Top 2020 NFL Prospects Falling Down Draft Boards
The typical run-up to the NFL draft has been put on hiatus. Pro days, individual workouts, team visits and the combine medical recheck have all been nixed as franchises and prospects cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
That may change how teams view certain prospects.
Redemption stories from pro days won't exist. A player who tested poorly at the NFL Scouting Combine or wasn't able to participate in any predraft activities prior to the industry-wide shutdown won't have an opportunity to show out in front of NFL scouts and decision-makers.
As such, prospects falling down draft boards are different today than in any other previous evaluation period. It's a matter of circumstance more than anything they might have done wrong during the predraft process.
Organizations must rely more heavily on their scouting work and the time they spent with prospects at the Shrine Bowl, Senior Bowl, NFLPA Game or combine.
"There are a couple players in this year's draft not named Joe Burrow or Derrick Brown that declined all-star invites AND chose not to test at the combine," Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy tweeted. "Instead they decided to let everything ride on a pro day that now won't happen. There is a lesson here for 2021 draft class."
Traditional metrics and evaluating tactics don't apply here. Instead, we're focusing on projected early-round options who left the combine with question marks that can't be answered between now and the draft.
In the latest episode of Stick to Football, the guys pick dream NFL landing spots for the top 2020 QB prospects, spotlight a couple of players and more. Check it out here.
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will almost certainly be a top-10 pick, if not top-five. He remains the second-best quarterback prospect in this year's draft class behind LSU's Joe Burrow.
However, the coronavirus pandemic will prevent Tagovailoa from assuaging concerns about his hip injury.
Tagovailoa went through extensive medical evaluations at the NFL Scouting Combine and received "overwhelmingly positive reports," per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He posted an Instagram video Monday which showed his continued progress with him working his drops and footwork.
His recovery seems to be on track, but no organization can be 100 percent certain since they can't have their doctors examine him during a predraft visit.
That uncertainty might make an organization like the Miami Dolphins and/or the Los Angeles Chargers unwilling to trade up for Tagovailoa. The Chargers could instead decide to pursue Cam Newton, whom the Carolina Panthers released Tuesday.
NFL teams like to be as certain as possible when investing in a prospect, especially at quarterback. They aren't going to get that with Tagovailoa before they're on the clock with a significant decision to make.
WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
Halfway through the 2018 season, Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. was the best wide receiver in college football. He caught 70 passes for 882 yards and six touchdowns across his first seven games, although his season ended prematurely because of a turf toe injury that required surgery.
Last season, Shenault caught 56 passes for 764 yards and four touchdowns before declaring for the NFL draft. His production was down in part because he played through a core muscle injury and inflammation to the pubic bone that later required surgery, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Shenault participated in the NFL Scouting Combine, but he didn't complete his workout. The 6'1", 227-pound receiver ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and posted 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
The 21-year-old didn't participate in Colorado's pro day—one of the few that occurred before nationwide precautions went into effect—but he was there to cheer on his teammates.
Like other prospects with injury concerns, NFL teams won't have the latest medical updates on Shenault after his surgery. But the issue runs a bit deeper based on his skill set. The 2018 first-team All-Pac-12 receiver plays like he's a running back. He's fantastic after the catch with a physical brand of football not often seen at the position.
Considering Shenault's injury history, that approach isn't exactly a great selling point.
WR Jalen Reagor, TCU
TCU wide receiver Jalen Reagor is a victim of expectations and the best wide receiver draft class in recent memory.
Coming into the combine, Reagor seemed like a prospect with the potential to blow everyone else away. Many (including yours truly) thought he could challenge to be the fastest man on Lucas Oil Stadium's turf.
He didn't come close.
According to Three Sigma Athlete's Zach Whitman, the two-time second-team All-Big 12 wideout tested in the 94th percentile of NFL wide receivers in SPARQ (speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness). But his 4.47-second 40-yard dash didn't even rank among the top 14 wide receivers at the combine.
There's nothing wrong with that number. Reagor is plenty fast enough. Yet the explosiveness he displays on the field didn't fully translate to his workout.
