2021 NFL Draft: First-Round Surprises and Best Players Available

We hyped it up for months. The NFL draft delivered. After the first two picks went off as expected, San Francisco pulled the first surprise of the draft and we were off and running. Three receivers went in the top 10. Four if you count Kyle Pitts. The Raiders ruined everyone’s mock draft, as we have come to expect by now. In short, it was a wild and exciting night.

I will continue to say, it is too early to hand out draft grades. At some point in the near future, I will go back and regrade the 2016 NFL draft. You need about five years to evaluate a draft class, and even then, that might not be enough.

Still, there is plenty of room for initial reactions to everything that just went down in Cleveland. Let’s review the biggest surprises from Thursday and take a look at the best players still available.

San Francisco fooled (almost) everyone
Shortly after the 49ers traded up to the No. 3 pick, it came out that Kyle Shanahan loved Mac Jones as a prospect. For weeks, speculation ran wild that Jones was going to be the pick. He fit the mold of what Shanahan loved in a quarterback and would give San Francisco a chance to win now with a healthier roster. Jones is pro ready and brought a lot of similar traits to Kirk Cousins, whom Shanahan found success with in Washington. It just made sense. Then, the narrative started to change. Rumors started to circulate that the 49ers were undecided on the pick, weighing Trey Lance and Justin Fields as well. As it turns out, they were not set on Jones. My initial reaction is that John Lynch and the front office got this absolutely right. After a few years of feeling like they were leaking information, we all knew the 49ers liked Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk last year, San Francisco kept a lid on their draft plans for this year.

Philly and Dallas made a trade with … each other?
What in the world just happened? Apparently, the Cowboys hate the Giants more than they hate the Eagles. Philadelphia sent a third-round pick to Dallas to jump New York, taking the Heisman trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. The move reunites Smith with his college quarterback back at Alabama in 2017 and part of 2018. Jalen Hurts was replaced by Tua Tagovailoa before Smith was really part of the starting lineup, but there is at least some familiarity there. It is an interesting move by Jerry Jones. I guess he decided that he would rather take the extra third round pick if he was going to play against Smith twice a year regardless. Overall, savvy move by both sides that forced Dave Gettleman to trade down for the first time ever as a general manager.

Why do we even bother mocking picks to the Raiders anymore?
Speculation about what Las Vegas could do with the 17th pick was all over the place. I thought Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a great fit. My co-host on the Draft Season Never Ends podcast James Schiano predicted the Raiders would tab Teven Jenkins. He was closer, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden shocked everyone again by taking Alex Leatherwood. I had a late second-round grade on Leatherwood, ranking him 59th overall. ESPN showed a graphic that said its draft prediction algorithm gave the Alabama tackle a 60 percent chance of still being available when Las Vegas picked in the second round at 46. It was another head-scratching move, but this is what Mayock and Gruden do. In 2019, they stunned everyone by selecting Clelin Ferrell fourth overall. Last year, Las Vegas reached to draft Damon Arnette in the first round. This organization clearly has a very different outlook on the scouting process than everyone else in football.

Clemson backfield reunited in Jacksonville
Everyone and their fiancée had the Jaguars selecting Trevor Lawrence first overall in their mock drafts. It was a done deal. What we didn’t expect was for Jacksonville to take a running back with its second pick of the first round. Travis Etienne is an electric player in the open field and there was some speculation the team could look to add a complementary running back to support James Robinson. Taking Etienne in round one is a stunner though. As the league as a whole continues to devalue the position, Jacksonville suddenly has two starting-caliber options. Urban Meyer said he was going to take the best player available, but this is puzzling. Especially when you consider that Meyer told reporters that Etienne was going to be used as a third-down back. Excuse me? Very bizarre roster-building strategy indeed. Love the player, just wonder if maybe the Jaguars could have used the pick to fill a more pressing need on a roster with a lot of holes.

Payton Turner sneaks into the first round
I did not see this one coming. I had heard some buzz earlier in the day that Payton Turner could be a potential first-round pick, but I chalked that up to draft day noise. Turns out, it was spot on. He had been trending up recently, according to NFL Mock Draft Database. Only The Score had him ranked in the first round from what I can find, with his average ranking topping out at 68 overall. Turner was the second-to-last player to earn a third-round grade from me. He is long and agile though, so I can see the appeal for New Orleans, especially after losing Trey Hendrickson in free agency. Turner is also a really good fit in the Saints’ 4-3 system. However, considering that the team has Cameron Jordan and former first-round pick Marcus Davenport already on the roster, this has to go down as a bit of a surprise given the team’s other needs at corner, linebacker and receiver.

