2020 NFL Draft at a glance
Better in 2020: QB, RB, WR, OT, CB, S
Worse in 2020: TE, OG, C, DL, EDGE, LB
|8||Ezra Cleveland||Boise State||6'5||309||rJR|
|9||Cole Van Lanen||Wisconsin||6'5||311||rJR|
Potential riser: Samuel Cosmi (Texas) | 6'5/295
Needs a leap: Trey Smith (Tennessee) | 6'5/337
Deep sleeper: Landon Young (Kentucky) | 6'6/324
2021 prospect to monitor: Penei Sewell (Oregon) | 6'6/350
1. Andrew Thomas (Georgia) | 6'5/320
Thomas’ traits are elite, a well-built banger with easy athleticism and plenty of brute strength. His joints shouldn’t be as pliable as they are. Thomas is a 320-pound spring, with the supreme flexibility to coil back into sunken hips and the supreme explosion to strike with ferocious power.
A consensus 2018 All-American, Thomas has started 28 of 29 career games, only missing one with a sprained knee. His career progression has followed the Jonah Williams path. Thomas started at right tackle as a true freshman before moving to the opposite side as a sophomore in 2018 to take over for a player who’d moved on to the NFL (in Jonah’s case, that was Cam Robinson; in Andrew's, Isaiah Wynn).
Per PFF’s grades, Thomas (80.6) was better than Jonah (76.9) as a sophomore. Jonah’s grade jumped to 89.2 as a junior and a similar developmental leap is needed out of Thomas this fall to make the top-five a reality.
Thomas has Jonah beat in both length and athleticism, so he isn’t going to be followed by the same tired “he should move inside” narrative. He’s also naturally slick outside, setting up quickly in pass-pro and presenting edge rushers with a primo combination of strength and movement from there.
But Thomas is not yet a finished product. He’s leaned on his natural gifts over technique thus far, and that’s been enough to earn him a place in the discussion among the country’s best offensive linemen. But to become an NFL All-Pro, he’s going to have to clean up his footwork and hand usage, and he’s going to have to dial it back and play with more purpose and calm.
Thomas wants to blast people, and that’s great, but he needs to learn that it isn’t always in his best interest to do his 320-pound ferocious uncoil routine, because sometimes the big spring is going to miss its target. Thomas can improve his blocking strike zone merely by being even slightly more measured in his approach.
Further, Thomas needs to realize he’s not to be the bully in pass-pro, that that doesn’t suit his purposes. He’s way more comfortable coming forward than shuffling in a half-moon, but that has nothing to do with an athletic limitation. He’s like a UFC fighter who’s always charging forward. It’s just that most of the fighters of that ilk are limited in talent – they’re brawlers because they can only win in bar-fight scenarios. It's a last resort.
But Thomas isn’t like that – he’s got Jon Jones' diverse skillset. Which brings us to the hands in conclusion: Thomas is always throwing with power and ill-intent. We need him to realize that those hands are meant for controlling as much as dictating; he’ll stop letting fish off the line when he quits reeling like a maniac the second he feels a bite.
These are not insignificant concerns. But this is why Thomas is my OT1: His small handful of flaws are all correctable, he’s been a stud at both tackle positions in the SEC his first two years out of high school even with the wild stallion technique, and he has elite traits. Thomas could hang as a low-level starter in the NFL right now. That’s his floor.
His ceiling is a multi-time All-Pro. His advancement up the developmental ladder is entirely predicated on technical gains. Let’s hope he makes major headway in that department this fall, because the package is very exciting.
2. Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) | 6'5/320
Wirfs is a country-strong colossus of a right tackle for the Hawkeyes. He’s also a freak athlete. The freak of freaks. On Bruce Feldman’s 2019 Freaks List, Wirfs was listed No. 1.
His 35-inch vertical this spring would have ranked No. 1 among all offensive linemen in each of the past seven NFL Combines. And his spring broad jump of 113 inches was the same as Greg Little’s, and better than guys like Jonah Williams, Cody Ford and Kaleb McGary.
All through the season and into next April, folks are going to debate whether Wirfs should stay at right tackle in the NFL, whether he could possibly swing left tackle, or whether his best fit is inside at guard.
I think he projects smoothly to RT in the NFL, and I also think he has the skillset of a dominant guard if his NFL franchise wanted to take the Brandon Scherff route with him. Speaking of Scherff, Wirfs shattered his old school record in the power clean with four reps at 450 pounds.
We talk about fluidity in terms of movement – that’s fluidity in the power department. And here’s the crazy thing: Scherff set his school record as a grizzled fifth-year senior. Wirfs broke it in the months following his 20th birthday party. Wirfs won’t be able to legally buy a drink in Iowa City’s pedestrian mall until next January.
In 2017, Wirfs became the first Hawkeye freshman to start at tackle for Kirk Ferentz. Following in the footsteps of guys like Scherff, Robert Gallery, Marshal Yanda, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff, you could argue that Wirfs is the most advanced of the bunch at his age. He took a developmental leap in 2018, allowing zero sacks and only 15 pressures on 428 pass-blocking snaps.
Once he gets his hands on you, goodnight – he’ll drive a defensive end into the upper deck if they forget to blow the whistle. In pass pro, Wirfs confidently leans on his athletic tools, setting a nice base, shuffling his feet with mirror steps, using those long arms to punch holes in chests and stall the engines of edge rushers, and dropping a cruise ship anchor.
