For people that aren’t as passionate about college football as they are about the NFL -- which certainly isn’t uncommon -- it may be difficult to keep track of all the prospects in the lead up to the draft. But when tune into the draft, it’s a nice feeling to know a little something about the blossoming stars who could potentially be wearing your teams’ jersey next season.
One way to familiarize yourself with the top guys on the board is to think of them in terms of the players you’ve been watching for years. And while there are rarely perfect fits between prospects and established presences, the basic outline of a player can change your understanding and enjoyment of watching the draft process unfold.
Here are nine players who are likely to go early and who they might resemble throughout their NFL careers.
Joe Burrow: Andrew Luck
How quickly we forget.
Luck came into the 2019-20 season with MVP-type expectations… literally. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit wrote, back in July, that Luck would win his first MVP and lead the Colts to the Super Bowl. It seems like such a long time ago that these were the thoughts surrounding the charismatic leader before a shocking retirement announcement took away the collective breath of the NFL universe.
They’re both of a similar frame: Luck stands at 6’4”, 240 lbs., while Burrow is the same height but slightly leaner at 216 lbs. They both showcase good yet unspectacular mobility that is plenty to get by in the NFL, especially for passers of their prowess. The accuracy, in both cases, is just dead on. They can throw on the run, they’re vocal leaders and they’re very, very intelligent.
Where they differ significantly, though, is in their facial hair preferences.
Tua Tagovailoa: Jeff Garcia
Some notable experts and analysts, including Alabama coaches, have given Tua some really high praise.
While the Brees comparison is solid -- both QBs are undersized and, using a phrase that has been thrown around by some, “twitchy” -- I don’t think that the Brees comparison emphasizes Tua’s ability to move around the pocket and escape pressure to the extent that he can.
Instead, watching some old highlights of Jeff Garcia in his “early” days with the 49ers (he was a rookie at 29 years old) shows off his footwork in the pocket and ability to dodge defenders using great awareness and athleticism. Hopefully, Tua can turn into a more talented version of the four-time Pro Bowler.
J.K. Dobbins: Doug Martin
It will be a battle to see who is the first running back off the board in 2020, as both J.K. Dobbins and D’Andre Swift make compelling cases to help a team in the backfield, such as the Kansas City Chiefs. Dobbins brings a lot to the table, including a solid blend of power and speed as well as the ability to find room as a receiver and make things happen in the open field.
Doug Martin seems like a good comparison for someone who possessed a multi-faceted games in a solid, compact frame. Martin, at 5'9", 210 pounds, is similar to Dobbins (5'10", 214 pounds) in that he can pack a punch at the point of contact, but won't necessarily look to bowl a defender over as his first option.
Beyond his running style, Martin made an impact in the receiving game at the start of his career before injury got the better of him for much of the remainder. In his Pro Bowl rookie season, the Muscle Hamster caught 49 balls for 472 yards and was used as a three-down back.
If all pans out for Dobbins, he could be in for a similar role right off the bat.
Jerry Jeudy: Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson was the complete package. Speed, hands, route running, deception, yards after the catch: you name it, Andre Johnson was a prime candidate to be near the top of the leaderboards.
Jeudy shows similar skills, and has been lauded for the route tree which he should be able to handle from day one. Benjamin Solak of the Draft Network lauds Jeudy’s route running capabilities, saying he “[doesn’t] think there’s a route in the NFL tree that Jeudy couldn’t run tomorrow,” and comparing him to Reggie Wayne.
In a draft that looks to be historically loaded at the wide receiver position, it’s not a bad look to be the potential top of that group.
CeeDee Lamb: DeAndre Hopkins
There aren’t too many humans that can make this catch.
I’d wager, though, that DeAndre Hopkins is one of them. The insane level of concentration that is required to make a catch of that caliber -- spinning through the air and hauling it in with one hand while also watching your feet -- seems impossible. And though Lamb didn’t complete the pass in this example, there are several eye-popping catches in store for whatever lucky QB gets to pass to the former Sooner.
Another trait the two have in common is their ability to extend the play after the catch, and though Hopkins found less room to work with this year, he has showcased this ability on many occasions. Just watch this one.
Henry Ruggs: Mike Wallace
Speed, speed and more speed. His 40-yard dash came within five hundredths of a second of challenging John Ross’s record-breaking 4.22 seconds. Thus, it may make more sense to compare Ruggs to guys like DeSean Jackson and Tyreek Hill, who have made their careers as speed demons that blow by opposing secondaries at their will.
But with Ruggs, speed isn’t everything.
As the rest of the workouts proved, Ruggs is an athletic freak across the board. He recorded incredible figures in both the vertical (42.0 inches) and the broad jump (131.0) inches. Similarly, Mike Wallace impressed across the board at his combine.
The Mississippi product ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, broke 40 inches on the vertical and reached 129 inches in the broad jump drill. All three of those figures were in the top five of the 2009 WR class. However, he was only taken with a third-round pick, and the Steelers got way more than they paid for. Wallace led the NFL in yards per reception in his rookie year and was a legitimate deep threat throughout his entire career.
Chase Young: Julius Peppers
The Ohio State phenom won’t be showcasing his athletic abilities at the combine, instead opting to partake only in medical evaluations and interviews. However, he’s still managed to make a splash, calling himself “the best player in the draft” on Thursday.
He definitely has a point. Draft analysts and fans alike are calling him one of the most fearsome presences they’ve seen on a defensive line with a rare blend of power and speed that promises utter dominance. A comparison may not truly do the 6’5”, 265 beast justice, but it’s worth a shot.
His build is similar to Julius Peppers in that he’s huge but in a lean and muscular, rather than wide, sense. They both have an uncanny knack to react at the snap count and burst off the edge: Young’s 16.5 sacks in 2019 bodes well for a ton of double-digit sack counts throughout his career. Peppers accomplished this feat a whopping 10 times, including in his rookie year when he had 12.0 sacks as a 22-year-old on a mediocre team.
Don’t be surprised if Young’s debut season looks similar across the board.
Isaiah Simmons: LaVonte David
Versatility is the story for Simmons, which is why LaVonte David is somewhat of a comparison. Since entering the league, David has been able to line up as an edge rusher, drop back in coverage (he had five interceptions in just his second year), stop the run and much more.
This is likely what Simmons will be called upon to do, and it seems as though he’ll be even more capable as a coverage defender than Simmons ever was. Pro Football Focus says that Simmons doesn’t really have a comparison, and they may be right, seeing as the PFF Draft Guide mentions that Simmons could “probably play CB if he wanted to.”
So maybe it’s not the best comparison, but David is at least somewhat comparable in his versatility, seeing as he was fourth in the NFL in slot coverage snaps from the linebacker position. That ability to play multiple roles has contributed to his inclusion as a first-team All Pro linebacker.
Jeffrey Okudah: Panthers-Era Josh Norman
A Josh Norman comparison doesn’t look great now, but it sure would have in 2015. Norman was a shut-down, confident corner that could take on anyone, and that’s exactly what teams are looking in return for using a top-10 pick on the Ohio State product.
They’re just an inch apart in height and both weigh in at around 200 pounds. Norman didn’t do much to impress at the combine, running a particularly slow 40-yard dash, but developed his athleticism and physicality in the NFL. Okudah seems more mild-mannered than Norman, but the physical attributes are there in both situations.