2020 NFL Draft at a glance
Better in 2020: QB, RB, WR, OT, CB, S
Worse in 2020: TE, OG, C, DL, EDGE, LB
Potential riser: Samuel Cosmi (Texas) | 6'5/295
Needs a leap: Trey Smith (Tennessee) | 6'5/337
Deep sleeper: Landon Young (Kentucky) | 6'6/324
2021 prospect to monitor: Penei Sewell (Oregon) | 6'6/350
1. Andrew Thomas (Georgia) | 6'5/320
Thomas’ traits are elite, a well-built banger with easy athleticism and plenty of brute strength. His joints shouldn’t be as pliable as they are. Thomas is a 320-pound spring, with the supreme flexibility to coil back into sunken hips and the supreme explosion to strike with ferocious power.
A consensus 2018 All-American, Thomas has started 28 of 29 career games, only missing one with a sprained knee. His career progression has followed the Jonah Williams path. Thomas started at right tackle as a true freshman before moving to the opposite side as a sophomore in 2018 to take over for a player who’d moved on to the NFL (in Jonah’s case, that was Cam Robinson; in Andrew's, Isaiah Wynn).
Per PFF’s grades, Thomas (80.6) was better than Jonah (76.9) as a sophomore. Jonah’s grade jumped to 89.2 as a junior and a similar developmental leap is needed out of Thomas this fall to make the top-five a reality.
Thomas has Jonah beat in both length and athleticism, so he isn’t going to be followed by the same tired “he should move inside” narrative. He’s also naturally slick outside, setting up quickly in pass-pro and presenting edge rushers with a primo combination of strength and movement from there.
But Thomas is not yet a finished product. He’s leaned on his natural gifts over technique thus far, and that’s been enough to earn him a place in the discussion among the country’s best offensive linemen. But to become an NFL All-Pro, he’s going to have to clean up his footwork and hand usage, and he’s going to have to dial it back and play with more purpose and calm.
Thomas wants to blast people, and that’s great, but he needs to learn that it isn’t always in his best interest to do his 320-pound ferocious uncoil routine, because sometimes the big spring is going to miss its target. Thomas can improve his blocking strike zone merely by being even slightly more measured in his approach.
Further, Thomas needs to realize he’s not to be the bully in pass-pro, that that doesn’t suit his purposes. He’s way more comfortable coming forward than shuffling in a half-moon, but that has nothing to do with an athletic limitation. He’s like a UFC fighter who’s always charging forward. It’s just that most of the fighters of that ilk are limited in talent – they’re brawlers because they can only win in bar-fight scenarios. It's a last resort.
But Thomas isn’t like that – he’s got Jon Jones' diverse skillset. Which brings us to the hands in conclusion: Thomas is always throwing with power and ill-intent. We need him to realize that those hands are meant for controlling as much as dictating; he’ll stop letting fish off the line when he quits reeling like a maniac the second he feels a bite.
These are not insignificant concerns. But this is why Thomas is my OT1: His small handful of flaws are all correctable, he’s been a stud at both tackle positions in the SEC his first two years out of high school even with the wild stallion technique, and he has elite traits. Thomas could hang as a low-level starter in the NFL right now. That’s his floor.
His ceiling is a multi-time All-Pro. His advancement up the developmental ladder is entirely predicated on technical gains. Let’s hope he makes major headway in that department this fall, because the package is very exciting.
2. Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) | 6'5/320
Wirfs is a country-strong colossus of a right tackle for the Hawkeyes. He’s also a freak athlete. The freak of freaks. On Bruce Feldman’s 2019 Freaks List, Wirfs was listed No. 1.
His 35-inch vertical this spring would have ranked No. 1 among all offensive linemen in each of the past seven NFL Combines. And his spring broad jump of 113 inches was the same as Greg Little’s, and better than guys like Jonah Williams, Cody Ford and Kaleb McGary.
All through the season and into next April, folks are going to debate whether Wirfs should stay at right tackle in the NFL, whether he could possibly swing left tackle, or whether his best fit is inside at guard.
I think he projects smoothly to RT in the NFL, and I also think he has the skillset of a dominant guard if his NFL franchise wanted to take the Brandon Scherff route with him. Speaking of Scherff, Wirfs shattered his old school record in the power clean with four reps at 450 pounds.
We talk about fluidity in terms of movement – that’s fluidity in the power department. And here’s the crazy thing: Scherff set his school record as a grizzled fifth-year senior. Wirfs broke it in the months following his 20th birthday party. Wirfs won’t be able to legally buy a drink in Iowa City’s pedestrian mall until next January.
