Over the next few days, a good set of hands will not be hard to find.
The NFL draft, a three-day event that begins on Thursday, is stockpiled with talented receivers. Does your favorite team need a pass catcher? It will find one.
Yes, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow will be taken with the first pick.
Yes, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young will be chosen second.
Whenever either Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb or Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy gets drafted, however, a run on receivers will begin. Of the top-50 prospects that have been graded by NFL.com, nine are receivers. In February, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah gave 27 receivers a top-three rounds grade.
For context, in only one of this past decade’s drafts has 15 receivers been swooped up over the first three rounds. Thirteen receivers were taken in the first, second and third rounds of last year’s draft. That number was 10 in 2018.
“It’s very deep, and I think you will see some (wide receivers) that go undrafted and have really good careers, and you’ll see some players in the later rounds that will come in and make an immediate impact,” Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell told the Florida Times-Union. “Definitely top-heavy in the first round, and then you have four or five guys in each round that you will feel good about drafting.”
Two candidates in this catching crop are Longhorns. Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson accounted for 47.1% of UT’s 306 receptions this past season. Johnson has long been considered an NFL prospect, but Duvernay inserted himself into the conversation with a stellar senior season.
After moving to the slot in 2019, Duvernay’s 106 receptions ranked third nationally. His 1,386 receiving yards led the pass-happy Big 12. Duvernay was held under six receptions once, but he turned three catches in the Alamo Bowl into 92 yards, a highlight-reel touchdown and some votes for the game’s offensive MVP award.
But Duvernay found out this fall just how much talent exists across the country. Despite his gaudy stats, he was not among the 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award. He was omitted from all of the All-American teams.
“I think it’s a shame that Devin Duvernay was not up for any type of postseason award. It’s a joke to be honest with you,” Texas co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand said in December. “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”
When asked what pitch he’s given prospective employers, Duvernay said he’s “hard-working, dedicated, tough.” Duvernay estimated that he’s gotten a chance to speak with all 32 franchises. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, Duvernay lost out on his pro day and private workouts with a half-dozen teams.
Duvernay did attend the NFL combine and his time of 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash was the fifth-best among participating receivers. According to Pro Football Focus, the 5-10, 200-pound Duvernay dropped only five of the 244 targets he received in college. PFF also had Duvernay leading the NCAA this season in broken tackles off screen passes, and UT fans won’t forget his dump-trucking of early-round prospect Grant Delpit in the LSU showdown.
Not sure if this is a bad throw by Ehlinger, it's on Duvernay or what, but strong read by TCU's Wallow. pic.twitter.com/TcXVqiA2h6
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) October 26, 2019
If there is a consistent criticism among NFL pundits about Duvernay, it involves his route-running. Following a loss at TCU this past October, Duvernay was even hard on himself for the path he took on an interception thrown by Sam Ehlinger. Duvernay recently said, though, that he addressed those concerns over the past few months.
“I definitely can run the route tree in the NFL,” Duvernay told the American-Statesman. “I feel like I proved that at the combine, (and) I had a good Senior Bowl. I did what I needed to do to showcase my skill set. If anyone has any doubts, they can turn those things on and check it out for themselves.”
Growing up, Duvernay was a big fan of former Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. Duvernay “loved playing with him on the (video) game or trying to act like I was him.” He even had a pair of the Nike cleats that were sold in Vick’s name.
Duvernay will realize his NFL dreams as a pass catcher instead of a pass thrower. In recent mock drafts, he has appeared everywhere from the second to sixth rounds. He’s been projected as a draft pick for teams like Baltimore, Cleveland, Tennessee and the Los Angeles Rams.
“It’s all surreal. It’s a dream come true,” Duvernay said. “I’m blessed to make it this far and have the opportunity to go to the next level. I’m excited, can’t wait.”