Zach's Draft Corner: Prospects and Teams Who Are a Perfect Match/What to Watch
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour.
Four weeks into the college football season, you are probably hearing about some names that will go in certain areas of the draft. Furthermore, you are realizing the general vicinity where teams are likely to be drafting in 2020. Given this combination, it seems like a good time to check in on what fits might exist between draftable players and the teams that might be in position to take those particular players.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon - Cincinnati Bengals
Herbert has the prototypical size and arm strength you want in a quarterback, and I believe that he is very comparable to Jared Goff when he was coming out of Cal. He will also have very similar issues as Goff did coming into the league. Herbert will stare down receivers, he becomes flustered if his first read isn't open, and he can sometimes just look plain lost. However, the tools are elite, and Zac Taylor of the Bengals is the perfect coach to bring out the same traits he brought out in Goff. He just has to hope that he can catch lightning in a bottle twice with another quarterback in drastic need of development.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa - Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are built for both speed and power. The dynamic abilities of Baker Mayfield are all for naught if he is stuck in the pocket. However, with Nick Chubb at running back, the Browns are also in need of a road grater. Wirfs would be the perfect fit, as his athleticism can help Baker inside and outside of the pocket, but he also has the strength to be a power blocker in the run game.
Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia - Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals offensive line is terrible. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Thomas fits simply because he is the best tackle in the class, and the Cardinals would be silly for passing on him if he was there. The Cardinals look like they may have a top five pick, and Thomas will certainly be a top five pick. There’s really not much else to say.
Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford - Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have a very specific type when they look for tight ends. Ultimately, they want Jason Witten reincarnated. Parkinson might be the closest they can get to Witten, as he is the modern version of him. Parkinson combines good blocking with proficient ability as a receiver in an athletic, 6'7" frame. The tight end position is the one position on offense where the Cowboys lack a star, but this could all change if they decide to draft Parkinson.
A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa - Atlanta Falcons
Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons, if they are still paired come April, run that same Seattle defense that is all the rage. Michael Bennett, a 6'4", 275-pound defensive end that could be moved all along the line to generate pressure everywhere, was a key piece to that defense. Epenesa, the 6'5", 285-pound defensive end from Iowa, has the strength, athleticism, and technical proficiency to play exactly that role for Atlanta. If the Atlanta defense wants to return to prominence, Epinesa could be that cornerstone they so desperately need.
Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado - Minnesota Vikings
Let's face it, Kirk Cousins is who we thought he was and needs a lot of help. The Vikings already have two of the most versatile receivers in the game, with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs being able to win both on the inside and the outside. Years ago, the Vikings tried to get an all-around weapon by the name of Cordarrelle Patterson, and we all know how that ended. However, on this team, adding a third receiver that can win on the outside, in the slot, or even in the backfield, would give them the perfect chess piece for a team that needs the help on offense. Shenault is exactly that guy, being the all-around weapon for a Colorado team that needs him to do everything.
Jonathon Taylor, RB, Wisconsin - Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs don't need much. After the Kareem Hunt debacle, one position the Chiefs could sincerely be looking at is running back. As if their offense needs to be more dynamic, Andy Reid loves him a well-built, speedy running back that can be a gamebreaking bellcow. With Jonathon Taylor, Andy Reid finds himself his Brian Westbrook to put in the Chiefs offense. Taylor can carry the entire load at running back reliably and also has 4.4 speed, at least. It's truly scary how fast and effective this offense could be next year.
Isaiah Simmons, S/LB, Clemson - Carolina Panthers
The Panthers need help pretty much everywhere on defense. Luke Kuechly is still in his prime, but he can't do it by himself. Luckily for Carolina, Isaiah Simmons can actually play pretty much anywhere on defense. Simmons is the embodiment of talent that you just put on the field and figure out later. Simmons might end up at free safety, or strong safety, or linebacker, or anywhere else, but he is an athletic freak that knows how to play defense. The Panthers are the perfect place for him, where they can figure out his best position and place him there without worry that someone better already plays there.
