Ranking the 10 Biggest Potential Steals of the 2020 NFL Draft

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2020

Ranking the 10 Biggest Potential Steals of the 2020 NFL Draft

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    Every year, first-round talent slips to Days 2 and 3 of the NFL draft. Teams study tape for months, look over workout numbers and still pass on some of the most productive playmakers once, twice or maybe even three times.

    In 2019, two of the top five rookies in receiving yards came off the board after the second round. Terry McLaurin (No. 76 overall) and Darius Slayton (No. 171 overall) went to the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, respectively.

    Two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts selected linebacker Darius Leonard in the second round out of small-school South Carolina State, and he was named the 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Pro.

    And in 2017, running back Alvin Kamara earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors as a third-rounder out of Tennessee with fewer than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in two collegiate seasons.

    So let's find the McLaurin, Leonard and Kamara of this year's draft. Using Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller's latest seven-round mock, we're going to rank prospects outside of the first round who are most likely to perform at the level of a Day 1 pick in their first few seasons.

    To highlight the biggest steals, ranking order is based on projected production at the next level and a prospect's current draft standing. Who has the best chance to earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors? When we look back at a 2020 redraft, the 10 players below could be first-rounders.

         

10. RB Zack Moss, Utah

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    Zack Moss didn't have his best showing at the NFL Scouting Combine; he recorded a 4.65-second 40-yard dash, fourth-slowest among tailbacks, and pushed out 19 reps on the bench press. 

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Moss suffered a hamstring injury during the vertical jump. Without a pro day to improve his numbers, his draft stock has likely plummeted in recent weeks. 

    However, Moss has put quality work on tape through four collegiate terms. At Utah, he ran for 4,067 yards and 38 touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In addition to his workhorse role, the bruising tailback caught 66 passes for 685 yards and three touchdowns. 

    At the pro level, Moss should translate to a three-down running back because of his reliable hands. If he picks up his blocks in pass protection, coaches can leave him on the field in a variety of situations.

    Moss will mow over defenders before he runs away from them. Teams may be hesitant to give him a high volume of touches because of his physical run style, but he's a proven lead rusher who takes care of the football.

    In 2018, Moss lost three fumbles. He tightened up ball security during his senior campaign, giving away zero possessions on 235 rush attempts, per Team Rankings

    Don't worry about Moss' speed. He'll grind out yards and move the chains. According to Pro Football Focus, the 5'9", 223-pound ball-carrier forced a missed tackle on 30 percent of his carries at Utah.

9. CB Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech

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    At 5'8", 187 pounds, Amik Robertson will probably play in the slot cornerback spot exclusively because he's not an ideal matchup against average-sized NFL receivers on the perimeter.

    Nonetheless, Robertson has the feistiness to play bigger than his stature. Teams can use the cornerback's physicality on the inside to reroute quick-twitch slot wideouts. He could also help out against the run. 

    Unlike Moss, who plays a position that favors committees, Robertson would man the slot position as the primary defender. If he continues to show above-average ball skills, the Louisiana Tech product will quickly garner recognition at the next level. 

    Through three collegiate terms, Robertson recorded 14 interceptions and 34 pass breakups. Coming out of Conference USA, his numbers seem a bit inflated, but he clearly knows how to track the football. 

    Because of Robertson's size and potential position restrictions, he's not a first-rounder. Yet, in today's NFL, the slot defender is a starter. Without a solid cover man to combat three-wide receiver sets, opposing quarterbacks can exploit defenses with short quick throws or deep pass attempts down the seams.

    Robertson's clean tackling and tendency to force turnovers could help him earn consideration as the top nickelback in the league in short order.

8. QB Anthony Gordon, Washington State

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    It will take an injury to the players ahead of him on the depth chart or a head-turning training camp showing for Anthony Gordon to rise up the ranks. He's a projected Day 3 pick who is going to start out as the No. 2 or 3 quarterback and will likely come into the league without many expectations.

    Although Gordon's pathway to a starting job seems like a long shot, he has a chance to be a huge steal with just a small opportunity. 

    The NFL is a copycat league. We just saw Washington State product Gardner Minshew II outplay quarterback Nick Foles for the lead role in Jacksonville.

    Like Minshew at the collegiate level, Gordon played in former Washington State head coach Mike Leach's pass-heavy offense and took advantage of his time under center, posting big numbers in the aerial attack. 

    Gordon threw for 5,579 yards, 48 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while completing 71.6 percent of his passes in 2019. The 6'2", 205-pound signal-caller doesn't have the strongest arm, but he constantly looks to push the ball downfield.

    Last year, Gordon never shied away from his aggressive approach. He threw for at least 308 yards in all but one game.

    In the pocket, Gordon goes through his progressions, keeps himself composed in the face of a pass rush and fits throws through tight windows. Those are the characteristics of a pro-caliber quarterback.

