NFL Draft 2020: Buyer beware on D'Andre Swift, Justin Jefferson and these other top prospects
Despite being highly touted and likely top picks, these draft prospects are risky propositions
Whenever the 2020 NFL Draft begins, a small collection of early-round picks will get selected much earlier than where I would draft them, for a variety of reasons.
I'm not labeling any of the below prospects as absolutely guaranteed to bust, they're just the most risky propositions who could still land somewhere on Day 1 or Day 2. In my estimation, they'll have a difficult time living up to their draft positions.
Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
Why: Lack of pass-rushing moves; average-at-best athlete for the position
Upon his return to Auburn for his senior campaign, Brown proved to be the most naturally powerful defensive tackle in college football and the finest, most reliable run defender thanks to a gigantic tackling radius and the strength and awareness needed to shed blockers and find the football in tight quarters. Running at Brown is simply a bad idea.
However, he only took a marginal step forward as a pass rusher. Sure, Brown bull-rushed his way into the backfield on many pass plays, but beyond that he didn't consistently demonstrate a detailed pass-rushing plan in those situations. I do believe Brown is one of the rare prospects in the trenches who is already "NFL strong," but to be a productive pass-play disruptor in the NFL, defenders must have pass-rushing counters. Brown doesn't routinely use those.
Then, add in the fact that Brown had a rather pedestrian combine performance, and there's enough evidence to reasonably suggest he will have a very difficult time emerging as a pass-rushing force in the NFL. Now, for as much as the league has become pass happy, we aren't seeing throws 100% of the time. Brown will have value. Instantly. But gone are the days when a run-stopping stud at the defensive tackle spot equated to an awesome first-round pick. He has the size, length, experience against top competition, and strength to be a good pro for 10-plus seasons. I just don't believe the team that picks Brown will ultimately get the right amount of value for him in today's NFL because he's unlikely to be a high-end pass rusher in the pros.
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Why: Inexperience in coverage
Murray has top-15 caliber athleticism at 6-foot-2 and 241 pounds with 4.52 speed. Everything about him from a physical profile gets a giant, bold check mark.
As for production, Murray is a stud too. After 68 tackles as a freshman, he registered 155 tackles as a sophomore with 12.5 tackles for loss before 102 tackles and 17 tackles for loss in 2019 for the Sooners.
If this was 2010, Murray would probably be viewed as highly (if not more so) than Isaiah Simmons. Seriously. But in today's NFL, linebackers must be able to cover. And it's not that I know Murray can't do it, I just didn't see him do it at Oklahoma. Like ever. Second- or third-rounders almost always have incomplete elements to their skill sets. With first-round picks, you want as few of those as possible. Murray being green in coverage instantly raises a red flag for him as a probable first-round linebacker.
He has six pass breakups over the past two seasons and did not record an interception during his time at Oklahoma. Beyond the elementary statistics, Murray almost never was told to turn and sink in zone coverage. Blitzing or spying the quarterback represented his main duties on pass plays. And he is going to have to turn and run in the NFL as a rookie. All that equates to why I'm sticking a buyer-beware label on Murray in Round 1.
However, Murray's candidacy as a first-round pick deserves a team-specific caveat. If he were to land with the Baltimore Ravens, he'd be in a unique situation that'd likely accentuate his talents (athleticism, blitzing, and QB-spying) while masking his coverage rawness. According to Sports Info Solutions, the Ravens sent five rushers on 34% of their snaps in 2019, the highest rate in football, and blitzed with two extra rushers 11% of the time, the second-highest figure in the NFL. Murray, utilized as a blitz-specialist on passing plays, would likely lead to Baltimore having legitimate justification for taking him in the first round. The Steelers (33%) and the Buccaneers (29%) were second and third respectively in five-man blitz rate last season but both took a linebacker in Round 1 in 2019.
Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Why: Schemed production in 2019
Jefferson exploded onto the scene -- like many LSU offensive players -- in 2019 with 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. But Jefferson is the quintessential example of why market share is a better measure of production than basic figures. He accounted for just 25.4% of the Tigers' passing offense, a rate that falls short of the 30% threshold recent history has shown correlates to No. 1 receiver type success at the NFL level.
And, sure, he shared a wideout room with Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase, which must be considered. But so should how Jefferson accumulated his 1,540 receiving yards. His film shows an insane amount of his yardage coming on a deep, uncovered over route against zone from the slot or a screen or quick in-breaker on a RPO.
In short, the combination of brilliant offensive coordinator Joe Brady and the immaculate season from Joe Burrow had much to do with Jefferson's high-volume production than what the pass catcher did individually.
And much has been made about Jefferson's production in contested-catch scenarios last season. Per Pro Football Focus, he converted 12 of 13 contested-catch opportunities to lead all wide receivers in this draft class with a 92.3% rate in that vital category. But in tracking those instances on film, I noticed many of the plays possibly deemed contested-catch situation wins for Jefferson were simply more about pinpoint ball placement from Burrow and cornerbacks not finding the football as opposed to a high-point rebound over a defender.
At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds with 4.43 speed, good yards-after-the-catch skill and some wiggle at the line, Jefferson is far from a bad prospect. I just believe he'll be over-drafted if he goes in Round 1 because he's unlikely to land in such a perfect environment in the NFL and was never truly the No. 1 target at LSU. More specifically, despite his wiggle he's typically re-routed easily by press coverage, doesn't play to his speed as a route-runner and is unlikely to rock in the contested-catch situations like he did in 2019 because the footballs won't repeatedly fall into his chest in the NFL.
D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
Why: Ran behind loaded Georgia line; lack of a trump card as a runner
Swift was the No. 4 running back recruit in the country in the class of 2017 and looked the part instantly at Georgia, averaging 7.6 yards per carry on 81 totes as a true freshman. After Nick Chubb and Sony Michel left for the NFL, Swift assumed feature-back duties and had back-to-back seasons averaging over 6.0 yards per rush while getting 163 and 196 carries respectively. At a thick 5-foot-8 and 212 pounds, he ran 4.48 at the combine. Everything checks out then right?
Quantitatively, yes, probably.
But Swift's film shows a back with a good, not great all-around skill set who found himself running behind a wonderfully cohesive and powerful offensive line. His left tackle Andrew Thomas is going in Round 1. Right tackle Isaiah Wilson is a likely Day 2 pick. Left guard Solomon Kindley will get drafted. And all three of them are outstanding run blockers who routinely paved massive lanes for Swift in the SEC. That was a major luxury for Swift. Individually, he isn't incredibly elusive and doesn't play with high-end contact balance to ward off tackle attempts to continue forward.
Per the Pro Football Focus Draft Guide, Swift forced 40 missed tackles in 2019, which ranked as the 40th-most among draft-eligible running backs. He only had 18 carries of 15-plus yards, the 19th-most among that group. I don't think he plays to 4.48 on the field. And, lastly, Swift's 2018 film was better 2019. He displayed more devastating cutting skills and acceleration. That gave me a concerned feeling about him living up to a potentially Round 1 draft status in the NFL.
Swift is a stellar receiver, having caught 73 passes during his three-year stay in Athens, and that skill is a big positive on his draft profile. But unless he finds himself running behind a truly dominant line like he had at Georgia, I don't think Swift will ultimately stack up with the other top backs in this class.
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