Week 13 of the College Football season brought us more big-time conference matchups as we reach crunch time in the hunt for the Conference Championship games and College Football Playoff. Penn State vs. Ohio State was the marquee matchup this past weekend, and it certainly lived up to the billing. The headliner inside this matchup was the battle of Ohio State Buckeyes cover man Jeffrey Okudah against Penn State Nittany Lions speedster K.J. Hamler. PFN’s Tony Pauline has reported both players as potential 2020 NFL Draft declarations.
Related: Want to keep track of the underclassmen who may be declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft? Visit our tracker page and check back often for the latest news and rumors.
However, it was two returning stars that made headline news on Saturday. In the 2:10 PM update of the Week 13 PFN Game Day Blog, Pauline reported that both Iowa Hawkeyes’ stars Tristan Wirfs and A.J. Epenesa may be returning to school following the 2019 season.
Sources close to the program tell me they still believe Tristan Wirfs will return to school after the season, despite being graded as a top half of round one prospect. I’m told the situation is similar for A.J. Epenesa- the feeling around the program is Epenesa will be back in 2020. While this may change, Iowa has done a good job of retaining highly rated underclassmen in the past; sometimes to the detriment of the player (think Desmond King).
Epenesa is an interesting case. Some people were surprised when I left him out of the first round in my recent mock draft. Yet, when speaking to sources, the feeling is Epenesa is not having a good season and it’s in his best interest to return.
Wirfs is an elite offensive tackle prospect that was supposed to challenge Georgia’s Andrew Thomas to be the first player selected at the position. Epenesa was widely considered to be a top-10 player entering the 2019 season. These moves have significant ramifications on the 2020 NFL Draft, which I will discuss below, along with some other declarations made on Saturday.
Iowa duo changes the first round landscape
Before the 2019 season, the offensive tackle position seemed to be a question mark in terms of the top talent at the position. Georgia’s Andrew Thomas received the most fanfare and attention as Jake Fromm’s blindside protector. However, it has been Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs who has emerged as a serious contender to go in the top five as the cream of the offensive line crop.
Wirfs has been a steady and dominant presence in both the run and pass game for the Iowa Hawkeyes this season. He is an ascending player who appears to have his best football ahead of him. Take a look at some of his better work in the video below, before the 2019 season.
As I've been studying this Iowa offense in 2018, I can't help but notice RT Tristan Wirfs. True junior in 2019. His size, power, and hand usage are outstanding: pic.twitter.com/NRGN17luUQ
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) April 27, 2019
The Wirfs hype train hit a screeching halt on Saturday, as PFN’s Tony Pauline reported that sources believe the junior will return to school next season. Pauline also noted that Iowa and their coach, Kirk Ferentz, have done a great job in recent years of retaining their top draft-eligible talents (i.e., Los Angeles slot corner Desmond King).
Another top player that may be set to join Wirfs back at school in 2020 is star defensive end A.J. Epenesa. The big pass rusher has experienced a down year in terms of production and durability, so his return could be beneficial in the long run. He is a versatile player that could be a great fit in either 3-4 or 4-3 and will be missed as a potential first-rounder.
Another Alabama linebacker turning pro?
Another Alabama playmaker found himself among the Week 13 NFL Draft declarations as Pauline reported that linebacker Dylan Moses could depart for the NFL after the 2019 season.
Moses could be entering unprecedented NFL Draft territory if he declares after this season. Not many players have been talented enough to miss the entire college season and then go on to be selected in the top-15 or even top-10. That is precisely the type of scenario that Moses finds himself in as we close out week 13.
According to Pauline, Moses is undecided on his final 2020 NFL Draft decision but could be influenced by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Despite the season-ending hip injury, most expect Tagovailoa to enter the draft, which could send Moses “packing to the NFL.” If that declaration holds, Moses could find himself as the first linebacker taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Moses has good size for the position and is an absolute freak of an athlete that will fit in almost any defensive scheme. He has played inside and out for the Crimson Tide, which speaks to his versatility at the position. That versatility will make him extremely attractive, despite the injury concerns.
In 2018, Moses finished with 86 tackles and 3.5 sacks, which landed him as a finalist for the Butkus Award. He is the most intuitive and complete linebacker prospect the Tide has produced since C.J. Mosley. Whether he declares in 2020 or 2021, he appears destined to be a top 10 selection.
Henderson, other declarations making news
Another big announcement from Pauline in terms of Week 13 NFL Draft declarations centered around Florida cover man C.J. Henderson. Pauline hears that Henderson is “heavily leaning towards entering the draft.” Henderson has been mentioned multiple times on the site as a potential top 2020 NFL Draft pick and elite corner prospect. Pauline himself tagged Henderson with a first-round grade back in August, and it appears the feisty junior has done nothing to change that fact.
While this season hasn’t been a banner year for Henderson in terms of statistics, he has the size, speed, and ball skills to be a great player at the next level. Henderson has not recorded an interception this season, but he has done a great job challenging some of the best wide receivers in the SEC week in and week out. He has been an integral piece in an improved Florida defense in 2019.
The Gators have not had an excellent recent track record with corner prospects in the NFL. Players such as Vernon Hargreaves, Teez Tabor, and Jaylen Watkins are just a few players that have not panned out in recent years. Regardless, Henderson will be a top-20 selection and has a chance to change that narrative next season. Here is an excellent play made by Henderson in 2018 against LSU star wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
Florida CB C.J. Henderson vs. LSU WR Justin Jefferson
stays in phase, turns head, locates ball … perfect pic.twitter.com/vwyRZncpT8
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) August 9, 2019
Southern California WR Tyler Vaughns is also reportedly likely to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. The big junior WR has been a reliable player for the Trojans this season while splitting number two duties with talented sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown. He has accumulated over 600 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season and could be a middle-round selection.
Another Pasadena native that joins our Week 13 NFL Draft declarations is UCLA junior cornerback Darnay Holmes. The smaller cover man has been somewhat of a disappointment this season after recording three interceptions, and 14 passes defended in 2018. However, he could also receive some middle round looks as a strong slot CB prospect with a quick twitch and excellent ball skills.
To keep up to date on the latest rumblings regarding underclassmen declarations for the 2020 NFL Draft, be sure to visit and bookmark our tracker page.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the NFL Draft. Find him on Twitter: @sgormanPFN.