50 names to know for the 2020 draft from Dane Brugler of The Athletic:
It’s early, but we need to start somewhere.
Evaluations will fluctuate over the next eight months, meaning these rankings will change as the 2019 college football season plays out. Scouting is very much a process, but if the 2020 NFL Draft were held tomorrow, this is a look at how my top 50 players would stack up.
Several players coming off serious injury (like Alabama EDGE Terrell Lewis, LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, Utah RB Zack Moss and Washington OT Trey Adams) have top-50 talent, but were left off this preseason list until we see them back on the field.
*Indicates draft-eligible underclassmen
1. *Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State (6-foot-5, 266 pounds)
Despite battling ankle injuries last season, Young posted 10.5 sacks and led the nation with 77 quarterback pressures. A dominant presence, his combination of athleticism, power and technical skill are why he is the early favorite to be the first non-quarterback drafted.
2. *Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama (6-0, 232)
With his instinctual feel for the game, Tagovailoa’s tape is full of spontaneous genius, using his athleticism, arm and mind to create plays. If he stays healthy and cuts down on the “Superman” plays, Tagovailoa is the clear favorite to be the first quarterback drafted.
3. *A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa (6-5, 284)
A player who has yet to start a college game ranked at No. 3? Absolutely. Epenesa is surprisingly refined with his heavy hands and rush plan, showing an advanced understanding of how to attack blockers. His 10.5 sacks last season tied Ohio State’s Young for the Big Ten lead.
4. *Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State (6-1, 200)
Despite entering the 2019 season with only one career start, Okudah is deserving of this high ranking because of his special traits. He needs a productive junior season to stay this high, but his twitchy athleticism and read/react quickness are qualities that NFL teams covet.
5. *Grant Delpit, SS, LSU (6-2, 206)
Similar in ways to Derwin James, Delpit has the diagnose skills and rangy athleticism to blitz the quarterback, shut down the run or cover pass-catchers. His sterling football character and versatile talent will be highly attractive traits in the spring.
6. *Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama (6-2, 236)
Alabama’s defense is loaded with high-level athletes, yet Moses still moves differently than most everyone else on the field. Nick Saban has sent a number of linebackers to the NFL, but Moses has the potential to be the best of the lot.
7. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (6-6, 240)
Herbert looks like he was constructed with a quarterback starter kit, boasting all the physical and mental attributes desired for the position. Consistency has been an issue for him, but as long as he makes progress as a senior, Herbert will be a top-10 pick in April.
8. *Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado (6-2, 224)
Opponents struggled to shut down Shenault last season — injuries were the only thing that could slow him down. With his blend of athleticism, power and competitiveness, he is a playmaker at every level of the field and starts the season as my No. 1 receiver prospect.
9. *Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson (6-3, 228)
A decade or so ago, Simmons would have been labeled a tweener who might lack a true NFL position. Today, he is an ideal fit for the modern game because of his versatility to play in the box as a linebacker or drop in space like a defensive back. His best position? Playmaker.
10. *Jordan Love, QB, Utah State (6-3, 224)
Love faces a few challenges this season with a new coaching staff and only one other offensive starter returning. However, NFL scouts are giddy over his raw talent (one scout went as far to describe him as “Mahomes-like”) with his loose arm, mobility and mental processor.
11. *CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma (6-1, 192)
Lamb is one of the best players on the planet (college or pro) at adjusting his frame and attacking the football. He needs to hone his skills as a route-runner, but his athleticism and catch-point skills make him a dynamic weapon, regardless of who is at quarterback.
12. *Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama (6-1, 195)
Jeudy won’t set any records in the 40-yard dash at next year’s combine, but his play speed and dynamic route-running are elite. His lack of ideal size and strength are bothersome, but his electric feet allow him to easily uncover vs. sticky defensive backs.
13. *Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa (6-5, 320)
While watching Wirfs’ tape, it can be tough to remember that he is only a true sophomore because his talent appears pro-ready. He has athletic feet to protect the corner or hold up in space, also showing the powerful hands and technical skill to stay between rushers and the quarterback.
14. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU (6-0, 194)
My top-ranked defensive senior prospect entering the season, Fulton has outstanding cover athleticism, using his lower body twitch and transition skills to stay attached to receivers. If he improves his ball tracking skills downfield, Fulton can be a top-10 pick in April.
15. *Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia (6-5, 318)
Thomas’ pass protection is boringly beautiful — he has outstanding feet, body coordination and length to keep rushers at bay. He uses this simple approach to protect the blind side and will be a top-10 draft pick if he cleans up a few of his technical bad habits in 2019.
