'Why Laviska Shenault Jr.?'
A unique combination of prototype stature & raw athleticism lead some to believe that Shenault is a top tier talent in the 2020 class.
But, why are some hesitating about the former Colorado Buffalo?
1 - Movement toolbox
Shenault is an extremely good problem solver with the ball in his hands.
He maximizes yardage regardless of what the situation requires, winning with both variation & brute force.
Shenault jumps off the screen with his ability to decelerate, then immediately create new patterns.
For an athlete nearly 230lbs this is difficult to do, and is a big reason why Shenault has such a high ceiling regardless of positional alignment.
Shenault isn’t as skilled as Jerry Jeudy vs. man to man coverage or as nuanced as CeeDee Lamb when the ball is in the air, but he can dominate games in how he can beat defenses after the catch.
A threat to score from anywhere, on any touch.
2 - Physicality & play strength
An absolute freight train in the open field.
Shenault invites contact with a fearlessness that is seldom seen at the receiver position.
Safeties coming down to make a play will think twice.
Rarely do we see receivers willing to weaponize their pad level to gain additional yardage.
Shenault consistently sets up defenders, and exploding through them.
He is a domineering physical presence, and is one of those players that you 'feel' when he's on the field.
Where Shenault is at his best.
He regularly fights for extra yards and is difficult to take down without two or three defenders surrounding him.
Even then, good luck.
3 - Impact as a ball carrier
If you watch Colorado play, Shenault is used all over the field and had success as both a runner & receiver in his time as a Buffalo.
His ability to line up, and succeed from multiple positional alignments will be his biggest asset as he enters the league.
Shenault is a skilled playmaker who flashes high levels of movement intellect when the ball is in his hands.
Why is the above play impressive?
He is able to force & diagnose an over-pursuit from #28. Decelerate, cutback inside and simultaneously use his outside arm as leverage to gain additional yardage.
This is impressive for a running back, let alone a 'receiver.'
Shenault has the 'short-area instincts' of a running back when you watch him operate from the backfield.
He has above adequate acceleration qualities and is a unique blend of violence & finesse that is effective, and fun to watch.
Watch how he sets up #25 & #37 before he reaches the second level.
Shenault consistently displays great anticipatory qualities as a runner, which is a main reason why he was a primary ball carrier for Colorado in short yardage situations.
4 - Proficiency in short yardage situations
4th & 1, 1:05 left in the game and everyone in the stadium knows who the ball is going to.
He's met a yard prior to the line of scrimmage, and lowers his shoulder through the defender to get the first down.
Shenault is the guy you want touching the ball when the game is on the line.
Watching Colorado, you can't help, but notice who the go-to guy is in clutch situations.
We know Shenault is difficult to bring down, however, it's his ability to recognize pursuit that helps him the most in short yardage situations.
Being able to make the right decision, at the right time is the difference between 4th & inches and 1st & goal.
Shenault may very well work himself into the mix of wildcat touches in short yardage situations at the NFL level.
5 - Creating yards after immediate contact
Shenault has the unique ability to navigate & maneuver through contact immediately after the catch.
His size is one element, the balance he displays post-contact is another, and one that is noticeably different from his peers in the 2020 class.
He lined up outside with more frequency in 2019, and at the next level we will see him deployed all over the field.
In terms of alignment, the slot may be where he makes a more consistent impact as a receiver, especially in the short to intermediate passing game.
Shenault is able to brace and immediately accelerate post contact with a level of aggression & urgency that is rare for the position.
Plays like this are why some NFL evaluators have a First Round grade on him.
6 - Play speed
Ignore the 4.58 40 yard dash he ran at the NFL Combine.
Surgery should have been done right after the season for his Sports Henria, but now there are questions about Shenault's speed, even after measuring & weighing in at 6'1" 227lbs.
Those questions need to be put to rest.
Shenault has plenty of speed, especially for someone his size.
7 - Unrefined ball skills
Lack of experience ball-tracking & in contested catch situations leaves a larger learning curve than most receivers.
However, plays like this are why teams see ‘alpha’ potential in Shenault.
Refinement to his game will be an absolute priority at the next level, but the natural ability to become a true three-level threat is there.
Though unpolished, Shenault has a good feel for making adjustments when the ball is in flight.
If Shenault can become more consistent as a traditional receiver we are looking at a player with an extremely high ceiling.
8 - Lack of off-ball effort
As physical as they come with the ball in his hands, but away from the ball Shenault leaves a lot to be desired.
To become an every-down player Shenault will have to prioritize showcasing his physical traits as a blocker.
9 - Landing spot: Jacksonville Jaguars
This is an underrated spot for Shenault who has a good chance to produce early and often in Jay Gruden’s new offense. D.J. Chark profiles as the primary vertical option, and is the only receiver currently rostered who is guaranteed to see over 100 targets in 2020. Shenault could step in and see targets and touches from a variety of different alignments. It has been reported that they want to use Shenault in a role similar to his 2018 season at Colorado. If this is true, this is great news in terms of a potential workload for Shenault and with Leonard Fournette's 5th year option being declined there may also be a possibility that Shenault is rotated in at running back. If he takes a certain percentage of snaps in the backfield, do not be surprised if he gets duel eligibility in your fantasy leagues.
10 - 'Who is Laviska Shenault Jr. ?'
Laviska Shenault Jr. is a position-less playmaker that is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His strengths and limitations make him the most unique offensive player in this class. Production wise, Shenault quietly had one of the more dominant stretches of play in recent history. During the first five games of 2018 he averaged per game totals of 10 receptions - 142 yards - 2 touchdowns, placing him firmly in the Biletnikoff conversation.
After a coaching change in 2019 from Mike Macintyre to Mel Tucker we saw a considerable drop in production from Shenault as well as a change in deployment. In 2018, Macintyre's game plan revolved around getting Shenault the ball in any way possible. He lined up at tight end, running back, X receiver, Z receiver, as well as wildcat quarterback and slot (Y) receiver. Needless to say, Shenault lined up anywhere they could get him the ball in 2018, but when Tucker took over the Colorado football program we saw Shenault make a lot less plays from the slot. He saw his slot percentage dip from 40% in 2018 to 14% in 2019.
Let's discuss his injuries. Shenault had three surgeries in a 14-month span which is concerning no matter how you slice it. His most recent surgery may have hurt his stock and could cause him to slip out of the First Round. Fortunately, these three injuries (torn shoulder labrum, turf toe, and sports hernia) do not carry a significant concern for reoccurrence. Shenault should be ready to participate in Rookie mini-camp if rehab remains on schedule.
As for a potential NFL and fantasy-relevant role, Shenault is as boom or bust as they come. In the right environment he has the upside to become one of the league's most explosive playmakers. In Dynasty circles he is slipping into the mid-late 2nd round and could be a potential league winner if he nears his ceiling. Be cognizant of his injuries and limitations, but do not be blind to the rare player Shenault could become.