6-Pack Thursday: Early 2020 Breakout Prospects

Photo: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite things about having new college football games to watch is all the talent that emerges. Players develop and situations improve as the crop of prospects for the rising draft class build their film resumes. This week’s Six-Pack highlights several players that have caught my attention in a favorable way so far in the early portions of the season. 

I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.

Let’s crack this thing open. 

Joe Reed, WR, Virginia

The Media’s favorite to win the ACC Coastal, I was worried that quarterback Bryce Perkins would have enough playmakers around him to earn a December date with Clemson (inevitable) in Charlotte. Early on, a committee of running backs have emerged but it’s Reed in the passing game who has truly caught my eye. 

For the last several seasons, the passing game in Virginia was funneled through Olamide Zaccheaus who enjoyed a record-breaking career for the Cavs and is now a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Reed was an intriguing vertical threat who caught 25 passes with seven receiving touchdowns while averaging 18.6 yards per reception in 2018, but his bread and butter was his contributions in the return game. 

Early in 2019, Reed has proven to be an all-around weapon. Still a dynamic return guy, Reed logged his fourth career kick return for a touchdown last week and is now averaging 28.2 yards per return for his career. And while we’ve known about his ability to win vertically as a receiver, Reed has proven to be a more well-rounded pass catcher in 2019 as he currently leads the team with 11 receptions through two games. There’s something very dynamic and potent about Reed and he’s emerging as multifaceted playmaker. 

Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

Every year it seems a quarterback unexpectedly emerges and enters the discussion among the best in the class. 2017 brought us Mitchell Trubisky, Baker Mayfield in 2018 and Kyler Murray last year -- could Burrow be the 2020 edition? 

So far so good for Burrow, who is executing the new-look LSU offense to near perfection. After a strong showing against Georgia Southern, Burrow really turned heads after completing 79.5 percent of his passes for 471 yards and four touchdowns in Arlington against Texas last Saturday Night. He was decisive, accurate and in command as the Tigers claimed a 45-38 statement win against the Longhorns. 

Burrow transferred to LSU from Ohio State and his first season in Baton Rouge revealed sound play in LSU quarterback standards, but he appeared to be more of a game manager than a guy that can elevate the team around him and claim victories because HE is the guy. That narrative is quickly changing and with the entire SEC conference schedule ahead of him, the opportunities to elevate his draft stock are plentiful. 

Jonathan Greenard, EDGE, Florida

I remember being intrigued by Greenard from watching Louisville in 2017 after seeing him in person against both NC State and Wake Forest. But then I forgot him, only to re-discover him playing for the Florida Gators in Week 0 and putting on a dominant performance against Miami. 

After racking up 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks against the Canes, everything came back to me about that talented edge defender, previously of Louisville. Greenard is a disciplined defender that has the power to defend the run and he’s got the juice and pass rushing savvy to affect the quarterback. A graduate-transfer, Greenard is firmly on my radar for the 2020 mix. 

Cam Akers RB, Florida State

I hated Akers’ 2018 tape - it was very discouraging. It was easy to identify his physical traits in terms of size, power and acceleration but Willie Taggart’s scheme and a poor offensive line were truly limiting to Akers after seeing such exciting flashes in 2017. Last year, I just didn’t see a confident back both pressing the line of scrimmage as a runner or in pass pro. Any positives came when there was ample space available for him to work and his physical traits could take over the moment. 

What a difference a year can make. While the Seminoles have a ton of issues and a bowl appearance doesn’t appear likely, Akers looks like a different player. Through two games, Akers has 58 touches for 376 yards and four touchdowns. He’s playing faster while showcasing better comfort attacking gaps and he looks much fresher taking on contact. Welcome back, Cam. 

Anthony McFarland, RB, Maryland

Have you seen what this Maryland offense has done so far in 2019? The Terps hung 79 points on Howard in Week One before scoring 63 against Syracuse in Week Two. Early on, Mike Locksley has reinvigorated this program and is maximizing the talent on the roster. 

A top-recruit, McFarland was an exciting player in 2018 who averaged 7.9 yards per carry and racked up over 1,000 rushing yards. While McFarland is still running the football well, it’s nice to see his involvement in the passing game increase while he’s already eclipsed last seasons touchdown total of four with five in the first two games of this season. 

There are several exciting running backs eligible for the 2020 Draft and McFarland is one of them. He's electric.

Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma

The Sooners lackluster defense in 2018 spoiled the efforts of a sensational offensive group, but if there was anything good about that unit it was linebacker Kenneth Murray who racked up 155 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. While the defense hasn’t exactly been tested yet in 2019, the play of Murray has been inspiring. He looks like a fast-to-flow, urgent linebacker that is flying around the field and providing the Sooners with an imposing presence on the second level of its defense. 

His size and range is exactly what the NFL is gravitating towards in its off-ball linebackers and the foundational traits present in Murray are appealing. He’s making a name for himself early on and I’ve taken notice. 

Written By:

Joe Marino

Director of Administration

Director of Administration & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.

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