There are a handful of different ways passers and pass-catchers could be paired together, but for this exercise, we will be working with two simple criteria.
- The two players cannot have played together in college. We want to see something new.
- It must be reasonable for a team to select both players — i.e., the Cincinnati Bengals are not going to get Joe Burrow and CeeDee Lamb.
QB Joe Burrow and WR Van Jefferson
Okay, yes, Burrow played with a Jefferson, but not this Jefferson.
The dynamic between Burrow and *blank* Jefferson is exactly the same, just from different alignments. Justin Jefferson, who Burrow played with at LSU, is more of a slot savant, whereas Florida's Van Jefferson is an outside player for the most part, but both players thrive on their ability to run routes and get open in a hurry.
Burrow should have seen Van Jefferson cook a few of LSU's DBs first-hand, too. The Florida flanker had an excellent game versus the Tigers, even beating stud cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. off the line of scrimmage a number of times to free himself up for some quick receptions. Granted, Jefferson is not the most athletic receiver, nor is he the most dynamic at the catch point, but his consistency in gaining moderate-to-good separation is a skill that would be maximized by an exceptionally accurate passer such as Burrow.
Considering Burrow is basically a lock to the Bengals and there is a ton of uncertainty about WR A.J. Green's status, nabbing an outside receiver to pair with Burrow makes even more sense.
QB Tua Tagovailoa and WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
Alabama's offense over the past two seasons thrived on screens and 1-10 yard routes that opened up a window for yards after the catch. Slants of various depths, in particular, were vital to the Alabama offense and a point of comfort for Tagovailoa.
Considering Tagovailoa cannot be paired with one of his former teammates for this exercise, in addition to it being unlikely a team can secure Tagovailoa and CeeDee Lamb, the next-best option to fill that YAC role is Shenault.
Shenault is a bit of a hybrid player, but picking up yards after catch is his clear bread-and-butter. In Colorado's offense, Shenault was funneled touches via screens, jet passes, shallow crossers, and a myriad of other quick-game concepts, including Tagovailoa's coveted slant and 'glance' routes. Tagovailoa sports the careful ball placement to maximize opportunities on these YAC-based routes to make it easy for Shenault to do his thing, making these two an easy pairing to be brought together from opposite ends of the country.
QB Justin Herbert and WR Michael Pittman Jr.
The pass-catching corps Herbert had at Oregon were nothing close to the Chip Kelly days of old. While the Ducks did have a fair amount of talent during his first few seasons, the roster fell apart by his senior season, leaving him with one competent tight end and a mostly rag-tag (relative to the PAC-12) team of wide receivers. The exception in the wide receiver group was Juwan Johnson, a Penn State grad transfer who missed about half the year with injury.
In the games Johnson was healthy, though, Herbert found great success throwing to him. Johnson was the closest thing Oregon had to a true X receiver — a tall, well-built outside receiver with enough strength and athleticism to win in tight situations. Johnson was far from perfect, but he at least provided Herbert with the archetype he needed.
A fellow PAC-12 player can fill that void for him in the NFL. Pittman, a 6-foot-4 and 220-pound wide receiver from USC, is the man for the job. Pro Football Focus lists Pittman with over 85% of his snaps being on the outside. Pittman has both the size and comfort in alignment to fit the bill.
As far as skill set goes, Pittman can be a better iteration of what Johnson was to Herbert at Oregon. Pittman’s long, thick frame allows him to bully defenders near the catch point and fight through contact. When paired with his natural ability to find and pluck the ball out of the air, it is not difficult to see how Pittman can be a devastating presence for 1-on-1 situations on the outside.
QB Jordan Love and WR Bryan Edwards
By my charting numbers, Love is not the most accurate passer to the intermediate and deep areas of the field. Behind the line of scrimmage and in the 1-10 yard area, however, the Utah State slinger is among the sharpest this class has to offer.
Between his instant throwing motion and comfort in throwing off his first read, Love generally excels on screens, shallow crossers, quick slants, and various RPO concepts. Those throws often come without pressure, too, and given Love is not a particularly impressive passer versus pressure, it makes sense that he finds much more success on throws that do not give pressure a chance to arrive.