No JOK on Day 1
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was viewed as a lock by many in the media to go in the first round. He was a rangy coverage linebacker who could line up at safety and nickel corner. He is my top-rated player still available heading into Day 2. Did Isaiah Simmons’ struggles as a rookie sour the whole league on Owusu-Koramoah? It seems unlikely, but I am unsure how else to explain why one of the fastest linebackers in this class fell out of the first round. As the NFL has trended more and more toward linebackers who are lighter and quicker, JOK felt like a perfect fit for the modern NFL defense. He could easily go No. 33 overall to the Jaguars, who could use someone with his coverage ability in their defense. Much as I said about Josh Jones last year though, it is unclear when exactly his slide will stop.

Best Players Available

That is what stood out to me from the first night of the NFL draft. There are still 227 more picks to be made though, so the draft is really only getting started. With that in mind, here are my top remaining prospects:

16. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
24. Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
27. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU (first-round cut off)
29. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
30. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
31. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
32. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
33. Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame
35. Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest
36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
38. Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
42. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
43. Javonte Williams, RB, UNC
44. Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
46. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
47. Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
49. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
50. Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
51. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon
52. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
55. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
56. Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh
57. Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
58. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
60. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
61. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
62. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
64. Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
65. Peter Werner, LB, Ohio State
66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
67. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
68. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
69. Chazz Surratt, LB, UNC
70. Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
71. Richie Grant, S, UCF
72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
73. Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
74. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
75. Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
76. Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
77. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota
78. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
80. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
82. Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
85. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
88. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
89. Dyami Brown, WR, UNC
91. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (Third-round cut off)
92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
95. Monty Rice, LB, Georgia
96. Quinn Meinerz, C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
98. Jackson Carmen, G, Clemson
99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

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Final Top 100 Big Board and positional rankings for the 2021 NFL draft

The countdown has reached one. On the final day before the NFL draft, I decided to have some fun with my player rankings. I am going to dive into my top 100, my positional rankings and even rank the position groups in this class.

This was easily the most difficult year I’ve ever had trying to nail down my final rankings. With no combine, incomplete medical information and the pandemic truly testing my mental fortitude, I certainly struggled. However, as I sit here in late April, I still feel pretty good about the list I have put together. I will dive into more of the specifics for some of these rankings when I get into the positional rankings. I also noted the cut off for where I have players graded by round. Without further ado, here are my top 100 players in this draft.

  1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
  2. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
  3. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
  4. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
  5. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
  6. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
  7. Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
  8. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
  9. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
  10. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
  11. Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
  12. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
  13. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
  14. Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC
  15. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
  16. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
  17. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  18. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  19. Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
  20. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
  21. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
  22. Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
  23. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
  24. Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
  25. Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
  26. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
  27. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
  28. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa (First-round cut off)
  29. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
  30. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
  31. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
  32. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
  33. Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame
  34. Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
  35. Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest
  36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
  37. Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
  38. Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
  39. Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
  40. Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
  41. Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia
  42. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
  43. Javonte Williams, RB, UNC
  44. Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
  45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
  46. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
  47. Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
  48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
  49. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
  50. Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
  51. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon
  52. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
  53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
  54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
  55. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
  56. Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh
  57. Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
  58. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
  59. Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
  60. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
  61. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
  62. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
  63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
  64. Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
  65. Peter Werner, LB, Ohio State
  66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
  67. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
  68. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
  69. Chazz Surratt, LB, UNC
  70. Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
  71. Richie Grant, S, UCF
  72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
  73. Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
  74. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
  75. Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
  76. Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
  77. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota
  78. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
  79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
  80. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
  81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
  82. Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
  83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
  84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
  85. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
  86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
  87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
  88. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
  89. Dyami Brown, WR, UNC
  90. Payton Turner, EDGE, Houston
  91. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (Third-round cut off)
  92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
  93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
  94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
  95. Monty Rice, LB, Georgia
  96. Quinn Meinerz, C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
  97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
  98. Jackson Carmen, G, Clemson
  99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
  100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

Let’s get into the nitty gritty now and take a look at each of the position groups. I tried to get very granular with these. Too often we just use the terms “EDGE” or “Linebacker” for so many front seven players. I wanted to really dive into which players fit into which schemes in my eyes.

