2020 NFL Draft: Oregon QB Justin Herbert, Florida State RB Cam Akers highlight draft crushes
These are the five 2020 draft prospects I'm crushing on right now
We have reached the point in the college football season when NFL Draft crushes emerge.
Some of my draft crushes in the past include Courtland Sutton, Mason Rudolph, Lamar Jackson, Michael Gallup, A.J. Brown, Juan Thornhill, Elgton Jenkins, and Devin Singletary.
Sure, more football is to be played, but as a year-round draft analyst here at CBS Sports, it's always draft season for me. As it currently stands, these are my five 2020 draft crushes, prospects who I seemingly like more than the national consensus at this given point in time.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Right now, Herbert is my No. 1 quarterback prospect. Of the top passers set to enter the 2020 draft, he's the most experienced, the most athletic, with the strongest arm, and while not always amazingly poised in the pocket, he's improved in that area during his senior year.
And regarding ever-important accuracy, Herbert has misses each game but not at a rate noticeably higher than other top quarterbacks in this class.
Per Sports Info Solutions, his "on target percentage" is currently 80.2%. Joe Burrow is at 88.4%. Tua Tagovailoa is at 82.5%. For Herbert, that figure was 74.3% in 2018.
Herbert makes -- and has made for three years now -- more downright ridiculous throws at the intermediate level of the field than any other quarterback who'll hear his name called in the 2020 Draft. And this season the stinker games have stopped.
Nothing can replicate what will likely be around 1,400 career attempts in college. The Pac-12 isn't known for its defensive prowess, but Herbert has certainly seen a variety of blitzes, coverages, and has played in a multitude of raucous environments, all of which prepare him well to take the reins of an NFL franchise at the early stages of his pro career.
There are still games to be played, but as someone who thought Herbert was getting too much hype last year, after his pocket presence and accuracy have improved this season, I'm of the belief he's actually being underrated by the masses right now, falling into the shadows of Burrow's ascension and another ultra-efficient campaign from Tagovailoa.
Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Becton has a colossal frame at 6-feet-7 and 369 pounds, but he moves like he's two inches shorter and at least 25 pounds lighter. And his immense length creates a naturally huge arc for an edge rusher to navigate to get to the quarterback. Also, because he's not sluggish in his movements, he can set that arc relatively quickly as a pass protector.
Is he the most nimble left tackle prospect in the country? Of course not, but Becton's otherworldly length generates what I call the Orlando Brown Effect. Remember him? The mammoth Oklahoma left tackle who starred for the Sooners for years then had a disappointing combine. Yeah. Him. Brown ended the 2018 draft season as my No. 1 offensive tackle, a "trust the tape" prospect. Brown's combine likely precipitated his fall to the third round. He had a strong rookie campaign as the Baltimore Ravens' starting right tackle and has improved in his second year. He's just too long for NFL edge rushers and good luck trying to bull rush.
Many of those same principles apply to Becton, and his mobility, nastiness, and balance in the run game really make his athletic talents noticeable. For some teams, the Louisville product will be "too big." But even if he has to play right tackle initially in the NFL, Becton should rapidly acclimate to the pro level and play well almost immediately.
Thomas Graham, CB, Oregon
Graham is currently the most underrated cornerback in the country, a small-ish but feisty defender with the type of lightning-quick feet and awareness to thrive in the NFL out wide or if needed to man the slot. He was the No. 11 cornerback in the recruiting class of 2017 per 247 Sports -- behind the likes of Ohio State's Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade, his teammate Deommodore Lenior and Utah's Jaylon Johnson. And he played right away.
After four pass breakups and three interceptions as a freshman in 2017 -- an impressive stat line for such a young player -- Graham knocked away 18 throws and had three more picks last season.
Through nine games this year, he has an interception and seven pass breakups.
As a sophomore, it was seemingly impossible to complete a slant on Graham, an occurrence that spoke to his aggressiveness at the line and plus mirroring ability thanks to high-end twitchiness. While he'll occasionally lose a battle on the outside due to his lack of size, it's extremely rare to see him out of position. He's a battler and has the feet to be a sticky in man coverage. In zone, those the lightness of his feet allow him to charge to the football.
While it's difficult to gauge the general consensus about where Graham would land in the draft if he decides to declare, he looks like an NFL-ready cornerback who'll have a long and successful pro career thanks to athleticism, technique, and awareness as the ball is arriving.
Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Akers stepped onto the Florida State campus with an insane amount of hype as a five-star recruit and the No. 2 running back in the country in the class of 2017 according to 247 Sports -- behind Alabama's Najee Harris. And he did not disappoint as an 18-year-old freshman with 1,024 yards on the ground at 5.3 yards per pop. He also caught 16 passes for 116 yards.
Last year, the Seminoles may have had the worst offensive line of any Power 5 team, and Akers still managed 4.4 yards per carry and scored six times while catching 23 passes for 145 yards. This season, with a respectable blocking unit in front of him, Akers has been tremendous as the true heartbeat of the offense. He has already carried it 214 times for 1,042 yards (4.9 yards per) with 13 touchdowns and has upped his receiving figures again (28 catches, 223 yards, four scores). In a way, Florida State's offensive line struggles have helped Akers. He has been tasked with making defenders miss more often than most of the top running back prospects. As of Oct. 30, he led the nation in broken tackles, per Pro Football Focus.
At 5-11 and 212 pounds, Akers is a compact runner with elite bounce and awesome vision. Also, because of the thickness of his lower half, his contact balance is very impressive. He's a ferocious, multi-cut runner who can also absorb a hit then accelerate for a 50-yard gain.
Akers' agility, springiness, and downfield lead me to view him as one of the best and most underrated offensive prospects in the 2020 class. And his receiving capabilities bode well for his entry into the modern NFL.
Jamie Newman, QB, Wake Forest
While we aren't sure whether Newman is leaning toward a return to school or the 2020 NFL Draft, right now, especially factoring in the value of the position he plays.
The 6-4, 230-pound redshirt junior has taken the Demon Deacons program to new heights this season while completing 64.5% of his passes at 8.1 yards per attempt with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Beyond the impressive stats, Newman, in his first full year as the starter, has demonstrated pocket passing abilities far beyond his years.
He routinely waits patiently in the pocket, gets through his full field reads, and can calmly drift away from pressure. Each game, he's put a handful of outstanding, pinpoint accurate throws on film at the intermediate level and down the field, and he's a plus athlete too.
Even last week, in what statistically was his worst outing of the year in the road loss to Virginia Tech -- 16 of 35, 238 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions -- Newman made plenty of stellar throws through tight windows and/or with impeccable touch. His first pick came on a play in which he was hit as he threw and was snagged by a dropping defensive tackle. The second came at the end of the game on another pass that left his hand as he was being hit.
Big with strong arm and already a firm grasp of the nuances of playing the super-cerebral quarterback position, Newman has the makings of eventually being a first-round pick.
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