SEC Preview of 2020 NFL Draft: Top prospects loaded with Alabama players, starting with Tua Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa is one of the country's best players but don't sleep on his teammate, receiver Jerry Jeudy
The college season is almost here and while everyone gladly welcomes football's return, for us it means the official start of the 2020 draft season. That's right, the NFL Draft is some eight months off and there's no better time than, well, now to get a jumpstart on those players who head into the 2019 campaign as likely early-round picks.
We'll be going conference by conference leading up to the start of the college football season to key you in on who you should keep your eyes on from an NFL Draft perspective as these teams play. Let's get to it.
QB Tua Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa enters the 2019 season as the best quarterback in college football. He completed 69 percent of his passes last season with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions, and his emergence sent Jalen Hurts to the bench (and eventually to Oklahoma). At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Tagovailoa is undersized by traditional NFL standards but thanks to Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, his lack of ideal height won't prevent him from perhaps being the first player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tagovailoa has a quick release and is extremely accurate but doesn't have elite arm strength, and though he's generally good in the pocket, he can sometimes feel pressure that isn't there. Tagovailoa also excels on slip screens -- the ball is out of hands quickly and accurately -- and he shows great touch on intermediate and deep throws.
WR Jerry Jeudy
No matter what Jeudy does in 2019 -- and we imagine there will be plenty that leaves us jaw agape -- this clip will be the first thing we think of when talking about him:
In addition to Jeudy's mind-boggling start-stop ability, he's an elite route runner who does everything well. If you're looking to nitpick, Jeudy doesn't have top-end speed, though you wouldn't know it to watch him in games. Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy timed him at 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at Alabama's pro day. Don't tell that to Zedrick Woods, the Ole Miss safety whose 4.3 40 time was the fastest at the 2019 NFL combine; he never had a chance against Jeudy.
LB Dylan Moses
Moses is the prototypical NFL inside linebacker in that he's explosive, extremely athletic and has sideline-to-sideline playmaking abilities. He can rush off the edge and has the ability to sift through trash and knife would-be blockers to make plays in backfield. Moses was the best inside linebacker on Alabama's defense a season ago (that included Browns fifth-rounder Mack Wilson). Still only a true junior, expect Moses to improve on his 3.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss from a season ago.
DL Raekwon Davis
Don't be confused, Davis isn't nearly as dynamic as his 2018 line-mate, Quinnen Williams. His job was to occupy blockers to allow others to make plays, which he did well. Davis shows the ability to beat one-on-one blocks and he has the strength to control the line of scrimmage. That said, he needs to improve his pass-rush moves; last season he seemed more effective when he lined up between the center and the guard than when he kicked outside between the guard and tackle. Davis did the right thing returning to Alabama, where he'll have a much better shot at going in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
WR Henry Ruggs III
Ruggs lines up mostly in slot, but he can play outside as well. He's quick out of breaks, smooth in routes and creates sneaky separation with fluid movements. Ruggs is undersized as a blocker and needs to get stronger, but he's a strong yards-after-catch runner who can be dominant on short and intermediate routes. That said, he also has the speed to be a consistent deep threat.
More to watch
Shyheim Carter is an athletic press corner who also shows he's capable at playing zone and even has some experience at safety for Alabama. Xavier McKinney is a versatile terror at safety who knows how to make plays. Trevon Diggs has experience covering receivers both inside and outside, and he would be a fine fit for an NFL team playing on that versatility. Anfernee Jennings has a powerful pass rush but is a bit unrefined as an edge rusher, and he'll have to prove to scouts he's more well-rounded then he's shown thus far.
DT Derrick Brown
Brown and his 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame are hard to move off the ball with a lone blocker. He has the strength to push the pocket, even against double teams and he can disengage from blocks to make plays in the backfield. More of an edge-setter when he's on the outside, Brown doesn't have the dynamism of a Quinnen Williams or Jeffery Simmons but he is a special talent who can be disruptive in the run game, and while he's underrated as a pass rusher, he has the tools to improve in that area.
More to watch
Nick Coe had a breakout 2018 with 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, and he could get some first-round looks with another strong campaign as an interior pass-rush force. Prince Tega Wanogho is an athletic tackle who's late to football and still has plenty of untapped potential; if it all comes together in 2019, he could be in the first-round mix. Marlon Brown doesn't have the pass-rushing chops to make an early impact in the NFL unless he surprises in 2019, but he's a mid-round talent who could fit as an end in 3-4 schemes or play on early downs in a 4-3.
CB C.J. Henderson
Long-legged and long-armed, Henderson can flip his hips, get in and out of breaks against top-flight receivers, and displays good mirroring skills. He's strong in man coverage, and while he isn't a ballhawk (two INTs, five passes defended last season) he has the hands of a wide receiver. Henderson sometimes struggles to disengage from blocks to make tackles in run game and he'll need to add weight to what can be described as a slight frame, at least by NFL standards.
More to watch
Jabari Zuniga has the strength and speed to be a top-tier edge rusher, but he'd benefit more than most from finding the right defensive line coach to unlock his potential. Expect him to blow up the combine. Quarterback Feleipe Franks is mostly upside at this point, but if he can display consistency heading into 2019 as Florida's unquestioned starter, his arm strength and big frame will put him squarely on NFL teams' radar.
