The exercise of player comparisons is often dangerous and misleading because of how many times they are forced. But when a comparison is a natural fit, it can be such a valuable tool for a front office. I love being able to visualize a prospect's projection to the next level through the lens of a similar player at the same position, when it's done right. Therefore, I have already come up with some player comparisons I love for several 2020 NFL draft-eligible prospects, and here are the ones that stick out the most to me.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson - Chris Johnson
The last time I've seen a player with the same kind of speed, burst, and acceleration out of the blocks as Clemson running back Travis Etienne? Chris Johnson. Yes, the guy who previously held the NFL Combine record in the 40-yard dash and could turn any given play into a house call. Similarly sized to Johnson, Etienne also shares some of the patience concerns Johnson had in Tennessee, but I have no doubt that he can have the same type of production CJ2K had at the next level. As Gus Johnson once said on a Chris Johnson touchdown -- "He's got get away from the cops speed." Etienne is the next home-run hitter to enter the league.
Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford - AJ Bouye
At 6'0, 192, AJ Bouye is a long, lean press man cornerback who has an excellent blend of foot quickness to mirror and match at the LOS, physicality to re-route receivers, and the ball skills to compete at every catch point. It's what has made him on the league's best cornerbacks for several years. Paulson Adebo, at 6'1, 192, also possesses this rare combination of traits as an outside cornerback. He has some holes in his technique, whereas Bouye is one of the league's best technicians, but I've seen enough progress from Adebo, a former wide receiver, to believe he will continue gain more and more confidence with his technique on the outside. Don't think of this comparison as to what Adebo is now, but as to what he could be at his peak in the NFL.
Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt - Jared Cook
Just like Jared Cook, Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney is a big, field-stretching tight end who can also provide value as an in-line blocker. It took a little while for Cook to realize his potential in the NFL, but now he is one of the league's best at the position, when healthy. In my opinion, I think Pinkney has the best combination of NFL readiness and upside at the tight end position in this 2020 class, and I think he will offer a Cook-like skill set as a playmaker to a team next season.
Tipa Galeai, EDGE, Utah State - TJ Watt
One of the 2020 pass rushers I've been hyping up for months is Utah State senior Tipa Galeai. In addition to having incredible explosiveness and burst off of the edge, Galeai plays with natural flexibility and a relentless motor to chase down plays from the backside. The big issue? His frame. He's only about 235 pounds, and some 4-3 teams may not be comfortable drafting him as a full-time defensive end. This sounds familiar because when I ranked Wisconsin's TJ Watt in the top 15 on my overall draft board, other analysts cited his similar lack of strength to defend the run as to why he couldn't be a three-down player in the NFL. Just like Watt coming out of Wisconsin, Galeai is a juiced-up pass rusher who needs some technical refinement and bulk to his frame, but the tools are all there for him to be a nightmare for offensive tackles at the next level.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State - Michael Gallup
Senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is a player who needs a lot more attention in the draft community. NFL scouts are way ahead of the rest of the media on Aiyuk, as his ability to separate as both a route runner against man coverage and with the ball in his hands after the catch will translate nicely to the next level. The same size as Aiyuk, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup had similar tape and traits coming out of Colorado State. Both players win in similar ways in terms of tracking the deep ball, consistently separating against man coverage, and providing a physical edge as a playmaker. With N'Keal Harry out of the picture, Aiyuk's skill set is really starting to shine as the top receiver for the Sun Devils. It's time to take notice.
Justin Strnad, LB, Wake Forest - MIchael Boley
Michael Boley may not be a household name among NFL fans, but he had a long, steady, and productive career as a three-down linebacker for multiple teams. Quite frankly, I think Boley was a little ahead of his time. His impact in space and man coverage value against tight ends during his prime was five years too early. This brings me to Justin Strnad, who may not have the frame of a traditional linebacker, but like Boley, he has the length and cover skills to make an impact in this pass-first league. He's already made his mark early on this 2019 season for the Demon Deacons as an instinctive playmaker, and I expect him to continue to rise up draft boards.