Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

NFL Draft 2021 Player Position Rankings: Offense

Zach Wilson, BYU

Following the wacky 2020 college football season, the 2021 NFL Draft process has been just as weird. Without many of the usual benchmarks, such as a true NFL Combine or abbreviated pro days, this year's NFL Draft should once again be fairly unique. With that being said, there's a lot to like about the cycle as a whole, with tons of talent at the skill positions, and an interesting list of defenders. For the third straight year, I'll be breaking down my Top 5 prospects at each position group, as well as some sleepers set to go on Days 2-3. These rankings aren't where I think they will go, but are how I am evaluating them, and where I would select them if I were a GM.


1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson -- There's no debate about who the best QB prospect in this Draft is. From the time Trevor Lawrence was a high school senior, he's been labeled a "cant-miss" NFL prospect, and he's done little in his three years since then to dispel that notion. He checks quite literally every box you could have: size, arm talent, mobility, toughness, etc. He's an extremely well-rounded guy on and off-the-field, and there should be no questions about his commitment to the sport. I'm still not entirely sure whether the Urban Meyer experiment is going to work in Jacksonville, but having a signal-caller like Lawrence to work with is an awfully good start.

Projected Range: Early first round

2. Justin Fields, Ohio State -- I'm not sure whether the Justin Fields dropping talk is all just a smoke-screen, or if the former Buckeye QB is going to actually drop outside the Top 5. I still have him as the second-best QB prospect in this cycle, a spot he has been locked into for some time now. Just look at his numbers while at Ohio State: 78 total touchdowns compared to just nine interceptions, nearly 6,000 yards of total offense and a completion percentage in the high 60 range. Those would be eye-popping numbers with two full seasons, but become even more impressive when you consider the shortened 2020 Big Ten season. It's not just the numbers either; he's an incredible athlete for the quarterback position, is an extremely tough kid, and I don't doubt his work ethic. The fact that he lost to Clemson in that heartbreaking semifinal game in 2019-20 and then come back and dominated a Tiger defense full of future NFL guys a year later says a lot to me about his competitiveness and comittment. He's not quite at Lawrence's level in my eyes, but is only just a step below.

Projected Range: Early to mid-first round

3. Zach Wilson, BYU -- More and more it appears that Zach Wilson is going to be the No. 2 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, especially now that Sam Darnold is in Carolina. I can understand why NFL people are high on him; he's probably got the best arm out of any QB prospect in this Draft and plays with a certain flash that you can't really teach. What I will say is that I think too many people are overlooking his flaws, and he does have some. For one, he did deal with injury problems throughout his time at BYU that limited his body of work quite a bit. He had a tremendous 2020 season, but are we reading into a shortened season too much? Particularly when you consider BYU's competition, through no fault of their own, was one of the worst among Top 25 teams? Wilson also did play behind a Cougar offensive line, which was rated the 12th best in the nation last year, according to Pro Football Focus. I'm not sure he'll enjoy that luxury in 2021, playing behind a New York Jets offensive line that could be among the worst in the NFL. I still think Wilson is probably worthy of a Top 5 selection, but I still remained fairly shocked at how many people are not just rating him the No. 2 QB in this Draft, but even putting him over Lawrence for the top spot.

Projected Range: Early first round

4. Trey Lance, North Dakota State -- Lawrence, Fields and Wilson all used impressive 2020 seasons to either rise up draft boards, or strengthen their respective positions near the top of the Draft. NDSU's Trey Lance didn't get that opportunity, as the 2020 FCS season was moved to the spring, making it nearly impossible for him to compete in any serious manner. Lance still did a chance to play in 2020 thanks to an exhibition contest versus Central Arkansas in October, where he went for 149 yards and two touchdowns, but there's not very much you can take away from that. Instead, any tape we have on Lance is from 2019, where he threw for 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions, the most attempts in NCAA history without an INT. That type of efficiency is mind-boggling, and he did it in an offense that utilizes a lot of NFL concepts. With that being said, I'd still like to see a fuller body of work from Lance to propel him up boards and over the trio in front of him. He's a great athlete with a tremendous arm, but there are some finer points of playing quarterback that i'm not sold on just yet from him. Even so, if he does drop a little bit, potentially outside of the Top 10, he could be a real steal in the right system.

