I’m taking a little break from focusing on the 2020 NFL Draft, especially with all pre-draft visits and workouts cancelled. We know who the top prospects are this year, it’s just a matter of where they’ll go, but who will be the guys to focus on next year? Take a look at my top 15 prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft below.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Tank for Trevor is a very real thing. Lawrence has gone 29-1 in 2 seasons at Clemson, won a national championship as a freshman, and his only loss came against arguably the best team in college football history in the 2019 LSU Tigers. During that time, he’s accounted for 76 touchdowns (66 passing, 10 rushing), and to put it simply, he has looked like the best quarterback prospect in recent history, right up there with guys like Andrew Luck and John Elway. Lawrence looks like a future hall of fame player, and a player franchises can build around for years to come. Lock him in for the number 1 pick in the 2021 draft.
QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
After playing sparingly behind Jake Fromm at Georgia as a freshman, Fields transferred to Ohio State and took the college football world by storm. He led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff, finished 3rd in the Heisman voting, and dominated the Big 10 by tossing 41 touchdowns (plus 10 rushing) while throwing only 3 interceptions. Fields has the size, arm talent, and running ability to be a nightmare for NFL defensive coaches for years to come. It’s a safe bet that Fields will be a top 10 lock next year.
QB Jamie Newman, Georgia
While Lawrence and Fields have the winning resumes to go along with their elite traits, Newman is a guy to keep an eye on specifically because he has the traits NFL teams want, a big arm, mobility, and ideal size, but they’ll need to see if he can win while playing with the big boys. After deciding to leave Wake Forest, where he enjoyed a very productive junior season, throwing for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns, Newman put his name in the transfer portal and picked Georgia, where he will replace Jake Fromm. If Newman can put together a strong season in the SEC, his 6’4, 230 pound frame is going to be very attractive to NFL scouts and could very easily land him in round 1.
WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
The 2020 Biletnikoff winner was the most dominant receiver on the most dominant team in college football history. Chase torched defenses to the tone of 1,785 yards and 20 touchdowns, beating top SEC corners all season. A great route runner and strong at the line of scrimmage, Chase is poised to be the next great LSU receiver to take over the NFL.
WR Justyn Ross, Clemson
Ross has been at the top of 2021 draft boards ever since his breakout performance as a freshman against Alabama in the National Championship, a 6 catch, 153-yard game with a touchdown as he helped the Tigers route the Crimson Tide. At 6’4 and 205 pounds, Ross has a unique combination of size, hands, and speed. With fellow star receiver Tee Higgins off to the NFL, Ross will get his chance to star as the focal point of the Clemson attack this season.
WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
It’s a great time to be a receiver at Alabama. The Tide will lose star pass catchers Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy to the draft this year, but got a huge boost by having Smith, who lead the team in yards and touchdowns, back for his senior season. After a season like that, Smith was viewed as a potential 1st round pick in a historically loaded receiver class, but by coming back, he puts himself near the top of this class with Chase. Of the 4 Bama receivers, including Ruggs, Jeudy, and Jalyen Waddle, Smith is considered the slowest… with 4.4 speed! Guess what, that’s not slow, that still fast!
WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Waddle was the least talked about of the 4 star Alabama wideouts due to him not being draft eligible last year, but this dude is dangerous! Waddle is smaller at 5’10 and just above 180 pounds, but he has blazing speed and is a terror for defenses with the ball in his hands, as a receiver and in the return game. Need proof? Watch his punt return for a touchdown against LSU last season where he literally had a LSU player almost rip his helmet off when he caught the punt! He will be more featured in the passing game this season, so NFL teams will get a chance to see a more complete pass catcher.
OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
For now, you can lock in Sewell as the top offensive linemen in the 2021 draft. Sewell has dominated college football for 2 years and was not only the best tackle in the nation last season, but one of the best overall players. At 6’6 and 335 pounds, the young left tackle will be a immediate star at the professional level.
DT Marvin Wilson, Florida State
A top prospect out of high school, Wilson might be higher on some lists if he didn’t play at the dumpster fire that is Florida State University. Still, the large defensive tackle put together a solid junior season with 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks in 9 games. Wilson has a ton of talent and should add a nice pass rush element to the middle of a NFL defensive line.
DE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
Chase Young led the NCAA in sacks last season with 16.5. Right behind him was Rousseau, who came out of nowhere as a sophomore and put up 15.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, and forced 2 fumbles. Production like that with a 6’6 body is going to put you in round 1 consideration.
LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
A leader on a dominant Penn State defense, Parsons is the best linebacker in the nation against the run. In 2019 he had 14 tackles for loss for the middle of the field while forcing 4 fumbles and added 5 sacks as well. He adds great versatility as someone who can play inside and outside linebacker. Teams have placed a premium in the draft in recent years when it comes to good linebackers, with players such as Devin White, Devin Bush, and Roquan Smith all being top 10 picks in recent years. You can put Parsons up there with those guys.
LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
Another top high school prospect, Moses was all but locked in as a 1st round linebacker heading into the 2019 season, but a preseason knee injury cost him the season. Still, he was considered a 1st round player as the knee has apparently healed up well. Now returning for his senior year, Moses will anchor an Alabama defense that desperately needed leadership at the linebacker position last year, and assuming his recovery went as planned, should be one of the top linebackers available in the draft.
CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
Another top high school prospect who has lived up to the hype, Surtain has NFL pedigree (his father was a 3x Pro Bowler with the Dolphins) and has put together 2 dominant seasons with the Tide so far. In the cornerback stacked SEC, Pro Football Focus named Surtain II to it’s 2nd team All-Conference. Surtain II enters 2020 as the top ranked corner and could lock himself into a top 10 pick.
CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
The last play of Wade’s 2019 season was him getting thrown out of the College Football Playoff game against Clemson for a pretty light hit on Trevor Lawrence, and I think the then potential 1st round corner didn’t want that to be how he left Ohio State. Wade is a very talented slot corner, and with his teammate Jeff Okudah off to the NFL draft to be a top 5 pick, Wade will get a chance to really show off this season and be one of the primary stars of the Buckeye’s defense.
CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford
Another guy who decided to return to school, I had Adebo going in the top 25 in most of my early mock drafts. Adebo brings great ball skills to the league, having collected 4 interceptions in each of the last 2 seasons, all as a guy Pac-12 quarterbacks try to avoid.
Photo: (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)