Who do I think are the best players in the 2021 NFL Draft? Whether the following players will actually succeed in the NFL depends not only on talent, but also on a number of other factors: Injuries, scheme fit, coaching changes, environment, character and many more. But at this point, this is my personal top-50, which differs from other so-called big boards more at some positions and less at others.
The value of the positions plays a role in this ranking. Example: Because a quarterback is fundamentally more important than a running back, the so-called positional value also matters in this list. Ranking across all position groups is generally difficult. But still, this draft seems to be deeper on wide receivers or the offensive line than it is on tight ends. That’s why only one tight end appears in the top 50 on this list – but that one is right up there.
Hits and misses from the previous year
The draft each April also provides an opportunity to look back at the previous year’s draft class. At that time, I had created a top-35 (http://40sechzig90.de/american-football/nfl-draft-2020-top-35-talente/). Of course, after one year, it is impossible to predict for most players how they will perform in the NFL in the next few years. Most players are still young and usually need some time to get going. Still, there are players who were key players right from their rookie season.
I was wrong on quarterback Justin Herbert. I had him ranked 29th on my Big Board. Now 23 years old, he was selected sixth overall in the draft by the Los Angeles Chargers and got to start right away. Even though team success was limited, Herbert impressed with 31 touchdowns and ten interceptions. He was selected as the offensive rookie of the year, leaving wide receiver Justin Jefferson behind. The latter played one of the best rookie seasons ever seen by a pass receiver. 21 teams could have selected him in the draft before the Minnesota Vikings took him as the beneficiary at number 22. In my count, Jefferson ranked 24th. In 16 games, Jefferson produced 1400 receiving yards, only Stefon Diggs (Buffalo Bills), Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs) and DeAndre Hopkins (Arizona Cardinals) were better in that category. Jefferson was not only a Pro Bowler, but was named to the All-Pro Second Team.
Antoine Winfield Jr. was one of my favorites before the season. I had the 5-foot-9 safety at number 17, ultimately he was drafted at number 45 by the Tampa Bay Buccanneers. He started right away, excelled as a defender against the run and totaled 92 tackles. He even had an interception in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs. I had Jeremy Chinn at number 33, and the athletic hybrid of linebacker and safety fell to number 64 in the draft. In 15 games with the Carolina Panthers, he racked up a whopping 116 tackles and two forced fumbles, while also defending five passes and grabbing an interception.
But now comes a look at the 2021 draft class
1.Trevor Lawrence (Quarterback, Clemson)
A big, agile quarterback who has gained a tremendous amount of experience at the highest college level. Trevor Lawrence can evade pressure in the pocket and is very nimble on his feet, especially considering he’s 6-foot-6. In the open field, he can break tackles. He has great arm strength and throws with a lot of power. His throwing is quick and largely mechanically clean.
Trevor Lawrence can „free throw“ pass receivers with timing passes (as opposed to throwing to free, uncovered receivers). The 21-year-old can also throw accurately with his right hand as he rolls out to the left side. He is able to create outside the structure of the offense. He can manipulate defensive backs with his eyes and lure them to the side of the field where he wants them. His accuracy is basically good, but inconsistent and perhaps his biggest weakness. Sometimes he forces balls into passing windows that aren’t there.
2. Zach Wilson (Quarterback, BYU)
A quarterback who is fun to watch. It looks effortless the way Zach Wilson plays. Not only is his throwing mechanics very clean, but he gets rid of the ball very quickly. Wilson has the fastest release in the draft class. His eyes and feet move in synchronization as he goes through his reads. Smooth footwork keeps him in throwing position all the time. His arm strength is outstanding, although some underthrows showed up on tape on deep vertical routes. He can also connect the ball accurately with touch and is capable of throwing from the run or via sidearm. For this reason, Wilson is often compared to Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs). However, Wilson is nowhere near the superstar’s level yet, and it’s doubtful he ever will be due to Mahomes‘ uniqueness.
At BYU, Zach Wilson had a good offensive line and was only pressured on 21 percent of his snaps. Wilson is also pretty mobile and can contribute yards as a runner. At times, he wants the big-play too much, instead he should play to his open pass receiver. In addition, he occasionally leaves open passing windows unused. Lawrence has a high baseline due to his experience at the high college level, but in two or three years Wilson may be the best quarterback of his year and one of the best in the NFL.
3. Kyle Pitts (Tight End, Florida)
Kyle Pitts not only has the ideal measurements for a tight end, but he’s also athletic and catches balls like a wide receiver. He has the longest arm span of any pass catcher in the NFL in the last 20 years. He is far superior to any other tight end of his draft class in terms of explosiveness and speed. Only 20 years old, he can break away from defenders, break tackles and also dominate with physicality.
Often Pitts has faced matchups against good cornerbacks, such as Jaycee Horn. He varies his timing in routes and uses body feints. Basically, he has good catching technique and great ball tracking, even if he didn’t catch all of the difficult passes thrown too deep by his quarterback Kyle Trask. In blocking, Pitts still has plenty of room to improve.
4. DeVonta Smith (Wide Receiver, Alabama)
The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner (best college player award) has had a remarkable career at Alabama. DeVonta Smith isn’t the biggest, let alone the heaviest. At 6-foot-1, he weighs in at just 170 pounds. Since wide receivers are usually heavier in the NFL, scouts have concerns about his chances of success in the best league in the world. Watching Smith play, however, his thin frame is not a problem at all. He’s a very good contest-tested catch receiver, has impressive leaping ability and looks acrobatic catching a jump ball in the end zone.
