2020 NFL Draft Prospects with the Biggest Red Flags
The NFL draft is one of the most fascinating events of the offseason. It marks the beginning of a new journey for incoming players, and franchises that need fresh talent hope it's the start of a new chapter.
The first two days of the draft have become prime-time events, and Round 1 holds the bulk of the fan interest. Why? Because players in Round 1 are expected to be the new faces of the NFL, can't-miss prospects who will star in the league for years to come.
There's just one problem with that idea: Players picked in the first round fail all the time.
Often, players struggle to adapt to the NFL for reasons teams should have seen coming. However, when a prospect is dripping with potential and upside, franchises may be willing to overlook those issues.
While it's early in the 2020 predraft process, some potential first-rounders have red flags that shouldn't be ignored—but probably will be.
Austin Jackson, OT, USC
NFL teams love big, athletic left tackles, and that's exactly what USC's Austin Jackson could be at the next level. Listed at 6'6" and 310 pounds, Jackson has the size teams are looking for at the position. On film, he appears to have the athleticism and quick feet they want as well.
Here's the red flag, though: Jackson is a raw, young prospect who will be drafted for his ceiling and not his floor.
"His overall play strength needs to improve, but he's only 20 years old, and that should come in time," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah wrote. "Overall, Jackson isn't ready to play at a high level right away, but the upside is tantalizing."
The problem with drafting linemen based on their upside is that sometimes the play never catches up with the physical potential.
Take a look at what NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki wrote of Greg Robinson ahead of the 2014 draft: "Is only a third-year sophomore and two-year starter and still must improve his hand use, footwork and technique. However, he is undeniably gifted and capable of walking into a starting-left-tackle job in the pros."
The Rams drafted Robinson second overall but traded him after just three seasons. He's now on his third team and heading toward free agency.
Could Jackson avoid being an early bust like Robinson? Absolutely, but drafting a player based on what he could be in a couple of years is incredibly risky.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
As a player, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is one of the most promising prospects in this draft class. He's played in two national title games, compiled a 22-2 record as a starter and had an 87-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
According to former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, Tagovailoa might be the best quarterback prospect in this class.
"He's the finest prospect I've ever evaluated. ... His leadership qualities are second to none," Dilfer said, per Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The red flag for Tagovailoa is injury-related. He underwent ankle and hip surgeries in college and is still recovering from the latter, which stemmed from a dislocated hip. Not only must teams evaluate his recovery, but they must also gauge his risk for re-injury.
Teams might be OK with having Tagovailoa treat 2019 as a redshirt season. Depending on the quarterback in place, he might be doing that anyway. However, they won't be comfortable with drafting a quarterback who has a significant chance of suffering another major injury.
Long-term health is a concern because it can impact a team's ability to compete and because repeated injuries could potentially lead to early retirement. Andrew Luck and Luke Kuechly are two recent examples.
For Tagovailoa, medical evaluations at the combine will be paramount.
Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
Tagovailoa isn't the only potential first-round quarterback with some serious red flags. Most quarterbacks after LSU's Joe Burrow appear to be questionable prospects, and NFL teams are leery.
"This is not a good overall quarterback class, that's for sure," one NFL scout told ESPN.
Washington's Jacob Eason is among the group of questionable quarterbacks—though he could still end up in Round 1 if there is a run on the position. He has loads of arm talent and physical ability, but his track record is a red flag.
For one, Eason lost his starting job at Georgia to Jake Fromm, another prospect who is a borderline first-round pick. Though he posted decent overall numbers in 2019 after transferring to Washington, he wasn't impressive against top-tier competition.
Eason passed for 3,132 yards with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. However, his touchdown-to-interception ratio against Power Five schools was just 12-7.
"People got too high on him when they weren't playing anyone, but he's really come back down to Earth. I also don't think we love his mental makeup," an NFL scout told Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller in October.
With just two full seasons of starting experience and some questionable production, Eason's college career in itself is a red flag.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is another signal-caller with some red flags. While his physical tools aren't in question and he's had some strong production—he passed for 3,471 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019—his mental toughness and leadership ability have been called into question.
"He lacks a killer mentality," one scout told Miller.
Consistency and decision-making were also issues for Herbert in college.
"The more tape I watch, the more it concerns me," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay wrote.
While consistency issues can be fixed, and he can learn to make better decisions, the question about his mental makeup may be a deal-breaker for some NFL teams. Players are going to fight for a quarterback they can believe in, and that just might not be Herbert.
"I've never understood the love with this kid. He might look the part, but he'll get someone fired," a scout told Miller. "He doesn't have it."
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
The first round of the draft is likely to include a number of wide receivers. Led by Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, the wide receiver class might be deeper than any other group this year.
Jeudy's teammate Henry Ruggs III could well be one of the wideouts selected in the first round. No one will be surprised if he is. He has adequate size (listed at 6'0", 190 lbs), decent hands and solid production—he caught 40 passes for 746 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019.
However, Ruggs is not a polished receiver. He's been productive at Alabama almost solely because of his ability to burn past the secondary.
"Ruggs took a step forward as a route-runner this season, but his game is all about speed," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. wrote.
As Gordon Gekko might say if he were an NFL scout, speed is good.
However, when a receiver's only notable asset is his speed, it's a red flag. NFL teams love speed, but speed alone doesn't always translate to NFL success. If it did, 2017 ninth overall pick John Ross would have more than 716 career receiving yards.
Ruggs was never the best receiver on the field at Alabama— he was outproduced by both Jeudy and DeVonta Smith in 2019. Even if his speed does translate to the NFL, he may never be more than a complementary pass-catcher.
Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
Edge-rusher Terrell Lewis is yet another Alabama prospect who carries a couple of red flags into the predraft process. Like Tagovailoa, injuries are a concern. He was limited to 26 collegiate games because of a torn elbow ligament and then a torn ACL.
"There are durability concerns with this player," Jeremiah wrote.
Lewis could still become a force in the NFL. He looked the part of a future pro in 2019 when he amassed six sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. However, injuries are a legitimate concern for a physical defender. His limited playing time also makes him a relatively inexperienced and raw prospect.
"[He] will get later off the ball later in games, and there are concerns with long-term conditioning, which would make sense given the time he's missed due to injury," Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network wrote. "Must see a more intentional rush plan before he will cash in on physical tools."
If Lewis can refine his technique, he'll have a chance to become a premier NFL defender. However, he'll also have to stay healthy along the way. Given his history, there's no guarantee that either will occur.
Grant Delpit, S, LSU
LSU safety Grant Delpit was a productive player on a championship defense. He amassed 65 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in 2019 while helping the Tigers land the biggest prize in college football. He also took home the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in college football.
At first blush, Delpit looks like a can't-miss defensive prospect.
However, when you dig further into his on-field performances, some red flags emerge. Perhaps the most alarming is his penchant for missed tackles.
"It's been an issue since he missed a pair of big ones in the Texas game early on, but the concern only has grown," Yahoo Sports' Eric Edholm wrote. "Delpit missed two or more tackles in seven of the eight games since then and had a brutal time at Bama, missing four tackles in that game."
A lackluster season of game tape in 2019 is also cause for concern.
"Ankle and shoulder setbacks plagued him, as did play that too often looked uninterested," Miller wrote. "Scouts can look at Delpit's athletic ability and be in awe, but his actual play all season left something to be desired."