College Football Underclassmen Who Should Declare for 2020 NFL Draft

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2019

College Football Underclassmen Who Should Declare for 2020 NFL Draft

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    The number of underclassmen who've declared for the NFL draft has steadily risen, and that trend is certain to continue in 2020.

    While not every choice seems the most advantageous from an outside perspective, some college football stars shouldn't hesitate to make the professional leap. Those announcements are starting to pop up every day.

    Boston College running back AJ Dillon, Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and Kentucky star Lynn Bowden Jr. are among those headed to the NFL, and more will declare soon.

    There is money to be made. And after several seasons in college, it's time for these standouts to cash a check.

Quarterbacks

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    Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: Provided his recovery from a season-ending hip injury is progressing as expected, Tagovailoa should declare. He's the second-best quarterback prospect behind LSU senior Joe Burrow. Tagovialoa completed more than 70 percent of his passes with 76 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 24 games as a starter.

    Jake Fromm, Georgia: Perhaps one more season in college with a more experienced group of receivers could propel Fromm. But there's clear risk in that decision. In a draft without a clear No. 4 quarterback behind Burrow, Tagovailoa and Oregon senior Justin Herbert, Fromm should capitalize on that upside.

Running Backs

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    Najee Harris, Alabama: Harris progressed from a rotation piece to the Crimson Tide's unquestioned lead back in 2019. He collected 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground but also thrived as a receiver, catching 27 passes for 304 yards and seven scores.

    Travis Etienne, Clemson: In three seasons at Clemson, the track star has posted per-carry averages north of seven each season. By the time Clemson exits the College Football Playoff, Etienne will have somewhere around 600 total touches in college. He has nothing left to prove at this level.

    D'Andre Swift, Georgia: Potentially the No. 1 back in the class, Swift will be coveted for his versatile skill set. Along with his highly efficient and explosive runningnearly 3,000 career yardshe's collected 73 catches in three seasons at Georgia for 666 yards.

    J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State: Not that he would've stayed anyway, but Dobbins' resurgent year has solidified his place as a top prospect. He managed just 4.6 yards per carry as a sophomore but has sliced through defenses at a 6.5-yard rate in 2019.

    Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State: A breakout star in 2019, Hubbard replaced fourth-round pick Justice Hill and put up Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers. Entering the postseason, Hubbard leads the FBS with 1,936 yards and has 21 touchdowns.

    Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin: He's the first FBS player to accumulate 6,000 rushing yards in three seasons. Enough said, right?

Wide Receivers and Tight End

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    Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver in 2018 and followed that with a quality 2019. Over the last two seasons, he's showed off clinical route-running ability and caught 23 touchdowns.

    Henry Ruggs III, Alabama: Put simply, he's fast. Very, very fast. Since the beginning of his sophomore year, Ruggs has averaged 18.1 yards per offensive touch. He's totaled 25 touchdowns during his tenure with the Crimson Tide.

    DeVonta Smith, Alabama: Completing the draft-eligible Tide trio is Smith, the star of the 2017 season's national championship team but who truly emerged in 2019. Smith has 65 catches for 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.

    Tee Higgins, Clemson: Higgins offers a tremendous mix of reliability and explosiveness, boasting 52 catches for 1,082 yardsa 20.8-yard average. He narrowly missed the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore and, entering the CFP, has 27 career touchdowns.

    CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: What we just said for Higgins goes for Lamb—and even a touch better. Lamb has thrived for the Big 12 powerhouse, securing at least 46 passes in each of his three seasons and averaging no worse than 17.5 yards per catch. Lamb, who also returns punts, has 33 total touchdowns in his college days.

    Colby Parkinson, Stanford: The other top tight ends (Washington's Hunter Bryant and Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam) have declared for the draft. Parkinson has 87 receptions for 1,171 yards and 12 touchdowns in three seasons at Stanford.

Offensive Linemen

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    Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama: Leatherwood and Wills are the left and right tackles for the Crimson Tide in 2019, and both players are two-year starters. Leatherwood has positional versatility after playing right guard in 2018, and Wills allowed just 11 pressures during the 2019 regular season, per Pro Football Focus.

