It feels foolish to stamp a grade on a player before October. But imagine watching Ohio State’s Chase Young and not thinking he deserves to be one of the first players drafted.
Of course, anything could happen — an injury, off-field trouble or a serious dip in play — between now and the 2020 NFL draft in late April. But the way things are trending, it would be a surprise if the Buckeyes’ star pass rusher wasn’t one of the first two non-quarterbacks taken.
That almost certainly places Young in the top five of the draft. It could even make him the top overall selection, depending on which teams fall where.
“He’s better than [Nick] Bosa,” one college scouting director told Yahoo Sports. “Maybe Bosa was a better technician, better hand fighter, but boy, I don’t know now. You just see the flashes of power and speed, and those rare football instincts [Young] has, and it’s hard not to think he’ll be one of our highest-graded players when it’s all said and done.”
Young had a forced fumble and another sack at Nebraska, the sixth straight game, dating back to last season, in which he has had at least one sack. That’s 22 sacks for his career, which places him tied for eighth all time in school history with the late Will Smith. Young would have to go bananas to pass all-time Buckeyes leader Mike Vrabel (36), but he has a good chance to pass Jason Simmons (27.5) for second.
And in case you’re wondering, Bosa logged 17.5 career sacks in 29 career games. Young is at 22 in 28 games. Joey Bosa racked up 26 sacks in his 38 games at OSU.
And yes, teams are doubling Young — quite often. That’s what makes his incredible start to the season so impressive.
“They’ll put a tackle and a back, or a tackle and a tight end on him,” the director said. “They’ll use two linemen. They slant protection his way, chip and cut him. They’ll run away from him or roll out the other direction. Before he ever gets his hands on your guys, he’s already having an effect on what you do.”
Hence why Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez finished the game 8-of-17 passing for 47 yards with three picks and no TDs.
“[Young] basically makes you play one-handed, and he’s still getting home,” the director said. “Very, very impressive. And on the handful of times [opponents] don’t double him, he’s making them pay for it. He’s just wrecking games out there.”
On Saturday, scouts from the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers watched Ohio State’s game against the Huskers. Those first three teams could be in range to draft Young and need an edge rusher. The Dolphins (two first-round picks) and Raiders (three) also will be in a position to trade up, if needed.
Quarterbacks will have their say in this draft, especially at the top. It could even be shaping up to be a four- or five-QB first round. In the past 10 drafts, quarterbacks have made up 26 percent of the top-five selections. Next on that list are edge rushers with 10 (20 percent). Offensive tackle is third with seven selections in that range.
Young meets both the positional prerequisite, as well as possessing ample talent to be considered that high. At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he fits the prototypical size for the position, and his production this season — eight sacks, three forced fumbles, even a blocked kick — are elite. Athletically, we’d be surprised if he didn’t test in the same vicinity as previous top-pick edge rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.
Young is our best overall player regardless of position for next spring’s draft. He came into the season as one of the best three players, and Young has only improved — by a noticeable measure, too. He’s flat-out taking over games. And while we’re keeping that grade in pencil, it’s hard to envision it changing dramatically barring some unforeseen seismic event.
Doing up your own mock draft? Our first suggestion: Don’t let Young out of your top five. You might not want him out of your top two. If we’re wrong, we’ll apologize personally later.
Here are the rest of the week’s NFL draft winners and losers from the weekend that was in college football, with 2020 draft (and beyond) prospects in boldface:
Hyped quarterback struggles in the elements
We were on the Jordan Love love train this summer, projecting the Utah State quarterback as a possible first-round pick back in July. There was reason to think he had the opportunity to rise to that level — and he still can, starting with this weekend’s game at LSU. It will be one of the most crucial game tapes scouts will be poring over when grading the redshirt junior, if he chooses to leave school with a year of eligibility remaining.
Love will have to improve over his performance from last Saturday against a middling Colorado State team. Let’s just be frank: He did not look good for most of the contest.
Love’s first bad pass of the evening was an out route to the wide side of the field, jumped by Colorado State corner Andre Neal (his first FBS interception) and run back 44 yards for a score. Love had another pick to start the third quarter — and it was extremely similar.
Here’s the Twitter GIF thread I posted earlier that includes the two picks:
Here's the Jordan Love thread for by weekend review piece.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) September 30, 2019
Sorry, it's a bit ugly.
Like this ... this is a tough one to watch. Love locks in on his receiver, throws a lazy pass as his back foot hits and then watches the corner house it. pic.twitter.com/oQQLlSd1Yq
Love now has five INTs in 162 attempts. That’s not a brutal ratio, but it’s one that makes his evaluation tougher and his climb back harder considering he has only two games this season against Power 5 competition prior to a bowl game. In the opener against Wake Forest, Love threw three picks. He fumbled twice against San Diego State on scrambles.
On Saturday, he faces an LSU defense that has forced only four turnovers in four games, and that unit has been banged up. A week of rest could have the Tigers in better shape by the time the Aggies come to town. The key for Love in that matchup will be ball security, but playing too conservatively also will take away one of the better elements of Love’s game that we saw coming into the season. Scouts love his deep touch, improvisational ability and respectable arm.
Right now, we’re seeing some similar elements to Love’s game as we did with Jimmy Garoppolo when he was at Eastern Illinois. Garoppolo had trouble throwing outside the numbers in college, and that’s where five of Love’s six picks have come. Four of those passes have been out-breaking routes thrown from the pocket. They’ve either been late, off-target or lacking zip. That’s a troublesome development for an NFL-type throw.
