It has been a long two weeks since the college football season ended. Thankfully, the wait is almost over!
The 2021 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama begins in earnest on Monday as players are measured and welcomed to the weeklong festivities. As Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy always says, “the draft starts in Mobile,” and never is that more true than in 2021.
With so much of the normal scouting cycle truncated or adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the few chances scouts will get to evaluate some of the top talent leading up to the 2021 NFL draft. And I mean top talent. The rosters are jam packed with recognizable names and small school stars.
First thing is first, if you want to watch all the action unfold this week, now would be a good time to make sure you have NFL Network or ESPN/ESPNU. Practices will be televised and covered on both networks throughout the week in the build up to the game. The actual Senior Bowl game is on Saturday, January 30 and will air on NFL Network.
The practice week might even be more important than the game itself. Just ask Javon Kinlaw, who suited up for one day of practice last year, dominated the competition, then withdrew from participation.
Practice starts on Tuesday and will be led by the Dolphins’ and Panthers’ coaching staffs. This is a huge opportunity for Brian Flores and Matt Rhule to get to know the players on their respective rosters, especially when you consider that the combine and individual workouts are not happening as they would in normal years. Miami has the No. 3 and No. 18 picks in the first round, while Carolina holds the eighth overall selection. Needless to say, these are teams with premium picks in this upcoming draft.
73 different schools are represented among the 110 players invited to participate. This is a star-studded list as well. Let’s start with the guys you probably already know.
Stars of the show
Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama –Yup, the Heisman winner is going to be in Mobile. Don’t get your hopes up too high though. This is likely just to meet with the coaches and measure in. He is still not medically cleared after suffering an injury in the national championship game.
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – Smith’s star quarterback will be here as well. He will get a chance to wow scouts outside the loaded Alabama offense and prove he is more than a system quarterback. There is some first round buzz around him, but the general opinion on Jones is very split. This week could go a long way in swaying the scouting community one way or the other.
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama –Let’s round out the Alabama three-headed monster with Najee Harris. Harris is a bruising back with good hands. If he can show enough speed during these practice days, he could solidify himself as the top back in the class.
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida –Another Heisman finalist joins the crew. Trask will have a chance to answer questions about his arm strength and mobility. With Carolina in the market for a quarterback of the future, the chance to impress Rhule and his staff is huge.
Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State – He entered the national championship game on a tear before exiting early with an injury. Unclear how healthy he is going to be heading into the week. He is a name to watch after a dominant finish to the season.
Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida –A huge part of Florida’s offensive resurgence this season, Toney is a fun playmaker to watch in space. With his name already hovering around the first round, a big week could lock him in as a Day 1 pick.
Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma –With the injury to Landon Dickerson, Humphrey has a chance to earn the mantle of best center in this class. He was rock solid at Oklahoma and should be one of the top interior linemen selected.
Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame –Eichenburg is one of the top offensive tackles in Mobile for the week. He was great protecting at Ian Book’s blindside throughout the season. In my opinion, he is one of the more polished prospects in this class, but his upside is limited by a lack of elite athleticism.
Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame –Speaking of Ian Book, he might not be highly regarded as a quarterback prospect this year, but he will draw a lot of attention after leading Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff. He is not one of the top prospects in this class, but he is a name a lot of people already know.
Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama –Arguably the top lineman who accepted an invite, Leatherwood is an interesting player to watch. He has played all over the line at Alabama. Where coaches line him up this week could be very telling.
Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest –Let’s get over to the defensive side of the ball. Basham enters as one of the top defenders participating on many draft boards. He will have a chance to feast in the one-on-one drills. He was dominant in his time at Wake Forest.
Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami – The former Temple standout impressed in his one season at Miami. The list of edge rushers is fairly short, so Roche will have a chance to stand out. He still feels like a work in progress despite being a grad transfer.
Richard LeCounte III, S, Georgia – After a great career at Georgia, LeCounte will have a chance to follow in the long line of Bulldogs defenders who have gone early in the NFL draft. It is a deep safety class and this week will give him a chance to separate from the pack.
Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh –One of the top pass rushers in the country each of the past two years, Jones will have a chance to show off his speed. Teams are desperate for pass rushers this year. I could see him sneaking into the top half of the first round if he has a big enough week. This edge rusher class is still wide open.
Small school stars who could shine
Without a doubt, these rosters are loaded with talent. And those are just some of the big-name players that will feature prominently in practice this week. One of the great things about the Senior Bowl though is the chance for small school stars to jump off the page and send their draft stock soaring. Recent examples include Kyle Dugger from Lenoir Rhyne and Jeremy Chinn from Southern Illinois. Here are some of the best unheralded standouts that could be big risers by the end of the week.
Tarron Jackson, EDGE, Coastal Carolina –Coastal Carolina was obviously the Cinderella story of the 2020 college football season, but the Chanticleers still didn’t get the respect they deserved. He had a strong statistical year and will get a chance to make a bigger name for himself in Mobile.
Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State –You’ve probably heard this one already. Radunz was getting some first-round buzz before the start of the 2020 season. We haven’t seen him play this year because he opted out after the FCS moved its season to the spring. Needless to say, huge week for him.
Spencer Brown, OT, UNI –I don’t think he has gotten the same hype as Radunz, but he probably should. Brown is a mammoth. He is listed at 6’9″, 320 lbs and reported benches 500 lbs. That should speak for itself. Prepare for some scouts to fall in love with Brown similar to how they did last year with Mekhi Becton.
D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan – If you are looking for a big-play threat, Eskridge might be the guy for you. He averaged 23.3 yards per reception this season and scored eight touchdowns for the Broncos. His size is a concern, but he will get a chance to show he belongs with the top prospects.
Robert Jones, G, Middle Tennessee State –One of the top offensive linemen in Conference USA, was one of the bright spots in a tough season for the Blue Raiders. He has the size to impress coaches this week. Without a ton of high profile interior linemen in this year’s class, this is a massive opportunity for Jones.
