Ascending Prospects In 2020 NFL Draft Class

Photo: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The term “ascending prospect” is commonly used in the NFL draft community, but not many know the meaning behind it. 

Ascending prospects are players who have a skyrocketing development arc with superb physical traits and a lot of untapped potential. Most of these athletes lack experience or are still learning the intricacies of their position.

The perfect example was former Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch from the 2018 draft. He played 8-man football in high school and was only a one-year starter at linebacker for the Broncos before declaring. Despite that lack of experience, he had great production and showed a level of talent that made me excited about what he could become if he fully figured it out. Now, Vander Esch is an All-Pro and one of the best young LBs in the league.

Evaluators are always on the hunt for these ascending prospects. Here are some in the upcoming 2020 draft.

Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn

Noah Igbinoghene transitioned from a track career and wide receiver to cornerback in the spring of 2018. Since then, he has been one of the most fascinating studies in this year’s class. He started his collegiate career as a top triple and long jumper in the SEC and a speedy wide receiver who primarily returned kicks. At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, Auburn coaches believed Igbinoghene’s best spot would be at cornerback, and he fully embraced the change. Igbinoghene instantly became the team’s best boundary defender in his sophomore season showing elite speed and quickness in man coverage.

As a junior, Igbinoghene went from a superior athlete playing football to one of the top cornerbacks in the country. His development from Year 1 to Year 2 jumped dramatically as his timing and technique at the line of scrimmage and in off coverage was much more in-sync. He truly got better with each snap and that showed in two of the team’s biggest games in the season — LSU and Alabama. 

There is so much untapped potential with Igbinoghene. He only has one interception through two years at the position. While people may box score scout and knock his ball skills for a lack of production, it wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes a true ball hawk at the next level. Once he gets more confidence in his technique and footwork, he will start to be more aggressive. Igbinoghene already has the physical traits you look for in a starting corner — it’s just a matter of time before he puts it all together. To me, he’s a better version of Adoree’ Jackson.

K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU

As a redshirt sophomore K’Lavon Chaisson declared for the 2020 draft after an incredible season as one of the SEC’s most feared pass rushers. He finished the year with 6 1/2 sacks, but his level of disruption throughout the season truly cannot be quantified. He has the speed to blow by offensive tackles in their pass sets but also displays a wide array of counter moves to stay unpredictable in his rush plan. On the surface, Chaisson has the look of a potential volume sack artist at the next level.

Here’s the crazy thing: This season was Chaisson’s first true opportunity as a full-time pass rusher. He was placed in a situational off-ball role as a freshman before missing the entire 2018 season due to a knee injury. So at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Chaisson is still incredibly young in his position yet he showed a level of nuance and athleticism that is uncanny for collegiate edge defenders. When you combine his untapped potential with his length and flexibility off the edge, I’m all in on Chaisson developing into a star pass rusher at the next level.

Matt Peart, OT, Connecticut

One of the top senior offensive tackles in this year’s draft, Matt Peart, did not play the position until his senior year of high school. Instead, his focus was on basketball. You can see his hoop background on the gridiron with his smooth, easy footwork in pass sets. But when Peart landed in Connecticut, he bounced around from tackle to guard before his final season, never truly landing at one position to master. He was lights out as a senior, but he is still so young in football years and as an offensive tackle.

At 6-foot-7, 303 pounds, it’s impressive what he’s accomplished with such little experience. He looked like the best offensive tackle throughout the week of practice in Mobile, Alabama, at the 2020 Senior Bowl. His length and foot quickness allow him to stay in front, control and mirror most pass rushers at the point of attack. Peart does need to get stronger and work on his timing in pass sets, but if there is one offensive tackle who will sneak into the first round because of what he could become, it’s him.

Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton

A standout quarterback and basketball player, Adam Trautman did not start playing tight end until 2016. Since then, he’s done nothing but improve each season — not only in terms of receiving production but also with his technique as a blocker. He’s increased his amount of yards and touchdowns per season each year, culminating in a senior campaign with 916 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. This season also included back-to-back games where Trautman had seven touchdowns. For a player who is continuously getting better at such a rapid rate after recently switching positions, it is scary to think we haven’t seen the best of him yet.

Trautman truly put his name on the map at the Senior Bowl with his superb route running and finish rate as a jump ball artist in contested looks. He might be the best and most complete tight end prospect in this year’s class, yet he has only just begun to understand the position and the impact he can have for an offense. Look out.