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Best Routes For Rookie WR's (Includes Mims)

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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


Draft/college: Selected No. 17 out of Oklahoma
Best route: Out

Getting Lamb the ball in space underneath worked well for Oklahoma, and it will for the Cowboys, too. Over the past two seasons, Lamb finished in the top 10 in yards after catch on out routes, dig routes and curl routes. In the first quarter of the Big 12 championship game, he put that skill on display, catching an out to the left side of the field, spinning away from the cornerback marking him and then turning on the burners to elude other defenders for a 71-yard gain.

Though it's a new offense in Dallas, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup ran vertical routes far more than any other route group last year. If that trend continues, it should leave Lamb plenty of space to work underneath.


Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles

Draft/college: Selected No. 21 out of TCU
Best route: Post

Reagor ran 53 post routes over the past two seasons, fourth-most among all FBS wide receivers. And he was quite successful on those plays, nabbing 13 catches for 355 yards and five touchdowns.

The Eagles ran posts and targeted them at an above-average rate, but Philadelphia ranked 29th in expected points added (EPA) per targeted post, though it was a small sample size. Philly needs any receiving help it can get, but Reagor's post route might be particularly useful.


Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Draft/college: Selected No. 22 out of LSU
Best route: Dig

The dig was by far Jefferson's most productive route, both in terms of total yardage (625 yards over the past two seasons) and relative efficiency compared to other wideouts (4.1 yards per route run, sixth-best among wide receivers with at least 500 routes the last two seasons). But the route might not be a big part of his rookie-season responsibilities; digs only make up about 3% of leaguewide targets, and the Vikings targeted them even less frequently than that.

Jefferson's yards-per-route-run numbers don't stand out for most of the other routes, though he wasn't the only playmaker on LSU's offense last season. He actually ran more post routes (91) over the past two seasons than any other player (next closest was 53), but his yards per route run on those posts ranked 102nd among qualifiers. Posts, by the way, are a route that the Vikings target more frequently than the average team.

Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Draft/college: Selected No. 25 out of Arizona State
Best route: Screen/quick routes

The 49ers ran roughly a league-average rate of receiver screens last year, but overall, they run quite a few screens, so it's a pretty reasonable guess that some of those will be diverted to Aiyuk in 2020. One has to imagine coach Kyle Shanahan will scheme up ways to get the rookie receiver the ball quickly to take advantage of his run-after-the-catch ability. Among qualifying receivers, Aiyuk ranked second in college football in yards after catch per reception over the past two seasons, behind only Alabama's DeVonta Smith.

By the way: Aiyuk ran 17 posts with astronomical efficiency and actually led college football in yards per post run, if we're willing to accept that small sample.


Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Draft/college: Selected No. 33 out of Clemson
Best route: Go

Sending Higgins straight down the field for a Trevor Lawrence pass was a reliable weapon for Clemson. Over the past two seasons, 915 of Higgins' 2,103 receiving yards came on go routes (next highest was 381 on outs). And no receiver on this list had a higher average depth of target than Higgins.

How that fits into the Bengals' system may be a little tougher to diagnose with the overhaul at quarterback, but it certainly fits with Joe Burrow, who had more passing yards on go routes than any other route type last season -- and a QBR of 98 on those throws.


Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Draft/college: Selected No. 34 out of USC

Pittman's 6.2 yards per go route run trailed only Jeudy across college football over the past two seasons. Indianapolis targeted vertical routes at a below-average rate last year with Jacoby Brissett, but that may change with Philip Rivers coming to town. And relative to league averages, the Chargers, with Rivers under center, targeted verticals more than any other route group last season.


Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Draft/college: Selected No. 42 out of Colorado
Best route: Curl

What stands out about Shenault's numbers on the curl route is the efficiency. He caught 34 of 38 curl route targets that he received over the past two seasons, including all 17 that came against zone coverage. That's what led him to 4.9 yards per curl route run in that same span, tops among all qualifiers. Part of the value of the curl is getting Shenault the ball in a spot where he can use his physicality as a runner to extend the play.

While Jacksonville's offense didn't specifically run an abnormal amount of curls last season, Gardner Minshew II's air yards per target is below average, so Shenault's best route ought to be in the second-year QB's comfort zone. Unfortunately, Minshew's completion percentage over expectation is poor overall and even worse on passes under 10 yards, so Shenault is hardly stepping into an ideal situation.


KJ Hamler, Denver Broncos

Draft/college: Selected No. 46 out of Penn State
Best route: Slant

In Hamler, the Broncos add a receiver who played almost exclusively out of the slot in college. He made the most of his 33 slant routes over the past two seasons, averaging 8.1 yards per route run, tops among all qualified wideouts. Even if his 58-yard touchdown against Maryland -- which included some run-after-the-catch theatrics that forced a defender to eat turf -- were removed, he still would have been in the top 10 in yards per slant run.

