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Best routes for rookie NFL wide receivers: Why CeeDee Lamb's out, Brandon Aiyuk's screen are unstoppable

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CeeDee Lamb's NFL draft profile (1:10)

Oklahoma wideout CeeDee Lamb can play both slot and outside and is considered one of the most evasive offensive players in the 2020 NFL draft. (1:10)

The success of a rookie NFL receiver is predicated on not only his overall skill, but also what in particular he brings to his specific offense. So what will the heralded wide receiver group of the 2020 NFL draft bring?

We looked at the 16 wideouts who were drafted in the first three rounds in April, identifying their best, most productive routes over the past two seasons in college and how those routes fit into their new units. Each receiver's best route was determined by yards per route run relative to other receivers in the class and other receivers in college football. How often the receiver ran the route was also a consideration. When the ball is snapped, here's what each Day 1 and Day 2 receiver will do best.

Note: College route information is via Sports Info Solutions, was grouped into traditional route trees and -- unless otherwise specified -- is based on the past two seasons with a 500-routes-run qualification over that span. NFL data comes from ESPN's new route-classification model, built with NFL Next Gen Stats player-tracking data, and uses more specific route types.

Jump to:
Round 1 WRs | Round 2 WRs
Round 3 WRs

Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

Draft/college: Selected No. 12 overall out of Alabama
Best route: Dig

Based on his speedy 4.27-second 40-yard dash and burner reputation, I'd have guessed that the go route would have been the answer for Ruggs here. But that would have been wrong. Despite his straight-line speed, Ruggs ran fewer go routes over the past two seasons than most of the other receivers drafted in April. But he had slightly better results relative to his peers on dig routes, and he ran more of them, too.

Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr is infamous for his lack of deep passes -- the Raiders targeted vertical routes at a below-average rate in 2019 -- so maybe specializing in something other than verts is good for Ruggs' current situation. But what stood out to me about the Crimson Tide product's numbers was there isn't a route type where his production on a yards-per-route-run basis was exceptional. For the first receiver selected in a stacked class, that's surprising.


Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

Draft/college: Selected No. 15 out of Alabama
Best route: Go

There was not a single player more productive running a go route -- which encapsulates a bunch of straight vertical routes in this case -- than Jeudy over the past two seasons. His 6.2 yards per route run bested everyone.

But Jeudy is versatile enough that I vacillated between the go and post. He ran far fewer post routes but posted a monstrous 12.2 yards per post route run (though that did not top college football the way his go routes did). And in his final collegiate game against Michigan, Jeudy caught an 85-yard touchdown on a post.

The Broncos actually ran vertical routes, like gos and posts, at a below-average rate and targeted them at an average rate last season. But former New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur is now the offensive coordinator in Denver, and the Giants ran over 200 more vertical routes than the Broncos last season.


CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys