2020 NFL Draft: September Risers

Photo: © Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

"How can there be risers after four weeks of the season?" the uninitiated asked. "Isn't everyone a riser?"

Well, my dear friend, when you're part of the TDN Family, you've been doing prep work on 2020 prospects since...well, since Caleb Wilson went off the board with Pick 254 in the 2019 NFL Draft. As such, we had a good feel for who was ranked where coming into the 2019 season of college football, and now we get to enjoy the product of a hard offseason's labors for many of college football's stars, working to rise in the eyes of the NFL.

This is my team of September Risers -- make sure you check back next October for a whole new list.

QB: Joe Burrow, LSU

Has any prospect risen with the swiftness and to the heights as Burrow has in the early weeks of 2019? Burrow's got a staunch slate of SEC defenses staring down the barrel at his ballooning legend, but the agile and powerful passer looks fully integrated into LSU's new passing offense, and has a trio of talented receivers led by fellow riser and honorable mention Justin Jefferson.

Burrow is thick in contention for QB4 behind Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jake Fromm -- and some will even tell you that he's in the mix with Fromm, along with Jordan Love, Jalen Hurts, and Jacob Eason, for QB3 in the class. It's early to crown him just yet, but across the first four weeks of the season, he's looked like the third-best QB in the group.

RB: Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

*clears throat obnoxiously*

I tried to tell the people. I put him in my Top-10 RBs in the preseason rankings. I talked about him on the podcast and I tweeted about him (once, but still!). Chuba Hubbard has taken the nation by the the reins, pacing the pack with 160 rushing yards/game on, again, an FBS-leading 103 carries. With explosiveness, power, and improved speed, Hubbard is a homerun threat on a straight line with the requisite tackle- and angle-breaking moves to get into space. It's a thick running back class, and he's still a tier behind the top dogs -- but that doesn't mean his season-opening performance hasn't been strong.

WR: Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State

If you're asking yourself how Oregon State got a 4-star WR up into Corvallis, well...you're not alone. Hodgins is a tremendous natural talent at the position, with shocking hip drop and ankle flexibility for a receiver of his length, and with great competitiveness in the air despite a thinner frame that could use muscle. While Hodgins isn't yet a developed route-runner and likely needs more time growing before he can think about making a big NFL impact, the projection forward is worthy of a Day 2 selection. Not bad for a Beaver, I tell ya.

TE: Jacob Breeland, Oregon

Nobody has benefitted more by Oregon's inability to surround Justin Herbert with receiving talent than his tight end Jacob Breeland, who leads all tight ends in the country with five receiving touchdowns. Breeland is a speed seam threat with a WR-like frame and hands, but he has shown improved competitiveness and play strength both at the catch point and on stalk/in-line blocks this season -- that's big for his evaluation as more than just a Bucky Hodges with better hands. A senior in a class rife with underclassmen, Breeland has a chance to dominate the all-star circuit.

OL: Trey Adams, Washington

"Trey Adams is a riser? But I already know Trey Adams!"

Sure, but Adams -- who is now a sixth-year senior given his many fallings from and returns to health -- looks mighty spry out there for the Huskies. Adams is a huge dude, and even before some of his recent injuries, would never have been described as graceful. That said, he continues to return well enough from injury to produce dominant, suffocating tape: he uses his length masterfully and is never out of position or manipulated by angles and rush moves. His stock will always rest on the uncertain proposition of his long-term health, but in terms of on-field product, he's again one of the top tackles in this class.

iDL: Marvin Wilson, Florida State

Marvin Wilson is probably our biggest riser on the defensive side of the ball, no? I mean, this guy has easily catapulted himself besides Derrick Brown and Raekwon Davis for the top tier of interior rushers in this class, and he's done it without nearly as much help around him. Dude's got Bruce Lee hands and sumo wrestler power in his lower half, with a tremendous since of penetration against flow to go with his disruptive traits. Wilson is a rare breed in that he has the penetration ability to win as a 3-tech, but has the size to eat double-teams as the 1-tech, which makes him a highly-desirable move piece for a defensive line in need of a talent infusion.

EDGE: Kenny Willekes, Michigan State

I'm still suspicious of Kenny Willekes, whose best plays seem to always come as the result of motor and hustle rather than an athletic trait. That said, technically, Willekes has garnered some significant improvements, if the early returns from 2019 are to be believed: he's dynamic with his hands, capable of going both inside and out, and has enough of a first step to threaten tackles and read off of their shoulders and hips. Willekes may never be a dynamic edge rusher in the NFL, but it's tough to imagine his ancillary traits not leading to a long and valuable career.

LB: David Woodward, Utah State

Woodward exploded into relevancy against Wake Forest in the opening week of the season and has since waned in the public eye, though a bye week and a beatdown of the Stony Brook Seawolves likely has something to do with that. I was impressed with Woodward, a Top-10 preseason linebacker for me, in that I thought he had the range and coverage ability to campaign on a three-down linebacker platform, though improvements in block recognition and deconstruction were needed. And, well, here they are. Woodward is still more slippery than he is physical, but he has shown a greater since of timing and risk/reward management between the tackles, leading to more high-impact plays, as well as improved consistency in run defense. I think the national spotlight will be kind to him.

CB: Shaun Wade, Ohio State

Oh, wow, Ohio State has a good young corner.

Yes, but really! We already knew about Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette as Draft-worthy players; it seemed fair that we not pay much attention to Shaun Wade coming into the year. Of course, Wade didn't think that was fair, and has accordingly thrust himself into our scope with his dynamic play in the first few weeks of Ohio State's blistering season. The redshirt sophomore is a tone-setting hitter with great hip mobility and click-and-close explosiveness to address plays as they develop around him. As the Buckeyes start playing some better receivers (which, of course, will happen in the Big 10?), he'll start getting more national buzz.

S: Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State

Two Florida State defenders on the list -- and to think, we should have given more attention to the Seminoles in the preseason! Oh, how the mighty programs have fallen.

Nasirildeen is an exceptional safety, in that he is the size of Saints WR Michael Thomas. It allows him to play physically up in the box against run action, smother smaller receivers in man coverage, and increases his zone influence by virtue of his length and stride. Nasirildeen's constant movement around the FSU defense means his recognition skills aren't exactly where you'd want them to be, but he's capable of playing about nine different position on the field, and has the potential to be a TE eraser at the next level; that's a hugely valuable skill.