2020 NFL Mock Draft: Dolphins grab QB of the future

It’s the first Monday in October, which means it’s time for another 2020 NFL mock draft. A lot has changed since my first mock draft in September. The quarterback class has gotten a bit deeper given the play of Joe Burrow and Jacob Eason. This is still an incredible class for wide receivers and running backs as well. Mix in an elite edge rusher in Chase Young and you’ve got a fun-looking draft class. Now mock drafts are more about the NFL side of things, figuring out which positions teams need to address in the upcoming offseason. For more of a college football focused look at these prospects, check out my latest big board.

The draft order is being determined is by the Super Bowl odds heading into Week 5 from Caesar’s Sportsbook. Tiebreakers were decided by strength of schedule. Obviously, this draft order is subject to a lot of change, but after four weeks of the NFL season, (I didn’t take Week 5 into account yet because it is not finished yet) this is where all 32 teams stand. Let’s dive into this October mock draft.

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1. Miami Dolphins (20000-1) – Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Let’s not overthink this any more. Josh Rosen has no supporting cast, but this offense lacks a clear direction forward. A rebuild with Tua Tagovailoa as the center piece is looking more and more likely. Tagovailoa has been the best quarterback at the college level this year. His touch on intermediate throws downfield is elite. He is decisive and intelligent. He will be able to command an offense for years to come. With three first round picks, the Dolphins will be able to add some talent around him too.

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2. Washington (5000-1) – Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Washington could go a number of directions here, but with Trent Williams still holding out, Andrew Thomas is a logical pick. Washington desperately needs to find a way to keep rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins upright. Thomas is the best pass blocker in this draft by a mile and is improving against the run. He is battle-tested having played in the SEC and would be able to step in on Day 1 to protect Haskins’ blindside.

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3. Denver Broncos (2000-1) – Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
This is one of the toughest teams to mock because of the talent that exists already on the roster. With Bradley Chubb and Von Miller, there is no need for Chase Young. With Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, I can’t see the Broncos taking Jerry Jeudy either. Instead, Denver nabs the top corner in the class after watching the secondary struggle in 2019. Chris Harris Jr. is 30 and there are trade rumors swirling. Jeffrey Okudah has the potential to be the best lockdown corner the league has seen since Darrelle Revis in his prime. He closes so well on the ball and is an excellent tackler in space.

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4. Arizona Cardinals (2000-1) – Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
Arizona would be ecstatic if Chase Young fell to them at No. 4. After trying to find some veteran solutions in Terrell Suggs this offseason, the Cardinals need to address the long term need for a pass rusher. Chandler Jones would be the perfect mentor for the latest Ohio State star defensive lineman. Young does an excellent job setting the edge against the run and has a full arsenal of pass rush moves to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. He would immediately take some pressure off the struggling secondary.

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5. New York Jets (2000-1) – Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
New York continues to have the top player on a lot of draftnicks boards fall to them. Jerry Jeudy is about as polished as a pro prospect can be coming out of Alabama. He fills a major need for New York and would be an upgrade over any player in their current receiving core. Sam Darnold needs a proven receiver to throw to if he is going to develop. Jeudy’s route running ability and consistency makes him a no-brainer here.

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6. Cincinnati Bengals (1000-1) – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
I initially had Jake Fromm mocked here, who I have ranked higher than Justin Herbert on my big board. However, I think Zac Taylor would love the opportunity to work with the toolsy Herbert instead. He has a big arm, but he seems to have some accuracy and technical issues that need ironing out. Andy Dalton is a free agent after the 2020 season, giving Cincinnati the perfect situation to break in a quarterback with lots of potential, but who might need a bit of time before he is ready to take over the starting gig.

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7. Atlanta Falcons (200-1) – D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
While the Falcons have a number of needs, Atlanta does not want to miss out on a player in their own backyard. D’Andre Swift is about as pro ready as running backs come, with prototypical size, good hands out of the backfield and plenty of college production. The thing I love so much about him is his elusiveness and the lack of mileage he has picked up in college. With just over 300 carries in his college career, Swift should be primed for a long career in the NFL.

