2020 has been largely labeled as “The Wide Receiver Draft” with wideouts vastly highlighting top-50 prospect lists no matter who you ask. Players like Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III have displayed elite-level traits over their college careers and look to be impact players in the pros as soon as next season. There’s a chance that seven-plus wideouts could be taken in the first round and NFL Network draft analyst Bucky Brooks even said: “there could be 22-25 (wide receivers) that go in the first two days” of the NFL draft.
However, just one year ago, the draft was stocked in a different way at the position. 2019 was thought of as a very deep wide receiver class but not as one with a lot of first-round prospects. Only two went in the first round and none until the 25th pick in the draft. The sweet spot was within the early-second to mid-third rounds. 28 wide receivers were taken in the draft, including 13 in the first three rounds, and almost all of them showed the potential to become consistent contributors at the NFL level.
With one year of NFL experience in their pockets, here is a reranking of the best wide receivers from the 2019 NFL Draft.
Re-Ranking the 2019 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Class
Remember, this list is not definitive. Players like New England Patriots first rounder N’Keal Harry had a very rough first season after missing the first eight weeks of the year due to injury. Philadelphia Eagles‘ second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside was thrust into an over dependant role that he wasn’t ready for. Though their first seasons were rough, their pro careers still have a very high upside.
10. Preston Williams (Miami Dolphins) – Undrafted
Despite the 28 wide receivers taken in the draft, Williams was not one. Williams got his first shot at impacting the Dolphins when Albert Wilson went down in Miami’s Week 1 game against the Ravens. Over the next four weeks with Wilson out of the lineup, Williams established himself as a firm-starter in the Dolphins offense. His rookie season was cut short due to an ACL injury but he made a consistent impact while healthy. Over his eight games in 2019, Williams finished the year with 32 catches, 428 yards, and three touchdowns. The Dolphins will almost certainly select a young quarterback in the draft and Williams could be in for a big sophomore season if he and the quarterback are to develop a chemistry
9. Hunter Renfrow (Oakland Raiders) – 5th Round: 149th Overall
Coming into the draft, Renfrow was looked at as a late-round gem. He was widely recognized as the wide receiver that caught the game-winning touchdown in the 2016 National Championship and was then made one of the focal points of the NFL Television series ‘Hard Knocks’. Despite many people being familiar with him, he was fighting an uphill battle for playing time with new acquisitions Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams on the roster. However, Brown was cut due to personal issues with the team prior to the start of the season, giving Renfrow an expanded role.
The first six games of the season would be rough for Renfrow as he only registered 14 receptions for 115 yards and no scores but he would find his footing over his last seven games. From Week 7 to Week 13, Renfrow would record 35 catches for 490 yards and four touchdowns. This included two back-to-back 100-yard games in his final two contests. The Raiders have already added a lot of pieces over the off-season and are going to need all the weaponry they can get to compete in the tough AFC West. Renfrow’s work out of the slot should be a big part of the Raiders offense for years to come.
8. Diontae Johnson (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 3rd Round: 66th Overall
With the departure of Antonio Brown leaving a huge hole in the Steelers offense, many of Pittsburgh’s receivers had a chance to force their way into the starting lineup. Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington were the only two impact receivers returning from the year prior. Johnson found his way into the lineup as both a receiver and punt returner and turned out good numbers as a rookie. He finished the year with 59 receptions – leading all rookies – for 680 yards and five touchdowns.
While his receiving numbers were solid, Johnson finished sixth in the NFL in punt return yards with 248 — including an 85-yard return touchdown Week 14 against the Arizona Cardinals. Those numbers were good enough to earn him a second-team All-Pro selection at punt returner. With the Steelers being the receiver factory that they are, don’t be surprised if Johnson steps up his game even further in the coming years.
7. Darius Slayton (New York Giants) – 5th Round: 171th Overall
Perhaps one of the most surprising seasons of any rookie receiver, Slayton was incredibly productive in a particularly weak offense. The Giants offense, mainly led by rookie Daniel Jones, finished 23rd in the NFL in total offense but Slayton was a rare bright spot. The late-round pick contributed early and often after making his debut Week 3, where he made three catches for 82 yards. Slayton finished the year with one of the best lines amongst rookies with 48 catches for 740 yards and eight scores — tying him for the rookie lead in touchdown receptions. It’s important for a young quarterback to have weapons he trusts and Jones to Slayton could be a very necessary connection if either are to have long-term success.
6. Mecole Hardman (Kansas City Chiefs) – 2nd Round: 56th Overall
It’s crazy that despite playing on the same team, Hardman showed as a rookie that he may be the closest player to Tyreek Hill in the NFL as of 2019. His blazing speed made him a pivotal part of the Chiefs Super Bowl-winning offense and is just one of the reasons why Patrick Mahomes has the ability to strike on any play from scrimmage. Hardman finished the regular season with just 26 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns but his dynamitism makes him one of the most lethal weapons of the crop. He had a wild 20.7 yards per catch, in a crowded offense, and also returned the longest kick return touchdown (104 yards) of the season — earning him second-team All-Pro honors at kick returner. Hardman’s 4.33 speed was on display all season and the receiver should have an even bigger season in 2020.
