Ask any general manager, blogger, twitter scout or casual college football fan what the best and deepest position group is in the 2020 NFL draft and they will all have the same answer: wide receiver.
That’s good news for the Bears who have a need for a receiver after releasing Taylor Gabriel in February.
The top prospects that might be available for the Bears have been discussed ad nauseam. Jalen Reagor, Brandon Aiyuk, Denzel Mims and K.J. Hamler are all great fits for the Bears and would give them a speed element the offense sorely needs.
But what if all of those players are not available or the Bears decide to go in a different direction in round two? I wanted to take a look at some different, less discussed options the Bears might consider.
Michael Pittman Jr. (USC)
Pittman isn’t getting the same hype that the receivers mentioned above are getting. I am here to tell you why he should.
Pittman has football in his blood. His dad, Michael Pittman Sr., played 11 years in the NFL as a running back, most notably for the Cardinals and Buccaneers.
Pittman is much bigger than his father was with a long, lanky frame standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 223 pounds. He uses his long arms and huge catch radius to his advantage, consistently winning jump-ball situations down the field. He has strong hands and rarely lets his quarterback down, dropping only 5 passes on 176 catchable passes in his career.
He proved he could be a big-play threat for the Spartans as a junior in 2018 recording 758 yards on 18.5 yards per reception. He really cemented himself as one of the best receivers in college football as a Senior when he caught 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to First-Team All-Pac 12 honors.
You wouldn’t expect a receiver his size to be a great athlete, but Pittman tested as an elite one at the combine. He ran a 4.52-second 40, which, while not game-changing speed, is more than fast enough to be a deep threat.
He impressed the most in the agility drills where he dominated the three-cone (6.96 seconds, 4th) and shuttle (4.14 seconds, 2nd). Taken altogether, he earned a 9.22 RAS score, which was better than more highly touted receivers like Reagor and Aiyuk. His agility shows on tape where his route running and ability to start and stop is that of a much smaller player.
Pittman might not be the prototypical burner that is typically mocked to the Bears, but he has proven to be a reliable deep threat with almost 500 of his receiving yards coming on passes 20 plus yards downfield. Ryan Pace shouldn’t be looking for the fastest wide receiver; he should be looking for the best. And if guys like Reagor and Aiyuk are off the board that could be Pittman.
Laviska Shenault (Colorado)
Shenault was a consensus first-rounder at the start of the season and for much of this draft process. After posting 86 receptions for 1,011 yards and six receiving touchdowns and adding five more on the ground in only nine games as a sophomore, he seemed destined for the first round.
However, he was banged up as a junior, and his production fell to only 56 receptions for 764 yards and four touchdowns.
Shenault is the most dangerous player in this entire draft class, regardless of position, with the ball in his hands as 58.1 percent of his receiving yards have come after contact.
Not after the catch but after making a defender miss.
He averages 7.5 yards after the catch and has forced 44 missed tackles (including 29 in his sophomore season when he was healthy), which is tops in the class.
Shenault’s versatility is a huge plus for him. He has lined up outside, inside, as a tight end, as a running back and even as a wildcat quarterback. A creative offensive play-caller like Matt Nagy will be able to get the most out of his ability.
The biggest issue with Shenault is his injuries. As I said above, he has first-round talent and is still projected to go in the first round by some. But given his history and with teams not being able to conduct their own physicals due to the COVID-19, I am fairly confident he will fall.
Overall, Shenault is probably a better fit for the Bears than Pittman, giving his yards after the catchability. He would provide a dynamic athlete to the offense who is able to win at all three levels. That being said, his physical style of play and injury history make him a highly risky player.
If a healthy Shenault stepped on an NFL field tomorrow, he would be one of the most dangerous ball carriers in the league. The second round isn’t usually a position to get a player with a truly elite skill, so he might be too tempting to pass up at that point. A true high-risk, high-reward player.
Devin Duvernay (Texas)
Duvernay, the cousin of last year’s first overall pick Kyler Murray, enters the NFL draft after having a career year and one of the most impressive stat lines in all of college football. He had 106 receptions for 1,368 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior, which demanded the attention of NFL scouts. He accumulated more receptions, yards and touchdowns than he did the previous three seasons combined.