    If Gordon has a chance to take the field like Minshew, his confidence may help him earn more starts on a team with a question mark at quarterback.

7. LB Troy Dye, Oregon

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    As nickel packages become the new base alignment, defenses need athletic linebackers on the field to counter spread offenses. Second-level defenders must be able to close gaps in the middle of the field against the run and pass.

    At 6'3", 231 pounds, Dye isn't a compact hitter, but his play style fits the evolving linebacker position. He's an agile, quick-footed and rangy defender who's usually around the football at the whistle.

    While some linebackers will attempt to translate athleticism into coverage skill, Dye has proven production in that area, logging 14 pass breakups and five interceptions through five seasons at Oregon.

    Dye's lack of size doesn't hurt his ability to sniff out run plays, shed blocks and take down his targets. He's registered 391 tackles, 41.5 for loss and 13 sacks at the collegiate level. Coaches can certainly use his speed on designed blitzes for an extra wrinkle in their weekly game plans.

    We've witnessed a new wave of smaller linebackers flourish in the league. Guys like Pro Bowler Deion Jones (6'1", 227 lbs) and Cory Littleton (6'3", 228 lbs) aren't the biggest second-level defenders, but their speed, instincts and coverage abilities allow them to make an impact on all three downs.

    Dye should see the field immediately. He's an inside linebacker in a 3-4 base (3-3-5 nickel) or an outside linebacker behind a four-man front. If he plays with a stout defensive line, the former Duck could make several stops in the backfield with clean pathways to the quarterback and running back.

    Dye isn't far down big boards like Gordon is, and he has a much better chance to play meaningful snaps early in his career. As a rookie, the linebacker can provide help to a defense that needs athleticism within its front seven.

6. S Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne

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    Those unfamiliar with Kyle Dugger's playmaking ability at Lenoir-Rhyne definitely saw him shine during Senior Bowl practices in January. In a one-on-one situation, the 6'1", 217-pound safety stayed with his assignment, engaged without holding, closed the passing window and made a play on the ball—textbook coverage.

    At Lenoir-Rhyne, Dugger registered 152 solo tackles, 36 pass breakups, 10 interceptions and six forced fumbles. Based on his skill set, he should be able to rack up interceptions in a deep safety role. With that said, the Division II prospect can also tackle in the open field and set the tone with a solid hit when necessary. Wide receivers coming across the middle must account for his whereabouts.

    At best, Dugger could develop into the safety version of Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard. His versatility will allow him to make plays all over the field, and with a knack for forcing turnovers, he's a potential Day 1 starter who can earn some Defensive Rookie of the Month awards.

    Dugger's ability to play either safety spot combined with his skill set, which blends physicality with finesse, makes him a potential second-round steal with early Pro Bowl potential. Unlike Dye, he's not dependent on a strong defensive front to help elevate his game.

5. OL Ben Bartch, Saint John's (Minnesota)

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    Ben Bartch generated buzz during Senior Bowl practices. Coming out of Division III Saint John's (Minnesota), he needed a strong showing to boost his draft stock, and the tight end-turned-offensive lineman didn't disappoint when going up against the nation's top prospects.

    According to The Athletic's Dane Brugler, Bartch made some mistakes but showcased more good than bad. 

    "He has looked clean with his lateral movement and flashed the toughness at the point of attack to hold his own. There have been a few practice reps where his eagerness backfired, and he ended up on the ground. But against pass rushers from the SEC and Big Ten, Bartch has graded out positively through two practices. It is past time to remove the "sleeper" label from his scouting report."

    Bartch's smooth feet and quickness will keep him in front of pass-rushers who use a variety of moves to reach the quarterback. Offensive tackles have to mirror their blocking assignments or else lose crucial battles in the trenches. 

    Bartch's prospective coaching staff should be able to plug him into the lineup as a long-term solution at tackle.

    If he can lock down a starting spot for a decade, he's a top-five steal in this class. The Saint John's product ranks higher than Kyle Dugger because of the importance of his role in protecting the quarterback at a premium position.

4. EDGE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame

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    Chase Young has set himself apart from this year's class of edge-rushers. Behind him, prospects like K'Lavon Chaisson, A.J. Epenesa and Yetur Gross-Matos have also garnered first-round buzz.

    Julian Okwara could round out the top five and exceed expectations. He has quickness, fluid bend around the corner against offensive tackles and long arms (34 -inch) to lasso his targets.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Okwara has the highest quarterback pressure rate (19.1 percent) since 2018, beating out Boise State's Curtis Weaver (18.2 percent) and Young (17.6 percent), who rank second and third, respectively. The Notre Dame product has 13 sacks over the last two seasons. 

    NFL teams have been using video conferencing in place of in-person visits due to guidelines created to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Okwara broke his fibula back in November, so the inability to physically meet with potential suitors will hurt his draft stock.

