2020 NFL Draft: Hamler, Claypool, Jefferson will have to fight for targets after second-round selections

Three wide receivers going off the board in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft join offenses loaded with receiving talent, and that might stunt their ability to put up early production. K.J. Hamler is a natural fit with the Broncos, as he’ll man the slot while Courtland Sutton and first-round pick Jerry Jeudy handle the outside. Chase Claypool is a big, fast wide receiver who will push James Washington for the downfield role in the Steelers offense opposite Diontae Johnson, with JuJu Smith-Schuster locked into the slot there. And Van Jefferson lands with the Rams, where he’ll need to beat out Josh Reynolds to play in their three-wide sets. 

Hamler to Denver

Hamler is a 5-foot-9-inch, 178-pound undersized slot guy with an impressive profile. If not for his size, one could argue he would have been worth a first-round pick after he put up strong age-adjusted numbers as a redshirt freshman and sophomore and declared early for the Draft. On top of that, Hamler produced both rushing and return stats, a strong indicator of a prospect’s ability with the ball in their hands. 

But while the slot job is open in Denver, targets are going to be tough to come by on a team that added Melvin Gordon this offseason and certainly likes to run the football. Drew Lock had a solid rookie season, but he still has plenty to prove, and Hamler will compete with two young and very good outside receivers as well as tight end Noah Fant for targets. 

That combination is great news for Lock, and if he has it, he certainly has the weapons to be very successful. But will Denver ask him to throw enough to support all these pass-catchers? In Heath Cummings’ initial projections with Hamler in the fold, he sees Sutton around 130 targets, Jeudy around 100, and both Hamler and Fant around 80. That’s not awful for Hamler, but it likely means he won’t be a huge Fantasy asset in 2020 — he should rack up a decent catch total, but with targets likely coming near the line of scrimmage, it’s not likely he’ll post a big yardage total. And on top of that, we still need to see if his 178-pound frame can hold up in the NFL. 

Claypool to the Steelers

Claypool is in many ways the antithesis to Hamler. A 6-foot-4-inch, 238-pound giant, some wondered whether teams would look at him as a tight end. What’s remarkable about Claypool is he ran a 4.42 40 at that size, and he certainly has the physical ability to play at the next level. 

But contrary to Hamler, Claypool wasn’t productive early at Notre Dame, and he didn’t declare early for the draft. In fact, it took until his senior season for him to break out, and while that final year was indeed impressive — he accounted for 32% of the Fighting Irish’s receiving yardage and scored 13 touchdowns — late-career breakouts typically perform worse at the next level as a group. But it would make some sense if Claypool needed some time to develop, and it’s certainly good that we saw him utilize his considerable physical attributes to put up big numbers in a college season. 

Claypool differs from Hamler in fit, as well, because his role seems less assured but his upside is probably higher. He’ll join a Steelers offense that looked pretty solid in its projected three-wide receiver set, but if Claypool can beat out 2019 breakout James Washington for significant snaps in a downfield role, his upside would be massive working with Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has made a career out of extending plays and getting the ball down the field, and there are echoes of the D.K. Metcalf to Seattle pick last season in this fit. 

I don’t anticipate Claypool will have a significant impact on Smith-Schuster or Johnson, who will likely work in the shorter area of the field. As a big-bodied, downfield and red-zone threat, Claypool likely won’t see big target numbers early in his career, but he has the upside to put up big efficiency on the looks he does get. 

Jefferson to the Rams

Out of these three second-round receivers, Van Jefferson would presumably have the best shot to play substantially in the early part of his career. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much that will matter, as Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee all look like far better bets to see substantial target shares. 

First, Jefferson will need to beat out Josh Reynolds, which frankly might sound easier than it will be. Jefferson started his career at Ole Miss and played there for two years before transferring to Florida. Despite playing through to his redshirt senior season at Florida, Jefferson never accounted for more than 20% of his team’s receiving yardage in any individual season. 

That might not tell the entire story, but it’s a huge red flag. Production typically begets production at wide receiver, and while Jefferson may have additional skills the Rams covet, a player who couldn’t command a significant production share in college is going to have a hard time doing it in an offense with so many established producers. Jefferson’s upside early in his career will be akin to guys like Demarcus Robinson last year with the Chiefs — you hope the offense is good enough to create enough production for some splash plays, but as the fourth target option (at best), the looks just won’t consistently be there. 

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