I get it. You are on the 49ersHub website. You probably don’t care about what prospects fit on other teams. As a reward for sticking with me as far as you did, here’s a list of 49ers-specific fits in the upcoming draft. Also, I didn’t simply choose a bunch of first round talents for this section. It is completely conceivable that the 49ers could walk away from the draft with every pick being from this pool. In other words, even prospects graded in the later rounds of day three could be listed here as potential fits in the systems run by the 49ers.
Anthony McFarland, RB, Maryland
McFarland seems like the perfect Kyle Shanahan running back. Not only is he fast, but he can change direction as quickly as any running back in this class. Additionally, McFarland flashes an impressive ability as a receiver. He may be undersized for a lot of schemes, but his speed, elusiveness, and vision in a zone running scheme make him an excellent fit for what the 49ers want to run. McFarland will likely be available in the third round, and Kyle Shanahan may be too tempted to snatch him up.
Tyler Biadasz, C/G, Wisconsin
I touched on this last week, but Biadasz may be a first round pick on the interior offensive line that the 49ers are actually okay with spending. Biadasz can play any of the three interior positions, and has the athleticism necessary to succeed on the interior of a zone blocking scheme. What makes Biadasz a first round prospect is that he has the strength to punish defenders on the next level as opposed to simply blocking them. Biadasz is the perfect embodiment of a modern interior offensive lineman, and he would be an instant upgrade over either Person, Tomlinson, or Richburg.
Ashtyn Davis, S, Cal
Moving into the day three prospects, if the 49ers are not impressed with Tarvarius Moore, they could look for a player to cover the single-high safety role. If that is the case, Ashtyn Davis is the perfect fit. Davis can play single-high, has great speed, ball skills, and instincts. Most importantly, Davis pretty much always takes the correct angles on the ball carrier. This is a huge difference from what the 49ers have seen from Moore in the past few weeks. If John Lynch decides that Moore is not the future, Davis could be a great pick in the fourth round.
Tanner Muse, S, Clemson
Regardless of whether Moore is the answer at free safety, the strong safety position is certainly the biggest area of need on the 49ers defense. However, I view the strong safety position as the running back of the defense. In other words, there are a number of prospects who could fill that role with the proficiency needed to be successful at the NFL level. Muse is a big, athletic safety who is best in the box. He is also a reliable tackler and a hard hitter, but he can also cover downhill. What makes Muse even better is that he can likely be drafted in the seventh round due to his deficiencies as a true deep cover safety or even a strict man cover slot cornerback. Muse may not be the most versatile of prospects, but his strengths would instantly improve the 49ers defense.
Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
I do not think that wide receiver will be a position of priority next offseason. Additionally, Johnson is likely going to be a second- or early third-round pick. However, there is a multiverse where the 49ers trade back from their first-round pick and end up with a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. If that were to be the case, Johnson could be a great addition to the 49ers wide receiver corps. Shanahan values a few things above all else: nuanced route running, efficient movement, and reliable hands. Outside of Jerry Jeudy, Tyler Johnson may have the best combination of these three traits of anyone left in the draft.
Levonta Taylor, CB, Florida State
I know, I know. Florida State is bad. However, Taylor absolutely is not. K’Waun Williams has been iffy at best throughout the first three weeks of the draft, and John Lynch may want to move on sooner than later. If the 49ers are looking for a new slot cornerback,, Taylor would be the ideal fit. He is fast and has great technique and instincts, but his smaller stature and status on an unsuccessful team is hurting his draft stock. John Lynch would be wise to use a fifth round pick on a talented prospect who is falling for all the wrong reasons.
Stanford Samuels III, CB, Florida State
That’s right, we are doubling up on Florida State cornerbacks. Colorado may have had more success, but I see Samuels as a very similar prospect to Ahkello Witherspoon. Samuels has the size, speed, technique, and length to succeed in the 49ers coverage system, but lacks the ideal physicality of a professional cornerback. Samuels may be a steal in the sixth round, as physicality could have a direct connection with the prospect’s motivation to help the team succeed. On a team as bad as Florida State, that motivation could be lacking. On an up and coming team like the 49ers, that could all change.
