2020 NFL draft: Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet, talented CBs just miss our top 50 rankings

Yahoo Sports

Leading up to the 2020 NFL draft, which starts April 23, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five and 10 at a time, followed by in-depth reports on our top 50 players. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

55. Utah CB Jaylon Johnson 

6-foot, 193 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.88

The lowdown: After cracking the starting lineup a few times as a freshman in 2017, Johnson became a full-time starter the following season — and developed into one of the better man-cover corners in college football the past two years. He was named a first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2018, repeating that honor and being named second-team AP All-American in 2019. Johnson had only two interceptions this past season but hauled in four in 2018 and has flashed playmaking ability.

He’s a confident and tough man corner who plays with physicality. Johnson has spent most of his time as an outside corner, although he’s played both sides of the field and also manned the slot on occasion when needed. With good press skills and enough feel for off coverage, Johnson should have large appeal among NFL teams that can’t ever seem to have enough competent man-cover options.

Johnson will get a little twitchy and grabby downfield (see USC, Oregon games) and doesn’t have the high-end play speed (despite a 4.5 40) to recover well when beat. He also has let some potential interceptions clang off his hands and was tested quite a bit the past two seasons, which allowed him to make some plays but also to get beat with occasional missteps in coverage.

But Johnson’s tackling is excellent, he takes his craft seriously and has good — perhaps not great — potential as a starting cornerback. 

By the numbers: According to PFF, Johnson was tied for 35th last season among draft-eligible corners last season in passes targeted against with 65. But only one corner with that many targets against allowed fewer than Johnson’s 0.76 yards allowed per coverage snap (Iowa’s Michael Ojemudia).

Interesting fact: Johnson was named first-team academic all-conference in 2018 and 2019, majoring in business and carrying a 3.62 GPA.

Draft range: Johnson has undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, which he played through in 2019, but it shouldn’t have a dramatic impact on his draft status. A Round 2 landing spot is expected.

54. Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet 

6-foot-6, 262 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.89

The lowdown: The son of Buffalo Bills 1992 fourth-round DT Frank Kmet (who never appeared in an NFL regular season game), our top-rated tight end in the 2020 class arrived at Notre Dame with major hype but took a while to get going in football. The former top-100 national recruit played sparingly on offense in 2017 before earning a part-time role in 2018 behind eventual New Orleans Saints 2019 seventh-rounder Alize Mack. 

Kmet gave up baseball and turned his focus to football last fall, but his season was delayed by an August clavicle injury. He returned to the field for Notre Dame’s third game, a loss at Georgia, with Kmet delivering nine catches for 109 yards and a TD, also committing two penalties and fumbling once. He finished the season with 43 catches for 515 yards (12-yard average) and six touchdowns in 11 games before declaring early for the 2020 NFL draft after initially saying he wanted to return to school.

With a big frame and good straight-line burst, Kmet has the look of a Kyle Rudolph-type of tight end. Although Kmet doesn’t yet harness his mass to be an effective in-line blocker in the run game, he flashes all the ability to be a good seam target and red-zone threat. He had six games last season with four or more catches, got open several times when QB Ian Book failed to find him and is just starting to scratch the surface of his upside.

With further development and a sole focus on football now, Kmet — who turned 21 years old last week — appears to have Pro Bowl talent down the road. However, he has little experience to this point, might not profile as a core special-teamer while he develops and lacks quickness and suddenness to separate easily from faster NFL safeties and linebackers or make big yards-after-catch plays.

But the size, raw talent and good physical traits suggest Kmet has an excellent chance to be a strong investment in time. In a slightly underwhelming year for TE prospects, he has as good a chance as any of them to develop.

By the numbers: Kmet committed seven penalties (with one declined) in 11 games in 2019, plus four more (with one declined) in 2018. Four of his penalties in 2019 were false starts.

Interesting fact: Kmet also pitched for the Irish baseball team as its (left-handed) closer for two years before giving up the sport, citing elbow soreness.

In 2018, he posted a record of 2-5, with eight saves, a 5.05 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings. Last year, Kmet pitched in eight games, logging a record of 0-2, with an ERA of 2.89, two saves and 27 Ks in 18 2/3 innings. 

He was a career 1-for-3 at the plate, with his one hit coming against No. 2 North Carolina State. And Kmet is a rarity: a left-handed thrower who bats righty — the Rickey Henderson of closers/tight ends, you could say.

Draft range: Top 60 

53. Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene 

5-foot-10, 198 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.89

The lowdown: Igbinoghene is a fascinating prospect with alluring upside, developing from wide receiver and track star to promising DB prospect. After committing to the Tigers as a wide receiver and competing for the school as a long jumper, Igbinoghene moved to cornerback following his freshman season (six receptions, 24 yards; one rush, 11 yards).

The position switch appears to have been the right call. Igbinoghene has ideal traits for the position, other than height, and gave NFL evaluators some nice film to munch on the past two seasons — especially in 2019. Asked to press at the line quite often, he displays nice strength, good recovery ability and the competitiveness you want to see at the position.

With one interception in 25 games on defense (none on 65 targets in 2019), Igbinoghene’s ball skills have been questioned. He’s let a few potential INTs hit his hands and is still learning how to play the ball in the air. There appears to be a lot of guesswork in his game, biting on double moves and struggling to anticipate rub routes (see Minnesota game).

His positional instincts and technique likely need significant refinement. Some NFL teams believe he might be best in nickel duty, even with little experience covering the slot, and his long speed for a shorter corner is good but hardly ideal. 

Igbinoghene, who turns 21 years old in November, is one of the youngest prospects in the 2020 class. He’s a high-upside prospect with alluring traits, but his rawness might lead to a developmental year as a rookie or some rough moments if he’s pressed into duty on defense too soon. Still, we believe the ultimate payoff on Igbinoghene will be worth it.

