REBECCA RENNIE SMALL SCHOOL MOCK DRAFT 2021
As an alternative to the standard mock draft, what might happen if the only eligible and available options were small school prospects? It’s not a situation that would ever occur, but is an interesting way to continue The Touchdown’s featuring of talented prospects outside the FBS.
In this situation, off-season team building is limited to free agency and drafting players from the FCS level and below. Paragraphs are brief, but visit our draft profiles hub where there are full write-ups on a large proportion of the prospects.
The current draft order has been kept. While the 49ers clearly traded up for a QB, they are not getting a franchise quarterback here. We will assume a draft up of lesser compensation occurred. In a small-school-only mock, the value overall of picks, current or future, changes also. Either way, there is no need to overcomplicate a purely hypothetical project!
The Touchdown will have a Small School Big Board released shortly. Those rankings factor into many of the decisions made below. This is just for a bit of fun and much more about continuing to feature these mostly under-the-radar prospects!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Jags are set on taking their new franchise quarterback in this draft. Fortunately for them, they can still attempt to achieve that in this scenario by adding Lance. The former Bison QB comes with scepticism for many as a one-year starter from the FCS. However, he is more polished and prepared than most under such circumstances.
NDSU are well-reputed for handing more responsibilities to their quarterbacks than most systems. Lance also has a higher floor than he is credited for, provided he proves mentally strong. His footwork and deep balls can be more consistent, but he executes well from within the pocket, has a superb arm and offers exciting mobility when the action breaks down. In an FCS-only draft, he is the clear choice at number one for Urban Meyer’s rebuild.
2. New York Jets: Dillon Radunz, OT/IOL, North Dakota State
General Manager Joe Douglas and the Jets are cognizant of the imperative to improve the offensive line this off-season. Becton looks like a hit at left tackle, while Fant and McGovern likely continue to start. Radunz has legitimate potential to start at any of the five positions on the line.
Whether he lines up inside or at right tackle, he would be a welcome addition. Instinctive and aggressive, he plays with outstanding control, balance and technique. There is a fantastic group of small school offensive lineman in the 2021 class; Radunz is the highest graded here.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Quinn Meinerz, IOL, Wisconsin-Whitewater
As mentioned above, we’ll leave the trades in place. They may not be trading up for a QB here but hypothetically give up less to make the move. Either way, Meinerz is a home-run selection here. San Francisco attended the Wisconsin-Whitewater pro day and could realistically end up taking the D3 IOL on Day 2 of the real draft.
Meinerz has refined his frame and maximized his athletic potential during the year since his 2019 game film. His rise up draft boards during this pre-draft process has been fully earned as a dominant interior force. Already experienced at guard, he looked adept at center during the Senior Bowl. The added versatility across the interior only adds to his value.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
For many, Brown is the standout among the small school OL prospects in this class. He certainly could be argued as having the highest ceiling of the group. That said, there is high variance between the good flashes relative to the raw and inconsistent film and technique currently on offer. If he can sustain blocks more consistently and work on his hand placement, he can develop into a viable starter.
The Falcons have two former first rounders at tackle currently, but the unit overall still has question marks. Meinerz would have been an ideal choice but is off the board. Another interior prospect in Grambling’s David Moore is also worthy of consideration here on the OL. With the need to address the pass rush also, another UNI prospect in Elerson G. Smith would make sense.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: David Moore, IOL/OT, Grambling State
The Bengals have added Riley Reiff at tackle and Quinton Spain at guard this free agency. This does not relieve the need for further short-term and long-term help on the O-line. The early part of this hypothetical draft has seen a run of offensive line selections. There remains one exciting prospect in the trenches on that side of the ball in Moore.
The powerful stocky lineman is more explosive and athletic than initially expected at his heavier build. Late to the game, he is still developing his technique as a relatively raw but ascending prospect. He excelled at the Senior Bowl and projects favorably as a future starter at guard or center.
6. Miami Dolphins: Elerson G. Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa
Opinions vary on Smith, but the Panthers edge rusher is arguably only scratching the surface of his potential. The film is inconsistent, but Smith has added bulk to his lean frame, providing more stability at the point of attack, while maintaining his impressive athleticism, agility and flexibility, all within a lengthy 6’6” frame. The Dolphins addressed many needs in free agency but could use further additions off the edge.
7. Detroit Lions: Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
The Lions added Jeff Okudah early in the 2020 draft. While he did not have an ideal rookie season, the talent and potential ceiling remains intact. Detroit could continue to look for additions at cornerback alongside Okudah.
Despite his FCS status, Rochell is one of the more physically gifted players at his position, regardless of competition level. He is a developmental prospect with room to grow both in his reads and execution. He has exciting tools and upside however, that places him among the more highly coveted small school prospects this year.
