ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. Not As Sold on Alabama's 2020 NFL Draft Prospects as Others
With less than a month before the 2020 NFL Draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released the third iteration of his mock draft on Tuesday.
If the teams of the NFL take note, the draft boards will be lighting up crimson and white come draft day. However, while many draft experts rate five of six former Alabama players as being first-round worthy, Kiper has just four.
But all of them are in the top 15: quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III and offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
On Wednesday morning, ESPN hosted a teleconference for the media where Kiper gave his analysis on the NFL prospects and his thoughts regarding the upcoming draft.
In Kiper’s draft, Tagovailoa is slated to be the first former Crimson Tide player to go at No. 5 to the Miami Dolphins. While he is still put on the board as the second-overall quarterback behind LSU’s Joe Burrow, Kiper was quick to point out that he has a lot of reservations due to his multiple injuries.
“With the medical on Tua it’s going to be difficult obviously with the current situation,” Kiper said. “This is a year where you would need all the medicals you can get, all the meetings you can get, all the things you need in terms of due diligence on Tua with the medical and you’re not going to have that opportunity.”
Speaking at-length on Tagovailoa, Kiper stressed how important it is for the young quarterback to get healthy before seeing playing time this fall. Given the limited amount of footage and analysis that teams have access to due to COVID-19, Kiper sees Tagovailoa as a solid pick, but not necessarily worth trading up for given the current circumstances.
In order to avoid injury, Kiper suggested that whatever team he ends up benching Tagovailoa for his rookie season so that he can fully recover as well as develop his play-calling abilities at the pro level.
“I just have always thought that you medically redshirt him,” Kiper said. “You let his body heal. You don’t expect him to play. Four of the top five of the most winningest signal callers in the NFL right now — the guys that are active playing winningest quarterbacks — four of the five didn’t play as a rookie.
“You say ‘well that was a different era with some of those guys that are older’ well it wasn’t a different era with Patrick Mahomes. It wasn’t a different era with Lamar Jackson. I think medically redshirt him because that doesn’t make that as important because as long as the medical people sign off that’s not as critical if you go in with realistic expectations of what he’s gonna do as a rookie.”
Due to Tagovailoa’s durability concerns, once he is drafted it will be intriguing to watch what his future team decides to do with him.
In addition to Tagovailoa, Kiper talked briefly about Jeudy and Ruggs and their abilities.
Kiper currently has Jeudy going at No. 13 with the San Francisco 49ers, and is his overall top pick at the wide receiver position.
Combined with Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Ruggs, Kiper explained that Jeudy is the pinnacle of the great wide receivers in this year’s draft class.
“Jeudy to me in the slot is very tough to deal with,” Kiper said. “Obviously the route-running ability he’s very very affective there. His hands — he had a couple of drops but overall he’s very consistent. Great attitude, great approach.
“If I had to go Jeudy or Lamb I would probably go Jeudy.”
Regarding Ruggs, who Kiper currently has projected to go at No. 15 to the Denver Broncos, he only said that Ruggs has all the capabilities that he needs to perform as a top receiver in the NFL.
The final Alabama player projected to go in the first round, Wills, got the biggest compliment from Kiper out of all the former Crimson Tide players in the draft.
According to Kiper, Wills is one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. He is currently projected by Kiper to go with the 11th pick to the New York Jets.
“Obviously you think about a guy like Jedrick Wills Jr. the right tackle from Alabama,” Kiper said. “He’s a solid player, he’s technically sound, he’s consistent, he didn’t have any hiccups at right tackle this year. He’s the kind of guy who’s a plug-and-play right tackle.”
Kiper also wrote in his mock draft that Wills could step in on day one and be one of the Jets’ best linemen.
Regardless, with all of the uncertainty surrounding the draft due to the pandemic, all eyes will be on Las Vegas on April 23 for what could well be one of the best first rounds in Alabama football history.