Matt Miller's 2020 Top 10 NFL Draft Big Board: Alabama-LSU Ushers in New Top QB
The month of November is when scouting gets real. Conference games mean better competition and bigger stages for the top prospects to play on. No stage this year has been bigger than the LSU-at-Alabama matchup from the past weekend. With 20 NFL teams in attendance and 28 players on my 2020 draft big board alone on the field, this was a scout's dream.
The result of the game had major ramifications—not just on the college football landscape or playoff rankings, but on the minds of draft analysts and pro evaluators across the country. Joe Burrow's near-perfect day against the best defensive mind in college football history—on Alabama's home field—has him moving up from his previous ranking at No. 5 overall.
Burrow isn't the only player on the move after strong weekends. Iowa's A.J. Epenesa had his best performance of the year in a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers but reminded us all why he was looked at as a top-10 pick headed into this season.
Who's up and who's down? That, plus a look at each player's best NFL draft fit, in a new Top 10 Big Board.
10. EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
Pro Player Comparison: Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints
NFL Team Fits: Lions, Titans, Raiders
Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa was a vision last season while not starting at right end for the Hawkeyes. His 16.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks put him on the table as a legitimate top-10 pick in the 2020 draft class. All that was left for Epenesa was to take care of business on the field this season.
Epenesa got off to a slow start this year but has played exceptionally well down the stretch, including his best game of the year against Wisconsin last week. Epenesa's 6'6", 280-pound frame allows him to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive scheme. His power, length and quickness off the snap make him a productive option as a 4-3 defensive end with the ability to kick inside as an interior pass-rusher on third downs.
The scheme versatility that Epenesa offers is very attractive to scouts. Teams running hybrid or versatile schemes—like the Lions and Titans with their New England Patriots-style schemes—should love Epenesa if he's available when they come on the board. The same goes for the Oakland Raiders, who could kick Epenesa inside and pair him next to Clelin Ferrell and Maurice Hurst for an attacking pass rush.
9. WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Pro Player Comparison: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
NFL Team Fits: Cardinals, Jaguars, Titans
I don't have a vote for the Biletnikoff Award, but if I did, it would go to Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb without a second thought for any other receiver in college football. Lamb has been absolutely amazing as a route-runner and yards-after-catch playmaker in an Oklahoma offense that has relied heavily on the junior receiver under a quarterback who isn't as prolific as Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray before him.
Lamb has been the savior on numerous plays and even in the course of several games—as this Texas fan knows all too well.
Lamb doesn't have amazing size at a listed 6'3", 190 pounds, and he won't burn up the track at the NFL Scouting Combine with a projected 40-yard dash time in the low 4.5s based on what scouts know. What he does offer is a toughness that's undeniable and an ability to extend his catch radius to make the big play.
Add in his hard running style post-catch, and it's easy to see how Lamb could be a dynamic Day 1 asset in passing offenses like Arizona—where he would reunite with Murray—and those in Jacksonville and Tennessee, where a true No. 1 receiver could take the offenses over the top.
8. WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
Pro Player Comparison: Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
NFL Team Fits: Raiders, Eagles, Colts
The NFL is being dominated by pure speed on offense, and no player in college football better exemplifies that than Alabama's Henry Ruggs III.
After clocking an unreal 24.3 miles per hour on a touchdown run against South Carolina, Ruggs' speed is becoming the talk of scouting circles—even if we knew he was fast coming out of high school. He was the state 7A 100-meter champion with a record-breaking speed of 10.58 seconds.
Ruggs isn't just a speed receiver, though. This isn't John Ross or Corey Coleman. He's a threat down the field on vertical routes, but he's also shown himself to be exceptional with the ball in his hands on short routes. Ruggs can be used much in the same way Tyreek Hill is—as a true No. 1 wide receiver with the skills to run short, intermediate and deep routes.
That type of speed and playmaking ability will fit any scheme, but teams drafting in the top 15 like Oakland, Philadelphia and Indianapolis could all have their eyes on legendary speed at receiver.
7. DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
Pro Player Comparison: Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
NFL Team Fits: Browns, Lions, Raiders
Derrick Brown would have had a first-round grade on my big board last season had he left Auburn as a junior and entered the NFL draft. He opted to return to school instead, a decision that could net him millions of dollars.
Brown has been much-improved this season as an all-around player. Auburn has asked him to line up at defensive end, at nose tackle, in gaps and all across the defensive front. He's been able to dominate with power at the point of attack and also with speed to penetrate those gaps in the offensive line.
At 6'5", 315 pounds, Brown has the size to play in a 3-4 or 4-3—something that adds to his value and helps make him a top-10 player overall. Brown can be a 3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 defensive tackle, and unlike many prospects, he has the skills to play at a very high level in both schemes.
Brown is an offensive coordinator's nightmare. His power, speed and mean streak point to a player who will not just hold up at the next level but actually produce big numbers and a big impact in the NFL.
6. LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Pro Player Comparison: Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo Bills
NFL Team Fits: Giants, Browns, Lions
A decade ago, scouts would have looked at a player like former safety-turned-linebacker Isaiah Simmons and called him a tweener—a dirty word in scouting circles then, but what is now seen as a compliment for a player who shows versatility.
Simmons is a tweener, and his versatility is a huge asset that makes him the No. 6 overall player in the 2020 draft class. Given his experience at safety—remember him as the guy frustrating the Alabama offense as the Tigers won a national championship last year—Simmons has shown he can line up in the slot as a cover man, or he can get in a single-high look and take away the center of the field. He's also excelling at linebacker this season, showing the toughness, instincts and physicality to stop the run make zone drops in coverage.
