Patriots

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top 10 wide receivers in elite class

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top 10 wide receivers in elite class

This is a great year to need a wide receiver in the NFL Draft.

The 2020 class of wideouts has been deemed historically awesome by many draft experts, with as many as four or five of these players expected to be selected in the first round.

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A couple of these wide receivers played in the SEC, most notably the Alabama duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. Both Crimson Tide stars are projected to land in the top 15. 

Whether you're looking for size, speed, contested catch ability or any other skill, you'll be able to find it in this wide receiver class.

Let's take a look at the top 10 wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft.

1. CeeDee Lamb

College: Oklahoma
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 62 receptions, 1,327 yards, 14 touchdowns

Lamb was the best wideout in the nation last season. He averaged an impressive 21.4 yards per catch in 2019, and he also tallied 25 touchdown receptions over the last two seasons. Lamb is a very reliable target, evidenced by his zero drops at Oklahoma on balls thrown 20 yards or more down field. He has great hands and the ability to make tough, contested catches. He's the safest bet to succeed of all the wide receivers in this class.

Projected Round: First

2. Jerry Jeudy

College: Alabama
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 77 receptions, 1,163 yards, 10 touchdowns

Alabama has produced some top-tier NFL wide receivers in the Nick Saban era, including Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. Jerry Jeudy could be next.

Jeudy is the most complete wideout in this class and the best route runner. He has all the skills needed to be a No. 1 wide receiver for a long time. Jeudy also thrived in important games. In four career bowl/CFP matchups, he averaged 109 yards with a total of three touchdowns, including an incredible performance in last season's Citrus Bowl win over Michigan when he tallied six receptions for 204 yards and a touchdown.

Projected Round: First

3. Henry Ruggs III

College: Alabama
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 40 receptions, 746 yards, 7 touchdowns

Ruggs' best talent is his speed. Whether he's outrunning a defensive back down field, or catching a screen pass and beating everyone to the end zone, it's awfully tough to catch the Crimson Tide star. He had at least one reception of 25-plus yards in nine of the 12 games he played in 2019. Ruggs' big-play ability should make him a popular player on teams' draft boards in Round 1.

Projected Round: First

4. Justin Jefferson

College: LSU
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 111 receptions, 1,540 yards, 18 touchdowns

Jefferson had an incredible 2019 season as LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow's top target. He tied for the Division I lead in receptions and ranked second in touchdown catches. He also caught an astounding 92.3 percent of his contested targets, highlighting his ability to fight over defensive backs and make tough receptions. Jefferson stepped up when the bright lights were shining, too. He caught 30 passes for 448 yards and five touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game and two College Football Playoff games combined last season. His blocking skills in the run game are solid as well, making him a well-rounded and pro-ready wideout. 

Projected Round: First

5. Tee Higgins

College: Clemson
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 59 receptions, 1,167 yards, 13 touchdowns

Higgins was Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence's most reliable wideout in 2019, and it's easy to understand why when you look at his impressive talent and size (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds). Higgins tied the school record for career touchdown receptions with 27 and averaged a career-high 19.3 yards per reception last year. He's a tremendous possession receiver, and also quite versatile. He can play all over the field, whether that's outside, in the slot, lining up in the backfield or somewhere else. He'll give NFL coaches a lot of options.

Projected Round: First

6. Denzel Mims

College: Baylor
Class: Senior
2019 stats: 66 receptions, 1,020 yards, 12 touchdowns

Mims, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, excelled as a slot receiver for Baylor and should be able to fill that role at a high level in the NFL. His speed also is fantastic, evidenced by his 4.30 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Mims was nearly unstoppable in 1-on-1 drills during Senior Bowl practices and his draft stock has risen as a result. He's definitely a player who could be drafted a lot higher than experts are projecting right now (April 9).

Projected Round: Late First, Early Second

7. Brandon Aiyuk

College: Arizona State
Class: Senior
2019 stats: 65 receptions, 1,192 yards, 8 touchdowns

Aiyuk has great speed, and it helped him rack up a ton of yards after the catch last season. He also has great concentration on balls thrown deep downfield. In fact, Aiyuk had zero drops in his college career when he was targeted 20-plus yards down field. His improvement as a sophomore was quite encouraging as well. He nearly doubled his receptions in 2019 compared to his freshman season, while more than doubling his receiving yards and touchdowns. Don't be surprised if Aiyuk rapidly moves up draft boards and becomes a lock to be a first-round pick over the next few weeks.

Projected Round: Late First, Early Second

8. Laviska Shenault Jr.

College: Colorado
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 56 receptions, 764 yards, 4 touchdowns

Versatility is one of Shenault Jr.'s best attributes. He saw snaps all over the field at Colorado, including on the outside and in the slot. Shenault also has all the physical tools needed to win 1-on-1 matchups down field. The main concern with Shenault is his durability. He battled through multiple injuries throughout his college career, but if healthy, he's one of the draft's most exciting pass-catching talents.

