A diamond in the rough, they say. This happens in every draft class, where a talent who the media overlooked for the entirety of the draft process suddenly emerges and has an unbelievable rookie season. Even in 2019, we saw that with 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw and Redskins wide receiver Terry McLaurin, both of whom made the PFWA All-Rookie Team after stellar rookie seasons with their respective ball clubs.
The bigger question is: Which prospects can make an immediate impact in Year 1? With a very deep wide receiver class, most would assume that there will be some overlooked talents, and there are. Even though the combine is coming up within the next 2 weeks, and it’s likely these prospects will fly up draft boards after the event as well as their Pro Day, the bandwagon for these prospects begins NOW. Hop on for the ride.
Gabe Davis, WR, UCF
If there was a 4×100 track team to represent the pure speed of this wide receiver class, Davis, along with TCU’s Jalen Reagor, Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler, would be one of the fastest runners in the class, and definitely one of the freakiest athletes to enter football. For some odd reason, it feels as if Davis isn’t getting any media compared to the “big guns” of this class (Jerry Jeudy, Ceedee Lamb, Tee Higgins).
Mark these words; Every team will have Davis as a 1st-round value after the combine for sure. This kid is a transcendent athlete, and it’s been a while since a receiver has entered the NFL with alien speed, elite hands, excellent durability, and insane strength. The pro comparison for this kid is Julio Jones, and for that specific reason.
Like Julio, Davis is a big-bodied wide receiver who is really fast and possesses route-running skills that even the future Hall-of-Famer didn’t have when he was coming out of Alabama. This is one of the most complete receivers in this class, mainly because of the aforementioned physical traits. But Davis, just like Jones, does the little things right. He has fantastic footwork and gets in and out of breaks very cleanly.
Overall, this kid’s draft stock should be much higher than it is, but the combine will change that for sure. At full potential, Davis can develop into a Julio-caliber player, posting 1500 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns year after year. Complete receivers are hard to find, and because Davis is one of the most complete prospects in the entire class, a 1st round pick is a great value for him.
Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty
When’s the last time a football player from Liberty got drafted, let alone make an offseason push to get drafted in the first 2 rounds? Antonio Gandy-Golden might just break that drought, and similar to Davis, his stock will rise to 1st-round level very soon after the combine.
Gandy-Golden’s best trait by far is the way he uses his size. He may not possess the size of D.K. Metcalf, but being 6″4 and weighing 220 pounds is a great consolation prize. He also doesn’t have the athleticism of Metcalf, but the way he dominates players is reminiscent of a player who finally broke out last season: Broncos WR Courtland Sutton.
Similar to Sutton, Gandy-Golden has a physical mismatch over any corner he’s against just because of his size, and if he ends up on a team with a quarterback who possesses an elite deep ball (Drew Lock, for example), it’s bombs away all day. The Liberty product has the best catch radius in the entire class, so throwing the ball anywhere near his zip code is guaranteed production.
Furthermore, the way Gandy-Golden connects his hips and feet is remarkable for someone his size. He may not have the speed of D.K. Metcalf, but he is still fast. He just does everything so well, that if he develops a decent route-tree (not even great, but decent), he could be even better than Sutton at the professional level.
There is no doubt this kid will be a better pro than college player (he went to Liberty), and the way he uses his freakish size and strength to beat coverage regardless of separation could be enough to get drafted in the top 2 rounds.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
Anyone who played with Shea Patterson deserves a pat on the back because going through that must have been the hardest experience of their life. But not only did Peoples-Jones make a name for himself in that torture chamber, but he also cemented himself as the true “diamond in the rough” talent at wide receiver.
Peoples-Jones is perfect for almost every team because he has a very high floor. Sure, he may not have a very high ceiling compared to his 1st-round counterparts, but if he refines his route-running, he can develop into a very reliable WR2 or WR3. DPJ is a great mid-round flyer because he’s almost always open.
Similar to how Michael Thomas (not saying Mike is his pro comparison) always makes himself available, Peoples-Jones can share a similar playstyle if he gets drafted to a West Coast offense (49ers, Rams, Vikings, Packers), and play the same role Emmanuel Sanders did for the 49ers in the late stretches of the 2019 season.
The Michigan product can also make every catch in the book. He can go up and get it, but once again, his best ability is making himself open. Peoples-Jones didn’t get the ball enough at Michigan, and, similar to Gandy-Golden, will probably be a better pro than collegiate player. If this kid falls in the draft, teams got a stud. The only thing that needs to happen for DPJ to succeed in the NFL is to just get the ball.
Plain and simple. Dear NFL teams, please just find ways to get Donovan Peoples-Jones the ball. Don’t think; just get him the ball.