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8. Miami Dolphins via Pittsburgh Steelers (150-1) – A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa
After taking Tua Tagovailoa first overall, that means the Dolphins no longer need a quarterback. Pretty much every other spot is a position of need. A.J. Epenesa seems like a good place to start. At 6’6″, 280 pounds, he is built more like a defensive lineman than a true edge player, but don’t let that fool you. He is an elite pass rusher with the strength to push around opposing linemen. He uses his hands really well and shows a good motor. He is not going to be a speed rusher, but with his ability to dominant off the line, he won’t need to be. There is a reason people are comparing him to J.J. Watt.

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9. Indianapolis Colts (125-1) – Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
While Indy does have a true WR1 in T.Y. Hilton, there is not a whole lot of depth behind him at receiver. The collection of Zach Paschal, Deon Cain and Chester Rodgers is far from the most productive group. Enter Tee Higgins, who would offer a big-bodied, downfield threat who can win jump balls all over the field. He is probably the best red zone receiver in this year’s draft and would provide a nice complement to Hilton. Higgins struggles a bit with creating separation, but has the size, skill and catch radius for that to not matter much.

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10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (100-1) – Grant Delpit, S, LSU
This Buccaneers’ secondary needs an infusion of talent. Tampa has come up with it’s fair share of interceptions this year, but the Bucs gave up the second-most passing yards per game through the first four weeks of the season. Grant Delpit should help with that right away. He draws a lot of comparisons to former LSU standout Jamaal Adams. The two have similar playing styles, but Delpit is better in pass coverage. He hasn’t been the strongest tackler this year, but he diagnoses plays well and gets himself into good positions to be successful. If he can sure up his tackling, he has All-Pro potential.

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11. New York Giants (100-1) – CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
The Daniel Jones era is off to a pretty good start, but the Giants could use some more help at receiver. Sterling Shepard has been great this year, but he is best suited as a second option. No one else in the New York receiving core is above replacement level other than Golden Tate, who is 31. CeeDee Lamb is a complete receiver with the ability to take the top off a defense. He fights for extra yards and has excellent vision after the catch. He would give the Giants another explosive playmaker along with Evan Engram. An offense featuring Shepard, Lamb, Engram and Saquon Barkley sounds pretty legitimate.

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12. Oakland Raiders (75-1) – Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
Oakland entered the season expecting Antonio Brown to be its top receiving option. Let’s just say that didn’t work out and now the Raiders could use an upgrade at receiver. Laviska Shenault hasn’t had the best 2019 season at Colorado, but his talent is undeniable. He catches the ball away from his body and he turns into a running back after the catch. He has good speed for a 6’2″ 220-pound wideout and excels making plays down the seams. He would offer Derek Carr (or perhaps another quarterback, keep reading) a great target to boost the offense.

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13. Tennessee Titans (75-1) – Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
This feels like such a good fit for Jake Fromm. The Titans have a great offensive line, solid running game and a talented defense. Sound familiar to Fromm’s current situation? It’s time for the Titans to move on from Marcus Mariota. His contract is up after this season and he has not played consistently enough to warrant being brought back. Fromm is poised and intelligent. His accuracy has improved this season. He is the type of pro-ready quarterback a team like the Titans could use. He won’t turn the ball over and he has the arm talent to win games.

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14. Jacksonville Jaguars (50-1) – CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
Going into the year, I really thought the Jaguars needed to go after a receiver in the first round. With the emergence of DJ Chark in his second year, that need does not feel as pressing and Jacksonville can shift its attention to finding its successor to Jalen Ramsey. CJ Henderson has the size and ball skills to be an NFL corner. He needs to improve as a press defender, but he has shown flashes of lockdown play. He won’t fill the hole a Ramsey departure would leave, but he would certainly help ease the loss.

