As the 2020 NFL Draft approaches, there’s no shortage of questions surrounding the event. While the world anxiously waits to see exactly what an all-virtual, at-home professional football draft looks like — the unprecedented measures having been taken due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak — individual general managers have the pressing task of also building and communicating their big board with others in their staff from miles away. And speaking of big boards, those same GMs are working feverishly to identify roster holes that were not filled by free agency, and now must be addressed in a major way with high-ceiling prospects.
Then again, there’s still time to grab a veteran or two, and that might be the medicine for teams thirsty to fix their issues at the wide receiver position. The good news for such clubs is the 2020 draft is projected to have one of the deepest WR classes in recent memory, but not every prospect fits with every team, and there’s still an eventual talent drop off unless you’re willing to spend a premium pick for the right guy.
With that, and NFL free agency still active now and after the draft, we take a look at 10 teams with pressing needs at wide receiver, and how they can solve their problem for 2020.
(This list is unranked.)
It’s been an offseason for the Patriots dominated by quarterback talk, and rightfully so, considering they were forced to wave goodbye to six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. Before Brady decided to take his talents to Central Florida, however, the Patriots found themselves upset in the NFL playoffs at the hands of the Tennessee Titans — capping a season that began with great promise but ended in disappointment fueled by their inability to stretch the field offensively. Time and again, Brady was seen demanding more effort from the WR corps, and they still wear the black eye of having signed Antonio Brown for all of 13 days before releasing him amid a whirlwind of controversy that saw him fire shots at Patriots leadership on his way out.
And then there was Josh Gordon experiment and the trade for Mohamed Sanu, with both moves carrying intrigue, but Gordon was also released and what the Patriots wound up getting in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick to land Sanu was 207 receiving yards and one touchdown — along with an 11-yard playoff outing in the aforementioned January upset. So while New England mourns the loss of Brady, it needs to remember the new starting QB is going to need a major upgrade at WR if he’s to stand a chance at pleasing Bill Belichick and the rabid fans in Boston. Phillip Dorsett wasn’t a huge contributor for them in 2019 but he did at least provide some production, but he’s now with the Seahawks and the Patriots signed Damiere Byrd to a one-year deal to offset that loss.
That can’t and won’t be seen as addressing the top of the depth chart, though. Seriously, Julian Edelman needs help, and pronto.
Best solution: It’s a tough spot for the Patriots, because no logical mind can envision them not selecting a quarterback in the first round (it could happen, though), which leaves them to aim at a wide receiver with their second pick, and they’ve got the firepower to trade back up into the second round by virtue of having three third-round picks and three compensatory picks overall. Absent a big-money spend at the position in FA, the Patriots better be all-in on drafting a big-ticket guy early.
Like the Patriots, the Redskins find themselves a hot topic of conversation when it comes to quarterbacks, but it’s unlikely they ditch Dwayne Haskins after only a handful of starts to grab Tua Tagovailoa or any other QB draft prospect in 2020. That being the case, and even if they did turn the NFL upside-down with such a move (stranger things have happened), the reality is newly-signed head coach Ron Rivera knows the QB has to throw to someone. They’ve at least identified a potential No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin, but the rest of the unit isn’t something Rivera wants to write home about.
That’s why when Amari Cooper hit free agency, the Redskins were all over him, going down to the wire with the Dallas Cowboys in a bidding war that saw Washington because the four-time Pro Bowler decided it best he stay put. The fact owner Dan Snyder was willing to pay upwards of $22 million per year for him to move to the nation’s capital is all the proof you need of the Redskins self-awareness at the position, and further evidence is provided by the fact the second-most receiving yards in 2020 were 541 yards behind McLaurin; and they were delivered by a running back.
That’s not exactly an ideal situation for a second-year QB to walk into.
Best solution: There are no currently available free agents that will solve their problem, so after they presumably select Chase Young, it’s time to put the rubber to the WR road. The problem is they know they have no second-round pick and packaging a deal to move back into that round will take some doing — but leaving the draft without a No. 1 wideout is not an option for Washington. If that happens, they’ll have no choice but to trade for a veteran in 2020, much like the Cowboys had to do to land Cooper in the first place.
There’s certainly no question who the franchise quarterback is for the Eagles, seeing as they awarded Carson Wentz a four-year, $128 million contract in 2019, but a myriad of issues exist when attempting to ascertain who he’ll be throwing to in 2020. The tension between Alshon Jeffery and the organization has hit fever pitch, and it’s been reported general manager Howie Roseman aggressively attempted to trade the veteran in 2019 — to no avail. As such, the Eagles exercised his 2020 contract option but it’s currently being viewed as draft insurance and Jeffery — who is working to return from a Lisfranc injury — may not be available to open the season even if he is still on the roster.