In 2017, Wirfs became the first Hawkeye freshman to start at tackle for Kirk Ferentz. Following in the footsteps of guys like Scherff, Robert Gallery, Marshal Yanda, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff, you could argue that Wirfs is the most advanced of the bunch at his age. He took a developmental leap in 2018, allowing zero sacks and only 15 pressures on 428 pass-blocking snaps.
Once he gets his hands on you, goodnight – he’ll drive a defensive end into the upper deck if they forget to blow the whistle. In pass pro, Wirfs confidently leans on his athletic tools, setting a nice base, shuffling his feet with mirror steps, using those long arms to punch holes in chests and stall the engines of edge rushers, and dropping a cruise ship anchor.
But as with Thomas, Wirfs is a conglomeration of sexy traits in an unfinished package. Though he’s a fluid mover, Wirfs is currently far more comfortable in a phone booth than he is wandering around the second level. And while he does well against both speed and power off the edge, skyscraper edges can give Wirfs fits.
Wirfs is used to sealing the deal by burying his meat cleavers into your chest and pumping you full of electricity as though defibrillators were attached to his wrists. When a long end can keep Wirfs on the outside, it has the effect of playing down both Wirfs’ natural movement and strength skills. And he can get a little patty-cake or furioso from there, depending on the state of his frustration level.
Wirfs has some of the best reps of any linemen in this class. He also has some of the worst – whether that’s because he’s a rhino getting matador’d by a giraffe, or whether that’s because he swings for the fences almost every time he fires off the line for a run-blocking rep and sometimes whiffs. This isn’t a talent thing — it’s a consistency thing.
Wirfs and Alaric Jackson form one of the most exciting tackle tandems we've seen in college over the past five years. And here’s the really cool thing: Every day in practice, they get to face off against top-five EDGE prospect A.J. Epenesa and another NFL EDGE prospect in Chauncey Golston.
3. Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) | 6'6/305
I’ll come clean: Heading into last season, I thought Wanogho was severely overhyped.
The native of Nigeria first played football in high school, and quickly established himself as a high-end defensive line recruit. He signed with Auburn, redshirted with an injury in 2015, and was shifted from defensive line to offensive line in the summer of 2016.
Wanogho was getting hyped as a legit NFL prospect mere months after learning the tackle position. He didn’t play much in 2016, but was handed a starting job in 2017. His play didn’t match the hype. Wanogho was benched in a nightmarish outing at Clemson where the offensive line gave up 11 sacks in sum. He was an average-ish SEC tackle that year, usually playing passable ball, but high-end talent like Clemson boasts could clown him.
But last season, even as Auburn’s offensive line regressed and the offense lost its identity, Wanogho made an enormous leap and established himself as one of the country’s best tackles. Wanogho has a ways to go as a run blocker – he could stand to gain weight and improve his play strength, his approach is so poor that his NFL position coach will likely spend many frustrated hours teaching him the basics, and he isn't a quick mover going forward.
The reason he could be a first-rounder in the spring anyway is his pass-pro. Wanogho is stupidly advanced for being so inexperienced. PTW’s PFF pass-blocking grade of 89.6 was easily the best of any tackle on this list last season. Wanogho is a puzzle for edge rushers, because he’s as long as a bridge and he knows how to use his hands.
What he lacks in athleticism and know-how, he makes up for in surface area and innate feel for hand-to-hand combat. Wanogho’s development has just begun. He’ll never be the strongest, quickest or most technically advanced, but he has shown enough glimpses on tape at an early developmental stage in pass-pro to warrant serious preseason attention.
4. Walker Little (Stanford) | 6'6/313
I struggle with Little.
An elite five-star prospect who was a top-10 overall recruit in his class, Little played more than 1,100 snaps early in his career for a program known for developing linemen. So far, so good. But Little was part of a unit that regressed badly in 2018 -- and he's not free from culpability for that.
What Little has done in college is show great promise as a pass-blocker -- even as his run-blocking left Bryce Love a bit out in the cold last fall. Little posted a decent-but-not-great 70.2 overall PFF grade last season. But that was with a strong 84.7 pass-blocking grade lifting up poor work in the running game. In pass pro, Little was lit up by Notre Dame and struggled against Oregon, but was otherwise close to flawless, particularly down the stretch.
Thehe pass-pro chops alone make him appealing to the NFL. And you’d hope improvement in the running game is coming, because Little’s skillset screams difference-maker in that phase. He doesn’t have issues with power – his anchor is among the class’ best – and he’s also one of this crop’s best at hunting linebackers on the second level.
But Little’s lack of success against elite competition is concerning, and he has a few glaring (but fixable) weaknesses he needs to fix pronto. Fortunately, he has two years to address those concerns if he needs them.
I leave you with a vid of Little taking on AJ Epenesa in January 2017.
5. Trey Adams (Washington) | 6'7/306
Good on Adams for returning to Washington for a final season. He assuredly thought he'd be in the NFL by now, but two nightmarish years delayed (and outright threatened) those plans. Adams’ 2017 season was wrecked by a torn ACL. And then a serious back injury in 2018 kept him out of the starting lineup all season until the Pac-12 title game.
In sum, Adams saw less than 600 snaps combined over the past two seasons. And in some of those reps, he either wasn’t 100%, or he was shaking off rust from a long layoff. For instance, against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, when top-10 overall prospect EDGE Chase Young ate his lunch after Adams' late-season return.
Adams is a skyscraper with massive length who moves like a man five inches shorter. It is for that reason, along with strong 2016 tape, that he’s been talked about as a potential first-rounder for so long now. But it’s a frightening investment to roll the dice on a 6’8 guy with serious knee and back injuries the last two years, especially since that guy hasn’t been a difference-maker since 2016.
Adams is going to get extra chances because length, strength and athleticism packages like this don’t enter the NFL every year. But with major durability questions and two years of wasted developmental time, he needs to stay healthy and utterly dominate on the field this fall. Entering his final year of eligibility, time's officially ticking.
6. Alaric Jackson (Iowa) | 6'6/320
When the media talks about Iowa tackles, Tristan Wirfs draws the superlatives. Don’t forget about Jackson, who struggled against Penn State and Yatur-Matos last fall in a wonky rain-soaked game but was otherwise superb.
Iowa’s pro-style offense is going to give evaluators plenty of conventional looks from which to assess Jackson. Assuming another developmental gain in 2019, they’re going to like what they see.
Jackson actually finished with a higher PFF grade at LT last year than Wirfs had at RT. Jackson has already started 24 games over two active seasons. He was a Freshman All-American and Academic All-Big-10 selection as a freshman, and was named a Second-Team All-Big 10 tackle after last season.
Jackson is a long power tackle whose calling card is pass pro. His strength is centralized to his upper-body, and he has a lot of it. Despite lacking quick feet, he’s difficult to beat with speed because if those long arms can reach you, they’re going to sputter momentum and keep you right where he wants you.
Jackson is above-average in the running game, but he’ll likely never graduate to a level higher than that. The power plays on the field, and that wins him plenty of reps, but Jackson’s lower-half doesn’t have the coordination or power of his upper-half. He can lose his foundation when he doesn’t hit targets flush, and that’s also an issue when power rushers get into his chest and remove his upper-body strength from the equation.
If Jackson’s development were over, he’d enter the NFL as a sort of tweener – with a prototypical NFL left tackle frame, multiple years of pass-pro success in the Big 10, and enough muscle to move bodies in the running game… but lacking the foot quicks, technique and anchor you like in your blindside protectors, and lacking the lower-body strength and leverage-winning flexibility to smoothly project as a tall guard.
But I remain bullish, because I think Jackson can swing tackle at the next level. He’s never going to have Andre Dillard’s feet, but neither does Max Scharping. Jackson would do well to become a student of footwork and angles, as Sharping did, to overcome quickness deficiencies and play up his natural upper-body power. This pursuit would also be greatly aided by swapping out 10-15 pounds of belly fat for muscle.
If he can become a technician with his feet and improve his body composition, Jackson’s floor is Day 2, and he could even sneak into Round 1. If his footwork remains sloppy in 2019, that’s when evaluators are going to throw up their hands and tell their GMs that Jackson doesn’t have the feet for tackle or the dominating run-game chops for guard.
7. Calvin Throckmorton (Oregon) | 6'5/318
A former basketball player and a future orthopedic surgeon (if his post-football plans bear out), Throckmorton is strong as an ox and mean as a banshee on the gridiron. By the advanced grades, he’s one of the top returning offensive linemen in the entire nation, and he also has game experience at every OL spot except LG.
Throckmorton cannot be defeated by power. He’s stronger than you, and he knows it. If you choose to go power-on-power against him, you’re going to expend a lot of energy in order to take unnecessary punishment and embarrassment.
Throckmorton has dominated the Pac-12 by ruling with an iron fist. But the going is going to get tougher in the NFL, where his athletic limitations will be tested. He’s not a fluid mover in space, and he requires an extra beat to unfurl out of his stance to prepare for engagement. He also lacks the natural flexibility of guys like Thomas and Wirfs, giving him a smaller margin for error and hurting his ability to max-out his power advantage by always winning the leverage battle.
Because of all that, he’s likely ticketed inside to guard at the next level. But I’m not going to do him the disservice of listing him as a OG in the preseason. Throckmorton’s sustained success demands respect, and I’m not yet willing to categorically rule out the idea that his proprietary blend of brawn and brains can’t swing RT in the NFL.
8. Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) | 6'5/309
Cleveland is mostly projection at this point. But two good bits of news on that front: He’s been awesome in the MWC despite being so raw, and he can just return to school in 2020 if he doesn’t take a big developmental step this fall.
Cleveland has been on the draft radar for over a year now due to his combination of build, length and athleticism. But he needs to get into the weight room and improve his core and lower-body strength.
In some ways, he reminds of me of a more developmentally advanced version of NDSU’s Joe Haeg from a few years ago. Haeg faced questions about whether he could stick at tackle, about his level of competition, and about his lack of lower-body strength – but he was able to start 35 games over his first three NFL seasons before he hit the IR last season with an ankle injury. If Cleveland ultimately develops into a rich man’s Haeg, he’s going to start in the league for a long time.
9. Cole Van Lanen (Wisconsin) | 6'5/311
Van Lanen flashed in part-time left tackle snaps last fall, posting an overall PFF grade over 90.0 (elite territory). He’s more athletic than several of the maulers the Badgers have sent to the NFL recently, and he’s a load in the running game because he reaches his target quickly with explosion and power and never stops driving his legs.
But unless he improves his technique on the outside, he’s likely going to have to kick inside to guard. Despite his athleticism, Van Lanen can get beat by both skill and speed off the edge because he doesn’t know what he’s doing with his hands and he isn’t a master of angles or depth.
Van Lanen can also be given fits by power (*cough* AJ Epenesa *cough*) in pass pro. He’s way more comfortable moving forward than backward. That works at Wisconsin. Not so much if he hopes to be a starting NFL tackle.
10. Lucas Niang (TCU) | 6'6/336
Niang is super intriguing because he has light feet on a 330-plus-pound frame and comes equipped with ropey arms and enormous hands. Weaponizing that combination, Niang didn’t allow a sack last fall. He had one of this class’ best PFF pass-pro grades last season, and he’s only drawn three penalties the past two years.
But Niang’s appeal is greatly mitigated due to his protozoic technique and lack of flexibility. Niang has a tendency to play high or to slouch. And because his footwork is so basic, so undisciplined, he can get crossed up by skill. He’s going to see a lot more of that in the NFL than he does in the Big 12.
Niang simply must improve at the technical aspects of his craft, because his joints aren’t magically going to become more pliable. If he doesn’t compensate, he could wash out of the NFL quickly despite the intriguing starter kit.
Colton McKivitz (6'6/312) has a big opportunity in front of him as he shifts from RT to LT to replace Yodny Cajuste at West Virginia. At the next level, McKivitz projects as a pure zone tackle. He’s a long, rangy kid with tap-dancing feet who allowed only eight pressures and two sacks over 511 pass-pro reps last year in WVU’s pass-happy offense. While you aren’t likely to beat him with speed or trickery, McKivitz gets bullied by power in both the passing and running games.
Alex Leatherwood (6'5/310), a 15-game starter at right guard for Alabama last season, is kicking to LT this fall to replace Jonah Williams. The quick-footed Leatherwood shined as a true freshman at that spot in the 2017 title game against Georgia after Jonah Williams was knocked out with an injury. But I can’t rank Leatherwood among the preseason top-10 tackles following his struggles at guard last season, with a full-time transition into the unknown forthcoming. He’s a candidate to make a leap -- he very well may just be a natural tackle who plays down at guard -- but I want to see it first.
Texas’ Samuel Cosmi (6'5/295), another candidate to make the leap, opened eyes as a second-year freshman last fall. Cosmi is a fabulous athlete who doesn’t get beat by movement. He’ll surge up boards if he improves his technique and adds more core strength.
Trey Smith (6'5/337) was a top-five overall recruit and one of the best prep players ever to come out of the state of Tennessee. Flexible and fluid as water with long arms and easy athleticism, Smith was a difference-maker immediately as a true freshman with the Volunteers. But blood clots in his lungs delayed the start of his sophomore season, hindered his play after coming back, and have now once again flared up to put his future in doubt. Wait-and-see prospect.
Landon Young (6'6/324) of Kentucky is another former five-star recruit who stayed home, played well early in his career, and then had his body betray him. He returns from last summer's torn ACL that wiped out his 2018 season. He looks the part of a prototype NFL tackle, well-built with good muscle distribution on a long frame. Young moves well for his size and has a good idea for how to keep his man on the outside in pass-pro. He’s unproven and coming off a major injury, but the tools are there. Here’s a hilarious video of Young clowning an undersized high school DE who is clearly terrified of him.
Penei Sewell (6'6/350) is gifted and enormous. He was dominating as a freshman left tackle in the Pac-12 last fall until a high-ankle sprain ended his season halfway through. He’s one of the top left tackles in the nation.