Joe Burrow, Chase Young and the Most NFL-Ready Prospects Ahead of the 2020 Draft

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystFebruary 19, 2020

Joe Burrow, Chase Young and the Most NFL-Ready Prospects Ahead of the 2020 Draft

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    No college prospect is truly ready to play at the NFL level. Some are more ready than others, though.

    The degrees of readiness are difficult to ascertain. That's why NFL scouts are on the road for months. They're trying to learn about individuals and what makes them tick. Those in-depth evaluations aren't just on-field related. Scouts learn about the person and how he acts away from the game and reacts to adversity.

    The entire evaluation process helps project how players will perform once enormous responsibility is placed upon their shoulders.

    Some prospects are more polished and prepared than others, and translatable traits or skills help project future success.

    LSU's Joe Burrow and Ohio State's Chase Young display elite traits. They're already the presumptive favorites to become the first and second overall picks in April's draft in Las Vegas. 

    Not every prospect is as ready as those two. 

    Some projections are based on potential. Others might not be as highly rated yet could turn into instant-impact rookies. A combination of elite talents and refined yet possibly lesser-known options comprise the 2020 class' most NFL-ready prospects.

           

QB Joe Burrow, LSU

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    Andrew Luck set a high bar for all subsequent quarterback prospects.

    His size-and-athleticism combination, natural arm talent, brilliant mind, multiple years of high-level performance and experience in a pro-style offense made him a cut above every college quarterback not named John Elway or Peyton Manning.

    The 6'4", 240-pound signal-caller's professional career never quite lived up to expectations, but that caliber of prospect is rarely seen.

    Joe Burrow is coming off the greatest single season by a quarterback in college football history, and no, that's not hyperbole. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner broke the FBS record with 60 touchdown passes while leading the undefeated LSU Tigers to a national championship.

    Other dominant quarterbacks have put up sparkling numbers without being as highly regarded. Yet Burrow clearly established a level of confidence in Joe Brady's offensive scheme during his senior year, and that translated to the field.

    His pocket presence, anticipation and ball placement were as good or better than any quarterback prospect since Luck, if not longer. His ability to effortlessly place himself in an ideal position to make a throw is exceptional.

    Furthermore, defenses can't rattle him. According to Pro Football Focus, Burrow posted an 80.5 passing grade under pressure last season—the best score, by far, of any of the incoming prospects. The site graded him as the best passer outside of the pocket too.

    He's the single-most efficient passer in FBS history and ready for NFL passing concepts.

    "We've got a lot of similarities with their pass game. A lot of NFL offenses do," Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said of the LSU offense, per 247Sports' Sam Marsdale. "... You see a lot of pro passing concepts in their offense, and they did a really good job. But they are things that you see around the league. It's all things that fit very well with what we do and a lot of people do."

    If any quarterback is ready for the professional ranks, it's Burrow.

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    Every year, a non-first-round running back exceeds expectations during his rookie campaign. Miles Sanders, Devin Singletary, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt all broke out as second- or third-round draft picks within the past three years.

    The skill sets of those players vary, but each created a significant impact early in his career because the position is more easily adaptable.

    Two avenues exist toward getting a young back on the field. Usually, the individual is either a natural runner and a focal point on early downs, or he is more prepared to help in the passing game than most.

    Kamara is a perfect example of the latter. Normally, incoming backs have a difficult time on third downs as they learn protection schemes, and they haven't been used as much in the passing game. That's not the case with LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

    Think about all of the talent LSU featured in 2019. The Tigers can make an argument they were the best team in college football history. When asked who the best athlete on the team was during an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, Joe Burrow responded, "Clyde Edwards-Helaire. No question." 

    The 20-year-old early entrant is an outstanding receiver and excels in space. He caught 55 passes for 453 yards as a junior.

    As a runner, Edwards-Helaire has exceptional lateral agility, short-area quickness and balance. This allows him to press the hole and consistently make defenders miss. The 5'8", 209-pound back isn't afraid to lower his shoulder either.

    While he isn't the biggest option, he displays the necessary skill set to be an instant contributor, even though a few other prospects at his position are expected to come off the board before him.

WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

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    The 2020 wide receiver class has numerous multifaceted prospects. Because of the crop's astounding depth and quality, there will be someone for every team.

    For most of the predraft process, Alabama's Jerry Jeudy has been considered the position's top prospect. His standing is less certain today for various reasons.

    The 6'1", 192-pounder isn't the biggest or fastest target, though he's not completely lacking in either category. But the class has some trees if a franchise needs a new X receiver. Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs III and TCU's Jalen Reagor are legitimate speed demons who can take the top off any defense.

    "It's all about what a team needs, what a team likes," Jeudy said, per Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Everybody wants to be the first receiver taken, so it’d be a good experience. I would love to be the first receiver taken."

    Jeudy's best attribute separates him from the chaff.

    "I really think I'm a great route-runner," Jeudy said. "I can play anywhere on the field, inside/outside, and I can do whatever it takes to get open, win 50-50 balls, I can do it all. Run after the catch ... anything you want me to do, I can do it."

