With the 2020 NFL Draft (April 23-25) right around the corner, the pre-draft evaluation process is coming to a close. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced prospect access for teams, as pro days and in-person visits fell by the wayside, but I was able to obtain valuable insight through all-star exhibitions like the Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine and hours upon hours of film study.
With that in mind, here's an updated look at the top five prospects at each position in the 2020 draft class.
The rapid ascension of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and a handful of other young quarterbacks has caused a seismic shift in how coaches and scouts are evaluating the position. Instead of playing the waiting game with a young QB1, teams are creating offenses around their gunslingers and enabling them to play through their mistakes. Tagovailoa is the most talented QB1 in the class, with a game that makes him feel like a left-handed version of Drew Brees. Despite an injury history that could make some decision-makers pause, Tagovailoa's A+ arm talent, athleticism and intangibles make him an intriguing option as a franchise quarterback. Burrow is coming off the best season by a quarterback in college football history. He is a high-IQ playmaker with outstanding rhythm as a passer. He throws with superb touch, timing and anticipation, and also flashes impressive movement skills as a runner. Herbert is a bit of a polarizing prospect due to his exceptional physical tools but inconsistent production. However, he showed impressive poise and playmaking ability down the stretch and continued to dazzle in the Senior Bowl. If a team is willing to gamble on Herbert's upside, it could land a Pro Bowl-caliber QB1. Love is arguably the most talented passer in the class, but inconsistencies in his game have led some to label him a "boom or bust" prospect. Although some scouts view him as a Patrick Mahomes-like playmaker with exceptional arm talent and improvisational skills, others are troubled by his turnover woes and suspect decisions. Hurts has steadily climbed up the charts since the end of a spectacular campaign at Oklahoma. The Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year has wowed scouts with his intelligence, leadership ability and athleticism while displaying improved passing skills from the pocket.
The devaluation of the position could prompt several teams to hold off on selecting a back early, but the 2020 class is littered with exceptional talents possessing RB1 potential. Swift is the headliner, with an electric game that could make him a Day 1 starter. The Georgia standout is a three-down threat with a slippery running style and soft hands that make him a dangerous weapon in an offense designed to get the ball to him on the perimeter. Dobbins might be the most slept-on running back in the class despite his gaudy accomplishments. The compact runner exhibits the strength, power and explosiveness that coaches covet in an RB1, while also displaying the stamina and endurance to carry the load as a workhorse. Akers is a wild-card playmaker with a combination of skills that are tailor-made for the NFL game. He is shifty and explosive with enough pop to thrive as a workhorse in a power-based offense. Taylor's strong performance at the NFL Scouting Combine erased evaluators' concerns regarding his speed and pass-catching skills. With an impressive on-field resume that includes back-to-back 2,000-yard rushing seasons, Taylor checks off all of the boxes as an RB1 prospect. Edwards-Helaire is an intriguing RB1 option as a physical runner with outstanding pass-catching skills. Although he might lack elite top-end speed, the LSU product has a well-rounded game.
The 2020 wide receiver class is loaded with premier talent. There are 20-plus pass catchers with the potential to come off the board in the first three rounds, and history has shown us that future stars could hear their names called on Day 2 (see: Michael Thomas, Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, to name a few). Jeudy is arguably the best route runner in the class, with an assortment of slick releases and crafty maneuvers that make him a tough matchup on the perimeter. As a strong pass catcher with outstanding ball skills and running ability, the Alabama standout could follow in the footsteps of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley to become the next Crimson Tide receiver to shine in the NFL. Lamb is dominant on the perimeter with exceptional hands and ball skills. He routinely comes down with 50-50 balls and has a knack for putting the ball in the paint. Ruggs is a speedster with exceptional stop-start quickness and burst. He is a rare vertical playmaker with the ability to also make plays as a catch-and-run specialist. Jefferson's game lacks pizzazz or sizzle, but scouts love his consistency and versatility as an inside/outside playmaker. The LSU standout not only has experience playing every receiver position, but he is a natural WR1 with the toughness, intelligence and route-running skills to thrive in any system. Higgins is one of the most polarizing prospects in this entire draft class, but there's no denying his talent as a vertical playmaker. The 6-foot-4, 216-pound pass catcher excels outside the numbers, particularly on 50-50 balls down the boundary and in the red zone.
Dropped out: Laviska Shenault, Colorado (previously No. 5).