Projected Range: Early to mid-first round

5. Mac Jones, Alabama -- No matter where he ends up being drafted, Mac Jones is a great story. He was a three-star prospect out of Florida who signed in the history-making 2017 Alabama recruiting class, before waiting his turn behind both Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. When he finally got his chance, in 2020, he had to fend off five-star true freshman Bryce Young to hold onto the starting job. He did just that, and proceeded to put together a Heisman-level season, tossing for 4,500 and 41 touchdowns. As he prepares for the next step, he's enjoyed a bunch of positive media attention, rising from a fringe first-rounder to potential Top 3 selection. I'm not completely shocked at the adoration coming his way, but to me, Mac Jones is a fairly average quarterback prospect. His arm talent is good but far from great, he's not exactly a world-class athlete, and he was aided by potentially the greatest receiver corps in the history of college football. He still has many of the attributes that can make him solid and I get the feeling he's the type of prospect that can be a ten-year, productive starter in the NFL. I don't see him ever being a Pro Bowler or superstar, which gives me a first or second-round grade on him.

Projected Range: Early to mid-first round

Sleeper: Feleipe Franks, Arkansas

I have to give credit where credit is due. When Feleipe Franks transferred to Arkansas after losing his job at Florida to Kyle Trask, I didn't think there was any chance he would put together a productive season for the rebuilding Razorbacks. Instead, he went for 2,107 yards and 17 touchdowns (just four INT), while showing excellent command of an Arkansas offense that was much better than expected. It wasn't enough to push him into the upper echelon of this QB class, but should be enough to land him on an NFL roster. In fact, I'm surprised there isn't more attention being given to the SEC veteran, as he has a lot of attributes the NFL loves, such as size (6'6") and pure arm strength.

Projected Range: Late fourth round to early seventh round


1. Najee Harris, Alabama -- On just about any other team than the 2020 Crimson Tide, Najee Harris would have been a Top 3 Heisman finisher and a first-round lock. He pounded opposing defenses to the tune of 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns despite the shortened SEC schedule. He just so happened to play on an Alabama offense that had record-setting production from both their quarterback and top receiver, overshadowing what he was able to do on the gridiron. Harris shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to the Draft, as he checks box after box. He's not exactly a burner and has always been considered a power runner, but he's also shown more elusiveness and shiftiness than given credit for. Harris is also a really soldi receiver out of the backfield and a good blocker. The fact that the NFL continues to devalue the running back position likely drops him to the late first or early second, but he's a better prospect than that.

Projected Range: Mid-first round to early second round

2. Travis Etienne, Clemson -- Etienne is another guy whose collegiate career was overshadowed by a superstar quarterback playing with him in the backfield, but he still wraps up in his Tiger career as one of the best to ever put on a Clemson uniform. The speedster came to Clemson as a relatively unheard of three-star recruit before exploding for 766 yards as a true freshman. He built on that with two consecutive 1,600 yard campaigns before a 914-mark in 2020. His speed and explosiveness fills a highlight tape well, but he's actually a fairly proven workhorse for his size. I don't think he's as well-rounded of a prospect as Harris, but can still add some much-needed playmaking to any NFL roster. The jury's still out on whether he can be an every-down back in the league, but he's still worthy of a pick anywhere in the second round.

Projected Range: Early to late second round

3. Trey Sermon, Ohio State -- Recency bias may be playing a role in Trey Sermon's ranking here, but how could you watch that Big Ten Championship and semifinal against Clemson and not be blown away by the Buckeye back? He followed up a 331-yard performance against a physical Northwestern defense by going for 193 against Clemson in the national semifinal. If not for an injury sustained on the first drive in the National Championship, he would've done much the same against a Tide defense that proved it was susceptible against the run in 2020. Considered more of a change-of-pace guy during his time at Oklahoma, Sermon's play in 2020 proved that he can be a legitimate every-down running back. He has an innate sense of patience and vision, and his ability to catch the ball and create could add an interesting layer to any NFL offense. He'll probably last into the middle rounds of this Draft, potentially giving an NFL team a really nice value play.

