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The 2020 NFL draft is more than eight months away, but our prep is in full swing. And that includes prioritizing which college football teams to watch this fall.
We’ll get around to watching most of them eventually, but it’s fun and productive to map out which programs will field the most talent this coming season. There’s a clear, runaway leader now for the must-watch program, at least in the eye of draftniks.
That would be — a stunner, we know — Alabama, which has a chance to break draft records next year with a slew of highly regarded prospects eligible to declare for the 2020 draft.
But the Crimson Tide are not the only college team chock full of NFL talent for next year’s draft.
We sorted the draft-eligible prospects on the radar now by schools and determined which programs offered the most overall bang for the buck. In some cases, schools were picked based on the most draft-worthy prospects; in others, we went with teams that featured high-end talents over great depth.
Top 2020 prospects: QB Tua Tagovailoa, WR Jerry Jeudy, WR Henry Ruggs III, DL Raekwon Davis, LB Dylan Moses, S Xavier McKinney, EDGE Anfernee Jennings, EDGE Terrell Lewis, OL Alex Leatherwood, CB Trevon Diggs
This is a monster group, with perhaps as many as four top-10 possibilities. Nick Saban’s banner 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes have started to reach eligibility, and it’s a stunning collection of talent.
Tagovailoa is a possible top-overall selection, depending on how he comes back from last year’s late-season injury and how the draft order unfolds. Jeudy is one of our two favorite receivers in the entire class, and Ruggs’ rare field-stretching ability (he ran a 4.25 40-yard-dash at Alabama’s junior day) makes him a rise candidate.
Davis, McKinney, Moses and Diggs all are among the top prospects at their respective positions. At this point last year, Quinnen Williams was fighting for a starting spot with the Tide, and he ended up the third overall selection; Davis enters this season with a higher profile than Williams had in the summer 2018.
The record for most picks by one school in a draft is 14 by Ohio State in 2004. This Bama team has a chance to best it. The 2004 Miami Hurricanes had six first-rounders. Don’t rule out Bama tying or surpassing that mark either.
“I think I am going to be writing up [reports on] 20 players at least when I go through there,” one Southeast scout told us last month.
Top 2020 prospects: RB D'Andre Swift, QB Jake Fromm, OT Andrew Thomas, DT Tyler Clark, S J.R. Reed, OL Ben Cleveland, OL Solomon Kindley, LB Monty Rice, TE Charlie Woerner
Swift has a chance to be RB1 in this class, and Thomas could emerge as OT1 in what appears to be a very strong group at that position. More and more talented backs leave school early to prevent getting worn down in college and start the clock on their earning power. Plus, UGA has been a factory for talented backs (Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Todd Gurley) in recent years.
How good is Fromm? Well, he has first-round potential given his performance in high-profile settings. But he also is not the most physically gifted athlete either, coming in on the short side (a shade over 6-foot) and lacking rare arm talent. But with a big season, it’s hard to imagine Fromm sliding a whole lot next year.
After that, the Bulldogs have a good crop of talent — especially on defense and on a good, young offensive line. They’ve had seven and six draft picks the past two years, respectively, and could come in north of that in 2020.
Top 2020 prospects: EDGE Chase Young, CB Jeffrey Okudah, LB Malik Harrison, RB J.K. Dobbins, WR K.J. Hill, WR Binjimen Victor, OT Thayer Munford, LB Tuf Borland, WR Austin Mack, TE Rashod Berry, S Jordan Fuller
Young is a top-five pick candidate after a breakout season while eventual No. 2 selection Nick Bosa was hurt, although a few scouts have nitpicked Young’s game to Yahoo Sports. His physical traits are elite, but Young still needs to develop an all-around game.
The big riser here should be Okudah, who has a chance to be the latest star defensive back for the Buckeyes to be drafted high. He might be the top corner — even in a stacked class at the position. The entire secondary is loaded, with several underclassmen eligible to come out if they show enough this coming season.
And yes, again the Buckeyes are ripe at receiver. A year ago, Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin were mere curiosities. Both ended up as Day 2 picks, and they’re each standing out for the Colts and Redskins, respectively, in training camp. That OSU pedigree at the position will help Hill, Victor and Mack this coming season.
Top 2020 prospects: RB Travis Etienne, LB-S Isaiah Simmons, WR Tee Higgins, CB A.J. Terrell, OG Gage Cervenka, EDGE Xavier Kelly, OT Tremayne Anchrum
Yes, you must wait for QB Trevor Lawrence, who could be the crown jewel of the 2021 class. Nor can we include star WR Justyn Ross, who also could join his QB near the top of that year’s draft.
The Tigers might not have a top-10 pick in next year’s class, but we’re high on the potential of Simmons, Etienne and Higgins as good to very good prospects. Simmons is especially interesting as a hybrid player who started his career at safety before moving to linebacker. As NFL teams use more nickel and dime defensive packages, his athleticism, versatility and coverage ability could be highly sought.
The Tigers feature four returning senior blockers – OGs Gage Cervenka and John Simpson, C Sean Pollard and OT Tremayne Anchrum — who have NFL futures. (For what it’s worth, Anchrum is a better guard prospect in the pros.)
Top 2020 prospects: S Grant Delpit, CB Kristian Fulton, EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, DT Rashard Lawrence, LB Michael Divinity Jr., CB Kary Vincent, QB Joe Burrow, DL Glen Logan, LB Jacob Phillips
A year ago, LSU had only three draft picks — its fewest selections in one class since 2005. That is expected to change in a big way this coming season. The Tigers have some stars coming off season-ending injuries, including Fulton and Chaisson, which dampens this projection.