The tight end position has become a marquee spot to house explosive offensive playmakers. The trend should continue, as the 2020 class features a number of ultra-athletic pass catchers with outstanding ball skills. Kmet is a big, physical tight end with a knack for working the seams. He expands the strike zone with his size and length, giving quarterbacks a dependable red-zone option to lean on in key situations. Harrison Bryant is a fluid athlete with outstanding versatility as a "flex" tight end. He works defenders over with his superb route-running skills, and his sticky hands could make him a natural chain mover in a spread offense. Trautman is a classic "Y" with the size, length and athleticism to give defenses problems. He has the capacity to own edge defenders in the run game while also flashing the athleticism and explosiveness to win as a playmaker in the passing game. Hunter Bryant's disappointing performance at the NFL Scouting Combine has raised concerns about his impact potential as a mismatch player. Despite his craftiness as a route runner, scouts question whether he has enough quickness and explosiveness to consistently separate from top defenders at the NFL level. Okwuegbunam is an "HWS" (height/weight/speed) prospect with outstanding potential as a red-zone weapon. Although he lacks polish as a route runner and isn't the nastiest blocker, Okwuegbunam's ball skills and nose for the end zone (23 touchdowns in three seasons at Missouri) could endear him to offensive coordinators searching for a scoring threat at the position.
Teams looking for edge protectors are in luck, based on the depth and talent included in the 2020 class. Wills jumps to the front of the line as a dancing bear with light feet and quick hands. He checks all of the boxes as a rock-solid blocker on the ground and fortress in pass protection. Wirfs is a talented technician with great hands and feet. He easily seals the edge on outside runs while also displaying the athleticism, balance and body control to dominate defenders on climbs to the second level. Thomas flies under the radar despite displaying a rock-solid game that should make him a 10-year starter as a pro. The Georgia standout possesses the size, length and quick feet to dominate on the edges. Becton is an impressive, big-bodied athlete with outstanding balance and body control. He is an exceptional shadow boxer in pass pro, and also flashes a consistent game as a run blocker. Jackson is a talented edge blocker with outstanding movement skills. He bounced back from a medical procedure last summer -- Jackson donated bone marrow to his sister, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder -- to have a solid final season at USC. Scouts believe he is just scratching the surface on his potential.
The interior blockers in the 2020 class skew heavily toward the center position at the top of the board. Teams looking for excellent communication at the pivot will find this class loaded with experienced traffic cops. Cushenberry is a tough, hard-nosed pivot with quick hands and outstanding balance. He consistently stalemates defensive tackles at the point of attack while showing good anticipation on short sets in pass protection. Ruiz is a talented interior blocker with a versatile game that suits any scheme. He moves well and flashes some strength while battling monsters at the point of attack, but needs to develop better finishing skills as a pro. Hennessy is a scrappy interior blocker with outstanding toughness and technical skills. He is at his best playing center, but has shown the capacity to excel at guard, as well. Biadasz is a rock-solid interior blocker with limited athleticism. He moves defenders off the ball in the running game, but lacks the balance and body control to be effective in space. Muti is a huge question mark, due to his extensive injury history, but he is an intriguing prospect with a combination of strength, power and athleticism that could make him a solid starter in a power-based offense.
NFL scouts hunting for disruptive interior defenders will have plenty of options to choose from in the 2020 class. Brown is an absolute beast on the interior with a combination of size, strength and explosiveness that makes him nearly impossible to neutralize at the point of attack. He throws blockers around like a bouncer at a nightclub, and his ferocity sets the tone for an edgy defense. Kinlaw's size and natural talents scream top-10 potential with evaluators searching for the next Chris Jones. Although the South Carolina standout is capable of playing anywhere along a three-man front, he could be ideally suited to dominate as a three- or five-technique in a 3-4 scheme. Elliott has flown under the radar, but scouts rave about his athleticism, initial quickness and hand skills. If a good coach can help him put it together, he could blossom into a star at the next level. Blacklock is an energetic interior defender with a high-revving motor and outstanding athleticism. He gets pinballed a bit between the tackles, but his combination of quickness, athleticism and burst makes him a disruptive force on the inside. Madubuike flashes disruptive potential as an active inside defender. The Texas A &M standout is not a polished playmaker, but his energy and activity lead to splash plays in the backfield.
