2020 NFL Draft's Biggest Risers and Fallers from National Title Game
It was Joe Burrow's stage. His 2019 season, one of the best ever for a college quarterback, ended in picture-perfect fashion as he waited for his press conference Monday night after LSU won the national title, uniform on and a cigar in his soon-to-be million-dollar right hand.
Burrow ended 2019 with 60 touchdown passes, a new college football record, but he is not the only player from a star-studded 2020 title game who saw his draft stock move on a night that every evaluator worth their paycheck will assess and reassess.
Scouts live for "best vs. best" performances, and Monday night offered plenty. First-round wide receivers faced first-round cornerbacks. The 2020 and 2021 QB1s faced defenses with fast, rangy inside linebackers who aimed to eliminate their movement.
It wasn't a close contest at the end, but it is still one we as evaluators live for. Here are my movers and shakers postgame.
If you're wondering where Ja'Marr Chase and Derek Stingley Jr. are, they won't be eligible to enter the 2020 NFL draft. Chase will be eligible in 2021, Stingley in 2022.
Stock Up: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
How can you move up a player who was already QB1, the No. 2 overall prospect in the class and a lock to be the first selection in the 2020 NFL draft?
Burrow won't see movement on my big board, but as has happened every time he's played this season, I walked away more impressed by the senior quarterback.
Burrow doesn't have the strongest arm, but what he offers in terms of accuracy, vision, poise, toughness and leadership is exactly what NFL teams want. He's Aaron Rodgers-like when the pocket breaks down and he's moving around, scanning the field and looking for openings. Burrow doesn't have Rodgers' arm strength (few do), but his ability to improvise and make something out of nothing is special.
The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the easiest draft decisions of any franchise in the last decade. Zac Taylor, the team's head coach and a family friend because of his connection to Burrow's two older brothers who played at Taylor's alma mater, Nebraska, should have his draft card filled out already.
Stock Down: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Grant Delpit entered the 2019 season as the No. 3 player on my watchlist. He ended his 2018 sophomore campaign with excellent playmaking skills, and anyone you talked to in Baton Rouge raved about his leadership.
But this season did not go as expected for Delpit. Ankle and shoulder setbacks plagued him, as did play that too often looked uninterested. Scouts can look at Delpit's athletic ability and be in awe, but his actual play all season left something to be desired. The hope was that in what was likely his final game, Delpit would turn it back on and be the shutdown defender his reputation had him billed as.
His performance wasn't at the level you'd want, but Delpit did record a sack and a forced fumble. Still, in pursuit he often looked slow to turn and run—and then when he did run toward the ball, his pursuit angles weren't good. A hamstring injury midway through the game can be blamed for some of this, but Delpit was seen loafing on the Tigers' first defensive drive.
Evaluating him will be difficult. Do you trust the tape, or do you trust his traits and athleticism? NFL evaluators are in for a long three months of trying to get a read on him, but he's moving down my board after he failed to live up to expectations this season.
Stock Up: Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
The LSU defense needed someone to make plays Monday night. Junior linebacker Patrick Queen, who wasn't even a full-time starter earlier this season, was that man as he capped off a brilliant 2019.
Queen's 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks and eight tackles were difference-making against a speedy Clemson offense. With Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence both posing huge running threats, Queen was asked to shut down the middle of the field and did so beautifully.
A 6'1", 227-pounder who moves like Deion Jones, Queen hasn't declared his 2020 NFL draft intentions, but were he to enter, Monday night's game would be an excellent final showing.
Stock Up: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
While the Clemson offense struggled—it felt like it didn't have the ball between the middle of the second quarter and the start of the fourth—it wasn't Etienne's fault.
One of the fastest running backs in college football, Etienne showed off his burst and proved he can run with physicality and toughness between the tackles against a defense that will have all 11 players eventually suiting up on Sundays.
Etienne finished with 78 rushing yards, but that's because Clemson fell behind and had to throw. If the offense remained committed to Etienne while the contest was close, things might have been different.
Etienne improved his game throughout 2019 by showing more power, working on his pass-catching talents and being smarter with his bounceback cuts. While there are rumors he could return to Clemson for his senior season, it's hard to imagine a 5'10", 200-pound back would want to put more hits on his frame before the NFL. If he does declare for the draft, Etienne will be a top-50 player.