    Because of that medical question mark, Okwara may fall to the third or even the fourth round, though his production on the field suggests he should come off the board earlier than that.

    Whichever team selects Okwara could land a starting edge-rusher capable of coming close to or reaching double-digit sacks each season. Even though he lacks the ideal size (6'4", 252 lbs) and strength to seal the end against the run, the 22-year-old has room to grow. 

    Back in 2018, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden noted that "it's hard to find great pass-rushers," but some team will find a really good one with a late Day 2 gamble. Because Okwara's injury could adversely affect his draft placement, he's potentially one of the biggest steals among defensive prospects.

3. WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

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    At the conclusion of the 2019 NFL regular season, Matt Miller projected Laviska Shenault Jr. would come off the board in the first round. But as time progressed, he started to slip further down the order, especially after the Colorado product didn't participate in most combine drills due to a groin injury.

    While some of the top wide receiver prospects put their best on display in Indianapolis, Shenault's stock continued to fall, all the way to the third round. The saying "out of sight, out of mind" applies here, and coupled with an injury, he's moved from the Day 1 hopeful category to potential steal of the draft.

    At 6'1", 227 pounds, Shenault has the stature of a wide receiver with a running back's mentality after the catch. Imagine a bigger version of San Francisco 49ers wideout Deebo Samuel. In addition to 149 receptions for 1,943 yards and 10 touchdowns, Shenault ran the ball 42 times for 280 yards and seven touchdowns over his three seasons with the Buffaloes. 

    Shenault's play style exerts immense energy, so his physicality will raise some concerns if he's unable to shake off the injury bug. The wide receiver missed several collegiate games because of turf toe and a core-muscle ailment, both of which required surgery. But he's worth the gamble on Day 2.

    If Shenault stays healthy, he's a matchup nightmare. The big-bodied pass-catcher overpowers small defensive backs, beats bigger cornerbacks deep downfield and handles inside-outside responsibilities in the aerial attack. Defenders must account for his position in pre-snap formations.

    As a rookie, Shenault will have an opportunity to display the physical tools in his arsenal. While injuries are a concern, he's an every-down playmaker when on the field.

2. CB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State

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    Cameron Dantzler has the mouthwatering measurables of Shenault without the injury concerns.

    At first glance, you can see Dantzler's length will pose a challenge for wideouts. He's 6'2" and 188 pounds with 30 ⅝-inch arms. The Mississippi State product must add on to his frame to handle NFL bodies, though time at a pro facility should help him in that area.

    Ohio State's Jeffrey Okudah separated himself from every cornerback in this class, and Florida's C.J. Henderson could be the No. 2 prospect at the position. Dantzler should be right behind them yet doesn't garner enough attention—likely because of his thin body type and 4.64 40-yard time. 

    Nonetheless, Dantzler's collegiate production speaks for itself.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Dantzler allowed just one reception out of 15 red-zone targets and zero touchdowns in three seasons with the Bulldogs. Tight ends and bigger wide receivers who use basketball-like box-out skills inside the 20-yard line won't have a clear advantage over him if he works on his strength and conditioning. 

    For example, in 2019, Dantzler held LSU wideout and potential top-10 2021 prospect Ja'Marr Chase to a season-low 9.6 yards per catch. 

    With a slew of high-end wide receiver prospects on their way into the league this year, someone has to stop them. Dantzler seems like the cornerback who can limit the best competition on the opposing side.

    We'll look back at this draft and see Dantzler as a top cornerback who fell too far into the second or third round.

1. WR Michael Pittman Jr., USC

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    Michael Pittman Jr. doesn't have any injury concerns. He also played at a big-name program and broke out during his senior season, recording 101 receptions for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns. But teams may pass on Pittman multiple times because of the strong talent at wide receiver. Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III lead the group, with Justin Jefferson and Denzel Mims also gaining first-round traction.

    Even if Pittman has to wait until Day 2 to hear his name called, the USC product has the ability to come out on top statistically if he lands in an opportune spot.

    At 6'4", 223 pounds, Pittman ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine, which is impressive for a big-bodied wideout. With his solid route-running, strong hands in contested situations and body control on jump balls, he's the complete package at the position.

    Pittman doesn't have the tantalizing speed to garner first-round attention, but take a look at some of the top wideouts in the game today. DeAndre Hopkins (4.57), Davante Adams (4.56), Michael Thomas (4.57) and Mike Evans (4.53) didn't post eye-popping 40 times during their workouts, either.

    Nonetheless, all of those playmakers attack the football when it's in the air. They use physical leverage and adjust well to the ball after the quarterback's release. Pittman shares those traits. If he's the No. 2 option in an aerial attack, the wideout could start his pro career with a 1,000-yard season.

    Pittman has a high ceiling because his sharpened technique and physical tools are comparable to those of potential Day 1 prospects.