Christian Uphoff, S, Illinois State –Hard not to pick a fellow safety from an FCS school in Illinois after what Jeremy Chinn did last year. More of a traditional safety than Chinn, who was built like a hybrid linebacker, Uphoff has not played since 2019 due to the pandemic. For every FCS star, this week is crucial as they get their first reps in a long time.
Riley Cole, LB, South Alabama –Cole was one of the top tacklers in the country in 2020. He led the Jaguars with 96 stops, including 54 solo tackles. He is a bit undersized, but coaches could be willing to overlook that given his productivity.
Quintin Morris, TE, Bowling Green –It was a terrible season for Bowling Green. Morris now gets a chance to showcase his talent outside of the team’s dysfunctional offense. He has the build to be a productive move tight end in the right system.
Who needs a big week?
Senior Bowl week is important for all of the players looking to improve their draft stock. However, there are a few that really need a strong week to bolster their standing among their peers. Here are the players under the most pressure to perform.
Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia/Wake Forest –Newman transferred after an exciting season with Wake Forest. He never took a snap for Georgia. With a ton of question marks, Newman needs to produce some answers in Mobile. Will he look sharp after months of preparation or rusty after not playing a game in over a year? At the same time, there is a clear drop off in this quarterback class after the top four prospects. A strong week could position Newman as one of the top mid-round options at the position.
Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State –Wilson was generating first-round consideration last year before deciding to return to school. It turned out to be a poor decision. The season was tough for everyone, but Wilson had a new coaching staff take over and then had a public dispute with his new coach before the year even began. He checks all the physical boxes, so if he can show that potential we all saw on film in 2019, he could salvage his draft stock.
Tuf Borland, LB, Ohio State –Unfortunately for Borland, the last thing a lot of people are going to remember about his college career is him getting toasted by DeVonta Smith on a terrible mismatch. He has to work to erase that image and give scouts something else to talk about. Perhaps this is a bit unfair, but as the saying goes, you are only as good as your last game.
Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest – Surratt was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, but a good one. He tore up the ACC in 2019 before going down with an injury. He then opted out of the 2020 season, which means the last snaps we saw him play came over 14 months ago. That’s a long time to be out of the eye of scouts and coaches. He has a chance to be one of the best receivers suited up this week.
Jacoby Stevens, LB/S, LSU – Stevens was a top recruit out of high school, but has definitely not parlayed that into immense draft buzz. Given his size and success in the box, I will be curious to see if coaches want to work him out as a linebacker. This could be a massive week in determining how NFL teams view him as a prospect.
Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech – As it seems to be every year, this running back class is deep. Herbert was a human highlight reel this season for the Hokies. He needs to prove that he can sustain this success though. He spent the first four years of his college career at Kansas and came nowhere close to reaching the heights he did in 2020. A limited resume as a pass catcher could hurt his stock as well. If he shows off some soft hands in drills and scrimmages, we could see Herbert come off the board some time on Day 2. If not, he has an uphill climb heading into the rest of the draft process.
Every year, there are a few players who arrive from notable schools who maybe did not get the best chance to showcase their skill set in their college system. Van Jefferson showed off some incredible route running last year that we had not seen at Florida. Josh Uche flashed tons of speed that boosted his draft stock. So did Troy Pride Jr., who would run routes for the opposing receiver at times. Those three went to major schools, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame, but didn’t really start to earn more draft buzz until the Senior Bowl. Here are some candidates that could do the same this year.
Michael Carter, RB, UNC – The lightning to Javonte Williams’ thunder, Carter actually led the Tar Heels in rushing, but took a back seat to Williams, who finished the year with 22 touchdowns. Carter will get a chance to remind scouts that he is more than just a change of pace back and can be relied on at the next level.
Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina – After spending two years behind Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, Smith got his turn as the top receiver. South Carolina might have had a rough year, but Smith actually played pretty well in his go-to playmaker role. I think he has a chance to shine and move himself into the Day 2 conversation.
Nico Collins, WR, Michigan – After opting out of the 2020 season, Collins has a chance to reassert himself in the wide receiver conversation. He has the size to turn heads and it will be really fun to see him compete in one-on-one drills. He will benefit from some better quarterback play than what he has dealt with at Michigan, too.
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma – For teams looking for a powerful back, Stevenson should be on their radar. He returned from a drug suspension in late October and looked great in the Sooners’ final six games, including a 186-yard performance against Florida.
James Wiggins, S, Cincinnati – Wiggins had an interesting career at Cincinnati. He tore his ACL before the 2019 season after a fantastic 2018 showing. Injuries again slowed him down the stretch of 2020. If he is fully healthy, this will be a great opportunity to remind scouts of his athleticism.
Jabril Cox, LB, LSU – The former North Dakota State standout tried to help LSU pick up the pieces after losing so much talent from 2019’s national title team. Cox has great size and speed for the position. I think he got lost in the focus on LSU’s offensive struggles, but he could really make a statement in what feels like a wide-open linebacker class.
Desmond Fitzpatrick, WR, Louisville – He might not be as much of a household name as his teammate Tutu Atwell, but Fitzpatrick is a big-play threat in his own right. He showed flashes during the 2020 season. I think he will have the physical tools to win one-on-one matchups and turn some heads.
Richie Grant, S, UCF – Grant has a nose for the football and a talent for making big plays. He turned in a great 2020 campaign and has a chance to build off that in Mobile. This is a deep safety class, so Grant needs to stand out.
Hunter Long, TE, Boston College – Long took a big step in his development in 2020, doubling his yardage per game and hauling in more than five passes per contest. He has ideal size for the position and could wow in a solid tight end group competing in Mobile.
Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss – While Long is more your typical possession receiver, Yeboah is the big-play threat. He averaged closed to 20 yards per reception in 2020. Despite that, he can still be a factor in the red zone. He has the size and speed combo to be a mismatch for defenders.
Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State – Hill made waves in the offseason for sparking meaningful change in Mississippi State. After threatening to boycott the season, the state agreed to remove its current flag, which featured the symbol of the Confederacy, and design a new one. Unfortunately, Hill did end up missing most of the 2020 season anyway. He only appeared in three games, totally just 15 carries. He has plenty of previous experience to lean on and impressively tallied 23 catches in those three games as well. If he can continue to flash that pass catching ability, he will be rising up draft board.
