Class of receivers has chance to be historic

Jerry Rice, Andre Reed and Al Toon were part of the same draft class in 1985. Multiple Hall of Famers — Michael Irvin and Tim Brown in 1988, and Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison in 1996 — headed others.

More recently, Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans arrived in the NFL together in 2014.

It’s still too soon to tell whether the 2020 NFL Draft class of wide receivers will rival those lofty groups of boldfaced names, but the buzz continues to grow surrounding this year’s pool of pass-catchers eligible to be selected on April 23, headed by Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. projects seven receivers to be taken in the opening round alone, which would match the NFL record for one year, with several more to make immediate impacts at the NFL level.

“It’s the depth. … We have 30 to 35 receivers with [at least] second- or third-round grades,” Kiper said on a conference call this week. “There are gonna be some fifth-round receivers out of this group, and you’re gonna see some really good players drop to points you never thought was possible. … You’re gonna get guys coming in that aren’t even drafted that will make teams at wide receiver this year.”

Of course, draft status doesn’t always guarantee NFL success. The 2004 draft produced the aforementioned record seven wide receivers in the opening round, but other than Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald (third overall), none of the other six — Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, Michael Jenkins and Rashaun Woods — totaled as many as 400 career receptions.

Henry Ruggs III; Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb
Henry Ruggs III; Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee LambAP (20; Getty Images

Kiper doesn’t project any of this year’s crop to be selected in the top 10, but he believes one of his three highest-rated receivers could be in play for the Jets at No. 11 now that Robby Anderson has signed a free-agent deal with the Panthers. His mock draft was submitted before that defection, but Kiper believes the Jets’ decision to potentially go with a wideout could hinge on the expected run on offensive tackles projected to be selected ahead of them.

“I think that’s a tough call. That would be whoever they prefer,” Kiper said. “You could go Jeudy, you could go Lamb, and Henry Ruggs III is right there with some teams as the top receiver. So that’s a call right there that they’re gonna have to make by [Jets GM] Joe Douglas and his scouts.

“I would project Jeudy, I almost went with Jeudy. Obviously, Robby Anderson signed right after the mock came out, with the Panthers. So If I had to redo it right now, it would be Jeudy over Lamb. I would probably go Jeudy.”

The 6-foot-1 Jeudy widely is considered the complete package by scouts, particularly with his hands and route running, while Ruggs, his Crimson Tide teammate, is considered the speedster of the group after clocking a 4.27 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine last month. Lamb is lauded for the always attractive yards-after-catch metric.

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Kiper also projects Clemson’s Tee Higgins, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool to go off the board between picks 19 and 30.

“The draft class is incredibly strong. This is my fourth combine and this is as good as I’ve ever seen — the depth of it, the top-end players,” 49ers GM John Lynch said last month. “It’s a really good class. You can kind of get whatever flavor you like. If you like smaller, quicker guys, those guys are there. If you like the big guys that can move, those guys are there. If you like speed, that’s there. If you like separators — so, I think the whole league’s kind of smiling about that.”

For any team not willing to expend a first-round pick, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah also rates 27 receivers with grades in the top three rounds. He has called this class “a phenomenal group” and “as deep as I’ve ever seen.”

“You’ve probably heard every GM and coach talk about this wide receiver class; it’s a good one,” Douglas said at the scouting combine. “Just watching them go across the stage, there’s a lot of talented players and we see how much the pass game affects the National Football League.

“So we do feel good about this group. … There are some really good wide receivers in this class.”

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