Letting Nelson Agholor walk in free agency wasn’t an unwise move when it comes to production, but it does create another hole in the WR unit, and this adds to questions surrounding the durability of an aging DeSean Jackson. Jackson is hoping the second leg of his homecoming tour in Philly is much better than the three-game, nine catch, 159-yard outing of last season, but it’s not something the Eagles can rightfully hang their hat or the future of Wentz on. The top two receivers for the Eagles in 2019 were tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and without WR help, even Zach Ertz couldn’t top 1,000 yards.
Considering the durability issues on Wentz, it would behoove the Eagles to obtain [added] talent that allows them to stretch the field.
Best solution: Whether they keep Jeffery or not looms large here, but the fact they have 10 draft picks and having filled the starting cornerback role along with adding beef to their already strong defensive front, they can justifiably address the safety position (and grab another corner) in the second round onward. With the 21st-overall pick, if they’re not pedal to the floor for a guy like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs or the like, Howie Roseman should fire himself on the spot. Peeking at Tavon Austin in free agency to see if he can beat out DeSean Jackson wouldn’t hurt, either.
The drama may now be over, but the work must begin in replacing Stefon Diggs, a star NFL receiver traded away by the Vikings to the Buffalo Bills at the start of free agency. The tension between Diggs and the Vikings at the start of the 2019 season was thick enough to cut with a chainsaw, but moods improved once Kirk Cousins began targeting him heavily in an offense that had mostly featured the dominance of Dalvin Cook up to that point. But when Cousins landed an extension, Diggs wanted out, and he got his wish — leaving Adam Thielen as the lone top threat on the outside. Diggs was the only 1,000-yard receiver for the Vikings in 2019 due to a recurring hamstring issue on Thielen, and replacing that production won’t be easy.
The good news for the Vikings is unlike many others on this list, they at least still have a No. 1 receiver. They need to find Thielen a new complement though, or they’ll face opposing defenses hell-bent on shading coverage assistance his way and making things that much more difficult for Cousins in the process. Leaning on former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell in his second stint with the club is not the answer, nor is signing Tajae Sharpe.
Those two might be solid rotationally, but the Vikings have to replace gunpowder with gunpowder.
Best solution: The fact is the Vikings are draft-rich when it comes to picks, having 12 in all after trading Diggs. They have two first-round picks, a second rounder and two third-round picks that give them ultimate flexibility — while not having a need at WR that’s as pressing as others on this list (albeit still very much present). They need a definitive No. 2 and they can grab him with the 22nd-overall pick and they’re right back on the clock three picks later at No. 25. Combining the speed of Ruggs with Thielen would be a lethal combination, and if the Vikings don’t want to risk him not falling to No. 22, they have the capital to move up and get him.
The Jets have something in common with the Vikings, in that they both lost one of their top two receivers, but the difference is it was against New York’s will. They wanted to re-sign Robby Anderson in free agency and although he was open to the idea as well — — but Anderson instead signed on as Brady’s new Buccaneer rival in joining the Carolina Panthers. The name of the game now is to identify a replacement, and quickly, to mesh with Jamison Crowder and help the team avoid any regression on Sam Darnold. The young QB returned from a bout with mononucleosis in 2019 to take a step forward in his young NFL career, but he’ll need top weapons to throw to if that is to continue.
In a perfect world, Demaryius Thomas would’ve shown them enough in 2019 to warrant being a stopgap measure after losing Anderson, but that’s not what took place. The 32-year-old missed several games and reeled in only 433 yards and one touchdown last season, and has not been re-signed as this article goes to file. They’re hoping Breshad Perriman can step in and be a solid No. 2, but the fact he’s only on a one-year deal means the Jets aren’t banking on him as the longterm solution opposite Crowder.
The third-best receiver on the team is a running back, namely Le’Veon Bell, and that’s assuming he and head coach Adam Gase remain football-married for the foreseeable future.
Best solution: Like the Vikings, the Jets are in the hunt for a dominant second fiddle at wideout. The draft depth helps them in this regard, and they’d be wise to kick the tires on players like Justin Hardy or Rashard Higgins, the latter having posted 572 receiving yards and four touchdowns in a WR-heavy rotation with the Cleveland Browns in 2018. Combining a signing like Higgins with a promising premium draft pick could be the cure for what would otherwise ail them in 2020.