In general, DeVonta Smith plays much more physically than his build would suggest. He is comparatively rarely pushed out of route. Not only that, but he’s very agile, fairly quick, and consistently gets separation to the defender. On comeback or curl routes, his tremendously agile hips show, giving him excellent balance and body control. Smith is a willing run blocker and not a bad one at that. In zone coverage, he has good spatial awareness. Against extremely physical cornerbacks, Smith could possibly have problems in the NFL. His former teammate Jaylen Waddle is a bit quicker and more explosive than Smith, but as an overall package Smith is very developed and could be a star despite the physical doubts.
5. Penei Sewell (Offensive Tackle, Oregon)
Penei Sewell is an imposing figure, weighing 331 pounds at 6-foot-4. But the 20-year-old offensive tackle from US Samoa is very agile. His greatest strength is run blocking. Especially in an outside zone scheme, he should be able to shine right away in his first NFL year. He takes good angles when blocking at the second level and is responsive. His power is NFL-level anyway, regularly throwing opponents to the ground by legal means.
However, Penei Sewell is far from a finished player. He still needs to improve in pass protection. Sometimes he stops his feet on the quickslide. Overall, his technique is still inconsistent. Rashawn Slater may currently be further along in his development, but Sewell seems to have more upside.
6. Justin Fields (Quarterback, Ohio State)
Physically and athletically, Justin Fields has all the tools to be a modern NFL quarterback. He’s mobile when his pocket collapses. As a runner, he’s regularly responsible for a lot of his team’s yards, but not on the level of Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) or, of course, Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens). Fields has a strong arm and can make throws with touch. He connects on deep out routes and is able to hit tight passing windows. His pocket presence isn’t bad, though he still concedes too many sacks and sometimes has trouble identifying blitzers.
To become a reliable starter in the NFL, he needs to find his way to better and quicker decisions. If his first read isn’t open, he usually scrambles out of the pocket or forces a bad pass. Fields needs to learn to consistently go through his reads. He also still overthrows his teammates too often.
7. Jaylen Waddle (Wide Receiver, Alabama)
One of the fastest receivers of the year. Jaylen Waddle appears to be further along in his development and more complete than his former Alabama teammate Henry Ruggs III, who has been playing for the Las Vegas Raiders for a year and is also making a splash as a deep threat. Waddle succeeds in changing direction without any noticeable loss of speed. Waddle uses stutter steps and can adjust his speed as a route-runner. He can slow his pace and accelerate in a flash like a sports car. In addition to being explosive and quick, the 22-year-old is agile and light on his feet, catching passes with confidence and sometimes even being physical at the catch point.
Due to an ankle injury, Waddle played in only four games in 2020, but in those he came up big, recording 591 yards and four touchdowns. He is tough to tackle and after the catch he impresses with good vision. In blocking, DeVonta Smith is more committed and better. Waddle’s height of 5-foot-10 is below average by NFL standards, but shouldn’t be a big problem.
8. Jaelan Phillips (Edge-Rusher, Miami)
Question marks accompany Jaelan Phillips at most because of his health. The edge rusher already had three documented concussions during his college career for UCLA. Team doctors advised him to end his career. However, Phillips returned after just over a year and played one more season for Miami before declaring for the draft. Athletically, he possesses a rare blend of initial quickness, aggressiveness, technique, power, size and cleverness.
Despite being 6-foot-5, Phillips is very mobile. As a pass rusher, he impresses with his ability to get tightly past offensive tackles. He can go after quarterbacks with both speed and power. The 21-year-old plays with grit and never gives up a play. His hand usage is polished. Over the course of a game, he sets up opposing offensive tackles by varying his pass-rush moves and building on each other. He can consistently win inside as well as outside in the pass rush. If Phillips realizes he can’t get to the quarterback, he’ll rip his arms up to deflect passes. He could also be used as a 3-technique. He plays the run aggressively and, as a result, forces many tackles for loss. Sometimes, however, he is over-aggressive in run defense.
9. Rashawn Slater (Offensive Tackle, Northwestern)
Just like Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater decided not to play the 2020 college season – though neither was injured. In terms of technical aspects, Slater is already very mature. He knows when and how to place his hands to take the edge rusher out of rhythm. Slater understands how to best put his body in position and has good footwork. At times, though, he stops his feet in pass protection, but not to the extent Sewell does.
Slater impressed against both last year’s No. 2 pick Chase Young and No. 54 pick AJ Epenesa. Even when he loses his balance, he can set an anchor. The 22-year-old rarely gets beat on the outside, and he’s susceptible to inside-counter moves from time to time. He can also impress as an athlete, and Slater quickly reaches the second level in the run game.
10. Ja’Marr Chase (Wide Receiver, LSU)
Waddle and maybe Smith are ahead of him in speed and explosiveness. Ja’Mar Chase doesn’t create much separation, but is tremendously strong physically. He has a compact-muscular build and is a legitimate number 1 option as an outside receiver, even though he „only“ measures 6-foot-0. Chase can also be lined up in the slot. He is adept at using his arms to break free in press coverage and consistently throws opponents off their game.
Chase plays smart, quick and positions himself well as a target player. He has agile hips and always keeps his balance. His hand-eye-coordination and catching skills are excellent. The former teammate of current Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow attacks the ball when a pass flies his way. At a high percentage, Chase wins perceived fifty-fifty balls at the catch point. To that end, he has exceptional leaping ability. In parts, he relies too much on his physicality. As a blocker, he could identify opponents earlier and his use as a run game supporter also needs improvement.
