NFL Mock Draft 2020: Where UCLA football’s departing players might end up
(Photo illustration by Liz Ketcham, Axel Lopez, Daniel Leibowitz, Tanmay Shankar and Callista Wu/Daily Bruin staff)
By Sam Connon
April 23, 2020 2:07 p.m.
UCLA football has nearly a dozen departing players who are hoping to take the next step in the NFL Draft over the weekend, but only a handful are likely to hear their names called.
Running back Joshua Kelley, cornerback Darnay Holmes and tight end Devin Asiasi have regularly made appearances in mock drafts this spring. By looking at general projections, NFL Scouting Combine results and roster fits, Sports editor Sam Connon made his picks for where each of them could wind up.
Darnay Holmes, cornerback
R.J. White, CBS Sports: No. 80 overall, Las Vegas Raiders
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: No. 84 overall, Los Angeles Rams
Kevin Hanson, Sports Illustrated: No. 95 overall, Denver Broncos
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: No. 97 overall, Cleveland Browns
Luke Easterling, The Draft Wire: No. 112 overall, Los Angeles Chargers
Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 143 overall, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: No. 173 overall, Miami Dolphins
Holmes came to Westwood as a top-three defensive back in the country, and while he may not have lived up to that hype, he still managed to remain productive.
Holmes’ physical tools didn’t measure up to the nation’s top receivers, as the former five-star recruit was regularly burned outside the numbers early in his junior season. He has shown good ball instincts in his three years with the Bruins, however, as he racked up eight interceptions and 28 pass deflections in his 35 games with the program.
Coach Chip Kelly said NFL teams have told him they plan on using Holmes as a nickelback rather than the lockdown 1-on-1 corner UCLA asked him to be. That role should be a better fit for Holmes moving forward, as his 5-foot-10, 195-pound frame sets him up well to be a prototypical slot corner at the next level.
His size may have hindered his coverage skills in college, but his speed running across the field, in a new role, could do wonders for his NFL development. Holmes’ 4.48-second 40-yard dash ranked 12th among the 29 corners who ran it at the NFL Scouting Combine, but his chasedown forced fumble against Arizona in 2018 showed off his elite in-game speed.
Teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys that desperately need a No. 1 corner are likely to take one early and might not be great fits for a projected nickelback like Holmes.
The Las Vegas Raiders’ pass defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in passing yards and completion percentage allowed last season, meaning they could be interested in adding a defensive back. With coach Jon Gruden at the helm and the franchise moving to a new market this fall, they could make a flashy offensive pick early in the draft and wait to address their needs in the secondary.
The Raiders had a deal in place to sign cornerback Eli Apple this offseason, but it fell apart and they have since been unable to find a replacement. With Apple off the table, Las Vegas could turn Holmes’ way late Friday or early Saturday.
Connon’s pick: No. 91 overall, Las Vegas Raiders
Joshua Kelley, running back
R.J. White, CBS Sports: No. 119 overall, Atlanta Falcons
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: No. 126 overall, Los Angeles Rams
Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 128 overall, Buffalo Bills
Kevin Hanson, Sports Illustrated: No. 152 overall, Carolina Panthers
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: No. 162 overall, Washington Redskins
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: No. 166 overall, Detroit Lions
Luke Easterling, The Draft Wire: No. 192 overall, Green Bay Packers
The 2020 draft is chock full of running backs, and that is not good news for Kelley.
There may not be a future superstar back in the class, but Kelley is one of nearly a dozen halfbacks with college production and solid intangibles to his name.
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Florida State’s Cam Akers boast higher ceilings and better stats than Kelley, while also carrying more name recognition.
That leaves the former walk-on to battle it out with Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin, Boston College’s AJ Dillon, Utah’s Zack Moss and others for a spot in the middle of the draft. Kelley has proven he has the IQ and hands to be a good receiving back, but his lack of production as a pass-catcher will likely be held against him. Benjamin and Moss have both proven to be more diverse prospects – with each of them racking up 300-plus receiving yards last season – while Kelley picked up just 71 yards on 11 catches in 2019.
Kelley was an every-down back in college, but he likely won’t be able to keep that up on Sundays. His most attractive traits are his ability to read holes and carry defenders for extra yards, and he projects as a good goal-line and early-down back as part of a fluid running back committee.
The Detroit Lions are a team that could use a player of Kelley’s talents, as they already have Kerryon Johnson, who can excel as a receiver and third-down back but lacks the ability to finish off drives.
The Auburn product has only scored three rushing touchdowns in each of his first two NFL seasons, and Detroit could be in the market for someone like Kelley who can finish off drives more consistently.
Johnson is good enough to prevent the Lions from drafting another running back early on, but given his recent injury history, Detroit is likely to give him some help in the backfield with a day-three selection.
Connon’s pick: No. 149 overall, Detroit Lions
Devin Asiasi, tight end
R.J. White, CBS Sports: No. 107 overall, Cincinnati Bengals
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: No. 111 overall, Houston Texans
Dane Brugler, The Athletic: No. 123 overall, Dallas Cowboys
Kevin Hanson, Sports Illustrated: No. 131 overall, Arizona Cardinals
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: No. 143 overall, Baltimore Ravens
Luke Easterling, The Draft Wire: No. 182 overall, Detroit Lions
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: No. 189 overall, Jacksonville Jaguars
The number of tight ends drafted has gone up or stayed even every year since 2016, and Asiasi is a near-lock to join the 2020 class this weekend.
Asiasi has pro-level size, measuring in at 6-feet, 3-inches and weighing 257 pounds. He could benefit by losing a bit of weight, but Asiasi will have an NFL body no matter what.
Despite his appearance as a blocking tight end, Asiasi ran a 4.73-second 40-yard dash at the combine – good for seventh among tight ends – and his 641 receiving yards in 2019 ranked ninth at his position. His leaping ability and agility leave much to be desired, but he is still a big body with surefire hands.
His ceiling doesn’t approach his contemporaries in this year’s draft, such as LSU’s Thaddeus Moss or Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet. However, a creative offensive coordinator and dedicated training staff could mold Asiasi into a weapon.
The New England Patriots fit that description, having traded tight end Rob Gronkowski to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday.
Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have experimented with two tight end sets in the past, but with Gronkowski gone and Benjamin Watson retired, they’ll need new playmakers to plug into their system.
The Patriots have more blatant holes on both sides of the ball that they will likely address early, setting them up to pick a tight end later on in the draft.
Connon’s pick: No. 172 overall, New England Patriots
The best of the rest
Despite the fact that the Bruins will have double-digit candidates eligible for this weekend’s draft, it seems only those three will end up getting picked.
Linebacker Krys Barnes slipped into the fifth round of WalterFootball.com’s seven-round mock draft, but that was his only appearance on any major mocks. Kicker JJ Molson earned an invite to the combine in February, but only two kickers were drafted in 2019, and Molson is currently the fourth-ranked prospect at his position, according to CBS Sports.
Center Boss Tagaloa was on the preseason watchlist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center, and he helped pave the way for Kelley’s second straight 1,000-yard season by anchoring the middle of an offensive line unit that was constantly in flux. Tagaloa probably suffered the biggest blow by missing out on UCLA’s canceled pro day, as his two seasons at center don’t exactly give teams the biggest sample size to scout him adequately.
All three will likely sign contracts with NFL teams as undrafted free agents, and raw veteran linebackers like Jason Harris, Keisean Lucier-South, Josh Woods and Lokeni Toailoa could make brief appearances in camp as well.