The 2020 NFL draft features some fantastic wide receiver prospects. The summer hype for this position might have boiled over considering that the production among them hasn’t matched it thus far. But one wide receiver who is putting his best foot forward this season is Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
His performance Saturday in the Sooners’ win over Texas was nothing short of tremendous — 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, and OU needed every one of those grabs to hang on. Lamb’s first touchdown was a quick one, from 1 yard out. But the next two scores demonstrated his rare playmaking knack. He separated on both plays and then either zig-zagged his way through the Texas secondary or, as he did on his third TD, barreled through multiple would-be tacklers to find the end zone.
Lamb is said not to have the same burst and explosion as other top receivers in the 2020 class, including the Alabama duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. Don’t expect a blazing 40-yard dash from him, either. But anyone who is going to be stuck on Lamb’s measurables or lean frame is missing the point. His body control, ball skills, tracking ability, competitiveness and smooth releases and route running place him among the elite prospects at the position.
Ruggs’ production has been spotty some games, but he could threaten to break John Ross’ 40-yard dash mark. That would make the Bama a receiver a potential February/March riser. Teams have limited Jeudy’s big plays this season, but for all the talk that his production has been a tad disappointing, it’s worth noting that he’s ahead of his yards-per-game and TD paces from a year ago.
Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. — whom we rated this summer as belonging in the same caliber of prospect — has been playing through multiple injuries. How he finishes the season and tests medically ultimately will have a greater say on where Shenault gets drafted as he’s still regarded highly by NFL talent evaluators. Clemson’s Tee Higgins is having a fine season, but he left Saturday’s game against FSU with a hamstring injury.
Independent of how the other 2020 draft receivers have performed, Lamb needs to be viewed as a riser who belongs in the WR1 discussion. We’ve not set our initial grades on these players yet, but Lamb will be right in the thick of this race.
Now for the rest of the winners and losers from a wild Week 7 of college football ...
Oregon prospects on display for huge crowd of scouts
Friday night games — and really any non-Saturday games — are favorites of NFL scouts because they can often hit multiple games in a weekend. That was reflected in a massive crowd at Friday’s Colorado-Oregon game, which included 25 credential requests from 17 NFL teams.
That means more than half the league’s teams were expected to attend. That’s a lot for an early October game.
It’s unclear how many of those scouts showed up. As we reported Friday, there were two NFL executives on hand: Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons actually requested four scout credentials for the game, two more than any other team there.
Raiders GM Mike Mayock and Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff here at Colorado-Oregon game, source tells me— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 12, 2019
Plenty of talent, including two draftable QBs
The scouts who made it to Eugene saw perhaps the strongest performance of the season from Ducks QB Justin Herbert. The Ducks’ passing game this season has not been a translatable clinic on what Herbert’s NFL offense will look like design-wise, but he has taken good care of the ball this season and delivered enough high-end throws to where he will be some teams’ QB1 this coming draft cycle.
(Scouts also saw the continued emergence of sophomore LT Penei Sewell, who will be among our preseason leaders in the clubhouse for the early 2021 draft projections next summer.)
Those two Ducks were great, but they were not the only ones to stand out in their 45-3 beatdown of Colorado. Oregon OLs Calvin Throckmorton and Shane Lemieux both turned in strong games and continued to solidify their draft stocks for 2020. CB Deommodore Lenoir is a favorite sleeper of ours, and fellow CB Thomas Graham Jr. has been growing on us with each game we watched.
The news is far worse on Ducks TE Jacob Breeland, an emerging prospect who was having his best season prior to suffering what has been deemed a season-ending “lower body” injury. Breeland was seen using crutches after taking a hit against the Buffaloes, and he was seen with a brace on his left knee. Head coach Mario Cristobal would not detail the nature of the injury, but if it was a torn ACL, Breeland’s rehab could make it tough for him to work out fully prior to the 2020 NFL draft, which would be a huge blow.
It also wasn’t the finest night for highly regarded LB Troy Dye, a strong Day 2 prospect who is otherwise having a fantastic season. One game won’t crush his stock of course, but there were some plays where he overshot his gap or failed to make a tackle he normally does.
For Colorado, we were impressed with Shenault’s toughness, playing 46 snaps at far less than good health and still managing to haul in four catches for 70 yards on seven targets. But several of the Buffs’ other 2020 prospects — including QB Steven Montez, WRs K.D. Nixon and Tony Brown and LB Davion Taylor — had tough nights. DE Mustafa Johnson, a player we liked this summer but who has had a disappointing season to date, missed the game with an ankle injury.
Talented CB out for the season
A few weeks ago we wrote about Virginia CB Bryce Hall and wondered whether he might have been better suited to have left school last year, given his fine 2018 season and how there was only one cornerback drafted in Round 1. Hall would have had a chance to be one of the first few drafted had he declared early.