11. Micah Parsons (Linebacker, Penn State)
At his pro day, he ran the 40 yards in 4.39 seconds. While the time was hand-timed and possibly off by a few hundredths, his outstanding speed does show up in games. He regularly breaks through the opposing offensive line as a blitzer. He is then too fast for guards, and against tackles he can show off his physicality. In high school, he was still active as an edge defender, which can still be seen in his quite rudimentary pass-rush moves.
Parsons is a dominant run defender and the spitting image of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Just like Owusu-Koramoah, he is constantly provoking opponents to lose the ball, but overall Parsons is a bit more explosive and quicker. For that, unlike Notre Dame’s linebacker, he lacks experience as a pass defender. His anticipation is still inadequate, for example, he allows himself to be led astray by misdircetions.
12. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Linebacker, Notre Dame)
Slightly smaller than his positional counterpart Miacah Parsons, though no less productive. Owusu-Koramoah is athletic, explosive and mobile. He is not a traditional middle linebacker, rather he can be used in a variety of ways. He can also manhandle a receiver as a pass defender, although he should not consistently cover the fastest or most physical pass receiver. His strengths are primarily in zone coverage. His agility is also revealed in pass defense, plus he has good technique in knocking away passes.
Owusu-Koramoah is an expert at holding „outside contain“ against the run and not letting the opposing ball carrier sprint away down the sideline. He does an excellent job of reading plays by the opposing team and then is quick on the spot to make a tackle. He is hustling and regularly forces opposing fumbles. He tends to tackle with his shoulder, which is why he still misses too many tackles.
13. Caleb Farley (Cornerback, Virginia Tech)
Caleb Farley definitely doesn’t have the longest cornerback experience, and yet he may be the best pass defender in the 2021 draft. He played quarterback in high school, but that fact could benefit him now: He knows how a quarterback moves in the pocket, how he scans the field and makes decisions. In 2020 Farley had four interceptions Virginia Tech jersey, a sign of his great instincts and good ball skills. In the 2019 game against Miami, he intercepted a ball in the end zone. In doing so, he mirrored his opponent’s route so accurately – as if he were the receiver.
Caleb Farley is agile, can turn his hips quickly and is also fast on longer routes. He can accelerate extremely well from a standing position and even after changing direction he moves a little more fluidly than Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II, which are also considered top cornerbacks in this draft class. His athletic assets give him a high floor. He is capable of closing gaps to pass receivers in route, even if he misreads a pass concept for a moment. Sometimes Farley turns his hips a little too early during wide receiver routes, and he doesn’t have the most experience in press-man coverage. The biggest doubts, though, are related to his health. He’s already had two back surgeries, one of them this year.
14. Kwity Paye (Edge-Rusher, Michigan)
Kwity Paye isn’t the biggest at his position, but he’s a muscle guy who can also dominate physically and with strong hand usage. He has a quick get off and can cause quarterback pressures with both his speedrush and bullrush. Paye is already at a high level as a run defender, and has a lot of potential in the pass rush.
Kwity Paye’s technique needs further improvement. His pad level, his body position, could still be consistently deeper. Also, when he winds around the offensive tackle coming over the outside, he is still too upright. He has good instincts, identifying read options and reacting correctly to them. In the pass rush, the 22-year-old is often too quick for guards on stunts. Perhaps because of his less than ideal edge rusher size, some NFL coaches plan to use him as a defensive tackle depending on the matchup.
15. Teven Jenkins (Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma State)
Like Penei Sewell and Rashwan Slater, his arm length is just under the infamous 34 inches mark, while Teven Jenkins comes in at 33.5 inches. At college, however, this small flaw was not noticeable. He possesses excellent foot work and has a good base the vast majority of the time. His hand placement is textbook. Often, Jenkins is the first player at the line of scrimmage coming out of his stance. That indicates excellent reaction time. In pass protection, he doesn’t hesitate until the edge defender can slap his hands away; instead, Jenkins attacks him and goes for the first punch.
In college, Teven Jenkins was very rarely beaten one-on-one in Pass Protection. He completely dominated Texas‘ highly-touted Joseph Ossai. Jenkins‘ attitude in particular is striking. The 23-year-old doesn’t just want to protect his quarterback, he wants to completely dominate the opponent and knock them down by legal means. Jenkins always gives 100 percent and holds his blocks as long as possible. Blocking at second level is where his power shows. His only weakness is his agility, which is only average.
16. Jaycee Horn (Cornerback, South Carolina)
A physical, yet quick and agile cornerback who has defended quite a few current or future NFL receivers – including AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Jerry Jeudy, Van Jefferson, Dyami Brown or Seth Williams. Jaycee Horn has fantastic leaping ability, as he impressively demonstrated at his pro day with 41.5 inches. Rarely was he hit vertically in college, press coverage is his specialty.
Compared to 2019, Jaycee Horn has improved tremendously in terms of hand placement in routes. However, he still causes too many pass interferences because he always makes close contact with his opponent and plays on the edge of what is allowed. The son of Joe Horn, a former NFL receiver, has more problems in zone coverage than in man coverage. Sometimes he is too aggressive as a tackler and miscalculates.
17. Elijah Moore (Wide Receiver, Ole Miss)
At his Pro Day, Elijah Moore put on an impressive performance. He ran the 40 yards in 4.34 seconds and the 3-cone drill took him 6.65 seconds. Moore is only 5-foot-10, but immensely nimble and quick. He has a low center of gravity, a very muscular build and plays more physically than one might expect given his size. Primarily used in the slot at Ole Miss, Moore will have that as his primary role in the NFL. The confident 21-year-old could become one of the NFL’s best slot receivers.
