Despite laboring through an abridged college football season with delays and cancellations galore, as usual, we saw plenty of NFL Draft prospects significantly boost their stocks this fall. And every year, a handful of previously relative unknowns find their way into the early portions of the draft. Some even land high in the first round.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is the headliner, but there's a variety of others -- mostly on defense -- who've pieced together quality 2020 campaigns for their respective schools while showcasing the traits and refined skills needed to be highly sought after prospects over the next few months.
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
It's happened with at least one quarterback in four of the past five drafts -- a quarterback previously viewed as a decent, draftable prospect explodes onto the scene as a legitimate, early first-round selection. Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones, Kyler Murray. And in 2017, we hadn't even seen Mitchell Trubisky start for a prolonged period at North Carolina, but after one strong season, he ultimately went No. 2 overall.
Wilson is the sudden star prospect of the 2021 class. After starting 18 games in 2018 and 2019 combined with adequate production, the BYU passer has been outstanding in 2020 in the new-school way of playing the quarterback position: pocket-passing brilliance coupled with incredible improvisation, off-script throws from awkward foundations downfield and creative weaves through traffic as a scrambler. He's completed 73.1% of his passes at 10.9 yards per attempt in an Cougar offense that loves to attack vertically. Wilson's tossed 30 touchdowns to just three picks and has eight rushing scores on his resume.
No prospect has seen more of a draft-stock ascension than Wilson. He's destined to be a top-10 pick in April.
Myjai Sanders, EDGE, Cincinnati
On 10.2% of his pass-rush attempts in 2019, Sanders registered a pressure. This season, the junior has upped that figure to 14% and has developed more effective moves to beat blockers en route to the quarterback. His swim, probably his most relied-upon maneuver, has become deadly.
Loaded with racecar-like explosion off the snap and smooth athletic traits to effortlessly change directions at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, Sanders has been the key cog in Cincinnati's swarming defense, and there's room for extra weight on his frame. Plus, his arms go on for days, and he uses them well to keep offensive tackles off his chest when he's rushing. There's some speed-to-power conversion to his game too.
It's a quality edge-rusher class in 2021, but Sanders is absolutely one of the best prospects at his position and will get the "high upside" label because of how his body can continue to fill out once he's part of an NFL strength and conditioning program.
Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
As a sophomore in 2019, Darrisaw surrendered a pressure once every 22 pass-blocking snaps. That's not early-round pick production from an offensive tackle. In 2020, Darrisaw's given up a quarterback pressure every 42.1 pass-blocking snaps. Outstanding improvement. And, the six pressures he's allowed have all be hurries -- no hits, no sacks.
At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds with sturdy vines for arms, Darrisaw controls oncoming edge rushers with his long reach and anchor. While not the most physically impressive nor the most fundamentally sound offensive tackle in college football right now, he simply blocks everything in front of him and fires out of his stance in pass protection with impressive quickness and sustained speed.
Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Collins was certainly on the draft radar after a 97-tackle, eight-tackle-for-loss sophomore campaign for the Golden Hurricane -- especially because he's 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. But he wasn't being discussed in the scouting community as a possible first-round pick.
He is now. Collins has been everywhere in 2020, immediately standing out in every contest as a towering but athletic linebacker equally as capable of thumping downhill as he is making a game-changing play in coverage. Collins has four picks on the season, two pass breakups, a pair of forced fumbles, and two return touchdowns.
Collins has pressured the quarterback on a massive 35.7% of his times blitzing or rushing off the edge, and the classic coverage figures speak for themselves. He's truly a rare specimen at that size, speed, fluidity, aggressiveness, and awareness when sinking in zone or running with a tight end in man.
Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
Weaver didn't play in 2019 after tearing his ACL in early August. In 2018, he did lead the team with 6.5 sacks. Importantly, he's return to form -- and actually been more productive -- in his return from injury this season for the Panthers.
Now a redshirt senior, Weaver has had plenty of time to add strength in the weight room, and it's noticeable on the field when he grapples with offensive linemen, often knocking them off the line of scrimmage. He's a long, 6-foot-5, 270-pound rusher who flashes a freaky dip underneath blockers, an uncharacteristic ability for someone his size. Before he decided opt out of Pittsburgh's remaining games this season, he led the nation in total pressures with 48.
Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
In 2019, Williams amassed 933 yards at 5.6 yards per pop as part of a legitimate timeshare in North Carolina's backfield. His teammate, Michael Carter, ran for over 1,000 as technically the "lead" back.
This season, Williams has 1,140 yards on the ground at 7.3 yards per rush on one more carry to date than Carter. He's also scored a gargantuan 19 touchdowns and averaged a hefty 12.2 yards per catch on his 25 grabs.
Diving deeper into his quantifiable profile, he's accumulating 4.59 yards after contact on the year, the sixth-highest figure among collegiate backs with at least 75 carries this season. Williams has also forced 83 missed tackles, the most among any FBS player in the country and 15 forced missed tackles clear of No. 2 on the list, Najee Harris from Alabama.
Williams has inserted himself into the discussion of top backs in the 2021 class and is now the favorite to be the third runner off the board in April.
Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
On 278 pass-rushing snaps as a redshirt freshman a season ago, Ojulari had a pressure-creation rate of 13.7%, impressive for someone at such a young age. He's taken the next step in his sophomore year with the Bulldogs. He now boasts a decently sizable 20.4% pressure-creation rate right now.
I personally do not see someone ready to contribute at a high level in the NFL in 2021 -- meaning, he should return to school to further advance his game -- but there is legit first-round buzz for Ojulari that, really, no one saw coming before the season.
(All advanced stats are courtesy of TruMedia unless otherwise noted)