Earlier this week, APC began our breakdowns of prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft, starting with USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson. Today we break down another Pac-12 player who could catch the Green Bay Packers’ eye with the 30th overall selection.
Laviska Shenault Jr., wide receiver, Colorado
Weight: 220 pounds
Shenault has very good acceleration off the line and couples that with very good use of jab steps and hands to get good releases both on the outside and in the slot. Shenault appears to have excellent core strength to make sharp cuts without losing too much velocity and accelerates quickly out of his breaks to regain any speed he’s lost. His short area quickness and acceleration are particularly impressive, considering that Shenault is 6’2 and 220lbs. While nobody will mistake him for Tyreek Hill, Shenault’s ability to accelerate and cut is very rare for a receiver his size and he’s effective at utilizing it to gain separation.
His short area quickness is such that I believe Shenault can be effective either outside or in the slot at the NFL level, despite his less than ideal frame for the latter. While Shenault has excellent acceleration and short area quickness, he only has marginal long speed and isn’t able to maintain separation on long routes on speed alone. Shenault does employ a head fake coupled with jab steps on his long routes to force false steps out of defensive backs and gain separation, but he needs to work on really selling that he’s about to cut. You can see several defensive backs biting on his move on film at the college level but it’s probably not good enough at this point to fool a heady veteran.
Shenault also has a really bad habit on fly routes on the outside of allowing cornerbacks with inside leverage to pin him against the sideline. This takes away his ability to create separation late in the route by moving towards the sideline, and coupled with his lack of long speed pretty much eliminates any ability to get any separation at all late in the route if he hasn’t already created it. Since Colorado was behind a lot of the time, there were long stretches in the games I watched where Shenault would disappear because they continually sent him on fly routes hoping for a big play and he would constantly get pinned to the sideline.
A quick side note: NFL plays generally include multiple planned route adjustments that are based upon actions taken by the defense, such as the particular technique and leverage utilized by the corner or how the linebackers and safeties react to the play. Being an effective NFL receiver requires not only good technique and physical attributes, but the capability to read a defense the same way as the quarterback and make the appropriate route adjustments. College offenses generally have fewer route adjustments, and even in instances that they use them it’s very difficult to tell if a receiver read the defense the same way as the quarterback. So, despite the fact that skill in making proper route adjustments will be critical in determining Shenault’s success or failure at an NFL level, I can’t make an informed determination on how well he’ll do at it. I can only infer based on his solid route running skills that it will likely won’t be his death knell.
Pass Catching/Run After Catch Ability
In general, Shenault has fairly reliable hands. He does a good job of catching away from his body and receives the ball softly. He has fairly good leaping ability and is able to high-point balls. Shenault is also good at holding onto the ball when defenders converge on him while he’s catching it.
Shenault does have two points where he struggles when it comes to catching the ball. First, he seems to have difficulty tracking balls over his shoulder, particularly on longer routes. He also seems to struggle maintaining his focus while jostling with defenders and won’t get his hands up in time to catch the ball, which was also particularly prevalent on longer routes (sense a theme?).
After he catches the ball, however, Shenault is an absolute terror. Shenault’s excellent muscle elasticity, core strength, and balance make him abnormally shifty for a player of his size. His game film is full of instances where of spins, jump cuts, jukes, and starts and stops that break the ankles of defensive backs 40 pounds lighter than him. When defenders manage to make contact, they often find that getting Shenault to the ground is no easy feat. Shenault’s size and balance make him very hard to take down and he was often able to get chunks of extra yardage after first contact. Shenault does a good job of securing the ball after the catch and he wasn’t responsible for any turnovers in the games I saw. Always a plus.
Shenault was often asked to line up as a running back, take jet sweeps, and take direct snaps for the Buffaloes. When running inside, Shenault showed a fairly good ability to read blocks and timed his cuts to hit holes as they opened. He was also effective at using his short area quickness to make tacklers miss in the hole to get chunks of yardage. An area for potential improvement for Shenault while running inside is that he needs to get better at lowering his center of gravity to get better yardage after contact against defensive linemen and linebackers — he’s tough for defensive backs to take down but doesn’t fair quite as well against linemen when he runs high. On sweeps and outside runs, Shenault uses his aforementioned short area quickness and agility to adroitly dodge tackles. Overall, Shenault is excellent in this role and should allow the team that drafts him to add wrinkles into their playbook to create an exploit mismatches all over the field.
Shenault also returned kickoffs for Colorado, and seemed to be a natural at it due to his agility and ability to read blocks. I should note that there was one instance as a returner where he did not secure the ball well and a tackler was able to knock it out from behind.
When he’s willing, Shenault is a very good blocker. He does a good job at rolling his hips into his blocks to convert rate of force from his hips into his hands to jolt defenders. He comes into his blocks low and drives his legs forcefully after contact. Shenault does have a tendency to take plays off or give half-hearted effort when he doesn’t think the action is coming to his side. That being said, it’s very apparent that Shenault is a physical player who relishes contact, and I think that the culture of committed blocking that Green Bay’s receiving corps has established would drill this tendency out of him.
Shenault is a solid route runner with a couple of rough edges that need to be smoothed out on longer routes. While he doesn’t possess exceptional long speed, he has every tool needed to be a complete receiver at an NFL level. Shenault has exceptional agility and quickness for a receiver his size and is very difficult to take down in the open field. Shenault is also a very good, if not always willing, blocker. As an added bonus, Shenault also possesses schematic versatility and can be lined up in several spots, including in the slot or at running back.
Shenault is essentially an enhanced version of the type of receiver that Green Bay has tended to go after in recent memory. He’s big and strong and utilizes his size effectively. However, unlike many receivers Green Bay has acquired in this mold, Shenault can create separation with acceleration and agility and doesn’t rely on physicality alone. While I personally pine for Green Bay to diversify the types of receivers they carry on the roster, I can’t deny that Shenault would be a good fit for what Green Bay wants to do and he would likely become the second-best receiver on the roster in short order.
Shenault has the upside to perennially be in contention for Pro Bowl nods, and based on what I saw I think it’s likely he reaches or at least gets close to his ceiling. In a “standard” draft class I would rate Shenault as a mid to lower first rounder. I think it’s likely with the glut of talented receivers in this class that he gets pushed down the board a bit and may be available for Green Bay to select at 30. I believe that Shenault would be an excellent selection at that spot.