Josiah Deguara, TE, Cincinnati
The 49ers don't need a star tight end. They just need a reliable number two guy who is an excellent blocker and can leak out every once in a while and catch the ball. Deguara is exactly that. With the loss of Kaden Smith, a long-term number two tight end is still a need. Deguara could easily fill that role in the sixth or seventh round.
Hakeem Adeniji, OT, Kansas
Adeniji is the type of player you take because he matches the scheme. He won't even be on the board for half of the teams in the league, because he is built for a zone-blocking scheme and a zone-blocking scheme alone. However, Adeniji is masterful as a zone blocker, using leverage and angles absolutely perfectly to control defenders and take them out of the play. He will get stronger in a pro weight room, but his knowledge of the nuance of the position is special. This is the type of player you bring in to learn from Joe Staley and could slide in perfectly in a year or two.
The sheer amount of college games on at any given time can be completely overwhelming. Every week, in the TV Guide section of my column, I will choose the top two games at any given time slot and outline the various prospects you can watch in those games. That way, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and hit the “Previous Channel” button on your remote to toggle between games chock full of pro prospects. Here is your guide for week five (all times Eastern, rankings in parentheses).
As a reminder, we have a new format for the TV Guide this season. I’m going to list all of the draft eligible players that will impact the games themselves, meaning the lists will be pretty long. Then, I'll summarize each team by showing the players seriously in contention to be drafted at this point in time. However, it's important to know that one exceptional season can cause an impactful player to become a draftable player, so these names are still good to monitor.
Friday, September 27
Duke University at Virginia Tech University, 7:00 PM, ESPN
Deon Jackson, Junior Running Back, #25
Trevon McSwain, Senior Defensive Tackle, #95
Mark Gilbert, Junior Cornerback, #28
Dylan Singleton, Senior Safety, #16
Duke might not have a Danny Dimes anymore, but they still have some prospects worth monitoring. On offense, Deon Jackson is now tasked with carrying the load, and is doing a decent job of it. On defense, Mark Gilbert is one of my most underrated cornerbacks in the class, and he has the opportunity to move his way back up the boards with a strong showing against an upper echelon ACC team.
Ryan Lewis, Senior Quarterback, #5
Deshawn McClease, Junior Running Back, #33
Damon Hazelton, Junior Wide Receiver, #14
Dalton Keene, Junior Tight End, #29
Silas Dzansi, Redshirt Sophomore Tackle, #60
Rayshard Ashby, Junior Linebacker, #23
Caleb Farley, Redshirt Sophomore Cornerback, #3
Khalil Ladler, Junior Safety, #9
Reggie Floyd, Senior Safety, #1
Virginia Tech has some decent talent this year, but nothing to call home about. The best prospect is likely Reggie Floyd, who is a do-it-all safety that would benefit from having a defined role. Otherwise, McClease, Keene, Dzansi, Ashby, and Farley all have a chance to be drafted, but need good tape this season to prove their worth.
Penn State University (12) at University of Maryland, 8:00 PM, FS1
K.J. Hamler, Redshirt Sophomore Wide Receiver, #1
Pat Freiermuth, Redshirt Sophomore Tight End, #87
Will Fries, Junior Tackle, #71
Steven Gonzalez, Senior Guard, #74
Mike Miranda, Redshirt Sophomore Guard, #73
Michael Menet, Junior Center, #62
Robert Windsor, Senior Defensive Tackle, #54
Yetur Gross-Matos, Junior Defensive End, #99
Shaka Toney, Junior Defensive End, #16
Shane Simmons, Junior Defensive End, #34
Cameron Brown, Senior Linebacker, #6
Jan Johnson, Senior Linebacker, #36
John Reid, Senior Cornerback, #29
Tariq Castro-Fields, Junior Cornerback, #5
Garrett Taylor, Senior Safety, #17
Jonathan Sutherland, Redshirt Sophomore Safety, #26
It’s surprising that Penn State has gone four weeks without showing up on the TV Guide, but a Friday night game against Maryland makes it tough to leave them off. Gross-Matos is a first round talent on the defensive line. Hamler and Freiermuth are competing for day two grades at this point. Otherwise, Fries, Miranda, Menet, and Castro-Fields are attempting to prove their worth in day two or three of the draft.
