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April 11, 2020

Eagles 2020 NFL Draft preview: Wide receivers

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be taking a look at each of the Philadelphia Eagles' positional groups. We'll determine if the Birds are likely to select a player at that position with one of their eight picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, as well as note some players who make sense.

Previous Eagles 2020 positional draft previews

Quarterback | Running back

Today we'll tackle the Eagles' biggest need, by far, the wide receivers. The depth chart:

Alshon Jeffery J.J. Arcega-Whiteside Robert Davis  
DeSean Jackson Shelton Gibson River Cracraft  
Greg Ward Deontay Burnett Marcus Green Marken Michel 

The Eagles had the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL a season ago (like they did in 2016), and they did nothing to fix it at all in free agency, opting (for now, anyway) to solve that position in the draft. 

The 2020 draft is loaded with wide receiver talent, but rookies are far from a sure thing, and a shortened offseason could make it very difficult for young players to learn a new offense at a position where it's already difficult to make an early impact. As such, using the draft as the sole source of fixing such a glaring, obvious need is a risky strategy, to say the least, seeing as there are major question marks with every single receiver on the current roster.

  1. Alshon Jeffery: Jeffery has trashed his own quarterback anonymously in the media over the span of a multiple years, he looked cooked last season, in that he appeared slower than usual and struggled catching the football, and now he has a serious Lisfranc injury that will require at least a nine-month recovery period. He's still on the roster, for now, but I don't expect Jeffery to suit up in a game with Carson Wentz ever again.
  2. DeSean Jackson: Jackson played one game last season, and that was that. Certainly, you keep Jackson on the roster and whatever he gives you should be viewed as a bonus, but he's going to turn 34 during the season, and cannot be relied upon as an answer. It was a mistake to view him that way last year. With a cap number of $10,934,000 in 2021, he is a potential cap casualty next offseason.
  3. Greg Ward: Ward provided a spark down the stretch last season, and he was a great story. Barring a bad training camp, I believe he earned his way onto the team in 2020, but only as fourth or fifth receiver. 
  4. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: A very disappointing rookie season ended with Arcega-Whiteside getting fewer snaps in the playoff game against the Seahawks than a trio of receivers in Ward, Robert Davis, and Deontay Burnett, who were all added to the roster mid-season. He'll definitely be back in 2020, but relying on him to play an important role would fall into the "Hope isn't a strategy" bucket.

As far as, "Which receivers make sense for the Eagles," the answer is probably, you know, all of them, since they have precisely zero surefire, long-term answers at the position. Receivers of all shapes, sizes, and skill sets are needed, though certainly, there should be a focus on speed.

Within this series, we are listing five or so players that make sense for the Eagles at each position. Because wide receiver is so important to the Eagles in this draft, and it's likely they they will double-dip (and possibly even triple-dip) at the position, I'm going to rank them from 1-40, by where I believe Howie Roseman and the gang should have interest in each one. To note, this ranking will be based on who I think makes the most sense specifically for the Eagles, and not necessarily a ranking of overall talent.

Trade way up

1) CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: CeeDee Lamb is awesome. He has great hands, body control, he tracks the ball with ease, strength, YAC ability, toughness, slot-outside versatility, etc etc. If there's one small gripe, it's that he's not a burner, though certainly his speed is fine. I don't know if he'll go top 10 or not, but I think it'd be crazy if he didn't.

2) Henry Ruggs, Alabama: Ruggs would be something of a dream scenario for the Eagles, but because he ran a blistering 40, as expected, forget it. In addition to blazing speed, Ruggs has good hands, he makes contested catches, he'll get yards after the catch, and he'll get up and keep playing after taking hits.

3) Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: Jeudy's small frame might make teams worry about his durability at the next level, but as a player, it's hard to nitpick his game. He has water bug-like quickness in small spaces, and great speed when given some room to run. He's also already an outstanding route runner who often makes opposing defensive backs look ridiculous, and he's a sure-handed receiver who doesn't drop many passes.

Small trade up

4) Justin Jefferson, LSU: Trade up?!? For Justin Jefferson? Yep. By not signing a receiver in free agency, the Eagles have painted themselves into a corner by absolutely having to come away with one in the first round of this draft. If the top three receivers above are all gone, as we expected them to be, the Eagles may need to jump the Jaguars at 20, as well as beat out the Vikings behind them at 22, for Jefferson.

