With the college football more than halfway over, players across the country have made their cases to be high picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Some good players from last year became great players while some guys seemingly came out of nowhere to gain draft hype for themselves. Here are the best of the bunch so far …
Joe Burrow, LSU: Easily the biggest surprise of the season is Joe Burrow’s ridiculous ascendance. The Ohio State transfer was an afterthought heading into this season and now looks like the Heisman favorite. The 6’4”, 216 pound senior has shown off great arm strength, poise, accuracy and athleticism in LSU’s new look offense. Even when Tua Tagovailoa is playing outstanding ball and Jalen Hurts has been excellent, it is Burrow who looks like the best NFL quarterback prospect in the country right now.
Key Stat: Burrow has completed 79% of his passes against SEC opponents for 1018 Yards (11.3 YPA), 13 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Second Team: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Johnathan Taylor, Wisconsin: Who else? The junior running back is a dominant offensive player and this year he added pass catching to his repertoire of talents. The 220 pound back is a do-it-all player and a fantastic athlete. Taylor has a chance to be a top five pick, even in a great quarterback draft. He is just that good.
Key Stat: Fastest player ever to 5,000 rushing yards. It took him 34 games.
JK Dobbins, Ohio State: It is tough considering the likes of AJ Dillon, Travis Etienne and the emergence of Cam Akers, but Dobbins has been outstanding in a featured role for Ohio State this year. After years of being splitting carries, Dobbins took over as the bellcow and delivers every game. Dobbins is a hard running, shifty back who contributes in the passing game. Teams will love the way he plays.
Key Stat: After averaging 4.6 yards per carry last year, Dobbins is up over seven yards a pop through seven games in 2019.
Second Team: Travis Etienne, Clemson and AJ Dillon, Boston College
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: Jerry Jeudy was special in 2018 and though his numbers dipped this year, he is still a top prospect at wide receiver. The talent in the Alabama passing game means the ball gets spread around more, but Jeudy makes the most of his opportunities. He is a sure handed, athletic wide receiver who is absolutely dangerous after the catch.
Key Stat: Per Pro Football Focus, Jeudy has broken 27 tackles in his last 110 catches.
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: CeeDee Lamb is arguably one of the most exciting players in college football this year. The junior wide receiver is a speed demon who has paired with Jalen Hurts to form a deadly combo. Lamb is not only a deep threat, but a YAC machine who can shake and shimmy through defenses on the shortest of passes.
Key Stat: A big play machine, Lamb has averaged 22 yards per catch and has scored on 33% of receptions this year.
Second Team: Henry Ruggs III, Alabama and Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State
Brycen Hopkins, Purdue: Purdue has taken a big hit with Rondale Moore being injured, but Brycen Hopkins has stepped up as a dependable option in their offense. He has seen more and more receptions as the season moves on and every game looks like a true NFL tight end in a classic mold. He is a solid blocker with very good hands and plays tough at the catch point and with the ball after the reception.
Key Stat: 17 out of his 29 receptions have gone for first downs.
Second Team: Hunter Bryant, Washington
Andrew Thomas, Georgia: This class looks like it will be loaded with talented offensive linemen at every position and yet, Thomas stands out as the top tackle prospect. Thomas’ blend of size, athleticism and nasty on field demeanor make him a star in the running game and the passing game.
Key Stat: 34 Consecutive Starts as a Junior
Tristian Wirfs, Iowa: Andrew Thomas might be the best offensive tackle but Wirfs is a very good player with an insanely high ceiling. The junior blocker is INSANELY athletic and strong, being honored in Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks” series. Wirfs is the perfect blend of ability and attitude that NFL teams will love.
Key Stat: Wirfs broke the Iowa record in the Hang Clean with 4 reps of 450 pounds.
Second Team: Alex Leatherwood, Alabama and Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn
Shane Lemieux, Oregon: Oregon’s offensive line is arguably one of the best in the nation and Lemieux is their best draft eligible player. The 6’4” senior is experienced, athletic and extremely technically sound. He is a great run blocker and solid pass blocker. He has been crucial in the Duck’s success this season.
Key Stat: 38 Consecutive Starts
Trey Smith, Tennessee: After starting his career off at tackle, Trey Smith’s move inside to guard has been monumentally successful for the junior. Smith’s 2018 season was cut short by blood clots, but now he is healthy and playing his best football. Smith’s size and strength are massively overwhelming at the guard position and he is a lone bright spot on a bad Tennessee team.
Key Stat: After 20 starts at left tackle, Smith switched to guard early in 2019. His first game at guard, Tennessee rushed for 242 yards against BYU.
Second Team: Tommy Kraemer, Notre Dame and Ben Cleveland, Georgia
Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin: While Andrew Thomas might be the best offensive tackle, Tyler Biadasz is arguably the best offensive linemen, period, among this group. Biadasz is a nasty run blocker who has been integral in Wisconsin’s dominant run game the last few years. He is athletic, big and could play guard as well. Biadasz will be a long time NFL difference maker.
