2020 NFL Draft: Five prospects that could surprise as first-round picks

A full season of football can see the draft stock of a middling or little-known prospect rise into the first round. Here are five of those prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft.

In recent years, players like Josh Doctson, Rashaad Penny, Terrell Edmunds, and Tytus Howard have all been first-round curveballs in the NFL Draft. With merely a few weeks left until the college football season, scouts will be hard at work trying to uncover this year’s crop of first-round gems. I’ve identified five dark horse first-round picks that have a chance to continue the trend in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Jacob Eason, QB Washington

All eyes will be on the redshirt junior, who steps back into the spotlight after having to sit out all of last season.

The 6-foot-6, 227-pound Georgia transfer will quarterback a Huskie offense that has more than enough firepower to repeat as Pac-12 champions. Eason boasts the big-time arm to attack teams vertically, a strong pocket presence, and an astute football IQ. His arm strength will be complemented greatly with the blazing speed Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones provide.

In addition to his receiving threats, he’ll also have rising star Salvon Ahmed picking up yards in bunches in the ground game. And perhaps best of all, Eason will be protected by the best offensive line in the country.

Even though the former five-star Lake Stevens alum sat out last season, he garnered praise for his competitiveness and production against the first-team Huskie defense in practice. Eason possesses the prototypical size, arm strength, and decision-making to surge up draft boards in the 2020 NFL Draft — and has the pieces in place on offense to begin the climb.

Jaylon Johnson, CB Utah

The ascending junior cornerback is primed for All-American honors in 2019, after a 41-tackle, four-interception, eight pass break-up campaign earned him first-team All-Pac-12 glory last season.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Utah standout has played in 24 games, amassing 66 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack. His five interceptions and 15 pass breakups in two seasons demonstrate his innate ball skills. Johnson brings a certain attitude and tenacity to the position, and the junior corner has the archetype of an NFL cornerback and a work ethic that is unmatched.

Increasing Johnson’s value is the fact that he possesses inside and outside versatility. He has the length and physicality to play the boundary but demonstrates the quick-twitched fluidity to man the slot against smaller, quicker receivers.

Johnson will have his hands full against a formidable group of Pac-12 receivers that includes Michael Pittman, Laviska Shenault, Ty Jones and Aaron Fuller. However, it’s these challenges that allow him the opportunity to fly up draft boards and be named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Rashard Lawrence, DT LSU

The two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient is as impressive off the field as he is on it.

Named a permanent team captain in 2017, the 6-foot-2, 317-pound Lawrence serves as an anchor on LSU’s defensive line. He recorded 4.5 sacks over the last two seasons from his defensive end spot. Known more as a stout run defender, Lawrence still boasts plenty of burst given his size. Lawrence and fellow defensive end Glen Logan form one of the most feared bookend tandems in college football.

How he fares this season against the likes of Georgia’s All-American right tackle Isaiah Wilson, Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton and Auburn’s Jack Driscoll will go a long way in determining his draft stock.

At the NFL level, Lawrence will almost certainly kick inside and become an interior defender. This is where his strength, quick first-step off the ball and violent hands should serve him well and earn him significant playing time as a rookie. While his best fit would be playing the three-technique, he has the skill set to thrive in any system.

Albert Okwuegbunam, TE Missouri

As more team’s trend towards running 12 personnel at a higher frequency to create mismatches, the tight end position has experienced a recent resurgence.

Before a season-ending scapula injury in Missouri’s 38-17 win over Florida last season, Okwuegbunam was well on his way to becoming one of the more prominent tight ends in college football, and even qualified as a John Mackey Award finalist — a prestigious honor awarded to the nation’s top pass-catching tight end. He managed 43 catches for 466 and six touchdowns in nine games, finishing third on the team behind Emanuel Hall and Johnathan Johnson.

In addition to his regular duties, Okwuegbunam offers the versatility to flex out wide and in the slot, where his size and athleticism often overmatch linebackers and most defensive backs. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound specimen is also known for being a precise route runner who can run routes like a wide receiver.

While there is much to like about Missouri’s redshirt junior, his blocking leaves a lot to desire. Okwuegbunam will need some work before he can become a true three-down tight end at the next level.

If he can stay healthy and form a rapport with quarterback Kelly Bryant, the big pass-catcher should find himself alone atop the tight end rankings heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.

Calvin Throckmorton, OL Oregon

Very rarely do you find an offensive lineman that has started at four positions.

Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton played them all at an elite level last season.

The 6-foot-5, 309-pound senior graded out as 2018’s top offensive lineman in the Pac-12. He earned AP Pac-12 All-Conference first-team, Phil Steele All-America second-team and FWAA All-America second-team for his efforts.

Throckmorton personifies dependability: he’s made 38 consecutive starts for the Ducks, surrendered exactly one sack in his last 31 games and totaled 15 games without committing a penalty.

Throckmorton started five games at left tackle, six at right tackle, one at right guard and one at center last season. He is now expected to entrench himself as a stalwart right tackle in 2019, which is where he will likely play at the NFL level.

If Throckmorton is able to stave off the surplus of potent pass-rushers in the Pac-12 one final time, his versatility, toughness, and leadership can establish himself as the top tackle in the nation and propel him into the first-round conversation in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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