2020: Who Is Going, Who Is Staying
Yesterday was the cutoff for players to declare their intentions for the 2020 NFL Draft, are they staying, or going? Any player that declared can still choose to return to school, but that rarely happens.
Notre Dame was impacted by early departures, as were a number Irish opponents in 2020. Let’s look at which schools lost players early to the 2020 NFL Draft, and who had key players decide to return.
Let’s begin looking at Notre Dame (players listed alphabetically).
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
S Alohi Gilman — 74 tackles, 3.0 TFL’s, 1 INT, 2 break ups
RB Tony Jones Jr. — 857 rush yards, 6.0 YPC, 6 TD’s / 104 receiving yards
TE Cole Kmet — 43 catches, 515 yards, 12.0 YPC, 6 TD’s
OT Liam Eichenberg — 0 sacks allowed
DE Daelin Hayes — 6 tackles, 3 TFL’s, 1 sack (4 games - injured)
DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji — 34 tackles, 7.0 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks
Analysis: The loss of Gilman was expected, but there was always some optimism that Kmet and Jones would return. Kmet initially said he would come back for his senior season, but once he got feedback from the NFL it became more and more clear that he would be the top tight end in the draft, which meant a possible first-round selection. It made sense for him to depart now. Jones leaving was a surprise, but after finishing off a quality season with an outstanding performance in the Camping World Bowl he decided to ride that momentum into the draft, with his degree in hand.
Eichenberg’s return means Notre Dame will have all five starters back along the line. Hayes going down in the fourth game of the season was a loss for the defense in 2019, but getting him back in 2020 will be huge for the Irish front, which went into last season set to lose Hayes, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. Ogundeji and Hayes coming back means Notre Dame should once again have an outstanding pair on the edge of the defensive line.
WR Tee Higgins — 59 catches, 1,167 yards, 19.8 YPC, 13 TD’s
LB Isaiah Simmons — 102 tackles, 16 TFL’s, 8 sacks, 11 passes defensed
CB AJ Terrell — 34 tackles, 2 INT, 3 break ups
RB Travis Etienne — 1,614 rush yards, 7.8 YPC, 19 TD’s / 432 receiving yards, 4 TD’s
DT Nyles Pinckney — 20 tackles, 4 TFL’s, 1 sack (3rd-Team All-ACC)
Analysis: None of Clemson’s departures were surprising, as Higgins, Simmons and Terrell all had outstanding seasons and are expected to be top picks. Simmons is ranked No. 6 on Sports Illustrated draft analyst Kevin Hanson’s Big Board. Higgins is ranked No. 16 on that list and Terrell ranks No. 48 on The Athletic NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler’s board, which would place him in the second round if chosen in that range.
The big news for Clemson was the decision of Etienne - an All-American running back that racked up 3,272 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns the last two seasons - to return for his senior season. Etienne returning alongside quarterback Trevor Lawrence means Clemson will once again have one of the nation’s best backfields. Pinckney coming back gives the Tigers a veteran presence inside of what will be an outstanding defensive line next fall.
OT Austin Jackson — 1st-Team All-Pac 12
WR Tyler Vaughns — 74 catches, 912 yards, 12.3 YPC, 6 TD’s
DT Jay Tufele — 42 tackles, 6.5 TFL’s, 4.5 sacks (1st-Team All-Pac 12)
Analysis: The loss of Jackson was big for USC, who had a chance to be excellent up front next season of the talented left tackle returned. Jackson is still raw and needs to get stronger, but he has a lot of upside. Both Hanson and Brugler ranked him among their Top 30 prospects, but as Brugler noted he could have jumped into the Top 10 next season with a strong senior season.
The defensive line got a huge boost by the announced return of Tufele for his senior season. A first-team All-Pac 12 defender and a force in the middle of the defense, Tufele could be poised for a monster senior season in Los Angeles. With Tufele coming back the Trojans could have a dominant defensive line next season. Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon Ra St. Brown get a lot of the pub, but the most savvy wideout for the Trojans was Vaughns. He and St. Brown will be a potent one-two punch next season, and I expect him to put up even better numbers.
C Tyler Biadasz — Unanimous 1st-Team All-American
WR Quintez Cephas — 59 catches, 901 yards, 15.3 YPC, 7 TD’s
RB Jonathan Taylor — 2,003 rush yards, 6.3 YPC, 21 TD’s / 267 rec. yards, 5 TD’s
S Eric Burrell — 55 tackles, 3.5 TFL’s, 3 INT, 6 break ups
Analysis: The Badgers suffered huge personnel losses from the offense, although none of the departures were overly surprising. Taylor had a brilliant career, rushing for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns in just three seasons. His “worst” season was when he rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns as a true freshman. Biadasz almost left a season ago, so it’s not a surprise he isn’t coming back for a fifth season in 2020. He is considered the top center in the draft. Cephas was Wisconsin’s top wideout and a big play weapon for a pass offense that lacked that kind of productivity beyond him.