Second Team: Nick Harris, Washington
Chase Young, Ohio State: No brainer. Chase Young came into the season with a lot of hype and has surpassed high expectations early in the season. Young has ascended from being a high upside, high intrigue defender to being mentioned alongside the Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney level draft hypes. Young is a freakish athlete, an elite run defender and has become deadly on passing downs. If it weren’t for the bevy of very good quarterbacks this year, Young might be the first pick in the draft. Hell, he still might be.
Key Stat: After 9.5 Sacks in 14 games last year, Chase Young has matched that number in half the games this year.
AJ Epenesa, Iowa: It’s gotta be hard playing in the same conference as Chase Young, but AJ Epenesa has been outstanding in his own right. The 6’5”, 280 pound defender has freakish size and ability to play all over the defense. He is a disruptive pass rusher and tough run defender. Teams will love him as a moving chess piece on defense.
Key Stat: Iowa’s 8th ranked rushing defense can largely be attributed to Epenesa.
Second Team: Yegur Gross-Matos, Penn State and Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina: Javon Kinlaw has grown into arguably the best pass rushing defensive tackle in the country. The senior defender has been outstanding and high impact on passing downs from week to week. Flip on his game against Georgia and he basically shut down the Bulldog’s offense all by himself and made an upset possible. Kinlaw is going to be hugely popular this draft season.
Key Stat: Already surpassed last year’s sack number (4.5) in half the games in 2019.
Derrick Brown, Auburn: I am sure this is going to be a debate all season between Kinlaw and Brown, but they are both excellent. Derrick Brown is more of an athletic run defender who can push the pocket on passing downs, though he could develop as a pass rusher. Brown is a “create-a-player” when you look at on the field potential.
Key Stat: Despite being known as an elite pass rusher, Pro Football Focus also has his pass rush rating at an elite 90.
Second Team: Marvin Wilson, Florida State and Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson: One of my favorite players in the country. Isaiah Simmons has taken his game to a new level this season. Simmons is viewed as a linebacker/safety hybrid, but his play this season suggests the closer to the line of scrimmage he is, the more dangerous. Simmons is a tremendous run defender, an impact coverage linebacker and outstanding on blitzes. His pure speed and great snap anticipation make him unstoppable when he’s coming after the passer.
Key Stat: Quadrupled his sack numbers and surpassed his TFL numbers from last year in half as many games.
Evan Weaver, Cal: Cal’s defense has been among the stingiest in the country this year and Evan Weaver has led the unit. The 6’3” senior is a bit undersized but he has an excellent football IQ while playing fast and physical football. He is not a splashy player, but his dependability has been crucial to keep the Bears tough on defense.
Key Stat: 105 total tackles in SEVEN GAMES.
Troy Dye, Oregon: Oregon’s defense has been an outstanding, physical group this year. The secondary gets a lot of attention but Troy Dye is the real time setter in the middle of the Ducks. The senior linebacker plays like his hair is on fire. He’s a non-stop tackling machine who flies around the field and bring the hit. He’s tough as nails and his energy on the field seems to catalyze the rest of the defense. He’s a bit undersized, but there’s nothing small about how he plays.
Key Stat: Not a stat, but Dye broke his hand early in Oregon’s game against Washington but he cast up his whole arm and played through the rest of the game to help the Ducks get a huge win.
Key Stat: 4 Forced Fumbles this year.
Second Team: Errol Thompson, Mississippi State and David Woodward, Utah State and Chris Orr, Wisconsin
Jeff Okudah, Ohio State: The Buckeyes have an outstanding secondary and it’s really a high compliment to say Jeff Okudah is the best of the bunch. The 6’1” junior is a great athlete with ball skills and flashes physicality as a run defender and tackler. Ohio State has been a factory for smooth coverage specialists and Okudah is very much the next in line.
Key Stat: Per PFF, Okudah has allowed a 58.4 passer rating over his whole career!
Elijah Molden, Washington: While Molden might not be the best cornerback “prospect” he is definitely playing better than some of his more high profile contemporaries. The junior has seized the opportunity in his season as a full time starter and has been a playmaker on the Washington defense. Molden is quick, physical and a tenacious run defender. He is best suited in the slot where he can cover smaller receivers and readily attack the line of scrimmage.
Key State: After 6 career PBUs headed into 2019, Molden has 10 to start the season.
Second Team: Kristian Fulton, LSU and Leonard Johnson, Duke
Grant Delpit, LSU: In terms of non-defensive linemen, Grant Delpit is the highest impact defender in the country. The 6’3” junior plays all over the LSU defense and makes a positive impact wherever he lines up. Delpit is a hard hitter, a great coverage safety and an all-around playmaker. Safeties don’t tend to get drafted very high but Delpit looks like an exception with how dominant he has been the last two years.
Key Stat: In the last 20 games, Delpit has six interceptions, 12 PBUs, five sacks, 11 TFLs and a forced fumble.
Antoine Winfield Junior, Minnesota: The undefeated Gophers owe a lot of thanks to the playmaking ability of their redshirt sophomore safety. After years of battling through injuries, Antoine Winfield Junior has been outstanding this year. The 5’10” defender has excellent range, ball skills and can even lay the hit. If he remains healthy, he could play his way into high draft consideration this year.
Key Stat: Four interceptions this year.
Second Team: Ashtyn Davis, Cal and Jordan Fuller, Ohio State