Like Jeudy above, Jefferson is a great route runner who catches everything, and will frustrate defenses at the next level by coming up with big third down catches for first downs. But beyond that, he can also work the intermediate to deeper parts of the field as well. He played both in the slot and on the outside at LSU.

Sit there at 21

5) Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State: Aiyuk is an explosive player with outstanding YAC ability, and should also contribute as a returner early in his career. It would not be ideal for the Eagles to have to "settle" for him at 21, but at the same time, trading back and hoping he's still there is risky, with plenty of teams after them in the draft order having receiver needs.

Trade back late into Round 1

Nobody. Fifth-year options aren't going to be as team-friendly going forward as they were under the old CBA, so late first round picks as less valuable now. But also, if you're going to trade back early into Round 2, one of the next three guys should be there.

Trade back early into Round 2

6) Laviska Shenault, Colorado: If it weren't for his long injury history, I think Shenault would be in the conversation with the top 3 guys. He's a big, 6'2, 220 YAC machine, who reminds me of a more athletic JuJu Smith-Schuster.

7) Denzel Mims, Baylor: Mims has good size, a track background, and good production at Baylor over the last three seasons, and he was clearly the best receiver all week at the Senior Bowl, as he perhaps put to bed some concerns that he's a raw route runner.

8) Tee Higgins, Clemson: Philly folk have come to know Higgins as the 50-50 guy that they don't want. Personally, I hate that description of him as a player, as I believe he's a lot more than that. I did not like that he skipped the Combine. I think he's talented enough to be a first round pick, but wussing out in Indy would raise competitive concerns for me.

Take them at 53

9) Jalen Reagor, TCU: Reagor is one of the more polarizing players in this draft. I'm a little more down on him than others. Yes, he is speedy and powerful, and he adds a returner element from Day 1, but there is too much excuse making on his behalf for my liking, such as sucky quarterback play, or that he plays faster than his timed 4.47 speed (which is no doubt still very good, but slower than expected). He also had major drop issues in 2019.

10) K.J. Hamler, Penn State: Hamler is a game-breaking slot receiver, but has struggled with drops, and there will be durability concerns because of his small frame.

MORE: Eagles mock draft roundup, version 4.0

Trade back from 53, or trade up from 103

11) Michael Pittman, USC: Pittman doesn't fit the burner profile that (I believe) the Eagles need. However, he's not a stiff athletically, and he is a vertical threat who made plenty of plays down the field at USC using his impressive size, hands, and physicality. I wanted to not like Pittman, but I do.

12) Van Jefferson, Florida: It's probably between the two Jeffersons and Jeudy as far as which receiver runs the best routes in this class, which makes sense, seeing as Van Jefferson's dad is Shawn Jefferson, who played for 13 years in the NFL, and has been a wide receivers coach in the bigs for 12 years.

13) Devin Duvernay, Texas: Duvernay is an under-discussed speed guy (4.39) who works out of the slot and has good YAC ability. 

Take them at 103

14) Tyler Johnson, Minnesota: Johnson doesn't have blazing speed, but still managed a career 15.5 yards per catch average. He is a savvy route runner who makes difficult catches. 

15) Chase Claypool, Notre Dame: At 6'4, 229, Claypool is more like an Evan Engram-type than he is a traditional receiver. He had an outstanding Combine, but he was just OK at the Senior Bowl, in my opinion.

16) Donovan Peoples-Jones, MichiganPeople-Jones was a big-time recruit coming out of high school, and he absolutely tore up the Combine, but I just don't see what others do in terms of what he did at Michigan, where his production was downright bad. Some have him in their top 10 wide receivers. Huh? Why? It reminds me of Brad Pitt (playing Billy Beane) in Moneyball, asking, "If he's a good hitter, why doesn't he hit good?"

Still, the physical attributes are hard to ignore, so he'll probably go Day 2. If I'm the Eagles, I'd be happy if someone else took him in Round 2, or early in Round 3.

Fourth round

17) Lynn Bowden, Kentucky: Bowden is a gifted athlete who transitioned from wide receiver to quarterback in Kentucky's sixth game this season, and led the Wildcats to a bowl game. He is a versatile player who can also return kicks.

