Note: Since I no longer have access to the necessary college film to chart prospects and their Reception Perception samples, I’ll be taking RP data from the NFL level and using it to frame what we can expect from these incoming rookies and their best role as pro receivers. You can get access to Reception Perception data on the Top 50 NFL receivers in the 2020 Ultimate Draft Kit.
Just because a crop is strong doesn’t mean there aren’t a few risky propositions. We’ve looked at a few prospects so far from this highly touted 2020 NFL Draft class of wide receivers.
There’s the ultra-refined Justin Jefferson, who looks as advanced as a draft prospect can these days. Then there’s top-liner CeeDee Lamb, dripping with all the skills you want out of a No. 1 wideout. No one can forget the speedy Henry Ruggs, a player who brings more than just a go route to the table.
We have not yet studied a true gamble of a prospect at the wide receiver position just yet. Today, we find that player in Colorado’s Laviska Shenault.
Laviska Shenault was a jack of all trades and the engine of the Colorado offense. Not only was he a force as a big-play receiver, but he was also a frequent presence in the run game. He carried the ball 40 times and scored seven touchdowns in his 20 games over his last two college seasons. All told, he racked up over 2,220 yards from scrimmage and found the end zone 17 times as a rusher/receiver.
Injuries were a theme for Shenault in college. He notably struggled with an abdominal injury in 2019, one that clearly still dogged him at the combine. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine why the clearly gifted athlete posted a mere 4.58 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine.
This former team MVP comes with those injury risks, making matters worse as they mask his true measured athleticism. However, he also carries some volatility based on his play, while clearly bringing traits to the table that may make that gamble tolerable.
It’s far from fair to say that Shenault’s route running is a mess or wildly problematic. You can probably return this portion of his essay as “incomplete, needs work.”
You won’t find a variety of NFL brand patterns on his film. He’s not going to check every box on the route tree. Shenault will need work on sharpening his cuts and there needs to be plenty of time to just straight up learn some little details. Colorado moved him around to so many different receiver spots, he didn’t truly master one and instead became merely good at all three. That doesn’t have to be a negative but some development should be expected here.
The good news is that Shenault displays more than enough of a baseline as a technician to work with. He’s especially good at the deception portion of the game. That’s important for a player that a coach will likely want to employ as a big-play threat. Shenault demonstrates this strength in two areas.
First, you’ll notice he often sues trickery to fool a defensive back that he’s going to break a route outside or down the sideline before darting to the middle of the field. Shenault’s strong hands and prowess in the contested catch game make him a big threat on out-breaking routes, so teams have to respect when he appears to be heading that way. If he can bring this skill to the NFL level, he’ll make plenty of corners look foolish on post and dig routes.
Secondly, he can sell the corner on the deep route before snapping back on curl patterns. He earns plenty of separation there, even if his poor quarterback play often didn’t let that shine because they were too late to get him the ball. Let’s hope he finds a passer with better timing in the NFL. When he did get a good pass on the curl, he was able to show off not just his strength at the catch point but his lighting quick transition to becoming an after the catch maven.
Rarely do I try and make a one-to-one player comparison in this space. Rather, I’ll use Reception Perception to paint a picture of how a player could be deployed or outline a deployment. Sometimes outlining a previous prospect’s path to NFL relevancy is much more helpful than a simple “he reminds me of” analogy.
Much of the Laviska Shenault evaluation and his possible path to an established NFL role reminds me of Panthers receiver D.J. Moore.
Just like Shenault, Moore routinely got open at the college level but lacked plenty of nuances and refinement in his route-running. That limited him in his first season, where he fell below the 10th percentile in success rate vs. man and press coverage. While those concerns would seem to a death knell to any receiver’s trajectory, Moore still showed the athletic ability to eventually develop into a solid route-runner once he honed his craft.
More importantly, he’s legitimately near the elite in other areas of the game. In his rookie season, he was the best after catch receiver in the league. In 2019, he posted an absurd, 93.3 percent contested catch rating, the best in Reception Perception history, after a strong 80 percent mark as a rookie. If you’re one of the best receivers at the catch point and with the ball in your hands, your team can live with some development as a route runner.
That exact development route development took place in his second year. Moore still has some issues against man coverage down the field but took a massive step off the line. He recorded a 68.1 percent success rate vs. press coverage mark in 2019, which is far from an elite number but represents a huge jump going from the eighth to 55th percentile in just one season.
In my view, Shenault isn’t at Moore’s level in the contested catch game or post-reception but he does check out positively in both areas. His strong hands can be overwhelming at the catch point, especially because he consistently demonstrates stellar technique. Not the agile athlete that Moore is, Shenault still wins plenty after the catch with pure power.
If Shenault continues to hone his strengths in other areas, his next NFL team can live with a few hiccups as a route-runner like D.J. Moore’s club did for him. The rewards should be well worth it.
I’m glad I’m just writing articles on these wide receivers and my job doesn’t depend on how they pan out. With a player like Leviska Shenault, I could see this going any different direction. The injuries only cloud the picture even further.
The strengths and the upside are clearly appealing and frankly, they make the gamble worth it in the end. Nevertheless, you need to be patient and find creative ways to get him on the field while he develops more nuance as a route runner against man coverage. The Panthers did that with D.J. Moore, lining him up in positions that saw him again zone coverage as a rookie before moving him to the X-receiver spot in 2019. Shenault comes with that zone-beating savvy like Moore, in addition to all the other flare after the catch at in tight coverage. I think you take the plunge at some point in Round 2.
If you’re planning to invest in this player in dynasty or at some point in redraft, you need to hope he finds his way to a team with a proven track record at developing wideouts for the long-term. For more immediate production, a team that comes with a creative offensive coordinator unafraid to buck tradition to get athletes on the field.