NFL 2020 Draft: Where to Find Value at Each Position

The NFL Draft is each team’s chance to replenish and improve their roster. Some will clamor for position towards the top, aiming for a top prospect. Others value later picks to get players worth their value. Essentially, everyone just wants a good return on investment.

Early round picks are expected to be starters and playmakers, with a high level of production, often instantly. Mid-round players are potential starters and backups, who may take some time to develop. Finally, the late rounds are where teams might pick up players who could contribute in a small way or fit a small role, or anyone who fell out of earlier rounds.

Draft someone too early, and you either waste a pick on a prospect who’s production is greater, or the production you get in return is too low. Here is where teams may choose to target different positions for the best value relative to the round. There is a chance a run at a position happens early, pushing others up, making these predictions inaccurate. Round 1 is exempt, as this is where the best players go and all are expected to become major playmakers. Names of players (and their colleges) who offer the best return on investment will be provided.

Quarterback: Round 4

The QB position has inflated value every year due to the scarcity of players capable of being starters, as well as the importance of the position to a team. Rarely do teams draft a QB later than Round 2 and expect them to start. Of the current projected starters in the league, less than a quarter was drafted later than Round 2. The majority of QBs taken after Day 2 are backups, projects or chances to strike a diamond in the rough.

2020 figures to be no different. The top few QBs should all go in Round 1, and a few more in Rounds 2 and 3. But in Round 4, developmental QBs can be found, suiting teams who will look to move on from veterans in a few years, such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts. None of the QBs taken in Round 4 should start right away, but with a year or two waiting in the wings, could step in.

Names to Watch:

James Morgan (Florida International), Tyler Huntley (Utah), Kurt Rawlings (Yale), Riley Neal (Vanderbilt)

Running Back: Round 3

In contrast to QB, the RB position has lost value over the past few years, with just a handful of teams drafting RBs in the first round since 2012. Instead, the majority of starting RBs in the league were taken from Round 2 and onward. Additionally, with teams using different RBs for different roles on the team, few are seen as worth taking in Round 1 since they rarely play all three downs.

While a few RBs in the 2020 Draft could potentially go in Round 1, it’s unlikely any of them do. Instead, teams will be patient and acquire versatile RBs later in the Draft or add players for specific purposes on Day 3. For teams looking for a feature back to do the bulk of the work, including as a receiving option, Round 3 is where they should start to come off the board.

Names to Watch:

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU), Cam Akers (Florida), Zack Moss (Utah), Anthony McFarland (Maryland), Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Vanderbilt)

Wide Receiver: Round 2

There is a lot of talk that Round 1 of the Draft could see as many as 8 WRs drafted. Teams currently lacking playmaking weapons or hoping to springboard into the playoffs will see these dynamic options as their WR1 of the future. Other teams will also see these premier talents as giving them an unstoppable Offense.

However, plenty of teams have found their WR1 on Day 2 and 3 in previous years. WRs Michael Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, Juju Smith-Schuster, Davante Adams and Adam Thielen all went in Round 2 or later. Teams that want a complementary weapon, or a specific type of receiver, will be patient and see the depth in this year’s WR class as allowing them to pass in Round 1, instead of taking an elite OL or defensive playmaker.

Names to Watch:

Laviska Shenault (Colorado), Tee Higgins (Clemson), Jalen Reagor (TCU), Denzel Mims (Baylor), KJ Hamler (Penn State), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State), Donovan Peoples-Jones (Michigan), Michael Pittman Jr. (USC)

Tight End: Late Round 4/Early Round 5

In a down year for the TE position, teams could scramble for the best of the bunch, given the need many teams have for TEs. Moreover, teams need to consider what they will ask TEs to do, as many of the ones in this year’s Draft excel at either blocking or receiving. Finding the next Gronk, Mark Andrews, Evan Engram, George Kittle, Zach Ertz or Travis Kelce is unlikely in 2020.

But in the late stages of Round 4, heading into Round 5, teams should be able to get TEs that will have a modicum of production in the NFL. Some are competent blockers, others are capable receivers with some basic route running abilities, speed, and sure hands. Using them as red-zone targets and on mid-level throws should see players able to have 4/50/1 stat lines most weeks in the NFL. A lot of these players also did not play in the fiercely competitive top college conferences, further pushing down their value.

Names to Watch:

Thaddeus Moss (LSU), Charlie Taumoepeau (Portland State), Stephen Sullivan (LSU), Ben Ellefson (North Dakota State), Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri), Mitchell Wilcox (South Florida), Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Offensive Line: Round 2

A handful of Offensive Tackles are likely being drafted early in Round 1, dragging a few other names into the discussion for Day 1. Teams don’t want to risk missing out on a player who can make it in the NFL on the OL, forcing the positions up in value. Teams won’t want to wait too long and get a backup OL who can’t protect a QB.

After Round 2, teams are hoping that whoever they take on the OL can develop and be coached up. Unfortunately, a liability on the OL doesn’t last long, and so OL value rarely exists late in the Draft, especially on Day 3. Consequently, in the arms race that is the NFL Draft, Round 2 is where most teams can find potential starters for the OL without it being a reach. Some will be available in Round 3, but teams can’t afford to wait that long.

