With the 2020 NFL Draft just around the corner, I’ve put my context-based data models to work in search of identifying the best team fit for some of the top players in this year’s class. Leading up to Round 1, I’ll be taking my top five highest-rated wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks and pairing them with the team with whom the player earns the highest win share in 2020 given what we know about each team’s personnel, coaches and strategy right now.
Note: These are all realistic fits. Would both CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy be absolute studs catching passes from Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City for the next several years? Of course! But neither is falling to the Chiefs at No. 32 overall. So let’s keep things plausible, shall we?
1. CeeDee Lamb + San Francisco 49ers = +0.71 wins
My neutral model gives Lamb the slight edge as the class’ No. 1 receiver. He receives this billing, in part, due to the fact that his tape shows the greatest ability to change direction, alter speed and adapt to where the ball is thrown, but it’s also tied to his superb skills after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, Lamb ranked second in the nation with 26 broken tackles last season at Oklahoma. Production after contact like Lamb’s forecasts strongly to elite or above-average results in the NFL. Lamb’s strong college resume suggests he should have success on the outside and inside, as well as in baiting corners to open up space for other pass catchers. Sounds like someone Kyle Shanahan would put to tremendous use, right?
2. Jerry Jeudy + Las Vegas Raiders = +0.69 wins
His college teammate, Henry Ruggs III, might be the bigger attention-grabber, considering his blazing 4.27 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine, but my computer vision measures Jeudy’s game speed burst off the line of scrimmage as the fastest of the consensus top-15 wideouts in this draft class. Jeudy’s route-running precision and ability to use directional and speed changes mid-route to increase the distance between him and opposing defensive backs ranks second among 2020 WR prospects. Jeudy forecasts best in a Jon Gruden scheme because it will leverage his athleticism, elusiveness and precision in a way that should lead to a ton of targets from the jump.
3. Henry Ruggs III + Carolina Panthers = +0.67 wins
Of the consensus top 15 receivers in this year’s group, Ruggs’ game speed after the catch measured the fastest on the greatest percentage of his yards after the catch. This is especially interesting considering the high number of slants he ran. Adjusting for route type, the data suggests he is the best at “running away” from defenders. Considering what Matt Rhule and Joe Brady like to do on offense, and how Teddy Bridgewater‘s highly efficient quick-passing production matches their philosophy, it’s easy to see how Ruggs’ ability to align and execute from anywhere on the field will lead to optimal catch-and-run opportunities. The fact that defenses will always have to account for his whereabouts should also help his teammates be more productive. In fact, Christian McCaffrey‘s win share increases with Ruggs on the field with him (fantasy alert!).
4. Justin Jefferson + Eagles = +0.65 wins
My model rates Jefferson with the highest floor among the top receivers in 2020. The primary reason for this? Well, when I tracked the percentage of passes that each wideout caught when at least one defender was within a 3-foot halo (to approximate close coverage), he caught the highest rate of passes (51.3 percent; think of 40 percent as really good). His ability in college to increase his team’s probability to earn first downs and touchdowns on catches between the numbers was also the highest of the top 15 receivers. I’m not pigeonholing Jefferson as a slot guy, and I don’t think Doug Pederson would either based on his play-calling past, but the LSU wideout reaches his optimal value early on serving as a target for Carson Wentz out of that alignment.
5. Laviska Shenault Jr. + Broncos = +0.64 wins
Shenault has more of a fit-dependent Year 1 production projection than any of the four receivers my model rates ahead of him. However, his 2018 film (he was awesome) versus 2019 (he was injured) creates a high ceiling. My math suggests that pairing him with Drew Lock and Courtland Sutton increases the probability of realizing more ceiling-like results earlier in his career. Shenault’s resume shows high potential value after the catch; PFF counts 44 broken tackles for him over the past two seasons (29 in 2018, ranked second in FBS). His potential to catch physical, scheme-based passes as a rookie, while developing more complex skill sets as he matures, should help Lock continue to develop — especially with Sutton drawing the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses.
Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter @cfrelund.