A total of six wide receivers were selected in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, as this position dominated the headlines throughout the draft process.
This group was led by a trio of wideouts taken in the first 17 picks, with former Alabama deep threat, Henry Ruggs III, being the first one off the board at 10th overall to the Las Vegas Raiders. Ruggs possesses elite speed and playmaking ability, as he was incredibly dynamic with the ball in his hands during his time at Alabama.
His teammate Jerry Jeudy was touted by many draft experts as the clear-cut best receiver prospect, but ended up falling into the lap of John Elway’s Denver Broncos at 15. Jeudy is the complete package on the outside, and should fit seamlessly into offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense. He has elite route-running skills and should be able to contribute right away, as he is viewed as the most polished WR prospect of this class.
To round out this trio, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb ended up in an incredibly intriguing spot, as he fell all the way to 17th overall to Dallas. Although the Cowboys did not have a need at the receiver position, this did not deter owner Jerry Jones in the slightest to draft the Oklahoma standout with their first draft choice. He will join a cluttered receiver room featuring the likes of Pro Bowler Amari Cooper, and emerging star Michael Gallup, but should see plenty of time both in the slot and on the outside.
During his college career, Lamb was absurdly elusive after the catch, as he had the uncanny ability to make people miss in the open field. He is very physical at the line of scrimmage, and is great at high-pointing the football — giving him the power to make contested catches when coverage is tight.
However, there were several other high-upside receivers throughout this draft, as a record 13 were taken in the first two rounds.
In addition to the aforementioned, there were three other wideouts selected in the first round of this year’s draft, as all should see substantial playing time this season. Jalen Reagor wound up being the fourth WR taken, as the Philadelphia Eagles — in dire need of a playmaker — used their 21st overall pick on the former TCU phenom.
Reagor will be thrust into a starting position immediately, given Philly’s dearth of talent on the outside. Outside of veteran Alshon Jeffery, there were a series of unknowns throughout that Eagles wide receiver room, which should bode nicely for Reagor’s fantasy outlook.
Reagor has the quickness and agility to win those one-on-one matchups — making him a great candidate to see significant time in the slot. Being the offensive genius he is, I suspect Doug Pederson will have a field day scheming up different ways to get Reagor the ball, as he’ll be a do-it-all playmaker for quarterback Carson Wentz and this offense.
Meanwhile, just one pick later, the Minnesota Vikings decided to select LSU receiver Justin Jefferson. Many draft experts had Jefferson as the fourth-best WR in this class, which had Philly fans perplexed when they ended up going in a different direction with Reagor.
Nevertheless, this will be a perfect fit for Jefferson, as he’ll be assigned the duties of replacing Pro Bowl wideout Stefon Diggs — who was traded to Buffalo this off-season. Jefferson will be a great addition to this offense, as he was viewed as one of the most well-rounded prospects in this class. With his ball skills and route-running ability, Jefferson will be a reliable target for veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins this season.
He is the prototypical possession receiver, and will definitely be a consistent chain-mover in this offense. Expect a very solid campaign for this rookie as he continues to build chemistry with Cousins.
The last receiver taken in the first round, the San Francisco 49ers selected Brandon Aiyuk 25th overall. Head coach Kyle Shannahan was in dire need of a perimeter threat, as Emmanuel Sanders ended up signing with the New Orleans Saints in free agency.
Aiyuk will go a long way in helping fill this void, as he saw playing time all over the field last season in Arizona State’s run-and-gun offense. He has superb footwork that will translate at the next level and should help him be an immediate contributor even in Shannahan’s run-heavy scheme.
He has plenty of experience lining up in the slot but also has the capacity to line up outside given his strong hands and ability to track the deep-ball. He probably won’t see too much action in his rookie season, but still figures to be a foundational piece in this San Francisco offense moving forward.
All six of these wide receivers boast tremendous upside and playmaking ability, giving them a great opportunity to be immediate contributors in their respective offenses. However, history has shown the transition from college to the pros is immense for wide receivers, thus making it increasingly likely one of them will wind up busting at the next level.
Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to monitor each player’s rookie campaign, as they all have the potential to be difference makers for their teams given the opportunity presented in front of them.