8. Carolina Panthers: Zach Davidson, TE/P, Central Missouri
Outside of the top names at the position, few of the mid-to-late round TE prospects offer the upside Davidson does. His length and athletic profile are prime for developing his currently raw overall game. Sharpening his route running and adding power to his game are required. One of the more unique stories in this draft class, he has more experience at punter than at his projected primary position.
The Panthers have been lacking in impactful contributions at tight end recently. This fits a need in addition to being one of the highest players remaining on the board.
9. Denver Broncos: Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State
The Broncos’ defense has potential to be among the best in the league in 2021. A secondary requiring some retooling has been reworked this off-season. However, Kareem Jackson is set to be a 33-year-old free agent after this next year. Uphoff can potentially be the long-term replacement alongside Justin Simmons.
Uphoff has size and range for the position and the willingness to apply himself as a downhill tackler. Currently inconsistent but instinctive, he ought to stand out on special teams while he develops his well-rounded skill set and athletic traits.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Bryan Mills, CB, North Carolina Central
Mills was one of the more surprisingly positive watches during small school scouting. With only one year of experience at even the FCS level, the JUCO transfer faces a difficult step-up in competition, yet was not as raw as expected. His footwork and ball skills compliment his length and positive instincts.
There is CB2 upside with Mills, given some time and patience. Trevon Diggs showed a lot of encouraging play during his rookie season in Dallas. The Cowboys will continue to look to add to their secondary unit going forward.
11. New York Giants: Mike Strachan, WR, Charleston
Strachan is not the highest graded small school receiver on The Touchdown’s draft board. Cade Johnson is still available, though the Giants might choose Strachan regardless. They have shown interest in the 6’5”, 226 lb receiver this pre-draft process. With Sterling Shepard, John Ross and Darius Slayton all on the roster, they may prefer another big-bodied target to join recently signed Kenny Golladay. Johnson is closer to the former names.
Strachan grabbed headlines for his exceptional size and athleticism combination. However, he is a work-in-progress in his footwork, hands off press coverage and route running. The upside is highly enticing, though.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State
The Eagles could use more weapons in the passing game, and Johnson is excellent value at this stage. The Jackrabbits receiver is slightly built with a small catch radius but dynamic with outstanding hands. He provides impact on multiple levels and areas of the field, and a standout running after the catch. After massive production at the lower levels, he hinted that could translate with a dominant Senior Bowl showing.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Drew Himmelman, OT, Illinois State
There will be a multitude of options for the Chargers at #13 in the actual draft at O-line. In our small school draft, the top names were quickly removed from the board. If they still wish to pursue another option in the trenches, Himmelman could be the choice. He’s a little older but experienced at the FCS level with intriguing size.
The 6’9” lineman is not the most agile and can struggle with pad level. That said, he is technically sound, smart, and plays aggressively. He holds up well for the most part and knows how to maximize his length to maintain contact.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Kevin "KJ" Stepherson, WR, Jacksonville State
A Notre Dame transfer, Stepherson has a concerning history of off-field incidents. It appears things have been quieter the past couple of seasons though, so hopefully the talented receiver has matured since. The on-field product is fantastic. Stepherson has exciting short-area burst and explosiveness. He stands out for his ability to track the deep ball and secure catches consistently. He showcases innate movements in his setup of coverage, shifts and step frequency to separate.
The instinctive and evasive receiver would be a welcome addition to the Vikings. Minnesota has two studs in Jefferson and Theilen but room for further help behind the starters. The Vikings are primarily in need of offensive line help. The better value is at receiver though, with the OL board mostly depleted at this stage.
15. New England Patriots: Dai'Jean Dixon, WR, Nicholls
Dixon was one of the lesser-known names revealed on this year’s Combine list. He has good length and savvy ability as a route runner that contributes to the NFL interest level. While he stands out at the FCS level, he may blend in a little more in the pros. The film suggests relatively modest physicality and explosion. The Patriots have added Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne this free agency. They can still add further to the position during the draft.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Franklin "Mac" McCain III, CB, North Carolina A&T
Long-time star Patrick Peterson is no longer with the Cardinals. Robert Alford and Malcolm Butler are projected to start outside, with Byron Murphy inside. They may prefer an outside prosect with length, but Rochell and Mills are off the board.
At an undersized 5’10”, 175 lbs, McCain projects to the slot. He could provide options though to line Murphy up elsewhere, in addition to depth. McCain has been one of the more dynamic playmaking DBs in the FCS with instincts and plus footwork.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Michael Johnson, IOL/OT, Savannah State
A possible consideration for the Vikings earlier, Johnson may not have been a great scheme fit in Minnesota. He could be ideal for the Raiders, however. The O-line in Las Vegas has taken on a dramatic overhaul this offseason and are likely to continue to add to the unit in the 2021 draft.