Despite my best efforts, I cannot break down every player attending this year’s Senior Bowl. Hopefully, this will give you a pretty good introduction to this year’s rosters. As always, you can check out the full list of attendees on the Senior Bowl website. It is time to officially get draft season underway. Happy scouting!
Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The 2020 college football season has come to a close with the Alabama Crimson Tide once again on top of the college football world. Bama won an exciting, albeit lopsided, national championship game over Ohio State as Nick Saban claimed his seventh title.
As you might expect, this mock is going to feature a lot of soon-to-be former Tide players and a few Buckeyes as well. I have six Alabama players coming off the board in the first round, including quarterback Mac Jones.
Speaking of quarterbacks, there are six that I could see drafted in the first two rounds at this point. There is still a ton of assessing to be done with the Senior Bowl coming up, hopefully, followed by the NFL scouting combine.
There are two trades that occur in the first round of this mock, both involving quarterbacks.
Cincinnati trades 1.5 and 5.133 to San Francisco for 1.12, 2.43 and a 2022 first-round pick Detroit trades 1.7 to New England for 1.15, 2.46 and 2022 first-round pick
The draft order is according to Tankathon and updated through the wildcard weekend. Time to dive in!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson I know there is some buzz about Urban Meyer landing with the Jaguars and taking Justin Fields. I don’t buy it. Trevor Lawrence is one of the best quarterback prospects of all time. His poise, athleticism and arm strength make him a Day 1 starter. He would give Jacksonville it’s most exciting quarterback situation in franchise history.
2. New York Jets (2-14) – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU This comes down to Justin Fields vs. Zach Wilson. It’s going to be close. As of right now, I give the edge to Wilson. He has incredible zip on his throws and a lightning quick release. Wilson is a proven runner as well. He will need to take care of his body at the next level, but he looks the part of an NFL quarterback. It is no secret he works hard either. The Jets would find a potential new leader for their offense.
3. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (10-6) – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon There is some buzz about the Dolphins trading this pick back to the Texans in a deal for Deshaun Watson. If that is on the table, Miami should pull the trigger. Otherwise, this team should stand pat and protect Tua. There are plenty of other receivers to take later in this draft. There are not many offensive tackles like Penei Sewell though. He is a polished pass blocker with good functional athleticism and plenty of play strength. He sat out the 2020 season, but he will remind everyone at the combine (assuming it happens) just how talented he is.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama While some will advocate for a quarterback here, Matt Ryan likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon because of his contract. Instead, the Falcons take a talented player at a huge position of need. Drafting Patrick Surtain II gives Atlanta a tandem of young corners to build the defense around. Surtain has great ball skills and an NFL pedigree. Not to mention he brings plenty of big-game experience coming out of Alabama. This defense allowed the most passing yards per game in 2020. Don’t overthink it. Grab a top-end corner and move forward.
5. San Francisco 49ers via Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State With two of the top four quarterbacks still on the board and Penei Sewell already gone, phones in Cincinnati would be lighting up! The Bengals move down, allowing the 49ers to find their quarterback of the future. Cutting Jimmy Garoppolo saves a ton of cap space. Justin Fields’ ceiling is higher than that of Garoppolo’s too. Fields brings a ton of intangibles to the table with his arm strength and speed. He definitely needs to improve some of his decision making and work on consistently hitting his release. Working with Kyle Shanahan would be a great way to help him reach his full potential.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU If Patrick Surtain was still here, that would have been the pick. However, it is hard to be mad about landing the top receiver in the class. Ja’Marr Chase is a matchup nightmare with a great blend of size and speed. He dominated the SEC in 2019 before opting out in 2020. He would give whomever the Eagles decide to start at quarterback a clear No. 1 receiver. Philly has been looking to fill that void for a long time.
7. New England Patriots via Detroit Lions (5-11) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State Detroit has a ton of holes to fill and a new general manager coming in. I think we could see them trade down come April. The Patriots jump up to find a succession plan to Tom Brady, probably a few years too late. Trey Lance is a bit more raw than the other top quarterback prospects, but he has some special physical tools. If he gets a year to get up to speed in the NFL and improve his deep accuracy, he could be a long-term solution at quarterback for years to come. With his effortless arm strength and impressive mobility, the sky is the limit for Lance.
8. Carolina Panthers (5-11) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State Sometimes, things just fall into place perfectly. Carolina needs a new linebacker to roam the field and match wits with opposing quarterbacks. Micah Parsons could step in from Day 1 and provide a huge boost to an exciting young defense. He has the prototypical size teams want for modern day linebackers with some added pass rushing potential. Parsons won’t be Luke Keuchley, but he is probably the team’s best option to attempt to fill the void he left when he retired.
9. Denver Broncos (5-11) – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami I’m not forgetting about Bradley Chubb or Von Miller, with the latter hopefully coming back from injury at full strength in 2021. Gregorey Rousseau has the potential to take over at one of the defensive end spots though while Miller and Chubb play on the outside. Rousseau is huge at 6’7″ with room to add some muscle to that frame. He looks most comfortable rushing the passer from the interior in the limited tape I’ve watched so far of him at Miami. Denver needs a jolt in its front three. Rousseau has the potential to become a cornerstone player on this defense.
10. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech When you allow the most points in franchise history and fire your defensive coordinator after one season, it’s probably a good sign that you need to add some talent to your defense. Caleb Farley is a big, physical corner who can command a spot on the outside for this Cowboys defense. After sitting out the 2020 season, he will get a chance to solidify his draft stock at the combine. Dallas desperately missed Byron Jones this year. While Farley is not a like-for-like fit, he can help fill the void and create an exciting young tandem with Trevon Diggs.
11. New York Giants (6-10) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama If you want to rank the Alabama receivers over the past two years, Jaylen Waddle is second on my list behind Jerry Jeudy. Yes, I would take him over DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs. While Smith, deservedly, won the Heisman, Waddle was in the conversation this year before he got hurt. He was the go-to player in the offense, amassing 557 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his four games before the injury. Waddle is electric in the open field. I like how he projects to the next level just a bit more than Smith. If the Giants are determined to see Daniel Jones succeed, finding a playmaker like Waddle will make a huge difference.