Projected Round: Second

9. Jalen Reagor

College: TCU
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 43 receptions, 611 yards, 5 touchdowns

Reagor is a very good route runner with the quickness and strength to create separation. The TCU star's 2019 stats look disappointing when you compare them with his breakout 2018 campaign, but the real issue for Reagor was his quarterback. Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan completed only 53.4 percent of his passes last season. He also threw 10 interceptions over TCU's final six games, which was the toughest part of the team's schedule and the only stretch where it played any top 25 teams. 

Reagor probably would be a slam-dunk first-round pick if he had a competent QB throwing him the ball last season. 

Projected Round: Second

10. KJ Hamler

College: Penn State
Class: Redshirt sophomore
2019 stats: 56 receptions, 904 yards, 8 touchdowns

Hamler is another one of the wideouts in this class with blazing speed, making him a real threat to score anytime he touches the ball. He had at least one catch of 30-plus yards in seven of the 12 games he played in 2019. The best play of Hamler's college career came against an elite Ohio State defense in 2018 when he caught a pass at his own 15-yard line and outran every Buckeyes player for a 93-yard touchdown. Hamler also was a really good kick and punt returner for Penn State. He averaged 21.3 yards on 44 career kick returns, while also tallying 37 career punt returns.

Projected Round: Second

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

Patriots Talk Podcast: Jeff Benedict details process of writing 'The Dynasty'

There’s one sentiment shared by everyone who’s covered the New England Patriots for the entirety of their dynastic run. Gratitude. 

It might not show up in the day-to-day coverage of reporting on the nitty-gritty of where the team is and where it’s headed. It might not seem like it when we probe and analyze the interpersonal relationships and shine a light on where the agitations are. 

But to have had a front-row seat to history for 20 years? To watch a once-failed head coach, an overlooked quarterback and an idealistic and sometimes naïve owner combine to lift the Patriots from NFL afterthought to the most successful team in the history of America’s most beloved sport? Right place, right time for me. 

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I coulda been born in Saint Augustine, Florida, and spent my career covering the Jaguars. I wasn’t. I got to cover the team I loved first. The team I cried over when it lost in the 1976 playoffs to the Oakland Raiders. I can still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt at the 1997 NFL Draft, the first event I covered in person on the Patriots beat. It was all I wanted to do. 

The Patriots drafted Chris Canty in the first round. It’s gotten better since then. 

When you cover the team this long, you develop a sense of “ownership.” A belief you know the story as well as anyone possibly could. It’s probably not healthy. Really, it’s a barrier to learning. But I’ll admit it lurks. So when it was announced that author Jeff Benedict would have a book called, “The Dynasty” coming out in September, there was a flash of, “I already know the story…” combined with a twinge of “Why’s he writing it? What’s he know that I don’t?"

Well, as it turns out – and as I expected from an author of Benedict’s ability – there’s a lot he knows about the Patriots that I didn’t.

I’m more than 200 pages into the 525-page book. Benedict spoke to 250 different people. He got everyone who matters on the record – Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Roger Goodell … the list goes on. I’m learning a lot. 

Benedict, who along with Armen Keteyian wrote the best-selling book, “Tiger Woods,” is a master at digging for details and anecdotes and putting his reader in a fly-on-the-wall position because he’s such a terrific reporter and storyteller. 

”The Dynasty” won’t be released by published Simon and Schuster until September 1. There’s an embargo on the content until then. But I did get to speak with Benedict on “Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast” about the two-year process of writing this book. 

Patriots Talk Podcast: Benedict explains the process behind upcoming book, "The Dynasty" | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

“To me, we’re talking about the greatest sports dynasty, certainly of this century in America and it’s in the conversation as being the greatest sports dynasty in America ever,” said Benedict. “I did feel a tremendous sense of being overwhelmed, a sense of foreboding because it’s such an epic story. 

“I’m not an insider,” Benedict said. “I know all these guys who have been around this franchise forever. I wasn’t there for any of it. I’ve literally never covered a Patriots game … And here’s an army of men and women who’ve been around the team, so it was sort of this idea of, ‘What can you bring that would actually add value and be different?’ 

“I tried to look at it from the perspective of the one thing I can relate to is, I’m a New Englander to the core. What I do feel is I really understand my audience. And the core audience for this book is people who live in New England and people who have followed this team and are in love with this team.

"It’s not to say I don’t want to write it for people in other parts of the country. I want them to read it too and there’s a great story there even if you’re a Jets fan or a Steelers fan. But the core audience is us who live in New England.”

The start of the book is Kraft-centric. The first 100 pages cover the machinations he went through to purchase the team, keep it in Foxboro and build a stadium, which have been somewhat been taken for granted around here and are laid out in detail by Benedict. I learned a lot.

“I have a wonderful editor,” said Benedict. “My editor gave me the same challenge with this as he did with Tiger Woods and that was, ‘I want the reader to learn something new on every single page of this book.’ So if the book is 500 pages long, that’s at least 500 things you need to find that no one else knew. 

“That’s really hard in the New England market,” Benedict added. “The Patriots are the most beloved team in New England. They’re the kings. They’re covered the most. It’s saturation coverage. So I took the approach that, this is not a book about a person, this is a book about a team, about a franchise.

