One of the more polarizing prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft will be Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Laviska Shenault. While he has first-round potential, his freak talent does come with some notable red flags. 

Through three seasons of college, Shenault battled various injuries and would only appear in 27 games, missing time in each season. In his most recent junior year, he didn’t come close to reaching his sophomore season production, despite appearing in two more games.

Some of the drops in production can be attributed to regression in quarterback performance, fellow wide receivers progressing into bigger roles, more attention from opposing defenses and the injury that essentially took him out of 2+ games. However, most first-round receiver options enter the NFL with more than 764 yards and 4 touchdowns in their final collegiate season.

With that said, it’s hard to overlook what Shenault did during his 2018 true sophomore season. In just nine games, Shenault posted 86 receptions, 1,011 receiving yards and 6 receiving touchdowns. On top of those receiving numbers, Shenault posted 5 rushing touchdowns on just 17 carries. 

Where does Laviska Shenault fit into an NFL offense?

How could a wide receiver prospect with that production profile have questions about his translation to the pro level? It starts with how Colorado deployed him.

Shenault didn’t align at just one position. Instead, he took reps as a boundary receiver, slot receiver, H-back, running back and “Wildcat” quarterback. While that’s impressive versatility, he hasn’t yet fully developed necessary traits in one position. 

And while that may be true, Shenault easily possesses a dominant trait, which is how special he is with the ball in his hands. He benefited from schemed touches during his time at Colorado, and we’ve seen previous wide receiver prospects naturally translate to the NFL using this trait while the rest of their game develops.

But for every Deebo Samuel that brings an NFL offense to the next level through schemed touches, there’s a Cordarelle Patterson who never really lived up to the first-round pedigree. The question then becomes, where does Laviska Shenault fall on that spectrum?

With Shenault’s size and athletic profile, many would suggest that he has the talent to be a forceful receiving presence along the boundary. However, with how often he was moved around for the Buffaloes, he isn’t yet dominant while attached to the line of scrimmage and facing against press coverage. 

There were a few reps during his junior season where he was able to get lateral at the line of scrimmage, using his rare combination of length and suddenness to clear a vertical path. However, there were also reps where he seemed uncomfortable when tightly guarded, likely due to a lack of consistency playing on the boundary.

Similarly in his route running, Shenault has shown the ability to use physicality at the breakpoint in order to separate and create throwing windows. Athletically, he’s capable of dropping his weight and accelerating through route breaks, but this currently happens in flashes rather than a play-to-play basis. When Shenault puts it together as a route runner, splash plays can happen.

Due to Shenault being a player who the offense wanted to get the football to by any means necessary, he wasn’t taking the pure route running reps that some wide receiver counterparts were, hinting that he still needs extra reps and development in that department.

Shenault’s initial strength could be his body control

One area of his game that could separate Shenault from other wide receiver prospects in the short-term is his body control. When the ball is in the air or he’s working his route along the sideline, Shenault has a knack for in-air adjustments that result in him remaining in-bounds. This is invaluable to a player who is still developing and getting additional reps as a true boundary route runner, as he doesn’t need much separation to finish reps. 

Despite that body control, Shenault rarely maximizes the potential of his ball skills, as his downfield tracking remains inconsistent. Too often on tape, he’ll fail to attack the ball at the highest point he could reach, resulting in a contested catchpoint or pass breakup. 

When Shenault is able to create those passing windows, he has the presence of mind to catch the ball away from his frame, really plucking it out of the air and tight into his frame. He doesn’t have perfect hands as pesky defenders can cause him to lose the ball, but when he’s free of traffic, he is one of the more consistent pass-catchers in the class.

Shenault has a high ceiling

Overall, Shenault’s potential as a route runner is too high for him to never develop in that area. The difference between him and a player such as Cordarelle Patterson is that you can see Shenault’s athletic traits and technique work well together in his stems and route breaks. He just needs extra reps to better learn how to attack different coverages.

There are plays when Shenault is facing off-coverage where he shows the tendency of failing to threaten vertically. Against press coverage, he can get ridden off his vertical line. But his flash plays in those areas suggest an easily predictable developmental arc upon becoming a professional receiver.

While fan bases would prefer that highly drafted wide receivers be close to finished products, that is becoming a bit of a rarity, especially with the number of underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft nowadays,  

Shenault has a dominant aspect of his game that can immediately help an NFL team win games in 2020, as well as the traits to suggest that he can become a WR1 not too far in the future. You bank on that potential in the back-half of the first round.