Yes, the Colts have all-world talent T.Y. Hilton, but they’re now without tight end Eric Ebron — who left in free agency in a mutual parting of ways — and Hilton himself has struggled to stay on the field recently. He’s now missed eight regular season games in the last two seasons, and losing his production hurt the Colts in a big way. Playing in 10 games in 2019, Hilton hit the lowest mark of his otherwise stellar career with only 501 receiving yards. And while you can justifiably also attribute the downturn to the absence of Andrew Luck, and at least carrying some hope Philip Rivers can be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett in 2020, it’s still impossible to overlook the need at wide receiver in Indy.
Assuming Hilton finally dodges any health concerns this coming season, the answer at No. 2 in the unit is still yet to be answered in a big way. They like the potential on Zach Pascal going into Year 3, seeing as he led the team in receiving in Year 2, but it’s a massive ask for him to suddenly leap from 607 receiving yards in 2019 to something closer to 1,000 yards, even if Rivers — who has shown he can be turnover prone — returns to form. In short, a healthy Hilton and Paschal could still stand to gain some assistance, but a less-than-durable Hilton only exacerbates the need, and especially with Devin Funchess now in Green Bay.
Also, as quiet as it’s kept, Hilton will turn 31 in November, and is entering the final year of his contract; and that means the Colts need to start building for the future at the position.
Best solution: The Colts need a quarterback of the future, a tight end of the future and a wide receiver of the future. The presence of Rivers buys them at least one season before having to address the former, but Rivers needs targets now, and the Colts need insurance against possible Hilton injury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them use their 13th-overall pick on one of the highly coveted receivers atop the prospect pool, and then address the tight end position with the first of their two second-round picks. From there, like the Jets above, it’ll be about finding another veteran to help upgrade the depth in the unit.
Speaking of Funchess and The Cheese, the veteran wideout was signed to become another weapon for Aaron Rodgers, but there’s not a ton being invested in him on a one-year, $6.25 million deal. He’ll become a solid rotational piece at that price, but the length of his contract makes it clear they Packers aren’t hanging their WR hat on him being a superstar in 2020. There can be no doubt the team has their No. 1 receiver in Davante Adams — who fell only three yards short of 1,000 yards despite having missed four games with injury — but it truly took a Herculean effort for the Packers to keep rolling in the absence of Adams in 2019.
They saw players like Marquez Valdes-Scantling step up along with Allen Lazard, but their third-best receiver wound up being running back Aaron Jones. As much as that’s a credit to Jones’ ability to play as a target out of the backfield, it’s also a demerit to the wide receiving unit as a whole. They had a chance at landing someone like Robby Anderson, but not doing so puts them where they don’t really want to be. They’re again looking for a definitive complement for Adams, who did what he could with a 138-yard outing in the Packers loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, and with minuscule help from his fellow wideouts.
There’s no time like the present to fix this situation, because a flustered Rodgers isn’t getting any younger, or any more forgiving.
Best solution: To be frank, the Packers don’t need to go high at WR in the NFL draft. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they did, but it’d be smarter for them to address it in the middle rounds. There will still be a ton of value to be had there and, as mentioned, they have Adams and some promising complements, but simply need that No. 2 with pizazz. Their options for adding a player like that in the draft will be plentiful — but they’re a team who should focus on investing in that and not the residual waves of the free agency pool.
San Francisco 49ers
It was a fun ride for the 49ers in 2019, which included slapping around the Packers on two separate occasions and with one punching their ticket to Super Bowl LIV, but they couldn’t secure the franchise’s sixth Lombardi trophy despite leading the Kansas City Chiefs for more than three quarters in Miami. Deebo Samuel looked nothing like a rookie in that game, and was a terror in a flex capacity, but other target outside of Samuel and George Kittle did much to help avoid the fourth quarter collapse. The team traded for Emmanuel Sanders by giving up a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Denver Broncos, and he provided a solid one-two punch that helped Samuel blast off during the regular season, but Sanders is now with the New Orleans Saints and the 49ers again need another top-tier receiving threat.
Next up could be Kendrick Bourne, but that’s very much to-be-determined, and the speedy Marquise Goodwin delivered fewer yards last season than fullback Kyle Juszczyk — as he battled injury that cost him several games and failed to successfully establish himself in many of those he did appear in. In all likelihood, by San Francisco at some point in the near future, having reportedly been involved in trade talks that have yet to bear fruit. With Sanders gone and Goodwin probably on the way out, the 49ers have no choice but to inject some firepower into the receiving unit to keep Samuel prospering and Kittle from being double teamed on a regular basis. That is unless they want to see Jimmy Garoppolo take one or several steps in the wrong direction.
