2020 NFL Draft Predictions: Does Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa go No. 1, and where does Jalen Hurts land?
Diving into 2020 NFL Draft predictions before Week 1 in college football kicks off
With Week 1 in college football just a few days away, that also means the beginning of the 2020 NFL Draft scouting season will soon be upon us.
As appetizers, we got two FBS games last weekend, but before the main course lands on our plate this Saturday, let's make some draft predictions that are [presses shift + sarcasm font button] guaranteed to be correct.
No. 1 overall pick
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Tagovailoa has long been penciled in as the No. 1 pick in the 2020 Draft. But I believe Herbert's size, excellent arm talent, and plus athleticism will ultimately vault him over the Alabama quarterback into the top spot in next year's draft.
Sure, Tagovailoa is more accurate than Herbert, but it's going to be difficult for Tagovailoa to improve on what he did last season (69% completion rate, 11.2 yards per attempt, 43 touchdowns, six picks). Those figures equated to the best passing efficiency year in college football history. Two ultra-efficient campaigns as a passer for Tagovailoa won't be viewed negatively by general managers and scouts, of course. But not being able to point to marked improvement production-wise will subtly hurt him as a prospect.
Meanwhile, Herbert, who thus far has been a high-upside but raw quarterback prospect, is positioned to have an amazing season on a veteran-laden Oregon club. It will show clear growth from the 59.4% completion, 7.8 yards-per-attempt year with 28 touchdowns and nine picks he had in 2018. And that pointing-up arrow will be what puts him over the top of Tagovailoa. Also, Herbert's 6-5 frame and noticeably stronger arm will factor into him going No. 1 overall.
First offensive lineman off the board
Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
Wirfs is an absolute monster. The 6-foot-5, 322-pounder was devastatingly powerful in every game for the Hawkeyes last season as a 19-year-old true sophomore. Physically overpowering defensive linemen before your 20th birthday in college -- regardless of the conference in which you play -- is extremely rare. And of course, Wirfs is getting stronger. He was No. 1 on Bruce Feldman's list of "freaks" at the college football level. He power cleaned 450 five times to set an Iowa record previously held by then fifth-year senior and No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft -- Brandon Scherff.
But we all know it's not simply about strength on the offensive line. Then again, getting "NFL strong" isn't easy, and even many of the highly touted prospects take a full year to get there. Wirfs shouldn't have any problems in that area. And based on his film last season, he does have to get a little quicker laterally when dealing with those one-gap interior penetrators. But he already can demolish in the run game, and bull rushes don't phase him in pass protection. I expect Wirfs to take enough of a step forward in pass protection that he'll be viewed as a Quenton Nelson Lite type guard prospect -- with a chance to play tackle -- and, like Nelson, be the first offensive lineman off the board in his draft class.
Surprise QB who sneaks into Round 1
Jacob Eason, Washington
Eason hasn't started a game since all the way back in 2016, when, as a 19-year-old true freshman, he completed 55.1% of his passes at 6.6 yards per attempt with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions at Georgia. No, those numbers aren't dazzling, but the 6-5 former No. 2 quarterback and No. 5 overall recruit in the nation per 247 Sports, flashed incredible ability to fit the ball into tight windows thanks to an aggressive mentality and a howitzer for an arm.
And it's not like he was surpassed by Jake Fromm in 2017 on his own merits. He won the quarterback competition but was Wally-Pipped after going down with a knee injury in the season opener.
At his size, with his gigantic arm, Eason is already squarely on the draft radar. Washington returns most of its starting offensive line and has two reliable upperclassmen pass catchers in senior wideout Aaron Fuller and tight end Hunter Bryant. Eason is in position to fully showcase his massive talent, and with a strong year, those inherent skills will be too much for a team to pass on in the middle-to-late portion of Round 1.
Group of 5 defender to land in the first round
Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
Somewhat quietly, the Group of 5 conferences have landed a first-round defender in the past four draft classes. A few months ago, it was Ed Oliver. The year before? Leighton Vander Esch. In 2017, Haason Reddick. Houston's William Jackson was picked at No. 24 overall in 2016.
In 2020, that first-round defender will hail from Boise State. Weaver has looked like he belongs from the moment he stepped on the field in the Mountain West in 2017. That year, he had 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 14 games. As a redshirt sophomore, he had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss across 12 contests.
At 6-3 and 265 pounds, Weaver has NFL edge-defender size, plays with flashes of elite bend and outstanding hand use. He should go bananas in 2019 for the Broncos, and, in what appears to be a relatively down class of outside rushers, ultimately be one of the first players picked as his position.
Pre-season lock to go in Round 1 who goes in Round 2
Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
As a former top recruit who's 6-5 and 318 pounds playing the defensive tackle position, Brown is destined to get Dexter Lawrence comparisons -- the Clemson star who went No. 17 overall in 2019.
But for as much hype as Brown had even going into last year, his game isn't quite as impressive as Lawrence's from a pass-rushing perspective, and it's become increasingly difficult for interior defensive linemen who are run-stopping specialists to get picked in Round 1.
Brown can pressure the quarterback, but he hasn't done so at a high rate thus far in his Auburn career. However, he's a powerful, block-shedding master on inside runs, and his enormous frame gives him a huge tackling radius. He's been a fixture the first round of many way-too-early 2020 mock drafts, yet even if the Tigers star improves slightly in the pass-rush department, he'll be viewed mostly as an early-down player. A big combine would help of course, and I wouldn't be surprised if Brown impresses in most of the drills relative to his size. I just think teams will view his overall profile and decide his proper value is early in the second round.
When does Jalen Hurts get selected?
Hurts looked like he turned the corner last year as a passer. He only threw 70 passes last year at Alabama but completed 51 of them (72.9%) at a gargantuan 10.9 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw with more decisiveness and accuracy than his first two seasons at Tuscaloosa. The rushing element was still a part of his game (36 rushes for 167 yards and two touchdowns) but the timidness he showed on certain downfield throws as a freshman and sophomore had almost fully disappeared in 2018.
And now he's in Lincoln Riley's Heisman and No. 1 overall pick producing Air Raid offense, an attack that owns the second (Kyler Murray), third (Baker Mayfield) and fourth (Baker Mayfield) best passing efficiency seasons in college football history. Also, he's throwing to first-round talent CeeDee Lamb and big target Grant Calcaterra. The Sooners will have four new starters on the offensive line, but don't expect Hurts to be pressured much in the Big 12, and if anything, a less-than-stellar blocking unit will provide him plenty of opportunities to display his athleticism as a scrambler.
Hurts didn't look like an NFL quarterback two years ago. He flashed in 2018 and is primed for a humongous season in Norman which will vault him into the first round to a team ready to make the move to an Air Raid system (or at least adopt some of its principles) in 2020.
Off-the-radar prospect to go late in the first round
Ashtyn Davis, S, California
Davis isn't a household name -- yet. The senior safety has been ascending his entire career at Cal, and in 2018, he had 53 tackles, four interceptions, and five pass breakups.
While those numbers aren't staggering, it's Davis' position and springy athleticism that'll be the catalysts for him to go in Round 1 next April. He has tremendous range from the deep center field spot. And legit, ball-hawking free safeties are rare commodities. He came in at No. 32 on Bruce Feldman's "Freaks" list, so you know the physical talent is there too.
Led by Davis -- and his safety mate Jaylinn Hawkins -- the Bears are going to be stingy on defense this season, and with more big plays flying from the deep middle, he'll slowly but surely rise into the first round of the 2020 Draft.
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