2020: Year of the Playmaker

Each year, folks in the draft community tend to gravitate towards offensive players that can make the big play. The positions of wide receiver and running back are two of those positions. One year, there might be an incredible running back class but a wide receiver class lacking talent, and vice versa. We don’t get the privilege of seeing a year with both the wide receiver class and running back class be loaded with talent; but this year isn’t like other. With stars at the top and good players throughout, there is no shortage of playmakers in the 2020 NFL Draft. If you are a fan of a team that needs a playmaker, you’re in luck; for the 2020 NFL Draft is the year of the playmaker.

 

The running back class has some freaks at the top of it. Starting with the workhorse of the Georgia Bulldogs backfield, D’Andre Swift. There aren’t many other words to describe Swift other than incredible. He is a tenacious runner and never gives up on a play; he’s never afraid of contact and will keep his legs moving to get as many yards as he can. Swift can take any run to the endzone, with great vision and excellent feet, he can work any run to the outside where he can use his explosiveness to blow by defenders. One growing area of importance for running backs is their receiving ability, which Swift isn’t a slouch at either. Swift displays good hands out of the backfield and has fantastic lateral movement to make any defender miss in 1 on 1 situations. In the state just north of Georgia, another elusive running back lives, Travis Etienne. Perhaps the most explosive back in the NCAA, Travis Etienne of the Clemson Tigers’ possesses the ideal traits you want in a playmaker. In terms of burst and acceleration, Etienne is in a league of his own. There isn’t a back in this class who can hit a hole with as much speed and explosiveness as him. In short areas, he shines as well. His quick feet and contact balance allow him to fight through contact and gain yardage on plays otherwise thought to be blown-up. In the open field, he can make just about anyone miss. His foot quickness allows him to move laterally with ease and his explosiveness allows him to turn up the field in an instant. Our next running back attends the school that players like Melvin Gordon and James White hail from, Wisconsin. Of course, we’re talking about non other than Jonathan Taylor. The true workhorse of the Badgers’ offense, Jonathan Taylor has been one of the most productive running backs in the nation since his freshman year. Taylor has been the saving grace of the Wisconsin offense and he can be a true weapon in the NFL. Taylor has a rare blend of size, speed and power. If he needs to put his head down and fight for yards, he’ll do exactly that; he is a force to be reckoned with between the tackles. However, that’s not all he does. Taylor has fantastic patience; he allows for blocks to develop to find the open running lane. Once he finds that open lane, he has fantastic feet and lateral movement that allows him to weave in and out of tight spaces, and once he’s in open space, good luck. When Taylor can break into open space, he has more than enough speed to take a run the distance. One part of his game that has drastically improved this season is his receiving. In the previous two years combined, Taylor has had a total of sixteen receptions; so far this year, he has twenty. Staying within the Big Ten, we move to Ohio State who’s starting running back is J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins isn’t the same explosive runner the previous three players are, but he has his own style of running that has proven to work for him. He has a bit bigger of a frame, which allows him to fight through contact and gain extra yards. However, Dobbins possesses elusiveness that you don’t typically see in backs his size. He has great vision and ability to make quick cuts. He doesn’t possess the same burst or acceleration that some of these other guys do, but Dobbins will consistently get you yards and he will fight for every one of them. J.K. Dobbins is the last Big 10 running back we’ll be going into depth on, because we’re moving onto the Big 12 to look at Chuba Hubbard. Hubbard is the primary running back for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Having experience as a receiver and returner, he possesses the ideal versatility you would like to see in a running back. As a runner, Hubbard is smart and talented. He makes smart decisions and doesn’t seem to force runs; he has ample patience and let’s blocks develop in front of him. When it seems like blocks don’t develop, Hubbard isn’t afraid to lower his head and run into clogged run lanes; with strong leg drive and good contact balance, he’s tough to bring down. He has great burst and can hit a lane with fantastic acceleration to burst into the defensive secondary. Those previous players are just five of the top players at this position; names like Zack Moss, Anthony McFarland, Najee Harris, Eno Benjamin and Cam Akers have an argument to be one of those top-5 running backs, and the class doesn’t stop there. Players like LaMical Perine, Trey Sermon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Key’Shawn Vaughn are some later round players that have the talent to be productive in the NFL. Now onto the wide receivers.

