The Redshirt Senior: A Look Ahead to the 2020 NFL Draft
Week 4 of the NFL season has just come to a close and like last year, there are some teams in the league that, for all intents and purposes, are starting to phone it in and look toward the 2020 NFL draft. I wrote about this last year and some of the players I wrote about have looked like I expected (Deebo Samuel with the San Francisco 49ers) while some have looked worse than expected (Greg Little with the Carolina Panthers). Let’s take a deep dive.
One team that may already be looking for its quarterback of the future is the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins did make a draft day trade for former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen but were committed to starting career journeyman and Man of Harvard Ryan Fitzpatrick. Despite this, the Dolphins averaged 5.3 points per game with one shutout loss, with a -117 point differential through its early games. Maybe the Dolphins have simply played against good teams to start its season (Baltimore, New England, and Dallas), or maybe the team is tanking. Who is the team tanking for though?
(Note: I’m writing this before the Dolphins play Sunday afternoon and my narrative is based on the fact that I expect the Dolphins to lose to the Los Angeles Chargers. If the Dolphins win, ignore everything I said and assume the Dolphins are going to the Super Bowl.)
If the Dolphins want their quarterback of the future, the team doesn’t have to look very far. The University of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has already achieved an impressive pedigree. Tagovailoa came in for an injured Jalen Hurts to help Alabama overcome the higher-seeded University of Georgia in the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship Game, and led Alabama to the 2019 Championship Game as well before losing to another top-tier college quarterback who is not draft eligible this year in Clemson University’s Trevor Lawrence.
The biggest knock on Tagovailoa is he doesn’t have the arm strength of other quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, such as the University of Oregon’s Justin Herbert, but what Tua lacks in arm strength he makes up for in everything else. Tua has elite accuracy, mobility and an ability to remain composed under pressure in the pocket. Alabama winning a national championship notwithstanding, Tua will likely go number one overall in the draft either to the Dolphins or to another quarterback-needy team that will trade up to get him.
Speaking more on quarterbacks for a bit, Herbert made a strange decision last year to return to school for his senior season instead of trying his luck in the NFL draft, where he could have been the top quarterback off the board. Herbert definitely bet on himself to return to the form he showed during the 2017 season by returning to school, and he could easily be a target for another quarterback-needy team at the top of the draft (the Cincinnati Bengals maybe?). Unlike Tua, Herbert does have the ability to throw darts in the pocket, but he’s a lot more inconsistent. He regressed during his 2018 campaign and will have to show out the rest of this season in order to warrant a high draft pick.
Moving on from quarterbacks, the wide receiver class this year is looking particularly deep. I’ll start off with a thought experiment. Imagine an SEC wide receiver who stands at around six feet tall and weighs less than 200 pounds, with ridiculous athleticism and the ability to control his body to make one-handed catches. The first person who comes to mind should be Odell Beckham Jr., and that same type of player is what one team will get with the best wide receiver in this class, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy. When Alabama played the University of Mississippi this past year, Jeudy outran Ole Miss defensive back Zedrick Woods on a go route. Woods ran a 4.29 forty-yard dash at the combine last year and Jeudy outran him.
You have Jeudy at Alabama who will be a first round pick like the many Crimson Tide receivers who came before him (Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley), but there are plenty of other wide receivers to pay attention to that will probably go in the first round. The University of Colorado’s Laviska Shenault reminds me of a slower, stronger Julio Jones — the kind of receiver that you force-feed passes to if you need to make a play. Clemson’s Tee Higgins is like the opposite of Jeudy. Higgins is 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds and he towers over most of the defensive backs he burns on plays. Then you have the University of Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, who has hands that are made of glue; he catches everything thrown his way and is poised to climb even higher in the rankings with new quarterback Jalen Hurts throwing to him at Oklahoma this year. Also take a look at Texas Christian University’s top receiver Jalen Reagor, who has the athleticism of the previous players I mentioned but is buried in the rankings due to TCU’s poor quarterback play. This seems like a long-winded list, but it should be that way since there are so many receivers to choose from this upcoming year, unlike last year when the first receiver wasn’t chosen until the 25th pick in the draft.
There are many more positions to look at, but if your team is looking for a player to fill a hole, watch some college ball and see who your team may need.