16. *Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama (6-5, 320)
After starting every game at right guard last season, Leatherwood replaces Jonah Williams as the Tide’s left tackle. He hasn’t started a game at the position since high school, but he looks straight out of central casting with his bulking build, foot quickness and body flexibility.
17. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn (6-4, 325)
When scouting 300-pound defensive linemen, some show explosiveness in their lower body while others explode with their upper body. The rare ones do both, which is why Brown is the clear No. 1 interior defensive prospect to start the season.
18. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama (6-2, 202)
Diggs, who is the younger brother of Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, has an elite combination of size and speed for the position. There is room for him to improve his technical skill and route awareness, but all the competitive and athletic ingredients (and bloodlines) are there for him to be a top-flight pro.
19. Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina (6-5, 308)
Kinlaw is a home-wrecker on the interior because of his upfield rush attack. He already looks like an NFL player with his long, brawny frame and initial burst off the snap and with added attention to his on-field discipline, Kinlaw can be a top-20 draft pick.
20. *D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia (5-9, 215)
Swift has the uncanny ability to make defenders miss and anticipate the next block, skillfully shifting his gears to maximize each run. While his natural burst pops off the screen, his vision and processing speed is why he enters the season as the No. 1 running back prospect.
21. *Creed Humphrey, OC, Oklahoma (6-4, 328)
Although he was a redshirt freshman last season, Humphrey played more like an experienced senior, displaying the timing, technique and movements of a grizzled vet. It will be interesting to track his development in 2019 with four new starters on the offensive line.
22. *Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State (6-5, 264)
As his confidence grew last season, Gross-Matos was able to unlock his nimble athleticism and body flexibility, finishing with 20.0 tackles for loss. He is still piecing together how to be a well-rounded rusher, but he has intriguing tools with his frame, length and athleticism.
23. *Tyler Biadasz, OC, Wisconsin (6-2, 322)
A sound technician, Biadasz affects the game with his effort and attention to detail. Although he might not be an elite athlete, he has a decent first step and quickly finds his landmarks, relying on his upper and lower halves to stymie defenders.
24. Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame (6-5, 242)
Okwara does an outstanding job gaining ground with his initial quickness and long arms (measured at 34 1/4-inches by NFL scouts this spring). If he can be a better finisher in 2019, I doubt Okwara gets out of the first round next April.
25. *Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson (6-3, 205)
The only player in the ACC to post double-digit touchdown catches last season, Higgins is an intriguing height/speed athlete. He needs to get stronger and develop as a route runner, but his graceful movement skills and catch radius make him a play creator.
26. Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt (6-4, 260)
Although not dominant in one specific area, Pinkney is very well-rounded as a pass-catcher and blocker. Entering the season, he is the highest-rated tight end prospect in the country and has a legitimate chance to crack the first round.
27. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia (6-2, 202)
Looking for a definition of “ball skills”? Throw on some of Hall’s game tape. He led the FBS with 22 pass breakups last season, blanketing receivers from press-man and zone. He has only average speed for the position, but his length, toughness and instincts are why he is a future NFL starter.
28. *Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU (5-10, 196)
Blessed with 4.3 speed, Reagor does an outstanding job shifting gears to leverage routes and create passing windows downfield. There isn’t much he can do about his height, but Reagor can cement his status as a first-round pick if he becomes a better finisher in 2019.
29. *CJ Henderson, CB, Florida (6-1, 196)
I want to see Henderson take more chances before I bump him up this list, but he has the coordinated movements of a top-25 draft pick. His ability to gear down, stay under control and maintain spacing versus top-tier athletes is why so many are optimistic about his NFL future.
30. *Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama (5-11, 192)
Speed kills and Ruggs might be the fastest player in the FBS. He needs to develop the finer points of the position, but he already has a nose for the end zone with 17 career touchdown catches, registering one every 3.4 receptions.
31. *Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State (5-9, 205)
Benjamin was one of the most fun players I evaluated this summer. He uses his natural balance to create as a ball carrier, running with a low center of gravity and the start/stop burst to elude defenders. Arizona State produced a first-rounder on offense in April (N’Keal Harry) and could do it again in the 2020 class.
32. *Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (5-9, 212)
Few players at the college level move as fast with the ball in their hands as Etienne. He has the difference-making speed to destroy pursuit angles and the compact power to skirt tackle attempts. Etienne will shoot up this list if he improves as a pass-catcher and blocker this fall.
33. Darrell Taylor, EDGE, Tennessee (6-3, 259)
Although he is missing a power move in his arsenal, Taylor is very skilled at turning the corner and accelerating to the quarterback. His eight sacks as a junior led the Volunteers and are the most of any returning player in the SEC.
