2020 NFL Draft Prospects Who'll Be Better Than 2019 Rookie Stars
It's commonplace when talking about the NFL draft to fall in love with the next year. The grass is always greener, it seems, when looking ahead to the next crop of prospects each fall. At some positions, that's definitely true for the 2020 class, even following a very strong 2019 draft class.
Too often we get caught looking ahead while telling ourselves, "Yeah, but wait until THIS player is available"—I'm looking at you, Trevor Lawrence truthers—without truly evaluating the talent that we're comparing prospects to.
Scouting is all about context, after all, so let's apply some context to the situation. Is the 2020 draft class really better than 2019? And if so, where is it stronger?
Looking at the top prospects for the upcoming draft, it is possible to identify key players who already project to rank higher than their 2019 counterparts. And that helps make the case for 2020 being a stronger overall class.
Chase Young over Nick Bosa
Ohio State has become a factory that produces NFL players, including those at the highly valued edge-rusher position. Last year's No. 2 overall pick, Nick Bosa, was another in a long line of talented prospects at the spot for the Buckeyes and looked like a rare talent before a core muscle injury shut down his 2018 college season.
While Bosa was out, Ohio State plugged in sophomore Chase Young, who would go on to have an excellent breakout season with 9.5 sacks in his first extended playing time. Young flashed last year with excellent speed and power on a 6'5", 265-pound frame, but already in 2019, he's established himself as the best defensive player in college football.
Young's three sacks this season are evidence of his talents. He's simply too fast, too skilled with his hands and too powerful for college blockers to stop. With a clean injury history—something that hurt Bosa's scouting report—and better all-around athleticism (especially in his first step), it's easy to call Young the better pro prospect of the two Buckeyes pass-rushers.
Tua Tagovailoa over Quarterbacks
The 2019 NFL draft saw three quarterbacks drafted in the first round—Kyler Murray (No. 1 overall), Daniel Jones (No. 7) and Dwayne Haskins (No. 15)—but no one player had a singularly high grade as a prospect.
Murray, the first off the board, was an ideal fit for Kliff Kingsbury's offense with the Arizona Cardinals but wasn't ranked higher than former top quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. And while the 2020 quarterback class has a lot of proving left to do, the top passer looks to have more potential than Murray did when considering him for the entire league and not one particular offense.
Tua Tagovailoa is like watching Drew Brees or Steve Young in their prime. He's mobile, tough, smart and deadly accurate with a soft touch throwing to every level. He's able to drop dimes in a bucket over the top of the defense or dial up heaters while rolling out to string out the defense.
Tua is surrounded by elite talent, there's no doubt about that, but when evaluating him and his traits, it's exciting to see a true junior with his moxie, football IQ and accuracy on a tough, athletic frame.
Murray, Jones and Haskins were a good quarterback class, but Tua (barring injury) will grade higher on my final 2020 big board than any of the 2019 first-rounders did.
Jerry Jeudy over Wide Receivers
There might as well be a crumpled up post-it note in my pocket that says, "Jerry Jeudy no matter what." The Alabama junior and reigning Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's best receiver is like watching Odell Beckham Jr. without the drama. Or maybe it's like watching Jerry Rice if you're old enough to remember the amazing start-stop skills and precise route-running of the GOAT.
Jeudy is special. No, he's not a super-sized receiver like DK Metcalf or Julio Jones, but his 6'1", 185-pound frame is athletic and agile. Jeudy has the footwork, balance, burst and agility to have been an amazing soccer player or shortstop in baseball. He's quick and incredibly fluid while also having soft hands with excellent concentration at the catch point.
Already the top-ranked player on my overall big board, Jeudy has a chance to rank as the highest receiver grade handed out in my nine years evaluating players. That easily allows him to rank over solid prospects from 2019 like A.J. Brown, Marquise Brown and others.
Grant Delpit over Safeties
The 2019 safety class was good—we all loved Darnell Savage, Johnathan Abram, Taylor Rapp and others—but there wasn't a safety drafted until pick No. 21 overall, and it was called a reach by some evaluators around the league in post-draft conversations. Delpit's athleticism, ability to play near and away from the line of scrimmage and his leadership as the quarterback of the defense all add up to make him a Jamal Adams- or Derwin James-level safety prospect.
Safeties rarely hear their names called in the top five picks—Adams went No. 6 overall, which is the highest a safety has been drafted since Eric Berry went No. 5 overall in 2010—but Delpit has the tools to change that if he tests well in the predraft process. His 40-yard dash time and pro agilities will be important for evaluators. Many in the scouting world believe Adams only fell to the New York Jets after turning in a 4.56-second run at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Delpit's ability as a triple threat—he can play the run, lock up tight ends in man coverage or float in a zone—combined with his athleticism and character could lead to a modern record for the earliest a safety has been drafted. It will without a doubt allow him to rank higher than any safety in last year's class.
Jeffrey Okudah over Cornerbacks
The first cornerback didn't come off the board until pick No. 30 in the 2019 NFL draft, when the New York Giants traded up to select Georgia's Deandre Baker. Ohio State's Jeffrey Okudah should beat that by about 25 spots.
Okudah, a fiery and athletic cornerback with picture-perfect 6'1", 200-pound size, is exactly what NFL evaluators want at the position. Even going back to compare him to previous Ohio State standouts at cornerback, Okudah ranks higher than Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore or Gareon Conley. In my decade of evaluating, he's the most promising Buckeyes defensive back.
The 2019 cornerback class was deep, but only one cornerback was drafted in Round 1. Not only will Okudah change that, but Florida's CJ Henderson and LSU's Kristian Fulton both look very likely to rank higher than any of last year's cornerbacks.
This year's corner crop might not be able to compare in terms of overall depth at the position, but the top-end talent is noticeably better. That starts with Okudah, who looks like a top-five prospect.
D’Andre Swift over Josh Jacobs
Josh Jacobs was among my favorite prospects in the 2019 draft class. He had power, enough speed, great hands and came out of Alabama with limited wear and tear thanks to a crowded backfield with shared carries. The same could be said for Georgia's D'Andre Swift, who after sharing time with everyone from Sony Michel to Elijah Holyfield, is now the lead back in Athens.
Swift and Jacobs are comparable as prospects, but the dividing line could come down to pure speed. Jacobs got dinged in the predraft process after running in the mid-4.6-second range at the first Alabama pro day. He did drop that time to the low 4.5 range at a second workout, but opinions were set after his first run. For Swift, the key will be running a time that reflects his on-film speed, which looks to be very good.
In conversations with an area scout who covers Georgia, the expectation is that Swift will run in the low 4.4s when tested prior to the NFL draft. If he runs that well, a top-15 selection is very likely.
Swift isn't alone in the 2020 running back crop. Clemson's Travis Etienne looks amazing with a little added bulk but no loss of speed and agility. The same for Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor, who is now getting involved in the passing game after two years of running for over 4,000 total yards for the Wisconsin Badgers. All three are capable of a Round 1 grade when the 2020 draft rolls around.
Andrew Thomas over Jonah Williams
Jonah Williams was a top-tier pass protector coming out of Alabama in the 2019 NFL draft, but doubters still existed when it came to his ability to play left tackle in the pros due to short arms and a less-than-ideal body composition at around 300 pounds. Williams, who was drafted No. 11 overall but suffered a shoulder injury that will cost him the season, hasn't been able to answer those critics just yet. But when looking at the 2020 class, it could be another SEC tackle with questionable arm length who leads the pack.
Besting Williams as a prospect won't be easy, but Georgia's Andrew Thomas has a chance. He looks like a slightly better run blocker than Williams thanks to a stronger base and better all-around power, but he hasn't yet shown the technique in pass protection that made Williams a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide. It's still early, of course, and the junior Thomas isn't into his SEC schedule yet.
The grade on Williams was safe—a high floor and low ceiling player. Thomas might have a little more boom or bust to his game, but his strength and better size (6'5", 320 lbs) could tip the scales in his favor.