18) Bryan Edwards, South Carolina: Edwards is a nice all around receiver, but without another any obvious special trait that jumps out. He didn't compete at the Combine as a result of a broken foot.

19) Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty: Gandy-Golden was up and down at the Senior Bowl, but he has good size, and finished fourth in the nation with 1,396 receiving yards.

20) Collin Johnson, Texas: Someone is going to take Johnson earlier than they should because he's 6'6 and has some contested catch ability, however, he lacks speed and has battled soft tissue injuries.

Fifth round

21) K.J. Hill, Ohio State: Hill is a shifty, smooth, competitive slot receiver prospect, with a natural feel for the game. Some have him pegged as a Day 2 guy. I think the more appropriate value in a stacked WR draft is Round 5.

22) Gabriel Davis, UCF: Davis was the go-to guy in UCF's offense. He has good size, decent enough deep speed once he gets going, and he can win 50-50 balls, but there are concerns about his acceleration, agility, and his ability to stop and go.

23) Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State: Very fun highlight reel, in which he makes all kinds of difficult catches. 6'4, 210, 4.61. Red zone guy in the NFL. I'd be more interested if the Eagles didn't draft J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the second round last year. 

MORE: Eagles-only mock draft, version 4.0

Sixth and seventh rounds

24) Marquez Callaway, Tennessee: Callaway is a speed receiver whose talents may have been wasted to some degree in Tennessee's offense. He did have a big yards per catch average (21.2), as well as a high career punt return average (13.6). He's one of my favorite sleepers (any position) in this draft.

25) Joe Reed, Virginia: Reed lined up inside, outside, and in the backfield for Virginia, but his biggest appeal will be as a returner, where he was among the best in the country.

26) Quez Watkins, Southern Mississippi: 4.35 speed will get him drafted.

27) Tyree Cleveland, Florida: Cleveland showed some speed at the Senior Bowl, but he was way behind his Florida teammate, Van Jefferson, as a route runner. He has a floor as a special teams guy.

28) Quartney Davis, Texas A&M: Davis is a slot guy with decent size. He did not impress at the Senior Bowl.

29) James Proche, SMU: Proche will likely be a slot receiver in the NFL. He's obviously productive, as he broke all of SMU's major receiving records, but was hurt by a bad Combine.

30) Omar Bayless, Arkansas State: Contested catch guy with good size who has a flair for the spectacular catch who finished second in the nation with 1,653 receiving yards. Bad Combine.

31) Binjimen Victor, Ohio State: Victor is a tall receiver with downfield ability, who has at least 15 yards per catch in every year he has been at OSU. Again though, bad Combine.

32) Freddie Swain, Florida: Toughness and decent athleticism will allow him to stick as a special teamer, but he is not thought of as a good route runner, unlike his Florida teammate, Van Jefferson.

33) Kendrick Rogers, Texas A&M: He's 6'4 and he ran a 4.51, so he'll probably get drafted. Bad production.

34) Stephen Guidry, Mississippi State: We'll put Guidry in the same bucket as Rogers. 6'3, 4.47, but again, little production.

35) Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island: I like him better than Rhode Island teammate Aaron Parker. Coulter at least has legitimate NFL speed.

36) Quintez Cephus, Wisconsin: Cephus was no doubt a popular name on the pre-draft interview circuit, as he'll have to explain why he was accused of sexual assault in 2018 (he was acquitted, but missed an entire season as a result). On the field, he's a good possession receiver, but lacks the big play ability the Eagles should be coveting. 

Priority UDFAs

37) John Hightower, Boise State: Hightower has speed, but he's also a beanpole at 6'2, 171, so there will be concerns about his ability to beat press coverage in the NFL.

38) Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt: I had Lipscomb earmarked as a guy I wanted to profile this year, but he had a disappointing senior season, followed by an unimpressive Senior Bowl. He has inside-outside versatility, and some believe he'll be productive in the pros. I don't see it, but if he goes undrafted, by all means.

39) Juwan Johnson, Oregon: Big, skilled Glassboro High School product who disappointed overall at Penn State, before transferring to Oregon.

40) Jeff Thomas, Miami: Thomas has off-the-field concerns, but he has speed (4.45) from the slot, and is a good kick/punt returner.

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