Patriots Draft Prospect Preview: Jerry Jeudy leads possibly historic WR class

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By WEEI 93.7
Between now and the scheduled April 23rd opening of the 2020 NFL Draft, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the prospects in this year’s class, both in terms of a general overview as well as from a Patriots perspective.

Wide receiver

Supply-and-Demand Overview: A year ago, Bill Belichick took a receiver in the first round for the first time in his career running the Patriots draft with the selection of N’Keal Harry. Harry had a disappointing season in so many ways, from missing the first half of the year on IR to not finding a consistent, productive role when he finally did hit the field. As the second receiver taken in last year’s impressive class of instant impact wideouts, there remains reason to be hopeful of Harry’s Year 2 jump and beyond. But there are also enough questions in terms of durability, quickness and consistency to wonder if he’ll ever be a No. 1 target. So, with Harry in question, Julian Edelman getting older and potentially less durable, wide receiver remains a pretty significant need in Foxborough. Thankfully, the 2020 NFL Draft offers up a potentially historic class of wide receivers that includes both elite prospects in the first round as well as depth that should include productive options well into the middle of the draft. While receiver remains an obvious need, it might be hard to imagine Belichick targeting the spot in the first round two years in a row. The depth of the prospect crop might also appeal to Belichick’s value-based philosophies with the chance to get a very good player in the middle rounds where the Patriots actually have extra picks. Whether New England targets the spot early or not, expect a handful of wide receivers to go in the first round, led by the likes of Alabama route-running phenom Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma total package CeeDee Lamb, Clemson’s Tee Higgins and others. “The average over the last five years for wide receivers going in the first three rounds is 12, between 12 and 13 a year. You can easily make an argument, from a grade perspective, that they’re 20-25 of those guys out there this year, and that’s from a grade perspective. I’m not saying 20-25 are going. So there’s depth throughout, and there’s quality up top,” explained Raiders GM and former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.

Top Prospect: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama. The only thing that keeps Jeudy from being considered a generational type prospect is lack of elite size. But at 6-1, 193 Jeudy is an elite route runner who produced at an elite level for the Tide. He has the speed, quickness and consistency in his route running to make opposing cornerbacks look silly at times. He may not be a contested-catch guy who’ll win with power or strength, but otherwise Jeudy brings everything you could want in an NFL No. 1 wide receiver. Pencil in his 1,000-yard seasons and Pro Bowl invites now.
Overrated Prospect: Justin Jefferson, LSU. After leading the country in receptions working with Joe Burrow in Joe Brady’s offense, Jefferson has plenty of first-round hype. He has good size and speed. But despite a 4.43 40 at the Combine, Jefferson doesn’t always show elite speed or quickness in game action. Make no mistake, Jefferson is an impressive prospect with lots to like, including for a nice feel for space and openings in zones. But he’s probably not as good as his college production or pro hype at this point.
Overrated Prospect II: Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State. The man who filled Harry’s spot for the Sun Devils has risen up draft boards everywhere to the point where he’s supposedly earning first-round consideration. But he doesn’t’ have the type of polished production or elite traits to warrant such high praise. Aiyuk is a good player with good size and good all-round skills. But he’s not super smooth or fast as a route runner. The fact that he has some comparing him to Cordarrelle Patterson indicates that he’s far from a sure-fire No. 1 receiver option and is probably more of a complementary athlete in a good offense.
Underrated Prospect: K.J. Hamler, Penn State. Undersized (5-9, 178), Hamler has elite speed and playmaking ability as a versatile receiver prospect. He can make plays all over the field at all three levels and also has plenty of experience in the return game. He’s far from the prototypical No. 1, outside receiver, but Hamler has the skills to be an impact option at the next level and a guy who could instill fear in opposing defenses as a possible mid-round selection with huge upside.
Wild Card: Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado. There is a ton to like about Shenault, both on and off the field. He’s built like a running back and runs after the catch in that style, or when he ran the Wildcat. Many think he’s one of the best all-around athletes in the draft. With work and growth, Shenault could turn into a unique, special NFL player. He also had to have surgery this winter on a lingering core muscle injury that further clouds his status. He’s the classic case of a guy with a low floor and high ceiling. Buyer beware or buyer rejoice?
Possible Patriots: Jalen Reagor, TCU; Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado; K.J. Hamler, Penn State; Van Jefferson, Florida.

It would seem a virtual certainty that Belichick and Nick Caserio target at least one receiver among their dozen picks come draft weekend. Stating the obvious, that could be early, late or somewhere in between. There are enticing options of various sizes, skills and styles throughout the draft. Given the hope that Harry will develop as an outside possession type with size and the ability to win contested catches, targeting more of a speed-based or slot option might make sense. Reagor and Hamler might fill that bill as speedy playmakers with upside (Henry Ruggs III would be fun, but he’d also be very tough to go up to get!) Shenault could make sense for a team that’s been more than willing to use unique weapons under Josh McDaniels. Jefferson is considered one of the best route runners in the draft with an ability to get open despite lacking elite skills, although a foot injury that forced recent surgery is far from ideal. Given the need and the depth of the class, don’t rule out the Patriots using multiple picks on wide receivers later this month in an effort to inject life into a lackluster passing game that’s embarking on a post-Tom Brady existence and potential identity crisis.

Estimated chances the Patriots take a WR at No. 23: 16

Estimated chances the Patriots take a WR at some point in the 2020 NFL Draft: 93