The 2021 NFL Draft landscape will be dominated by juniors and seniors. But if a talent is great enough, a player can achieve that kind of prestige as a redshirt sophomore. By studying the redshirt sophomores, we can gain a greater understanding of both the 2021 NFL Draft class and the 2022 NFL Draft class. These are the next gems to be unearthed, and in 2020 they’ll look to capitalize on their coming opportunity. Here’s a list of some of the most exciting redshirt sophomores in the Big Ten in 2020.
Elijah Collins, RB Michigan State
With questions mounting at quarterback, the Michigan State Spartans will likely be forced to rely on their running game in the first season of the Mel Tucker era. That means more reps for redshirt sophomore running back Elijah Collins, who was a star for the team on offense in his first season.
In 2019, Collins took hold of the starting running back job early and rode that early success to a final stat line that included 222 carries, 988 yards, and five touchdowns, as well as 15 receptions for 99 yards.
Collins showed a little bit of everything in 2019. Despite playing in a dysfunctional offensive system, he was able to maintain consistency from week to week. Whether it was open-field acceleration, contact balance, shiftiness, or receiving ability, Collins displayed a plethora of valuable tools while taking reps for the Spartans’ offense. In 2020, he has a chance to take his game to the next level, and potentially play a hand in bringing back Michigan State’s NFL pipeline.
Rondale Moore, WR Purdue
It’s hard to believe that Rondale Moore will be one of the Big Ten’s rising redshirt sophomores because it feels like he’s been around much longer than that.
Moore erupted onto the national stage in his true freshman season, amassing 114 receptions, 1,258 yards, and 12 touchdowns in 14 games, while also logging 213 yards and two scores on 21 carries. Moore went down early in 2019, after just four games, and his injury quite literally led to the collapse of Purdue’s season.
Rarely does a player ever impact an offense like Moore impacts the Boilermakers’ unit, and in 2020, he’ll look to come back at full strength. A full-strength Moore is a sight to behold, and Pro Football Network has long been a proponent of his skillset; Draft Analyst Matt Valdovinos has Moore as his WR1 heading into 2020, and fellow Draft Columnist Neal Driscoll lauds Moore for his elite athleticism and run-after-catch ability.
Moore isn’t simply one of the best redshirt sophomores in the Big Ten in 2020, or even one of the best redshirt sophomores in the nation. He’s one of the best players in college football, and this year, he’ll be looking to mount a return of epic proportions.
Jalen Mayfield, OT Michigan
It’s rare for redshirt sophomores to come into the season with preexisting honors, but that’s what Michigan offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield has. Granted, he was just an All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2019. But he’s made an impression on coaches early on, and in 2020, he could ride that success to greater heights.
Mayfield is incredibly powerful at the point of attack, possessing near-elite power and grip strength. He’s a mauler as a run blocker, who has the mobility to reach the second level and look for work. Possessing all the tools, Mayfield should be in store for a big 2020, and if the Michigan offense is going to return to its former glory, he’ll be an instrumental piece.
Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT Ohio State
Nicholas Petit-Frere will have some competition from renowned incoming prospect Paris Johnson at tackle in 2020. But as evidenced by his 2019 tape, Petit-Frere has the upside to man the Buckeyes’ right tackle spot for seasons on end.
As a redshirt freshman listed behind Thayer Munford and Brandon Bowen on the depth chart, Petit-Frere only saw spot duty at tackle. But even when he was a little too light for the position, he displayed good mobility and smarts, as well as the length and leverage needed to keep linemen at bay. Now up to 310 pounds and standing at 6-foot-6, Petit-Frere will be asked to put his game together and live up to his potential as a top tackle prospect. These are high expectations, but Buckeyes tend to have no trouble with those.
Curtis Dunlap, OG Minnesota
The Golden Gophers’ offensive line was an underrated part of their success in 2019. Daniel Faalele is an ascending prospect at offensive tackle, and to his left at right guard, redshirt sophomore Curtis Dunlap also has the arrow pointing up.
Dunlap started twelve games in 2019 helping direct a Golden Gophers offense that notched eleven wins on the year. Dunlap is easy to spot on the screen; he’s a massive 6-foot-5, 345-pound specimen and he has the power to move linemen at the point of attack, while also flashing some mobility. He can further hone his athletic traits by trimming down his weight in 2020, and if he does so, he could help Minnesota produce multiple NFL linemen in 2021.
Tyler Linderbaum, C Iowa
Iowa is an offensive line factory. That, at this point, is clear. And in 2020, they’ll be able to tout another one of their homegrown projects: Redshirt sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum. Few of the redshirt sophomores on this list will actually declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, but Linderbaum might be one of the exceptions.
Originally a defensive tackle, Linderbaum has excellent athleticism on the interior, and while he’s undersized at just 6-foot-2 and 286 pounds, he’s a mauler who plays powerfully and knows how to use his hands to cement leverage. He’s still working on being more consistent, but he has the upside to be one of the first interior linemen selected within the next two years.
They say “don’t scout the helmet”. But for Iowa linemen, go ahead.