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The 2020 NFL Receiver Class: Let’s Argue Like It’s 1983

So this is the kind of thing you end up doing when you’re talkin’ NFL with your buddy during a pandemic. The best part is, we’re inviting you to play, too.

Longtime NFL fans remember the famous 1983 draft. A record six quarterbacks were taken in the first round. Three Hall of Famers came from that group, an impressive feat in itself, and no surprise that two of them came in the first 14 picks – John Elway as the top overall pick and Jim Kelly at No. 14.

It’s the third Hall of Famer, Dan Marino, who gets talked about the most because he was the next-to-last pick (27) of the first round, and three of the quarterbacks drafted ahead of him are only allowed in the Hall of Fame as visitors, just like you and me.

Photo of Dan Marino by Marc Serota

Fans love to look back on drafts and look at who was taken when, and lament all the players who turned out to be great for the team that drafted them after their team did not. In some parts of the United States this phenomenon is known as Detroit Lions Syndrome.

The 2020 NFL Draft gives us another one of those watershed years. Only this time, it’s wide receivers. A draft deep with receiver talent saw six selected in the first round. (Not a record for WR. Larry Fitzgerald led a 2004 class of seven receivers taken in the first round.)

My pal and colleague Marc Serota and I decided to have a little fun. Disregarding the draft order, we would rank the receivers who will have the greatest impact in their rookie seasons. This is not speculation on full careers here, only first-year impact, which is not always easy at this position.

Below you’ll find our analyses and predictions. But wait, there’s more. If you want to join the fun, you can email me your thoughts on the 2020 receiver class (or anything else, really). Send your rankings and rationale to [email protected] and join us at the forum to argue your case! Not only will we select some submissions to be included in future articles, but you could also even be invited to come on our podcast and talk NFL.

Serota’s “Slam Dunks

Marc went with a tried-and-tested method: If you want to predict a receiver’s numbers, start by looking at the quarterback. You’ll note his predictions are like someone turned the first round upside down. He has his reasons.

1. Brandon Aiyuk – (25th overall pick, San Francisco) – The last receiver taken in the first round will be the top producer his rookie season – so sayeth Serota. The 49ers went to the Super Bowl last year, are a contender to get there again, and Jimmy Garoppolo has a career passer rating of 100. Those are all good signs for Aiyuk.

2. Justin Jefferson – (22nd pick, Minnesota) – From national champion LSU to the NFC runner-up, Jefferson also joins a team that just dumped starting deep threat Stefon Diggs. Jefferson should see time immediately on the field, which is a prerequisite to getting yardage.

3. Jalen Reagor (21st pick, Philadelphia) – Philadelphia needs help at receiver, Carson Wentz needs to prove himself again, and Reagor has a lot of talent. Can run slot routes or go deep, he is explosive for a team that will try hard to get him the ball.

4. CeeDee Lamb – (17th pick, Dallas) – This pick reflects Serota’s belief that Dak Prescott is kind of good and kind of not great. Dallas also has a lot of weapons and Lamb may be victim of offense by committee. It’s hard for a rookie to stand out in that scenario.

5. Jerry Jeudy – (15th pick, Denver) – Jeudy is a fabulous talent. Quarterback Drew Lock is in his first year as an NFL starter. Doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect a year of adjustment.

6. Henry Ruggs III – (12th pick Las Vegas) – The Raiders are getting better, but Derek Carr is not known for his downfield passing, which is where Ruggs pays the biggest dividends. Jon Gruden will scheme to get Ruggs the ball and it will work. Sometimes.

Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice, who the 49ers traded its first two picks for the New England Patriots‘ first-round choice, the 16th selection overall. Photo by Marc Serota

Meeks’ “Can’t Misses”

1. Jerry Jeudy (15, Denver) – My analysis is not very scientific: Every time I turned on Alabama football last year, I saw Jerry Jeudy was making a big play. I also went to Michigan and saw Jeudy torch them for 204 yards in his final college game. This guy is different. Were it not for a past knee surgery, I think he would have been a top 10 pick. Part of this prediction is I am a Drew Lock believer. Plus, doesn’t Jerry Jeudy just sound like the name of a great receiver?

2. Jalen Reagor (21, Philadelphia) – The Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018 but the past two seasons, receivers that are injury-prone, slowing down or simply not that talented have been an issue. Philly loaded up in this year’s draft, led by the blazing fast Reagor out of TCU. Philly needs so much out of Reagor that he’ll get plenty of chances, and he’ll be one of the rookies getting talked about.

3. Henry Ruggs III – (12, Las Vegas) – Yes, another Alabama guy. Did I mention my family roots are in Walker County, about 50 miles from Tuscaloosa? Here’s what I think about Ruggs: Nick Saban knows talent and he liked him, and Jon Gruden knows talent and he used his first pick to draft him. Derek Carr has not been throwing it downfield, but who has he had to catch it? Gruden believes in Ruggs and we’ll see the Raiders running a number of plays to get him the ball. He could put up solid numbers.

4. CeeDee Lamb – (17, Dallas) – When a team is as giddy as Dallas was to see Lamb fall to them at 17, it means they see him as a difference maker. Unlike some other rookies, Lamb won’t be the centerpiece of this offense and he’ll come in no higher than No. 3 receiver with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in place. To some scouts, Lamb has the most talent of this year’s receiving class and he’ll make his share of plays. My view of Lamb is that a lot depends on the consistency of not only him, but whether quarterback Dak Prescott really is elite.

5. Jordan Jefferson – (22, Minnesota) – It all looks good on paper for Jefferson – a great chance at starting for a team that nearly made the Super Bowl. I’ll have to see it before I’m buying. I watched every LSU game last season. That team was so loaded no one could cover them all, and quarterback Joe Burrow was out of this world good. I just did not see Jefferson as a can’t-miss prospect and I don’t think NFL defenders will fear him. Moreover, Kirk Cousins, to me, is a middling talent who has landed in a great spot.

6. Brandon Aiyuk – (25, San Francisco) – Serota has Aiyuk No. 1, I have him No. 6, so game on. Aiyuk is a fast riser. He played junior college ball for two years before transferring to Arizona State, where under Herman Edwards he had a breakout 2019. He is an incredible athlete but he did have surgery to repair a core muscle in the off-season. That and the fact that this team went to the Super Bowl without him makes me wonder how much of a factor he’ll be in his first season.

Rany Moss #81: Hall of Famer, who was a projected high 1st round pick, taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 21st overall. Photo by Marc Serota

So there you have it. What say ye? Send it to us.

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About The Author
David Meeks
David Meeks
David Meeks has never hesitated to speak truth to power. He’s uncovered shady coal mine operators in Alabama, corrupt politicians in Louisiana and supported single fathers in Florida. When New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Meeks, then Sports Editor of The Times-Picayune, refused an evacuation order. He commandeered a newspaper truck, assembled a team of journalists and won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and was the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports. He is Alabama-born and Michigan-raised, and today lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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