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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

5 biggest movers in the 2020 NFL Draft

Jalen Hurts Tua Tagovailoa

The 2020 NFL Draft is coming up soon and will continue as planned despite major global adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, NFL teams are still doing their due diligence, poring over game tape and re-watching NFL Combine workouts to get a feel for the players they can no longer work out privately. It’s an interesting and unexpected adjustment, and it’s having equally interested and unexpected impacts on players.

Here’s a look at five players who have either seen their draft stock rise or fall in recent weeks and months.

5. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Jalen Hurts was the man at Alabama before he wasn’t. And after being benched in favor of Tua Tagovailoa, who is also interestingly on this list, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma where he revitalized his career. That alone moved him up the draft boards, but his impressive showing at the NFL Combine and later, the Oklahoma Pro Day, may have helped him even more. A potential Day 3 pick just two years ago, Hurts has scratched and clawed his way back into relevance, becoming a likely Day 2 pick to knocking on the door of Round 2. However, because the sports world is in a bit of a hold right now, Hurts may not be able to do much more moving, but he had shown enough to get back on the radar of all 32 teams.

4. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado

Once upon a time, Laviska Shenault Jr. was among the most productive wide receivers in college and many had him projected at the top of his positional group. However, a turf toe injury that required surgery ended his 2018 campaign prematurely, and then last season, he continued to struggle with a core muscle injury, which also required surgery. As a result, Shenault’s production was down and he was somewhat forgotten about. He did have a chance to reignite some fire at the NFL Combine, but he was unable to finish his workout and then failed to participate in Colorado’s Pro Day, which was one of the last before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world. With pre-draft visits now out of the picture, teams won’t be able to medically evaluate Shenault. Given his injury history, that will leave him viewed as a risk. Because of that, Shenault’s draft stock is likely to continue its nosedive.

3. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa

A.J. Epenesa has slowly but steadily been dropping down draft boards due to concerns over his size and measurables, as well as his style of play. He reminds many of Taco Charlton, who struggled in his adjustment to the NFL and has yet to live up to his first-round billing. At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Epenesa posted a 5.04 40-yard dash with a 1.78-second 10-yard split, which demonstrated a lack of explosiveness. That falls in line with the tape, which shows Epenesa primarily bull-rushing offensive linemen rather than using finesse and flexibility. That’s unlikely to translate well to the NFL game, where offensive linemen are bigger, stronger, quicker and smarter. That makes Epenesa somewhat of a gamble and potential project, which will prevent him from going as high in the draft as some may have expected entering the offseason.

2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tua Tagovailoa is an interesting addition to this list because depending on whom you listen to and what you read, he’s either shooting up the draft boards or falling down the draft boards; there appears to be no middle ground. So which is it? It’s hard to tell because all pre-draft visits have essentially been shut down, which means interested parties can see only what Tua and his camp want them to see. On the plus side, some of his workouts and throwing sessions have looked good. On the down side, teams have been unable to get their doctors in the same room as Tagovailoa, so no one truly knows how well he’s recovering from a serious hip injury. On the surface, his recovery seems to be going off without a hitch, but will teams be willing to risk a hefty investment in the quarterback without being 100 percent certain?

1. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

Everyone knew Henry Ruggs was a talented receiver, speed demon, and likely to be among the first off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, but after posting a 4.27 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and then adding a 44″ vertical, he completely separated himself from all other receivers. In fact, combined with his impressively physical and dominating play at Alabama, Ruggs’ combine performance catapulted him up draft boards, likely going from a top-15 pick to a top-5 pick depending on how things shape up at the top of Round 1. But no matter where he lands, all 32 teams now know without a shadow of a doubt that he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

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