It served as a great reminder of how much the draft landscape changes across the course of a season; how the stocks of players now feel evident when just a month or two ago they would have been offensively incorrect.
As such, I wanted to reflect back, all the way back to that preseason stock of the 2020 NFL Draft class. Who has done the best work for their stock in the past seven months?
This is my All-Risers team for the upcoming draft.
QB: Joe Burrow, LSU
Did you have any doubt? Burrow was going to be a fringe Senior Bowler and Day 3 pick off of his 2018 film who projected as a long-term backup with good intangibles and mobility. He then went Super Saiyan in 2019, showing a jump of in-game management, ball placement and improved arm strength that is rarely seen at the college level. Sure, there's a warranted question about his 2019 season as a flash in the pan but the flash was so bright, it'll have him picked about as high as a riser can be picked.
RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
With Burrow comes his compatriot, running mate and — according to Burrow — the best player that he's ever played with. It’s steep praise for the former 3-star recruit who entered college as an afterthought on the LSU’s roster and even during the first half of the season, as LSU emerged into an offensive juggernaut. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was still under-appreciated in the shadow of the rampant passing attack. He is as smart of a runner as I can recall, and the combination of his toughness between the tackles and his shiftiness in space illustrates that of a future three-down bell cow.
WR: Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
There were too many names to choose from here. Denzel Mims, K.J. Hamler and Justin Jefferson all stand out, so I tried to really hone in on an unknown that became something. Brandon Aiyuk fit the bill more so than the others, all of who had more national prominence in recruiting circles and in their respective offenses in 2018. Aiyuk was a raw third- or fourth-fiddle to N'Keal Harry for Arizona State in 2018, but he blossomed in 2019 and now threatens late Round 1 draft capital given his physical tools and developmental upside.
TE: Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
The tight end class has had more fallers than risers relative to preseason expectation and hype. There wasn't much run for Cole Kmet, but he returned from injury in Notre Dame’s matchup against Georgia to the tune of nine catches, 108 yards and a touchdown. Kmet immediately took center stage on the draft landscape. The hype was so low on Kmet coming into the year that he committed to returning to Notre Dame for his senior season before the advisory board seemingly caught up to his rise and gave him a Round 2 grade that led to his early declaration. He’ll likely be the first tight end off the board.
OL: Mekhi Becton, Lousiville
As is always the case with the tackle class, there are a few players that could fill this role. Jedrick Wills is the other heavyweight in the ring, and while he had some preseason run as an Alabama tackle valued on name alone, Mekhi Becton had much the same because everyone knew his frame. I landed on Becton because his rise felt more explosive. Across the course of one month, he went from basically unknown to a potential top-five pick whereas Wills steadily rose to the top tier of the class.
IDL: Ross Blacklock, TCU
I could have been talked me into several of the tier-two or -three defensive tackles in this group like Missouri's Jordan Elliott or Texas A&M's Justin Madubuike. But Ross Blacklock surprised the most people with his rise including NFL executives; an AFC personnel executive told The Draft Network Blacklock was a flashy player with upside but without consistency during TCU’s Week 2 game against Purdue. Blacklock put together the consistent final season than now has him in the conversation for a top-50 draft pick.
EDGE: Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Zack Baun had his share of fans entering the preseason. When I sat down to watch Baun's film in December in preparation for the Senior Bowl, I was truly shocked by how versatile a pass rusher he was relative to the overall modest hype he was receiving. Across the course of Senior Bowl practices, Baun went from a fun late-round selection to a top-50 lock and appropriately so.
LB: Patrick Queen, LSU
Patrick Queen didn't even come into the season as a starter and he left the season as a firm Round 1 grade on my scale, a presumptive LB2 off the board and one of the best coverage linebackers to declare in recent memory. Queen's rise wasn't just a draft one. It was an actual rise in terms of playing time, performance in the system and the success of his unit and team. Nobody got as better as rapidly as Queen did this year except for Burrow.
CB: Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
TCU’s Jeff Gladney had ample praise at the start of the season and accordingly not my riser. Noah Igbinoghene is another long, strong and fast cornerback from Auburn. Igbinoghene's conversion from wide receiver to corner led to his minimal hype coming into the season. But across a full year of starting, Igbinoghene was pitted against top receivers and steadily improved. The difference between his 2018 Alabama film and 2019 Alabama film is night and day.
S: Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Jeremy Chinn was a no-brainer. However, he wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for the massive preseason hype for fellow small-school safety Kyle Dugger, who drew all of the scouting eyes and let Chinn dominate for Southern Illinois in peace. Chinn entered the season unknown to many while Dugger was being talked about as a potential Day 2 rise. Dugger got there, but so did Chinn from a much lower initial stock. When push comes to shove, I won't be shocked if Chinn is drafted above Dugger in the top 50.