12. Cincinnati Bengals via San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech Slide down seven spots and land an offensive line prospect with tons of potential? Sign every Bengals fan in the world up for that. Probably sign Joe Burrow up for that too. Christian Darrisaw has a bit of developing still to do, but he looks very comfortable playing on the left side of the line. His size and athleticism point to tons of untapped potential. He has room to improve in his footwork and technique, but those are coachable aspects of the game.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas Protecting Justin Herbert should be the top priority for the Chargers this offseason. For a team that seems to be growing into a potential championship window with a rookie quarterback, finding a franchise tackle to grow with it would be a great fit. Samuel Cosmi’s ceiling might be the highest of any offensive tackle in this draft. At 6’7″, 309 lbs, Cosmi is huge, but he moves like a much smaller man. He looks comfortable pulling, blocking in space and anchoring down on the quarterback’s blind side. He is extremely raw and will need some good coaching to perfect his technique, hand usage and footwork to reach his potential. In two years though, he could be one of the top five tackles in the league. There is some risk though that he ends up being a guard if he cannot develop.
14. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina Mike Zimmer called this the worst defense he has ever had. Let’s assume they will look to rebuild it then during the 2021 offseason. Jaycee Horn has lockdown corner potential. He is an elite man-to-man corner. South Carolina moved him all over the formation, allowing him to gain some experience in the slot, blitzing off the edge, playing off coverage and playing zone. He should upgrade the secondary right away. This does not mean Minnesota is bailing on Jeff Gladney after a rough rookie season. Adding Horn just creates more depth and potential for a turnaround next season.
15. Detroit Lions via New England Patriots (7-9) – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama Cue the “did you even watch the national championship game?” reactions. DeVonta Smith has been the best offensive player in college football this season. The combination of speed, route running and catch radius makes him lethal. Opposing defenses have had no answer. The main concerns are about his size. He has a very slight frame at 175 lbs, which begs questions about his ability to survive in the NFL. He will also face some major better defenses at the next level. After trading down, the Lions can invest in either a replacement for Kenny Golladay or someone to line up across from him in the future.
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida This has become one of my favorite prospect-team pairings in these early mock drafts. Kyle Pitts would thrive in the Cardinals offense. It would hide a number of his shortcomings as a blocker by allowing him to flex out and make plays in space. He would give Kyler Murray a great target over the middle of the field and in the red zone and open up more opportunities for DeAndre Hopkins. The drop off from Hopkins to the next-best receiving option in this offense is steep. Pitts would bridge the gap.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) – Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama Las Vegas’ defense was not what many had hoped for after some signs of progress in 2019. The pass rush regressed and the secondary struggled. Enter Christian Barmore. Fresh off a dominant national championship game, he showcased his talent and potential heading into a potential NFL career. His ability as an interior pass rusher would fill a huge need for the Raiders.
18. Miami Dolphins (10-6) – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia Still not a receiver. I will get there, I promise Dolphins fans. Miami got solid production out of Andrew Van Ginkel and Kyle Van Noy, but neither one is irreplaceable. Azeez Ojulari is a polished pass rusher with an array of moves at his disposal to beat opposing offensive tackles. He would provide the Dolphins with a situational rusher who can develop into a long-term starter at outside linebacker in Brian Flores’ defense.
19. Washington Football Team (7-9) – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama Taylor Heinicke and Alex Smith are both great stories, but neither projects as the long-term answer at quarterback for Washington. Mac Jones went from being Tua’s backup to the Davey O’Brien winner and Heisman finalist. He is incredibly accurate, looks comfortable in the pocket and has great touch on his deep ball. He might not be as athletic as the four quarterbacks who went before him, but he can use his legs to extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield. He benefited from a great supporting cast, but he deserves some credit for Alabama’s success this year as well.
20. Chicago Bears (8-8) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota Allen Robinson seems headed for an exit this offseason. With Jones off the board, there are no quarterbacks worth taking here, so receiver becomes the next position of focus. Rashod Bateman has the size and playmaking skills to make Bears fans feel a little better about likely losing Robinson. He had a bit of an off 2020 season, opting out, then opting back in and opting out again after five games. He has the size to be a possession receiver, but flashes good run after the catch ability too. Expect whoever is Chicago’s quarterback in 2021 to benefit from having him in the offense.
21. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh The Colts defense was one of the best in the league this year against the run, but pretty average against the pass. The best way to disrupt an opponent’s passing attack is to generate pressure. Patrick Jones II excels in that department. He has 17.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end and would give the Colts a successor to Justin Houston, who turns 32 later this month. Jones is one of my favorite edge rushers in this class and I think this would be a great fit for him.
22. Tennessee Titans (11-5) – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa It took me a bit, but I think I have figured out my pro comp for Zaven Collins. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. Both are outside linebackers who can hang in pass coverage but make their biggest impact rushing the passer. Collins is a little bit heavier than Barr, but both fit similar size profiles as well. Tennessee desperately needs a playmaker like that. The Titans had just 19 sacks as a team this season. Collins had 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in eight games. He is the type of disruptive force this defense is lacking.
23. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (2-14) – Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State After grabbing Zach Wilson, protecting him needs to be the priority. Wyatt Davis is the best interior lineman in this class. He has great size and lots of experience after starting for the past two years. He would provide a nice boost to the interior of this Jets offensive line and some much needed run blocking. Joe Douglas spent a lot on the offensive line in free agency without much success. Davis and Mekhi Becton would give the Jets two great building blocks to rely on as they reshape the unit.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama Did Pittsburgh throw it more than anyone else strictly by design or because they lost faith in the running game? Hard to know which is true, but either way, the Steelers cannot continue to rely on Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball 50+ times per game. That’s not sustainable. Najee Harris is the top running back in this class and could very well come off the board before this. He is physical, fast and consistent. His blend of quickness and power is pretty impressive. What makes him worthy of a first-round pick is his ability as a pass catcher. Harris caught 65 passes over the past two seasons. A 230-pound back who can get involved in the passing game? That is a special combination.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars via Los Angeles Rams (1-15) – Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame Cam Robinson did not have a great 2020 season and it is time that the Jaguars think about moving on from him at left tackle. Protecting Trevor Lawrence is going to be a big priority. Liam Eichenburg is one of the most pro ready tackles in this class. He is incredibly polished and technically sound. His upside is limited by a lack of speed, but he can be the anchor on the left side of the line.
