Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
INDIANAPOLIS — There may be no position more polarizing and enticing than wide receiver. It is notoriously difficult to evaluate, but the 2020 wide receiver draft class is one which has been touted as tremendous, and the 49ers will at the very least, have a chance to draft one of those wide receivers (likely outside of that elite trio of Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb, and maybe including Colorado’s Laviska Shenault).
There are plenty of reasons to believe the 49ers won’t draft a wide receiver, which we’ll explore in more depth later this week, but for the purposes of this, let’s assume the 49ers are in the market for a wide receiver, either with that 31st overall pick, or if they trade down to the second or third round. Trading up isn’t out of the question, but doesn’t seem overwhelmingly likely at this juncture.
Below are 10 wide receivers that the 49ers should be keeping tags on at the Combine. (Note: Projected draft position comes from four mock drafts from NFL.com’s Chad Reuter, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and The Draft Network’s Joe Marino):
Laviska Shenault Jr. – Colorado
Laviska Shenault will check in with similar measurables to AJ Brown…but Shenault is faster than Brown.
— Dësto Hendrìx // Chan Marshall fan acct (@Desto__Hendrix) February 26, 2020
Height: 6’0 5/8″
Weight: 227 pounds
Wingspan: 76 1/4″
Hand size: 9″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 2, pick 33, Bengals; Miller: Round 2, pick 33, Bengals; Marino: Round 1, Pick 23, Patriots)
Best college season (sophomore year): 86 receptions, 1,011 yards, 6 TDs
Pros: Excels at creating space for himself past the line of scrimmage and shows the capacity to run very crisp routes. He breaks off the top of routes with sharpness and can create space with physicality often without being flagged. Has a very good, thick frame, and can deal with press coverage well if he mixes up his approaches. Was used in a variety of ways effectively much like Deebo Samuel. Has solid hands and can use his body to make contested catches.
Cons: He has room for improvement as a route runner especially with in-breaking, non-vertical routes. Not always the most willing blocker or assertive in breaking out of his routes despite ability to do both well.
Brandon Aiyuk – Arizona State
Brandon Aiyuk is the most underrated receiver in this class. NFL teams love speed and Aiyuk has a whole lot of it 💨
▪️High-end straight line speed
▪️Excellent route runner
▪️Playmaker with the ball in his hands
▪️Threat in the return game pic.twitter.com/gU1PGYnhvw
— Speak Up (@speakupka) February 24, 2020
Height: 5’11 5/8″
Weight: 208 pounds
Hand size: 9 3/4″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 1, Pick 24, Saints; Miller: Round 2, Pick 40: Cardinals; Marino: Round 1, Pick 30, Packers)
Best college season (senior year – started at junior college): 65 receptions, 1,192 yards, 8 TDs
Pros: Creates fantastic separation and adjusts to difficult-to-catch passes impressively. Runs less-than-common routes for college wide receivers clean and fairly tight. His change of direction and release make him a constant problem for defensive backs, especially in zone coverage. He’s a solid blocker and enjoys getting physical. His speed is deceptive and he presents myriad problems once the ball is in his hands. Very shifty and difficult to tackle. Was coached by Herm Edwards at ASU, who he credited with providing constant advice and notes for improvement given his experience as an NFL head coach and defensive back.
Cons: Doesn’t always break off deeper, out-cutting or quick stopping routes effectively. Separation off the line is much better than it is when asked to create separation on say a hook or out route. Struggles breaking off press coverage by using his hands.
Tee Higgins – Clemson
Tee Higgins beating the no.1 CB in the draft with a clean release 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/rweitI86Qu
— Westcoast 57257 (@WC57257) February 24, 2020
Height: 6’3 5/8″
Weight: 216 pounds
Hand size: 9 1/4″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 1, Pick 26, Lions; Miller: Round 1, Pick 22, Bills; Marino: Round 2, Pick 53, Browns)
Best college season (junior year): 59 receptions, 1,167 yards, 13 TDs
Pros: Very quick off the line of scrimmage and down the field, especially for his size. Very A.J. Green-like in that sense (and says he models his game after Green). He’s flexible and demonstrates an ability to come back to the ball for contested catches. Massive wingspan and reach. Is an ideal deep and end zone fade threat.
Cons: Thin frame and lacks a desirable level of physicality. His release in man coverage is held back by his lack of strength and route running leaves a bit to be desired.
Justin Jefferson – LSU
(#LSU) Justin Jefferson shows his open field ability against arguably the top Safety in this draft Class…
Jefferson has the opportunity to make some serious cash with his Combine Performance. He absolutely has the film to back his combine numbers.