Projected Range: Early third round to late fourth round

4. Javonte Williams, UNC: Javonte Williams split time with Michael Carter over the past few seasons in Chapel Hill and still produced, including a 1,140 yard 2020 campaign. He's getting significant NFL buzz because of a nice mix of pure power and ideal speed, and he's also a real impact blocker out of the backfield. Williams is the type of runner that plays like there's no tomorrow, a battering ram in pads who loves contact. Despite playing each of the last three seasons for UNC, at 366 career carries, he doesn't have too much wear and tear, giving him fairly nice value in the second or third rounds. He's not as big of a name as a Harris or Etienne, but could still challenge him to the top RB off the board.

Projected Range: Early to late second round

5. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis: Another prospect whose career track likely changed in a major way because of COVID-19, Kenneth Gainwell is somewhat tough to get a read on. He was absolutely dominant in 2019, totaling over 2,000 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns. Gainwell was well on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in college football before opting out prior to the 2020 season, due to the fact his family had suffered severe health ramifications due to COVID. His opt-out was understandable, but it left with him with less game tape than others in the cycle. We know he's a speed demon with an impressive amount of versatility, but he was sometimes inconsistent in college, and played in an offense quite different than what is ran in the NFL. Some team will still be creative in how they're able to use him, but he's probably a Day 2 or 3 prospect at this point.

Projected Range: Early third round to mid-fourth round

Sleeper: Pooka Williams Jr., Kansas

Even though Kansas football won six games over two-plus seasons when Pooka Williams was on the field, he still asserted himself as one of the premier playmakers in the Big 12. In his first two seasons with the Jayhawks, Williams recorded 2,500 yards of total offense and 14 touchdowns, even though the entire stadium knew he was going to be fed the football. Despite being undersized at 5'9", 175 pounds, he showed no fear of fighting through contact, and he also displayed real burst in the open field. There are concerns here which are likely to drop him to the later rounds. In addition to being undersized, Williams was charged with domestic battery in late 2018 and served just a one-game suspension. The talent is there for him to be really interesting, but the lack of size likely means his NFL career will be short, but exciting.

Projected Range: Mid-fifth round to undrafted


1. DeVonta Smith, Alabama -- DeVonta Smith is coming off not just a record-setting, Heisman 2020 but an illustrious Alabama career that will lock him in as one of the best to ever play at the position in Tuscaloosca. Yet, most mocks have him as the No. 2 wide out off the board and usually dropping outside of the Top 10. The primary reasons are that he weighs in a little light for an NFL receiver, as well as the fact he may not have as high of a ceiling as others in this Draft. Fair concerns in some ways, but Smith is still my favorite wide receiver prospect of this cycle. He opted to come back to Alabama to polish his skill set and did just that, improving his burst off the line and his route running. His ball skills and catch radius have always been elite, but he's worked to take that to another level as well. Simply put, there are no mysteries with Smith; while other wide outs may have more long-term upside, Smith is not going to bust. 

Projected Range: Early to mid-first round

2. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU -- There's a lot of split opinions when it comes to Ja'Marr Chase. On one side, scouts and personnel see him as a generational type receiver prospect who will acclimate to the pace and speed of the NFL incredibly fast. On the other, there are those who would've liked to see him come back in 2020 and build on his Biletnikoff-winning 2019, and have concerns about his route running and overall polish. I'm somewhere in between both camps; I loved Chase as a college wide out and there's no question he dominated a host of future NFL defensive backs while at LSU, but he occasionally took plays off, and some of the finer fundamental parts of the game are questions. He's built stronger than Smith, although their speed and ball skills are pretty much even. There's more boom-or-bust potential here than in his Alabama counterpart, so landing in the right system will be of extra importance.