On routes over the middle, crossing routes and slants, Elijah Moore demonstrates sure hands and serviceable catching skills. He is strong at the catch point, hardly ever dropping a ball. Moore is a very good route-runner who gets plenty of separation and is tough to tackle. Occasionally he has won outside as well. He has efficient bodyshifts in his repertoire. The slot receiver keeps his balance even on tough catches over the middle while the cornerback hangs on to him. When it comes to explosiveness and consistently creating yards after catch, receivers like Kadarius Toney are a bit ahead of him. Overall, though, Moore is already pretty complete.
18. Richie Grant (Safety, UCF)
Richie Grant is a bit smaller than a typical safety and already 23 years old (24 at the start of the season). Accordingly, he flies a bit under the radar for some observers. He might not be as developmentally ready as a 21-year-old, but even that view is controversial in NFL circles. In any case, Grant is experienced – and that’s how he plays. Thanks to his excellent instincts, he also forces interceptions as a single-high safety. He has considerable range, even if his athleticism and quickness are merely good and not great.
Grant anticipates plays such as screens and understands route concepts. He can also be used as a safety in a cover-2, sporadically in the box and in man coverage. He is good at producing incompletions in traffic. Grant’s feet are always moving, he never gives up a play. His effort and work ethic will be appreciated by NFL coaches. At tackling, he needs to step up. At times he takes weak angles to bring an opposing ball carrier to the ground.
19. Trevon Moehrig (Safety, TCU)
Trevon Moehrig is bigger and a bit heavier than Richie Grant, similarly quick and also responsive. Mostly he has played as a safety in a cover-2. His transition from backpedal to pass defense is very quick, better than Grant’s. In his final two seasons in college, he recorded six interceptions and defended 20 passes. He has a feel for which receiving spot the quarterback will target. That will serve him well in zone coverage.
In man coverage, Trevon Moehrig was rarely beaten one-on-one, fluidly turning his hips. He knows how to get into position to block passes. Moehrig communicates a lot on the field, which is positive. At times he acts over-aggressively, for example he was beaten by double moves in man coverage from time to time. His biggest weakness is tackling, his patience and angles have to improve a lot. Grant is currently superior to him in this area.
20. Christian Barmore (Defensive Tackle, Alabama)
Who is currently the best defensive tackle in the draft class of 2021 doesn’t seem so clear. Christian Barmore might be the best overall package, though. He’s above average in size, weight, speed, explosiveness and strength. He’s not great in any category, but he’s good in all of them. He showed his quality in the 2020 College Football Playoffs, especially in the game against Ohio State. For his size, he moves light on his feet.
Christian Barmore has very long arms, giving him good range as a tackler. He can bend his shoulder low and squeeze through even tight gaps between guard and center. Barmore also has potential as a pass rusher and has a couple of moves in his repertoire. In 2020, he had eight sacks as a defensive tackle. He’s eager, though in some games he made little impact and didn’t generate enough pressure. Sometimes his pad level is still too high. Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike has a quicker get off and is a little more explosive than Barmore.
21. Azeez Ojulari (Edge-Rusher, Georgia)
Azeez Ojulari won’t turn 21 until mid-June. Jaelan Phillips and Kwity Paye are further along in their development than he is, but Ojulari’s assets and associated potential are appealing to NFL teams. At Georgia, he operated as an edge rusher from a two-, three- and four-point stance. Ojulari can win both inside and outside with his speed. He takes few, but spacey steps and has fantastic closing speed. In the pass rush, he benefits from being excellent at winding his way around offensive tackles coming from the outside.
Azeez Ojulari has good balance and is quick on his feet. Advantageous for him are his long arms, but he is below average in height and weight for an edge rusher. In run defense, he has trouble getting around seal-off blocks. Quickness is the foundation of his game, but for even greater success he should take his strength to another level. His bull rush is not yet punchy enough. Furthermore, he should expand his arsenal of pass-rush moves and learn to finish plays even better.
22. Dyami Brown (Wide Receiver, North Carolina)
A vertical deep threat who ran a lot of go- and post-routes at North Carolina. On those, Dyami Brown doesn’t get himself an excessive amount of separation, but enough of it. He brings good physicality, has good ball tracking and possesses sure hands – especially on high trajectory passes. In college, he recorded nearly 20 yards per catch. Another indicator that his strengths show up in the deep passing game. He has a quick release, but he’s not a speedster of the Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs), Brandin Cooks (Houston Texans) or Will Fuller (Miami Dolphins) variety.
Dyami Brown creates separation through subtle cuts and thanks to his mobile hips. In addition, opponents must always anticipate a deep pass to Brown. As a result, his curl routes were effective in college. When Brown is targeted, he helps his quarterback by running back to him. He is a willing and decent blocker. In college, his route tree was limited. Against press coverage, the 21-year-old struggled at times, even though he rarely faced press coverage at North Carolina. In isolated instances, he dropped catchable passes. Beyond that, he’s not a receiver who produces a particularly large number of yards after catch.
23. Payton Turner (Edge-Rusher, Houston)
Tall, heavy and very long arms. Payton Turner embodies the prototype of an edge rusher. But it’s not just his phyis that proves to be a trump card, but also his amazing fleet-footedness, explosiveness and quick get off. In the pass rush, Turner is convincing as a smooth edge-bender, his flexible hips and ankles becoming apparent. He also pressures offensive tackles with tremendous power. The 22-year-old has acquired a wide range of pass-rush moves.