    To his second point, Jeudy excels while working out of the slot, but he also proved to be effective as an outside receiver. According to Pro Football Focus, he surpassed Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, another top prospect in the 2020 class, in average yards per route on the outside.

    Jeudy will be one of the first wide receivers drafted in April, if not the first, and he'll make life much easier for his next quarterback because no other prospect can run routes and get open quite like him.

TE Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Tight ends became difficult to evaluate in recent years because of two distinct differences. Either a team is searching for a move (H) tight end or a traditional inline (Y) tight end.

    Few players do both at the highest level.

    The San Francisco 49ers' George Kittle is the best at his position because he's an outstanding target in the passing game and a dominant blocker, whereas the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce and Philadelphia Eagles' Zach Ertz are far better as receivers.

    All three have something in common, though: None of them heard their names called in the first round.

    The 2020 tight end class doesn't have a true standout talent, and an argument can be made it's the draft's weakest position group. A couple of options have the potential to develop into significant contributors, though, and produce from Day 1.

    Dayton's Adam Trautman is the top tight end prospect, but some teams may be concerned about his leap from a lower level of play. Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant, on the other hand, performed well against the Owls' top competition last season, recording 10 receptions for 130 yards against the Ohio State Buckeyes and UCF Knights.

    Bryant is known as a pass-catcher. After all, he led all tight ends in 2019 with 65 receptions for 1,004 yards. In fact, he led all draft-eligible tight ends with 52 first-down receptions over the last three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

    However, the 6'5", 240-pounder shouldn't be pigeonholed as a detached receiver. He can play inline, on the wing or as a lead blocker. He might not be the most powerful tight end at the point of attack, but he's a feisty blocker who is capable of contributing in all areas.

OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama

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    The top of the 2020 offensive tackle class is stacked. As many as six prospects could find their way into the first round.

    Alabama's Jedrick Wills Jr. may have established himself as the consensus OT1 after declaring as an underclassman, though each organization will view prospects differently.

    For example, Wills isn't the most nimble blocker. Teams with heavy zone schemes may not prefer him over other tackles in the class because his lateral agility isn't stellar.

    What Wills shows is consistency, tenacity and toughness.

    As a two-year starter at Alabama, the 6'5", 320-pound right tackle faced the best and most athletic defenses college football has to offer. He allowed only two sacks in 28 starts, according to Alabama Update.

    His patience in his pass set makes him effective. He rarely over-sets, maintains a wide base and is almost always balanced. Yes, he may struggle to unlock his hip against more athletic speed-rushers, but he's rarely going to get beat right off the snap.

    Wills—who doesn't turn 21 until after the draft—is an even better run-blocker. His 12 big-time blocks in the running game led all tackles in the class, per Pro Football Focus. He can be overwhelming at the point of attack. He regularly moves even the biggest and most talented defensive linemen. He's a bulldozer.

    Each of the top tackle prospects can be nitpicked to a degree, yet Wills' game is the most complete. As such, he can be projected as a Day 1 starter at right tackle and a tone-setter for his next team.

DE Chase Young, Ohio State

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Defensive end Chase Young, aka the Predator, will be on the hunt in 2020.

    Only quarterbacks demand more attention and hold more value than talented pass-rushers. Since 2000, four defensive ends have heard their names called with the No. 1 pick.

    If not for Joe Burrow, Young would easily be the top overall prospect because he's on par with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney as an elite edge defender coming into the league with seemingly limitless upside.

    And Young produced at a much higher level. Garrett, Clowney and even Mario Williams didn't perform to expected levels during their final years on campus. Young, a 2019 unanimous All-American, led all FBS edge-rushers in sacks (29), hurries (81) and pressures (131) over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

    Collegiate production helps validate an evaluation, though it shouldn't entirely form an opinion. Jaylon Ferguson, Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, Hau'oli Kikaha and Bruce Miller are the FBS leaders in career sacks. None has exactly translated to the NFL level.

    Young is a different caliber of athlete. He's 6'5" and 265 pounds with an explosive first step, which helps him generate plenty of power at the point of attack. The well-sculpted defensive end also shows the requisite flexibility to dip his shoulder, turn the corner and flatten toward the quarterback.

    Nick Bosa—the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year—compared Young to Khalil Mack and Von Miller.

    "That type of get-off," Bosa told Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel. "He has that speed first, power second.”

    The incoming Ohio State defensive end isn't the technician his former teammate was. But Young isn't a slouch with his hand usage, and he's a better overall athlete.

    Offensive tackles will struggle to stop him from reaching his prey.

LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    True off-the-ball linebackers are considered devalued in today's game even though recent draft history indicates otherwise.

    At least two true linebackers—not including those who are really edge defenders listed as 3-4 outside linebackers—came off the board in each of the last three drafts. A pair—Devin White and Devin Bush—heard their names called during the first 10 selections in 2019.

    The game is played differently today. Maybe no position reflects that more than linebacker. 

    The idea of physical, downhill run-stuffers and tone-setters is archaic. Today's linebackers must be able to work sideline to sideline, and size is usually forfeited in favor of a speed.

