The 2020 college football season will be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced they won't have fall football (the plan, for now, is to move the season to the spring), and that news came after many FCS conferences made similar announcements.
And while the remaining Power Five schools -- the Big 12, the ACC and the SEC -- appear ready to move forward with a season that will start in late September, this also means that, from the perspective of the 2021 NFL Draft, hundreds of players will be deprived of the opportunity to add another season of film to their resume.
Put another way, where would Joe Burrow be right now if he hadn't played the 2019 season for LSU?
I feel for all college athletes right now. I hope their voices are heard by the decision makers. If this happened a year ago I may be looking for a job right now.— Joey Burrow (@JoeyB) August 10, 2020
Burrow, who was considered a Day 3 pick 12 months ago, put up historic numbers during LSU's title run and parlayed that into the No. 1 overall selection this spring. And what about Kyler Murray, the 5-foot-10 Oklahoma quarterback? Never mind first overall, is he even drafted into the NFL without playing the 2019 season for the Sooners, especially since Major League Baseball's Oakland A's had already drafted him ninth overall to play outfield?
If you thought NFL evaluators had tougher-than-usual jobs this spring, with no pro days and private workouts, things are now immeasurably tougher because a subset of players hoping to get drafted have now taken their last college snaps.
Here are some of those players who could benefit from a 2020 college football season.
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Fields transferred from Georgia and in 2019 immediately stepped in for Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State, where in his first season he threw for 3,273 yards and completed 67 percent of his throws, including 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Fields ran for another 484 yards and 10 scores. And while he's a first-round talent, another year in the Buckeyes system would only enhance his draft stock; he has off-the-charts athleticism and plus-arm strength, but Fields needs to improve his accuracy on downfield throws and his ball security. There's a lot to love about his game and the expectation is that he'll only get better with more reps. The good news is that, from the perspective of August, Fields remains a likely first-round pick, but there's virtually no chance he challenges Trevor Lawrence for first QB off the board now that Ohio State's fall season has been cancelled.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Athletically, Lance is in the same conversation as Lawrence and Fields, but he plays for FCS North Dakota State and the level of competition was always going to be a consideration. But how will NFL teams evaluate Lance now now that North Dakota State's season has been canceled? The redshirt sophomore is raw; he does so many things at a high level but he was occasionally late delivering the ball downfield and struggled at times with accuracy. He also played in a run-heavy offense that didn't lean on his arm for much of last season. That said, Lance threw 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and his talent is undeniable. Worth noting: Jordan Love, who shares a similar skillset with Lance, was a first-round pick this spring; Lance, who had 17 fewer interceptions than Love in '19, is a better prospect, despite not playing an FBS schedule.
Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota
Morgan doesn't have a strong arm but he's one of the best anticipatory passers in the country. He also regularly makes the right read and delivers the ball on time and in a spot that allows his receivers to maximize yards after the catch. For us, he entered the 2020 season as a Day 3 prospect with the chance to only improve this stock. Now he joins a long list of players who currently have no place to play this fall.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA
This is an insanely athletic quarterback class and DTR is another example of that. There are flashes of just how good he can be, but he also needs to improve his decision-making and do a better job of letting routes develop before coming off them, usually to run. Of all the quarterbacks mentioned here, Thompson-Robinson probably had the most to prove to NFL teams.
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
There was some speculation that Wade might declare for the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead, he returned to Ohio State, where he was expected to showcase his ability to play outside after manning the slot for much of his Buckeyes career. There's no denying his talent, but now evaluators will have no real sense of his versatility. Ohio State's track record with producing defensive backs speaks for itself -- Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette were first-rounders this spring -- and Wade would've probably been no worse than a Day 2 selection had he come out.
Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
Last summer, Adebo was mentioned as a possible first-round talent but an up-and-down 2019 campaign led him to return to Stanford. He has many of the physical attributes NFL teams look for in their cornerbacks, but he also needs to clean up his technique, get stronger and prove that he has the speed to run with any wide receiver.
Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
Onwuzurike is a powerful, explosive interior defensive lineman who at times took over games for the Huskies, and at other times left you wanting more ... which isn't that uncommon for college players honing their games. It's why Onwuzurike returned to school -- to work on becoming more consistent -- and now he won't get that opportunity.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL, Michigan
Hutchinson's versatility is one of his best attributes -- he can play anywhere along the defensive line -- but he also needed to show evaluators that he can be more than an edge setter in the run game and has the ability to consistently get into the backfield and disrupt plays.
Dillon Radunz, LT, North Dakota State
Radunz might be the second-best left tackle in this draft class behind Oregon's Penei Sewell. And maybe that's enough to insure he's a first-round pick. But like college teammate Trey Lance, the lack of a fall season could be the difference between being drafted, say, 30th overall and being a top-10 pick. In 2019, Radunz was rarely beaten, regularly dominated, and was a huge part of Bison's run-game success, but he was also facing FCS competition. He would be a prime candidate for the Senior Bowl, where in a normal year he'd have the opportunity to go up against some of the best draft-eligible edge rushers.