Now Hall is out for the season, Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall confirmed on Monday. It’s a terrible blow for Hall, who had been off to a bit of a slow start this season in the playmaking department and who now faces an extended rehab after a pretty gruesome ankle injury he suffered Friday vs. Miami (Fla.), even if Mendenhall said the timetable has yet to be determined.
We’ll see if Hall can make it back for the Senior Bowl, which could be a good opportunity for him to help refurbish his draft stock. Either way, he should be fully recovered by the NFL scouting combine next year.
We view Hall a bit below some other draft analysts. Many had projected him as a first-round cinch, but we had him more in the possible top-50 range. The injury might complicate this a bit.
Tennessee pass rusher on the rise
Darrell Taylor entered the season with a fair bit of hype, but the Volunteers’ struggles this season and Taylor being held in check at times dampened that some. Until Saturday, that is.
In Tennessee’s upset of Mississippi State, Taylor was all over the field. The 6-4, 255-pound pass rusher sacked Bulldogs QB Tommy Stevens in the first quarter — just his second sack of the season — and he added his third sack of the year in the fourth quarter. That’s when Taylor also forced a fumble on the play and registered his first multi-sack game since last November against Kentucky.
Taylor has shown a knack for dislodging footballs (six forced fumbles in his career) and has shown a little versatility to his game as the Vols will ask him to stand up as a linebacker on occasion and even walk out into coverage here and there. First and foremost, though, he’s a pass rusher and Saturday was his best performance of the season.
“We were getting off the rock,” Taylor said. “It’s something that we’ve been preaching all week.”
Two SEC left tackles on the rise
Another Tennessee player, LT Trey Smith, was named Co-SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. Smith is a highly touted player whose season was threatened at one point because of continued blood clots, but the 6-foot-6, 325-pound junior has slowly turned things around after a slow start and time missed this summer in camp before he could be medically cleared.
On Saturday, Smith held up well against a pretty good MSU front seven that features DT Lee Autry (who just returned to the lineup), DE Chauncey Rivers and some talented linebackers. Smith was especially effective in his run blocking in the game and profiles as a strong, stout interior blocker at the next level, as he might not possess the quickness to handle outside rushers.
Smith’s medical evaluation clearly will play a big factor ultimately in his NFL grades. But scouts also have wanted a little more dog in his game, and he appeared to deliver that in this one.
“That was dope. It’s a great feeling to be able to handle somebody up front,” Smith said after the game. “... It’s always a great feeling when you can impose your will on somebody.”
Another SEC blocker of note from Saturday was Mizzou’s left tackle, Yasir Durant, the other co-winner along with Smith this wee. Durant is creeping up into the top-100 draft discussion, we believe.
The 6-7, 330-pound tackle is an unnatural athlete for his size with great movement skills and an improved anchor. Durant first opened our eyes in the Tigers’ late-season win at Florida and their talented pass rushers a year ago. (And this week he even popped out into the slot as a receiver in an unusual formation vs. Ole Miss that will catch the eye of NFL people.) But it was his quality blocking and movement up front that caught our eye against the Rebels.
"[The offensive and defensive lines] took it upon ourselves to take over the game," Durant said after the game. Durant and OG Tre’vour Wallace-Simms led the way for Missouri in the game offensively, with DT Jordan Elliott (we told you about him in July) a force up front on defense.
Durant underwhelmed a bit in the early going this season but appears to have turned the corner a bit in his final season. A battery of talented pass rushers awaits him, however, with the Tigers’ games upcoming against Kentucky, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
Hey, hey for Shea
A quick note on Michigan QB Shea Patterson, whom we’ve been a bit tough on at times this season and in the past. There are plenty of doubters about Patterson’s NFL projection, including ourselves, but there’s little questioning his rare athleticism, natural gifts and spontaneous playmaking ability.
When they’re firing on all cylinders, Patterson is a fun and dangerous player. He wasn’t perfect against Illinois, but Patterson uncorked — dare we say — this Mahomesian pass in Saturday’s win that will be the type of play that sticks in the heads of talent evaluators as they try to stamp a grade on Patterson and wonder just how much untapped ability he has.
Here's another angle (all 22) on the Shea Patterson no-look pass pic.twitter.com/kFDLLrfAmX— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 14, 2019
Check out the no-look pass from Shea Patterson on Saturday pic.twitter.com/5thFx7cFsu— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 14, 2019
They’re different players with different styles, but watching Kyle Allen play well for the Carolina Panthers is a great reminder that not all talented high-school QB recruits work out exactly as hoped or planned in college. Some deserve more of a chance in the NFL, as Allen clearly has.
Perhaps Patterson is the next in line of QB prospects who is still quite salvageable because of his unusual talent that hasn’t been quite cultivated and exploited fully to this point.
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