Thanks to his stature, Payton Turner could possibly be used as a one-gapping defensive tackle, and his long arms give him exceptional reach at tackle. His feet are constantly in motion, and his tireless effort is a positive. Turner rips his arms up when he can’t get to the quarterback and has deflected many passes at Houston as a result. At times, he still plays too upright. Turner played in only five games last season, so he’s not as easy to evaluate.
24. D’Wayne Eskridge (Wide Receiver, Western Michigan)
Another small, fast and agile receiver in this draft. D’Wayne Eskridge measures just 5-feet-9; two decades ago, his size would have been considered a serious handicap in the NFL. Things have changed since, thanks in part to successful Chiefs pass receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman (both are 5-foot-10). While Eskridge hasn’t played at the highest college level, his competition, on the other hand, has been regularly dominated by the already 24-year-old. He helped out at cornerback for Western Michigan for four games, which should certainly benefit him as an NFL receiver.
D’Wayne Eskridge is extremely fast and explosive. At his pro day, he ran the 40 yards in 4.38 seconds (hand-stopped). In high school, he was voted Indiana State’s Mr. Track and Field. He accelerates in a flash and can stop his pace in a split second. Eskridge is agile, makes yards after catch and has body moves in his repertoire. He sets sharp cuts and creates plenty of separation in his routes. He was nearly impossible to defend in man coverage, which was on display at the Senior Bowl. Eskridge can also oppose physically, after all he weighs 190 pounds. At least at Western Michigan, he also acted as a possession outside receiver and showed good body control in the air. Whether that role will be his in the NFL remains to be seen. But Eskridge should be able to help a team in the slot right away in his rookie year.
25. Kadarius Toney (Wide Receiver, Florida)
Similar weight to D’Wayne Eskridge, but Kadarius Toney is 6-foot-0. He was a productive slot receiver with the Florida Gators. His athletic ability is apparent even to laymen. At his pro day, he also covered the 40 yards in 4.38 seconds like Eskridge. Toney is very mobile, fast, strong in kickoffs and has elastic hips. He has also been used successfully in end arounds. The 22-year-old breaks a lot of tackles and produces a tremendous amount of yards after catch. He is elusive and fairly resistant to opposing tackling attempts.
Kadarius Toney is a creative and tricky player. He uses spin moves and can also vary his high base tempo and deliberately delay. He needs to become more consistent as a route-runner, but the potential is undoubtedly there. Sometimes he gets off balance and stumbles over his feet. When a tackler looms in his vicinity, catchable balls sometimes slip through his hands. He had a few drops at the Senior Bowl, too; on the other hand, he caught inaccurate balls at Florida. As a blocker, Toney is still overmatched too often.
26. Patrick Surtain II (Cornerback, Alabama)
A big, fairly heavy pass defender who got plenty of press-man coverage experience at Alabama. Like Jaycee Horn’s father, his dad Patrick Surtain also played in the NFL (cornerback with the Miami Doplhins and Kansas City Chiefs). Patrick Surtain II has a good jumping ability, ball skills and sometimes collected interceptions in a spectacular way. Other than that, his game is not really spectacular. In matchups against very fast and agile receivers, he lacks speed and agility. Even though Surtain rarely gets beat one-on-one, he will be limited athletically in the NFL.
Nonetheless, Patrick Surtain II should give any NFL team some baseline. He recognizes route combinations, reads screen plays correctly and anticipates moves by opposing receivers. The 21-year-old plays with control and without panic. At the line of scrimmage, he occasionally uses a so-called fake jam, which he may use to throw receivers off their game. He is a reliable open-field tackler.
27. Greg Newsome II (Cornerback, Northwestern)
The next 4.38 second runner over 40 yards at Pro Day. Greg Newsome II is an average-sized and -heavy cornerback with agility, good footwork and balance. He is fast, but not extremely fast. So the 4.38 seconds over 40 yards seemed like a bit of a surprise. His biggest strength is probably his agility. His backpedal is fluid, in transition Newsome quickly rotates his hips, and he effortlessly changes direction.
In 2020, Greg Newsome II allowed only 12 catches on 34 targets. He attacks the catch point and has good ball skills. He can play both man coverage and zone coverage. Newsome has good spatial awareness and reads plays quickly. He still gets blocked away too easily in the run game. Against physical receivers, Newsome could face problems in the NFL.
28. Alijah Vera-Tucker (Interior Offensive Line, USC)
At USC, Alijah Vera-Tucker also played offensive tackle. In the NFL, he would probably only play guard because his arm length is too short at 32 ⅛ inches. Vera-Tucker plays incredibly controlled and has excellent vision. He isn’t caught off guard by stunts or blitzes. He is balanced and uses his body and hands skillfully, even if his anchor could be more steadfast. When blocking opponents he takes optimal angles, moving well at second level in the run game.
Alijah Vera-Tucker has solid mobility, he has quick feet but is limited in terms of quickness. On approaching gap shooters, he needs to be even quicker and more consistent in deciding which opponent to block. Occasionally in Pass Protection he puts his head down for a moment and doesn’t look directly at the opponent he’s blocking.
29. Kelvin Joseph (Cornerback, Kentucky)
A very fast, mobile cornerback with agile hips. Kelvin Joseph is an aggressive pass defender who is good for big plays. In 2020, he came up with four interceptions in just nine games. Joseph possesses excellent ball skills and has good timing in pass defense. Thanks to his 6-foot-1 size and physicality at the line off scrimmage, he is a legitimate outside cornerback in the NFL, and sporadically he has been lined up in the slot at Kentucky. Against Alabama, Joseph made an outstanding play: covering Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith on one play, he intercepted quarterback Mac Jones‘ pass in his own end zone. On a slant route by the nimble John Metchie III, Joseph made a pass breakup.