Most short routes are designed for yards after the catch. Sometimes a defense is hunting for a couple of yards to move the chains on third down, but for the most part, shorter routes are designed to get the ball into a playmaker’s hands as quickly as possible with as much space to work with as possible. As far as non-first round players who fit that bill, Edwards is the man.
Edwards is a pseudo-running back playing wide receiver, similar to players such as Deebo Samuel, DJ Moore, and Golden Tate. He plays with a low running style and a mean streak, making him the perfect candidate for picking up tough yards in the underneath area. Jet sweeps, bubble screens, shallow crossers — the faster Samuel becomes a ball carrier, the better. Edwards’ quick game savvy would be a blessing for Love’s short passing.
QB Jake Fromm and WR Denzel Mims
By the time Fromm’s career at Georgia was coming to a close, it seemed he only felt comfortable throwing a handful of routes. Among those select few routes, quick slants and deep back-shoulder fades were arguably his best. Fromm’s “standard” deep ball was often atrocious, but when fitting a ball onto a receiver’s back shoulder 16-20 yards down the field, it seemed like his right arm was slinging lock-on projectiles.
If anyone in this class should be drafted only with those two routes in mind, it should be Mims. The 6-foot-3 and 207-speedster out of Baylor has the right blend of tools to maximize Fromm's slant throws while being able to reel in all of his back-shoulder tosses. In fact, Mims pulled in a number of the most impressive back-shoulder catches of anyone in the country this season. He has a gift for not only finding the ball in the air, but doing so while being hyper-aware of the boundary and how to play around it.
While the two are each limited for their own reasons (Fromm for physical tools, Mims for coming from a limited passing scheme), their strengths align to perfection. It would not be a surprise to hear these two clicking early in rookie mini-camps and OTAs, if they were to be drafted together.
QB Anthony Gordon and WR Jerry Jeudy
The reasoning for this pairing is identical to that of Burrow and Jefferson, the quality of the player at each position is just flipped.
Gordon, though not nearly well-versed at the mental aspect of quarterbacking, is as close to Burrow in terms of accuracy as any quarterback in this class. The Washington State passer plays with a smooth, natural throwing motion that has an uncanny way of finding its consistent release point regardless of how awkward the throwing platform is. Across his body, on the move, feet set away from the target — it does not matter what the rest of Gordon's body is doing so long as he can whip his torso around without getting hit. As such, it is easy for Gordon to find accuracy to all levels of the field because he is playing with such a smooth and consistent release point. Burrow still has him beat by a hair, but it's a close race for sure.
A quarterback of Gordon's skill set — accurate, yet unrefined as a signal caller — needs a receiver he can trust to be open. Whereas Gordon has the ball placement to fit throws into any area, Jeudy is a wide receiver with the speed and route-running skills to get open on any route versus any defender. Jeudy's explosiveness in and out of breaks, combined with how well he disguises his intentions to break at all, is devastating. Though Jeudy is not the toughest dude at the catch point, he has the tools to get open and Gordon has the accuracy to ensure the ball will be arrive away from defenders.
Those two could play a mean game of "keep away", that's for sure.
Hurts progressed about as well as any college player should be expected to. As a freshman at Alabama, Hurts often looked overwhelmed and was largely inaccurate, though he did still protect the ball exceptionally well. With each passing year, even in limited action as a junior behind Tua Tagovailoa, Hurts improved his processing speed and accuracy.
That being said, by the end of Hurts' tenure at Oklahoma, his processing speed and accuracy were both only passable by NFL standards, not good. Hurts can do enough to not sink the ship, but there is not anything he is going to do mentally or with his ball placement that sets a team over the top. As such, Hurts needs a receiver who can get open between the painted numbers, in part because that is often where Hurts struggles most to see the field and get the ball out in time. If someone could consistently work that area of the field with ease, Hurts may have one of his biggest weaknesses covered to some extent.
Jefferson, who helped orchestrate Hurts' defeat in the college football playoff, can be that middle of the field presence for Hurts at the next level. The LSU slot star has the raw speed, silky agility, and soft hands to be an absolute menace over the heart of the field. Jefferson thrives on shallow crossers, slants, "zig" routes, intermediate over routes, or any other route you can imagine between the numbers that is not a straight vertical route (granted, he is not too shabby at those either). The idea of a "safety blanket," while a bit cliché, is a proper fit for Jefferson's potential impact with Hurts.