If there is one aspect of the 2020 NFL draft which has been consistently remarked upon, it is the incredible depth of talent at the wide receiver position. It isn’t just that there are potentially great receivers at the top of the draft, but the Top 100 will be dominated by the position and there could be starter quality players drafted well into the third round.
That’s good news for a team like the New York Giants who could use another starting wide receiver but might not be willing to spend a first round pick at the position.
Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones is one of those players who are jostling for position in the second tier of receivers after the players at the very top of the depth chart. He has an intriguing blend of traits and his best football is likely still ahead of him.
Prospect: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Games Watched: vs. SMU (2018), vs. Ohio State (2018), vs. Wisconsin (2018), vs. Indiana (2019)
Red Flags: none
Games Played (starts): 36
Yards (ypc): 1,327 (12.9 yards per catch)
Games Played: 11
Yards (ypc): 438 (12.9 yards per catch)
Best: Size, long speed, athleticism, hands, blocking.
Worst: Route running, short-area quickness.
Projection: A starting receiver with alignment and scheme versatility.
Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones possesses a very good blend of size, explosiveness, and versatility to be a starting receiver for a variety of NFL offenses. Peoples-Jones lines up across the Michigan offense, on both the left and right sides as well as in both slots. He features a good release off the line of scrimmage, using his hands well to clear press coverage at the line. He wastes little motion getting into his route and does a good job of pressing his stems upfield, into defensive backs. That gives him an advantage when working back to the ball on curl or come-back routes. Peoples-Jones has the long speed to threaten defenses vertically, tracking and adjusting to the ball well in the air. His hands, long arms, and leaping ability gives him a big catch radius down the field. Peoples-Jones also shows a good feel for zone coverage, finding and settling into voids and presenting a clear target for his quarterback. He is a dependable option in contested catch situations, consistently positioning his body between the defender and the ball, as well as showing the play strength to fight through contact and maintain possession of the ball.
Michigan frequently asked Peoples-Jones to block on the perimeter in their run game, and he performed well. He is a willing blocker who uses his length and play strength to his advantage, sustaining blocks. His blocks frequently allowed his teammates to get the edge or pick up extra yards in the open field.
He still needs work on the finer points of route running, with a tendency to round off his breaks which will make it easier for cornerbacks to stay with him at the NFL level. Peoples-Jones wasn’t asked to show much short-area quickness in Michigan’s offense, which makes his ability to sink his hips and change direction quickly — such as in a quick-breaking timing route — a question.
Overall Grade: 6.4 [Grading scale] - Has the traits necessary to be a starter early in his career. Should be an important and immediate contributor for any team that drafts him.
Peoples-Jones has the traits necessary to be a productive starting receiver at the NFL level. While he isn’t truly exceptional in any one area (save his lower-body explosiveness which is legitimately rare), he has a very good blend of traits and it isn’t hard to see him as a 1,000-yard receiver with some development in the technical aspects of the receiver position. Having better quarterback play will certainly help as well. Peoples-Jones was rarely targeted in Michigan’s offense and he did not get very consistent play from his quarterback.
He projects best into vertical offenses where his long speed, catch radius, and explosive lower body can be maximized. However, he can find an important role in just about any offensive scheme. His versatility and experience playing out of multiple alignments should let a creative offensive coordinator create mismatches.