Johnson features a big frame at 6’6, 323 lbs and the power to match. His footwork and pad level on film are not ideal. Taking part in multiple pre-draft All-Star events though, he’s clearly been working on his technique, showing better balance and form. Not the quickest, he likely fits best at guard, but could offer depth at right tackle also. Johnson tested as a lower caliber athlete for the position. The film remains strong and intriguing though. He will likely be a free agent pickup after the draft.
18. Miami Dolphins: JaQuan Hardy, RB, Tiffin
After addressing one of their biggest needs (edge) at six, the Dolphins could go in a number of different directions with their next selection. In the actual draft, a running back in round one is probably not the choice. Here though, Hardy represents an interesting option. The Tiffin back received plenty interest at his recent pro day, in which his testing reflected the dynamic game film.
Some of the decision making and vision is questionable. Meanwhile his receiving contributions and pass protection need work. He has a fantastic build with natural balance and leverage, though. Hardy has an intriguing combination of physicality, strength and burst. Should they go wide receiver instead, Eastern Kentucky’s Keyion Dixon is our top remaining option.
19. Washington Football Team: Kion Smith, OT/IOL, Fayetteville State
There are several players remaining graded higher on the small school big board than Smith. Washington may still want to target the D2 offensive lineman, one of their primary positions of need. The D2 prospect is one of the more under-the-radar talents at the position and could prove a hidden gem.
The 6’6”, 304 lb OL has length and movement that can translate to the NFL level. Smith made a positive impression at both the Tropical Bowl and Hula Bowl recently. There are a couple higher-ranked defensive linemen available. The Football Team are stacked at that position but could go with Kenny Randall or Mike Boykin as alternatives.
20. Chicago Bears: Kenny Randall, DL, Charleston
Randall is a personal favorite prospect in this class and potential sleeper. He was not a Combine player but was invited to the cancelled East-West Shrine event. Randall absolutely dominated at the D2 level. Despite lining up primarily at nose tackle he was highly disruptive and productive at that level. He lacks rush moves but is powerful with a fantastic bull rush and leverage.
While not the highest ceiling prospect, he can hold up at the NFL level and win at the point of attack. He tested well at the recent West Virginia pro day. The Bears lost a number of contributors on their DL this off-season. In addition, there has been reports that Akiem Hicks may not be around for the long term. There is room for additions on the depth chart at the position.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Keyion Dixon, WR , Eastern Kentucky
A lot of small school prospects are under-the-radar; Dixon may be more so than most. He received a draftable grade here and performed positively in the pre-draft process. The buzz has been minimal though. Dixon’s film suggests some consistency concerns over his ball tracking. However, he is more refined than most in other areas.
Dixon impresses with working off press coverage with sharp hand usage and footwork. He’s a smooth athlete with traits that exceed his college production numbers. The Colts are another team who likely want an O-line addition but miss out in this mock draft.
22. Tennessee Titans: Mike Boykin, DL, North Alabama
The Titans land a physically impressive defensive lineman. He could be a hypothetical bargain in this draft and an actual bargain in the upcoming real draft. Boykin is over 6’5 and 291 lbs with 33 5/8 arms. At his recent pro day he ran 4.88, adding a 32” vertical jump and 24 bench reps.
Boykin’s college career began at Louisville, before stops at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC and Tennessee State prior to North Alabama. He flashes impressive use of his length and has inside-outside versatility. He can improve consistency with his extension, pad level and balance. The upside is intriguing.
23. New York Jets: Brady Davis, QB, Illinois State
The quarterbacks will be the prominent storyline of the upcoming 2021 draft. In this scenario, Lance is the only big name available, leaving the likes of the Jets to look elsewhere early. There is one other name at the position with some interest, however. Perhaps this is the spot where he goes.
The Jets in theory would continue with Sam Darnold, and see if Davis develops (written prior to the Darnold trade! Perhaps they look for a veteran bridge QB now, but options are limited).
The Memphis transfer has tools as a viable athlete with impressive zip on his passes. The wildly inconsistent footwork, form and accuracy are highly concerning, however. The decision making, particularly under pressure, also make Davis a long-shot project at best.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Nate McCrary, RB, Saginaw Valley State
The 6’0”, 220 lb back looks like an ideal fit for the Steelers. McCrary tested with good quickness for his sturdy frame at his recent pro day. At his best as a power-through-contact runner between the tackles, he catches out some unsuspecting defenders with his good speed also.