Quarterback

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
  2. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
  3. Zach Wilson, BYU
  4. Mac Jones, Alabama
  5. Justin Fields, Ohio State
  6. Davis Mills, Stanford
  7. Kyle Trask, Florida
  8. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
  9. Jamie Newman, QB, Wake Forest
  10. Shane Buechele, SMU

I don’t think there should be any surprise at No. 1. Trevor Lawrence checks all the physical boxes and enters the NFL with a wealth of high-level college experience. Meanwhile, my No. 2 quarterback lacks a lot of that polish that teams love about Lawrence. Trey Lance is incredibly physically gifted and has an incredibly high ceiling. I like his size a lot and think he is more likely to hold up at the next level than Zach Wilson. I do believe that Wilson has the best arm in this draft class, but I worry that he will not last long in the NFL. He runs with abandon and we saw that lead to a few injuries in college. Mac Jones is the most pro-ready passer in this class, but lacks the physical traits that wow fans and scouts alike. His ball placement is special though and I think he will be successful in the NFL, even if he is a bit unathletic by today’s standards for the position. Justin Fields is more of a project than I think most people realize. His speed is incredible, but his throwing motion and technique lack refining. I still believe in his potential, but I think his floor is lower than anyone else in the top five. Davis Mills is the biggest question mark in this class. Between injuries and a lack of experience, this is all about projection for him. I think he is a third-round prospect who will come off the board much sooner. Kellen Mond and Kyle Trask have some encouraging traits, but don’t bring enough to the table to make me believe either one of them will be high-end starters. I think both could be successful, but it will be more because of their surrounding talent than their raw skill. Jamie Newman is a wild card. He transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia only to opt out of the 2020 season after losing the starting job to Stetson Bennett. He is an intriguing project, but needs a ton of work. Shane Buchele is one of my favorite late-round quarterbacks. I think he could develop into a low-end starter or a reliable backup at the next level.

Running Back

  1. Najee Harris, Alabama
  2. Travis Etienne, Clemson
  3. Javonte Williams, UNC
  4. Michael Carter, UNC
  5. Rhammondre Stevenson, Oklahoma
  6. Trey Sermon, Ohio State
  7. Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech
  8. Kenny Gainwell, Memphis
  9. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
  10. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State

The top six running backs in this class feel like they could be regular starters in the NFL. Najee Harris is an exciting blend of size and skill. He is a big back with good vision and incredible hands. He will be an asset in the pass game, which is rare for a player his size. Travis Etienne is a home run hitter with reliable hands out of the backfield. He has impressive burst and balance with the ability to turn the corner on just about any play. Javonte Williams runs how you would expect a former linebacker to. He seeks out contact, pushes through arm tackles and keeps his legs churning through the hit. His backfield mate Michael Carter was the lightning to Williams’ thunder. He is elusive and agile with good hands as a receiver. He carries his weight well and seems sturdy enough to survive in the NFL despite being a bit undersized. Rhammondre Stevenson reminds me a lot of LeGarrette Blount. He will probably only be a two-down back in the NFL, but he is a slasher who can pick up good yardage whenever he touches the ball. I believe Trey Sermon’s draft stock would have been much higher if he did not miss the national championship game. He runs with purpose and showed flashes of being an elite back. Those flashes were just a bit too inconsistent to rank him higher. Khalil Herbert wraps up his college career with a fair amount of tread on his tires. He is far from Jonathan Taylor levels, but it is still a concern for me. He was an exciting player to watch in his one year at Virginia Tech and would be a solid addition to just about any backfield in the league. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we haven’t seen Kenny Gainwell take the field since his incredible 2019 season. He has low usage, but can he replicate his success, or will he be a one-season wonder? Chuba Hubbard is closer to the Hebert end of this spectrum. He had an outrageous 351 touches in 2019 before scaling things back in a shorter 2020 season. He definitely waited a year too long to leave school, but if he recreate his 2019 form, he will be a mid-round steal. Kylin Hill feels like a quality No. 2 back, ready to handle 8-to-12 touches per game right away.