OT Andrew Thomas
Arguably the best offensive lineman in college football, Thomas not only looks the part at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, he plays like a dominant left tackle. He'll again protect Jake Fromm's blind side at Georgia through quick feet, athleticism and strength. Thomas has allowed just four sacks in two seasons and he can take over in the run game.
QB Jake Fromm
Upon first glance, Fromm doesn't check the boxes for Prototypical NFL Quarterback -- he's 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, doesn't have a rocket right arm and isn't particularly athletic outside the pocket. But he is accurate and timely on short routes, shows good touch on intermediate routes and has a good understanding of what the defense is giving him. Fromm sometimes struggles on throws that require him to air it out downfield but he does enough things at a high level to consider first-round consideration.
RB D'Andre Swift
In a word, Swift is explosive. He has the ability to bounce it to the outside using both speed and strength, which sometimes comes with a stiff arm. He can also run between the tackles and he uses his quick acceleration through the hole to get head of steam and that makes him even tougher to bring down. Swift is smooth in open space, catches ball effortlessly, and is a solid option in screen game. And while he may not be a burner, his one-cut ability can leave defenders flat-footed.
More to watch
J.R. Reed can be a capable box safety at the next level, but unless he surprises at the combine he'll likely be a mid-round player in next year's draft. Tyler Clark is a jack-of-all-trades interior defensive lineman coming off a poor 2018, but if he can return to the form of his breakout 2017 campaign, he'll have the space to build buzz as a Day 2 pick in a 2020 class not nearly as loaded as last year's draft.
S Grant Delpit
Delpit can line up anywhere -- in centerfield, the slot, near the line of scrimmage, off the edge -- and wherever he ends up he consistently makes plays. He's best coming downhill but he'll continue to improve the other aspects of his game and his long, lean frame coupled with his fluid movements make him look like a natural playmaker. Perhaps not surprisingly, Delpit is also a terror on special teams:
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
Fulton considered entering the 2019 NFL Draft. He has quick feet, smooth hips and was arguably LSU's best cornerback last season even though he played across the field from Greedy Williams, the Browns' second-round pick this spring. According to Pro Football Focus' metrics, Fulton allowed just 41.5 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be caught and held receivers to 49 yards after the catch during the '18 season. Fulton's off-field history may give some NFL teams pause but his on-field abilities are undeniable.
More to watch
Rashard Lawrence already looks like an NFL player and is coming off a season where he racked up 10 tackles for loss, but the defensive lineman could start slow this year after offseason knee surgery. He's not a first-rounder yet, but that upside is there. Edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson is also working his way back from a major knee issue, and he'll be a target for 3-4 fronts in the middle rounds with a good year.
Who else to watch
Arkansas: Defensive lineman McTelvin Agim will be looking to build upon his strong 2018 that included 10 tackles for loss after he passed on declaring for the 2019 draft. He could be a nice Day 2 target as a 4-3 defensive tackle with another strong season. Senior linebacker De'Jon Harris has made his name as a run-stopper and should be on the radar for any teams looking to address that deficiency in 2020.
Kentucky: No Josh Allens for Kentucky this year, and the player who's probably most on the radar heading into the season is guard Logan Stenberg, who earned second-team All-American preseason honors this year and played a key role in paving the way for Benny Snell in 2018.
Missouri: Albert Okwuegbunam is a big target who can beat out defenders in coverage with his frame, and he figures to be a great fit as an in-line tight end at his next stop. Kelly Bryant played well for Clemson in 2017 before getting Trevor Lawrence'd, and he'll try to catch a team's eye as a Day 3 developmental quarterback who could thrive in an RPO environment.
Mississippi State: Interior offensive lineman Darryl Williams is a 6-foot-2, 310-pound redshirt senior who doesn't wow you in any one phase but is a solid player in the middle of the offensive line. Willie Gay, Jr. is a 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker who had 5.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks last season and will look to improve on those numbers in '19.
Ole Miss: The Rebels' 2020 draft class won't look anything like the '19 version. There are no D.K. Metcalfs or A.J. Browns but with another strong season, interior defensive linemen Benito Jones will remain on scouts' radar. The preseason All-SEC selection had 9 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2019, all while starting every game.
South Carolina: Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is a high-motor player with good awareness in the pass rush. Even if he doesn't get to the quarterback he affects throwing lanes with his long arms. Kinlaw shows good strength in one-on-one matchups, he's stout at the line of scrimmage, has the ability to consistently push the pocket and is capable of taking on double-teams. The offensive line has to account for him on every snap.
Tennessee: Offensive tackle Trey Smith has some medical concerns but the junior can overpower defensive linemen with his sheer strength. Running back Ty Chandler is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list and he's coming off a sophomore campaign in which he rushed for 630 yards (5.5 YPC) and scored a team-leading seven touchdowns, three of which were receiving scores. He also ranked fourth on the team in receptions (19).
Texas A&M: Quarterback Kelly Mond flashed at times during his sophomore season but will need to play with more consistency (he completed 57 percent of his throws with 24 TDs and 9 INTs in '18) if he wants to sneak into the Day 2 conversation -- assuming, of course, he declares for the draft. Wide receiver Kendrick Rogers (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) was a favorite target of Mond last season; he caught 27 passes for 336 yards and 5 scores. Like Mond, he's entering his junior season so there's no guarantee he doesn't return to College Station in 2020.
Vanderbilt: Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn rushed for 1,244 yards last season (and a gaudy 7.9 YPC) to go along with 12 touchdowns. At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, he's a one-cut runner who excels in a zone system.
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