Reagor weighed 206 pounds in Indianapolis after TCU listed him at 195 pounds, which raises questions about his preparation. He also had a suspect final season with only 43 receptions for 611 yards and five touchdowns, although inconsistent quarterback play didn't help matters.
Little things like that can make scouts and NFL decision-makers wonder about individual prospects, especially when viable alternatives remain available.
The first round is already loaded with options such as Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, Alabama's Henry Ruggs III, LSU's Justin Jefferson and Clemson's Tee Higgins, along with other surging prospects like Baylor's Denzel Mims and Notre Dame's Chase Claypool. Wide receiver-needy teams, such as the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, could go in numerous directions
C Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Badgers program effectively serves as an assembly line of offensive line talent to the NFL. Tyler Biadasz is next in line.
However, his status dropped considerably throughout the evaluation process. Once considered a top center prospect, if not the top option, Biadasz may be a late Day 2 or even Day 3 selection at this juncture.
The unanimous All-American graded well throughout his time at Wisconsin, but in-depth film work reveals some difficulties during tough matchups. The Ohio State Buckeyes defensive interior created significant problems for Biadasz, and two of their defensive tackles—DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers—are fellow prospects in this year's class.
The 2019 Rimington Trophy winner is consistent and reliable, but he struggles with power and has a tendency to lunge.
Other centers have seemingly surpassed Biadasz because of their play and translatable traits. LSU's Lloyd Cushenberry III, Michigan's Cesar Ruiz, Washington's Nick Harris and Temple's Matt Hennessy could each come off the board before Biadasz. There aren't many teams targeting a center, either, with the Cowboys and Denver Broncos as the only organizations actively looking to fill a void.
The 6'4", 314-pound center also had arthroscopic surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder after the 2019 campaign, which prevented him from working out at the combine.
"It wasn't necessarily an injury," Biadasz told reporters in Indianapolis. "I never was limited. It was just a lingering issue. Not really an issue, but just a little pain here and there. ... we just don't want anything lingering on to OTAs or rookie camp. So I just got (it) done."
DE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
Pass-rushers are often either quick-twitch athletes with the explosiveness and flexibility to gain the edge and turn the corner or straight-line power players better at setting the edge and bull-rushing offensive linemen.
Iowa's A.J. Epenesa falls into the latter category, which doesn't bode well for his draft stock. NFL teams tend to prefer athletic pass-rushers who can beat bigger, stronger and technically sound offensive tackles.
The 275-pound defensive end ran a 5.04-second 40-yard dash with a 1.78-second 10-yard split at the combine. Taco Charlton, who is nearly identical in size and struggled with his adjustment to the NFL, posted a 4.92-second 40-yard dash with a 1.69-yard 10-yard split before the Dallas Cowboys chose him with the 28th overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Epenesa's lack of explosiveness will scare some teams away even though he's generally considered the draft's second-best pure defensive end. Whichever team selects the two-time first-team All-Big Ten performer will have to place him in a situation where can succeed without asking him to be a different player.
Epenesa accumulated 22 sacks and 31 tackles for loss over the last two seasons, but his production isn't based purely on power. He's an outstanding technician as well.
"A.J. exploits the weakness of what I play," former Michigan offensive lineman Jon Runyan explained to Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier. "I'm a vertical setter, and the weakness of a vertical set is what A.J. loves to do: bull rush with a one-armed stab."
A team will have to draft Epenesa with certain expectations in mind because he's a specific type of player. But franchises in desperate need of a pass-rush boost, like the New York Jets or Atlanta Falcons, may prefer LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson or bypass the position altogether in the first half of the opening round instead of choosing Epenesa.
LB Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
Texas Tech's Jordyn Brooks has a chance to be one of the first true middle linebackers off the board. Only Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray is generally rated higher at the position, while Clemson's Isaiah Simmons and LSU's Patrick Queen are the only other two off-ball linebackers with first-round potential.
Brooks' skill set translates well to today's game. He's a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker with outstanding quickness and closing speed. At 240 pounds, he ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the combine with no preparation for the event.