Wide Receiver

  1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
  2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
  3. DeVonta Smith, Alabama
  4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
  5. Kadarius Toney, Florida
  6. Terrace Marshall, LSU
  7. Nico Collins, Michigan
  8. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
  9. Rondale Moore, Purdue
  10. Amari Rodgers, Clemson
  11. Shi Smith, South Carolina
  12. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
  13. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
  14. D’Wyane Eskridge, Western Michigan
  15. Dyami Brown, UNC
  16. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
  17. Anthony Schwartz, Auburn
  18. Demetric Felton, UCLA
  19. Tomorrion Terry, Florida State
  20. Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois

This is another loaded receiver class. The top three are about as good as they come. Ja’Marr Chase might just be the best receiver prospect since Julio Jones. Jaylen Waddle might have been on his way to the Heisman before breaking his ankle. The actual Heisman winner, DeVonta Smith, is a technician with great hands and an impressive catch radius. Rashod Bateman could be a really strong possession receiver in the NFL. Few players are as fun to watch as Kadarius Toney, but he needs a bit more consistency in his play. Terrace Marshall was the third option in LSU’s historic 2019 passing offense, but he still won his matchups and looked sharp as the top guy in 2020. Nico Collins is a big-body receiver with great ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He still has some refining to do, but Michigan receivers have excelled after getting out of Ann Arbor in recent years. If you are looking for a slot machine, Elijah Moore is your best bet in this year’s class. Rondale Moore has first-round level talent, but undrafted levels of experience and injury history. In a year where the medicals are tough to confirm, he could definitely slide. He was rarely the star of the show, but Amari Rodgers deserves a bit more credit for Clemson’s offensive success. Shi Smith is one of my favorite sleepers in this draft. Tylan Wallace seemed like he should not be able to get open as frequently as he did in college. His good technique helps him overcome his lack of elite athleticism. Amon-Ra St. Brown strikes me as a future No. 2 in the right offense with his strength and leaping ability. Small-school star D’Wayne Eskridge could be the latest MAC receiver to take the NFL by storm. Dyami Brown can win downfield, but struggled with drops in his career. His game feels like a great fit for the Chargers offense. I had high expectations for Sage Surratt heading into 2020. He definitely didn’t meet them, capped off by an injury-riddled Senior Bowl week. When healthy, he is a nightmare for undersized corners. Someone is going to take a chance on Anthony Schwartz and his 4.27 speed. Demetric Felton showed out at the Senior Bowl and could be a fun player for offensive coordinators to move around. Tommorrion Terry instant brings value as a vertical threat. Much like Donovan Peoples-Jones, I think Josh Imatorbhebhe’s athleticism is going to translate very well to the NFL.

Tight End

  1. Kyle Pitts, Florida
  2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
  3. Brevin Jordan, Miami
  4. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame
  5. Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss
  6. Hunter Long, Boston College
  7. Tre’ McKitty, Georgia
  8. Quinton Morris, Bowling Green
  9. Noah Gray, Duke
  10. Kylen Granson, SMU

This tight end class is better than last year’s, but that’s not saying much. Kyle Pitts is truly a generational talent at the position. Pat Freiermuth is a borderline first round talent with his physical skill set. I like how Brevin Jordan’s game should translate to the NFL. He fits the mold of these athletic tight ends allowed to operate in space. He is definitely a bit of a throwback, but Tommy Tremble provides immediate value as a blocker. Kenny Yeboah showed impressive ball skills and athleticism at the Senior Bowl. Hunter Long could be a solid second option at the position. Same goes for Quinton Morris and Tre’ McKitty. If you are looking for a late-round flier at the position, Noah Gray and Kylen Granson are my picks.

Offensive Tackle

  1. Penei Sewell, Oregon
  2. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
  3. Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
  4. Samuel Cosmi, Texas
  5. Liam Eichenburg, Notre Dame
  6. Jalen Mayfield, Michigan
  7. Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
  8. Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
  9. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
  10. James Hudson III, Cincinnati
  11. Walker Little, Stanford
  12. Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa
  13. Brady Christiansen, BYU
  14. Stone Forsyth, Florida
  15. D’Ante Smith, East Carolina