 

               The 2020 wide receiver class is nothing short of phenomenal. Starting at the top, we have Jerry Jeudy. As one of the players on that lethal Alabama offense, Jeudy is an incredible playmaker and has elite traits that easily translate to the NFL. It’s tough to find many weaknesses in Jeudy’s game, as he possesses strong hands, runs elite routes, is incredible after the catch, has fantastic long speed and can make just about everyone miss in space. Jeudy is a sure-fire top-10 prospect in this class and will immediately help whatever team drafts him. However, there’s a player not too far behind Jeudy, and that is Ceedee Lamb. The WR1 for the Oklahoma Sooners has been on a warpath this season; carving up just about every defense he goes up against. Lamb works his magic on short and intermediate routes and has the open field ability to take any one of those routes to the endzone. As a receiver, Lamb has incredible hands and has shown them off quite frequently; making catches that aren’t possible for most receivers. Lamb has elite body control and can adjust to the ball no matter where it is. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he is tough to tackle. He’s creative in the open field and has the agility to make people miss in space. Even though he doesn’t have elite long speed, his acceleration, field vision and contact balance allow him to drive the ball down the field with ease. Lamb has been one of the most electric receivers in the nation and he shows it week after week, and that shouldn’t change at the next level. The next player we’ll look at is the teammate of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs. The second of the Alabama receivers is another fantastic talent, and even though his traits are different from Jeudy’s, they allow him to win in his own way. The name of Ruggs’ game is speed, and he has a lot of it. A sure-fire 4.2 40-yard dash runner, Ruggs has the speed to take any quick slant all the way to the endzone. Usually, a speed receiver doesn’t have the contested catch ball skills, but that’s not the case for Ruggs. He’s made some great catches with defenders all over him and has shown some great ability to jump to the ball and beat the defender at the catch point. Ruggs still has a lot of room for improvement as well; his releases and route-running could use some nuancing, and if that happens, watch out. Moving all the way to the Pac-12, we are looking at Laviska Shenault. A do-it-all kind of player, Shenault is a physical receiver who has fantastic speed in the open field. Colorado schemed up a lot of touches for Shenault, but for good reason. In the open field, he is elusive. With the ball in his hands, he works well through traffic and once he hits open space, he’s gone. When he needs to be, he can be physical. He’s not afraid to get up for the ball and beat a defender in the air. Shenault will want to work on his route running at the next level, but other than that there aren’t too many concerns. Next, we move up north to the Big-10. The Minnesota Golden Gophers have had a good season this year and one of their stud receivers, Tyler Johnson, is one of the reasons why. When you look at a receiver, two of the biggest things you look for are route running and his hands, and Johnson excels in both fields. As a route runner, Johnson knows how to beat defenders with ease; he sells his fakes and can create separation consistently. Johnson has great body control as well. The two big things Johnson needs to work on are beating press coverage and becoming more consistent with his hands. Against press coverage, Johnson seems to become lackadaisical with his releases and he flashes good hands at times but it’s not consistent enough. Press coverage is quite common in the NFL, so Johnson will need to improve that area of his game as soon as he can. Aside from those five players, there are many others deserving of a mention. Players like Jalen Reagor, Tee Higgins, and K.J. Hamler are all fantastic talents who will produce in the NFL. Unfortunately, injuries do happen, and two top receivers suffered injuries this year. Tylan Wallace and Sage Surratt both suffered season ending injuries which could impact their draft stock. Before his injury, Wallace was a top-5 receiver on my board and Surratt was quickly rising up my board after performing at a high level for the entire season. Looking a bit deeper into the class, we have Justin Jefferson, DeVonta Smith, Brandon Aiyuk, Bryan Edwards, and so many more players. I could write 2000 more words about the wide receiver class in this article alone, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

 

               Playmaking positions are always some of the most fun to scout because of how electric the players are. This year, it’s taken to another level. Playmakers capable of impacting an NFL offense are available in every round of the draft this year, and whether that is at running back or wide receiver is up for the NFL teams to decide. There hasn’t been a class this loaded at running back and wide receiver in a long time, which is why 2020 is the year of the playmaker.

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