Laying the table for the 2021 NFL Draft
The 2020 NFL Draft is in the books. Although there is plenty of analysis and reaction to come, for the diehards in the scouting community the focus has shifted already. The temptation to dig into the 2021 prospects’ tape is simply too much.
Rather than riddle off 32 names to feed your appetite for mock drafts, here’s a different approach. We take a look at some of the storylines to watch when/if the 2021 College Football season starts this year.
The Annual Quarterback Battle
More often than not we end up with a QB battle at the top of the NFL Draft. This year, the question was Burrow or Tua, before that the likes of Wentz v Goff and Mariota v Winston. The draft community loves to pitch two top tier signal callers against one another. Next year’s draft should be no different.
The current leader and most analyst’s choice as number 1 pick next year is Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Arriving as a five star recruit in 2018, he soon unseated starter Kelly Bryant and crowned his freshman year with a National Championship to boot. Despite a slight drop off early in the year, Lawrence settled into another stellar season in 2019. His prototypical size, accuracy and arm talent mean he has long been regarded as an obvious choice for number 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
In all likelihood the discussion about a different option to Lawrence, will be Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Fields was held in equally high regard when he chose to attend Georgia as a five star recruit in 2018. His path to the top of draft boards wasn’t as straight forward. Having failed to unseat incumbent starter Jake Fromm (a fifth round pick this year), Fields chose to transfer to Ohio State. In Ryan Day’s offense Fields produced astounding numbers and the dual threat playmaker looks set to go toe-to-toe with Lawrence for top spot. The battle will be one of the highlights of the 2021 draft cycle.
Counting on a change of scenery
Speaking of transfers, we have seen a few high profile names taken in the draft this year having left their original choice of college. The most high profile being number 1 overall pick Joe Burrow who flourished having moved from Ohio State to LSU. Fellow QBs Jacob Eason and Jalen Hurts also benefited from securing a starting gig following a transfer.
There will be plenty of prospects looking to do the same next year. Top of our list is new Georgia QB Jamie Newman. Having showcased his talents at Wake Forest the quarterback is hoping to take the SEC by storm. His playmaking ability will undoubtedly help Georgia’s run offense, but he’ll need to prove he has the accuracy and smarts as a thrower to become an early round pick.
Graduate transfer Trey Sermon lands in a great spot at Ohio State. Having played three years at Oklahoma, where he led the team in rushing TDs during 2018, he should help replace JK Dobbins. Despite a quiet season last year – curtailed by injury – Sermon has plenty of ability and will look to prove he has next level talent.
Another name to keep an eye on is Tennessee offensive lineman Cade Mays. Mays is awaiting the result of an appeal for immediate eligibility in order to play straight away for the Vols.
In a surreal turn of events, Mays’ family is taking legal action against his former team Georgia for an incident in 2017. Mays’ father lost his finger during a Bulldogs recruitment dinner. The family opened proceedings in December last year even with Mays being a starting offensive lineman for the team. Mays hopes that will be enough reason for him to be granted immediate eligibility for 2020.
Mays started at guard for Georgia, but will hope to play at right tackle for the Vols. Both he and current left tackle Trey Smith will hope to prove they are worthy of high round picks in next year’s draft.
It's the family business
This years draft was heavy on prospects with NFL bloodlines. Just a few names were Van Jefferson, son of former NFL wideout Shawn. Antoine Winfield Jr, whose father was a defensive back for the Vikings and Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara who joins the Lions to play with brother Romeo.
The trend looks set to continue next year. There will be two highly regarded cornerbacks whose names will be familiar. Patrick Surtain Jr has impressed at Alabama and now draft eligible he will look to follow in his father’s footsteps. The same goes for Asante Samuel Jr who will be a big part of Mike Norvell’s attempted turnaround at Florida State.
Boston College lineman Alec Lindstrom has an excellent blueprint to follow in order to be a success in the NFL. Brother Chris, impressed in the pre-draft process resulting in becoming a first round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2019.
Finally, if you enjoyed watching Carlos and Khalil Davis get drafted then there will more than likely be another pair of brothers coming off the board next year. Siblings Darius and Dante Stills play next to each other on the defensive line at West Virginia, and their progress will be worth monitoring throughout the year.
Surprised to see you
There will be a good few names that draftniks will already have plenty of notes on. In particular, there will be three defensive backs worth tracking who all appeared to be leaning towards the draft before returning for a final year.
Shaun Wade would likely have been a first round pick had he declared. That would have made it three cornerbacks out of Ohio State to be chosen on the first night of the draft. Wade played a roaming role, with plenty of time in the slot. He will look to show he is equally adept as an outside corner to further boost his draft stock.
Another corner with plenty to prove will be Stanford’s Paulson Adebo. He has the length and languid style that should appeal to plenty but still has kinks that need to ironed out. His stock plummeted after a couple of tricky games, in particular, his dressing down at the hands of UCF’s Gabriel Davis. He could be a first round corner if he can improve his consistency.
Florida State will benefit from the return of safety Hamsah Nasirildeen. Scouts had question marks over him as a finished product but another year in a Seminoles team, looking to turn things around, should benefit him. If he can add some finesse to his raw speed and instincts he could be one of the first safety’s off the board.
Bouncing back from injury
Dylan Moses was a huge miss in Alabama’s defense last year. His return from a serious knee injury should help the Crimson Tide make another National Championship charge. Moses will look to prove he is the same electric playmaker he showed in his first two years of college football. Generally regarded as a top-5 pick at the start of last year, if he has an injury free year he will likely get the same level of buzz in 2021.
Another star seeking to prove his fitness will be Purdue receiver Rondale Moore. Moore made a lightning quick start to last season only to suffer a hamstring injury that ended up finishing his year. Moore’s 5’7 frame will give teams durability concerns but when healthy he is one of the nations most fun players to watch.
Tight End turnaround
One position group the 2020 NFL Draft was light on was tight end. There was a severe lack of elite playmakers at the spot. However, next year’s class has shown early promise. In particular there are three players who could end up being first round picks.
Brevin Jordan should benefit from an upgrade at the QB spot in Miami. The arrival of transfer D’Eriq King from Houston immediately makes the ‘Canes offense better. Jordan was the star in Miami’s opening game loss to Florida but never truly dominated. He will look to better his 495 receiving yards and two TDs.
Elsewhere, Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth has drawn the nickname ‘Baby Gronk’ for good reason with his imposing 6’5, 256lbs offering a true all rounder at the position. If looking for a pure receiving threat then Florida’s Kyle Pitts is worth a watch; his relationship with QB Kyle Trask will be vital for the Gators if they are to make a serious run at the SEC.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com