26. Cleveland Browns (11-5) – Jeremiah Owusu-Komaroah, LB, Notre Dame Cleveland’s postseason run is going to continue for a little bit longer, but it is clear where they could use some help on defense. With no clear secondary pick here, the Browns can grab a high-upside linebacker. Jeremiah Owusu-Komaroah is a fantastic cover player with sideline-to-sideline ability. Given the Browns struggles in pass coverage this season, this would be a useful addition to the defense.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan Tampa Bay is in win-now mode with Tom Brady, but they can afford to go with a raw, high-upside edge rusher as they continue to build depth on defense. Kwity Paye has all the physical tools you hope for in an edge rusher at 6’4″ and roughly 270 lbs. He didn’t produce much at Michigan with just 11.5 sacks in 28 career games. However, teams will be betting they can help unlock his potential and turn him into a physically dominant edge rusher.
28. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma Another prospect and team pairing that I really like, Baltimore’s offensive line has not been the dominant unit we have become accustomed to watching in recent years. Ronnie Stanley went down after just seven games. Matt Skura had issues snapping the ball at times this season. Plugging in a pro-ready option like Creed Humphrey at center would be a great move for Baltimore. Humphrey has plenty of experience blocking for mobile quarterbacks, playing with Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Blocking for Lamar Jackson should be a seamless transition.
29. New Orleans Saints (12-4) –Chazz Surratt, LB, UNC The Saints are in for a big offseason as the team figures out its direction after Drew Brees’ career ends. New Orleans has been searching for linebacking help for years now. Finding a high-character and dynamic leader like Chazz Surratt at the end of the first round would be a great addition. Surratt is a former quarterback who is still learning the position. However, he has thrived under Mack Brown over the past two seasons starting for UNC. He could take over for Demario Davis, who just turned 32, when he decides to retire.
30. Buffalo Bills (13-3) – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State Another great fit for both prospect and team here. Buffalo could use an upgrade at tight end. What makes this such a great fit is Pat Freiermuth’s ability as both a blocker and inline receiver. He is not the same type of receiving threat as someone like Kyle Pitts, but he is a well-rounded player that fills a huge need. Giving Josh Allen an elite tight end to work with is only going to elevate his game further.
31. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern There is a time and place to grab a receiver, but that is probably later in the draft. Green Bay has David Bahktiari locked up for a while, but he suffered a major injury and Bryan Bulaga left last offseason. Suddenly, this once stout offensive line is starting to deteriorate. Letting Rashawn Slater start his career at right tackle could be great for his development. He has a long way to go when it comes to hand usage and has some flaws in his pass blocking technique, but he shows flashes of being a punishing blocker. Investing in protecting Aaron Rodgers, or eventually Jordan Love, is a good plan.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) – Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee Kansas City has not looked quite as sharp over the final few weeks of the season. Part of that has been inconsistent offensive line play. Andrew Wylie has struggled and could be in danger of being replaced in 2021. Trey Smith is a physical specimen at 6’6″, 330 lbs. He started his career at tackle before kicking inside to guard. He played really well for Tennessee in 2020 and could be in line to start on Day 1. Worst-case scenario, he provides some crucial depth for the defending champs at either guard or tackle spot.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) – Carlos Basham Jr., DL, Wake Forest With two exciting edge rushers in Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson, Jacksonville could use an upgrade along the inside of the defensive line. Carlos Basham Jr. is a bit of a tweener, playing snaps at defensive end and defensive tackle. That versatility would be valuable to a Jaguars defense that was one of the worst in football this past year.
34. New York Jets (2-14) – Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas New York is in desperate need of some edge rushing help. Ranking in the bottom third in sacks for what feels like the 10th year in a row has to end at some point for the Jets to turn things around. Joseph Ossai is an intriguing prospect, having played more of an off-ball linebacker role prior to the 2020 season. However, he showed enough promise as an edge rusher for the Jets to add him here.
35. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami Atlanta continues its search for an edge rusher. After spending several premium picks and some cap space in recent years, this could be the end of the line. Jaelan Phillips flashed tons of speed and potential to produce at the NFL level in his one year at Miami. The Falcons would be banking on that being a sign of things to come and not a one season wonder.
36. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (10-6) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State Miami finally grabs the receiver fans have been waiting for. Chris Olave made a huge impact on this Ohio State offense this year. He has good size to compete for pass downfield and has shown flashes of high-level route runner. He might need to bulk up a little bit to survive in the NFL.
37. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) – Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse The direction of this Eagles defense is in flux with Doug Pederson fired and Jim Schwartz taking a year away from football. There is no question that the pass defense needs a boost though. Andre Cisco is a centerfield safety with great ball skills. He had 12 interceptions in his first two seasons before slogging through an injury-riddled 2020. He would help Philly deal with the big plays that plagued the secondary all season long.
38. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) – Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa Carlos Dunlap is gone. Geno Atkins turns 33 in March. Cincinnati could use an infusion of talent along the defensive line. Daviyon Nixon flashed enough upside that the Bengals would be happy to land him in the second round. He moves incredibly well at 305 pounds, but there is room for improvement when it comes to his technique. If he can get that final layer of polish, he could be a force along the interior of the defense.
39. Carolina Panthers (5-11) – Kyle Trask, QB, Florida Is Teddy Bridgewater the long-term answer at quarterback? It is unclear at this point. Matt Rhule would likely be excited to work with a polished passer like Kyle Trask. He has great accuracy and anticipation. However, he really lacks mobility and does not have the biggest arm. He could be a bit of a project behind Bridgewater.
