With rosters full of numerous former five-star recruits, it’s often easier for the college football elites to replace wide receivers than it is quarterbacks and running backs. Despite that, the wide receiver battles soon to take place across college campuses will be unlike any other before them.
Along with a shortened off-season and an ever-changing college football schedule, these young prospects also have to deal with the collective pressure of replacing a truly great wide receiver class. Thirty-seven total wide receivers were drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, including a record-setting 13 in the first two rounds.
Before you get to the wide receiver battles at Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, and Clemson, you can find further details on some of these prospects in my devy and way-too-early 2021 dynasty rookie rankings. For a look at other position battles across college football, be sure to check out my breakdown of the QB and RB battles to replace 2020 NFL Draft picks.
2020 College Football Wide Receiver Battles
Alabama Crimson Tide
2020 NFL Draft picks: Henry Ruggs (drafted No. 12 overall by Las Vegas Raiders) and Jerry Jeudy (drafted No. 15 overall by Denver Broncos)
2020 Wide Receiver Group: Jaylen Waddle (JR), DeVonta Smith (SR), John Metchie (SO), Slade Bolden (rSO), Xavier Williams (rSO)
It isn’t an exaggeration to say Alabama’s 2019 wide receiver group will go down in history as one of the deepest, most talented collection of wideouts ever assembled on a college campus. By this time next year, we could be looking at four first-round draft picks from the 2019 group.
Wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were both top-fifteen picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, while 2021 NFL Draft prospects Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith are currently projected in the same range. In Pro Football Network’s Nick Farabaugh’s latest four-round 2021 Mock Draft, he has Waddle (No. 3 overall to Cincinnati Bengals) and Smith (No. 18 overall to Green Bay Packers) going within the top-twenty picks.
With Waddle excelling in the slot and Smith starting outside, replacing Ruggs and Jeudy’s production will begin as a group effort led by sophomores John Metchie and Slade Bolden. While the group behind the big two are virtual unknowns to casual fans, someone from this wide receiver battle is sure to emerge as a college football mainstay.
2020 NFL Draft picks: CeeDee Lamb (drafted No. 17 overall by Dallas Cowboys)
2020 Wide Receiver Group: Charleston Rambo (JR), Theo Howard (SR), Trejan Bridges (SO), Theo Wease (SO), Jadon Haselwood (SO), Marvin Mims (FR)
My WR1 in the 2020 NFL Draft, despite being drafted behind both Ruggs and Jeudy, is Ceedee Lamb. He will be one of the tougher wide receiver prospects to replace throughout the 2020-2021 season. While Ruggs’ speed and Jeudy’s elite route-running skills are extremely rare and difficult to replicate, those tools are somewhat accessible for the Alabama’s and Oklahoma’s of the world.
On the other hand, replacing someone like Lamb isn’t an easy task for anyone. An elite playmaker that only needs a sliver of space to cause problems for opposing defenses, Lamb’s QB-friendly style of play won’t be found elsewhere on the Oklahoma roster.
Despite a loaded group of big-name wide receivers, it’s difficult to fully trust any wideout on Oklahoma’s roster outside of veteran Charleston Rambo. Besides Rambo, almost every other wide receiver listed above comes with serious question marks. Graduate transfer Theo Howard and rising sophomore Jadon Haselwood are both battling off-season leg injuries. At the same time, Trejan Bridges could miss up to five games after failing a drug test before last season’s Peach Bowl.
2020 NFL Draft picks: Justin Jefferson (drafted No. 22 overall by Minnesota Vikings)
2020 Wide Receiver Group: Ja’Marr Chase (JR), Terrace Marshall Jr. (JR), Trey Palmer (SO), Racey McMath (SR), Jaray Jenkins (rSO)
The LSU Tigers are in a better position than most on this list. Losing someone as talented and versatile as Justin Jefferson will be a tough task for any college football program, but having someone like 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner Ja’Marr Chase certainly takes the pressure off the WR battle in Baton Rogue.
With Jefferson off to the NFL and all eyes on Chase, LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. is in the perfect position to take over number two WR duties for likely 2020 starting quarterback Myles Brennan.
Despite being as low as fifth on Joe Burrow’s totem pole (Chase, Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Thaddeus Moss) in 2019, Marshall Jr. finished his sophomore campaign with 671 yards and 13 TD on 46 receptions. Even if Marshall’s ridiculous 20% touchdown rate drops due to expected regression, more volume should lead to an even better all-around season for the big-bodied wide receiver.
2020 NFL Draft picks: Tee Higgins (drafted No. 33 overall by Cincinnati Bengals)
2020 Wide Receiver Group: Amari Rodgers (SR), Joseph Ngata (SO), Frank Ladson Jr. (SO), Cornell Powell (SR), E.J. Williams (FR), Brannon Spector (FR)
Clemson’s 2020 wide receiver group was supposed to feature Justyn Ross’ emergence as a true alpha wide receiver. Unfortunately, Ross was recently diagnosed with a “congenital fusion in his spine,” and his 2020 season is already over before it had the chance to begin. Even worse for Ross, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney hinted that the wide receiver’s career is in serious jeopardy.
Replacing both Higgins and Ross was an unexpected hurdle for Clemson this off-season, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the adversity. As grim as it looks, if anyone can overcome this, it’s the wide receiver factory often referred to as WRU.
Veteran Amari Rodgers is as steady as they come, and his play-making and chain-moving abilities are an asset to the Clemson offense. But as good as Rodgers is, Clemson’s offensive success is going to fall on the shoulders of rising sophomores Joe Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr.
Clemson’s offense ticks a little bit differently when they have a downfield passing-attack led by a dominating, big-bodied X-Receiver. In layman’s terms, Clemson’s offense just runs better with a Mike Williams or Tee Higgins, while it wasn’t as successful when the slightly-smaller Deon Cain took over number one WR duties.
Both Ngata and Ladson Jr. have the size, talent, and play-making ability to take this Clemson offense back to the next level. You should also keep an eye on super-talented true freshman E.J. Williams, but first-year breakout players are going to be difficult to project in such crazy times.