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15. Carolina Panthers (50-1) – Walker Little, OT, Stanford
The string of injuries Cam Newton has suffered over the past few years makes me look at that offensive line as a place where help is needed. Carolina has invested a lot of draft picks in recent years along the line, but with none of them proving to be a permanent solution, it’s time to add Walker Little. There is injury concern here with him suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first game of this season. However, Little projects as a future left tackle in the NFL. He is 6’7″ and weighs 315 pounds. You can’t teach size. He moves well and would be in the mix to start the 2020 season for the Panthers.

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16. Detroit Lions (40-1) – Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
After letting Ezekiel Ansah walk in free agency following an injury-riddle tenure in Detroit, it is time to find a replacement. Signing Trey Flowers helps, but adding the relentless Yetur Gross-Matos would make the pass rush a strength. He is excellent at keep offensive lineman from locking him with his hand usage. He has decent bend and is a punishing tackler. At 6’5″, 255 pounds, he has the versatility to stand up or get after the passer with his hand in the ground. He would be a fun player for Matt Patricia to work with.

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17. Buffalo Bills (40-1) – Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama
Buffalo has a championship level defense, but it needs to bring its offense up to speed. The best way to add speed is to draft Henry Ruggs. He might be the most explosive player in this class, with buzz about him potentially running a sub 4.3 40-yard dash. He would immediately provide Josh Allen a game-breaking receiver to complement the possession receivers they have in Cole Beasley and John Brown. Adding him to the offense would provide a big-play element Buffalo is definitely lacking right now.

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18. Minnesota Vikings (28-1) – Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
Minnesota is fed up with inconsistent play from Kirk Cousins. His inability to complete deep passes downfield or show up in big games is maddeningly frustrating. Joe Burrow has shown he can do both of those things so far this year. His arm strength has been impressive and he looks sharp as a part of a rejuvenated LSU offense. He might not be ready to start Day 1 as there is likely going to be some time needed for him to transition to a true pro-style offense, but he wouldn’t be asked to do much right away. With a great running game and a top tier defense, Burrow would just be asked to take care of the ball. If he can keep playing at this level, he will lock himself in as a first round pick.

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19. Seattle Seahawks (25-1) – Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
Yes, the Seahawks traded for Jadeveon Clowney, but he could easily walk in free agency. Seattle can double down on the defensive line by adding Derrick Brown from Auburn. He is massive at 6’5″, 318 pounds. While he might have the build of a typical nose tackle, he moves a lot better than that. He had 4.5 sacks in 2018 and already has two heading into a game with Florida. Brown can generate pressure on the interior and is excellent against the run. Seattle has been trying to find talented defense linemen for a few years now and really struggled without Clowney on the field. Brown turns the line into an immediate strength.

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20. Oakland Raiders via Chicago Bears (20-1) – Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
I told you it was coming! Cutting Derek Carr this offseason would save the Raiders $11 million in cap space and carries just $5 million in dead money. Oakland isn’t strapped for cash, but I don’t see Jon Gruden riding Carr into Las Vegas. Instead, he can get the strong arm quarterback he covets in Jacob Eason. Eason has had an interesting college career, losing his job at Georgia before transferring to Washington. He fits the size profile at 6’6″ and his improving accuracy has him trending into the first round. We have a small sample size of Eason playing at a high level, but if he continues to light up the scoreboard and demonstrate his ability to lead Washington through the Pac-12, he should hear his name called on Day 1.

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21. Baltimore Ravens (40-1) – Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Baltimore made a decision in April to add more speed to the offense by drafting Marquise Brown. This offense could use a few more explosive players, so Baltimore nabs Jalen Reagor. He plays a similar style to Brown, but he is a little more physical. He has great burst, above average hands and plays much larger than his frame (5’11”, 195 pounds). While he primarily takes the top off the defense, Reagor had 72 catches as a sophomore. He is more than just a burner downfield. He hasn’t been as productive so far this year and, in a deep wide receiver class, that could cost him a spot in the first round.