Unlike the tight end class, the offensive line group brings both sizzle and substance. Penei Sewell is an outstanding athlete with plenty more room for growth in his game. Rashawn Slater could be a rock-solid tackle or an All-Pro guard. That versatility is enticing. Good luck moving Christian Darrisaw once he has anchored down. Getting Samuel Cosmi to an NFL squat rack could see him realize his immense potential. Liam Eichenburg is definitely one of my draft crushes. He just screams unheralded Pro Bowl right tackle for the next eight years to me. He has not developed quite as quickly as many hoped, but Jalen Mayfield still brings plenty to the table and could be a Day 1 starter at right tackle. While Trey Lance deserves the buzz, Dillon Radunz has the makings of a quality starting tackle who can kick inside to guard if the transition from I-AA ball proves to be too difficult. Teven Jenkins has all the necessary athleticism to be a great tackle, but his measurables worry me a little bit. It is unclear if Alex Leatherwood’s future is at tackle, but he has the versatility and experience to be a fit somewhere along the offensive line. James Hudson is still new to the position and would be a great project to work with. When healthy, Walker Little has looked like a first-round talent, but after seeing him play just one game across 2019 and 2020, it is hard to buy into his intangibles. His injury history and lack of experience scare me a bit. Spencer Brown is raw, but few human beings can move the way he does at 6’8″ and 300-plus pounds. Without a doubt, Brady Christiansen is a bit more polished than some of the guys ahead of him, but at 25-years-old, he is one of the oldest prospects in this class. In the later rounds, you look for traits to build upon. Stone Forsyth and D’Ante Smith both bring great size and length to the position.

Interior Offensive Lineman

  1. Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
  2. Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
  3. Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
  4. Landon Dickerson, Alabama
  5. Trey Smith, Tennessee
  6. Nolan Laufenburg, Air Force
  7. Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater
  8. Jackson Carman, Clemson
  9. Drew Dalman, Stanford
  10. Aaron Banks, Notre Dame
  11. Ben Cleveland, Georgia
  12. Drake Jackson, Kentucky
  13. Jimmy Morrissey, Pittsburgh
  14. Deonte Brown, Alabama
  15. Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame

This is a deep group of starting caliber centers, but the best interior lineman in this draft is definitely Alijah Vera-Tucker. I love Creed Humphrey and the experience he brings after four seasons starting at Oklahoma. I think he is pro-ready with some more potential still to be unlocked. Wyatt Davis is a road grader who will improve any running game. Landon Dickerson’s injury history holds him back after yet another knee injury. He will be a solid starter if he can get back to his pre-injury form. Trey Smith tested very well at Tennessee’s pro day and should be a starter at either guard spot in the NFL. Nolan Laufenburg is not getting much press, but he is a beast as a run blocker and has solid lateral quickness for the position. His crop top drew a lot of attention at the Senior Bowl. Quinn Meinerz backed it up with some solid play and could be a starting center come 2022. Drew Dalman tested incredibly well and could be the latest Stanford lineman to find success at the next level. Similar to Stanford, Notre Dame has a good track record of sending offensive linemen to the pros and I think that trend will continue with Aaron Banks. Ben Cleveland might be a steal in the later rounds of the draft with his combination of size and agility. While a bit undersized, Drake Jackson played really well at the Senior Bowl. Jimmy Morrissey is one of my favorite late round interior linemen. Deonte Brown is massive, but his lack of athleticism showed up in Mobile. Robert Hainsey feels like he will last a long time in the NFL as a swing guard providing depth.

4-3 Defensive End

  1. Gregory Rousseau, Miami
  2. Kwity Paye, Michigan
  3. Jaelan Phillips, Miami
  4. Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
  5. Joe Tryon, Washington
  6. Jayson Oweh, Penn State
  7. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
  8. Joseph Ossai, Texas
  9. Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh
  10. Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh
  11. Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma
  12. Payton Turner, Houston
  13. Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
  14. Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State
  15. Shaka Toney, Penn State

Time to really break things down. Gregory Rousseau is definitely raw and unrefined, but his tape makes me believe he can find success as a down lineman. Kwity Paye’s athleticism will likely see him drafted in the first round, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Without the injury concerns, Jaelan Phillips would be the top edge rusher in this class, but they are too big to ignore. Carlos Basham is quietly one of the best defensive linemen in this draft class. He got double-teamed a lot at Wake Forest. With his size and length, Joe Tyron can add or drop from his frame to fit what scheme he is drafted to play in. Jayson Oweh raw athleticism definitely points to him being more successful in the pros than he was in college. Azeez Ojulari only does one thing as a speed rusher, but he does it really well. Joseph Ossai is still learning how to play on the edge after starting his career as an off-ball linebacker. After missing 2019 with a torn ACL, Rashad Weaver impressed me in 2020. I’m willing to bet he looks even better another year removed from his injury. His teammate, Patrick Jones II, fell a bit in the draft process, but was incredibly productive and consistent throughout his college career. He missed part of the season due to a suspension, but Ronnie Perkins was nearly unstoppable down the stretch for Oklahoma. Both Payton Turner and Dayo Odeyingbo bring elite length to the position. Even if they are not the most refined prospects, those intangibles are worth targeting in the middle rounds. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. took a major step back production wise in 2020, leaving scouts to wonder if his 2019 breakout was actually an anomaly. While not quite as athletic as his former Penn State teammate, Shaka Toney is still an intriguing project.