Kelvin Joseph diagnoses plays quickly and breaks away well from blocks in run defense. Only 21-years-old, he doesn’t have the most experience, starting at Kentucky in just his final year of college. His play-recognition needs to improve; for example, he is still too slow to react to read options.
30. Mac Jones (Quarterback, Alabama)
4500 yards, 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions are a testament to the sensational season Mac Jones had as a starter for Alabama in 2020. While he had great receivers around him and a good offensive line, Jones was more than a game manager. Statistically, he was even better than Tua Tagovailoa, who was drafted at number five by the Miami Dolphins a year ago. Jones‘ accuracy, especially in the vertical passing game, was one of his great strengths last season. Jones makes up for a lack of arm strength with timing and touch. He knows his strengths and weaknesses, such as limited mobility and little ability to improvise when a play breaks down.
Mac Jones doesn’t have the most rounded, harmonic throwing motion, but at least gets rid of the ball quickly. He goes through his reads meticulously and very quickly, which NFL Coches will like. However, if he ever takes too long with his reads, he cannot compensate for that shortcoming given his lack of arm strength. Despite athletic limitations, he surprisingly moves well and smartly in the pocket and is quick-witted in avoiding pass rushers. Doubts exist about him regarding the fact that he hardly ever had to throw into tight passing windows.
31. Christian Darrisaw (Offensive Tackle, Virginia Tech)
Christian Darrisaw offers a good combination of size, weight, physicality and speed. He moves fluidly in the open field and is a predestined blocker for outside zone plays. Darrisaw plays with patience and good balance, and the 21-year-old usually has confident hand placement in pass protection and run blocking. He rarely loses control when facing an edge rusher. His considerable power in his upper body helps him do that. Darrisaw needs to improve his footwork, however. He sometimes loses track of incoming blitzers.
32. Trey Lance (Quarterback, North Dakota State)
A mobile quarterback who moves quickly both horizontally and vertically and isn’t afraid of contact. As a runner, Trey Lance is a threat to opposing defenses, in part because he can break tackles. He also connects off-platform throws thanks to his arm strength. Those physical skills make him an appealing talent, much like Jordan Love was a year ago. Lance caused far fewer interceptions in college than Love, though. In 2019, he had 28 touchdowns and no interceptions, while in 2020 he had two touchdowns and one interception in just one game.
It should also be mentioned, however, that the quality of his opponents was manageable. His precision as a passer is still inconsistent. The 21-year-old’s decision-making also often still takes too long. Trey Lance sticks to his first read too often, which should not happen to him to this extent in the NFL. Furthermore, Lance needs to improve his dropback and footwork, while his mechanics already look pretty good. Lance has a lot of potential, but in many areas he needs to take a step forward.
33. Travis Etienne (Runningback, Clemson)
An explosive running back who was responsible for many big plays at Clemson. Travis Etienne is dynamic, fast and quite agile. He can change direction without losing much speed, but other running backs in the class are better on jump cuts. Etienne has good balance and can break tackles, using spin moves to shake off defenders. His pass receiving skills make him a valuable prospect in the 2021 draft, and he catches the ball with his arms while showing good extension. Etienne is an underrated route-runner and creates separation in matchups against linebackers.
Travis Etienne has no glaring weaknesses, but his vision needs improvement. He still relies on his explosiveness too often, but lacks patience and doesn’t wait for gaps to open up in front of him. He was very productive in college, though he also had good circumstances. North Carolina’s Michael Carter is even a little more agile than Etienne.
34. Levi Onwuzurike (Defensive Tackle, Washington)
Levi Onwuzurike is one of the most explosive defensive tackles of this year’s class and impresses with a quick get off. He demonstrates good timing, often being the first player off the line of scrimmage to start toward the opposing offensive line without being flagged for jumping the gun. Already 23, he can convert his speed into power and at times he pushes guards into the backfield. For a defensive tackle, he has a good bend, and as a pass rusher he has flashed potential. He is physical at the point of attack, though he usually loses out against double teams. With Washington, Onwuzurike was occasionally used as a 3-4 nose tackle, but even at 290 pounds, he would be one of the more lanky two-gappers in the NFL. It’s unlikely NFL teams plan on using him as a 3-4 nose tackle.
Levi Onwuzurike plays patient and controlled. He mostly keeps his eyes in the backfield and anticipates screen passes. As a defender of the run game, Onwuzurike is convincing, although he could develop more punch here. His pad level could still be consistently deeper. Likewise, a broader repertoire of pass-rush moves would help him. Nevertheless, he is a good player with many skills, but he could show them more consistently.
35. Michael Carter (Runningback, North Carolina)
Possibly the most agile running back in this draft. Michael Carter makes defenders look old with his jump cuts, runs smoothly and is hard to tackle. The 22-year-old shared a backfield at North Carolina with Javonte Williams, who was also highly rated. His speed and explosiveness aren’t outstanding, but they’re very good. He regularly breaks tackles with his nimble feet, then can accelerate briskly again. Carter can vary his speed, has patience and good vision.
For an NFL running back, Michael Carter is below-average in size and weight, but his contact balance still stands out positively. He’s a viable option for wheel routes and lateral passes, but he’s generally been average as a pass receiver so far. He has yet to excel as a route runner. His biggest weakness is probably pass protection, especially against physical rushers he is often unable to cope.
