This weekend, LSU hosts No. 9 Auburn. Two weeks later, the No. 2 team in the nation travels to Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama. It’s possible those two games could determine the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Think that’s a stretch? Consider the last two drafts. In 2018, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield entered the season as a late-rounder on most boards. After tearing up the college football world, he won not only the Heisman but the honor of being taken No. 1 by the Browns. A season later, Kyler Murray was just a baseball player (taken No. 9 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by Oakland) who wanted to spend his last season as Oklahoma’s starter. He went on to replace Mayfield not only as the Sooners’ starter, but also as Heisman winner and No. 1 overall to Arizona.
This year’s Mayfield/Murray could be LSU QB Joe Burrow. The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi has been banging that drum for weeks now, and while NFL scouts are still on the fence (“I’m grading him next week, so I can’t give an answer,” said one; “I heard his arm strength is average,” said another), Burrow has passed every test so far. But that’s not what interests us most. The bigger question is, why are these passers moving ahead of others with more significant bodies of work?
Here’s the questions we asked several of our friends in scouting: For the third straight year, there could be a No. 1 overall (Burrow?) who entered the season on almost no one’s first round board. Why is this? Is it college offenses that more closely mirror NFL offenses, so hot players have less of a learning curve? Is it a “now” culture that favors a hot season over a body of work? Is it the rise of analytics, which make forecasting the most NFL-ready players much harder? Or is it something else?
- “A lot of people favor a hot season. Me, I like the body of work. I want a guy who has been good for more than 12 games. I’m not a fan of analytics for anything but helping with strategy.”
- “Simple answer is that scouting is not an exact science. Every player has some sort of momentum heading into the draft, good or bad, but seldom is there a true “stock up, stock down” scenario. The process includes career trajectory, but the whole picture is much more than that.”
- “I think the inexperienced GMs and the young scouts they hire around the league get excited about a one-year wonder. I also think today’s scouts look at social media and are afraid to dismiss what internet scouts say, when in reality they should trust their eyes when they evaluate and look at the track record of the player.