Not every draft prospect knows what position they will play at the next level. One could have played safety in college, and NFL teams want to move them to cornerback. That is what happened with Marvel Tell III last year after the Colts drafted him. On the offensive side of the football, take Taysom Hill, for instance. He came out as a quarterback, but now is simply an offensive weapon that scarcely plays quarterback. In the 2020 NFL Draft, position projections are very much still a thing.
From guys like Lynn Bowden to Kyle Dugger, I am diving into some muddy position projections at the next level and predicting where they will all play in the NFL.
So, time to talk about Antonio Gibson a little bit. If you have watched any Memphis tape, you know Gibson is an electric play-maker who just has a knack for making plays. From his speed to his contact balance and more, Gibson is the perfect weapon in an offense that is looking for big and explosive plays. The projection, however, with him, is a bit murky. Do you play him at running back or wide receiver?
For one, Gibson only had 33 carries during his time at Memphis. Still, those carries were explosive and dynamic. Gibson will lack the elite vision at the line of scrimmage, but his open-field vision and anticipation are fantastic. He knows how to bait defenders and challenge their angles. As a receiver, Gibson is a raw route runner with more of a gadget player route tree than a true wide receiver. He does not have the nuances of either position exactly.
However, I currently view him as a running back. The reason? His instincts to be a runner and ability to be an elite receiving back. You can shift him out to the slot and get him to run quick slants and run him on wheel routes. There is just not enough substance for him to be a true wide receiver. If you can split him out, run sweeps, get screens to him, and still run the football with him in the backfield, I think you have a lot of success with his game.
Position: Running Back
Lynn Bowden is another guy who is an electric play-maker in the open field. His vision is not entirely on par with Gibson’s, but he has the wiggle and contact balance to make magic happen. Bowden’s elite quickness and footwork make him a perfect fit for a receiver. That very much is certain when you look at Bowden’s profile.
His position projection is not quite as muddy as Gibson’s when you look at where they could play at the next level. Could Bowden play running back? Sure, he could do that. But in reality, Bowden does not have the level of processing that Gibson does, nor does he have any experience as a running back. That is a crucial distinction here.
Bowden fits perfectly as a prototypical NFL slot receiver where he can advantage of his quickness and twitchiness on free releases and manufactured touches. That is how you can best take advantage of his skill-set. He may be used on some gadget plays or packages, but in the long-term, expect Bowden to fit as a slot receiver.
Position: Wide Receiver
Kyle Dugger has a crazy position projection when you break down his game. The guy is an absolute freak athlete on tape, and he proved that when he blew the doors of Indianapolis at the Combine as well. At Lenoir-Rhyne, he played primarily as a single-high safety even though his mentality and toughness are simply not meant to be put on the back end. I would not play him as a true free safety in the NFL. He just does not have the instincts yet to truly take advantage of that range.
However, even then, it just does not use Dugger’s tools to the best of their ability. There has been talk of moving him to linebacker, specifically weakside linebacker, due to his ability to play man coverage, including slot receivers due to his quickness and length. Dugger looks the part of a linebacker and could certainly do well in that role, but I would play him as a strong safety at the next level. That way, Dugger can be an overhang defender and use his length to man up guys there. If you need him to be a sub-package linebacker in the box, I am all for that. He has the mentality. Simply put, I think his skillset just fits the responsibilities of a strong safety the best, and it would maximize his value on the field.
Position: Strong Safety
Tanner Muse is a guy who is a completely different case than Dugger. Dugger is a fluid athlete, but Muse is tight-hipped and an explosive straight-line athlete who ran a 4.35 40 at Clemson’s pro day. That speed is going to catch the attention of a lot of scouts no matter how you slice it.
However, one tape it is apparent that Muse simply does not have the flexibility to flip his hips and keep pace with receivers from any safety spot. This is not a guy who you want being your overhang defender and manning up slot receivers. That is going to cause him to undeniably move to linebacker where he can take advantage of his read and react skills as well as his improving tackling ability. That is where Muse fits in the NFL, and his ceiling might be limited there as well due to the hip tightness, but he has the sideline-to-sideline range of a modern NFL linebacker.
The talk around Chase Claypool potentially moving to tight end heated up around the Combine. After he ran a 4.42 40 in Indianapolis, the Evan Engram comparisons intensified and came pouring in for Claypool. That made Claypool one of the more divisive 2020 NFL Draft position projections. He did bulk up to around 238 pounds for the Combine, but that does not mean he is a lock and key fit to be a tight end at the next level.
I see Claypool as a bit of a tweener, but far more wide receiver than tight end. He cannot line up in-line and put his hand in the dirt and block. That is not going to be his game, and I do not think it will ever be his game. However, in some ways, he can be used as a tight end from the slot.
You can fit him in as a seam buster and use his speed and athleticism to stress the middle of defenses that lack the ability to deal with athletic tight ends. His physicality will allow him to body slot corners, and he is quick enough to be a massive mismatch in the middle of the field. However, he can still split outside and work from there as well. So, even though the tight end talk is nice and all, that is not what he is going to be, Claypool is a wide receiver.
Position: Wide Receiver
Zack Baun is one edge prospect that a lot of people have put down as an off-ball linebacker. I think that designation is far more apt for a guy like Michigan’s Josh Uche, who is fantastic in coverage and fits the off-ball designation more than Baun. However, for Baun, there is a reason I do not want him at off-ball linebacker full time — you would waste his pass-rush ability.
Baun has excellent hand usage, and a twitched up first step. With a spin move, cross chop-rip, club-rip, and dip-rip combination, Baun has a variety of moves and counters to discard of offensive tackles that he faces. He has some flexibility to bend and dip around the edge and reduce surface area around the arc. There is simply too much upside to his game for me to not play him as a 3-4 outside linebacker if I run a 3-4.
I believe Baun will still gobble up some off-ball linebacker reps. With his instincts on the second-level and athleticism, he still does make a good sub-package off-ball linebacker. Baun can move in space comfortably and anticipate routes coming over the middle of the field. On runs, Baun does a great job to knife through traffic and deconstruct blocks on the second level. Even with those upsides, though, Baun is simply too valuable as a polished pass rusher to not play him there a majority of the time.
Position: Pass Rusher