If you want to talk about a wild card receiver prospect in this class, you need to look no further than Colorado prospect Laviska Shenault. This is one of the true unknown prospects in the class, someone that might see his draft value tank as a result of that. Once considered a first-round prospect and top-five receiver by most NFL Draft scouts (not me, thank Heavens), he is now a relatively unknown guy in the sense of how NFL teams are feeling about him or where he will be drafted.
How can this happen to a prospect? What kind of concerns are there on him? Let’s start by getting into what people liked about Shenault early on in the process.
The Positives to Laviska Shenault’s game
Laviska Shenault does pop on tape from the first snap that he’s on the field. He’s extremely athletic and was a featured part of Colorado’s offense. When I say “a featured part,” what I really mean to say is that he was the featured part. Shenault was used in a variety of different ways, as a jet sweep runner, a screen recipient, a deep threat, and it’s important to note that he is very explosive, a threat to take off down the field at a moments notice.
He was the Colorado offense in 2018, catching 86 passes for 1011 yards as a sophomore in just 9 games. He gained 1126 yards from scrimmage and scored a total of 11 touchdowns. He was ruled out of three games due to an ankle injury, and the offense sputtered without him.
He shows good hands, being able to catch the ball through contact and focus while in traffic. These are good traits and are part of the reason why he saw so much success at Colorado. After all, he was the most reliable weapon that they had as a sophomore.
In 2019, defenses were keyed into his effectiveness and his production dipped. Shenault still gained 925 yards in 11 games and scored 6 times, but his reputation to be single-handedly an X-Factor wasn’t quite lived up to. He was hampered again by nagging injuries throughout the 2019 campaign.
The Problems NFL Teams will have with Shenault
The injuries are a huge factor in the evaluation of Shenault. How much can they expect him to stay on the field? With the ankle in 2018 and hamstring issues throughout 2019, they seem to be very minor. That being said, the minor injuries have been consistent, and when Shenault wasn’t healthy the offense struggled tremendously.
Does anyone remember when Cordarrelle Patterson came out of Tennessee in 2014? He was a raw utility player, much like Shenault is considered to be now. He went late in the first round and never blossomed into the star that many felt, including myself, he could be. Shenault is of that same mold. He’s raw in his technique and a pure athletic player.
That means that purely as a wide receiver, Shenault doesn’t offer a team very much. He’s raw as a route runner, running a very limited tree at Colorado, which means that he doesn’t have a lot of the nuances that come with that. He didn’t win with technique in college, he won with raw athleticism, being schemed into an offense.
That doesn’t mean that the NFL couldn’t find ways to scheme him into their systems. Rather, quite the opposite. Some of the best coaches in the league love gadget players with raw upside that they create opportunities to do something with the ball. That being said, their shelf life in the league is rather small due to schemes being exploited and the usage of that raw player drops in the offense.
This, combined with the prior injury history and rawness in technique, poses an interesting question to where NFL teams value him. Do they think that he is capable of learning the ropes and mastering these nuances? Do they value him as more than a gadget player?
My take: No, the NFL doesn’t
Laviska Senault is certainly a natural football player, but there’s only so long that a player can rely on natural skill in their playing career. The NFL very rarely see’s natural talent dominate in the league. There are a few recent instances (Michael Vick, Lamar Jackson to name a couple), but it isn’t often.
As I mentioned earlier in the piece, I liken Shenault to Cordarrelle Patterson. Their skill sets are remarkably similar, and they both can do a lot of the same things. I think their careers will end up much the same as well: never able to get past the raw traits and finesse their craft.
Personally, I wouldn’t select Shenault before the fourth round, and even then there would most likely be receivers that I would value more than Shenault. Injuries aren’t a thing that NFL teams often overlook at positions other than quarterbacks. I don’t like to either, especially on a player as raw as Shenault.
That being said, I would expect him to go as high as the second round. With thirty-two NFL teams making picks, I think the chances that someone values his upside over where he is actually is pretty good. As a very good friend of mine who encouraged me strongly to get into this industry always said, “It only takes one person to say yes.”