NFL Draft 2020: Buyer beware on Jordan Love, Tee Higgins and these other top prospects


The 2020 NFL Draft is six weeks away and there’s plenty to be decided. Yes, the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine are behind us, but pro days and official team visits are ongoing, and what happens over the next month and a half will play a part in how NFL clubs value these draft-eligible players and, ultimately, where they slot them on their draft boards.

With that in mind, here are four names you could see go in Round 1 but come with a “buyer beware” caveat; yes, they undoubtedly have first round talent but for various reasons might be better Day 2 fits.

Let’s get to it.

Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

Man, there’s a lot to like about Jordan Love though you would be hard-pressed to find it in his 2019 game tape. In fact, last season’s performance raised doubts about his first-round pedigree; he completed just 61.9 percent of his throws with 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and he conceded to CBSSports.com at the Senior Bowl in January that he took on too much at times.

But there’s a perfectly good explanation for regressing from a 2018 campaign that ended with 3,567 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. “I know exactly why [Love] struggled this year,” Chiefs running back and former Utah State standout Darwin Thompson told CBSSports.com during Super Bowl LIV week. “A lot of things have changed. He lost his O-line. He had (running back) Gerold Bright, and we were a 1-2 punch when I was there. He lost his receivers. He had O-line leaving, the coaches leaving — it was a whole different offense. They were trying to keep it the same, but it wasn’t the same coaching techniques or whatever you want to call it.”

Love is undoubtedly a special talent, and at various points during the 2019 season, we saw glimpses of what makes him so intriguing. Every throw looks effortless, and he has the athleticism to make plays outside the pocket. But when Love doesn’t get his feet set, or when he throws off-balance, his accuracy suffers. So what will an NFL team get in Love, whose physical abilities, arm strength and playmaking abilities firmly put him on NFL team’s radar a year ago?

That’s the $18 million question ($18 million is roughly the value of a four-year rookie deal for the 13th overall pick, which is currently owned by the Colts, a team in the market for a franchise QB).

Ideally, Love would land with an organization that doesn’t need him to play immediately — think Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs; Kansas City let him sit for a season before naming him the starter in Year 2. The aforementioned Colts make a lot of sense, as do the Saints, who have the No. 24 selection. Wherever Love ends up, it’ll be imperative that he sits on the bench for a year — maybe longer — and has a low-pressure environment to grow into the job.

Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Tee Higgins looks the part of a first-round talent. The Clemson wideout is 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, has a huge catch radius and a knack for acrobatic plays. He logged 59 receptions in back-to-back seasons, and in 2019 finished with 1,167 yards (19.8 YPC) and 13 touchdowns.

But it’s one thing to dominate against ACC defensive backs, many of whom won’t play beyond college. It’s something else entirely to have that sort of success in the NFL against big, physical, fast defensive backs who make their living making life as difficult as possible for the wide receivers they’re tasked with covering.

And that brings us to our next point: Higgins has many attractive qualities but being physical isn’t one of them. He also didn’t regularly create separation, even on deep routes. This doesn’t mean Higgins won’t be a success in the NFL — remember: D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown were both second-round picks last year — just that there are questions about the totality of his game. CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs are the Tier 1 WR prospects in this draft class with Higgins, Justin Jefferson and Denzel Mims in the next tier. All six players could go in Round 1, or just three could hear their names called. And if Higgins doesn’t go until the second round it’ll likely be because of the reasons mentioned above, along with the fact that teams value offensive linemen more than wideouts, at least in this draft class.

A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa

A.J. Epenesa said at the combine last month that he models his game after J.J. Watt and that makes sense. Epenesa is 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, and when Watt came through Indianapolis he measured 6-foot-5, 290 pounds. “He’s a bigger-bodied guy,” Epenesa told CBS Sports HQ in Indy last month. “I’m nothing like J.J. Watt, obviously, but I feel I could grow to be something like that, where I can rush from the outside and from the inside, and be put [in a situation] to be a mismatch for somebody.”

Throughout the 2019 season we compared Epenesa to Watt so no surprise there. But at the combine Epenesa only benched 225 pounds 17 times, he ran the 40 in 5.04 and needed 7.34 seconds to finish the 3-cone drill. By comparison, Watt put up 225 pounds 34 times, ran the 40 in 4.88 and his 3-cone time was 6.88. 

Those are all absurd numbers for a 290-pound defensive linemen and when you look at Watt’s Mockdraftable.com comps, names like Cameron Jordan, Joey Bosa and Mario Williams come up. For Epenesa, the results were more modest — Romeo Okwara and Aaron Lynch. This isn’t to say Epenesa can’t be a good NFL player, just that his 2019 tape (where he flashed at times but also was quiet for long stretches during games) coupled with his combine results will cause NFL teams to reevaluate where he fits on their draft boards.

There have even been conversations that his future could be playing inside.

“I know there are some people out there who may be doubting me, whether it’s my speed or my explosiveness, but I want to prove some people wrong and just have that mentality of having a chip on your shoulder,” Epenesa said at the combine.

Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

During the season, we compared Shenault to Anquan Boldin, mostly because he was impossible to tackle in the open field and was 6-foot-1, 227 pounds. But Shenault played noticeably faster –Boldin reportedly ran in the 4.7s at the combine back in 2003 and as a result he dropped to Round 2. There was talk that Shenault had 4.4 speed though he spend much of the 2019 season playing through a core muscle and knee injury.

And when he showed up in Indy and ran a 4.59 40 it wasn’t a surprise when he didn’t do another drill and a short time later elected to have surgery on that core muscle injury.

Boldin went on to have a great NFL career that spanned 14 seasons and included a six-catch, 104-yard effort with the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. Put another way: Running fast in Indy doesn’t guarantee you anything in the NFL but it certainly appears that Shenault, who can line up anywhere on the field and is the type of physical presence that would be a welcome addition to any NFL offense, was less than 100 percent.

When he is healthy the question becomes is he more Boldin or A.J. Brown, who ran a 4.49 at last year’s combine? Worth noting: Both Boldin and Brown went in the second round.





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