Finally, the gap has closed between the 2019 National Championship and the beginning of a new season, and it’s time once again for college athletes to take the field amidst tens of thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of fans in the stands. With the 2019-2020 college football season underway, analysts are already looking into the future, assessing Week 1 performances and projecting season potential. Among the top performers in the early season stand a handful of players who may be in their last season before heading to the NFL. While some are almost certain to enter the draft in 2020, the fates of many hang in the balance, heavily dependent on their performances this season. So, who’s got the most to win or lose this season in terms of an NFL future? We’ll give you a few.
Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
The former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback enters his first season at Oklahoma as a transfer, and, boy, did he light it up against Houston! Hurts accounted for a total of six touchdowns: three in the air and three on the ground. He was among the week’s leading rushers, and his overall performance dazzled the crowd as well as college football analysts.
Given that he’s a senior, I can’t imagine Hurts not entering the draft. The question is how high his stock will be at the end of the season. Clearly, if Hurts can consistently perform the way he did against Houston, NFL scouts will be chomping at the bit to get him on their squad. And it’s not that consistency has been a problem for Hurts in his career. At Alabama, he performed on an elite level for most of his time there, including a superstar performance—and a redeeming one—in the 2018 National Championship game.
Hurts isn’t exactly “off the radar,” but his talent has perhaps been undervalued in his previous seasons. This season will give him a fresh start in a new system (that fits his style quite well, by the way) and will give him a chance to show he’s no one-trick pony.
Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
Entering his junior season as the Crimson Tide quarterback, Tagovailoa has experienced both exhilarating comeback victories in the biggest of moments and disappointing injury at the worst possible times. Despite the rollercoaster at times, though, he’s proven himself as a standout, a solid leader, and a mature player who’s eager to learn and improve.
This season will be an indication of how well Tagovailoa has honed his elite skills and how well he can bounce back from the disappointment of a jarring loss in the 2019 National Championship game against Clemson.
With Tua’s shiftiness, cannon-like arm, and improving accuracy, he has the potential to be among the top QBs drafted, if he enters the draft. NFL scouts may still have concerns about his ability to quickly read and react to quick defenses, but this season will give Tua plenty of opportunity to show he’s grown—and is still growing—to become a more complete quarterback suited for the hyper-speed defenses of the NFL.
Travis Etienne (Clemson)
Etienne, yet another junior, has filled some big shoes at Clemson, stepping up to the top receiver spot this season. While Etienne’s post-season intentions aren’t clear, a standout season this year could tip the balance, pushing Etienne to take his shot at the draft. If he does have a solid season and enters, he could likely go in the first three rounds, if not in the first round, of the draft.
Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
Jeudy is another player in his junior year, though the likelihood of his entering the NFL draft is perhaps higher than some of the others on the list. It’s not uncommon for top receivers to head to the NFL after their junior year, and Jeudy has the skills and body type to successfully take the leap if he so chooses. His team-leading receiving performances aren’t being overlooked, either.
On one hand, scouts may have seen all they needed to see from the 6-foot-1, 292-pound receiver. Still, consistency is key, and scouts will be examining every aspect of Jeudy’s game as they decide how highly he might draft and how he might fit into specific team offensive systems. Nonetheless, Jeudy’s future may not be as uncertain as some, but he still needs to prove that his youth doesn’t undermine his football IQ.
Adjusting the Player Market
For college athletes, particularly football players, a future in the NFL is a dream—one that only a select few enjoy. And, for most, the decision to enter the NFL draft isn’t nearly as difficult as when to enter the draft. Obviously, seniors have the easiest decisions, as it’s their primary option for continuing to play the game. For the juniors and sophomores, though, entering the draft is a calculated risk, one that could pull their football playing days to a screeching halt. Though their draft potential may still be colored with some uncertainty, fantasy-league fanatics and sports bettors on platforms like FoxBet will have their eyes fixed on the progress of these players in the balance.
Hurts, Tagovailoa, Etienne, and Jeudy aren’t long-shot picks to enter the draft. However, with their draft potential still in flux, this season will be audition that determines who takes center stage in the 2020 NFL draft and who is delegated to the late rounds—or worse. Perhaps these guys have more to lose than to gain this year, but every electric performance could add millions to a potential contract. With National Championship hopes and a desire to maximize their value, you can bet they’ll all be looking to shine brighter than the sun.