40. Denver Broncos (6-10) – Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama Alex Leatherwood has played every position along the offensive line, other than center, in his time at Alabama. In this scenario, I envision him potentially taking over at right tackle after not seeing Ja’Wuan James play much in the past two years. His ability to play left tackle is important too if Garrett Bolles regresses.
41. Detroit Lions (6-10) – Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington For a few years, Detroit has been searching for an edge rusher. Joe Tryon has above average play strength and a solid set of pass rushing moves. We didn’t get to see him in 2020 because he opted out, but he has room for improvement and the size to play as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker.
42. New York Giants (6-10) – Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami The Giants will be disappointed to see Tryon off the board, but Quincy Roche is a nice consolation prize. He did not put up the same eye-popping numbers he did during his time at Temple, but his one year in Miami was productive. New York’s defense made huge strides in 2020 under Patrick Graham, but needs some more pass rushing help to take the next step.
43. Cincinnati Bengals via San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC If the Bengals spent every pick in this draft on the offensive line, I don’t think anyone would fault them. That’s probably unnecessary, but investing another premium pick on an offensive lineman is smart roster building here. Alijah Vera-Tucker brings some experience at both guard and tackle. He is a developing player that should make Joe Burrow’s life better when he returns from injury.
44. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Jevon Holland, DB, Oregon Dallas’ defense is headed for something of a major rebuild. With a ton of question marks in the secondary, finding a player who can play in multiple roles carries a lot of value. Jevon Holland is disruptive and can line up at either safety spot or play in the slot. The Cowboys just need to find talented players to turn this defense around.
45. Jacksonville Jaguars via Minnesota Vikings (1-15) – Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami Jacksonville is in desperate need of an upgrade at tight end. Brevin Jordan has not had the fanfare that Kyle Pitts and Pat Freiermuth have, but he plays the position well. He does a lot of the little things right and would give Trevor Lawrence a strong target across the middle.
46. Detroit Lions via New England Patriots (7-9) – Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU The backend of Detroit’s defense needs a lot of work. Trevon Moehrig is a reliable safety option with plenty of range to make plays. He was one of the best players on a solid TCU defense. His biggest area for improvement is keeping proper positioning. Moehrig got burned deep a few times in 2020.
47. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida The Chargers might not bring back Mike Williams. Even if they do, there is room for another playmaker on this squad. Kadarius Toney looked incredible as part of Florida’s offensive resurgence this season. He is dynamic in the open field and great at making plays with the ball in his hands. Toney could be uber productive playing with Justin Herbert.
48. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) – Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia Keep rebuilding this defense. The Raiders have swung and missed on a lot of corners in recent years, but Eric Stokes could help steady the unit a bit. He has impeccable speed and solid coverage skills. Stokes showed some signs of being a real difference maker with four interceptions in 2020. His stock could rise a lot if he posts a ridiculous time at the combine.
49. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State Marvin Wilson was a potential first-round selection a year ago, but did not have a great senior year after returning to Tallahassee. I think Wilson could bounce back with some better coaching. There was a lot of animosity at Florida State this offseason and it seemed like Wilson’s heart was not in it this year. If he can reclaim his 2019 form, this would be a steal for a Cardinals team in need of some help along the defensive line.
50. Miami Dolphins (10-6) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson I have Travis Etienne ranked at No. 14 on my big board, so don’t go thinking I hate Etienne. However, NFL teams are continuing to devalue this position to the point where only one running back was selected last year in the first round. This is a great fit for the Clemson running back, who would join an exciting offense. His big-play ability could easily see him go sooner than this.
51. Washington (7-9) – Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest Assuming that Washington does opt for Mac Jones, they are going to need to give him some receivers other than Terry McLaurin to throw to. Sage Surratt sat out the 2020 season, but he was last seen torching secondaries in the ACC. He is a big-play threat with great size and ball skills.
52. Chicago Bears (8-8) – Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama We won’t get to see Landon Dickerson workout at the Senior Bowl or combine this year because he suffered a season-ending injury in the SEC title game. He made a brief cameo at the end of Alabama’s championship win, but he might not be ready for the upcoming season. Once he is back to full health though, he could be a steady starter for the Bears. This offense would look a lot better with an improved line and some additional playmakers.
53. Tennessee Titans (11-5) – Jay Tufele, DL, USC This mostly projecting how Jay Tufele could develop as a prospect. He flashed some interior pass rushing ability in his first two seasons before opting out of the 2020 season. The Titans will take pass rushing help however they can get it at this point.
54. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU T.Y. Hilton had a strong second half and Michael Pittman Jr. showed flashes of his potential to be a No. 1 receiver, but Indy needs more receiving options. Parris Campbell has yet to make an impact and Zach Pascal is better off providing depth. Terrace Marshall got overshadowed by Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase last year, but he made some big plays for a much worse LSU offense this year.
55. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State Pittsburgh’s offensive line struggled a lot between injuries and poor play all season. Dillon Radunz is a bit of an unknown coming out of North Dakota State, but he has some great physical tools and dominated the FCS. He could compete for either tackle spot from Day 1.
56. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan There is no question the Seahawks need an edge rusher, but Russell Wilson also needs time to make plays. Saturday’s loss to the Rams should underline how much the offensive line needs an upgrade. Jalen Mayfield held down the right side of the line for Michigan. He should do the same thing for Seattle, replacing Brandon Shell.
57. Los Angeles Rams (10-6) – Cade Mays, OT, Tennessee Andrew Whitworth cannot play forever and Jared Goff is not mobile enough to compensate for a bad offensive line. Cade Mays, like his teammate Trey Smith, has featured mostly at guard, but has the size to play at tackle. He has played at every position at some point in his college career at Georgia and Tennessee. His versatility would be hugely valuable even if he does not start right away.
58. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – Jaylen Twyman, DL, Pittsburgh Building depth along the front seven is pretty much the only clear need this team has, pending any losses in free agency. Jalen Twyman was a disruptive force in 2019 for Pittsburgh. He racked up 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in a dominant season. He will need to measure in well at the combine to answer some questions about his size, but he could provide some pass rushing depth right away.
59. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC There is no question the Ravens need another receiver to add to this offense. Amon-Ra St. Brown has the agility and route tree to fit well as a possession receiver in this offense. He can get open in small spaces and has shown the ability to stretch the field as well.
60. Cleveland Browns (11-5) – Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina I’m not totally sure where Israel Mukuamu fits at the next level. He has played both safety and outside corner in his time at South Carolina. He is huge at 6’4″ and shows flashes of being a lockdown corner. He is a step slow in the speed department, but his versatility would be extremely useful for a Browns secondary that has struggled to keep players healthy.
61. New Orleans Saints (12-4) – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue Ronadale Moore has looked like a human joystick when at full strength. That type of playmaking could be a huge boost to the Saints offense. It is not totally clear what this team will look like without Drew Brees, but New Orleans has needed a long-term solution across from Michael Thomas for a few years. Moore could be a top candidate if his medicals check out.
62. Buffalo Bills (13-3) – Chris Rumph II, EDGE, Duke Buffalo’s defense took a step back in 2020 after a dominant 2019 season. The Bills can look to reclaim their 2019 form with a couple of fresh faces in the front seven. Chris Rumph II had a great career with Duke, posting 14.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss over his final two seasons.
63. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – Seth Williams, WR, Auburn Seth Williams’ skill set is a bit more limited than some of the receivers that have gone before him, but what he does, he does very well. He has the size at 6’3″ to make plays down the field in traffic. Most importantly, he has good hands, which is something Green Bay desperately needs. The Packers had one of the highest drop percentages in the league this year.
64. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) – Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri Kansas City can stay close to home with this pick. Nick Bolton was a huge factor in Missouri’s surprising season. He was one of the leaders of the Mizzou defense and made some impact plays with eight tackles for loss this season. Bolton would compete for a starting spot on a defense in need of some improvement in the linebacking corp.
The NFL regular season is officially over! It was a wild year with elements that no other NFL season has ever faced. Between social justice initiatives (that have very noticeably faded as the year has gone on), COVID-19 and no offseason, there is no question that this season will be remembered forever.
Now that we are headed for the playoffs, it is time to hand out some end of the season awards. This has been one of the most fascinating MVP races in recent memory. Defensive Player of the Year is crazy competitive as well. There could be some history made with the Offensive Player of the Year award as well.
Let’s make this clear, I am not predicting who will win these awards, simply deciding who I would vote for if I had a vote in these types of situations. There were some really tough decisions to make, so I did my best to break down why I chose these players (or coaches) to win in each category. Let’s (hypothetically) hand out some hardware!
Coach of the Year
3. Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns When you end an 18-year playoff drought, you end up getting some love for Coach of the Year. Kevin Stefanski has turned the Browns around very quickly. A year ago, the Browns were a 6-10 team without much leadership. Now, Cleveland is headed to the playoffs at 11-5 and there is stability in the locker room. Stefanksi deserves a ton of credit for finally getting this team over the hump. The five-game jump they made this year is tied for the biggest turnaround in the league. This team still has some major shortcomings and has gotten blownout a few too many times, but Stefanski has really pushed them further than any coach in recent memory has.
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills While they did not make the same level of a jump as some of the other teams in the league this past season, it was hard to improve a whole lot from a 10-6 record a year ago. Buffalo still won three more games this year, locking up the No. 2 seed in the AFC and looking incredibly consistent in the process. There were some hiccups in the form of an early-season blowout against the Titans. The defense also unquestionably took a step backwards, but the Bills still competed with some of the top teams in the league and won their first division title since 1995. Sean McDermott did an excellent job leading this group and this team is poised to win its first playoff game in 25 years.
1.Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins No team outperformed expectations more than the Dolphins this year. Brian Flores deserves so much credit for turning this team around in such a short time. Miami’s roster is full of unheralded names, players looking for a second chance and young players still learning how to acclimate with the NFL. Flores got the most out of that talent, handling a complicated quarterback situation in the process. While the regular-season finale leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Dolphins fans, finishing 10-6, one game out of the playoffs is a massive accomplishment. It bodes well for the future of the franchise and it is clear Miami has a leader in place to build behind.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
3. James Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars My third spot came down to James Robinson and Jonathan Taylor. I gave the edge to Robinson in the end for being a more consistent presence on the Jaguars offense throughout the season. Keep in mind, this was a 1-15 team. Jacksonville started three different quarterbacks and none of them were good. His offensive line is not a great one either. Yet, Robinson still finished tied for fifth in rushing yards and scored ten total touchdowns. He provided a ton of stability on an offense that had very little. Is Taylor more talented? Absolutely. But, I think Robinson had a better overall season, where Taylor essentially just got hot in the final six games of the year.
2. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings When you are breaking Randy Moss’ records, you are doing something right. Justin Jefferson had an unbelievable rookie year. He finished with 1,400 receiving yards, fourth-most in the league and most by a rookie receiver in the Super Bowl era, and punched in seven touchdowns. Jefferson showed a great ability to stretch the field as well, averaging the ninth-most yards per reception this season. As if that wasn’t enough, Jefferson dropped just two passes on 125 targets this season. In just about any other year, he likely would have won this award. In 2020 though, there was another guy named Justin who broke a bunch of rookie records this year.
1.Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers This is just what we all expected, right? The third quarterback taken in the 2020 draft and the guy who couldn’t beat out Tyrod Taylor to start the season wins Rookie of the Year. That’s how it goes down in my book this year. Justin Herbert shocked everyone with the level of dominance he displayed this year. He set tons of records for rookie quarterbacks, including most passing touchdowns (31) in a season and most pass completions (396) in a season. He finished 38 yards shy of Andrew Luck’s record for passing yards by a rookie, becoming just the fourth rookie to pass for over 4,000 yards. Herbert actually averaged the most passing yards per game in NFL history, but didn’t start the first game of the season. He also posted the second-best completion percentage by a rookie ever, trailing Dak Prescott. Give Herbert the award. He has earned it.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
3. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys This ended up being a less-than-stellar race for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but there have still been some impressive performances. Trevon Diggs had some rough moments, as you would expect most rookie cornerbacks to when they are thrown into a starting job without an offseason or a preseason. Still, Diggs took his lumps and improved over the course of the season. He finished with a top-20 completion percentage allowed at 54.2 percent. He did give up five touchdowns, but also came up with three interceptions. He missed four games in the middle of the year, which knocks him down a bit, but still put together a solid first year.
