I don't want to be negative. I don't want to be negative, I really don't — and I hope I'm not. But after a season full of excitement for NFL-eligible players kicking butt and taking names, eventually, we have to sit down with clear eyes and sober hearts and work through their film.
Inevitably, a few of these players who seemed so dominant Saturdays don't look nearly as enticing on a weekday All-22 review.
Eventually, we are going to carefully evaluate a lot of these players, realizing their limitations but still acknowledging their NFL futures. There are only 32 first-round picks, and really, only 20 or so first-round grades — someone has got to miss the cut.
With film work chugging along, I wanted to identify three players I am lower on than the consensus and highlight alternative players who deserve some more recognition in the vacuum.
Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue
The 2020 draft has a bad tight end class, and there is no doubt about that. I am almost certain I will end up without a single first-round grade in this position after having two in last year's class with the Iowa Studs: T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. With Pat Freiermuth indicating he will not enter the draft and instead return to Penn State, I have seen all of the top names to know there isn't a first-round pick on my board.
And that includes Brycen Hopkins.
Hopkins is a good ball-player and has as good of a shot as anyone to be the first tight end selected. While his athleticism is really exciting, his inability to block with consistency both in the box and out wide limits how many reps he can take throughout the game — and as a pass-catcher, while the flashes are thrilling, his catch technique leaves more to be desired. He has inconsistent hands and is regularly double-catching or re-gripping the football as he corrals it, often using his body to help secure the catch.
This is a bad technique. Although plenty of the players in the NFL survive with it, it casts a dark cloud over his potential as a three-level threat at TE. Over the middle and in contested situations, there is not enough consistency for me to tell you Hopkins can be any team’s TE1 as a pass-catcher.
So now he is a situational player who doesn't dominate in his position — that's a tough sell in the first round. Hopkins is going to help an NFL offense, but I’m not sure he will do so at a first-round value.
Would rather: Go after Washington’s Hunter Bryant
Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
I was one of the first to hype Devin Duvernay, and now I have got to ease back on the gas. That's okay. It’s the process of discovery and then investigation, cataloging and really getting in there and doing the dirty work.
There are a ton of likable things on Duvernay's film. He has got blazing top speed, an insane density for such a fast player and tough reliable hands away from his frame. But when we talk about usage, it is tough to find a perfect role for Duvernay.
He doesn't have prime examples of top-end ball tracking on his film as a deep threat. Duvernay’s catch radius is limited and, given his lack of height, he is not a candidate for winning contested situations. When he's downfield, he wins in space. That is harder to find at the NFL level.
As an intermediate separator, Duvernay does not have much experience running complex routes. In the breaking routes he does run, he often takes too long to get into and doesn't have the requisite snappiness. Duvernay is an upright player with some hip tightness. He does not sink into his breaks and explode out of angles, leaving more to be desired as a separator.
Duvernay does not have much elusiveness as an underneath option either. He can slip tackles and absorb glancing blows with good vision and anticipation but it's hard for him to get to the areas of the field where his deep speed can do the most damage.
Duvernay can make an NFL roster as a wide receiver and can be successful on special teams. I'm just not sure how to use him on offense and that scares me.
Would rather: Use Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk as my speedster
Shane Lemieux, iOL, Oregon
I have been lower on Shane Lemieux than most, and I haven't fallen off much after a final evaluation in preparation for the Senior Bowl. Lemieux is powerful and that is going to matter in the NFL.
IF and when he sees starting reps, Lemieux has the requisite strength in his trunk and quickness in his feet to win on down blocks, create displacement on double-teams and uproot defenders as a puller. It’s good, and teams that run a lot of gap schemes will like him for it. But Lemieux's poor flexibility is prohibitive to his strength as a pass-blocker at this stage. He is a waist-bender who constantly puts himself in a recovery position because he falls over his toes and tries to put too much of his mass on his opponent.
Lemieux’s anchor is firm, and he can re-anchor at times, but his ankles are stiff and his hips are often locked. Accordingly, he just doesn't have a good profile to react to twists and stunts or recover against quick penetration and blitzes.
He is a situational fit — the Baltimore Ravens would love him if they didn't already have interior offensive linemen giving them quality play on a discount. But he cannot be treated as a starting guard for all systems; and if you leave him on an island early, you better be ready for some quick pressure up the A-gap.
Would rather: Look at teammate Jake Hanson at center