Names to Watch:

Austin Jackson LT (USC), Lucas Niang RT (TCU), Josh Jones LT (North Carolina State), Nick Harris C (Washington), Jonah Jackson LG (Ohio State), Isaiah Wilson RT (Georgia), Cesar Ruiz C (Michigan), Damien Lewis RG (LSU), Ben Bredeson LG (Michigan), Lloyd Cushenberry III C (LSU)

Defensive Line: Late Round 2/Round 3

With few elite DL prospects in the 2020 Draft, unlike previous years, most teams will be targeting the position on Days 2 and 3. The late rounds, including Round 6, have some potential value for rotational backups that come in as interior pass rushers or extra run defenders. Players such as Robert Landers (Ohio State), David Moa (Boise State), Luc Bequette (California) and Michael Dwumfour (Michigan) have the most upside at this late stage.

Instead, teams wanting starters to play multiple (or all three) downs should be watching on Day 2. If a few DL go in Round 2, Round 3 could see quite a few get taken. This is where teams will still get potential starters that have an impact on games, including as run stuffers, pocket collapses, or space eaters. Teams won’t find a Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Aaron Donald or Chris Jones, but they will find prospects who can create opportunities for guys like these, a la Malcolm Brown and Matt Ioannidis.

Names to Watch:

Davon Hamilton (Ohio State), Leki Fotu (Utah), Broderick Washington (Texas Tech), Raekwon Davis (Alabama), Marlon Davidson (Auburn), Raequan Williams (Michigan State), James Lynch (Baylor)

Edge: Round 3

If they don’t land one of the better prospects in Rounds 1 or 2, teams should look to Round 3 and beyond for two types of edge rushers. Firstly, there could be those who slide or are still available and are the best player available. Secondly, there are quality options for players who can play limited snaps and exclusively rush the passer.

However, finding situational pass rushers means teams know they are using players less, capping their value. Having depth to the rotation on the edge is a proven strategy, working for Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos on recent Super Bowl runs. In Round 3, teams can land guys who can get to the QB and play multiple downs, although they aren’t going to be the primary pass rusher.

Names to Watch:

Jabari Zuniga (Florida), Alex Highsmith (Charlotte), Khalid Kareem (Notre Dame), Anfernee Jennings (Alabama), DJ Wonnum (South Carolina), Trevis Gipson (Tulsa)

Linebacker: Round 4

There are a handful of top LBs in the 2020 Draft, but don’t expect many to go in the first two rounds. While some teams will get desperate and reach on Day 2, they should instead be patient and wait for Round 4. Depending on the defensive scheme they have will also dictate the worth LBs have for teams.

What they will get in Round 4 is a bevy of Inside and Middle LBs who read the game reasonably well. Ideally, they can be paired with an existing LB who coordinates the Defence on the field, freeing them to up to develop and focus on diagnosing plays. Among the LBs who could become reasonably productive at the next level, are also some who are capable of covering receivers, are sure tacklers, and have some speed.

Names to Watch:

Evan Weaver (California), Justin Strnad (Wake Forest), David Woodward (Utah State), Jacob Phillips (LSU), Logan Wilson (Wyoming), Davion Taylor (Colorado), Marcel Spears Jr (Iowa State)

Cornerback: Late Round 3/Early Round 4

There is the value at CB in every round of the 2020 Draft. However, teams taking CBs in Round 2 could wait until the late 3rd Round and into Round 4 for a minimal drop in production. While Round 2 has a few prospects that won’t make it into Round 1 and are worth drafting, there are not many in this category. Additionally, no team is drafting a slot CB this early. Round 1 and Round 2 are for CB1 prospects.

Instead, the end of Day 2 and early Day 3 boasts players who can be a team’s CB2 or slot CB. There are a variety of skillsets amongst this tier of CBs, including some who can blitz, play zone and man systems, and have success in press coverage. None will shadow an opponent’s WR1, but with teams increasingly using 3 WRs and RBs as passing options, extra CBs who give little cushion and can break on a ball well are valuable assets.

Names to Watch:

Nevelle Clarke (UCF), Brandon Jones (Texas), Amik Robertson (Louisiana Tech), Trajan Bandy (Miami), Dane Jackson (Pittsburgh), Troy Pride Jr (Notre Dame), Javelin Guidry (Utah), Reggie Robinson II (Tulsa), Lavert Hill (Michigan), Kindle Vildor (Georgia Southern), John Reid (Penn State)

Safety: Round 5

This year’s Safety class offers little value outside of the top names. Relatively few prospects at the position will be taken on Day 2. Instead, the back half of the Draft is when teams should focus on Safeties.

Subsequently, waiting this long for a Safety means teams most likely won’t be drafting starters. Some prospects here will be backups, and could become starters, or will feature as a nickel or dime DB. The players available here can still diagnose plays, but lack the instinctive qualities teams typically look for at Safety. Some also will have other roles they can play, including box run defenders, blitzes, and strong tacklers to clean up busted plays.

Names to Watch:

Kekoa Nawahine (Boise State), Myles Dorn (North Carolina), Reggie Floyd (Virginia Tech), Brian Cole (Mississippi State), Jaquarius Landrews (Mississippi State), Josh Metellus (Michigan)

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