By the numbers: Igbinoghene also has displayed game-breaking return ability, averaging 27.3 yards on 44 career kick returns and two TDs, one each in 2018 and 2019. He’ll be a Day 1 contributor on special teams and appears to have the ideal mentality to contribute in that phase of the game readily.

Interesting fact: Track is in Igbinoghene’s blood. His mother, Faith, was a bronze medalist on the Nigerian 4x100 relay team in the 1992 Olympics, finishing fifth in the 1996 Games. His father, Festus, won five SEC titles in the long and triple jumps at Mississippi State.

And Noah broke the Alabama state record in the triple jump (second in the country) as a high school senior. He finished seventh in the long jump at the SEC Indoor Championships at Auburn in 2018 before focusing on football. 

Draft range: Top 75

52. Mississippi State LB Willie Gay Jr.

6-foot-1, 243 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.89

The lowdown: Gay was a highly touted high-school recruit who never quite reached the peaks expected of him — with multiple suspensions retarding his growth — but his elite testing numbers at the NFL combine and coverage ability he’s displayed have NFL teams fascinated.

Gay turned in a strong 2018 season, with five sacks and two interceptions, and showed he could handle a variety of roles on defense and special teams. His calling card was his pass coverage, though, even with some questions about his ability to read keys and fill lanes properly vs. the run.

Some of that appeared to be improved in 2019, but the biggest issue was that he was suspended (along with nine other teammates) a total of eight games last season, reportedly for academic fraud involving a tutor — and Gay later said it was in a chemistry class. The staff was allowed to pick which games the players could sit, so Gay only took the field five times last season (against Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss and the bowl game vs. Louisville).

Gay ran back a pick-6 on his first defensive series he played last season and improved his run defense in limited time over the course of the season. He also was everywhere in the bowl game loss, making 11 tackles (one for loss) and a forced fumble near his own end zone. It’s easy to appreciate his high-intensity style, even if it needs some toning down and refinement at times.

At the combine, Gay put up whopper numbers — a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump and 11-foot-4 on the broad jump. Those are numbers you just don’t see often in an off-the-ball linebacker.

By the numbers: Gay only started six college games. But he was ejected twice in college for personal-foul and targeting calls.

Interesting fact: In addition to the academic suspension, Gay reportedly was in an altercation with expected starting QB Garrett Shrader prior to the Music City Bowl. Shrader suffered a chest injury and couldn’t play, but Gay was not suspended for his role in the incident.

Draft range: If Gay convinced teams that he’s not a character risk, it would not at all be stunning to see him drafted in the top 40 or 50 picks. One area scout told us before last season that Gay had a chance to develop into a first-round-caliber prospect eventually for his rare athletic ability.

51. USC WR Michael Pittman Jr. 

6-foot-4, 223 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.89

The lowdown: The son of former NFL running back Michael Pittman has carved out his own path to the NFL as a receiver prospect following a dominant senior season. Pittman cut his teeth early in his career on special teams while working his way up the depth chart. His development was slowed in part by a serious ankle sprain as a sophomore and a shoulder injury in 2018 as a junior that caused him to miss two games.

Pittman put it all together in his senior season — despite three quarterbacks seeing extensive action — catching 101 passes for 1,275 yards (a 12.6-yard average) and 11 TDs in 13 games, highlighted by a showcase performance against a very good Utah defense. Despite starting QB Kedon Slovis getting hurt on the second play from scrimmage that night, Pittman hauled in 10 passes for 232 yards and a 77-yard score.

Pittman possesses good hands (five drops on 254 career targets), strong route-running skills, a good understanding of spacing, physicality and the ability to bring down contested catches. USC used Pittman on a variety of routes — short, medium and long — and he found ways to make plays all over the field. He excelled on post-corner routes and was very effective on fade routes and skinny posts, or “glance” routes. Perhaps leaning on his father’s DNA as a former running back, Pittman also is a strong runner after the catch, seemingly breaking multiple tackles every game last season.

His play speed is a question, and Pittman appeared to lack an extra gear in the open field and wasn’t able to run past a lot of defensive backs in college. But he ran a good 40 (4.52 seconds) and 3-cone drill (6.96 seconds) at the combine. Over the past 20 years, only 41 wide receivers 220 pounds or heavier ran a sub-4.55 40 and a sub-7 3-cone; nearly 40 percent of those players were picked in the first 65 selections.

His injury concerns must be vetted, and he might always be considered a possession receiver. Pittman, who turns 23 in October, should provide an immediate impact on his NFL team, provided he’s not asked to play outside of his strengths. He also brings the potential to be a gunner or jammer on special-teams coverage units, on a “hands team” and also possibly as a returner (three punt returns for 100 yards, and a 78-yard TD in 2017).

By the numbers: Pittman caught four or more passes in every game in 2019, surpassing the 104-yard mark on five separate occasions.

Interesting fact: Pittman suffered through a stutter as a child, which caused him anxiety at the time, but he worked through it. From first through sixth grade, Pittman left his regular classes to attend speech therapy.

“I guess you could say it was embarrassing at the time, because you're getting kids looking at you and wondering what’s wrong with you,” Pittman told Yahoo Sports at the Senior Bowl. “But I had to do it. I knew I had to. I’d try to come up with words and just couldn’t make my mouth move how I wanted.”

And now?

“Mostly no problem now,” he said. “The [therapy] worked, I think. Every now and then I have a moment or something, but I can usually get through it. I’ve tried to talk a lot [in front of media] just to work through those little moments.”

Draft range: Round 2

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