3-4 Defensive End

  1. Gregory Rousseau, Miami
  2. Christian Barmore, Alabama
  3. Kwity Paye, Michigan
  4. Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
  5. Joe Tryon, Washington
  6. Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
  7. Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh
  8. Jay Tufele, USC
  9. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
  10. Marvin Wilson, Florida State
  11. Payton Turner, Houston
  12. Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech
  13. Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
  14. Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA
  15. Alim McNeil, NC State

I won’t belabor the point with players I already talked about. Christian Barmore has tons of exciting traits, but rumors that he is resistant to coaching could cause him to slide. Daviyon Nixon has some incredible moments on film at Iowa. If he can find some consistency, he will be a star in the NFL. Jay Tufele lost a lot of his traction after opting out, but he projects as a future starter in the league. As the league trends towards finding interior pass rushing, Levi Onwuzurike fits the profile of a disruptive interior player. No player likely hurt their draft stock worse than Marvin Wilson. Still, I’m willing to bet on him rediscovering his 2019 form with a change of scenery. Milton Williams turned some heads with the testing numbers he posted. His athleticism will be something teams covet. Osa Odighizuwa is longer than he is tall, which bodes well for him at the next level. It seems like every year NC State produces another NFL defensive lineman. I expect Alim McNeil to do his part as a rotational player.

4-3 Defensive Tackle

  1. Gregory Rousseau, Miami
  2. Christian Barmore, Alabama
  3. Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
  4. Joe Tryon, Washington
  5. Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
  6. Jay Tufele, USC
  7. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
  8. Marvin Wilson, Florida State
  9. Payton Turner, Houston
  10. Tyler Shelvin, LSU
  11. Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech
  12. Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA
  13. Alim McNeil, NC State
  14. Darius Stills, West Virginia
  15. Marlon Tuipulotu, USC

Believe it or not, I think this is Gregory Rousseau’s best fit in the NFL. At 6’7″, he has room to add to his frame. He dominated interior linemen while at Miami. If he can bulk up a bit, I think he could be an elite 3-tech. Tyler Shelvin enters the conversation here. He is definitely best suited as a nose tackle, but I think he could survive as a run-stuffer paired with an interior pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme. Darius Stills and Marlon Tuipulotu both bring a lot of experience, which could serve them well as potential backups in the league.

3-4 Defensive Tackle

  1. Christian Barmore, Alabama
  2. Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
  3. Jay Tufele, USC
  4. Marvin Wilson, Florida State
  5. Tyler Shelvin, LSU
  6. Alim McNeil, NC State
  7. Marlon Tuipulotu, USC
  8. Tommy Togiai, Ohio State
  9. Tedarrel Slaton, Florida
  10. Bobby Brown, Texas A&M

This is not a good draft to need a nose tackle. Tommy Togiai plays bigger than he really is, which is good because he is a bit undersized in this spot. Tedarrel Slaton and Bobby Brown are space eaters who can contribute as two-down players and goal line defenders at the next level.

3-4 Outside Linebacker

  1. Zaven Collins, Tulsa
  2. Jaelan Phillips, Miami
  3. Joe Tyron, Washington
  4. Jayson Oweh, Penn State
  5. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
  6. Joseph Ossai, Texas
  7. Quincy Roche, Miami
  8. Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh
  9. Baron Browning, Ohio State
  10. Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma
  11. Payton Turner, Houston
  12. Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State
  13. Shaka Toney, Penn State
  14. Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo
  15. Chris Rumph II, Duke

While I believe he is best suited to play off the ball, Zaven Collins is a solid pass rusher with great size. For the record, this is where I think Ojulari, Ossai, Perkins and Rashed Jr. fit best. Quincy Roche had a great week in Mobile, but he lacks the size to play in a 4-3 scheme. He could be a great situational pass rusher right out of the gate. Much like Collins, I like Baron Browning as an off-ball linebacker, but he has the athleticism to play on the outside. Malcolm Koonce and Chris Rumph II are lean edge rushers who could contribute in a rotational role.

