Members of the 2019 draft class are still two months from their NFL debuts, but it’s never too early to take a peek at the next crop of potential rookies. The next group of prospective draftees is an impressive collection of talent, headlined by All-American candidates at Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.
Will the Crimson Tide produce their first No. 1 pick in the Super Bowl era? Can the Buckeyes produce another top-five pick from the EDGE position? The MMQB has spent all week looking ahead to the 2020 NFL draft, and to wrap up the week, we identify the top prospect at each position before the college football season begins in late August.
Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
The Crimson Tide’s signal-caller could lose the top spot to Oregon’s Justin Herbert, but another year of shredding SEC defenses should be enough to vault Tagovailoa to the top of draft boards by April 2020.
Tagovailoa checks every box for NFL evaluators, sporting a rocket arm and twitchy mobility within the pocket. The junior doesn’t just throw to open receivers; he leads them to their spot, creating windows deep downfield for Alabama’s slate of quality wideouts. Previous Nick Saban quarterbacks rigidly adhered to Alabama’s system, working as a complementary piece to a dynamic running game. Tagovailoa is an outlier. He’s a premier candidate for the Heisman Trophy, and right on track to be in the conversation for the top draft pick.
Running Back: D’Andre Swift, Georgia
Here’s another NFL-ready running back coming from the Bulldogs. Swift is primed to carry the legacy of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Todd Gurley in his junior season, set to earn a lion’s share of the carries after splitting time with Elijah Holyfield in 2018. Georgia is a national title contender once again and it will likely ride Swift to the SEC title game.
Projecting Swift’s draft spot remains a tricky task. Just four running backs were selected with a top-20 pick in the last four seasons, and no running back was taken with the first 20 picks in 2019. The lack of positional value could cause Swift’s stock to drop outside the first half of the first round, but regardless of where he’s selected, expect Swift to be the first running back off the board next year.
Wide Receiver: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Jeudy is likely to be drafted far higher than Marquise Brown, the top receiver in 2019 who was selected by the Ravens with pick No. 25. The Crimson Tide’s leading receiver is a legitimate top-10 pick, and he could even slide into the top-five selection if the right team struggles this season. For example, Jeudy could be an enticing Odell Beckham Jr. replacement to kick off the Daniel Jones era with the Giants.
Jeudy could lead college football in touchdown catches in 2019. He’s a big-play machine with a stud quarterback in Tagovailoa, sporting sprinter’s speed and a crisp route tree.
The Biletnikoff Award, presented to the best receiver in college football, is his to lose. Given he stays healthy, Jeudy should dominate the SEC through December, then fly off the board in April’s draft.
Tight End: Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
Okwuegbunam is an elite red-zone threat, thriving as a fade target with his 6' 5" frame. He can split out wide and do damage away from the line, sporting impressive straight-line speed and a wide catch radius. Like many top college tight ends, Okwuegbunam is effectively a large wide receiver with little experience or skill as a blocker. That shouldn’t stop him from a first-round grade, though, as teams throughout the league hunt for the next mismatch nightmare.
Offensive Lineman: Walker Little, Stanford
Little is the first non-SEC player on our list, edging Georgia’s Andrew Thomas as the best offensive lineman. The 6' 7", 315-pound behemoth is more mobile than his size would suggest, capable of keeping pace with college football’s most explosive edge rushers. The Houston native arrived in Palo Alto in 2017 as the nation’s No. 3 offensive tackle and the No. 3 recruit in Texas. He’s lived up to expectations thus far, remaining on a steady path toward a top-15 selection in the 2020 draft.
Defensive Lineman: Derrick Brown, Auburn
Brown is one of the most fearsome linemen in the SEC on either side of the ball. Standing at 6' 4", 316 pounds, Brown is a perhaps college football’s best bull-rusher, shoving his way past centers and guards en route to a slew of impact plays. The junior tallied 10.5 tackles for a loss and 48 tackles overall in 13 games last season, keeping his production steady after a breakout 2018. Brown could have been a first-round pick in April; he may vault into the top 10 in 2020 with a quality senior season for the Tigers.
EDGE: Chase Young, Ohio State
Young may not be as highly touted as Joey or Nick Bosa, but the junior defensive end should wreak plenty of havoc in 2019 before entering the NFL draft. Young destroyed opposing backfields in 2018, tallying 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 13 games.
The 6' 5", 265-pound pass rusher is as quick as it gets off the edge, bending past opposing tackles with ease to sack the quarterback and disrupt the run game. Young isn’t a perfect technician like either of the Bosa brothers, yet he should match the set of siblings with a top-10 selection in April 2020.
Linebacker: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Built in the Shaq Mason-mold of undersized linebackers, Simmons can line up at both outside linebacker and safety. But given the current need for sideline-to-sideline LBs, Simmons will likely remain in the front seven in the NFL despite his 6' 3", 225-pound frame. The redshirt junior finished 2018 with 88 tackles and nine tackles for loss, locking down Alabama’s running backs in the national title game. Simmons will face plenty of competition for the first linebacker off the board as he battles Alabama’s Dylan Moses. But Simmons’s malleability is unmatched, making him one of the most intriguing defenders in the 2020 draft class.
Defensive Back: Grant Delpit, LSU
Another legacy player, Delpit should join Jamal Adams and Patrick Peterson as top-10 picks to come from LSU’s secondary. And the junior safety is more than worthy of the honor.
Delpit is perhaps the most versatile safety in college football, a dynamic force who can patrol the back-end as well as make an impact in the run game. Delpit is a quality cover corner, too, often drawing some of the SEC’s top wideouts in 2018. The Tigers’ defense should be fearsome once again, and Delpit is the unit's heart and soul. He should hoist the Thorpe award in December, then shake hands with Roger Goodell within the first 10 picks of next year’s draft.
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