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22. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (33-1) – Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
In this mock draft, the Dolphins have already addressed the quarterback position and defensive line. Now it’s time to protect that invested they made first overall. Tristan Wirfs is a right tackle, but he is a damn good right tackle. He is a punishing blocker who finishes his assignments. He holds up just well enough in pass protection. There is definitely some room for him to clean up his footwork. A good way to take pressure off a young quarterback is to run the ball. Wirfs will certainly help with that.

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23. San Francisco 49ers (20-1) – Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
No team in the league (other than maybe the Eagles) is in need of secondary help in the short term than the 49ers. If San Francisco wins the Jalen Ramsey sweepstakes, then this pick becomes completely irrelevant. Because that hasn’t happened yet, the 49ers would do well to select Bryce Hall. He has the makings of a shutdown corner. At 6’1″, he will be able to take on just about any NFL receiver. He is a proven tackler and opposing teams have already learned its best not to throw at him. He has good positioning and tracks the ball well. He breaks well on the ball as well. Hall would fit well across from Richard Sherman as early as 2020.

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24. Green Bay Packers (16-1) – Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
It is time to give Aaron Rodgers some help outside of Davante Adams. Adams is an elite receiver, but after that, the Packers have a bunch of middling and unproven receivers. Tylan Wallace would help fix that. He is an explosive playmaker on the outside who can run past defenders and rise above corners to make plays. He is a decent route runner, with room for improvement. He put up 200-plus yards on both Texas and Oklahoma last year. Even though he is coming from a pass-happy offense, he is actually a good run blocker. He is a bit light right now listed at just 185 pounds, but if he can find a way to add a bit more muscle to his frame without sacrificing his speed, he looks like a future number one receiver.

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25. Los Angeles Chargers (30-1) – Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
It is no secret Melvin Gordon will not be wearing a Chargers uniform next year. While Austin Ekeler has looked great this season, he is not your typical bellcow back that will run the ball 20-plus times a game. Jonathan Taylor could be that at the next level. He does it now at Wisconsin. In reality though, I think Taylor’s tough style of running and powerful approach would blend really well with Ekeler and give Los Angeles a similar combo to what it has now with Gordon and Ekeler. Just for way cheaper.

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26. Cleveland Browns (25-1) – Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin
Someone needs to protect Baker Mayfield. The Browns signal caller took 12 sacks in the first four games of the season. Given the rest of the talent on this offense, it is time for Cleveland to address the offensive line. It could opt for a tackle here, but instead I think they grab the best interior lineman in the draft in Tyler Biadasz. He is a rock for the Wisconsin offensive line, rarely ceding ground. He does a nice job setting up his blocks in the run game and is about as consistent as they get in pass protection. Wisconsin regularly produces good NFL linemen, including Travis Fredericks, who has a real claim to the title of best center in the league. I think Biadasz might challenge him one day for that designation, making him a slam dunk pick for the Browns.

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27. Philadelphia Eagles (16-1) – Krisitan Fulton, CB, LSU
As mentioned for the 49ers, the Eagles desperately need secondary help. Sidney Jones has been unable to stay on the field and the combo of Avonte Maddox and Ronald Darby isn’t cutting it. Kristian Fulton could be the latest superstar defensive back out of LSU. He needs just a bit of time to transition to the NFL. He has ballhawking corner potential, coming off a season where he had five interceptions. He uses his hands well, but still needs to work on some of his technique when jamming corners. He could rise up draft boards with games against Auburn and Alabama still on the schedule. If he performs there, he will be pushing much higher in the first round.