4-3 Outside Linebacker

  1. Micah Parsons, Penn State
  2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
  3. Zaven Collins, Tulsa
  4. Jabril Cox, LSU
  5. Jamin Davis, Kentucky
  6. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
  7. Joseph Ossai, Texas
  8. Baron Browning, Ohio State
  9. Pete Werner, Ohio State
  10. Nick Bolton, Missouri
  11. Chazz Surratt, UNC
  12. Dylan Moses, Alabama
  13. Monty Rice, Georgia
  14. Cameron McGrone, Michigan
  15. K.J. Britt, Auburn

I considered putting Micah Parsons in the 3-4 group as well, but I think he does his best work when he is allowed to attack downhill and react without having players put their hands on him at the snap. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah won’t last long on draft night because of his ability to cover players in space. I also have him listed as my top strong safety. That’s the type of ability we are talking about here. Jabril Cox is not quite as fast as JOK, but he can still flex out and match up tight ends and slot receivers on occasion. Jamin Davis tested off the charts and his potential is as one of the best all-around linebackers in the game. Pete Werner seems like the next great undersized linebacker to start racking up 150-plus tackles at the next level. While he has great straight-line speed, I worry Nick Bolton is going to struggle given his lack of agility. Chazz Surratt is still learning the position, which points to untapped potential. However, he is also already 24 years old. A year ago, Dylan Moses seemed like a lock to go in the first round, even coming off a torn ACL. Now, he will be lucky to go in the first three rounds after a rocky season in his return from injury. Cameron McGrone is a bit undersized, but has a nose for the football. Monty Rice and K.J. Britt would be solid cover linebackers capable of coming in on third downs.

Inside Linebacker

  1. Micah Parsons, Penn State
  2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
  3. Zaven Collins, Tulsa
  4. Jabril Cox, LSU
  5. Jamin Davis, Kentucky
  6. Baron Browning, Ohio State
  7. Pete Werner, Ohio State
  8. Nick Bolton, Missouri
  9. Chazz Surratt, UNC
  10. Dylan Moses, Alabama
  11. Monty Rice, Georgia
  12. Cameron McGrone, Michigan
  13. K.J. Britt, Auburn
  14. Riley Cole, South Alabama
  15. Charles Snowden, Virginia

Much of this list is the same, but we lose a few of the more natural pass rushers here. Riley Cole got his name on the radar at the Senior Bowl coming off a strong redshirt-senior season. Look for him in the later rounds. Same goes for Charles Snowden, whose size for the position will grab the attention of teams right away.

Cornerback

  1. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
  2. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
  3. Greg Newsome, Northwestern
  4. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
  5. Eric Stokes, Georgia
  6. Tyson Campbell, Georgia
  7. Paulson Adebo, Stanford
  8. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
  9. Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
  10. Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
  11. Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota
  12. Aaron Robinson, UCF
  13. Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas
  14. Shaun Wade, Ohio State
  15. Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina
  16. Elijah Molden, Washington
  17. Marco Wilson, Florida
  18. Tay Gowan, UCF
  19. Keith Taylor Jr., Washington
  20. Shakur Brown, Michigan State

This is a solid corner class that starts to drop off around the 13 or 14 mark. Patrick Surtain II could fit into any defensive scheme. His size and top end speed make him my top corner. Jaycee Horn and Greg Newsome move ahead of Caleb Farley as reports of his back issues seem to keep getting worse. Eric Stokes ran a 4.31 40-yard at his pro day, which ranks in the 97th percentile. Finding that type of speed in a 6’0″ corner is rare. His former Georgia teammate, Tyson Campbell, also ran well and is a bit taller, but he lacks the same fluidity as Stokes. Paulson Adebo fell off the radar after missing the end of 2019 with an injury and opting out of 2020. He tested great and his film makes me believe he could be a starter early in his career. If you are looking for long, toolsy corners, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Kelvin Joseph and Benjamin St-Juste deserve your attention. Asante Samuel Jr.’s tape is better than being the 10th corner in this draft, but his lack of size and length caps his upside. He would be a great nickel corner though. Aaron Robinson showed he has the physicality to be a good press corner at the Senior Bowl. Robert Rochell is a bit untested coming out of Central Arkansas, but his length and speed make him an interesting project. Shaun Wade and Israel Mukuamu are both long and physical, but have struggled in man coverage in their career on the outside. Those traits could be very useful in the right scheme though or at safety, if teams want them to switch positions. Elijah Molden and Marco Wilson could both be solid nickel corners. Tay Gowan is a bit of an unknown with only 13 career appearances, but could be worthy of a late flier. I came away very impressed by Keith Taylor Jr. at the Senior Bowl. He did not win every rep, but he was not afraid to compete with the top receivers in attendance. Shakur Brown has a nose for the football and could carve out a role for himself in the slot.