Josh Jackson, Junior Quarterback, #17
Anthony McFarland Jr., Redshirt Sophomore Running Back, #5
Tyler Mabry, Senior Tight End, #81
Sean Christie, Senior Guard, #70
Ellis McKennie, Senior Center, #68
Keiron Howard, Senior Defensive Tackle, #59
Isaiah Davis, Senior Linebacker, #22
Marcus Lewis, Senior Cornerback, #8
Tino Ellis, Senior Cornerback, #7
Antoine Brooks Jr., Senior Safety, #25
Antwaine Richardson, Senior Safety, #20
I’m calling it now. Anthony McFarland is my draft crush, and he is the one player I want on the 49ers in 2020. He is the perfect fit for the Kyle Shanahan offense and would be deadly having a real offensive line opening holes for him. On defense, Maryland continues their tradition of having athletic studs, with Davis and Ellis likely to be drafted based on their athletic prowess alone.
Arizona State University at University of California - Berkeley (15), 10:30 PM, ESPN
Eno Benjamin, Junior Running Back, #3
Brandon Aiyuk, Senior Wide Receiver, #2
Kyle Williams, Senior Wide Receiver, #10
Zach Robertson, Senior Tackle, #51
Steven Miller, Senior Guard, #71
Cohl Cabral, Senior Center, #73
Roe Wilkins, Senior Defensive Tackle, #95
George Lea, Senior Defensive Tackle, #17
Tyler Johnson, Redshirt Sophomore Defensive End, #41
Kobe Williams, Senior Cornerback, #5
Chase Lucas, Junior Cornerback, #24
Eno Benjamin is one of my favorite running backs to watch in this class. His combination of strength, speed, and ability as a receiver remind me of a young Melvin Gordon. Robertson played extremely well against a decently strong Michigan State defensive line a couple of weeks ago, so he gets his name on the players to watch. Johnson and Lucas are the core pieces of a solid Arizona State defensive line. A loss last week knocked them out of the top-25, but a win against Cal on the road could very well put them back in.
Kekoa Crawford, Junior Wide Receiver, #11
Luc Bequette, Senior Defensive Tackle, #93
Zeandae Johnson, Senior Defensive Tackle, #44
Tevin Paul, Junior Defensive End, #96
Kuony Deng, Junior Linebacker, #8
Evan Weaver, Senior Linebacker, #89
Traveon Beck, Senior Cornerback, #22
Camryn Bynum, Junior Cornerback, #24
Ashtyn Davis, Senior Safety, #27
Jaylinn Hawkins, Senior Safety, #6
As evidenced by the impact player list, Cal sports one of, if not the, best defenses in the Pac-12. Cal is the only remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12, meaning they are in complete control of their destiny to go as far as they’d like. Led by safeties Davis and Hawkins, Cal was a turnover machine in 2018 and hope to continue that playmaking in 2019. The Golden Bears also have a pair of bears patrolling the middle of the field in Weaver and Deng. Weaver is a tackle machine, and Deng is a massive, 6’6” grizzly that is relatively new to the game of football but has rare physical gifts. Paul is also a decent prospect on the line.