36. Zaven Collins (Linebacker, Tulsa)
A big, heavy, but still athletic linebacker. Zaven Collins is fairly quick and can change direction quickly. He recognizes opposing plays early and can then react in short time. Instinctively, he usually makes the right decision. Collins certainly benefits from the fact that he played quarterback in high school. In run defense, he works his way through blocks with his massive body. Sporadically, he flashes his qualities as a pass rusher. In zone coverage, he has a good feel for space. Zaven Collins needs to finish tackles better. Since he needed 4.67 seconds for 40 yards at his pro day, there are minor concerns about his speed.
37. Jaelon Darden (Wide Receiver, North Texas)
The next smaller, slimmer wide receiver with speed and explosiveness in this draft. Jaelon Darden didn’t play in a top-5 conference, so he was far superior athletically to his counterparts. It will be significantly more difficult for him in the NFL. On the other hand, you also have to admit that his quarterback at North Texas wasn’t much help to him. Darden has agile hips, accelerates quickly and is nimble. His change of direction is fluid, and his athleticism carries over to his route running. In addition, Darden seems motivated and eager; after an interception by his quarterback against Charlotte in 2020, he sprinted the long way back to tackle the ball carrier to prevent the pick six.
Jaelon Darden could play a role in the NFL at least as a returner and gadget player. He also has qualities after the catch, forcing many opponent missed tackles thanks to his agility. In college, he was successful not only out of the slot, but also as a deep threat. Darden has good hand-eye coordination and usually catches passes in his direction. His size at just 5-foot-9 could prove to be a problem in the pros. Physicality during routes already put a strain on Darden in college, and this circumstance is likely to become more serious in the NFL.
38. Eric Stokes (Cornerback, Georgia)
An extremely fast and physical cornerback who set an impressive, but unofficial, time of 4.25 seconds for 40 yards at his Pro Day. Eric Stokes is unlikely to be beaten by go routes in the NFL either, as he is quick to act and plays with anticipation. In zone coverage, he easily reads the quarterback’s eyes and then explodes toward the play to bat away or intercept the pass. Stokes covers opposing receivers very tightly, though he is occasionally penalized by referees for contact too close to the body. Only very rarely does he get off balance. Eric Stokes recorded four interceptions in the 2020 college season. Very agile receivers still give him trouble. Against physical receivers, a little more muscle mass would be good for him.
39. Elijah Molden (Cornerback/ Safety, Washington)
An intelligent, hard-playing defender who reads plays quickly and with assurance. Elijah Molden’s perceptiveness allows him to frequently show up near the ball. Despite below-average size and short arms, he has strong range as a tackler, taking appropriate angles. However, he still misses too many tackles. He makes up for his physical limitations with effort and aggressiveness. On the field, it appears that Molden is bigger and heavier than the data indicates. His quickness was usually enough in college to defend vertical routes out of the slot. Still, Elijah Molden is not a top sprinter. He still collected five interceptions over the last two seasons. Only time will tell if he’ll be a slot cornerback or box safety in the NFL.
40. Dillon Radunz (Offensive Tackle, North Dakota State)
Convinces with his mobility and fast feet. Dillon Radunz confirmed the impressions from the games at his pro day when he ran the 3-cone drill in a strong time of 7.27 seconds for his position group. Radunz has above-average size for an offensive tackle, but has slightly below-average hands. For that, his hand placement is a positive. He has a good feel for the game and can pick up rushers on stunts with certainty. The 23-year-old has more of an attacking than reactive quick set, but he still needs to work on the stability of his anchor. Especially in pass protection, he still gets beat too often by bull rushers. As a freshman, a torn ACL put him out of action.
41. Andre Cisco (Safety, Syracuse)
A strong athlete with great instincts and tremendous range. Andre Cisco is a very quick safety and will also be able to play single-high in the NFL. His transition from backpedal into pass coverage is lightning quick. Cisco anticipates plays and has excellent ball skills. In 24 college appearances, he came up with the whopping haul of 13 interceptions.
Andre Cisco turned 21 in March, and from an age standpoint, he appears to have plenty of developmental potential. To become a starter in the NFL, however, he will have to improve in many areas. First and foremost, his effort and fighting spirit are questionable. In some moments, he doesn’t have the greatest will to make a tackle. A grievance he definitely needs to remedy. He also needs to take better angles and become more patient when making tackles. Basically, he is capable of making reliable and hard tackles. Cisco focuses too much on making big plays and still allows too many completions in coverage. His athletic ability is promising, but on the other hand, Cisco still needs to fix many deficiencies in his game.
42. Ronnie Perkins (Edge-Rusher, Oklahoma)
A player who is below-average in size and weight for his position, but he is an edge rusher with great athleticism. Ronnie Perkins explodes off the line of scrimmage and pairs that with good get-off timing. He has respectable bender qualities, so can get around offensive tackles closely and smoothly. On stunts, he is often too quick for opposing guards. He has good closing speed to make plays against the pass or run. Overall, he lacks power and should add more muscle mass. He does manage to convert speed into power sometimes, but is inconsistent in doing so.
43. Kellen Mond (Quarterback, Texas A&M)
Quick throwing motion and excellent arm strength are his biggest strengths. Kellen Mond showed good decision making in many games, but he didn’t consistently replicate it. He let free passing windows slip by in college, and at times his reads took too long. The 21-year-old is excellent at identifying his hot routes against the blitz and completing the subsequent pass. His mobility is decent. As a passer from the run, Mond stood out positively. His accuracy as a passer is also still erratic; after all, he threw only three interceptions in 2020. His throwing motion is very quick, but seems a bit robotic. Kellen Mond could become a low-end starter or high-end backup in the NFL.
