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Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III lead loaded NFL Draft class at WR

Who’s the best receiver in this year’s draft class? It just depends on who you ask.

Some teams might prefer Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy’s elite route-running ability while others might favor his teammate Henry Ruggs III’s speed. Then there are some who think Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb offers the perfect amount of strength and athleticism for the next level.

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Mel Kiper Jr. had a go at the question Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. The long-time ESPN draft analyst had to dip back into the ’80s to find trios that matched the one this year.

Kiper brought up the 1985 draft which saw Al Toon (No. 10, New York Jets), Eddie Brown (No. 13, Cincinnati Bengals) and Jerry Rice (No. 16, San Francisco 49ers) all selected in close proximity. The 1988 draft featured a similarly tight bunch in Tim Brown (No. 6, Los Angeles Raiders), Sterling Sharpe (No. 7, Green Bay Packers), Michael Irvin (No. 11, Dallas Cowboys) and Anthony Miller (No. 15, San Diego Chargers).

It’s hard to go wrong with any of those receivers, and that’s pretty much the way Kiper sees this year playing out.

“All those different years when you had three receivers…that three is very hard to separate,” Kiper said. “That’s the thing with Jeudy, Lamb and Ruggs. I think that’s the three right now.

“Tee Higgins I would put in that group as well, to an extent. He ran pretty good at his pro day. It was one of the last pro days that happened. You would have liked to see him be a little more physical in those final two playoff games, but Higgins is probably right now, to me, at four. If I had to stack them right now, it would be Jeudy, Lamb, Ruggs, Higgins, then (Justin) Jefferson from LSU, (Denzel) Mims from Baylor. And then if you talk about where a guy might come off the board, maybe Chase Claypool from Notre Dame would be next as a guy who could be an H-back, move tight end as well. But I would still go Jeudy, Ruggs, Lamb, Higgins, in that order.”

For the record, Kiper projected Jeudy at No. 13 to the 49ers, Ruggs at No. 15 to the Denver Broncos and Lamb at No. 17 to the Cowboys in his latest mock draft released Tuesday. However, those projections were made before the New York Jets saw receiver Robby Anderson sign with the Carolina Panthers. Kiper says if he had known that was going to happen, he’d likely have had the Jets take a receiver at No. 11.

But which one?

“Jeudy, to me, in the slot is very tough to deal with,” Kiper said. “Obviously, his route-running ability, he’s very, very effective there. His hands, he had a couple of drops, but overall, he’s very consistent. Great attitude, great approach. CeeDee Lamb, 50 percent of his yards came in the slot, 50 percent of his yards came on the outside. He ran 4.51. Henry Ruggs ran 4.27. So you knew that Lamb wasn’t going to be the speed burner, but speed for wide receivers is very overrated. It’s how you apply it on the field. He does. He’s got a tremendous stiff arm. He’s got great run-after-the-catch ability, which is his strength. He’s a powerhouse with the ball in his hands. He breaks tackles, he runs hard. He’s quick, he’s explosive.

“I think that’s a tough call. That would be whoever they prefer. I mean, you could go Jeudy, you could go Lamb. Henry Ruggs III is right there with some teams (listing him) as the top receiver. That’s a call right there they’re going to have to make. … I would project Jeudy. I almost went with Jeudy.”

While Jeudy and Lamb were previously thought to be the top two receivers off the board, Ruggs’ 4.27 time in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine has made him a viable candidate as well. Tuesday, NFL.com's Jeremiah posted on Twitter that he “wouldn’t be shocked at all” if Ruggs was the first receiver taken." Wednesday, Yahoo’s Eric Edholm projected the speedy receiver at No. 11 to the Jets as the first wideout selected.

“The Jets have done a lot of work on Ruggs, who not only offers elite speed but also a hyper-competitive temperament that has to have made a strong impression on GM Joe Douglas,” Edholm wrote. “His first draft pick with the team will be highly scrutinized, and there are big needs elsewhere too, but we could understand why he’d go this route to land a Tyreek Hill-esque talent. If the Jets draft a receiver, we believe it would come down to Ruggs or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.”

During the Nick Saban era, Alabama has had three receivers — Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley — taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Of that group, Jones (No. 6 overall in 2011) and Cooper (No. 4 overall in 2015) were the first receivers off the board. There’s a decent chance the Crimson Tide will add to that list this year.

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Andrew Bone, of BamaInsider.com, is a real estate broker in the state of Alabama. 

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