It’s well known that the 2020 NFL Draft wide receiver class has the potential to be a special one. With so much talent and depth at the position in the class, separating the prospects will be a difficult process that NFL teams must undertake.
The value of all-star games such as the Reese’s Senior Bowl is the opportunity to compare these wide receiver prospects while they’re competing on the same field and against the same opposition. During the first day of practices at the Senior Bowl, there were a few standouts among the fourteen wide receivers who have set themselves up for a potential climb up draft boards.
South Team Practice
The South Team featured two late additions in Ohio State’s Austin Mack and Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland. Mack struggled to get going, while Cleveland flashed some downfield playmaking ability but was mostly inconsistent.
There were two wide receivers that really showed out with their performances during the South Team practices: Florida’s Van Jefferson and Collin Johnson from Texas.
Despite Jefferson’s advanced age (will be 24 by the start of the NFL regular season), he has shown so much ability as a route runner that NFL teams can’t help but become intrigued. Jefferson is a technical savant, with the fluidity out of his breaks to separate from opposing defensive backs. He was eating all day in the curl window, finding voids in zone coverage or decelerating so quickly that defensive backs failed to stick close to him.
Van Jefferson is so fluid out of his route breaks pic.twitter.com/syEU32rxx1— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
During the wide receiver versus defensive back one-on-one and seven-on-seven periods of practice, Jefferson got loose for multiple receptions in the intermediate portion of the field. This bodes well for his projection as a high-end possession receiver who will keep offenses on schedule.
Van Jefferson will separate in the intermediate for 8 years in the NFL. Natural, fluid route runner who has an understanding on how to beat man and zone coverages. pic.twitter.com/B8cKXkeaoB— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
The Senior Bowl is a chance for Johnson to prove that he’s fully healthy after a season that found him a bit banged up, and the first practice was an indication that he’s back up to speed. On top of that, Johnson’s game appears to be developing right before our eyes.
Texas WR Collin Johnson using a “throw-by” at the top of the route, puts Tulsa CB Reggie Robinson II on skates pic.twitter.com/Q9Dfdv0yCF— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
Early in his collegiate career, Johnson struggled with his stem work and at the top of the route. While he’s developed nuance in his stem to limit contact and change the angles of defensive backs, his route breaks remained mediocre on tape this season. During the one-on-one period, Johnson was able to separate from defensive backs at the route break a few times. On one particular rep, he turned the defensive back (Dane Jackson, Pittsburgh) around with his stem before snapping off his route with acceleration through the break.
If THIS Collin Johnson continues to show up, his draft stock is going to to explode. He’s improved his stem work throughout college, but his top of route hasn’t yet developed. Nuanced, technical rep in both aspects: pic.twitter.com/JYn7Soi6Dc— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
North Team Practice
During the second practice of the day, a similar trend occurred where two wide receivers stood out above the rest of the group: Ohio State’s KJ Hill and Baylor’s Denzel Mims.
Hill started to dominate the group of cornerbacks attempting to cover him one-on-one, creating easy wins on three consecutive reps. Hill showed a successful plan of attack on multiple reps facing press coverage, both in drills and in one-on-ones — an encouraging sign for a receiver who generally lined up in the slot while at Ohio State.
Ohio State WR KJ Hill - jab outside, sell the route with his eyes and able to track the ball over his shoulder. So, so smooth. pic.twitter.com/Hk61t2cFnK— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
KJ Hill is a true route salesman. He’s able to drop his hips and decelerate in an instant and create an easy throwing window pic.twitter.com/S9fLEAFJ75— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
Denzel Mims was another wide receiver who won three consecutive one-on-one reps, creating space away from the defensive back on each rep. Mims is clearly a next-level athlete and he’s shown positive progression with his route running technique during his time at Baylor.
Baylor WR Denzel Mims with the hesitation and eyes opposite of his break at the top of the route. Freezes the CB and allows him to separate on a horizontal break - at one point in time a weakness of Mims— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 21, 2020
Now needs to stay flat across the field pic.twitter.com/zJa4wsy04s
Mims has improved his pad-level throughout his stems and that’s made for easier route transitions. He continued to showcase this during the seven-on-seven and team periods.
Looking ahead at the rest of the week, all of the other wide receivers will have their chances to impress evaluators. However, through the first practice by each team, Jefferson, Johnson, Hill and Mims already have a leg up in separating themselves as prospects from the rest of the wide receiver pack.