Simmons won't be a fit for every team, but if the New York Giants keep general manager Dave Gettleman, he makes sense in that scheme. The same for the Cleveland Browns, who need a defensive playmaker and could look to replace Joe Schobert.
5. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Pro Player Comparison: Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
NFL Team Fits: Bengals, Dolphins, Chargers
Tua Tagovailoa played very well in Alabama's loss to LSU—something that has been forgotten or downplayed because of Joe Burrow's play and the shocking Tigers win. But it can't be overlooked that Tua is still very good, even if there are some concerns that push him down the board.
First, the good. Tua's touch is exceptional, and his field vision is special. Even when the pocket breaks down, he's able to scramble or stretch the field to find open windows to his receivers. As a thrower, he exhibits awesome touch, timing and anticipation.
Now the bad. Tua has been injured in each of the last two seasons. A bum ankle in major games has limited his ability to step into throws. That's bad news for a guy who doesn't have great arm strength. Tua could grow into his arm and better be able to power throws, but right now, it's a check in the weaknesses column.
That's not enough to deter teams from drafting Tua very early. He could still be the first pick in the 2020 draft if the Bengals or Dolphins fall in love with him. One loss in which he played very well against a good secondary isn't going to knock Tua far down the board.
4. CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
Pro Player Comparison: Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots
NFL Team Fits: Jets, Falcons, Broncos
Sometimes a player comes along in college football who is a perfect fit for what the NFL currently wants at that position. This is the case with cornerback Jeff Okudah from Ohio State.
A 6'1", 200-pounder with excellent physical skills at the line of scrimmage and the speed to run with top-flight wide receivers down the field, Okudah is a seamless fit into NFL schemes both man- and zone-based. He might not have the statistics (three interceptions this year but none previously) because offenses have shied away from him often, but Okudah's instincts and athleticism are ideal for the NFL.
Beyond ideal, Okudah excels at every trait the pros want in the position. He's physical, tough, fast, smart and has technique to boot. Okudah grades out higher than Marshon Lattimore or Denzel Ward did at the same point of their careers. Compared to the elite corners of the last five draft classes, only Jalen Ramsey is currently graded higher.
Okudah is special, and that's why he could be selected as early as the top five depending on team needs after free agency. If the New York Jets miss out on Chase Young, Okudah could be Joe Douglas' first pick as general manager.
3. WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Pro Player Comparison: Odell Beckham Jr, Cleveland Browns
NFL Team Fits: Giants, Jets, Cardinals
Jerry Jeudy moves down one spot this week after an uneven game against LSU, but also because of the rise of Joe Burrow to No. 2 on the board.
Jeudy is a cheat code, and you can see that in how defenses respect him. He's almost constantly double-teamed with bracket coverage from a safety over the top but still finds ways to get open thanks to the best route-running skills in the nation.
Jeudy, at 6'1" and 185 pounds, isn't the biggest receiver, and that actually showed up against LSU with two dropped touchdown passes—although he immediately redeemed himself after the second by making a tough grab with a defender draped across his back in the end zone. But this does bring up an interesting point—for all Jeudy's greatness as a route-runner, his catch radius can be eliminated because he likes to body catch. This is a habit he'll have to break in the NFL, which should be possible because there are catches (like that last touchdown) when he extends his arms and makes grabs away from his midsection. But if you're looking for a concern on Jeudy, that's it.
Scheme fits for a route-runner like Jeudy are plentiful, and it can be tough to project due to expected coaching changes, but pairing a young quarterback in New York (for either team) with a true No. 1 receiver does make a lot of sense.
2. QB Joe Burrow, LSU
Pro Player Comparison: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
NFL Team Fits: Bengals, Dolphins, Saints
Joe Burrow is simply fantastic. His play in the pocket is poised, athletic, patient and smart. His throwing motion is quick with the ability to dial up speed when needed and a soft touch when the pass calls for it. Hence the Garoppolo comparison—Burrow can beat you with his arm, with his ability to extend the play in the pocket, or with his legs as a runner by design or when the play breaks down.
Many have and will continue to question Burrow's play as a "one year wonder," but going back to the loss against Alabama last year, he's been flawless. And in the 2019 season alone, Burrow has won at Texas, at Alabama and at home against Florida and Auburn. Those are four big wins that should quiet doubters about how well he could play against future NFL talent.
Burrow is now firmly in command of QB1 status on my big board. The Cincinnati Bengals might not be able to resist the urge to draft the kid from Athens, Ohio, to be the franchise quarterback in Zac Taylor's scheme with the No. 1 overall pick.
A sleeper to consider is the New Orleans Saints. Burrow is playing in the Saints' system with former New Orleans assistant Joe Brady as the passing game coordinator at LSU. The Saints are facing Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater both hitting free agency. It would take a lot to trade up high enough to draft Burrow, but he's a natural fit for New Orleans if the front office wants to get aggressive.
1. EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
Pro Player Comparison: Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
NFL Team Fits: Redskins, Jets, Giants
There is no one like Chase Young in college football. At 6'5" and 265 pounds, he will leave Ohio State as a complete prospect with few on-field weaknesses. His first-step quickness is legendary, and his ability to counter his quickness with power, hand usage and refined pass-rushing moves makes him a very highly graded and sought after prospect.
Do NFL teams care that Young is being suspended by Ohio State while investigating a loan he took from a family friend? Not one bit. Quite the opposite, as many scouting friends have joked via text this weekend that at least this way Young won't get hurt in a meaningless game.
The draft order will ultimately decide who is the No. 1 pick in the draft as a quarterback-needy Bengals would most likely pass on Young for Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa, but you can put it in ink that Young is the 2020 draft's top player.