Zach's Draft Corner: Breaking Down the Top Prospects Heading Into 2020 NFL Draft
Image Credit: Hillary Scheinuk
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
There’s no rest for the weary in the draft world. The 2019 draft is well in the books as we move towards mini camps and training camps, but there is more work to be done. The offseason is an extremely important time for scouts, because you need to gather names for preliminary boards so you have an idea of who to watch once the college season kicks off in August. Otherwise, you’re playing catchup and might miss some key games early in the season. I’m sure that I’ll return to my 2019 notes at some point to hold myself accountable for what went right and what went horrendously wrong. However, this is the official turning point for me where I close the OneNote tab including all of my 2019 notes and create a new OneNote tab for all of my 2020 information. As I start generating my initial boards (which will, in reality, look more like watch lists than true boards), here are the ten names that every football fan absolutely needs to know this season.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, University of Alabama
Measurables: 6'1", 218 pounds
2018 Stats: 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
Most prospects go by their last name when referenced in the media, but, similar to the last couple of years, you’re going to hear a ton about “Tua” this season. Tua, as of right now, is my QB1. He works through his progressions, he makes smart decisions, he has the athleticism to move outside the pocket and get yards with his feet, and he throws a strong, accurate ball. Even better, when he scrambles, he keeps his eyes downfield and will always try to throw before his last resort of running. He’s as close to a total package that you can get in this year’s crop, although he is a bit smaller than your prototypical quarterback. There are quite a few good quarterbacks in this class, but Tua is tops right now.
Justin Herbert, QB, University of Oregon
Measurables: 6'6", 234 pounds
2018 Stats: 3,151 yards, 29 touchdowns, 8 interceptions
If you put Tua’s skill set in Herbert’s body, you would have an easy first overall lock. Herbert’s size is Create-A-Player perfect. When it comes to the physical aspect of the game, Herbert is fascinating. His mechanics are sound, he throws accurately, and he can get the ball from point A to point B as well as any quarterback in recent memory. His issues are all mental. Herbert is the classic one-read college quarterback. If his first read is not available, he tucks the ball and runs. He doesn’t try to buy time in the pocket, and he doesn’t keep his eyes downfield when he scrambles. He will have to learn all of this in the pros, making him more of a project than Tua. That puts him at QB2. However, his skills are so strong that he still has a great shot of going in the top ten.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson University
Measurables: 5'10", 200 pounds
2018 Stats: 1,658 yards, 8.1 YPC, 24 touchdowns, 0 fumbles (lost or otherwise)
There are a lot of things that will make it tough for there to ever be a 2,000-yard running back in the NFL again. Teams are very high on splitting carries amongst their running backs, and teams are throwing more than ever. In the past four seasons, three years have had a leading rusher with less than 1,500 rushing yards, and Ezekiel Elliott led the bunch with 1,631 yards. The model for future 2,000-yard backs may be the Chris Johnson mold of back, where they have the speed to get a touchdown on any play and the ability as a receiver to stay on the field almost every down. Etienne may be the first running back since CJ2K himself to have the skill set to the extreme of the speedy one himself. Etienne reaches his top speed almost instantly, and he maintains that top speed even after running 70 yards downfield. He has great vision and balance, and is certainly worthy of a top ten pick in 2020. Staying healthy and maintaining his current production will be key.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, University of Alabama
Measurables: 6'1", 192 pounds
2018 Stats: 68 catches for 1,315 yards, 14 touchdowns
Jeudy is just a pleasure to watch. Think back to Calvin Ridley and how elite he was at running routes and how he would catch everything thrown his way. Now take that player and give him the athleticism of Parris Campbell. That is Jerry Jeudy in a nutshell. He is the most complete receiver we have seen as a prospect since Sammy Watkins in 2014, who was drafted 4th overall (remember, this is just as a prospect, not taking into account Watkins’s injuries and up-and-down success since entering the league). Jeudy just needs to keep on keeping on, and he will be the next great Alabama receiver prospect.