— Josh Lemoine (@LSUTruth) February 25, 2020
Height: 6’1 1/4″
Weight: 202 pounds
Hand size: 9 1/8″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 2, Pick 36, Giants; Miller: Round 1, Pick 24, Saints; Marino: Round 1, Pick 24, Saints)
Best college season (senior year): 111 receptions, 1,540 yards, 18 TDs
Pros: Tremendous hands, flexibility and catch-in-traffic ability. Very good frame and has demonstrated he ends up with the ball in his hands in the end zone frequently. Very gifted at coming back to the ball and adjusting his body to make impressive catches. His physicality is very useful and he provides a very valuable blocking presence.
Cons: He’s not extraordinarily athletic and doesn’t always create space for himself off his release or on his first cut. He doesn’t have the highest motor and sometimes gives up on plays if he’s not initially targeted.
K.J. Hamler – Penn State
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 26, 2020
Height: 5’8 5/8″
Weight: 178 pounds
Wingspan: 72 1/2″
Hand size: 9 3/8″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 2, Pick 55, Browns; Miller: Round 2, Pick 42, Jaguars, Marino: After Round 2)
Best college season (junior year): 59 receptions, 904 yards, 8 TDs
Pros: Very shifty, quick wide receiver who excels at creating space and exploiting short catches for yards after. Very difficult to get a handle on and has impressive speed. He fights for 50/50 balls and is a solid route runner and especially versatile.
Cons: The smallest wide receiver in consideration, his build is a problem. He has the athleticism to compensate for some of his vertically challenged drawbacks, but doesn’t provide much in the way of contested catches. Is a liability in run blocking due to his size, though willingness is there.
Denzel Mims – Baylor
He’s had more contested catches among all college WR’s since 2017. Unreal body control, sticky hands… Denzel Mims is a WR the #Packers could be eyeing to add to the offense.
— GBP Daily (@GBPdaily) February 24, 2020
Height: 6’2 7/8″
Weight: 207 pounds
Wingspan: 78 1/2″
Hand size: 9 3/8″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 2, Pick 60, Ravens; Miller: Round 3, Pick 102, Steelers; Marino: After Round 2)
Best college season (senior year, sophomore year a close second): 66 receptions, 1,020 yards, 12 TDs
Pros: Great size, length and athleticism. Extraordinarily shifty and succeeds often in finding gaps in zone coverage. A very physical and willing blocker. Downfield speed is tremendous and is a consistent problem on deep routes. Massive potential for contested and tight window catches.
Cons: His release and effort on short routes is concerning. Doesn’t demonstrate fantastic release in those situations and fails to break away the way he does on vertical stems. Has some concerns with concentration drops. Doesn’t always use his physicality to defeat jamming in press coverage at the line of scrimmage and can get pushed back despite his size. His motor and consistency is a concern.
Bryan Edwards – South Carolina
– Good upside
– Strong contested catch skills
– Dangerous after the catch
– Fantastic body control
– High football IQ
– Love his toughness
– Plays a physical brand of football
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 10, 2020
Height: 6’2 3/4″
Weight: 212 pounds
Wingspan: 78 5/8″
Hand size: 9 1/2″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 3, Pick 102, Texans; Miller: Round 3, Pick 68, Jets; Marino: After Round 2)
Best college season (junior year, senior year had 16 more receptions, slightly fewer yards and one fewer TD): 55 receptions, 846 yards, 7 TDs
Pros: Has a fantastic frame and the requisite strength and speed to compliment it. Knows how to find the gaps in zone coverage and sit down in them at the right time a la Travis Kelce. Very strong hands and an assertive first step that works to his advantage in press man coverage. Has the athleticism and flexibility to come back and secure contested catches and hands are generally good.
Cons: Doesn’t have lightning-quick speed and won’t be able to work out at the Combine due to a broken foot (he said he would have run about a 4.48 40-yard dash). His ability to break off after what are generally solid releases is cause for concern. That lack of separation will likely be a problem at the next level, and it shows up most when he’s along the sideline. He thrives over the middle of the field, which may not provide much value given that Kendrick Bourne has shown that talent.
Jalen Reagor – TCU
According to Jalen Reagor, he and the #Packers talked extensively and sat down and watched some film together.
This dude is FAST. 👀💨
— GBP Daily (@GBPdaily) February 25, 2020
Height: 5’10 5/8″
Weight: 206 pounds
Wingspan: 74 3/8″
Hand size: 9 1/2″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 2, Pick 48, Jets; Miller: Round 2, Pick 57, Texans; Marino: Round 1, Pick 15, Broncos)
Best college season (sophomore year): 72 receptions, 1,061 yards, 9 TDs
Pros: Good lord is this man quick. Henry Ruggs III said he hopes to break the NFL Combine record by running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash, but he might just be competing with Reagor for that title. Asked for a comparison, Reagor described himself as similar to the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel; he’s got that same bulldog nature to him. He’s extraordinarily quick, strong and aggressive. He is extraordinarily versatile. He was used out of the slot, out wide, as an H-back, motioned, and used in much the same way the 49ers use Samuel. He’s also very confident, but not arrogant. In speaking to media he credited TCU teammate Jeff Gladney as the best cornerback in this draft and said that’s why he improved his game so much. He has very good hands and can make contested catches over the middle. Tremendous hands when focused and has shown the ability to make spectacular catches. Yards after catch potential for days.