Signing Travis Benjamin, and on a one-year deal, isn’t enough to fix the problem.
Best solution: Making it to the Super Bowl is never a bad thing, but losing means you got to the Promised Land only to guarantee yourself the 31st-overall pick for nothing. They have only seven picks in 2020 after making moves to land Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders — the latter now gone — and they landed zero compensatory picks this offseason. That’s the bad new. The good news is they also pick at No. 13, received from the Colts in exchange for DeForest Buckner, and Lynch simply has to go receiver at that pick; because no current veteran free agent brings to the team what Sanders did in 2019. CeeDee Lamb? Jerry Jeudy? Pick one.
The ponies landed an extra 2020 draft pick by moving on from Emmanuel Sanders, but also carved out a crater in their WR unit in the process. To put in perspective exactly where the Broncos stand — Sanders played in only seven games for Denver in 2019 but his 367 yards in the Mile High City were still good enough for third-most on the team last season. That’s 50 more yards than DaeSean Hamilton in nine fewer games and if not for a breakout year by Courtland Sutton, things could’ve looked precipitously worse for rookie Drew Lock when he made his NFL debut after sitting on injured reserve for half the season. Tight end Noah Fant made waves and should continue to progress, as should Hamilton, but if there’s a player on the roster who’s supposed to replace Sanders’ ability and production — he’s not yet been named.
Lock has proven himself worthy of being a second-round pick in 2019, but landing a receiver that can help blow the roof off of an opposing defense will work wonders in his Year 2 progression. Sutton isn’t exactly slow by NFL standards, but he’s not a top-flight burner either, and that makes it rather evident what type of talent the Broncos should be looking to add to the roster. Things began coming together in Denver on the back end of the season after an abysmal start, and hope is again at an all-time high. If they punt on trying to find a threat opposite Sutton, however, things may not go the way they hope in 2020.
And John Elway knows this.
Best solution: With 11 picks in the draft and a gaping hole at WR, it’s time for the Broncos to get to work grabbing a No. 2 wideout who has the potential to alternate between being 1A/1B with Sutton. The 15th-overall pick puts them in position to do just that, so if Lamb is gone, grab Jeudy. If Jeudy is gone, grab Lamb. If for some reason both are gone, grab Ruggs. In short, no matter how you move the pieces on the board, the Broncos have no excuses when it comes to giving Lock another dynamic weapon. They have no need of trading back to land more picks, so sit tight and when the clock starts, introduce the newest Broncos wide receiver to the world.
Congratulations, you signed Nelson Agholor, a player having produced fewer than 300 receiving yards in three of his five NFL seasons and has well-documented issues with drops. Even if Agholor goes on to have a resurgent 2020 with the Raiders, nothing on his professional resume indicates he has the ability to be a No. 1 receiver. Quite the contrary, actually, as the Eagles asked him at varying times to step up and be just that due to injury atop the unit, and he simply could not deliver consistently. That said, it’s very possible Agholor becomes a strong third option, and maybe even a second, but certainly not top dog in Vegas. That’s a bet head coach Jon Gruden would be unwise to place.
All credit being due to tight end Darren Waller for his comeback season, but a team whose best wideout falls nearly 500 receiving yards short of the No. 1 TE is in dire straits. Tyrell Williams is a key talent that shows signs of improvement alongside what Hunter Renfrow can do, but the two combined to produce only 111 more receiving yards than Waller. That won’t do for the Raiders, and especially as they look to ride the hype of moving from Oakland to Las Vegas. They’re choosing to stick with Derek Carr for now and brought in Marcus Mariota to play backup — allegedly — but it won’t matter much who the QB is if they don’t address the glaring need at wide receiver.
They’ve been playing rolling the dice since trading away Amari Cooper to the Cowboys, and outside of Waller and rotational contributions from the others, they keep coming up snake eyes.
Best solution: It’s easy to say the Raiders should’ve thrown big money at a wideout in free agency, but they had a more pressing need at cornerback, which is why they pursued Byron Jones so passionately. And with only $8.8 million in current cap space — per Over the Cap — and no current free agents worth a big money deal, the Raiders must address the WR position both with a top pick and on the back end of free agency after April. What they choose to do at QB will dictate this, but if they’re fine with Carr and Mariota buying them at least another season to avoid going high at that position, then the 12th-overall pick has WR written all over it.
If not, well, they’re back on the clock at No. 19, putting them in a derby with other teams on this list for players like Jeudy, Lamb or Ruggs. Once that’s completed, the work isn’t done for Las Vegas, because adding a proven (and durable) free agent still needs to happen.