"I had surgery about three months ago," Brooks told Justin Melo of USA Today's Draft Wire. "I just started running again a week before the combine. I didn't get a chance to train for the combine at all. I knew I could run in a straight line, though."
Surgery on an injured shoulder three months ago is a concern, especially given his projected timetable.
"I was told that I would be fully healthy after about seven months," Brooks told Melo. "I'm feeling pretty good right now. It's a slowly but surely kinda thing. I'm coming along nicely."
The 2019 first-team All-Big 12 performer might not be fully healthy for the start of training camp or the preseason (depending on when those actually occur).
Brooks is already coming off shoulder surgery and isn't the most physical linebacker. How will he hold up against NFL linemen and running backs?
Yes, 80 or more total tackles in four consecutive campaigns, including 20 tackles for loss last season, are quite impressive. At the same time, NFL teams must wonder how he'll handle the added physicality he'll face in the pros.
On top of that, off-ball linebackers don't hold significant value as it is. The Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs can look toward Murray, Queen and Ohio State's Malik Harrison before Brooks.
CB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
For cornerbacks, the type of system they're in and where they play are two major factors in their success or failure. Some are better man-cover corners. Others are better in zone coverage. Some are made to line up outside the numbers. Others excel working over the slot.
These crucial evaluations help determine how to utilize a particular defensive back.
At Mississippi State, Cameron Dantzler was a successful press-man corner who physically overwhelmed wide receivers and was particularly stout in the red zone. According to Pro Football Focus,the 6'2", 188-pound defensive back allowed only one reception and no touchdowns on 15 career red-zone targets.
"I just like it because, you know, a lot of guys can't do it," Dantzler told The Draft Network's Jordan Reid. "Me being an underdog, I just feel like with me being in press man just proves what I can do and allows me to show what I'm capable of in man coverage and why I'm one of the top corners in the country and in this draft.
However, Dantzler didn't test well at the combine—he ran a mediocre 4.64-second 40-yard dash—which will make scouts look at him differently. Since he lacks the top-end speed necessary to consistently shadow top receivers, he'll likely need to play in a zone-heavy scheme.
Ten years ago, Joe Haden found himself in a similar situation after he infamously ran a 4.52-second 40-yard yard dash in Indianapolis, but he drastically improved at Florida's pro day. Dantzler's timing couldn't be worse since he won't have the same opportunity to improve his number.
In addition, Dantzler doesn't have the length expected of a cornerback his size. The 6'2" defensive back has 30⅝" arms, whereas Haden, who is three inches shorter, has 32¾" arms.
Teams can never have too many cornerbacks. But those who could properly utilize Dantler's skills, like the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, will be able to wait before selecting him with so many other available options.
S Grant Delpit, LSU
Heading into the 2019 campaign, LSU safety Grant Delpit was considered an elite prospect. He then led an outstanding defense en route to a national title, became a two-time consensus All-American and earned the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back.
Considering the success Delpit experienced, his draft stock should be soaring, right? Not so fast.
Missed tackles are a legitimate concern. Delpit is ultra-aggressive and often attacks a ball-carrier without breaking down before contact. He missed 44 tackles in three seasons, including 20 last year, and his missed tackle rate increased from 12.1 percent as a freshman to 25.6 percent this past season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The 6'2", 213-pound defender can play the run and match up with tight ends. He still finished with more run stops than any other safety in the class, per PFF. Right now, his coverage ability is ahead of his reliability against opposing ground games.
A nagging ankle injury likely contributed to his inconsistency last season, but that leads to a second concern.
Delpit didn't participate in this year's combine because of that ankle injury, although he was expected to be fully healthy for LSU's pro day on April 3, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Instead, NFL teams will now go into the draft without any recent workout information for him.
Meanwhile, others like Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr., Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger and Southern Illinois' Jeremy Chinn put together fantastic efforts in front of the entire league to propel themselves into the conversation for the Browns and New York Giants, who are in need of immediate contributors along the back line.