Browns’ Donovan Peoples-Jones flashes size, speed that made Urban Meyer fawn over ‘top-10 pick’
Before the 2020 NFL Draft, Urban Meyer said Donovan Peoples-Jones should be a top-10 pick. The Browns selected Peoples-Jones out of Michigan with the 187th overall selection, a sixth-rounder.
So what gives? For starters, Meyer’s assessment was based in part on what he’d seen out of Peoples-Jones in high school, when he was the No. 1 receiver recruit in the country, according to 247Sports. Peoples-Jones never quite delivered on the full hype with the Wolverines, though. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a happy medium, one where Meyer exaggerated a bit but the Browns still got a steal.
Week 13 of Peoples-Jones’ rookie season might’ve been a sign of things to come, as he caught two passes for 92 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown (and dropped a would-be second score). DPJ has presented a tantalizing mix of speed, size and athleticism for years, despite it not being consistently unlocked at Michigan. If Cleveland can get Peoples-Jones to put it together more often, maybe Meyer won’t sound quite as crazy.
How fast is Donovan Peoples-Jones?
Peoples-Jones ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds at the 2020 NFL Combine, a good but not great time. Among players listed as wide receivers at the event, Peoples-Jones was the 18th-fastest.
Here’s video of Peoples-Jones’ top run at the Combine:
Better start for Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-Jones = a faster 40-yard dash.
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) February 28, 2020
It gets more impressive when you combine Peoples-Jones’ speed with his vertical leap.
How high can Donovan Peoples-Jones jump?
Peoples-Jones is 6-2, already a solid height for a wide receiver. That’s before you take into account how high he can jump.
At the 2020 NFL Combine, Peoples-Jones recorded a vertical leap of 44.5 inches. That’s 2.5 inches ahead of the next-closest leapers, the 5-11 Henry Ruggs III and Jalen Reagor.
In the history of the NFL Combine, only six players have vertical leaped higher than 44.5 inches. It’s not necessarily a precursor of NFL success, as the two receivers to jump higher are Chris Chambers and Chris Conley, but it’s a skill that it never hurts to have.
How Donovan Peoples-Jones fits into the Browns’ future
The Browns’ first usage of Peoples-Jones in his rookie season was as a kick and punt returner, a role he often filled for Michigan, too. But as mentioned above, Peoples-Jones never put his athletic skillset to full use as a college receiver without great quarterbacks, topping out as a sophomore with 47 catches for 612 yards. He hasn’t been a high-volume pass-catcher since high school.
Cleveland might not need Peoples-Jones to be a No. 1 wide receiver, although if you squint and dream it’s possible to see his abilities leading to that eventually. But every good team needs a deep threat, especially one as dependent on running as the Browns. In the near-term, Peoples-Jones forces defenses to respect his over-the-top danger and not crash the box quite as hard on runs by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Longer-term, Baker Mayfield might have someone to chuck it deep to both on go routes and Hail Mary jump balls.
Almost no matter what, Peoples-Jones will exceed his draft status if he sticks around as a return man and occasional big-play threat. A sixth-round pick doesn’t require more to have returned value, and Peoples-Jones has already shown what he can do in a bit role.
There’s some uncertainty surrounding Cleveland about what will happen with Odell Beckham Jr., but that’s a matter for the offseason. Whether Peoples-Jones is what he is or unlocks his untapped upside might be a matter for a season down the road, too.
There are two things for certain about Peoples-Jones, though. One, he won’t be the best sixth-round pick ever taken out of Michigan (Tom Brady’s got that locked up). And two, he’ll be one of the best athletes in a league full of them for as long as he puts on the orange and brown of Cleveland.