

7. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

In an incredibly random fashion, Higgins has established himself early as a genuine weapon on a Bengals roster that was loaded at the receiver position, surpassing veterans John Ross and A.J. Green. Higgins has reeled in 16 receptions on 28 targets for 214 yards in addition to two receiving touchdowns to begin his NFL career. He’s accumulated 13 first downs (fourth among rookies), two contested catches (fourth) and seven explosive pass plays (fifth).

Ironically, Higgins was compared by some to Green coming out of Clemson. While he probably doesn’t have the same level of talent as Green did coming out of Georgia many years ago, Higgins has done a great job establishing a rapport with Joe Burrow early into what could become a great duo for the foreseeable future.

8. Bryan Edwards, Las Vegas Raiders

It’s tough to evaluate Edwards with such a limited amount of playing time, but the Raiders’ “other” rookie receiver is off to a pretty good start with his five receptions on six targets for 99 receiving yards and four first downs. Edwards does have only one broken tackle — a lauded feature of his game coming out of South Carolina — but has managed three explosive pass plays (ninth among rookie receivers) on just 57 receiving snaps.

Edwards’ 19.8 receiving yards per reception (third), 9.4 yards after the catch per reception (fourth) and 1.74 yards per route run (seventh) figures all rank highly among rookie wideouts, and his 70.6 overall PFF grade ranks 47th among all receivers and sixth among rookie receivers.

9. Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills

Day 3 draft picks are now commonplace on this list, with Davis being the third such rookie to make it. While Davis has received only nine targets, he’s been able to reel in eight of them for 129 receiving yards and two touchdowns, in addition to converting five first downs.

Davis is already proving to be a Day 3 steal early into his career, as he’s reeled in 100% of his catchable passes and is sporting a perfect passer rating when targeted (158.3), which leads all rookies this season. His sure hands and nifty route-running ability have allowed him to produce early into his career.

10. Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have suffered multiple injuries to offensive stars at skill positions, which Aiyuk has been able to capitalize on. The former Arizona State Sun Devil has pulled in 12 receptions on 21 targets for 153 receiving yards and 10 first downs (fifth).

He is going to need to continue to develop as a legitimate receiver, but he’s already shown some of the after-the-catch ability that made him a first-round pick. Aiyuk leads all rookie receivers with his 69 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, forcing four missed tackles on four rushing attempts and producing 10.3 yards after contact per attempt. He also had one of the best touchdowns of the season thus far.

11. Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears

Mooney is the first legitimate late-round rookie to make this list, and deservedly so. The vertical threat has developed quickly into a reliable starting receiver through just six NFL games:

    • 24 targets (sixth)
    • 15 receptions (fifth)
    • 160 receiving yards (eighth)
    • 93.8% percentage of catchable passes that were caught (14th)
    • 5 explosive pass plays (seventh)

Mooney ranks highly among rookie receivers across the board and in most categories, which is probably a surprise for a fifth-round rookie in an offense with a shaky quarterback situation. So far, the early returns have been very positive.

12. Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams

Like many of the aforementioned names, Jefferson hasn’t been provided a ton of opportunities to ball just yet. However, he has still displayed some of the ability that made him the 57th overall draft pick. Jefferson’s five receptions on nine targets are nothing to write home about, and neither are his 76 receiving yards. It’s his three first downs, 14.7-yard average depth of target (seventh) and 1.62 yards per route run (ninth) figures that rank highly among his rookie counterparts.

His 68.4 overall PFF grade won’t drop any jaws, but it does rank 12th among rookie receivers through the first six weeks.

13. Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles

Reagor was a tough evaluation, as he’s totaled only 67 receiving snaps, but Philly’s first-round draft pick has already displayed some of the vertical ability that made him such a high selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Reagor’s 18.8-yard average depth of target ranks fourth, his 19.2 receiving yards per reception ranks fifth and his 6.6 yards after the catch per reception ranks eighth among all rookie receivers.

Reagor has registered a 100% catch rate on catchable passes, but the small sample sizes make it difficult to truly evaluate him.

14. Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens

Among all rookie receivers with five-plus targets, Duvernay’s 77.8% catch percentage ranks seventh. While Duvernay has totaled only nine targets this season, he’s managed to reel in seven for 59 receiving yards and two first downs. The former Texas Longhorn’s 1.69 yards per route run figure ranks eighth among all rookie receivers.

While Duvernay’s offensive impact has been limited, he’s also managed to chip in 238 yards and one touchdown as a kick returner. His 34 yards per kick return currently ranks third in the NFL.

15. K.J. Hamler, Denver Broncos

Hamler, a former second-round draft pick, is the lowest-ranked receiver on the list, mostly due to a lack of usage and production. The speedster has been targeted only 12 times this season, reeling in six of those for 78 yards and three first downs.

While Hamler hasn’t been able to rack up a ton of production, his 0.95 yards per route run ranks 20th among rookie receivers and his ninth-ranked 14.1-yard average depth of target (aDOT) does create some intrigue for his projection moving forward.

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