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28. New Orleans Saints (14-1) – Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
The Saints have been trying to acquire linebackers for a few years now. They signed DeMario Davis last year and traded for Kiko Alonso this year. To help solve the problem long term, they should draft Isaiah Simmons. Simmons fits what New Orleans likes to defensively and would definitely increase the overall speed at the position. He is a converted safety who excels in coverage and is an above average blitzer. He is not going to rack up double-digit sacks, but he has the instincts and athleticism to make a lot of disruptive plays.

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29. Los Angeles Rams (11-1) – Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
This Rams defense is not the one we saw a year ago. Aqib Talib will turn 34 in February and the secondary could use a boost. Trevon Diggs is big for a corner at 6’2″ and 205 pounds. He missed a lot of time last year after breaking his foot, but he has looked sharp so far in 2019. Diggs played a bit out of the slot last year and shows some good versatility. He doesn’t have the most fluid hips of all time and he definitely need to improve how he attacks ball carriers in space, but his size and long arms make him a player who can contribute early on and has room improve in the future.

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30. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
This would just be unfair. Travis Etienne has been one of the most explosive and elusive players in college football over the last two years. Him playing in an Andy Reid offense with Patrick Mahomes would be nearly unstoppable. Etienne is an improving pass catcher who doesn’t see a ton of targets. Given the injuries and overall rotation of the Kansas City backfield, Etienne would be a great pick. LeSean McCoy is is 31 and Damien Williams is probably best-suited to be a change of pace back. Etienne would provide stability at the position and give the Chiefs another offensive weapon for opposing defenses to worry about.

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31. Dallas Cowboys (9-1) – Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
Dallas has had a lot of success drafting Notre Dame players (see Zach Martin, Jaylon Smith). Adding another one, this time to the defensive line seems like a quality move. The Cowboys invested a lot of money into DeMarcus Lawrence, but they also took a one-year flier on Robert Quinn for a reason. Dallas needs someone to play across from Lawrence, and Julian Okwara can do just that. He plays down hill and uses his hands well to fight through blocks. He has the ability to bully smaller tackles and enough speed to chase down plays. He is a bit undersized, weighing just 240 pounds, but if he can put on some weight, he would be a great 4-3 end in this system.

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32. New England Patriots (5-2) – Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
Predicting what the Patriots are going to do is impossible. It is also pretty difficult to identify any of this team’s needs given how soft their schedule has been to open this season. Best bet is that Bill Belichick will continue to add to this defense. Curtis Weaver is a powerful pass rusher who has good technique and heavy hands. He also has 26.5 career sacks in 30 games so there is plenty of production and a larger sample size. He reminds me a little bit of Trey Flowers, who left the Patriots this past offseason in free agency. Given that he can play against the run as well, I think New England will find enough value to tab him at the end of the round.

For more NFL Draft coverage, check out the Aftermath’s NFL Draft Podcast, with new episodes every Thursday.

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NFL Draft Podcast Episode 4

Check out the newest episode of the Aftermath’s NFL Draft Podcast, complete with a full first round mock draft. This is an inside look at the mock draft for podcast listeners. Also see who made the cut for this week’s studs and sleepers. You can find the show on Spotify and wherever you listen to your podcasts.

The Flaw in Each Heisman Contender

This past weekend in college football was wild. Lots of top 25 teams fell and some Heisman hopefuls suffered major blows.

Just a week ago, I profiled the shallow group that makes up this Heisman race. This time around, I’m back to break down why each of the true contenders won’t win this years award. These are the front runners for the award and while it is still early, we are starting to see the full picture on the candidates. Let’s be clear, all of these players have had phenomenal seasons so far. This is explaining why they still might not win the Heisman.

Oklahoma LogoKyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Flaw: Offensive System
This might seem a bit unfair to Murray, as it isn’t his fault Lincoln Riley is a great head coach, but Oklahoma also produced Baker Mayfield last year. When you compare the two, Murray is putting up comparable numbers. Mayfield averaged 330 yards passing per game with three touchdowns and a completion percentage of 70.5 in 14 games. Murray is averaging 294 yards with 3.5 touchdowns and a 71.1 completion percentage. Murray produces more with his legs as he accounts for 62.8 yards per game rushing compared to Mayfield’s 22 yards per game during his Heisman season.

