Welcome to the second edition of Brad Kelly’s mailbag, a regularly updated column focusing on the 2020 NFL Draft. You can follow both @BradKelly17 and @PFN365 on Twitter to submit your questions. During this down-time in the NFL Draft process, a lot of questions focused on team fits for top prospects and free agency.
Jerry Jeudy and where he might land
Lamb, Jeudy, Ruggs or Jeferson, who’s the best fit for 49ers?
— Cláudio R Fernandes (@ClaudiaoN29) March 21, 2020
This has become a popular question since the San Francisco 49ers traded DeForest Buckner for the 13th overall pick and watched as their top wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed with the New Orleans Saints. If the 49ers decide to remain at the 13th overall pick, wide receiver could very well be the position that they target.
The top tier of wide receivers in the NFL Draft are Henry Ruggs III, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy. In my opinion, those three can essentially be interchangeably ranked depending on the team deciding between them. The best fit for the 49ers would be Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy.
Jeudy, the former Biletnikoff winner, has the strongest tape of the three when aligning in the slot, a position that the 49ers have shuffled multiple guys through in recent years. On top of that, Jeudy is the most unique and nuanced route runner of the three. With how often the 49ers use play-action, giving Jeudy an extra two steps to create separation will embarrass some NFL defenders and create easy throws for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. For Kyle Shanahan and his offensive system, Jeudy is the best fit at wide receiver.
DeAndre Hopkins and the Arizona Cardinals
How much does having Hopkins on the Cardinals roster change what Kliff can call offensively? Obviously you get a all pro reciever but what can it do for everyone else especially the likes of Kirk, Isabella, Butler and Johnson.
— Kyle (@dangahv) March 21, 2020
There’s one particular aspect of the DeAndre Hopkins trade for the Arizona Cardinals that I’m curious to explore once the season gets going. Beyond the fact that Hopkins is an all-pro receiver who has produced almost regardless of who the Houston Texans quarterback is, opposing defensive schemes are going to be difficult to call.
The presence of Kyler Murray, and how dangerous he is while breaking out of the pocket, means teams can’t blitz with the same heat that they would when attacking a pure pocket passer. Rush lanes have to be disciplined, and there can be a lack of simulated pressures.
Now with the presence of Hopkins, the same type of limit is going to be put on coverages. Most defenses can’t survive by putting a cornerback on an island against Hopkins, which means more zone, or brackets and rotations his way.
Based on personnel, Arizona is going to see less pressure and coverage variations than the typical NFL offense. It will now be up to Kingsbury’s offensive mind to put his second-year quarterback in the right situation.
Linebacker prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft
Who is this drafts Darius Leonard? Meaning a couple of guys who should outperform their likely draft position in the middle rounds at LB. Gimme at least 2-3. I am wondering about Justin Strnad also.
— Bill J (@NotoriousBLJ) March 21, 2020
Jordyn Brooks is a polarizing evaluation due to the style of defense that the Texas Tech Red Raiders played. While there are some limitations to his game, he has a skill-set that should translate to the next level. Running a 4.54s at 240 pounds is no small task, and you can see Brooks’ speed when he’s scraping sideline to sideline or slicing through gaps on blitzes. While the amount of contact on traditional run reps was limited for Brooks, those types of rushing plays are less frequent in the modern NFL, and Brooks is a consistent finisher at the point of contact (108 tackles).
Brooks has an interesting coverage profile, as he didn’t show the ability to mirror seam threats. On top of that, he would get lost in certain zone drops. However, he’s shown the ability to spy quarterbacks or get to his drop and react to throws in front of him, and he had plenty of reps doing that in the Big 12. That’s a trait that Darius Leonard has made his money off of. While Brooks doesn’t have a ton of experience in traditional cover-2 defenses, his skill-set could project well into just that.
What Lynn Bowden Jr. needs to improve
We hear about his versatility, but what are Lynn Bowden’s best traits as a WR? What are the things he needs to work on to be able to stick at the position?
— Dowell Harmon (@Do_WellHarmon) March 21, 2020
While Lynn Bowden Jr. is celebrated for his versatility, there’s a strong chance that an NFL team will play him primarily at slot receiver. For his traits at the position, Bowden has a lot to work with despite only starting eighteen games there during his college career.
In his route running, Bowden shows explosive lateral movements in his stem that create early separation and allow him to run without contact. That’s important for a slot receiver, as contact is usually the main cause of disruption.
Bowden’s work after the catch is a weapon, as he’s equal parts quick and elusive. He’ll garner plenty of those opportunities, as his natural body control on the ground lends to separation through cuts.
Will an IOL be drafted in the first round?
Which interior OL have a legit shot of being first round draft picks?
— scrap (@ScrappyDaCat1) March 21, 2020
While this is a solid interior offensive line class, the sweet spot for the group feels like it will be on the second day of the draft. There are plenty of plug and play starters at both center and guard, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be first-round draft picks. However, there is one prospect who I view as the likeliest interior offensive lineman to be taken in the top-32 picks.
Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is a prospect who could start at either interior spot, as he has experience at both in college. Currently just 20 years-old, Ruiz is a fantastic pass blocking center whose testing showed unbelievable speed (5.08s forty-yard dash, 87th percentile) and explosiveness (94th percentile vertical jump, 96th percentile board jump) for the position. The former first overall center recruit in the country, Ruiz is a two-time all-conference selection with thirty-one consecutive starts. His talent for the next level is borderline undeniable.
Best fits for wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft
With the rankings you had, what are the best fits for each WR that you had ranked (1st and 2nd round grades)
— John Olson (@TheejohnOlson) March 21, 2020
Here are quick-hitting thoughts on the best NFL fits for the top wide receiver prospects.
Henry Ruggs III, Denver Broncos: Drew Lock’s bazooka and Ruggs’ speed would be a perfect match, and he would open up the intermediate for Noah Fant and DaeSean Hamilton.
CeeDee Lamb, New York Jets: New York needs to improve its protection of Sam Darnold, but their weapons are lacking too. The Jets can’t enter next season with Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson as their top-two wide receivers.
Jerry Jeudy, San Francisco 49ers (see above)
Justin Jefferson, New Orleans Saints: Jefferson played in a similar offensive system at LSU, dominant on option routes and could fit as a hybrid inside-outside receiver next to Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
Denzel Mims, Green Bay Packers: Mims fits the athletic and physical profile of a wide receiver that the Packers prefer. Pairing him with Rodgers and his willingness to throw back-shoulder and let receivers adjust would be a great match. He was a Senior Bowl stand out.
Laviska Shenault, Indianapolis Colts: Shenault would be a talent upgrade to the Colts weapons, adding needed versatility on the boundary or catching passes from the backfield.
Jalen Reagor, Chicago Bears: Reagor’s ability to stretch the field from the boundary or in the slot would mesh well with Anthony Miller’s intermediate route running, and there’s a hole in their depth chart with the departure of Taylor Gabriel.
KJ Hamler, Minnesota Vikings: Hamler’s juice after the catch and natural fit into the slot would give the Vikings an exciting weapon that they’re lacking beyond Adam Thielen.