Matt Waldman shares his thoughts on the 2020 Senior Bowl wide receivers.
Here are the receivers participating on each roster, some essential thoughts on their play, and in some cases, what I’d like to see from them this week in Mobile. Practices will reveal route refinement with footwork, hard breaks, framing the football at the catch point, and hand and footwork usage against press coverage.
We won’t see significant nuance against zone coverage where the receiver and quarterback read the defense and work together during the late pre-snap and early post-snap phases of the play. We also won’t see massive improvement with a player’s route running if they display flaws with specific routes or releases this week.
Receivers do not need to be complete route technicians to succeed in the NFL. Likewise, they don’t need to be uber-athletes if these possess the baseline quickness, speed, and size to perform one of the three roles that are a part of the position (flanker, split-end, and slot) and do so with technical proficiency.
James Proche (SMU): The views I’ve seen with Proche remind me some of Trent Taylor and Daeshawn Hamilton in the respect that all three receivers win well at the catch point and their film leads observers to believe there’s a little more to their college tape than strictly futures as a slot receiver. However, neither Taylor nor Hamilton has proven to be more than a contributor from the slot. Proche should flash skills in one-on-one drills at the catch point when targeted in tight confines and maybe even come up with some high-effort, highly-coordinated displays as a receiver. However, I think he needs to show a lot more range as a route runner at the top of his stems–where his tape has shown a predictable route runner against off-man and tight man coverage. Unless he’s used deep from the slot, he’s not a vertical option. Expect a good week as a “slot” receiver.
Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC): Skilled at breaking on timing routes and setting up breaks with sharp movements, Pittman is a physical pass receiver with excellent height and size. I’d like to see more refined work at the boundary with his feet and better effort to shield opponents from the ball as he pulls the target down on vertical routes against single coverage. I expect a good week with a fair bit of praise as a downfield option.
Denzel Mims (Baylor): I’ve enjoyed watching Mims evolve as a receiver. He has become a pretty good player against tight coverage on deeper angular routes. I’m looking forward to seeing his arsenal against press-man during drills this week to see how physical he can be off the line. Mims’s range of release techniques has improved during his career but it will be helpful to see him tested in some of these practice environments against quality cornerbacks. He leaves his feet unnecessarily as a receiver, which can disrupt the entire catch process. I’ll be looking for instances where he misgauges the ball.
K.J. Hill (Ohio State): I enjoyed watching Hill in 2018 and noted his quickness and route refinement with specific slot routes. He’s a heady player and I am excited to see how well he performs against physical coverage in press-man drills as well as competing in the vertical game along the sideline. I think there’s more to him than slot play and I’m looking for reps that show promise for an expanded role in the NFL relative to his work at Ohio State. Consistently sharp breaks will aid his cause and so will better boundary footwork. Otherwise, I expect him to compete hard, win the ball, and potentially become a favorite target of one of these quarterbacks during the week.
Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty): I love the physicality of Gandy-Golden’s game. He could elevate his stature from a PR perspective because of his ability to win the ball in the air and break tackles, especially if he can prove capable at man-handling cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage. Physicality and intelligence at the earliest stages of his routes this week are the two things I hope to see in Mobile.
Chase Claypool (Notre Dame): I suspect Claypool is a long-strider who lacks great closing speed on the ball in the vertical game. This week may offer more route exposures to determine this. Claypool must also display more savvy in the middle of the field against zone defenses. He can clog up the works when he doesn’t know when to settle into an open spot. If he can display better acceleration in and out of breaks than I’ve seen on tape, Claypool’s potential to become a productive outside receiver could rise in my eyes. He can catch and play physical as a route runner but he must show more range with his hands and arms when the target isn’t on his numbers or directly above his head.
Quartney Davis (Texas A&M): Known for his speed and quickness, Davis has some work to do as a technician. He’s too linear of a route runner at times and his ball security is more like an undisciplined 4×400 relay runner with a baton than a ball carrier. If used as a slot receiver, his lack of skills against the jam won’t be as much of a concern. Davis finds the open zone, takes contact at the catch point and maintains possession of the ball, and if you give him routes that work across the width of the field, he’s a breakaway threat after the catch.
Austin Mack (Ohio State): His breaks aren’t as crisp as they should be and Mack has repeated exposures on tape where he slips at the breakpoint or when transitioning upfield. He may need a year to address his footwork so he runs with greater balance or is more precise with these transition points. Hopefully, it’s the latter rather than the fundamentals of his gait, which will be a harder fix. Mack does a good job fighting the ball to the ground and has some successful techniques against press coverage. I am interested in seeing if he has a greater repertoire of moves against press-man than I’ve seen.
Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt): I’m hoping that Vanderbilt’s offense has limited Lipscomb’s potential. This week should help prove or disprove that contention. Expect some fancy work with one-on-one drills that slot receivers often reveal. However, I need to see him win with acceleration and an efficient plan that doesn’t stack move-upon-move-upon-move. Can he break tackles? Can he show more consistency attack the ball out of his breaks? Can he play physically? I have a lot of questions.
Jauan Jennings (Tennessee): From the sheer prospect of enjoyment, Jennings is the player I’m looking forward to seeing the most. Much of his game won’t show up during the week because it is rooted in physicality after the catch and a ferocious attitude, strength, and technically-sound work as a blocker. Jennings’ work during press-man drills should offer intel about the progress he must make in this area of the game. I expect an even number of wins and losses depending on the leverage and approach of certain opponents.
Van Jefferson (Florida): Ths son of former Patriots, Chargers, and Lions receiver (and NFL receiver coach) Shawn Jefferson, Van is the most refined route-runner in his class. I want to see him get tested physically at the line and the catch point. Expect the draftniks and NFL writers who talk to draftniks to drool over Jefferson to show how in-the-know they are.
Devin Duvernay (Texas): If I’m choosing a slot receiver from this event, Hill and Duvernay are my favorites. Duvernay has the speed to play outside and the physicality to work the middle, especially after the catch. I want to see greater suddenness with his attack of the ball on short routes. This week will provide an opportunity for Duvernay to showcase his route running on the perimeter with timing routes to the boundary as well as routes breaking in the middle of the field. We know he’s fast (10.27-second, 100 meters) and built like a running back (5’11”, 210 pounds). Can he be what I remember LSU’s Josh Reed, a Biletnikoff winner and former second-round pick of the Bills, was touted to be–and more?
Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State): There are a lot of admirers of Aiyuk’s game. I want to see him maintain his concentration as a receiver. We’ll see a lot more man-to-man situations but I have questions about his understanding of zone coverages and where to settle himself and create a good target for his quarterback. He must show consistency with framing his hands so catching the ball is less of an adventure than he sometimes makes it. He’ll look pretty good as a route runner.
Go to this page for Matt’s coverage of the 2020 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
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