Andrew Thomas, OT, University of Georgia
Measurables: 6'5", 320 pounds
2018 Stats: 14 starts at left tackle, team averaged 239.2 yards rushing per game
It’s hard to put stats on Thomas, but he is the prototype tackle. He has size. He has athleticism. He has length. He has experience. He has skill. He is a longer, more athletic Jonah Williams, making him the early favorite to be OL1 come next April. There is a little worry about his consistency in pass protection, given Georgia’s conservative offense. However, he has flashed enough in the few passes Georgia throws in any given game to give me confidence that he has what it takes to kick back 30-40 times a game rather than play the road grader role.
A.J. Epenesa, DE, University of Iowa
Measurables: 6'5", 277 pounds
2018 Stats: 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Think back to Clelin Ferrell, the 4th overall pick in the most recent draft. He was drafted that highly due to his quickness of the line, his strength, his relentless motor, and his technical prowess at the line. Now throw an extra ten pounds of muscle on him. Make him even faster. And put him on a line where he is the obvious threat for the entire defense as opposed to a cog in a well-oiled machine. You basically get Julius Peppers coming out of the University of North Carolina. You also get A.J. Epenesa coming out of Iowa. Iowa is used to developing two- and three-star recruits like T.J. Hockenson into certified studs, but Epenesa was the rare five-star recruit to choose Iowa. A.J.’s father, Eppy Epenesa (which is short for Epenesa Epenesa, because American Samoa is awesome like that), was a Hawkeye back in the 90s, leading A.J. to follow suit. The younger Epenesa took that same development track and has developed into a potential first overall pick if the worst team doesn’t need a quarterback. Watch this man closely.
Chase Young, DE, Ohio State University
Measurables: 6'5", 265 pounds
2018 Stats: 10.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
If Epenesa is DE1, Young is DE1-B. Young may not have the technical skill of Bosa, Ferrell, or Epenesa, but he’s pretty darn close. He also has truly elite athleticism, but gets knocked a bit for having lapses in concentration. When his motor is on, he is quick off of the line and relentless in pursuit. When he turns it off, he is a bit slow off of the snap, will take plays off, and seems relatively disinterested. If Young can keep that motor running all season and refine some of his more advanced pass rush moves, he has the potential to overtake Epenesa on my board. Until then, he’s still a top-ten player on my board.
Bryce Hall, CB, University of Virginia
Measurables: 6'1", 200 pounds
2018 Stats: 2 interceptions, 21 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles
Hall came onto the radar late this season, which is likely why he decided to return to school. However, after watching tape of Juan Thornhill and Tim Harris, it’s Hall that always jumped off of the screen. He is “only” 6’1”, but has the length of a player seemingly three inches taller. He has the speed of a smaller corner, and his technique is flawless. Hall could have easily been CB1 in the 2019 draft, and another season of strong play could just as well make him CB1 in 2020. Hall has the potential to be a Patrick Peterson-level talent.
C.J. Henderson, CB, University of Florida
Measurables: 6'1", 191 pounds
2018 Stats: 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
Henderson is the one player that, as of now, can give Hall a run for his money. Florida uses Henderson all over the place, leading many to wonder whether cornerback or safety is his best position. Ultimately, he has been very successful in every position, and given the relatively greater value of cornerbacks over safeties, I expect Henderson to play more CB this year. Henderson might be one of the most athletically gifted defensive backs of the past few draft cycles, and it’s clear that he wins more on athleticism than technique. The ceiling with Henderson is Hall of Fame level, but he’ll need to develop the requisite technique in order to reach it.
Grant Delpit, Louisiana State University
Measurables: 6'3", 203 pounds
2018 Stats: 5 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble
Delpit is going to be the most fun prospect to watch on the defensive side of the ball this year. There is already hype for him to win the Heisman as a literal do-it-all safety. Need him to play single-high on an obvious passing down? Consider it done, with the speed and instincts of an Earl Thomas-type prospect. Need him to sneak into the box to play the run? He has the size and strength that made Derwin James a beloved prospect. Need him to move into the slot and shut down a receiver or tight end? Quarterbacks will be silly to test him. Need him to make a tackle? Delpit will absolutely punish any ball carrier that gets in his crosshairs. Jamal Adams was the best safety prospect of the past few years, but Delpit’s game exceeds even Adams’. Delpit might finally give us the second coming of the late, great Sean Taylor that we have all been wishing for ever since his tragic death in 2007. Delpit is 1,000 percent the real deal.
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