- The 2020 NFL draft may be nine months away, but here are some of the names to watch ahead of the upcoming college football season.
It’s time for my second annual Christmas-in-July mock draft, during our second annual NFL draft week. And like I did last year, I’m offering a couple caveats as we dive in.
• The scouts I’ve talked to in the last couple of weeks only really have surface knowledge of the 2020 class at this point—they still haven’t done school visits or live scouting specific to these players, haven’t done all the recon work on who they are as people, and haven’t really drilled down on their film study on most of them. NFS has done its work on the seniors (we had their first-round grades in the July 1 MMQB), and teams have a general idea which juniors are likely to come out. My goal is to put 10 players on here that are likely to go in the Top 10 next year, not all of them will.
• How’d that work out last year? My July 2019 top 10, as we mocked them to teams: Nick Bosa, Ed Oliver, Greg Little, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Jonah Williams, Jarrett Stidham, Christian Wilkins, Greedy Williams, Rashan Gary. So six of the 10 wound up going in the first 13 picks. A seventh (Lawrence) was the 17th pick. And there were two second-rounders (Williams, Little) and a fourth-rounder (Stidham).
• I can make fun of early mock drafts, like you. But I’ll admit it—when I see Todd McShay or Daniel Jeremiah or anyone I respect publishing one at any point, I’m clicking. I love college football, I love pro football and this is the intersection of the two. Hopefully, we can give you a cheat sheet on who to keep an eye on in the college game this season. I’ve always viewed this as part of my job, the same way knowing the minor leagues would be for a baseball reporter.
Now for the class—it’s different than last year’s. Unlike last year, a number of quarterbacks are considered to be safe bets to go in the first round, two months before the college season even starts. Conversely, this year, unlike last year, lacks one overwhelmingly strong position group (it was the defensive linemen in 2019). At this point, the receiver group is very solid, with potential to be great, and the defensive line is strong too, which is, in part, a reflection of where college football recruiting has gone, and where the best athletes are being deployed (usually, they’re either getting the ball from the quarterback, or hitting him).
This draft order is based on reverse Super Bowl odds (via Bet Online, and we broke ties by giving the team with the worse 2018 record the higher pick). So if I have your team picking high here, don’t take it personally…
1. Miami Dolphins (+12500): Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
The more NFL people I talk to about Herbert, the more smitten the league seems with him. Physically, his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism is rare. At this point, the big question is how the Eugene native will adapt to leaving his hometown. Some teams will like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa more. But Herbert seems very worthy of the first pick and might’ve been the first quarterback taken in 2018 (if he’d come out, and a team not led by Kliff Kingsbury had the first pick.)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (+10000): Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Size might be the only drawback here. But at Bama’s junior Pro Day, he came in between 6' and 6' 1" and at 230 pounds, meaning he has enough height, and plenty of bulk. And as a quarterback, he’s refined and advanced, with top-shelf accuracy and field vision, a good ability to change speeds on his ball, and fantastic feel for the game. His health will be watched closely by NFL teams in the fall, after the end of last season was marred by injuries.
3. Washington Redskins (+10000): Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Last year, the Redskins took a DC-area native that became a Buckeye. Next year, they get another one. Young’s a freakish talent who was earmarked as a future top-five pick from the minute he stepped on to campus in Columbus, and carried the burden of making up for the loss of Nick Bosa on the team’s defensive line last fall. Will he be the best player in next year’s draft? That’s debatabl, but it’s hard to find a guy with a higher athletic ceiling.
4. Arizona Cardinals (+8000): Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Word is, Brown returned to school because he wanted to be a top-five draft pick. If he’d left last year, there’s a pretty decent chance he would’ve gone in the Top 15 – a lot of folks regarded him as a better DT prospect than Christian Wilkins, who went 13th overall to Miami. Brown’s a monster with potential to be a very disruptive interior presence in the NFL.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6600): Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Possible that the Tigers have a better safety prospect than Jamal Adams on their hands in 2019? Yes, it is. Delpit still has to prove he’s got the dog in him than Adams does, and he’s not quite the hitter Adams is yet either, but he’s bigger and a better athlete. And he can cover out of the slot, making him exactly what NFL teams are looking for at the position in 2019 (and presumably ’20).