2. Jeremy Chinn, S, Carolina Panthers Is a safety, is he a linebacker? I don’t really have the answer to that one, but he is a damn good football player. Jeremy Chinn burst onto the scene for this young Carolina defense. He led the team in tackles this year and made a big impact with his playmaking. He had two forced fumbles, an interception and two defensive touchdowns. He did struggle in pass coverage, which holds him back from ultimately winning this award, but he feels like a Budda Baker or Jordan Poyer-type asset to this Panthers defense.
1.Chase Young, DE, Washington This was not the forgone conclusion I think many expected coming into the year. Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that Chase Young should win this award. He is a dynamic player on a super talented defensive line. Young finished the year with 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He didn’t just get home either, he knocked the ball loose, tallying four forced fumbles on the season. Young also recovered three fumbles and scored a defensive touchdown. There are few players who have been such a focal point of opponent’s offensive game plans than Young. I think he comfortably wins this award.
Offensive Player of the Year
3. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers In one of my power rankings a few weeks ago, I noted that we probably take Davante Adams for granted way too often. This is me doing my best to not make that same mistake. In 14 games this season, Adams had an NFL-leading 18 touchdown catches to go along with 115 catches, which is tied for second-most and 1,374 receiving yards, which is tied for fifth. Imagine the numbers he could have put up in two additional games! What I think people overlook is Adams’ ability after the catch, where he put up the second most yards in the league, trailing only Alvin Kamara. Adams is a complete receiver and one of, if not the best one in the game right now.
2. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans Whenever you run for over 2,000 yards in a single season, you end up getting consideration for the top offensive player in the league. Derrick Henry, has continued to show that he is the most difficult running back to stop in the league. He had his fair share of ineffective games this season, but his usage is also one of the most impressive in league history. What limits Henry’s claim to the award is his role as a pass-catcher in the Titans’ offense. He finished the season with just 19 receptions. Henry deserves credit for how dominant he can be on any given week, but I don’t think he managed to outshine the next player on this list.
1. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs This award was first handed out in 1972, and never in its history has it been won by a tight end. That should change. Travis Kelce has, almost quietly, put together the most dominant season by a tight end in NFL history. With 1,416 receiving yards, he broke George Kittle’s record for the most by a tight end in a single season and ranked second in the NFL among all players. He finished tied for fifth in receiving yards and receptions among all receivers as well. What shocks me most about Kelce’s season is that he is third in the league in yards after the catch. As if that wasn’t enough, he has only two drops, one of the best marks in the league. Kelce deserves this award after the season he has put together.
Defensive Player of the Year
3. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams By far the most difficult award for me to figure out, Aaron Donald narrowly edges out Myles Garrett for the third spot on the list. A fixture in the Defensive Player of the Year by now, Donald put together another stellar year, racking up 13.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Both rank among the top six in the league. He once again dominated along the interior of every offensive line he faced. Donald is the best interior pass rusher in NFL history and he has shown no signs of slowing down yet.
2. Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins Sure, interceptions are a sexy stat. That only tells half the story for Xavien Howard. He has been targeted a ton this year, and I can’t seem to figure out why. Howard has allowed just 51.5 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed. While Howard did allow four touchdown passes this season, he was still one of the best lockdown corners in the league. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 48.3 when he was in coverage, trailing only Bryce Callahan for the best mark in the league. Between leading the league in interceptions and pass break ups, it is easy to see why he is in the running for the award.
1. T.J. Watt, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers No player in the NFL has been more disruptive for opposing offenses this season than T.J. Watt. He led the NFL in sacks with 15 this season in 15 games and racked up 23 tackles for loss, also the best mark in the league. He also was tops in quarterback pressures and quarterback hits. Simply stated, Watt is the hardest player to stop in the league right now. That is evidenced even more so by him having the best pass-rush win rate in the league. ESPN detailed earlier this year how Watt has the fastest pass-rush get off in the league. Teams have had all year to try to figure out how to stop him, and right now, no one has an answer for Watt.
3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas CityChiefs A few weeks ago, it seemed like Patrick Mahomes was running away with the award. Then he just kind of slowed down. He still put together a fantastic season. Mahomes finished with an impressive 38 touchdowns to just six interceptions. His 4,740 passing yards ranked second in the NFL, behind his draft mate Deshaun Watson. The biggest knock on Mahomes is his completion percentage, which is still solid at 66 percent. However, that ranks 16th in the league overall. Mahomes absolutely deserves to be an MVP finalist, but I don’t think he did enough to win the award again.
2. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills If you asked me at the beginning of the year, I would never have believed Josh Allen would be in the MVP conversation. Yet, here we are. Allen scored 45 total touchdowns in 2020, 37 through the air and eight on the ground. What has really jumped him from fringe starter to elite quarterback though has been his improved accuracy. Allen has always had a rocket for an arm, but he polished his technique. His completion percentage jumped up to 69.2 this year, the fourth-best mark in the league. As a result of all of this, he has the fourth-best passer rating and third-best QBR in the NFL. He has led this Bills offense that is solid, but lacks elite playmakers to a 13-3 record and put together a season that in most years would be enough to win this award. Unfortunately, he had to come up against this next guy.
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers It took me a while to recognize just how great Aaron Rodgers has been this year, but I’m not missing it now. With 48 touchdowns, only five interceptions and a passer rating over 120, Rodgers put together one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. His QBR and completion percentage were the best in the league as well. What is even more impressive than any of that though is Rodgers throwing a touchdown on 9.1 percent of his passes this year. Russell Wilson had the second-best mark at 7.2 percent. Only Peyton Manning in 2004 and Ken Stabler in 1976 had better marks in the Super Bowl era. Without a doubt, Rodgers is deserving of the award this year.