The 2021 NFL draft is almost a year away, and scouting work on the prospects has already started. Position groupings are shaping up to be deep in both the quarterback and wide receiver groups. An impressive group is the wide receiver group, and it has several prospects that could turn into number one receivers in the NFL. The quarterback group has four players that could turn into franchise quarterbacks. Let us get a jump start and examine the top 25 prospects in the 2021 draft.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB (Clemson)
Trevor Lawrence’s career record says it all. The Clemson signal-caller has lost just three games in his entire career, and is battle-tested in the biggest moments college football can provide. With some of the best natural passing ability we’ve seen in college football in quite some time, Lawrence threw for 90 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions throughout his three years at Clemson. He relies on his natural arm talent a bit too much at times, as he holds the ball low and has a funky throwing motion, but the kinks in his game can easily be ironed out at the next level. He’s clearly the top prospect on the board.
2. Zach Wilson, QB (BYU)
A year ago, Zach Wilson wasn’t even on the radar as a first-round pick and wasn’t on our top-25 list. However, he exploded onto the scene in 2020 with 33 passing touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He lit up the field at his BYU Pro Day and he’s done enough to ensure that he’ll be a top-3 pick in this draft. With remarkable off-platform throwing ability and an innate ability to read and process the field, he has ready-made NFL traits and should be fun to watch at the next level.
3. Justin Fields, QB (Ohio State)
After throwing for 41 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions in 2019, Fields didn’t have quite the same impact in his 2020 campaign. He played in just 8 games last year, throwing for 22 touchdowns to 6 interceptions and undergoing ups and downs in his play. However, Fields has remarkable downfield accuracy and the type of dual-threat athleticism the modern NFL loves. Fields is still a top QB prospect in this class, and it would be crazy for teams to let him fall out of the top five – he’s far too talented.
4. Ja’Marr Chase, WR (LSU)
Ja’Marr Chase didn’t take the field in 2020, but we aren’t that far removed from his 2019 campaign with 84 catches for 1,730 yards and 20 touchdowns. Justin Jefferson took the league by storm as a rookie last year, but he wasn’t even the best receiver on his LSU team – that was Chase. There are very few flaws in Chase’s game, and he should be the first receiver off the board in a talented draft at the position. He has the potential to make a similar impact to Jefferson as a rookie in 2021.
5. Penei Sewell, OT (Oregon)
Sewell has learned his craft well under Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal. Sewell is a dominant offensive tackle, and he has kept Oregon quarterbacks clean the past few seasons. Sewell is a monster at 6’6″, 331 pounds, but he moves far better than anybody should be able to at that size. His movement suggests he could play guard in the NFL, but he has the potential to be one of the better bookend tackles right away. With so many elite pass rushers in the NFL, Sewell’s value speaks for itself.
6. Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)
Trey Lance will be the quarterback in the 2021 draft that will get more attention as the college football season draws closer. The Bison quarterback is dangerous with his legs, with the ability to extend plays and pick up first downs. Lance rushed for 1,100 yards and scored 14 touchdowns on the ground in 2019. As good as Lance was on the ground, he was equally dangerous through the air. Lance threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns. North Dakota State is a powerhouse program, and it is no longer a surprise to see quality quarterbacks come out of smaller schools and light up the NFL.
7. DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama)
Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were the recipients of most of the attention last season, but DeVonta Smith was the receiver that led the Crimson Tide in receiving yards with 1,256 and touchdowns with 14. In 2020, Smith caught 117 balls for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, winning the Heisman trophy with one of the most dominant wide receiver seasons we’ve seen in recent years. He’s a natural football player with smooth movement, smart route-running, and remarkable contested-catch ability. There’s no question Smith should be a top-10 pick.
8. Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida)
Pitts has exploded onto the scene as a vital component of the Florida Gators’ offense. The Gator’s tight end has caught 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns. Pitts is not afraid to come across and make the reception, meanwhile knowing that he is going to take a blow. Pitts caught 12 touchdowns in 2020, and he has solidified himself as the top tight end in this class and a top-10 pick.
