The eyes of fans will be locked on sports channels this Thursday (or early hours of Friday morning) as the elite players of college football prepare to be selected by one of the 32 teams in the NFL. It’s a “Sliding Doors” moment where their lives will change in seconds. Players picked in the first round will become millionaires overnight, move in most cases to different parts of the country and immediately represent the hopes and expectations of the fans in that area. No pressure, then.
Who to look out for?
Joe Burrow is the consensus prediction to be the first overall pick. While the most talented player in the draft may be Ohio State’s defensive end Chase Young, Burrow is the Heisman Trophy Winner, presented to the best player in college football and led Louisiana State University to the national title from quarterback.
The quarterback is the highest profile position in football, the conductor of a highly tuned orchestra or the field general of the army. Three of the top six picks this year are projected to be quarterbacks. Look out for Alabama’s Hawaiian superstar Tua Tagovaiola and Oregon’s Justin Herbert to join Burrow as the top QBs taken, likely to Miami and the LA Chargers, in either order.
Likely the fourth QB to be selected, Jordan Love from Utah State is a polarizing prospect. Some NFL scouts see Love as this year’s Patrick Mahomes, current NFL MVP, a raw talent with huge upside. Others as a mercurial player whose performance dipped last year. The Kansas City Chiefs moved up from 27th to the 10th pick in a trade with Buffalo three years ago to pick Mahomes. At the time, he was considered a rough diamond with a huge arm capable of 90 yard throws but too risky to take early in the draft. The Chiefs’ move paid off – Mahomes is the reigning NFL MVP and Super Bowl winner.
Outside the quarterbacks?
2020 has the deepest class of wide receivers in years. Alabama standouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs Jr, who ran a 4.27 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Burrow’s team-mate Justin Jefferson from LSU all featured in the College Football playoff finals and could be joined as first round picks by Brandon Aiyuk from Arizona State, TCU’s Jalen Reagor or Denzel Mims from Baylor.
As the NFL has become more of a pass dominated league, the demand for players to nullify the threat of the wide receiver has equally grown. Cornerbacks are like the full backs of the NFL and college football – skilled, fast physical players with tremendous athleticism and defensive ability – if Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs are wide receiver equivalents, think Cafu or Roberto Carlos by cornerback comparison. Florida’s CJ Henderson, LSU’s Kristian Fulton and Utah’s Jaylon Johnson will feature as first rounders, but remember the name Jeff Okudah as a future Hall of Famer. He is the epitome of a lockdown corner – rangy, tough and a nightmare for an opposing quarterback. Ohio State’s Okudah was sensational in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson which cemented his reputation as the best cornerback in the Draft.
Other defensive standouts? Keep an eye out for Isaiah Simmons, a swiss army knife of a defensive player from Clemson, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen from national champion LSU.
…but increasingly important cornerstones of a successful team are the offensive linemen and this year’s class is a good one. These guys play a critical role in protecting the quarterback, blocking oncoming rushing defenders. Tristan Wirfs from Iowa embodies the typical lineman of today. He is a monster. Wirfs is 6’5” and weighs 320lbs. That’s nearly 23 stone in old money. And he runs 40 yards in 4.85 seconds. Terrifying. I think the New York Giants will take him with the fourth overall pick. Expect Mekhi Becton from Louisville and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas to feature highly.
Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts won a national title with Alabama before transferring to Oklahoma for his final college year. Look for a team that wants to develop a quarterback to land Hurts, Washington’s Jacob Eason or Georgia’s Jake Fromm – Saints, Steelers and Packers would be good landing spots for them. The University of Rhode Island may have its first NFL picks in years – wide receivers Isaiah Coulter and Aaron Parker could interest the local New England Patriots in the late rounds. Tight End Jared Pinkney from Vanderbilt and running backs JK Dobbins (Ohio State) and Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) can be immediate starters for their future teams.
Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner is the man who introduces it all, this year, like most of us at the moment, he will be working from home. It’ll be worth watching.
Next up – the teams to look out for and what they need.