44. Rashod Bateman (Wide Receiver, Minnesota)
A skilled route-runner who breaks tackles after the catch. Rashod Bateman is difficult to evaluate due to his different performances in the 2019 season compared to 2020. Last year, he looked less explosive, dropped catchable balls and generally seemed to play a bit listless. He also had trouble getting separation against press coverage. In 2019, Bateman showed a different face: as a route-runner, he regularly created separation and his release revealed his athletic potential, though other receivers of the year are a bit ahead of him athletically. At times his route-running could be clearer, at times he takes redundant steps on releases or in routes.
Rashod Bateman, has been spectacular catching passes away from the body and can win both outside and in the slot. He can be elusive for defenders because of his agility and smoothness. As a pass receiver, he has shown good hand-eye coordination. Bateman is good at catching passes in traffic and then producing yards after catch.
45. Jamin Davis (Linebacker, Kentucky)
An off-ball linebacker with ideal measurements, good athleticism and upside as a pass defender. Jamin Davis moves fluidly and is quick enough for most matchups in coverage. Even in coverage against Florida’s exceptional tight end Kyle Pitts, he performed quite well. Davis has everything it takes to be a good cover linebacker in the NFL. The 22-year-old demonstrates great awareness and has noteworthy ball skills. As a defender against the run, Jamin Davis is aggressive, plus he can read plays quickly and then react with good acceleration. But his performance against the run is still inconsistent, and overall he could play deeper. Davis is not a finished player yet, but has promising assets.
46. Jevon Holland (Safety, Oregon)
A safety with excellent ball skills and good cover skills who often shows up near the ball. Jevon Holland sat out 2020, had a total of nine interceptions in the two previous seasons. Atletically, he is not an elite talent, but he makes up for that with excellent anticipation and sure reading of plays. The 21-year-old undercuts routes and uses his hands well at the catch point. Jevon Holland lacks recovery speed; once beaten, he usually can’t get after it. His agility is at a good, but not outstanding level. He has been used as a returner by his team, which suggests some athletic baseline. In the run game Holland sets the edge well, sometimes lacking a bit of physicality and fighting for blocks gives him trouble.
47. Jamar Johnson (Safety, Indiana)
A very intelligent and instinctive safety. Jamar Johnson plays with good balance and moves fluidly. He can change direction quickly and his turn and run is smooth. Cleverly he positions himself in coverage to deflect passes. Johnson has a natural feel for the game and good hand-eye-coordination. Despite slight limitations in terms of quickness, Jamar Johnson has above-average range, which is what you want from a free safety. At Indiana, he also played as a single-high-safety. Against Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, he came up with two interceptions. He can be a productive blitzer, but is not an outstanding box player and needs to improve in tackling.
48. Najee Harris (Runningback, Alabama)
A big, heavy running back who is nonetheless agile and hard to tackle. Najee Harris moves horizontally fluidly and smartly. He plays patiently and waits for blocks from his teammates to develop in front of him. Harris has plenty of power, although he could use it better. Still, he’s fairly resistant to opponents‘ tackling attempts. For a running back, he’s a good receiver with tremendous catch radius.
Najee Harris is anything but fast and explosive by NFL standards, though. He won’t put up frequent touchdown runs of over 50 yards in the best league in the world, but he should reliably get enough yards. He is better than Travis Etienne in pass protection, but he misses rushing blockers too often. Given his stature, he’ll be able to handle a heavy workload in the NFL, though he’ll likely have to deal with less open space and smaller holes than he did with Alabama’s star squad.
49. Javonte Williams (Runningback, North Carolina)
The running back with the best contact balance of the draft class, 83 broken tackles in the 2020 season confirm this assessment. Defenders simply bounce off Javonte Williams, even though he is only 5-foot-10. In return, he weighs in at 212 pounds. Williams will emerge as at least a physical goal line back in the NFL, but also has the potential for more. Javonte Williams is explosive and mobile, though not on the level of his former teammate Michael Carter. He lacks high-end quickness to efficiently and consistently pick up yards over the outsides. Williams is a decent receiver and has caught passes thrown too deep on occasion, though he doesn’t run complicated routes.
50. Chazz Surratt (Linebacker, North Carolina)
Linebacker with good athleticism and excellent closing speed. Chazz Surratt has sideline-to-sideline range and is a dangerous blitzer who likes to get upfield. He diagnoses plays quickly and is disciplined in following his assignments. In high school, Surratt was a successful quarterback, so the already 24-year-old doesn’t have that much linebacker experience.
Chazz Surratt has improved massively at tackle over his college career, but sometimes he takes awkward angles. In coverage, he can keep up with average speed receivers and tight ends. As a pass rusher, he can beat tight ends and running backs and get to the quarterback. In run defense, he has some room to improve. He needs to get off blocks faster, sometimes his play strength is not enough.
Just missed out on the top 50: Rondale Moore (Wide Receiver, Purdue), Tyson Campbell (Cornerback, Georgia), Landon Dickerson (Offensive Line, Alabama), Creed Humphrey (Offensive Line, Oklahoma), Joe Tryon (Edge-Rusher, Washington), Osa Odighizuwa (Defensive Tackle, UCLA), Terrace Marshall Junior (Wide Receiver, LSU), Gregory Rousseau (Edge-Rusher, Miami), Tommy Tremble (Tight End, Notre Dame), Patrick Jones II (Edge-Rusher, Pittsburgh)