34. *Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame (6-5, 311)
Can Eichenberg follow in the footsteps of Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey as Fighting Irish left tackles who were first-round picks? He needs to show better placement with his punch to control the point of attack, but he has an excellent understanding of body angles.
35. *Lloyd Cushenberry III, OC, LSU (6-3, 312)
Cushenberry needs to tidy up his discipline, especially at the point of attack, and stay within himself, controlling his eagerness to make plays. However, he checks a lot of boxes for the next level with his movement skills, raw strength and pedigree.
36. *Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia (6-1, 221)
Fromm will be a divisive prospect due to his lack of ideal size and arm strength. However, he scores highly in the most important category for the position: accuracy. Fromm is mature beyond his years and is pro ready, projecting best in a West Coast system.
37. Ashtyn Davis, FS, California (6-1, 201)
An accomplished hurdler in track, Davis’ speed translates to the football field, flying around the field with purpose. He might not look like an enforcer, but he competes with the toughness and anticipation to be disruptive.
38. Lucas Niang, OT, TCU (6-6, 336)
The top senior offensive lineman on this list, Niang is a nimble 336-pounder, using his 35-inch arms and 11-inch hands to wrangle pass rushers off the edge. He isn’t a finished product just yet and must better leverage blocks, but his body girth and range are solid foundation traits.
39. *Xavier McKinney, FS, Alabama (6-1, 204)
McKinney is field fast and always in attack mode, running the alley with violent intentions. He tends to false step, but if he eliminates the mistakes and plays more consistent this season, McKinney will go from a “maybe” first-rounder to a top-25 pick.
40. *Walker Little, OT, Stanford (6-6, 314)
Despite his last name, Little has above-average size and has steadily improved since entering the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2017. He is too much of a catch blocker and his average feet can be stressed by edge speed, but Little plays powerful and balanced.
41. *Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford (6-1, 188)
After redshirting in 2017, Adebo put his name on the NFL map last season with 24 passes defended, including four interceptions. He is at his best using bail technique, which won’t be a fit for every defense, but he is similar in ways to Richard Sherman and projects best in a Cover-3 scheme.
42. *Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State (6-6, 315)
Starting all 27 games the last two seasons for the Broncos, Cleveland has the strong upper body to stymie bull rushers and anchor versus power. He has only average lateral range, which is why some scouts see him best at guard, but regardless, Cleveland projects as a starting offensive lineman.
43. *Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan (6-2, 211)
Although injuries and inconsistencies with the Michigan offense have held him back, Peoples-Jones is primed for a breakout season. He is a tremendous athlete regardless of size, but especially for a wideout with his measurements.
44. *Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA (5-10, 196)
Holmes, who is one of only a handful of players who intercepted Kyler Murray last season, has been a starter for the Bruins since he arrived in Westwood. He is one of the fastest players in college football (he should run in the mid-4.3s) and competes with the aggressive nature needed for the next level.
45. *Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma (6-4, 231)
More of a slot receiver than traditional tight end, Calcaterra is a tough target to cover due to his fluid movements and long-striding speed. He won’t have much (any?) inline experience in college, but NFL teams will be high on his downfield skills as a pass-catcher.
46. *Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (5-10, 218)
With 4,171 rushing yards over his first two seasons, Taylor’s production speaks for itself (he’s 2,234 yards behind Donnel Pumphrey’s all-time FBS rushing record). While NFL teams draft traits, not production, Taylor also has the skill set that will produce at the NFL level.
47. *Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State (5-11, 189)
Wallace uses instant acceleration to win off the line and stack cornerbacks deep. His lack of size and strength can be an issue at times, but there is no question about his competitive energy, attacking the football to finish.
48. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama (6-6, 315)
After a dominant sophomore campaign, Davis appeared to take a step back last season with Quinnen Williams emerging as Alabama’s top defensive lineman. But with his raw power and rare measurements, Davis has moldable talent worth taking a chance on.
49. *Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa (6-7, 295)
While he doesn’t have the same talent as teammate Tristan Wirfs, Jackson has started 24 games at left tackle the last two seasons. He needs to mature on and off the field to reach his pro potential, but Jackson usually gets the job done as both a run blocker and pass protector.
50. Troy Dye, LB, Oregon (6-3, 218)
The only active player from a Power Five conference to lead his team in tackles each of his first three seasons, Dye runs like a gazelle to play sideline to sideline. Although leaner than ideal, he uses his length and athleticism to match up against backs and tight ends in coverage.