"I went into it with two central questions that all Patriots fans are interested in. First, how was this dynasty built? How was it made? What distinguishes this team from all of those others is they ran their course in about a decade. And after that, their ship had sailed. This dynasty has doubled the length of any of its predecessors. And the second question is how did they sustain it?”

The book is current. It gets into the departure of Brady, the machinations that led to it and the sentiments of everyone involved. Again, I know the story and what I’ve been told. But nobody told me exactly what was said, where conversations took place and how people reacted. 

Benedict has that in The Dynasty. Which serves as further proof that, in life, you think you know. But often you don’t really know.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.

No substitute for Cam Newton's experience as Patriots practices heat up

No substitute for Cam Newton's experience as Patriots practices heat up

So far so good for Cam Newton. 

It's one thing to be praised by new teammates, from Julian Edelman to Isaiah Wynn and Lawrence Guy. It's another to earn some early plaudits from Bill Belichick. But that's exactly what Newton received from his new head coach on Friday morning.

Belichick, of course, is careful not to single out players even when asked specifically about an individual. Therefore, in answering a question about Newton during a WebEx call with reporters, Belichick did not share impressions on Newton alone. But when he did highlight what he's seen from his new quarterback, the sentiments were nothing but positive.

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"We've done a lot of meetings, a lot of walkthroughs," Belichick said. "A lot of information has been transferred to all the players. He's worked very hard, I'd say, as all our players have. We have a hard-working group. Those guys are ready to go and we've put in some long days. They've been very attentive during the process.  

"I'd say all the quarterbacks, at that position, those guys have been locked in, been focused, worked extremely hard. All four of them. When they all get in the huddle, everybody has a lot of confidence in what they're able to do, and the information they have to give the team. Play-calls, adjustments, audibles, protection adjustments, things like that.

"But again, we haven't played anywhere near the speed we're going to be playing at so we'll see how it all comes together at that point. But Cam's a hard-working kid. He really is."

At Patriots practice Friday, Newton will have an opportunity to put on display all the hard work he's put in for years prior to his Foxboro arrival. It's the portion of the summer schedule when Newton's experience level should shine through. And if there is truly a quarterback competition underway at Gillette Stadium, it's when Newton could show off a Secretariat-style final-stretch kick.

Why? After months of slow-playing things, Belichick's offense and defense will have an opportunity to square off for real -- kind of. The two sides still won't be in pads, but Friday will be their first up-tempo practice, Belichick indicated. 

For quarterbacks, that means it's time to put their post-snap diagnostic skills to the test. Up until this point, all they've been able to rep with any consistency are pre-snap reads during light workouts, meetings and walkthroughs. But they haven't performed against buzzing defenses from the pocket, so deciphering where to go with the football after the ball is snapped has been a bit of a blind spot, so to speak.

"To this point," Belichick said, "for all positions, it doesn't really matter which position you're talking about, the pre-snap, line of scrimmage and initial assignment -- we've had an opportunity to go over that extensively. And I feel pretty good about where we are there. What we're missing is things that happen post-snap and the fundamentals and execution of our assignments at a high tempo, with contact, against a quality opponent. 

"Those are the things we haven't done, nobody's been able to do. We'll start that process really (Friday), Sunday and next week with pads is when we'll be able to hit those with some solid experiences for the players and hopefully progression. We're about as far as we can go in terms of walkthroughs and calls, communication and all that. But the speed of the game post-snap and what happens once everybody starts moving, we've seen some of that at a slow pace, I would say to a certain degree, but nothing like what is really gonna happen.

" ... Last night should've been our first preseason game. We haven't even had a full-speed practice yet, let alone in pads."

Patriots Talk Podcast - Training Camp Preview: Burning Questions and Bold Predictions | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Reporters will be able to see for themselves how Newton looks in competitive situations starting Monday. But when the speed of practice picks up Friday, who would you expect to be the greatest beneficiary between Newton and second-year man Jarrett Stidham?

Stidham may have had an advantage early in the offseason compared to Newton. He'd spent a full season with the Patriots, learning in their meetings, impressing in their practices. He understood the language of the Patriots offense. He understood what Josh McDaniels demanded from the position.

And while Newton has had weeks to chip away at a playbook Stidham has had for a year -- a playbook filled with "calculus," Edelman told Newton -- the former MVP has 125 career regular-season games under his belt plus seven playoff contests. (His 131 starts are more than three times that of third-stringer Brian Hoyer.) Newton has seen live NFL defenses. He's broken them down, deceived them, exploited them in real time. 

Newton's post-snap reactions to blitzes, pressures, man and zone coverages will certainly have to be tailored to his new offense. There will be teaching moments for him in that regard. But he's proven over the course of his career that his internal processing speed can ramp up and excel against the game's best. For Stidham, who hasn't been put in a position to take any snaps of consequence, that just hasn't happened yet.

Indeed, 47 days after he signed, Newton may feel more at home than ever as the intensity at Patriots practice heats up.