Riley is an offensive mastermind and playing in the wide open Big 12, this system is amplified an extra step. It is hard not to wonder if Murray is simply benefiting from the same system that turned Mayfield into a landslide Heisman winner. Voters will be wary of voting in a different player at the same position from the same school as they did the year before. Only once in the history of the award has a school had back-to-back winners. It happened back in 1945-46 when Army produced two different Heisman winners in as many years. These are all things Murray cannot control, but that does not mean they will not come into play when it comes time to vote.

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Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
Flaw: Importance to team
When was the last time it felt like a team could still win the national championship without its Heisman candidate? Alabama is dominating everyone who steps on the field with them. The Crimson Tide is outscoring opponent’s by an average margin of 40 points per contest. After years of being known as a defense team, Nick Saban is boasting an offense to match it. At the center of it is Tua Tagovailoa. He is putting up incredible numbers, putting up video-game-like numbers. He has completed 75 percent of his passes, averaging 14.8 yards per attempt and has the highest passer rating in the country at 258.4.

However, he barely has to play when it matters, because it often doesn’t for Alabama. He has attempted more than 20 passes in a game only once. Tagovailoa has not taken a single snap in the fourth quarter of a football game this season. By that point, the Tide has been up by enough that his services are no longer needed. ‘Bama is far and away the best team in the country and Tagovailoa might be the best quarterback in the country, but this team seems like it would easily make it back to the playoff if it was only relying on Jalen Hurts. In limited playing time, Hurts has completed 71 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and only one interception. If the system issue for Kyler Murray was bad, this seems almost worse in Alabama where there is another quarterback performing well in the same season. It is difficult to poke holes in Tagovailoa’s campaign, but equally hard to say he should be the Heisman winner when it feels like the team would be fine without him.

West Virginia logoWill Grier, QB, West Virginia:
Flaw: Gunslinger
Will Grier has had one heck of a year so far. He has thrown for at least 330 yards in every game. He is completing 71 percent of his passes. He is also averaging a ridiculous 4.2 touchdowns passes per game. Grier has proven he can toss it all over the yard. He has West Virginia up to number six in the polls, its highest ranking since 2012. While the level of competition the Mountaineers have faced is certainly a concern, they have yet to play another ranked team and likely won’t until November, the much bigger concern is Grier’s playing style.

Much like Kyler Murray, Grier plays in the wide open Big 12. It serves up opportunities for tons of passing yards and weak secondaries to feast on. Heading into the game, he had only thrown three interceptions. Against Kansas, Grier tossed three more. Throwing three interceptions in a game is not a good thing. Throwing three interceptions against Kansas. The Jayhawks are 2-4 this season, including a loss to Nicholls State, an FCS team. Grier’s now six interceptions rank him tied for sixth most in the country. That is not an awful thing, but when you compare him to the other Heisman candidates, it is a bad look. Haskins has four, Murray has two and Tagovailoa has yet to throw one. Each of those three has played one more game than Grier as well. It begs the question of how Grier will fare when faced with top tier teams like Texas and Oklahoma, both of whom West Virginia will play next month. If Grier turns it over against those teams, not only will it likely cost his team the game, it will certainly cost him the Heisman.

Ohio State LogoDwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Flaw: Starting slow
If there is anyone in college football who is putting up the kind of number Tua Tagovailoa has, it is Dwayne Haskins. He has completed 71 percent of his passes en route to averaging 320 yards per game through the air. Haskins also leads the nation in touchdown passes through six games with 25. Looking at Ohio State’s schedule, it should relatively smooth sailing for them heading into their final game of the year against Michigan.