5. D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) – 2nd Round: 64th Overall
Metcalf announced himself to the NFL even before making his professional debut. The former Ole Miss receiver tore up the combine like no one had seen before, by running a 4.33 Forty Yard Dash, hitting 134 inches on broad jump and 40.5 inches on the vertical jump at 6’3″ 228 lbs. His performance at the combine led a lot of people to believe he would be selected in the first round but slipped to the Seahawks with the final pick of the second round. Lucky for him, due to his falling stock, he ended up with the NFL MVP-runner up in Russell Wilson and the two formed a great bond in their first season as teammates.
In his first season in the NFL, Metcalf showed off the traits that made him such an intriguing prospect. He finished the regular season with a solid 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Where Metcalf really made his presence felt was in the Seahawks Wild Card game against the Eagles. In his playoff debut, Metcalf and his 160 receiving yards set a rookie record for the most by a rookie in playoff history. There’s a lot to like about Metcalf’s role on the Seahawks moving forward.
4. Marquise Brown (Baltimore Ravens) – 1st Round: 25th Overall
Going into the 2019 draft, there were a lot of questions surrounding Brown’s injury past. Brown suffered an ankle injury in Oklahoma’s Big 12 Championship win and it forced him to skip both the NFL Combine and his pro day. Despite this, he was still the first receiver taken off the board in 2019. Many labeled him as a “Desean Jackson clone” and injury or not, he was likely still going to be one of the top two or three fastest receivers in the draft.
Brown was never fully healthy in 2019. He played with a screw in his foot for the entire season and it forced him to miss two games and meaningful snaps in a number of others. Brown was the only consistent receiver in the Ravens offense last season and developed immediate chemistry with quarterback Lamar Jackson. He finished the year with just 46 receptions for 584 and seven touchdowns but showed potential to be a deadly deep threat. Brown bookended his year with his only two 100+ yard performances. If his connection with Jackson continues to improve, Brown could be a scary good player when he’s fully healthy.
3. Terry McLaurin (Washington Redskins) – 3rd Round: 76th Overall
Not even the first receiver from his own school taken in the draft, McLaurin was the 12th receiver selected in the 2019 draft. He was one of the older players in the draft (born in 1995) as well as coming off a somewhat unproductive college career but was still reunited with his 2018 teammate Dwayne Haskins in Washington. However, he overplayed his draft position in a big way as a rookie.
McLaurin had one of the hottest starts to an NFL career of any player in history in 2019. He started out his career becoming the first player in NFL history to catch at least five passes and a touchdown in his first three games — totaling 16 receptions, 257 receiving yards and three touchdowns. His season would mellow out a little from there but he would still finish the season second in rookie-receiving yards with 919. He also registered 50+ yards in nine of his 16 games. McLaurin ended the year with a line of 58-919-7 and will be a necessary weapon in Washington’s new-look offense in 2020.
2. Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers) – 2nd Round: 36th Overall
Samuel was seen as one of the receivers in the 2019 draft that could do a bit of everything. He didn’t have an insanely productive college career and missed a handful of games during his junior season due to a leg injury but he showed enough promise as a senior to edge himself into the top-five wide receiver discussion. John Lynch took the former Gamecock in the early second round and cannot have been happier with the fit he found.
The Niners and Samuel were a perfect match. In Kyle Shanahan‘s offense, San Fransisco ran the ball amongst the most times in the NFL. Samuel was used as both a runner and a receiver and was perhaps the most dependable weapon on the entire Niners offense. He finished the 2019 season with the second-most all-purpose yards amongst rookie-receivers — totaling 802 receiving and 159 rushing yards to go along with six touchdowns. Samuel’s 481 yards after the catch were also the fifth-highest amongst wide receivers in the NFL. From Week 8 (including playoffs) on, Samuel had just two games with under 50 all-purpose yards.
1. A.J. Brown (Tennessee Titans) – 2nd Round: 51st Overall
If there was one player that outperformed his draft position in 2019 it was Brown. Coming into the draft, Brown was seen by most as one of the top-three players at his position and a potential first-round pick. Then on draft weekend, he was the fourth wideout off the board and fell all the way to the middle of the second round. After passing up a receiver in the first round, the Titans got the best of the receiver lot in the second round. Not even they likely knew that he would be as dynamic as he was; thrusting himself into Offensive Rookie of The Year contention.
Brown had an explosive rookie season. He registered 100 yards in his first game and added four more games in triple digits over the 16 game season. Brown was the only rookie-receiver in 2019 to total more than 1000 yards (1051) while recording a rookie-leading nine total touchdowns. His ability to take the ball the full length of the field on any play from scrimmage was one of the key features that allowed the Titans to have so much big-play ability in the second half of the season. Amongst all receivers with 25+ receptions last season, Brown had the second-highest yards per target, only trailing Mecole Hardman. One year removed from the 2019 draft, it’s hard to believe that almost every team had a chance to take Brown before he was selected in the second round.
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