We’re still fans of Love overall, but it’s fair to say that his play, some poor blocking up front and some occasionally predictable play-calling have hurt him. Could he be a first-round pick in the end? Sure. But there’s a lot of work to be done to where Love’s traits match his performance with the biggest game of his season less than a week away.
The case for Eno Benjamin
Arizona State RB Eno Benjamin has seen his production dip steeply this season — from 5.5 yards per carry last season to 3.7 in 2019 — but we’re not bailing on him. If anything, watching Benjamin have to fight for yards under worse offensive circumstances has made our affection for him as a draft prospect grow.
The Sun Devils lost a senior starter at QB, lost first-round WR N’Keal Harry and reshuffled the offensive line significantly. Overall, this is a worse offensive situation for Benjamin, even with WR Brandon Aiyuk taking the Harry role well and freshman QB Jayden Daniels taking good care of the ball.
Regardless, Benjamin is starting to show his real value as a runner. He scored the extra-effort, game-winning touchdown against a stout Michigan State defense. Then on Saturday, he scored three times in the Sun Devils’ 24-17 upset of Cal. His per-carry production (29 carries, 100 yards) once more was pedestrian. The tape showed a determined runner finding creases and breaking tackles.
This two-play sequence — the second of which he escapes Cal’s Evan Weaver, the nation’s tackle leader for a score — should give a good idea what we’re talking about.
Watch these two Eno Benjamin runs pic.twitter.com/dhkds3OPr1— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) September 28, 2019
It’s a good RB group in the 2020 draft, and it’s tough for the 5-11, 201-pound Benjamin to stack up to, say, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor or Clemson’s Travis Etienne in a beauty contest. But as a three-down back with the toughness, vision and burst to gain yards that are not blocked up for him the way those other three backs have received, Benjamin is every bit the prospect we thought he was when we watched the tape of his 16-TD season a year ago.
Perhaps even better. This is what scouts like to see: Players finding ways to succeed without ideal circumstances around them. Benjamin in the past two weeks make critical conversions on multiple occasions versus great college defenses. His stock is anything but down in our minds.
Irish pass rusher breaks out
One of my biggest complaints about Notre Dame’s talented edge rusher, Julian Okwara, has been his number of “almost” plays. Almost sacks, almost tackles for loss and so on — the 6-4, 248-pound Okwara often can be seen impacting and influencing plays but not always finishing them.
On Saturday against Virginia, Okwara got home. More than once, in fact.
Okwara was tremendous against the Cavaliers, throwing off the timing of their offensive dramatically with three sacks, two forced fumbles, two other QB hits, a fumble recovery and several other pressures. It was the kind of game NFL scouts were happy to see from him — and there were eight NFL teams in attendance Saturday, including two general managers, the Vikings’ Rick Spielman and Colts’ Chris Ballard.
They were the first three sacks of the season for Okwara. One scout we spoke with earlier this year said Okwara could be distracted by his stated preseason goal of reaching 18.5 sacks, which would be an Irish record, for this season. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly seemed to agree.
“I love what Julian did,” Kelly said. “He got back to playing really physical football. … I think Julian would tell you the whole kind of sack thing was too much of a personal thing, and he got back to playing physical football and within the realm of the defense, and it really showed itself today. And he’s going to take off from here.”
Okwara is projected as a top-50 prospect with the chance to land in the back half of Round 1. Saturday’s game could be an indication that he’s ready to break loose.
One defender down from that game
We’ve taken a decent look at Virginia’s well-respected corner, Bryce Hall, and come away underwhelmed. Hall doesn’t read like the first-round prospect we heard him being mentioned as this summer after he chose to return to school.
Had Hall come out last season, he might have had a chance to go high considering that no cornerbacks went in the top 29 selections. There was quite a bit of disagreement among the scouts we spoke with over the 2019 CB crop, and that played out with eight corners being drafted between the 30th and the 54th overall selection. It was a semi-deep group that lacked a true standout.
Hall had several big performances a year ago (Indiana, South Carolina, Duke, North Carolina games among them) and carried enough size at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds to be considered right in the thick of that second-round glut. And a year later, we’re not sure he has risen above that.
Saturday’s game at Notre Dame wasn’t a bad one for Hall, as he didn’t allow any big receptions downfield, tackled well and even showed a nice added dimension to his game by recovering a surprise onsides kick to open the third quarter.
VIRGINIA STARTS THE 2ND HALF WITH A SURPRISE ONSIDE KICK AND RECOVER!!! pic.twitter.com/vXHiAlybzV— #BusinessAintBoomin (@ftbeard_17) September 28, 2019
Hall also committed a 15-yard pass interference downfield on Notre Dame WR Javon McKinley, even if it was a questionable call on an almost uncatchable pass. We’ve seen Hall often try to win with physicality, and he’ll need to prove he can win with finesse, too. He let ND’s Michael Young, a quicker receiver with seven career grabs entering the game, shake loose from Hall a few times.
This season, Hall has zero interceptions and one pass defended. That’s a far cry from the 18 PBUs he registered last season, even if opponents haven’t tested Hall as often through four games this year. With everything considered, and scouts unsure of how well he’ll test athletically at the NFL scouting combine, we wonder if Hall might have missed an opportunity by not coming out last season.
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