If you’re looking for a speed element to add to your offense, Duvernay is the guy.
He was one of the top track athletes in high school, winning the 2015 6A state title in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.27 seconds, which was the third-fastest in the country. He only cemented his status as a speed freak when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL combine.
Duvernay has a short stocky build, which looks much more like a running back than receiver, at just over 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds. His style of play is similar to a running back as well. He is one of the better prospects after the catch as evidenced by his 23 missed tackles forced in 2019. If a team doesn’t feel comfortable with Shenault’s injury history, Duvernay could provide a cheaper alternative – albeit with less upside.
Duvernay’s stat line is a little misleading considering he played exclusively in the slot and 42 of his receptions came on screens, the second-most in the nation. But even if you take away all of his screen yards, he still would have had over 1,000 on the season. And despite being undersized and exclusively playing in the slot he was better than expected in contested catch situations, finishing 8 of 11 in contested catches 10-plus yards downfield.
Duvernay’s athleticism and strong hands should translate nicely to the NFL. He can still improve as a route runner, but even if he doesn’t, his athleticism and yards after catch ability give him a high floor as an offensive weapon.
John Hightower (Boise State)
Hightower is another speed demon like Duvernay. But unlike Duvernay who does most of his damage on underneath routes, Hightower is a true deep threat. He accumulated 94 yards on 51 receptions and eight touchdowns last season. His 18.5 yards per reception average ranks fifth in this draft class.
Hightower explodes off the line vertically but is also adept at varying his speeds to set up corners and safeties to create separation. He is quick in and out of his cuts and doesn’t lose a step when cutting. He is a natural tracker of the deep ball, which will make him a threat down the field even as a rookie.
He showed off his explosiveness at the combine with a 4.43-second 40, and he finished with a 1.54-second 10-yard split, which was tied for best at the position with Henry Ruggs (4.27 40-yard dash) and Denzel Mims (4.38 40-yard dash). He was also a standout performer in the vertical jump with a 38.5-inch leap. His explosiveness consistently stands out when running routes but also as a returner where he averaged 24.6 yards per return and also scored a touchdown in 2019.
Hightower is a better route runner than given credit for, but he still has a long way to go to become a complete receiver. He should be a deep threat right away in the NFL and has the potential to become much more.
He’s a one-trick pony right now, but that one trick is extremely valuable and exactly what the Bears should be looking for come draft day.
Kendall Hinton (Wake Forest)
Hinton committed to the Demon Deacons as a quarterback and actually played the position for three years before making the switch to wide receiver. After an adjustment year in 2018, he broke out in 2019, racking up 73 receptions for 1,001 yards and four touchdowns.
For a player who has only played the position for two years, Hinton is a decent route runner who is able to sink and snap off routes in order to create separation. He did most of his work in the short and intermediate passing game but flashed the ability to get open down the field often in 2019.
Hinton is going to need more seasoning before he is ready for extended playing time. He could be a late-round pick or priority free agent who spends some time on the practice squad before settling in as a slot receiver in a West Coast offense.
Marquez Callaway (Tennessee)
Callaway is a former 4-star recruit who chose Tennessee over more highly touted programs like Alabama and Georgia. He failed to live up to expectations, but it is easy to see why he was so highly coveted coming out of high school.
Callaway never put up big stats during his time in Knoxville, but he was a big play waiting to happen: averaging 17.9 yards per reception and 21.2 yards per reception as a senior. He was used primarily as a deep threat, where his speed and jump-ball ability were able to shine.
He ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which was surprising considering how often he was able to win downfield. He definitely plays faster than that number. However, his 38-inch vertical and 126-inch broad jump matches the explosion you see on tape. He is able to sky over corners and is adept at high pointing the ball to win 50/50 situations, which is a bit of a misnomer seeing as how he won nearly 60 percent of his contested catch opportunities in his career.
Callaway needs to develop as a route runner and struggles to beat press coverage. He most likely will never become a complete receiver, but as a fourth receiver and field stretcher who also provides great special teams value (three punt return for touchdowns in his career), it is easy to see how he can carve out a role in the NFL.