In the last two games for the Buckeyes though, the team has started rather sluggishly. Against Penn State, Haskins threw an early interception which lead to a field goal. Ohio State went down 13-0 and it probably would have been that score at halftime if not for a costly fumble from the Nittany Lions. Haskins played very well in the second half to lead Ohio State to a victory. Essentially the same script played out again at home against Indiana. Haskins threw a second quarter interception to kill the drive and set up a Hoosier touchdown, which put Indiana ahead at that point. He played lights out in the second half, but the lack of a complete game is troubling. The Big 10 is a tough conference to compete in and Ohio State has road games with Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland left. None of those poise serious threats, but going down early in games is not sustainable for any team. I guess if Haskins continues to do it, you could label as clutch, but it raises a red flag for me indicating he takes a little while to settle into a game.

Clemson LogoTravis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Flaw: Pass Catching
I said Etienne was getting close after his dominant performance against Syracuse. After thrashing Wake Forrest, Etienne earns himself the title of Heisman contender. He is fourth in the nation with 761 yards rushing, third for his yards per carry average of 9.2 and tied for fourth with 11 rushing touchdowns. His value cannot be overstated for a Clemson team that had its former starter Kelly Bryant transfer and now starts a true freshman under center. Against Wake Forrest, Etienne racked up 167 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. He is an explosive playmaker on a top team in the country.

The one major concern Heisman voters will have with Etienne is he doesn’t fit the bill of a true Heisman back. He is not a powerful runner in the way that Mark Ingram or Derrick Henry, the last two running backs to win, were at Alabama. Much like Tua Tagovailoa, he is not a heavy usage player running the football as he has eclipsed 16 carries just once. We’ve seen plenty of running backs add to their candidacy by featuring as pass catchers out of the backfield on swings, screens and wheel routes downfield. On the season he has just five receptions for 27 yards and one receiving touchdown. It is not a requirement to be a good receiving back to win the award, Henry finished his winning season with just 11 grabs, but with Etienne not putting up nearly the same numbers running the ball as those that came before him, it is going to be difficult to outshine any of these quarterbacks without making an impact in the passing game.

2018 Heisman Hopefuls are Hard to Find

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Only quarterbacks and Alabama running backs have won the Heisman dating back to 2000. (Wikimedia Commons)

After five weeks of action in the 2018 college football season, the shortlist of contenders for the Heisman Trophy is shrinking. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray are the clear front runners at this stage. All four of them are undefeated quarterbacks playing on Power 5 conference teams ranked in the top 10. At this stage, any of them could win the award, but it seems like there is not much chance anyone else manages to get their name into the running. Let’s break down who else was supposed to be in this race.

The Preseason Hopefuls
There were several other players who were supposed to challenge for the highest individual honor in the college game. Stanford running back Bryce Love and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor headline this group. Love was the runner up for the award last season when Baker Mayfield took it home. Taylor finished sixth in the voting. The pair finished second and third in the nation in rushing respectively behind Seahawks first round selection Rashaad Penny. This season Taylor is fifth in the country for ground yardage, but hasn’t scored in either of his past two games and Wisconsin lost to an unranked BYU squad. Love has missed time with some nagging injuries.

Also in this group is Shea Patterson of Michigan and Kelly Bryant of Clemson. The two quarterbacks had rough starts to the season. For Patterson, he lost his season opener to Notre Dame and failed to throw a touchdown pass. He only has seven through five games this year. On the other hand, Bryant actually lost his starting job to freshman Trevor Lawrence and announced he plans to transfer.

The Sleeper Picks
Every year, there are a bunch of dark horse candidates to win the Heisman. 2018 was no different. The most popular sleeper pick this year had to be Penn State’s Trace McSorley. A true dual-threat quarterback, the senior has thrown for over 1,000 yards and rushed for over 450. Normally, that would put you right in the heart of the conversation. However, McSorley sustained a heavy blow to his candidacy with PSU’s loss to Ohio State at home. On top of that, he has a woeful completion percentage of 52 and had two games where he failed to eclipse 200 yards passing.