    For example, Bush might have been a safety 15-20 years ago. But the 5'11", 234-pound defender ran a 4.43-second 40-year dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The ground he covered in the Pittsburgh Steelers defense as a rookie made a significant difference to the scheme.

    Second-line defenders must be as comfortable dropping into space as getting good run fits, maybe more so.

    Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray is tailor-made for today's game. He has fantastic range from his position. He consistently runs down ball-carriers if he doesn't meet them in the hole first, and he arrives with nasty intentions.

    The 6'2", 234-pound first-team All-Big 12 performer registered 257 total tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and six defended passes over the last two seasons.

    There are concerns with missed tackles. But he improved upon that mark this past season, and it's easy to envision him leading all rookies in that category during the 2020 campaign.

LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

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    Chris Seward/Associated Press

    Defensive football continues to evolve. Versatility is arguably the most valuable trait in today's game because of limited rosters, sub-package usage, inevitable injuries and creative play-calling that tries to offset offense-centric rules.

    Clemson's Isaiah Simmons can be the ultimate defensive weapon.

    "Big, long, athletic player who can be a chesspiece for a team if you use him right," an NFL scout said of Simmons, per the New York Post's Ryan Dunleavy. "People will draft him high because of all the dream traits, then figure out where to play him."

    The scout's final statement isn't a negative. Finding a place for Simmons to play isn't a problem. The issue may be a coach's ability to maximize his well-rounded ability.

    As ESPN's Field Yates noted, the 6'4", 230-pound defender played at least 120 snaps at safety (both free and strong), slot cornerback, outside linebacker and inside linebacker. He also played outside corner in a pinch, and he rushed the quarterback 71 times and had seven sacks.

    Obviously, his ability to play each of those positions signals that he's a premium athlete. Simmons was a track standout in high school before joining the Clemson program. His size and tremendous speed create tremendous force upon contact.

    "He's got natural timing and punch to him," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, per Dunleavy. "He can flat beat it when it comes to running, so he is generating a lot of force when he closes to the ball."

    Think Derwin James but bigger, because that's what some team is going to get with Simmons as a top-10 draft pick.

CB Jeff Gladney, TCU

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Too much attention is paid to 40-yard-dash speed, the vertical jump and length when it comes to evaluating the cornerback position. In reality, it's all in the hips.

    How fluid is a defensive back in his pedal and turn? This is often the difference between a super-sticky cornerback in coverage and a good athlete who loses a step when he's asked to turn and run.

    Sometimes, a prospect emerges with elite straight-line speed and quickness to go along with his lower-body fluidity. TCU's Jeff Gladney fits into that category.

    The first-team All-Big 12 performer is an outstanding athlete. According to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, the 6'0", 183-pound cornerback ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash on campus last summer. He's also amazingly strong for his size with a 620-pound squat, 400-pound bench and 400-pound hang clean.

    All of it transfers to the field.

    Gladney forced the most contested catches (45) of any cornerback over the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash. He forced incomplete passes on over half of those (27) and allowed only nine receptions.

    The incoming cornerback class is suspect beyond top overall prospect Jeff Okudah. LSU's Kristian Fulton, Alabama's Trevon Diggs and Florida's CJ Henderson generally carry first-round grades, but all three have consistency concerns.

    Gladney isn't without fault. His size will make matchups against bigger targets difficult. He's tough, but he could be far more forceful at the jam to redirect receivers. Not everything can be solved with oily hips, lightning-quick feet and closing speed.

    However, a team can't go wrong by using a high draft pick on a speedy cover corner who has the ability to latch onto receivers and not let them separate.

S Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota

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    Some individuals are born to play the game. Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of those individuals.

    Antoine Winfield Sr. played 14 seasons, earned three Pro Bowl berths and had a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs of a generation.

    Some children struggle under the shadow of ultra-successful parents. Others learn from them, take what's been given and flourish when an opportunity at the highest level presents itself.

    Winfield appears to fall under the latter category. His game mirrors his father's and for good reason.

    "He started me off young, so at a young age, I was out there doing footwork drills with him, watching film and pretty much everything football-wise," the younger Winfield told USA Today's Doug Farrar. "I learned a lot from him."

    Winfield is both an instinctive ball hawk and a tone-setter as a tackler. Instincts can be honed through proper preparation, and that's where the Minnesota safety separates himself.

    The 2019 unanimous first-team All-American led the Big Ten with seven interceptions and the Gophers with 88 total tackles. His route and play recognition often placed him in the proper spot to make plays.

    "Yeah, it comes from him [my father] and from film study," Winfield Jr. said. "Him teaching me how to watch film. When he was in the pros, we'd sit in the bedroom, and he'd be looking at film, and I'd be watching him breaking it down. Showing me what the receivers do and the route concepts and everything."

    Winfield is smaller than ideal (5'10", 205 lbs) and has a lengthy injury history—only playing eight games over 2017 and 2018—but you won't find a prospect in this year's class better prepared to become a professional athlete.

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