A few players are gaining some momentum for the 2020 NFL Draft after strong starts to the 2019 season. Some quick thoughts on a few of the September stars.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
Hurts is a fascinating study as a draft prospect. Benched at Alabama for Tua Tagovailoa despite being very good for the Crimson Tide, Hurts chose to follow Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray’s path at Oklahoma. Those two became the No. 1 overall picks and Heisman winners.
Hurts (probably) won’t get either honor, but everything he’s doing on the field for the Sooners is elevating his draft stock. Hurts is accurate on anticipatory throws, with impressive ball placement and a natural soft touch. He consistently identifies the correct option in his pre-snap scan. And he’s still a gifted runner with some Josh Allen to him as a QB-as-ballcarrier.
Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Michigan State
Entering the season, we knew Willekes could attack the run very well on his way to the QB. What we’ve seen from the 260-pound EDGE is more diversity as a rusher and more quickness. He is beating blocks with more technique, better hands and specifically quicker footwork while being engaged. The perennially revving motor is still there, and he’s still got the powerful shoulders. While he’s not as bulky, there is a lot of Emmanuel Ogbah’s game to Willekes and it will make him a valuable commodity as a LDE/LOLB at the next level.
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
He’s only a redshirt sophomore, so projecting him as a draft prospect is pure speculative fantasy at this point. But RBs tend to come out early, and Hubbard just might be the best RB in the nation regardless of class. He’s a bigger back (6-1/207) but a former track star with speed that belies his size. Hubbard has a lot of Nick Chubb to his game, a home-run hitter with balance and elusiveness at top speed. I haven’t studied this RB class in depth yet, but it’s hard to imagine there being any I like more than Hubbard.
Shane Lemieux, OG, Oregon
Lemieux plays a position where it’s hard to stand out. He’s a left guard, and he’ll play that spot in the NFL too. A great many NFL guards are tackles who kick inside, but Lemieux has an advantage in power and interior technique on those guys. His ability to stonewall power rushers is impressive. He was great against Auburn’s front and bullied Stanford. Lemieux doesn’t move well relative to those he’ll be competing against in the draft process, but he’s very good at what he does. There’s some Larry Warford to his game, and War Daddy quickly became an above-average NFL starter despite similar limitations in college.
Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
He gets overshadowed by fabulous (and unfortunately now injured) sophomore WR Rondale Moore, but the NFL knows who Hopkins is very well. Anyone who watched him destroy coverage against Vanderbilt or TCU knows Hopkins too. He’s a flex TE who wins with quickness off the line and very impressive acceleration in and out of breaks for a 6-4, 245-pound receiver. Soft hands and good spatial awareness make him NFL-ready. For an NFL team that wants a space/seam TE and doesn’t try to fit him as an inline or power blocking TE, Hopkins can be a good one.