Cons: Size and concentration. Has made drops that are more concentration-based than talent-based. His blocking leaves lots of room for improvement; while he’s very physical, his use of his hands and hand-placement are inconsistent. From the 49ers’ perspective, he may be too similar to Samuel. There’s no harm in having two dynamic, versatile wide receivers, but they may prefer a bigger wide receiver here who provides above average red zone and contested catch ability.
Antonio Gandy-Golden – Liberty
79 rec 1,396 yards 10 TD
AGG is an athletic specimen who has a knack for coming down with any ball thrown his way. Great ability to win 50-50 balls and sure hands, AGG could be a TD machine in the NFL. Big time upside prospect. pic.twitter.com/J7PVchqwQD
— TheSFNiners (@TheSFNiners) February 18, 2020
Weight: 223 pounds
Hand size: 9 5/8″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 2, Pick 58, Vikings; Miller: Round 5, Pick 152, Panthers; Marino: After Round 2)
Best college season (senior year): 79 receptions, 1,396 yards, 10 TDs
Pros: Gandy-Golden would likely be higher if not for the fact that he went to such a small school and struggled in some areas despite his size. He’s shifty for his size and head-fakes and deceives defensive backs intelligently. His greatest asset is his hands. His size coupled with his catch reliability makes for a constant big-play threat. He fights in traffic extraordinarily well and the fact that he’s as long as he is makes for a tantalizing red zone option. He has a solid stiff arm and breaks off yards after the catch consistently.
Cons: The negatives are the fact that he’s not particularly great at getting a clean release despite his frame, and press coverage creates some problems for him. He’s not extraordinarily quick, so the combination of his lack of strength against jamming and quick acceleration means it often takes time for him to get into his routes and create separation. He doesn’t fully utilize his size as a blocker.
K.J. Hill – Ohio State
K.J. Hill is putting your favorite NFL team on notice 😳 pic.twitter.com/cf0TygPbxw
— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) January 23, 2020
Height: 5′ 11 7/8″
Weight: 192 pounds
Wingspan: 72 1/2″
Hand size: 9 1/4″
Projected draft position: (Reuter: Round 3, Pick 95, Broncos; Miller: Round 4, Pick 106, Lions; Marino: After Round 2)
Best college season (junior year): 70 receptions, 885 yards, 6 TDs (had 10 TDs in senior year, other stats worse)
Pros: Hill changes direction effectively and can be used in the slot. He’s excellent at finding holes in zone coverage and sitting down in those gaps, and brings impressive yards-after-catch potential. He’s a very reliable route runner and can slip away from defenders.
Cons: The knocks against him are his size, physicality and concentration drops. He clearly has room to improve in that area, and doesn’t always demonstrate fantastic acceleration to get a clean release. His small frame creates issues when he’s tasked to come down with contested catches, especially over bigger defensive backs, and he’s not fantastic in press coverage. Not a great run-blocker.
Most intriguing prospects for San Francisco: Jalen Reagor, Brandon Aiyuk, Justin Jefferson
Reagor is intriguing because he is both so similar to Samuel and unique in his wiggle and raw acceleration and speed. He may be the fastest player in the draft and the prospect of the 49ers doubling down on what they know works is an interesting proposition. They’ve missed on many a wide receiver, so why not go with the same build they know works? Reagor’s intelligence and confidence also heightens his appeal.
Outside of the so-called top three of Ruggs, Jeudy and Lamb, Aiyuk is arguably the most impressive receiver in this draft because of his physicality, elusiveness, release and catch-in-traffic strengths. Drafting a wide receiver in the first round is a daunting proposition because it would leave the 49ers barren until the fifth round, and there are areas of much more pressing need like defensive back or offensive line. Still, drafting one would allow the 49ers to feel more comfortable if they can’t bring back Emmanuel Sanders, who, even if he does return, is not going to be part of the long term plan entering his 11th NFL season. Aiyuk provides size, craftiness and raw playmaking ability that is tantalizing and difficult to pass up especially given the uncertainty about all the other young wide receivers the 49ers have stockpiled unsuccessfully outside of Samuel and Bourne.
Jefferson is almost like a tight end with his size. He’s kind of like a power forward and a perfect possession wide receiver whose one of those guys that doesn’t do too many things that truly jump off the tape, but he manages to find space and gets the ball a lot. He would provide a unique size for a 49ers offense that has Bourne, at 6’1″ as the tallest wide receiver, and Kittle at 6’4,” but not quite a jump ball threat, as the tallest weapons (excluding the not oft-used Levine Toilolo). He’s a bit of an enigma, but he makes plays and does so consistently.