An updated Big Board of 25 top prospects from ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. , starting with Alabama’s passing tandem and featuring the appearance of fast-rising Washington QB JACOB EASON:
1. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama*
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 192 | Previously: 1
Jeudy was No. 1 on my preseason Big Board, and he has lived up to his ranking, catching 30 passes for 404 yards with six touchdowns this season. He’s unguardable at the college level, and he should immediately become a No. 1 NFL receiver after he gets drafted. I said in May that he’s the most talented receiver to enter the NFL since the duo of Julio Jones and A.J. Green went in Round 1 in 2011. Jeudy can run every route and has elite ball skills, and he runs by SEC defensive backs every week. He’s the best wideout in what could be a special 2020 class.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama*
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 218 | Previously: 4
Is it really possible for Tagovailoa to be more efficient than he was in 2018? So far, the answer is yes. The lefty is completing 77.7% of his passes — up from 69% — with 17 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s averaging 11.6 yards per attempt, and his 96.3 Total QBR ranks second in FBS (just behind that of former teammate Jalen Hurts). He has been tremendous. Tagovailoa has elite accuracy and great footwork, and his arm strength looks improved in his second season as the full-time starter.
Now, he and Bama haven’t really been tested yet — they have rolled through their first four games. If Tagovailoa keeps this up against LSU and Auburn in a couple of months, he’s going to be the surefire top quarterback in this class.
3. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State*
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 265 | Previously: 2
Sometimes we hype up prospects before the season, and then they’re slow to make an impact. Not Young. He has seven sacks in four games, and those numbers don’t show his full dominance. Just watch the tape from Ohio State’s big win over Miami (Ohio), in which he had two strip sacks, and the Redhawks’ offensive tackles had no chance to stop him. The NFL loves twitchy edge rushers who can get after quarterbacks, and that’s Young. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off the board first in April. He caught my eye as a true freshman in 2017, and he really came on last season, picking up the production with Nick Bosa sidelined. Young finished with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 total tackles for loss in 2018.
4. Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State*
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 200 | Previously: 15
Credit McShay here — he had Okudah at No. 4 overall in his preseason rankings. When I went back through the 2018 tape, I saw why Todd was so fired up. This is a potential top-five pick with a high ceiling based on talent alone. The problem? Okudah hadn’t picked off a single pass in his two seasons for the Buckeyes. That changed last weekend with his first career interception. Okudah broke up eight passes last season, and he has three so far in 2019.
5. Grant Delpit, S, LSU*
HT: 6-foot-3 | WT: 203 | Previously: 3
Going through the 2018 LSU tape again, it’s easy to see why NFL scouts raved about Delpit. He made plays everywhere for this defense, picking up 74 tackles, 5 interceptions and 5 sacks. Delpit is a complete safety in the mold of former LSU star Jamal Adams. Both can stick running backs in the hole on one play, cover the slot receiver on the next and play the deep middle of the field on the same drive. I really like watching Delpit play. He has 16 tackles in four games so far.
6. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 237 | Previously: 8
As I wrote in May, Herbert just looks like a potential No. 1 overall pick — great size, a powerful arm to make every throw, limited interceptions, good athleticism. Yet he took a step back in consistency in 2018, and that’s why I thought he made a good decision to return to Oregon for his senior season. What I wanted to see this season was improved accuracy, better decision-making and him going through his reads to find open passers. So far, so good for Herbert, who has completed 74.4% of his passes with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Herbert was good, not great, in the season-opening loss to Auburn, but he has bounced back well. He’s doing the little things — check out the pump fake on this touchdown pass against Stanford. Herbert has a high ceiling, and I’m excited to watch him the rest of the way.
7. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama*
HT: 6-foot | WT: 190 | Previously: 23
As Tagovailoa’s other favorite target, Ruggs’ game is all about speed, though he improved as a route runner last season, when he had 46 catches for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns. He looks great so far in 2019, catching 16 passes for 350 yards and four TDs. Check out this route on a 74-yard TD catch on which he almost outruns the throw. Ruggs is the early favorite to be the fastest prospect in the 2020 class, and he’s perfect for today’s NFL.
8. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa*
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 322 | Previously: 7
Left tackle, right tackle — it really doesn’t matter anymore. NFL teams aren’t differentiating between the value of the two positions. Just look at the $36.75 million guaranteed the Raiders gave Trent Brown, who’s going to play on the right side this season. Teams just want good tackles — period. Wirfs, a former high school wrestling champion, plays right tackle for the Hawkeyes, and he just mauls defenders. Dominates them. He has incredible strength and power — check out this video — and he can also move his feet. Wirfs is a rare talent who could keep moving up.
9. Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson*
HT: 6-foot-4 | WT: 225 | Previously: 11
A converted safety who had 89 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss last season, Simmons is exactly what NFL teams look for in three-down linebackers in today’s game. He has the size and speed to run sideline to sideline to chase down tailbacks, and he has the athletic ability to cover tight ends in the slot. He could even flip his hips and play some safety. Simmons is a combo player in the mold of Keanu Neal. He has 33 tackles and two sacks so far this season.
10. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia*
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 320 | Previously: 6
There haven’t been many top-tier offensive tackle talents lately — the last time a tackle was picked in the top five was 2015 (Brandon Scherff). Could 2020 be the year of the tackle resurgence? I’m not going to go that far just yet, but there are some talented big men to watch, such as Wirfs and Thomas. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a couple of them in the top 10. Thomas, who started at right tackle as a true freshman in 2017, switched to the left side last season, has long arms and good feet. He’s a steady player who doesn’t make mistakes.
11. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 318 | Previously: 9
I wrote about Brown this week. He was tremendous in the Tigers’ win at Texas A&M with two sacks and a forced fumble. Is this a sign of things to come or a one-off performance? Because that’s what he needs to show this season: that he can be productive and get sacks. NFL teams want interior disruptors who can knock down quarterbacks, and Brown hasn’t shown that he can consistently do that. Yet. He’s still raw, but he has top-five talent in a massive frame.
12. Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama*
HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 310 | Previously: NR
After starting at guard as a sophomore in 2018, Leatherwood replaced first-round pick Jonah Williams as Bama’s left tackle this season. Through four games, he has been a rock. With a massive frame and great athleticism for the position, Leatherwood also packs a punch in the run game. He’s rising quickly.
13. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin*
HT: 5-foot-11 | WT: 220 | Previously: NR
This is an interesting running back class, and there’s no first-round lock. Combine workouts are going to be extremely important for all of these guys to show true top-end speed. Taylor, though, is making his case and moving up draft boards. After rushing for 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns the past two seasons — seriously, those are ridiculous numbers — Taylor is a 12-1 Heisman shot and the Badgers’ workhorse back, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He has the size, athleticism and ability to be the first back off the board in April.
I’d love to see Taylor get more targets in the receiving game, but that’s not Wisconsin’s game. The unknown there might hold him back in the eyes of some NFL scouts. That’s where the individual team workouts will become important.
14. Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State*
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 311 | Previously: NR
A five-star prospect in the 2017 class, Wilson took some time to come into his own. He was good as a sophomore last season, but he has been phenomenal in four games this season, a bright spot in another up-and-down Florida State season. Wilson dominated Louisville last weekend, picking up two sacks and recovering a fumble. He’s quick off the ball, stellar against the run and has shown the ability to penetrate past guards and centers. He has looked great while playing almost 60 snaps per game for the Seminoles.
15. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida*
HT: 6-foot-1 | WT: 202 | Previously: 17
Henderson is dealing with an ankle injury, which means the lockdown cover corner hasn’t been able to make much of an impact yet this season. He should be back soon, though, which means I’m not going to drop him from the middle of my Big Board. With six interceptions from 2017 and ’18, Henderson has tremendous ball skills, and he has the athletic traits to be a No. 1 corner in the NFL.
16. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson*
HT: 6-foot-4 | WT: 205 | Previously: 10
It’s the size that sticks out with Higgins — he has a huge frame to create mismatches. But he’s also a better-than-expected route runner, and he can stretch the field for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He can box out smaller cornerbacks in the red zone, and he can high-point the ball on sideline throws. Check out this catch-and-run from last season. Higgins was a touchdown machine in 2018, scoring 12 times on 59 catches, and he’s averaging 23.5 yards per catch on his 16 receptions this season, with two TDs.
17. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia*
HT: 5-foot-9 | WT: 215 | Previously: NR
Just watch Swift on this 48-yard screen against Arkansas State. He runs through and by defenders, showing off what has scouts so excited about his potential. It starts with speed, as Swift is one of the fastest running backs in the country. But he also has a physical side, and he makes tacklers miss. After running for 1,049 yards as part of a rotation last season, Swift is the Bulldogs’ clear No. 1 back, and he’ll be crucial to their College Football Playoff hopes. He caught 32 passes last season, so he is already a third-down threat. That versatility will be important for his future.
18. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma*
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 191 | Previously: 18
Lamb had 65 catches for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and that was as the Sooners’ No. 2 target. With Marquise Brown off to the NFL, Lamb has become the top target for Jalen Hurts, though OU hasn’t been tested through three games. Lamb has averaged 25.4 yards per catch on his nine receptions, and he has scored three times. He is an advanced route runner, has outstanding hands and can get open against any defender. He doesn’t have elite speed, but he’ll test well athletically. I’m high on Lamb’s potential, and he’ll be used more often the rest of the way.
19. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa*
HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 280 | Previously: 5
Unlike Young, Epenesa is off to a slow start, with one sack in three games. But he has five hurries, and the sacks will come. He is playing almost 20 more snaps per game this season, as he was a part-time player as a sophomore. He still led the Hawkeyes with 10.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. With great size and length, Epenesa has the skill set to be dominant against the run while pitching in double-digit sacks. He could be an end in a 3-4 defense at the next level.
20. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
HT: 6-foot | WT: 200 | Previously: 21
It’s hard to watch LSU and not focus on its defensive backs, as Delpit and Fulton were spectacular in 2018. Because of an NCAA suspension that wiped out his 2017 season, Fulton really didn’t get playing time for two years before standing out a year ago. He’s a gifted corner who had nine pass breakups and an interception, and I expect him to test extremely well once he enters the NFL. He already has five pass breakups this season, too. With games to come against Florida, Auburn and Alabama, Fulton and the Tigers have a chance to make some noise in the College Football Playoff picture.
21. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado*
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 220 | Previously: 19
Shenault is such a fun prospect. He plays wide receiver like a running back, as he’s phenomenal after the catch, and the Colorado staff has been smart in moving him up all over the field to get the ball in his hands, even playing him as a Wildcat quarterback at times. Shenault had 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 11 total touchdowns (five rushing) in 2018, and he has two receiving TDs and one rushing score this season. Although he isn’t as developed of a route runner as the other receivers in my top 25, that should come with more reps. He has the versatility and traits that will have NFL teams interested.
22. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 207 | Previously: 22
A broken foot limited Diggs to six games last season, but he was great in those games, breaking up six passes and adding an interception. Can he stay healthy for a season and give NFL scouts a bigger sample of success? Diggs, whose brother Stefon is a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, is fully recovered from his foot injury, and he has looked great so far, already picking off two passes. He’s a versatile defensive back who can excel in man-to-man coverage, and he’s a decent tackler. Again, this will come down to whether Diggs can show that he’s at full strength for the entire season.
23. Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State*
HT: 6-foot-5 | WT: 262 | Previously: 16
When I rewatched the Penn State defensive line to get a feel for 2019 draft pick Shareef Miller’s season, I kept coming back to Gross-Matos, who was the most productive player from the group. He had eight sacks and 20 total tackles for loss. Gross-Matos is a pure pass-rusher with a big frame — he wears size 17 shoes — and he still has room to grow. He’s raw, but he has a high ceiling. He had 3.5 sacks in his first two games and is dealing with a nagging injury.
24. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia*
HT: 6-foot-2 | WT: 220 | Previously: 25
McShay and I went deep on Fromm on Tuesday, discussing whether he could be a first-rounder and what he does best. He isn’t going to put up gaudy numbers like Tagovailoa and Herbert, but he is a great anticipatory thrower, even with only average arm strength. I think he’ll only get stronger in time, which means we need to project his accuracy, which is his best trait. He has poise and just doesn’t make mistakes. Did I mention he’s playing well even after the Bulldogs lost their top four receivers and top tight end from last season? Fromm is a really good player, and he’ll get more chances on the big stages this season.
25. Jacob Eason, QB, Washington*
HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 225 | Previously: NR
Welcome to the Big Board, Jacob Eason! I love the upside here. I mentioned him before the season as a potential riser, as he was getting some buzz. He has a huge 6-foot-6 frame and the arm to match it, but he has, frankly, looked a little rusty this season. Eason, if you recall, started 12 games for Georgia in 2016 and showed some flashes. There were a few throws that made me inch closer to the screen. But he was injured in 2017, lost his job to Fromm, then transferred back to his home state and has waited two years to be able to start again.
He’s completing 73.1% of his passes so far, with 10 touchdowns and two picks. He didn’t have a great game in the Huskies’ upset loss to Cal — he lost a fumble and threw a costly interception — but he’s going to keep improving throughout the season. He might end this season with 25 career starts, too, though the fourth-year junior could return to school in 2020.