On Saturday, the No. 21 Colorado Buffaloes (4-0) play the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-2) in what will likely be CU’s toughest game to date. The Buffs will be tested all of the field, especially against megastar receiver N’Keal Harry. At 6’4, 220-lbs., Harry is an athletic freak who happens to be as skilled as he is gifted. He was a preseason All-American and has not disappointed this season. But as good as he is, is he better than our large adult son Laviska Shenault?
N’Keal Harry: 31 catches, 419 yards, 6 total touchdowns (5 games played)
Laviska Shenault: 38 catches, 581 yards, 6 TDs (4 games played)
You can argue that Harry has faced tougher defenses (like Michigan State) and that he’s put up very impressive numbers considering the competition. But still, looking at the stats, no one compares to Viska — not Harry, not J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, not anyone in college football. Shenault is first in the nation is catches per game (9.5), second in yards per game (116.2; behind Hawaii’s prolific John Ursua), and tied for fourth in touchdowns per game (behind Ursua, Arcega-Whiteside, South Alabama’s Kawan Baker). Shenault has been absurd after the catch, as he has averaged 10.3 yards after the catch, easily the most in the country. He’s broken 13 tackles just as a receiver, and that doesn’t include his powerful running as wildcat QB.
The advanced stats also favor Shenault significantly. Pro Football Focus lists Shenault as the nation’s best receiver with an elite 90.3 overall rating (Arcega-Whiteside is second best). The site also has him 9th in their Heisman rankings, the highest-ranked receiver and third-highest non-QB. Of all the stats PFF keep track of, Cam Mellor writes, “Perhaps the most incredible feature of his body of work so far this season is the fact that he has hauled in 90.7% of his targets (39-of-43), a figure that tops all FBS receivers with at least 20 targets.”
By the 2018 numbers, Shenault has the clear advantage. Even if you consider Harry’s great 2017 season — 82 catches, 1,142 yards and 8 TDs — Viska has been significantly better this season. You could also give Viska the benefit of the doubt because he absolutely should have been playing last year over CU’s prolific seniors — if you think that’s hindsight bias, you should have seen Adam Munsterteiger clamoring for the Buffs to put in their best playmaker.
It’s hard to find an NFL mock draft that doesn’t have Harry in the first round, let alone among the top 15 picks. Harry is right up there with Marquise Brown (Oklahoma), Anthony Johnson (Buffalo) and A.J. Brown (Ole Miss) as the top receiver in the class. (Arcega-Whiteside should also be here, but his play-style will likely be overshadowed because he’s not an elite athlete. Also, we’ve mentioned the Stanford receiver so many times in this article that it’s worth noting that he has an argument to be the best WR in college, not just the Pac-12.) Scouts love Harry, and for good reason. He’s massive at the position, explosive for his size, incredibly skilled, and all things combined, he looks like the prototypical NFL receiver who should be a matchup nightmare from the start.
If Laviska Shenault was draft eligible, he would be right there with Harry on those mocks. Despite starting just four games, there’s enough evidence to all but guarantee he will be a first round pick when it’s time for him to depart. Besides maybe the incredible Michael Westbrook and Charles Johnson (shoutout to Mike Pritchard), Viska is the Buffs’ best-ever prospect at the position, and he’s probably going to be a top 10 pick next year. He’s not as big as Harry, but he is as heavy, and with so much of his weight in his legs, he has absurd strength and balance, which help him in every facet of the game. He also has reliable hands and a penchant for making tough catches, which would explain how he’s hauling in 90% of his targets.
If Harry has an edge on Shenault, it’s because the ASU man has proved himself to be an elite weapon against better defenses that are focused entirely on him. Viska just has to prove his worth once defenses start doubling or tripling him.
EDGE: Harry, for now
Looking at the tape, Harry is probably the better receiver at physically dominating his defender and making catches in traffic. Shenault is great in traffic too, but doesn’t emasculate DBs in the same way as his counterpart. Harry is also a gifted runner after the catch, but Viska may be the most dangerous runner of any receiver in the nation as he combines elite size and athleticism with absurd balance. Comparing the differences in their relatively similar games, Harry is probably closer to Mike Evans as a huge receiver who high-points the ball, whereas Viska is what Alvin Kamara would look like if he played receiver full-time. Both are incredible players who make amazing plays look easy, so we can call this a push.
This will be a fun game that will feature both receivers going up against somewhat unproven secondaries. With Trey Udoffia playing physically as ever and Worthington being a freak athlete in his own right, I would say Colorado matches up better with Harry than ASU does with Viska. The Sun Devils also have a better running back (the terrific Eno Benjamin) going against a shaky run defense, so it’s hard to say if Harry will live up to his potential in this matchup, especially considering the chilly weather. Should either team be forced to go pass-heavy, the Buffs have a more open offense and more coaching creativity (bless you, Chiv), so Viska seems more likely to get free for his usual big plays.
Overall Edge: Shenault