9. Patrick Surtain, CB (Alabama)
One player that has lived up to the recruiting hype at Alabama is cornerback Patrick Surtain. Surtain earned All-American honors last season at Alabama, and it was surprising that he did not declare for the 2020 NFL draft. Surtain is fast enough and uses his size at 6’2” to cause problems for opposing wide receivers. After an impressive 2020 campaign, Surtain should be the first cornerback off the board.
10. Micah Parsons, LB (Penn State)
Over the past four decades, Penn State has kept the NFL flush with linebackers. Micah Parsons will be the next great Penn State linebacker to hear his name called on draft weekend. Parsons shows off his impressive athleticism when he blitzes the quarterback. Parsons is an absolute playmaker, racking up stats and impacting the game in a number of ways. The impressive Penn State player has an excellent chance of being the first linebacker off the board.
11. Jaylen Waddle, WR (Alabama)
Waddle uses his excellent speed at both the wide receiver position and in the return game. Waddle was on the receiving end of 33 passes and racked up 560 yards and six touchdowns in 2019 and had 28 catches for 591 yards and 4 touchdowns in just six games in 2020. Waddle has a remarkable downfield acceleration ability and is a threat to score anytime he has the ball in his hands. With the modern NFL emphasizing speed and playmaking at the skill positions, Waddle seems like a perfect fit as a modern receiver. He should be the third receiver off the board in this class after Chase and Smith.
12. Rashawn Slater, OL (Northwestern)
Rashawn Slater has exploded into the first-round draft conversation, and there are some who believe he should be drafted ahead of Penei Sewell. Although he did play offensive tackle at Northwestern, he lacks prototypical size and traits for the position. However, that positional versatility should serve him well in the NFL. He’s as pro-ready as it gets in terms of technique and discipline and is a Day 1 starter for whoever drafts him.
13. Christian Darrisaw, OT (Virginia Tech)
After starting every game for Virginia Tech at left tackle over the last two seasons, Darrisaw is prepared to do the same thing in the NFL. He emerged as a high-level prospect this past season as he finally translated his power and athleticism into a lockdown pass-blocking season, and his technique and discipline seemed to take massive steps forward. He has ideal measurables for the offensive tackle position, and with his experience, he’s ready to start at the left tackle spot right away in the NFL with future Pro Bowl upside.
14. Teven Jenkins, OT (Oklahoma State)
Offensive tackle is arguably the most important non-quarterback position in the NFL, and teams are likely to fall in love with Teven Jenkins’s strength and physicality at the position. Jenkins has the ability to play either tackle position and his remarkable athleticism should translate right away. I see a run on offensive linemen happening in the first round, and Jenkins could go higher than most expect. If teams in the 20s want a starting tackle for next season, they might need to make a trade-up to secure Jenkins.
15. Kwity Paye, EDGE (Michigan)
With 97 total tackles, 23.5 for a loss, and 11.5 sacks over his 28 games in four years at Michigan, Kwity Paye made his presence felt like one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Paye is a strong run defender and he also has a well-developed pass-rushing toolbox. At 6’4″, 271 lbs, Paye is more of a hybrid DT-DE, and he can likely fit into a number of schemes in the NFL with his combination of size and athleticism. Every NFL team needs pass-rushing help, and it would be surprising to see Paye slip too far in this class.
16. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB (Notre Dame)
A 6’1″, 216-lb linebacker? Going in the first half of the first round? That might seem crazy, but Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a consensus All-American in 2020 and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. JOK is the best coverage linebacker in this class and he might have been a safety in the NFL 10 years ago. JOK’s ability doesn’t stop in coverage, though, as he can also be a nuisance in run defense and in the pass-rush. JOK has swiss-army knife usability that any team should find value in.
17. Caleb Farley, CB (Virginia Tech)
Caleb Farley should have the resume to put him into competition with Patrick Surtain for the top cornerback in this class. However, a recent back procedure threw a wrench into the long-term evaluation of Farley as a prospect. He certainly has the physical profile to succeed in the NFL, with a remarkable blend of game-breaking speed in a 6’2″, 207-lb frame. He has the foot speed to track speedy receivers downfield and seems to be tailor-made to play corner in the modern NFL. Injury issues aside, Farley is a clear-cut first-round pick in this draft.
18. Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL (USC)
After a strong season at offensive guard in 2019, USC put Alijah Vera-Tucker at offensive tackle in 2020 and it paid off in spades. He has the length and strength to play the position, despite being a bit shorter, and some NFL teams may be excited about his future on the outside. However, his field awareness, reactionary decision-making, and athletic talent suggest a future on the interior of the offensive line. Regardless, AVT is a highly-talented offensive line prospect with a clear future as a starter in the NFL.
19. Rashod Bateman, WR (Minnesota)
In 2019, Rashod Bateman finally had the breakthrough those who had followed him for a long time knew he was capable of as the Minnesota wide receiver caught 60 balls for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He opted out of the second half of the 2020 season after COVID-19 complications destroyed this college football season, but we’ve seen enough to project Bateman as a future high-level starting receiver in the NFL. Bateman is a smooth route runner with great ball skills and an impressive blend of strength and speed – he’s NFL-ready.
20. Jaycee Horn, CB (South Carolina)
At 6’1″, 205 lbs and with a high-level combination of strength and athleticism, there’s a lot to love about Jaycee Horn right off the bat. He’s a scheme-diverse cornerback with experience playing in varying coverage sets, and Horn is absolutely ready to provide a solid baseline as a starter in the NFL. He can be a bit flag-prone at times, and his ball production was never stellar at South Carolina, but he’s an incredibly high-floor prospect. Depending on how Caleb Farley’s medial diagnoses pan out, Horn could be the second cornerback selected in this draft.
21. Jayson Oweh, EDGE (Penn State)
Casual observers will be confused that the second-highest rated edge rusher in this draft had zero sacks in seven games last season. However, overlooking Oweh due to that metric would be a huge mistake. At 6’5″, 252 lbs, he has the prototypical defensive line frame with the athleticism to make plays in space. He lacks polish to be fair, but Oweh’s athletic traits can’t be taught and give him elite upside. He needs to be more disciplined with his footwork and eyes, and he has to find ways to keep himself in plays instead of selling out early, but the athletic profile is nothing to scoff at here.
22. Christian Barmore, DT (Alabama)
Currently my only projected first-round pick at the defensive tackle position, Christian Barmore is getting slept on among a talented crop of defensive players in this draft. However, Barmore’s ability to contribute in both the pass-rush and run defense right away as a quality starter should not be overlooked. Barmore has remarkable get-off speed and agility to get around blocks, and he was asked to read and react to plays in the Alabama defense. He’s ready to fill a number of roles on the defensive line for whichever NFL team takes him.
23. Trevon Moehrig, S (TCU)
In the late-first round and early-second round, there are a number of versatile defensive backs available. However, Moerhig stands out as a prototypical physical player with the ability to play as a single-high safety, in a split formation, or cover receivers in the slot. Moehrig’s 2020 campaign did more to introduce additional questions than answer preexisting ones, but his ability to read the field and cover receivers in space should translate right away, Moehrig can realistically be a starter right away in the NFL, and there’s no reason he can’t develop into one of the better players at his position.
24. Zaven Collins, LB (Tulsa)
Zaven Collins is a mid-major player, but he’s one of my favorite prospects in this class. At 6’5″, 259 lbs, he’s a massive linebacker who plays bigger than even his frame suggests. He’s a monstrous tackler with the ability to get to the quarterback and track down rushers behind the line of scrimmage. Collins has also shown the ability to hold up in coverage, although that’s not his strength. Collins is a natural football player with the awareness, physicality, and athleticism to succeed at a high level in the NFL.
25. Travis Etienne, RB (Clemson)
With over 6,000 yards from scrimmage and 78 career touchdowns at Clemson to his name, Etienne has very much been in the national spotlight over the past few years. He emerged as a high-level receiver over the past two years, and that should be a significant part of his value in the NFL. He also has the home-run-hitting ability with 16 career touchdowns of 44+ yards. Running back has been devalued in the NFL, but Etienne is going to be a valuable piece of whichever NFL offense he lands on.