The 2020 class of edge defenders features a number of long, rangy pass rushers with explosiveness movement skills and refined technical ability. Young is a disruptive force with a combination of physical traits that could enable him to dominate the game as a Julius Peppers-like rusher off the edge. He racked up 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in just 12 games last season. Epenesa is a trench warrior with outstanding hand skills and technique. He mostly relies on his strength and power to win as a pass rusher, but flashes enough quickness and athleticism to wreak havoc as a power-based edge rusher or "speed" 3-technique in sub-packages. Gross-Matos is a bit of a polarizing prospect, but he flashes traits that remind me of a young Jason Pierre-Paul. He's long, rangy and athletic with active hands and a high-revving motor. Chaisson has Pro Bowl potential as a speed rusher with exceptional movement skills and athletic traits. He creates chaos off the edges with his speed, but his sack production doesn't match his talent at this stage of his career. Time will tell if Chaisson blossoms into an elite defender as a pro or follows the paths of previous LSU products Barkevious Mingo and Arden Key as naturally gifted underachievers at the next level. Anae is a worker bee off the edges with a non-stop motor and relentless competitive spirit that overwhelm offensive tackles. He combines his high-effort approach with cat-like initial quickness and a closing burst that helps him rack up sacks on an assortment of speed moves.
The changing nature of the NFL has prompted coaches and scouts to seek out hybrids at the linebacker position. Whether they're inside linebackers with sneaky pass-rush skills or hit, run and cover linebackers with safety-like perimeter skills, evaluators are searching high and low for difference makers on the second level. Simmons is the Swiss Army Knife of linebacker prospects in the class. The Clemson standout has the capacity to deliver game-changing plays as an edge rusher, slot defender or post safety. Baun is a rock-solid hybrid defender with a nice mix of blitz skills and coverage ability. He is not only an explosive pass rusher, but also shows outstanding instincts, awareness and diagnostic skills in coverage. Murray is an instinctive playmaker with a diverse set of skills that enables him to excel on blitzes or in coverage. The Oklahoma product has speed to burn and his athleticism could make him a star in a scheme that allows him to hit, run and cover on the second level. Queen is a spectacular athlete with great potential. He started to put it together during the second half of the 2019 season, but his game could really pop at the next level with time and development. Davis-Gaither is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker with outstanding instincts and awareness. He's shown his versatility by tallying 6.5 sacks and 15 pass breakups over the past two seasons.
The 2020 cornerback class is all about length, athleticism and explosiveness. Teams looking for cover guys to handle the basketball-style pass catchers should be able to find a six-footer at corner to match up on the perimeter. Okudah is an explosive athlete with a blue-collar game that makes him a worthy of consideration as a potential top-five pick. The Ohio State product has drawn comparisons to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, but Okudah has more speed and athleticism. Henderson has shutdown-corner potential with a terrific combination of size, length, athleticism and skills. He is not a natural ballhawk, but his sticky coverage ability and technique versatility give him a chance to shine in any system. Terrell is climbing up the charts as more coaches take a long, hard look at his game. He's an intriguing prospect with size, speed, toughness and versatility. With the Clemson standout also looking like he has the capacity to handle nickel duties, he could earn high marks in meeting rooms around the league. Diggs is a converted wide receiver with impressive length, athleticism and ball skills. He is a natural playmaker with an unrefined game that should improve quickly with more reps and experience on the island. Fulton has the ideal size and athletic traits to thrive on the island. He flashes Tier 1 talent, but consistency has been an issue.
The changing job description of safeties in the modern NFL has prompted coaches and scouts to search for deep-middle defenders with the speed, athleticism and toughness to play against the run or pass. McKinney is a box-area defender with a knack for finding the action as a "see ball, get ball" playmaker. He brings toughness, tackling and range as a projected strong safety. Delpit is an athletic middle-of-the-field defender with outstanding range and awareness. However, he has shown some inconsistencies as a tackler and questions persist regarding his overall physicality/toughness. Chinn is a versatile second-level defender with the potential to thrive as a hybrid in a creative defense. The big-bodied safety brings cornerback experience to the position, while also displaying standout skills as a box defender. Winfield's fabulous performance at the combine could send his stock soaring as evaluators take a closer look at the film and factor in his pedigree. The former Minnesota standout is an active playmaker on the second level, but size could be a concern with his playing style. Davis checks off all of the boxes as a smart, fast and tough defender. He brings a high IQ and top-end speed to the position as a natural center fielder.