The Florida Gators had an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position over the past four seasons. In fact, their top four pass-catchers from a season ago all garnered invites to two of the most distinguished all-star games for future NFL prospects. This piece analyzes the pro potential of the four Florida Gators wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Van Jefferson (6-2, 197)
Van Jefferson was the de facto top target for quarterback Kyle Trask, and led the Gators in receiving last season with 49 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns. His signature games came against LSU (8 catches, 73 yards, 2 touchdowns), and in the Orange Bowl against Virginia (6 catches, 129 yards).
I really like Van Jefferson as a prospect. I feel he is the most gifted route runner in this draft. Though his college numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, Jefferson is a player I believe will go on to have a solid pro career. I wouldn’t classify Jefferson as a burner; he has a knack for creating space with leverage in his route running and has an impressive catch radius. Originally a Shrine Bowl invite, Jefferson received a late nod to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and has arguably been the best receiver on either team through two days of practice.
Jefferson may never be a top receiver at the next level, but he could thrive as the second option in a passing attack. Due to how deep the 2020 NFL Draft class of wide receivers is, a talented prospect like Florida’s Jefferson can likely be had in the fifth round.
Tyrie Cleveland (6-2, 205)
Tyrie Cleveland is an interesting case. He didn’t see the ball all that much at Florida but had the talent to be their top receiver. Used as more of a rotational player for most of his career, Cleveland mustered 25 receptions for 351 yards and a touchdown in 2019. He flashed enough potential to earn a late invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, however, joining Jefferson in Mobile.
It’s rare to see a player with just 79 collegiate receptions end up in Mobile among the premier pro prospects in the country, but alas, here we are. Cleveland has more than held his own in the early goings, winning on several deep routes and separating with regularity. He’s also reportedly been tracking the ball well in the first two practices.
Teams are likely to be intrigued with Cleveland’s athletic profile, but not enough to reach for him in the draft. I have a seventh round/priority free agent grade on the tantalizing talent from Houston, Texas.
Josh Hammond (6-0, 194)
Josh Hammond is another intriguing pass-catcher who was overshadowed by the number of 2020 NFL Draft prospects Florida had at the wide receiver position. He’s never caught more than 28 passes in a single season, and he never bested his 369-yard junior campaign, but Hammond just passes the eye test. Known as the leader of the Gators wide receiving corps, Hammond was always the first one in the building and the last one out; the first one in drills, the first one in lines. In fact, he’s never missed a lift or missed a meeting in Florida in four years.
Despite a rather modest career that totaled 87 receptions for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns, Hammond displayed enough intangibles to garner an invite from the prestigious East-West Shrine Bowl.
The former Gators pass-catcher is sleekly built and doesn’t win his matchups based purely on speed. What he excels at, however, is finding creative ways to get open and manufacture yards on his own, with 55 percent of his 2019 receiving yards coming after the catch. His ability to create space and attack leverage made him a tough cover throughout Shrine week. Hammond is also as sure-handed as it gets — he finished his Florida career with 20 straight games without a drop.
I’m admittingly high on Hammond as a prospect; he is a quick learner, will do whatever is asked of him, and has tremendous character. That said, I acknowledge that his ceiling is somewhat limited. I currently have Hammond slated as a priority free agent, but his leadership, football intelligence, and versatility should enable him to carve out a long career at the next level.
Freddie Swain (6-0, 199)
Another sparsely-used weapon over his four years in Gainesville, Freddie Swain saved his best for last. Playing in 12 games, the shifty receiver racked up 38 receptions for 517 yards and 7 touchdowns — all career highs. Entering his senior season with just 30 catches to his name, Swain parlayed a prosperous senior campaign into an East-West Shrine Bowl bid.
While Swain is slippery in the open field and was money on short and intermediate routes last season, he offers limited upside at the NFL level. His route running will need some refining and he will need to prove he can consistently create separation against NFL caliber defenders. His frame will likely limit him to a slot receiver role at the next level, so he won’t have much margin for error in training camp. His easiest path to a roster spot will be through special teams, as a returner or gunner. There’s enough untapped potential with Swain that he should warrant a long look this summer, but I have him projected as an undrafted free agent.