I’m back for the 3rd edition in the wide receiver draft series. This section will focus on wideouts the Eagles could focus on selecting in the middle rounds of this weeks upcoming NFL Draft. Let’s take a look at options for the Eagles to draft in rounds 2-3.
The Middle Rounds
For the local crowd who are also Penn State fans, K.J. Hamler is a familiar name on draft boards. Hamler just completed his final season at Penn State as a redshirt Sophomore. K.J Hamler arrived in Happy Valley in 2017, but suffered a torn ACL injury, costing his Freshman season at State College.
He returned in 2018 as a force to be reckoned with in the Nittany Lion offense. Hamler finished the season with 42 receptions for 754 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 18 yards per reception. He was rewarded with Honorable mention ALL Big Ten during his freshman season with the team. In 2019, we saw an uptick in production with 56 receptions for 904 yards and eight touchdowns. Hamler was named to the 2nd team ALL Big Ten team, honorable mention as a kick returner. He finished both seasons at Penn State with over 500 return yards each season.
The one positive about K.J. Hamler is the ability to maintain consistent production against high-level opponents in a power conference. The speed he possesses on the field is top-notch and rivals any speedster currently in the NFL. He wasn’t able to run at the combine but was clocked at PSU running a 4.27 40 yard dash. This puts him right up there with Henry Ruggs in terms of speed. Hamler is an explosive athlete on the field. He can turn dust into diamonds. The change of direction ability is phenomenal. Hamler can cut on a dime, and sometimes make a DB look silly. If a team is looking for a DeSean Jackson type of deep threat in the 2020 draft, K.J. Hamler might be your man.
Hamler does have one red flag: Injuries. K.J. missed his senior year of high school with an injury. He entered Penn State, and tore his ACL, forfeiting his freshman year at the collegiate level. He does have a slender frame and is very small for a receiver. This could bring added risk at the professional level. A concern with Hamler’s hands does raise question marks among scouts. He dropped 16% of his passes in 2019. This MUST improve as he gets acclimated in the NFL. Hamler exhibits a small catch radius and tends to have issue reeling in contested catches. Finally, He needs to work on adjustments with tracking down the deep ball. If he can fix that, he’ll be a deep threat opposing defenses must respect in their gameplan.
Brandon Aiyuk might be the sleeper of the 2020 wide receiver group. The JUCO transfer arrived on campus at Arizona State University for his junior season, only to play second fiddle to current New England Patriot N’Keal Harry. Aiyuk paid his dues during his junior season and learned behind Harry in the ASU offense. Fast forward to 2019, and it was Brandon Aiyuk’s time to shine in the spotlight. The sun was shining on Aiyuk’s talent serving as a bright spot in the Sun Devil’s offense. He finished with 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and 8 touchdowns. Aiyuk earned 1st team ALL PAC 12 honors for his stellar season.
The one attribute that stands out in Brandon Aiyuk’s game is his Run After the Catch ability. He averaged 10.9 yards after the catch, second in the country behind CeeDee Lamb. He finished with 710 yards after the score. Very impressive! Brandon uses his experience as a running back in high school to explode with the ball while it’s in his hands. Aiyuk is a natural playmaker. He shows reasonable body control, and he tracks the ball downfield nicely to zero in on the completion.
There are a few areas where Brandon Aiyuk requires technical refinement. The first area is route running. He needs to work on his cuts in and out of routes. The hand technique used in his press release could use some work. If he used the competitive toughness he possesses after the catch at the line scrimmage; he’d be able to fight through the defender off his release. Finally, some improvement is warranted at the next level for contested catches. Winning the ball in tight windows will secure a spot on any roster.
The 4 star recruit out of high school had an interesting journey to being an NFL draft prospect. Van Jefferson has a strong NFL pedigree as his Dad played many years in the NFL, and currently is a WR coach with the New York Jets. After multiple offers, he landed at Ole Miss to play football. Jefferson enjoyed a successful Freshman season. He finished with 49 receptions for 543 yards and three touchdowns. He also earned the honor of being named to the freshman All-American 3rd team. He also was named 2nd team ALL-SEC and 1st team freshman ALL-SEC. Due to impending sanctions forced upon Ole Miss, Van Jefferson elected to transfer after his sophomore season.
Van Jefferson decided that he was transferring to the University of Florida. He settled into the offense and finished his Junior season with leading the team in receptions and yards. He totaled six touchdowns on the year. In 2019, he saw improvement in production as he collected 49 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns.
In terms of route running, Van Jefferson might be the most polished in his class. He exhibits tremendous footwork at the point of contact, and his change of direction ability is phenomenal. Another positive trait that stands out is his press release. He shows good hands at the point of contact and has the footwork to scoot past the defender off press coverage. Jefferson demonstrates the ability the make the adjustment downfield to track the ball into his hands. Van Jefferson has a high football IQ and is NFL ready for a team willing to take a chance on him.
The one thing that scouts mention about Van Jefferson is being “Maxed out.” What does that mean? Well, Jefferson will be 24 years old when he begins next season. He’s limited athletically and doesn’t have any more room to grow into his body. What you see is what you get.
Along with limited athleticism comes his slender body frame. Jefferson lacks balance on his routes at times and has adequate RAC ability. Van Jefferson wins the ball with polished skills in route running. He’ll never win a matchup with speed on a route.
DPJ came to the University of Michigan as a high school All-American. He arrived at Ann Arbor and made a difference early in his freshman season. He earned a place on the freshman All-American team. In the two seasons that followed, DPJ earned 3rd team ALL Big Ten honors both years. He compiled a total of 1,055 receiving yards with 14 touchdowns at Michigan.
Donovan Peoples-Jones is a 6’2, 212lb wide receiver who can go up and get the ball at the highest catch point. DPJ has an impressive catch radius. He shows reasonable body control throughout the route. Donovan shows good tracking skills downfield and can make the necessary adjustments to finish the play. DPJ is a versatile player on the field serving duties on special teams as the kick and punt returner.
You can attribute some of Donovan’s shortcomings to lackluster QB play, but there are clear holes in his game. Production has been worrisome for Peoples-Jones. He never eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season at Michigan. A contributing factor to that could be concentration drops. He let 9.5% of passes slip through his fingers. Additionally, it’s essential for DPJ to improve upon his press release. Also, He needs to improve his breaks on routes in short areas with change of direction ability.
This concludes the analysis of wide receivers the Eagles could select in the 2nd or 3rd round of this week’s draft. There’s plenty of good options to secure WR depth in the middle rounds. Stay tuned tomorrow as I bring you the final installment of the WR draft prospect series. The focus will be on hidden gems the Eagles could secure in the late rounds of the 2020 draft.