He can be more consistent with his pad level and needs to prove he can contribute as a pass catcher. McCrary totalled just 12 receptions in his three collegiate seasons. The Steelers’ running game was not up to its usual standards last year. They have been suggested as a candidate to take a runner relatively early in the 2021 draft.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chris Garrett, EDGE, Concordia-St. Paul
Few small school prospects dominated to the extent that Garrett has. In the past two seasons he has piled up 122 tackles, 39.5 TFLs and 30.5 sacks at the D2 level. The 6’3”, 243 lb edge rusher shows good upfield burst and a relentless motor. His hands offer violent speed and punch to make it difficult for blocking linemen to sustain blocks. The pursuit work is great, but Garrett has improvements to make in his run defense.
The Jags have a nice pass rush group with recent first rounders Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson. Garrett can join the likes of Dawuane Smoot as part of the rotation.
26. Cleveland Browns: Landon Rice, TE, Jacksonville State
The Browns have a nice group of tight ends who also contribute well as blockers in the run game. The fit and value combination is too good though, to not add Rice into the mix. The Auburn transfer offers little in the pass game but is excellent as a run blocker. Chubb and Hunt will continue to thrive in this scheme and with the talent around them.
Rice is not the most exciting addition that could be made here, but could have a lengthy pro career. The Browns look saturated at the position currently. However, Njoku could leave, and Hooper has a sizable contract to live up to. Rice could prove valuable in a season or two.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Alani Pututau, EDGE/LB, Adams State
Despite featuring a talented roster overall, the Ravens are looking for improvements at a number of positions. Wide receiver, offensive line and edge arguably top the list. Pututau is a violent pass rusher with a mean streak that the Ravens should love.
Though not the most flexible, he brings good burst out of his stance. He utilizes fast hands, low pad level and finishes with force. Though listed at 6’1, 242 lbs, he does not lack length, measuring in with 33.25” arms and 80” wingspan. Pututau dominated with 63 tackles, 24.5 TFLs and 13 sacks in 2019.
28. New Orleans Saints: Kevonta Moses, FB/TE/WR, Shaw University
One way or another, this draft was not going to be concluded without Moses landing somewhere. He does not have the most conventional build but Sean Payton feels like the right offensive mind to maximize his abilities. Moses has lined up at multiple positions in college and the pre-draft events.
More powerful than explosive, his 6’0”, 240 lb build projects most conventionally to a FB/HB role. He can contribute at TE and slot receiver as well. The Saints have lost some depth at both spots this off-season. Moses particularly stands out for his strong hands, securing practically anything within his catch radius. After the catch, he’s tough to bring to the ground.
29. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Ashley, OT/IOL, Florida A&M
A former 5-star recruit at Auburn, Ashley has impressive size and power within his ideal frame. The application of those traits and technical execution has been a relative disappointment when seeing the field, however.
There remains interesting untapped potential with Ashley that saw plenty teams show interest at his pro day. The Packers were included among those in attendance. Green Bay has a stud at tackle in David Bakhtiari. They require more at the position though, and also lost Corey Linsley on the interior.
30. Buffalo Bills, Caleb Johnson, LB, Houston Baptist
With Matt Milano re-signing, the Bills starting linebackers are set. There’s room for further depth behind Milano and Tremaine Edmunds though. Johnson can join A.J. Klein, Tyler Matakevich and recent signings Tyrell Adams and Marquel Lee.
Even if he struggles to initially break into that depth chart, Johnson is a talented athlete who projects well to special teams. At this late stage in the draft, Johnson is solid value. His reads can improve but is rangy and highly active with back-to-back 100-tackle seasons.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Jack Batho IV, OT/IOL, South Dakota Mines
Similarly to their division rivals the Raiders, the Chiefs O-line is experiencing much turnover this off-season. Joe Thuney is the high-profile addition, with Austin Blythe and Kyle Long also added to the interior. Thuney may move outside but either way, KC are depleted at tackle.
Batho is not the greatest athlete at the position but could be a welcome depth addition. At 6’8”, 315 lbs, Batho has the power and toughness to match his size and length. Lateral agility is not his best trait. However, Batho can be tough to work around. He uses his extension, and plays with good composure and anticipation.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Zech Thomas, IOL, Pittsburg State
With most of the Super Bowl winning roster returning, the Bucs can go any direction in the draft. Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa are set to be free agents next season. Cappa has also had some injury struggles. A developmental interior OL is as good an option as any at this stage of the small school draft.
Thomas requires significant work technically with his hands and footwork. He has a good base and pad level alongside quick movement and physicality that are worth exploring. Merrimack’s Samuel Cooper is another similar IOL who could be an alternative option.
Feature Image Credit: The Morning Journal.