Stock Down: A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson
Chase carved up the Clemson secondary en route to a nine-catch, 221-yard, two-touchdown night, and junior cornerback A.J. Terrell was the fall guy too often.
Terrell started the game well, but once the LSU offense attacked him, you could sense the panic in his technique. Terrell failed to locate the ball on several key plays and was left not running hip-for-hip in man coverage on another.
Before the game, Terrell looked like a traits guy who could enter the 2020 draft and test his way up the board some, likely being a late-first- or early-second-round selection. After Monday's game—his only test of the season against legitimate NFL talent at wide receiver—a return to school to work on timing and technique would be the smarter move.
You never want to overreact to one game, but since this is the only contest evaluators can check Terrell against what looks like NFL talent, you have to put more weight on this performance.
Stock Up: Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson
Early and often, the telecast highlighted the versatility, athleticism and playmaking ability of 6'4", 230-pound junior linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons. At one point he had lined up at cornerback, slot cornerback, safety, middle linebacker and rush end. The NFL draft hasn't seen a player like this in a long time.
Simmons' production did lessen in the second half as LSU adjusted and did all it could to avoid him, but that in and of itself is an impact that will likely mirror what NFL offensive coordinators must account for once he acclimates to the pro game.
Rarely does a player come along who can rush, tackle and cover at the level Simmons does. There is no NFL comparison for a player of his size, speed and traits. Because of his unique gifts and athleticism, Simmons should be among the first 10 picks in 2020.
Stock Up: Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
You might look at Tee Higgins' stat line (three catches, 52 yards) and wonder how he could receive a “stock up" grade, but the stats don't tell the whole story.
Higgins was a powerful force in the first half before a hard hit to his thigh on a jump ball slowed him. His 36-yard run, which saw him barrel through Kristian Fulton on a hard hit that sprung Higgins into the end zone, had the Clemson offense rolling.
So too did his blocking ability downfield, even if he had a touchdown called back on a questionable blindside block. It looked clean and really showed his toughness. That's something pro teams will value.
You can't always stare at the box score and evaluate a prospect. Higgins' game Monday night is proof of that. Evaluators will see his downfield speed, his toughness and his versatility and be reminded that he's a legitimate top-20 player in this class. He's No. 12 overall on my board.
Stock Down: LSU Offensive Line
The Tigers offensive line won the prestigious Joe Moore Award, handed out each postseason to the best O-line in college football; but in my viewings of the LSU line this season—including three in person—it struggled with allowing pressures and hits.
That was on display Monday night. There's a reason we can evaluate and marvel at Burrow's escapability and mobility so often—it's because his line is allowing too many pressures.
As a group, this might be the best in college, but junior left tackle Saahdiq Charles and junior center Lloyd Cushenberry III do not look ready to make NFL impacts. Returning to school for 2020 could boost both players' stocks.
Stock Up: Thaddeus Moss, TE, LSU
Coaches at LSU told me all season that Moss' time would come. It did on the biggest possible stage with two touchdowns on five receptions.
Moss wasn't the guy stretching the field—Chase and Justin Jefferson have that job locked down—but he was the guy Burrow relied on in the red zone. A glance at his 36 receiving yards won't tell the story of the impact Moss had when the Tigers got into tight sets near the goal line.
Moss, a junior tight end, has likely played his last college game. He started his play at NC State in 2016, sat out a season because of his transfer to LSU and then missed 2018 because of a foot injury.
Moss never dominated statistically, but throughout the 2019 season you saw him becoming more comfortable. With the 6'3", 249-pound Moss' up-the-seam speed, big body and ability to beat defenders with a big catch radius, it's easy to think NFL teams will like him a lot on Day 2 of the draft.
Stock Up: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU
Clyde the Glide was magnificent again Monday night, much like he has been all season. A first-year starter, Edwards-Helaire was the difference once Clemson settled into a 3-1-7 look on defense that flooded the field with defensive backs. The LSU coaching staff wisely turned around and handed off to its bowling ball of a running back.
It's easy to love what Edwards-Helaire does. He's tough, powerful, versatile as a receiver and slippery when running on the edge. He might not have Etienne's home run speed, but his all-around game projects as that of an NFL starter.
With 110 yards rushing and another 54 as a receiver, Edwards-Helaire's likely curtain call was a good one.