Denver didn't run many slants out of the slot last year, though DaeSean Hamilton ran quite a few slice routes (deep diagonals). But again, Shurmur is taking over the offense in Denver. And the Giants targeted slants at an above-average rate last season.

Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft/college: Selected No. 49 out of Notre Dame
Best route: Drag

Because Claypool's physical attributes are enticing, one would guess that something like a go route would top his list. While he did record the most receiving yards on go routes, he also ran far more of them than any other route type. Relative to other receivers in college football, his yards per go route run were hardly impressive. If you're drafting a tall and fast receiver with a strong vertical, I'd presume you're hoping to send him downfield to catch bombs, so his lack of production in that area in college seems like a poor omen.

Numbers-wise, drags are what popped the most -- which, again, is not an ideal sign. But on the other hand, drag routes made up 11% of Steelers targets last year, most of any team (though their quarterback situation likely played a big part in that).


Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams

Draft/college: Selected No. 57 out of Florida
Best route: Post

No receiver on this list had fewer receptions over the past two years than Jefferson. But when he ran post routes, he made the most of them. We're talking about just six receptions on 38 routes run, but those six went for 198 yards and a score.

  • At Kentucky, he took advantage of his leverage despite a defender right on him.

  • At Florida State, he made a diving catch vs. double coverage for a big gain.

  • Against UT-Martin, he simply burned his man for a touchdown.

What will be interesting to see in the pros is whether Jefferson can have success on out-breaking routes. He ran just seven corner routes over the past two seasons, but he better get used to them. The Rams -- who often put their receivers in tight formations -- ran more corner routes than any other team last year and added a bunch of deep outs, as well.


Denzel Mims, New York Jets

Draft/college: Selected No. 59 out of Baylor
Best route: Out

Best route: Go

This is all about efficiency, because in terms of raw yardage, out routes rank way down the list for Mims. But consider: Mims caught 13 passes on 35 out routes run over the past two seasons. He caught 15 on 65 slants, 21 on 125 digs and 23 on 179 go routes.

Outs may become a larger part of his repertoire, too. Under Adam Gase last season, the Jets ran speed outs and deep outs at slightly above-average rates. Go routes were Mims' most frequent in college, and the Jets ran gos a good chunk above average, as well, though that also may have been because they were often losing and had deep threat Robby Anderson on the team at the time.


Lynn Bowden Jr., Las Vegas Raiders

Draft/college: Selected No. 80 out of Kentucky
Best route: Screens/quick routes

Screens, quick hitches and little flip passes -- like the forward toss to an in-motion Bowden Jr. that he took to the house for 54 yards against Texas A&M -- are the staples here. Raiders coach Jon Gruden used some wide receiver screens last season, with Hunter Renfrow more than anyone else. Bowden Jr. figures to pick up a good chunk of that workload.


Bryan Edwards, Las Vegas Raiders

Draft/college: Selected No. 81 out of South Carolina
Best route: Go

In terms of average depth of target, Edwards actually ranks near the bottom of this draft class. Though he recorded the most yardage on go routes, his most targeted routes were screens and quick passes followed by curls and digs. And what's interesting is that all three of the Raiders' wide receiver draft picks received targets that were, on average, fewer than 10 yards downfield (the average among this year's drafted wideouts was over 11.5 yards).

First thought here has to go to notoriously conservative Carr, who (pretty successfully) had the lowest air yards per attempt among passer rating qualifiers in 2019. But I also wonder if the fact that Edwards was most successful on go routes (4.4 yards per go run over past two seasons, 17th-best) means that he'll get a higher dosage of those routes in the NFL. If you're a Raiders fan looking for a highlight, check out Edwards' one-handed grab against Ole Miss in 2018. Edwards also had strong results in a small sample on comebacks.

Devin Duvernay, Baltimore Ravens

Draft/college: Selected No. 92 out of Texas
Best route: Slant

If we look at our broader NFL route groups, crossing routes (like drags, deep/medium crosses and leaks) made up 22% of Ravens' targets in 2019, well over the league average of 13%. That plus-9% differential against league-average was only bested by Jacksonville's outside-short routes across all route groups by all teams.

We consider slants to be part of the "inside-short" group, but I have to wonder if the skills that made Duvernay successful on slants might translate to drags (he had small-sample success in college there) and maybe medium-depth crossers.


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All other WRs on the list got 1 route.  Mims got 2.  Clearly he's a special talent.

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