    Andrew Thomas, Georgia: In three seasons for Georgia, Thomas has started 41 games. He played 15 at right tackle as a freshman and has since locked down the left side. As a junior, he's surrendered seven total pressures, according to PFF.

    Tristan Wirfs, Iowa: The 6'5", 322-pounder has been a mainstay at right tackle for Iowa. Wirfs capped a steady rise with first-team All-Big Ten honors by the coaches and media in 2019, a deserved reward for ceding four pressures in Big Ten play, per PFF.

    Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin: A consistent standout on a consistently great offensive line, Biadasz made an All-Big Ten team every season at Wisconsin. He was a third-team player as a freshman and has since secured back-to-back first-team mentions.

Defensive Linemen/Edge-Rushers

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    Terrell Lewis, Alabama: An arm injury limited Lewis to five games in 2017 and a knee injury ended his 2018 campaign before it began. The breakout year was worth the wait. He's registered 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, adding 16 hurries.

    Curtis Weaver, Boise State: Weaver surged onto the scene with 13 tackles for loss (11 sacks) as a freshman and hasn't slowed down. He notched 15 and 9.5 in 2018 and then improved to 18.5 and 13.5 this year. His 34 career sacks are a Mountain West record.

    Marvin Wilson, Florida State: Despite playing on a couple of mediocre defenses over the last two seasons, Wilson made a massive impact from his interior spot. He collected 86 tackles with 13 in the backfield and 8.5 sacks during that time.

    A.J. Epenesa, Iowa: While he didn't quite have the statistical breakout year we anticipated, Epenesa still recorded 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks. That increased his career totals to 35 and 24, respectively. Epenesa is ready for the NFL.

    Chase Young, Ohio State: Young set a program record with 16.5 sacks this season despite missing two games. And, no, NFL evaluators are not concerned with the suspension that stemmed from taking out a loan and breaking an NCAA rule.

Linebackers

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    Dylan Moses, Alabama: Will a season-ending knee injury cause Moses to stay for 2020? That's not an unreasonable thought, but NFL teams are absolutely looking forward to the availability of a 6'3", 233-pound linebacker with Moses' athleticism. He recorded 86 tackles with 10 for loss as a sophomore in 2018.

    Isaiah Simmons, Clemson: Considered a linebacker/safety hybrid, the hard-hitting Simmons can do a little of everything. This season, he's amassed 91 tackles with 14 for loss and seven sacks, also breaking up six passes and intercepting two.

    Monty Rice, Georgia: Though not a flashy player, Rice is an integral piece of a terrific Georgia defense. He's gathered a team-high 84 tackles in 2019 and had 59 stops in 10 games last season.

    Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma: Murray fits the "tackling machine" label. He collected 77 stops as a freshman, 155 as a sophomore and is working on 95 this season. Along the way, Murray has provided 36 takedowns in the backfield with 9.5 sacks.

Defensive Backs

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    Xavier McKinney, Alabama: There is hardly a better compliment for a defensive back than "he finds the football." That applies to McKinney, who's provided 74 tackles with six for loss, two interceptions, 10 pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 2019.

    Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State: Nasirildeen has a coveted build and excellent production. Listed at 6'4" and 215 pounds, he's collected 192 tackles over the last two seasons. He's also forced three fumbles and intercepted three passes in that time.

    Grant Delpit, LSU: Delpit's value is largely centered on his versatility. Heading into the 2019 CFP, he's accumulated 190 tackles with 16 for loss, eight interceptions and 23 pass breakups in three years.

    Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade, Ohio State: Young is the headliner of a dominant Ohio State defense, but Okudah and Wade are both terrific. Okudah has a team-high three picks, while Wade is a sticky nickelback who has broken up eight passes.

    Paulson Adebo, Stanford: Though an uncharacteristic four-win season dropped Stanford off the national radar, Adebo has remained a top prospect. After amassing 23 combined pass breakups and interceptions last year, he notched 14 before an undisclosed injury ended his 2019 season.