But as with Thomas, Wirfs is a conglomeration of sexy traits in an unfinished package. Though he’s a fluid mover, Wirfs is currently far more comfortable in a phone booth than he is wandering around the second level. And while he does well against both speed and power off the edge, skyscraper edges can give Wirfs fits.
Wirfs is used to sealing the deal by burying his meat cleavers into your chest and pumping you full of electricity as though defibrillators were attached to his wrists. When a long end can keep Wirfs on the outside, it has the effect of playing down both Wirfs’ natural movement and strength skills. And he can get a little patty-cake or furioso from there, depending on the state of his frustration level.
Wirfs has some of the best reps of any linemen in this class. He also has some of the worst – whether that’s because he’s a rhino getting matador’d by a giraffe, or whether that’s because he swings for the fences almost every time he fires off the line for a run-blocking rep and sometimes whiffs. This isn’t a talent thing — it’s a consistency thing.
Wirfs and Alaric Jackson form one of the most exciting tackle tandems we've seen in college over the past five years. And here’s the really cool thing: Every day in practice, they get to face off against top-five EDGE prospect A.J. Epenesa and another NFL EDGE prospect in Chauncey Golston.
3. Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) | 6'7/310
I’ll come clean: Heading into last season, I thought Wanogho was severely overhyped.
The native of Nigeria first played football in high school, and quickly established himself as a high-end defensive line recruit. He signed with Auburn, redshirted with an injury in 2015, and was shifted from defensive line to offensive line in the summer of 2016.
Wanogho was getting hyped as a legit NFL prospect mere months after learning the tackle position. He didn’t play much in 2016, but was handed a starting job in 2017. His play didn’t match the hype. Wanogho was benched in a nightmarish outing at Clemson where the offensive line gave up 11 sacks in sum. He was an average-ish SEC tackle that year, usually playing passable ball, but high-end talent like Clemson boasts could clown him.
But last season, even as Auburn’s offensive line regressed and the offense lost its identity, Wanogho made an enormous leap and established himself as one of the country’s best tackles. Wanogho has a ways to go as a run blocker – he could stand to gain weight and improve play strength, and his approach is so poor that his NFL position coach will likely spend many frustrated hours teaching him the basics.
The reason he could be a first-rounder in the spring anyway is his pass-pro. Wanogho is stupidly advanced for being so inexperienced. PTW’s PFF pass-blocking grade of 89.6 was easily the best of any tackle on this list last season. Wanogho is a puzzle for edge rushers, because he’s as long as a bridge, he sets up wide as a cruise ship, and he knows how to use his hands.
What he currently lacks in know-how, Wanogho makes up for in surface area, natural tools, and innate feel for hand-to-hand combat. Wanogho is a project in many ways, yes. But he's such an exciting prospect. He's already a proven pass-pro commodity at the highest level of college football despite being a football newbie, and he was a top-25 Feldman Freak with a 415-pound bench, 560-pound squats 560, a 32-inch vertical, and a 4.95 40.
4. Walker Little (Stanford) | 6'6/313
I struggle with Little.
An elite five-star prospect who was a top-10 overall recruit in his class, Little played more than 1,100 snaps early in his career for a program known for developing linemen. So far, so good. But Little was part of a unit that regressed badly in 2018 -- and he's not free from culpability for that.
What Little has done in college is show great promise as a pass-blocker -- even as his run-blocking left Bryce Love a bit out in the cold last fall. Little posted a decent-but-not-great 70.2 overall PFF grade last season. But that was with a strong 84.7 pass-blocking grade lifting up poor work in the running game. In pass pro, Little was lit up by Notre Dame and struggled against Oregon, but was otherwise close to flawless, particularly down the stretch.
Thehe pass-pro chops alone make him appealing to the NFL. And you’d hope improvement in the running game is coming, because Little’s skillset screams difference-maker in that phase. He doesn’t have issues with power – his anchor is among the class’ best – and he’s also one of this crop’s best at hunting linebackers on the second level.
But Little’s lack of success against elite competition is concerning, and he has a few glaring (but fixable) weaknesses he needs to fix pronto. Fortunately, he has two years to address those concerns if he needs them.
I leave you with a vid of Little taking on AJ Epenesa in January 2017.
5. Trey Adams (Washington) | 6'7/306
Good on Adams for returning to Washington for a final season. He assuredly thought he'd be in the NFL by now, but two nightmarish years delayed (and outright threatened) those plans. Adams’ 2017 season was wrecked by a torn ACL. And then a serious back injury in 2018 kept him out of the starting lineup all season until the Pac-12 title game.
In sum, Adams saw less than 600 snaps combined over the past two seasons. And in some of those reps, he either wasn’t 100%, or he was shaking off rust from a long layoff. For instance, against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, when top-10 overall prospect EDGE Chase Young ate his lunch after Adams' late-season return.
Adams is a skyscraper with massive length who moves like a man five inches shorter. It is for that reason, along with strong 2016 tape, that he’s been talked about as a potential first-rounder for so long now. But it’s a frightening investment to roll the dice on a 6’8 guy with serious knee and back injuries the last two years, especially since that guy hasn’t been a difference-maker since 2016.
Adams is going to get extra chances because length, strength and athleticism packages like this don’t enter the NFL every year. But with major durability questions and two years of wasted developmental time, he needs to stay healthy and utterly dominate on the field this fall. Entering his final year of eligibility, time's officially ticking.