Alongside McSorely were Drew Lock and Jarret Stidham, two SEC quarterbacks with first round potential in the upcoming NFL draft. Lock was always going to have a tough road to the award being on an unranked team. He opened the season on fire, but came back down to Earth when Georgia drubbed Missouri. Lock failed to complete 50 percent of his passes against the Bulldogs, threw no touchdowns, one interception and for under 250 yards. For a quarterback who doesn’t run much, that pretty much ended Lock’s campaign. Stidham’s candidacy turned out to be mostly hype. Through five games, the Auburn quarterback has only thrown five touchdowns, lost at home to LSU and topped 200 passing yards twice.

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Mayfield became the first senior to win the award since 2006 and translated it into the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. (Wikimedia Commons)

Still Could Join the Party
I have bashed the depth of the hopefuls pretty thoroughly, but it is still early and there a are a handful of players who could make some noise and draw Heisman attention before the season is over.

The first is Justin Herbert. The Oregon quarterback is making a case to be the first quarterback selected in May at the NFL draft. He could also sneak into the Heisman conversation, but it feels like he missed his best chance to assert himself. It will be hard for voters to shake the memory of him throwing four straight incompletions to lose at home to Stanford in overtime. He also has a couple of ugly statistical games on his record where he tossed multiple interceptions and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes.

There is no way that only quarterbacks finish as finalists either. Travis Etienne of Clemson has a chance to thrust himself into the conversation before the season is out. He is currently seventh in the country in rushing with an outrageous 8.1 yards per carry. The sophomore running back also has eight touchdowns so far. Additionally, Etienne might have just had his Heisman moment as he carried Clemson to a comeback in Death Valley over Syracuse with the team’s third-string quarterback under center. He rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Tigers undefeated. Being the lead back on a team likely to make the playoff and having your starting quarterback transfer, Etienne has everything in place to take a stab at this.

One last one that is a bit of a unique case is Ian Book. The Notre Dame quarterback took over as the starter in the third game of the season. He threw the game-clinching touchdown against Wake Forest and has thrown for 603 yards and six touchdowns over his last two starts. He torched what is a good Stanford defense and has a stellar 74 percent completion rate. On top of all of that, he hasn’t thrown an interception. The Irish sit at sixth in the AP poll and have a chance to make the College Football Playoff. If Book puts up similar numbers and leads Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season, he could be in the mix.

The Longshots
Just because you aren’t at a big school doesn’t mean you can’t make some noise. Now, Kentucky is a big school, but you probably know them for basketball. However, Ben Snell Jr. is having an impressive year running the ball. He is fourth in the nation in both yards and touchdowns. Kentucky is also 5-0 and up to #13 in the AP Poll. He will get a chance to play some great competition as Texas A&M and Georgia are still on the schedule. He could be a late riser.

Even more of a long shot is John Ursua of Hawaii. He really doesn’t belong, but he leads the nation in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He is on pace to finish with 100 catches, 1500 yards and 24 touchdowns. That kind of production usually catches the eyes of Heisman voters, but the best team Hawaii has played all year is Army. Unless Ursua can step it up and start shattering some records along with Hawaii winning out, he won’t really draw much attention.

One last name to throw around is Steven Montez from Colorado. The Buffaloes are 4-0 this season for the first time in 20 years. Montez is completing 75.8 percent of his passes, which leads the nation. Colorado is 21st in the polls and has road games against USC, Washington and Cal. Montez has thrown for over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in four games so far. He still has two-thirds of his games left in his season. It will be interesting to see what he can do with it.

The season is far from over, but it seems like the majority of the whittling down for the Heisman Trophy has already occurred. We might get some fireworks by season’s end, but this feels like a four-man race with a lot of people wondering what could have been.