For the Badgers, the biggest news was who they lost. Wisconsin has shown an ability to overcome such losses and remain a top program, but the loss of this trio could be too much to overcome, at least when it comes to being a Top 10 caliber program next fall. Burrell returning isn’t overly surprising, but Pro Football Focus did rank him as one of the 30 best returning defensive backs in the country next season.
TE Colby Parkinson — 48 catches, 589 yards, 12.3 YPC, 1 TD
CB Paulson Adebo — 33 tackles, 4 INT, 10 break ups (2018-19 1st-Team All Pac-12)
Analysis: Parkinson is a quality pass catcher that put up good numbers the last two seasons, but he scored just one touchdown this season. He’s incredibly long and has strong hands, but Parkinson isn’t an explosive athlete, he’s not overly strong and his run blocking needs a lot of work. He could have used another season to get stronger and continue developing his game. Brugler does not rank Parkinson among his Top 100 players and Hanson doesn’t have him in his Top 50.
The return of Adebo is good for him and good for Stanford. A one-time Notre Dame commit, Adebo was a second-team All-American in 2018, but injuries and struggles in coverage result in his stock plummeting this season. Coming back will give him a chance to get healthy and get back to being one of the top defensive backs in the country. He helps solidify what should be a quality Stanford secondary next season.
OT Mekhi Becton — 1st-Team All-ACC
Analysis: Louisville returns A LOT to its roster next season, but the loss of Becton will be big, figuratively and literally. The 6-7, 369-pound left tackle started 36 games in his three-year career. Becton has foot quickness and agility that is much better than what you’d expect from someone that weighs almost 370 pounds. He handled himself quite well in pass protection this season, but he doesn’t get the consistent movement in the run game you’d expect from someone his size.
Becton was solid in pass protection, although he did have some issues with the Irish edge players. His technique is still quite raw and I don’t view him quite as high as Hanson, but he’s got a lot of raw tools that have most projecting him as a first round draft pick.
S Kamren Curl — 76 tackles, 4 TFL’s, 2 INT, 2 break ups
Analysis: There wasn’t much to be encouraged by with Arkansas this past season, as the Razorbacks went winless in the SEC for the second year in a row. One of the few bright spots was the play of Curl, who was the best player on the Arkansas defense. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him as the best player on the entire roster and had him as a second-team All-SEC performer.
For context purposes, Curl’s 87.6 PFF grade was better than anyone on the Notre Dame defense.
DE Carlos Basham — 57 tackles, 18 TFL’s, 11 sacks
WR Sage Surratt — 66 catches, 1,001 yards, 15.2 YPC, 11 TD’s
Analysis: Getting Basham and Surratt to return was HUGE for the Demon Deacons. Both were named first-team All-ACC performers this season, with Basham ranking 14th nationally in sacks (11) and 15th in tackles for loss (18). He had at least one tackle for loss in 12 of the team’s 13 games this season, and he had at least a half of a TFL in every game. He registered at least a half of a sack in eight games this season, which means he didn’t pile up stats in just a small handful of games. PFF had Basham down for 60 quarterback pressures, and 24 resulted in either a sack or a hit on the quarterback.
Surratt had a breakout season, racking up over 1,000 yards and hauling in 11 touchdowns despite playing just nine games. Surratt missed the final four games of the season, but his return gives quarterback Sam Hartman one of the top wideouts in the country to throw to next season.
S Paris Ford — 97 tackles, 3 INT, 11 break ups (1st-Team All-ACC)
Pitt loses standout cornerback Dane Jackson, and it remains to be seen if the NCAA will grant the appeal of safety Damar Hamlin for a fifth-season in 2020. If Hamlin isn’t granted that waiver then getting Ford back to anchor what will be a new-look secondary next season will be significant. If Hamlin is granted a fifth-season then he and Ford could combine to be arguably the best secondary that Notre Dame will face last season.
Ford led the Panthers with 97 tackles and 14 passes defensed this season, which earned him first-team All-ACC honors this season. Ford is the younger brother of former Notre Dame cornerback Darrin Walls.
Navy, Western Michigan, Duke and Georgia Tech all had no significant losses or returns.