Way-too-early list of top 2020 NFL draft prospects

At the risk of getting blow-darted by the majority of you who already are suffering from 2019 NFL draft burnout, we must soldier on. It’s all we know.

Yes: The 2020 NFL draft is a mere 360 days away! We must be ready.

So with that in mind, feel free to start your chants now …

Tank for Tua!

Suck for the Duck!

Forsake for Jake!

OK, that latter one is just for Yahoo’s own Pete Thamel, who enjoyed that line when I used it on a recent pre-draft video we taped. In this case, “Jake” is Georgia QB Jake Fromm, who just misses our top-10 prospects for 2020. But lo, there are two other quarterbacks who made the cut.

It could be a better quarterback draft in 2020 than in 2019, and it most certainly will be a better skill-position draft than the crop we just put a bow on. But it also is a group that looks fairly strong on the defensive side of the ball, too.

So at the risk of this list looking silly in six months, here are the names we’ll be focusing on most over the summer — with an eye on next April:

1. Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (junior)

Yes, Tua is the hot name now at the position, and for mostly very good reason. He had an exceptional sophomore season and was the presumed Heisman Trophy favorite last year before Kyler Murray swooped in and stole it late. But part of that was because Tagovailoa struggled down the stretch, as he was banged up and less effective than he was in his games when he seldom if ever saw the field in fourth quarters.

Tagovailoa tentatively remains in the top slot here, but he’s not a perfect prospect. He’s left-handed, which might not sound like a big deal, but some coaches will be leery about having a lefty starter and a righty backup. But bigger issues might be that he didn’t look as great vs. heavy pressure late in the season and carries an atypical build for a QB: almost like a FCS linebacker, stocky, short and with short arms.

But the high-end throws he has made and his overall makeup warrant strong attention. “Tank for Tua” is still very real.

2. Oregon QB Justin Herbert (senior)

Going back to school crushed a zillion mock drafts crafted between last October and January, where he was the presumptive top pick of any QB-needy team. But Herbert had good reason to go back to school. He wanted to play with his little brother, who is a freshman for the Ducks, and he also appears to love academics, having taking what has the reputation of being one of the hardest class on Oregon’s campus, a biology course that most students — much less starting quarterbacks and other Big Men On Campus — would never dream of adding.

Herbert also slowed down after a strong start, doesn’t have a crazy arm and had two-interception games against Bowling Green and San Jose State. Going back to school felt like a savvy move, and another year of development could make him a Carson Wentz-like prospect — they share the same big, athletic traits as later developers — come January.

3. Ohio St EDGE Chase Young (junior)

The only good thing about Nick Bosa shutting it down for the season last year was that it allowed Young to shine in his absence. Not that the Buckeyes wouldn’t have found quality reps for the 6-foot-5, 265-pound edge rusher, but Young really burst on scene as a sophomore with 9.5 sacks (second in the Big Ten) and was the best player on the field in the conference title game with three sacks and a forced fumble against Northwestern.

You want a non-QB sleeper for the top pick in the draft? Young might be your guy. He’ has the look and feel of a top-five pick at the very least if he keeps trending upward.

4. LSU SS Grant Delpit (junior)

Expect Delpit to receive the Greedy Williams treatment this summer and fall: You’ll see him high in mock drafts early on, and for very good reason. Whereas Williams had an incomplete second season in Baton Rouge, Delpit was the standout (along with CB Kristian Fulton) in the Tigers’ secondary.

It remains to be seen whether Delpit can be drafted as high as Jamal Adams was (No. 3 overall) a few years ago, but we’re talking about a 6-3, 205-pound enforcer with great range and hitting ability who might have been the best defensive back in college football last season.

5. Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy (junior)

Jeudy has averaged 19.3 yards per catch in his two seasons and absolutely belongs in the Julio Jones/Amari Cooper/Calvin Ridley pantheon of Bama WR prospects heading into the 2019 season. The 6-1, 192-pound speedster has a chance to be even more productive than last season in catching 14 TDs with 1,315 yards.

Alabama's Jerry Jeudy catches a touchdown pass against Clemson in the NCAA college football playoff championship game. (AP Photo)
Alabama's Jerry Jeudy catches a touchdown pass against Clemson in national championship game in January. (AP)

He’s Tua’s main deep threat, even among the Crimson Tide’s loaded batch of receivers, and Jeudy is the headliner at what should be a loaded position for next year’s draft. Did you lament the fact that the 2019 draft was light at the skill positions? Fear not: The 2020 class looks loaded there, especially at wideout.

6. Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (junior)

It has been an incredible 22 years and counting since a Buffaloes wide receiver went in Round 1 — that would be the infamous Rae Carruth in 1997 — but that could change next April if Shenault declares early and continues his rapid ascension. After a freshman season in which he averaged 24 yards on his seven receptions in 2017, Shenault was one of the best receivers in college last year with 86 catches for 1,011 yards and six TDs and is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.

The 6-2, 220-pound wideout was off to a scorching start before the second half of his season was plagued by turf toe. After missing Colorado’s spring game following surgery, he should be in great shape heading into the fall, and QB Steven Montez (an interesting prospect himself) will be looking for his top wideout a lot this fall.

7. Auburn DT Derrick Brown (senior)

It was surprising that Brown returned to school for another year (especially after becoming a father right before the deadline), as we actually mocked him late Round 1 prior to him opting to stay in college. That’s great for Auburn, which should have a fantastic defensive line featuring Brown alongside Nick Coe, among others.

The 6-4, 320-pound Brown still can develop as a player, and has the raw upside to be special in time.

8. Stanford OT Walker Little (junior)

One of the (very) early favorites to be the top tackle drafted is Little, who checks just about every box you want to see in a franchise blocker. The 6-7, 315-pound Little just turned 20 but has rare polish for such a young player. With more seasoning, the former five-star recruit could be a top-10 selection and a future anchor as an NFL left tackle.

Next year’s tackle crop is super deep at first blush, too, with Washington’s Trey Adams, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Tennessee’s Trey Smith and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton other names worth considering. But we’ll go right now with Little, who seems so clean to this point as a projection. Adams and Smith have injury situations worth monitoring, so Little and Thomas move up the list.

9. Alabama DE Raekwon Davis (senior)

Davis came back to school, and it was the right call. He’s still a spotty projection as a prospect even though there was a lot to like about what he flashed in 2017. His 2018 season took a downtick in production, and Davis was ejected from the Missouri game for punching a player, so there’s some reputation refurbishment needed heading into this season.

We’re still talking about a 6-7, 305-pound enforcer with a high level of skill, and Davis might still have been a top-40 pick had he come out this year. And get this: Alabama has had 16 first-round picks on defense since 2010.

10. Iowa EDGE A.J. Epenesa (junior)

One of our favorite players to watch, Epenesa kept flashing when we scouted Big Ten linemen. The 6-5, 275-pound force racked up 10.5 sacks (first in the Big Ten and 12th in the country) as a sophomore and could be primed for more, even with the loss of bookend Anthony Nelson.

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa looks like a high future NFL draft pick. (AP Photo)
Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa looks like a high future NFL draft pick. (AP Photo)

New Hawkeyes DL coach Kelvin Bell will come into the job ready to push Epenesa, a former five-star recruit, to new heights. He’s a big, physical and surprisingly agile pass rusher and run stopper and looks born for the NFL game.

Others to watch:

Quarterbacks: Jake Fromm, Georgia; Jacob Eason, Washington; K.J. Costello, Stanford

Running backs: Travis Etienne, Clemson; Najee Harris, Alabama; J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State; Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin; A.J. Dillon, Boston College; D’Andre Swift, Georgia

Wide receivers: CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma; Collin Johnson, Texas; Tee Higgins, Clemson; Jalen Reagor, TCU; Henry Ruggs, Alabama

Tight ends: Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma; Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

Offensive linemen: Andrew Thomas, Georgia; Trey Smith, Tennessee; Tristan Wirfs, Iowa; Trey Adams, Washington; Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin; Tommy Kraemer, Notre Dame; Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame

Defensive line: Lorenzo Neal, Purdue; Nick Coe, Auburn; Kenny Willekes, Michigan State; Curtis Weaver, Boise State; Terrell Lewis, Alabama; Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State; Julian Okwara, Notre Dame

Linebacker: K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU; Dylan Moses, Alabama; Anfernee Jennings, Alabama; Paddy Fisher, Northwestern; Monty Rice, Georgia; Troy Dye, Oregon

Defensive backs: Kristian Fulton, LSU; Trevon Diggs, Alabama; Bryce Hall, Virginia; Chase Lucas, Arizona State; C.J. Henderson, Florida; Isaiah Simmons, Clemson; Xavier McKinney, Alabama

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