Saturday, September 28
Texas Tech University at University of Oklahoma (6), 12:00 PM, FOX
R.J. Turner, Senior Wide Receiver, #2
T.J. Vasher, Junior Wide Receiver, #9
McLane Mannix, Junior Wide Receiver, #13
Terence Steele, Senior Tackle, #78
Travis Bruffy, Senior Tackle, #79
Jack Anderson, Junior Guard, #56
Madison Akamnonu, Senior Guard, #58
Broderick Washington, Senior Defensive Tackle, #96
Lonzell Gilmore, Senior Defensive End, #94
Eli Howard, Junior Defensive End, #53
Jordyn Brooks, Senior Linebacker, #1
The Kliff Kingsbury era has ended at Texas Tech, but the mentality hasn’t. Texas Tech is still a spread out, high flying offense, and they have the receivers to make it work in Vasher and Mannix. Outside of these two, though there isn’t much to speak of in Lubbock.
Jalen Hurts, Senior Quarterback, #1
Trey Sermon, Junior Running Back, #4
Kennedy Brooks, Redshirt Sophomore Running Back, #26
CeeDee Lamb, Junior Wide Receiver, #2
Lee Morris, Senior Wide Receiver, #84
Grant Calcaterra, Junior Tight End, #80
Marquis Hayes, Redshirt Sophomore Guard, #54
Creed Humphrey, Redshirt Sophomore Center, #56
Neville Gallimore, Senior Defensive Tackle, #90
LaRon Stokes, Junior Defensive End, #96
Kenneth Mann, Senior Defensive End, #55
Kenneth Murray, Junior Linebacker, #9
Caleb Kelly, Senior Linebacker, #19
Mark Jackson Jr., Senior Linebacker, #42
Tre Brown, Junior Cornerback, #6
Parnell Motley, Senior Cornerback, #11
Oklahoma has three good running back prospects with Sermon, Brooks, and Hurts. Lincoln Riley has worked his magic with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, and he’s trying his hardest to fix Jalen Hurts as a quarterback. Thing is, he’s actually doing a pretty good job of it. Lamb is a top receiver, and Humphrey is the top center in the class. Calcaterra and Hayes round out the offense. On defense, Gallimore is really the only good prospect. The linebackers are okay, but will struggle to get drafted.
Northwestern University at University of Wisconsin (8), 12:00 PM, ABC
Hunter Johnson, Redshirt Sophomore, Quarterback, #15
Ben Skowronek, Senior Wide Receiver, #88
Jared Thomas, Senior Guard, #65
Trent Goens, Senior Defensive End, #83
Joe Gaziano, Senior Defensive End, #97
Paddy Fisher, Junior Linebacker, #42
Blake Gallagher, Junior Linebacker, #51
Trae Williams, Senior Cornerback, #3
Gaziano and Fisher are the main draws from Northwestern, because we know that they are productive, technically sound prospects. However, the most interesting draw might be Hunter Johnson, the quarterback transfer from Clemson that left after Trevor Lawrence committed to the team. He is Northwestern’s highest rated quarterback in school history as far as high school rankings go, so he has a lot of pressure to live up to the hype. The early returns have not been great, but you can see the flashes of what could be with another year or two of experience.
Jonathan Taylor, Junior Running Back, #23
Bradrick Shaw, Senior Running Back, #7
Quintez Cephus, Senior Wide Receiver, #87
A.J. Taylor, Senior Wide Receiver, #4
Danny Davis III, Junior Wide Receiver, #6
Jake Ferguson, Redshirt Sophomore Tight End, #84
David Moorman, Senior Tackle, #68
Cole Van Lanen, Junior Tackle, #71
Tyler Biadasz, Junior Center, #61
Isaiah Loudermilk, Junior Defensive Tackle, #97
Chris Orr, Senior Linebacker, #54
Turns out one of the most highly anticipated games last week was a dud when Wisconsin took Michigan out back of Camp Randall and beat them silly. Taylor and the always dangerous Wisconsin offensive line absolutely crushed Michigan, and look to do the same against the Wildcats. Cephus could be a game changer on the outside. On defense, Loudermilk is the only prospect worth watching at this time.