But Delpit and Fulton have first-round trajectories, and right now Fulton is a better prospect than 2019 second-rounder Greedy Williams, who was hyped as a potential top-10 pick this time one year ago.
Chaisson was the best player on the field in the 2018 opener against Miami, during which he suffered a torn ACL.
Burrow is the X-factor. The recent history of LSU quarterbacks in the NFL (and in college, for that matter) has been fairly ignominious, but we liked enough of what he did down the stretch to project him as a potentially sneaky option next spring.
Top 2020 prospects: EDGE Julian Okwara, OL Liam Eichenberg, OL Tommy Kraemer, DT Khalid Kareem, WR Chase Claypool, S Alohi Gilman, OG Aaron Banks, TE Cole Kmet, CB Troy Pride Jr., QB Ian Book
The trenches are once again loaded, enhancing a program that has produced strong talent on the offensive line (Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin, Zack Martin) and defensive line (Jerry Tillery, Isaac Rochell, Stephon Tuitt) in recent years under Brian Kelly.
DL coach Mike Elston is one of the best assistants in college football, and he has two stalwarts — Okwara and Kareem — who appear to be solidly in the Day 2 draft range now. Banks might have the highest ceiling among the o-linemen, even after recovering from foot surgery in June.
Claypool, Gilman and Pride have a chance to be among the first 10 players picked at their respective positions. Book is likely a year away from declaring, but can open some NFL eyes this season. Kmet — who also played baseball for the Irish — was pegged as a sleeper, but he reportedly suffered a collarbone injury that could keep him out a lengthy stretch.
Top 2020 prospects: QB Justin Herbert, LB Troy Dye, OL Jake Hanson, DT Jordon Scott, OL Calvin Throckmorton, WR Juwan Johnson, OL Shane Lemieux, CB Thomas Graham Jr., TE Jacob Breeland, OL Brady Aiello
Herbert has a great chance to emerge as QB1 in this class. Even with a disappointing finish to the 2018 season, Herbert has shown enough talent to enter this season as the top option at the position — over Tagovailoa — among the handful of talent evaluators (who had seen both) Yahoo Sports informally polled this summer. It will be worth staying up late on the weekends to check him out.
And while you’re watching Herbert, attune your eyes to the group blocking in front of him, an excellent offensive line featuring five returning starters (four seniors). Lemieux and Throckmorton are the best-known names to this point, but keep an eye on Hanson, who displays great hand work in our eyes.
On defense, Dye is the standout; he was always around the ball in the three games of his we watched this summer. Three juniors – stout nose Scott up front and junior CBs Graham and Deommodore Lenoir on the back end – are all possible early entrants.
Top 2020 prospects: WR CeeDee Lamb, OL Creed Humphrey, LB Kenneth Murray, TE Grant Calcaterra, DL Neville Gallimore, QB Jalen Hurts, RB Kennedy Brooks, RB Trey Sermon, LB Mark Jackson Jr.
No, the Sooners are not likely to land a QB in the top overall selection for a third year running. But the success of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray certainly raises the NFL profile of Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts. He has an unorthodox style and needs to improve as a full-field passer, but Hurts profiles as a fascinating study for the next level.
The talent around him is immense. Brooks and Sermon might be the nation’s best 1-2 backfield punches. Lamb and Calcaterra could be the best two or three pass catchers at their respective positions. And the well-regarded Humphrey will anchor an offensive line that lost four starters.
Murray and Gallimore headline an experienced front seven. For an absolute hoot of a viewing, turn on Murray’s performance in last year’s OT win over Army. He made 28 tackles in the game, with all but one coming in regulation.
Top 2020 prospects: CB C.J. Henderson, EDGE Jabari Zuniga, RB Lamical Perine, WR Van Jefferson, WR Tyrie Cleveland, LB David Reese, LB Jonathan Greenard
Henderson headlines a Gators class that reminds us a bit of their 2017 draft group. That year, they sent eight draft picks to the NFL, even with only one (LB Jarrad Davis) landing in Round 1. Henderson deserves first-round mention, even in what could be a loaded class at the position.
Zuniga is a springy rusher with decent size, even if his frame could fill out a bit more. Still, his athleticism is very enticing at a high-profile position where combine workouts appear to matter more there than at other spots.
Florida’s offensive prospects have taken a backseat to their defensive counterparts in recent years, but they feature skill-position standouts such as Perine and as many as six (!) receivers — Jefferson, Cleveland, Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain — who could be on scouts’ radars for 2020.
Top 2020 prospects: EDGE A.J. Epenesa, OT Tristan Wirfs, OT Alaric Jackson, QB Nate Stanley, RB Mekhi Sargent, CB Michael Ojemudia
We grappled with our 10th team selection here but ended up siding with the Hawkeyes for their potentially top-heavy class that could send three early picks to the league next year. The school’s success in consistently churning out NFL talent despite landing predominantly three-star recruits can’t go overlooked.
Headlining the 2020 group are Epenesa and Wirfs, two top-10 talents. Although Epenesa has yet to start a game for Iowa — and head coach Kirk Ferentz being sure to slow his hype train at Big Ten Media Days — he has the look of a high pick coming off a 10.5-sack, four forced fumbles season. Wirfs is a weight-room warrior with exceptional traits. He and Jackson (a top-50 talent) might be the best pair of tackles in college football; NFL scouts are all over both.
Stanley isn’t sexy, but he could be a mid-round prospect with a high floor. Ojemudia also carries a solid reputation, and the program has produced bountiful DB talent in recent years, which works in his favor. The Hawkeyes also seem to have one or two off-the-radar players develop quickly in one season, which could allow someone such as Sargent, S Geno Stone or EDGE Chauncey Golston to emerge on draft radars.
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