Strong Safety

  1. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
  2. Trevon Moehrig, TCU
  3. Jevon Holland, Oregon
  4. Richie Grant, UCF
  5. Divine Deablo, Virginia Tech
  6. Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
  7. Talanoa Hufanga, USC
  8. Tyree Gillespie, Missouri
  9. Caden Sterns, Texas
  10. Shawn Davis, Florida

I already talked about it, but it’s worth repeating. Owusu-Koramoah is a true hybrid player. However, the best all-around safety in this draft is Trevon Moehrig. Jevon Holland brings tons of versatility. He can play in either safety spot and even line up in the slot. Richie Grant had an impressive career at UCF and backed that up with a strong week at the Senior Bowl. Don’t sleep on Divine Deablo. In addition to having a great name, he can be a heat-seeking missile. Hamsah Nasirildeen is a bit of a conundrum. I’m still not sure if he is a big safety or an undersized linebacker. While he lacks elite speed, Talanoa Hufanga is a playmaker and a leader. Tyree Gillespie has good long speed, but his lack of short-area quickness limits his upside. Shawn Davis and Caden Sterns are both long, hard-hitting safeties. Sterns has a bit more speed those, which gives him the edge.

Free Safety

  1. Trevon Moehrig, TCU
  2. Jevon Holland, Oregon
  3. Andre Cisco, Syracuse
  4. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
  5. Richie Grant, UCF
  6. Jamar Johnson, Indiana
  7. Shaun Wade, Ohio State
  8. Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina
  9. Christian Uphoff, Illinois State
  10. Ar’Darius Washington, TCU

I’ve already praised Moehrig and Holland. I also love Andre Cisco. He was a ballhawk at Syracuse, but needs to improve as a tackler to really be a quality starter. Melifonwu has the size and range to be a potential centerfielder. Jamar Johnson sees the field well, but he does not bring any elite traits to the table. Christian Uphoff could be the latest D-III star to make the NFL jump. He lacks elite top speed, but his size and first step could see him hang around in the NFL. Ar’Darius Washington on the other hand is very undersized, but makes up for that with consistent effort and impressive initial quickness.

Ranking the position groups

  1. Wide Receiver – Top-end talent is among the best we’ve ever seen. There are plenty of good receivers that will slide into the later rounds.
  2. Offensive Tackle – With a few elite prospects and a good amount of depth, this offensive tackle class should produce a good number of starters.
  3. Quarterback – While extremely top heavy, this might be one of the best groups we’ve seen come out in a long time. All five quarterbacks could legitimately go in the top 10 picks. There just isn’t much depth in this year’s class.
  4. Cornerback – Without a standout prospect, this group is a bit more about volume. I have a ton of corners with second-round grades. I think we will see a decent group of starting corners come out of this class, even if they aren’t stars.
  5. Linebacker – There are a handful of really good players that could come off the board in the first three rounds. The quality of this group fades quickly after you make it through the first 11 or 12 players though.
  6. Running Back – There is no Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott in this class. Nor is there a ton of late-round backs that I feel confident in. I do have three running backs in my top 50, but only four in my top 100.
  7. Safety – Perhaps I am underrating this group a little. There are a number of fun and interesting safeties as you move down the board. There just aren’t many that you feel like are slam dunks.
  8. Interior Offensive Line – No Quenton Nelsons or Zach Martins to be found in this class. If you add Rashawn Slater to the mix, that does tip the scales a bit, but I think teams view him as a tackle.
  9. Edge Rushers – No elite prospects and not a ton of depth. This is a tough year to need a pass rusher. When only two players earn first-round grades, which is what I have, it’s an underwhelming class.
  10. Interior Defensive Line – Somehow, this group is even worse. It was difficult to come up with 10 potential nose tackles from this draft. Several of those players are better suited playing elsewhere. Overall, this interior line class stinks.

2021 Senior Bowl Preview: Mac Jones, Kyle Trask headline players to watch, potential sleepers and more

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.

Smith becomes the first Heisman winner to attend the Senior Bowl since Baker Mayfield in 2018. (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Newman will see his first action since December 27, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Hill opted out of the 2020 season after just three games, but had 1,350 rushing yards in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

Breakout candidates

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!

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