6. Detroit Lions (+6600): A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
The Big Ten’s sack leader returns as, along with Young, the most fearsome defender in the conference. Because of how Kirk Ferentz runs his program, Epenesa had to wait his turn to start—in 2018, he made first-team all-conference while backing up senior Parker Hesse (who went undrafted and has been moved to tight end by the Titans since). There are a few questions about how Epenesa will play the run in the pros, after splitting time last year. But his tools are off the charts. And so I have the Lions dipping into the Hawkeye well for a second straight year.
7. Buffalo Bills (+6600): Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Some teams pressed pause on receiver needs in 2019, with the expectation of a bumper crop coming at the position in 2020. I have the Bills drafting the first player from this position, getting Josh Allen a guy with potential to grow into a true No. 1 receiver. Jeudy played for Buffalo OC Brian Daboll as a true freshman in 2018, before breaking out with a 1,315-yard, 14-touchdown season last fall. So the Bills would probably have a good idea what they’d be getting.
8. New York Jets (+5000): Jeffery Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Okudah’s been up-and-down, but finished his sophomore season strong, and has shown his toughness and competitiveness on special teams throughout his time in Columbus. He has the talent to go this high. I’m betting here on ex-Niners secondary coach Jeff Hafley (now the Buckeyes DC) to help him put it all together, and sneak past LSU’s Kristian Fulton and Alabama’s Trevon Diggs to be the first corner taken.
9. New York Giants (+5000): Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
This may be a little bit of a projection – but this 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has the potential to be a real No. 1 in the NFL. In just nine games last year, he had, 1011 receiving yards and 6 touchdown catches, and 115 yards and five touchdowns on the ground (as a wildcat quarterback). He’ll have to stay healthy (a shoulder problem cost him five games last year) and continue to evolve, but he’s a big, sudden athlete with a very high ceiling. The big on-field question, at this point, is how fast he’ll run in February. With a good time, he could be a worthy successor to Odell Beckham as the Giants’ next No. 1 here.
10. Denver Broncos (+5000): Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
Davis probably would’ve been a first-round pick if he’d declared last year, but he has some growing up to do—teams have already raised the character question here. But at 6' 7" and 300 pounds, he’s an elite run defender with the athleticism to become more of a factor in the passing game, with a little work on his pad level. As it stands, he’s a good bet to make it four straight years with an interior d-lineman from Bama in the first round (joining Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Quinnen Williams). The question will be how much higher he can rise, which will be largely dictated by his improvement as a rusher.
Just missed the list
Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama: Stefon’s little brother was emerging last year before he suffered a foot injury. He was switched to defense as a sophomore in 2017, and has tremendous athletic potential, with added value as a big-time return man.
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: He was the best corner on the Tigers’ roster last year (better than Greedy Williams), and considered declaring. One of eight seniors that NFS awarded a first-round grade too, he has some character questions to answer, like Greedy did, but also has a boatload of ability, like Greedy did.
Walker Little, OT, Stanford: Between Little, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Iowa tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, it feels like there’ll be a tackle somewhere in the top 10. It’s just hard to tell which one, at this point.
Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson: A “rover” type who will be one of the draft’s most interesting players—and one of its most freakish specimens. There is a question over where he’ll fit in the NFL. There’s no question that he’ll fit somewhere, and prominently.
D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia: Swift’s regarded as a better prospect than Sony Michel or Nick Chubb were coming out last year. He’s a jackhammer of a runner, with ability as a receiver, and he’s shaped in today’s NFL ideal of the 225-pound, three-down back. The chance he rises up into the Top 10 is very real. I struggled leaving him out.
Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia: Of the aforementioned tackle group, probably the early leader in the clubhouse to be the first one taken, with true franchise left-tackle potential.
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