University of Virginia (18) at University of Notre Dame (10), 3:30 PM, NBC
Bryce Perkins, Senior Quarterback, #3
PK Kier, Junior Running Back, #6
Joe Reed, Senior Wide Receiver, #2
Hasise Dubois, Senior Wide Receiver, #8
Eli Hanback, Senior Defensive Tackle, #58
Charles Snowden, Junior Linebacker, #11
Jordan Mack, Senior Linebacker, #4
Bryce Hall, Senior Cornerback, #34
Brenton Nelson, Junior Safety, #28
Joey Blount, Junior Safety, #29
Perkins might be a late round pick at quarterback, but it seems like his ceiling is relatively limited. The best prospects are on defense with potential CB1 Bryce Hall and the 6’7” Snowden at linebacker. Snowden is really a sight to see, running around looking more like a tight end than a linebacker. Though still undefeated, Virginia is likely to come down hard in this one. Virginia was nearly upset by Old Dominion last week before eking out a victory at the end. Notre Dame will be a slight step up in competition.
Ian Book, Junior Quarterback, #12
Chris Finke, Senior Wide Receiver, #10
Chase Claypool, Senior Wide Receiver, #83
Cole Kmet, Junior Tight End, #84
Liam Eichenberg, Junior Tackle, #74
Robert Hainsey, Junior Tackle, #72
Tommy Kraemer, Junior Guard, #78
Aaron Banks, Redshirt Sophomore Guard, #69
Trevor Ruhland, Senior Center, #57
Julian Okwara, Senior Defensive End, #42
Khalid Kareem, Senior Defensive End, #53
Daelin Hayes, Senior Defensive End, #9
Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Junior Defensive End, #91
Asmar Bilal, Senior Linebacker, #22
Shaun Crawford, Senior Cornerback, #20
Troy Pride Jr., Senior Cornerback, #5
Donte Vaughn, Senior Cornerback, #8
Alohi Gilman, Junior Safety, #11
Jalen Elliott, Senior Safety, #21
Notre Dame performed well against Georgia last week, even if they didn’t get the win. This week, Claypool, Kmet, and the entire offensive line for the Fighting Irish face get an easier opponent in Virginia. On defense, Okwara is the pleasant surprise of the season for Notre Dame, working his way from a day 3 prospect to garnering some first-round buzz. Pride, Gilman, and Elliott are all late-round prospects in the secondary.
University of Southern California (21) at University of Washington (17), 3:30 PM, FOX
Vavae Malepeai, Junior Running Back, #29
Stephen Carr, Junior Running Back, #7
Michael Pittman, Senior Wide Receiver, #6
Velus Jones Jr., Junior Wide Receiver, #1
Tyler Vaughns, Junior Wide Receiver, #21
Josh Falo, Junior Tight End, #83
Drew Richmond, Senior Tackle, #53
Austin Jackson, Junior Tackle, #73
Marlon Tuipulotu, Redshirt Sophomore Defensive Tackle, #51
Jay Tufele, Redhsirt Sophomore Defensive Tackle, #78
Brandon Pili, Junior Defensive Tackle, #91
Christian Rector, Senior Defensive End, #89
Jordan Iosefa, Senior Linebacker, #56
John Houston Jr., Senior Linebacker, #10
Dominic Davis, Senior Cornerback, #16
I just don’t get USC. They play a close game against Fresno State, crush Stanford, lose to BYU, and then go out and beat maybe the best team in the Pac 12 in Utah. Pittman opened some eyes with an amazing performance against Utah and their strong secondary. The Huskies will be yet another challenge that he needs to overcome. On defense, the only real prospect to consider remains Rector.
Jacob Eason, Junior Quarterback, #10
Salvon Ahmed, Junior Quarterback, #26
Aaron Fuller, Senior Wide Receiver, #2
Andre Baccellia, Senior Wide Receiver, #5
Quinten Pounds, Senior Wide Receiver, #21
Hunter Bryant, Junior Tight End, #1
Cade Otton, Redshirt Sophomore Tight End, #21