Projected Range: Early first round

3. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama -- It's easy to forget that, prior to his broken ankle, Jaylen Waddle was putting together the best impressive season of any Tide wide out, not DeVonta Smith. However, Waddle was lost for pretty much the entire year and even when he did come back, like his appearance in the National Championship, it was short-lived. Waddle has undeniable breakaway speed and explosiveness that you can't teach and can be an impactful piece on special teams as well as receiver. He still has areas of his game to polish, but the physical attributes are truly tantalizing. The injury concerns have a chance to drop him somewhere in the 10-15 range, but he's the type of prospect that can really add a dynamic element to any offense. In most cycles, he'd probably be the top wide out off the board, without much question.

Projected Range: Mid to late first round

4. Kadarius Toney, Florida -- As fun as the top three receivers in this Draft are, there's perhaps none more exciting than Florida product Kadarius Toney. Toney reminds me so much of Percy Harvin coming out of college, and they played a similar role in Dan Mullen's offense. He can line up on the outside, in the slot, or even in the backfield if needed. You can run him deep to occupy a safety, set him up for a screen pass where he can take it the distance, or run him over the middle and see what he can do. Toney won't be able to completely blow things open quite the way he did in college, but players with this type of playmaking ability can still make things happen. Injury concerns could threaten to drop him to the late first round or early second, but he'll make an impact wherever he goes.

Projected Range: Late first round to early second round

5. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota -- As a huge Minnesota Golden Gopher fan, I'm obviously a huge fan of Rashod Bateman, and I've watched him develop from a freshman oozing with potential to a bonafide superstar. In just about anything other draft, I'd say Bateman was a Top 15 prospect and the top receiver in the draft but with this loaded class, he falls down the board slightly. With that being said, Bateman still has just about any tool an NFL team could want, from speed and route running to NFL-ready hands. Some of the catches he made during his Minnesota career were truly astounding, and he proved that he could play in the slot or on the perimeter and make things happen. Bateman will probably last until the middle or later first round, giving some team another huge steal possibility.

Projected Range: Mid-first round to early second round

Sleeper: Tamorrion Terry, Florida State

As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Tamorrion Terry set multiple Florida State records, with the most receiving yards by a freshman in program history (744) and the most receiving touchdowns (8) since 2011. Terry built on that with a huge 2019 season in which he had 1,188 yards, before returning for an incredibly frustrating 2020 season in which the FSU passing game was nearly nonexistent. Even without a reliable QB to get him the ball, the Seminole wide out was able to flash elite hands, with the ability to catch and control the ball in traffic. At 6'4" with impressive leaping ability, he has the raw tools to be a tremendous jump-ball receiver, and continue to be a factor in tight spaces. Despite impressive production given the circumstances in Tallahassee, Terry is projected to go anywhere from the third to fifth rounds. He's much more talented than that range, but will have to regain focus after the frustrating fall.

Projected Range: Early third round to late fifth round

Tight Ends

1. Kyle Pitts, Florida -- Even though tight ends are being drafted higher and higher in today's NFL, it's been awhile since we've seen a player at this position enter the Draft with as much hype as Kyle Pitts. Pitts is coming off a history-breaking 2020 season in which he finished Top 10 in Heisman voting, the first TE to do so since Ken MacAfee in the late 1970s. Pitts is an absolute matchup nightmare; he's got a true NFL tight end frame, but his quickness and burst off the line resemble a receiver. He's got a tremendous feel of finding space against zone coverage, and will blow apart nearly any defender in man coverage. He was aided by all the weapons on Florida's offense this year, but that shouldn't be a knock against him, considering he was the most lethal of them all. Pitts is a legitimate Top 10 prospect in this cycle, if not Top 5. He's the type of generational tight end prospect that you simply don't see very often, and I'd be shocked if either San Francisco or Atlanta didn't take a stab at him.

Projected Range: Early first round

2. Brevin Jordan, Miami (FL) -- There's a pretty notable drop-off at this position following Pitts, although Brevin Jordan's still a Day One or early Day Two talent. Jordan was a multiyear, consistent contributor for the Hurricanes in his collegiate career, and was by far and away their best pass-catcher in 2020. He still had his games where he would disappear for a few series, but seemed to play with more confidence and poise this fall than in year's past. The big question for him is whether he can improve as a blocker, where he has shown potential, but still needs work. I like him more than Pat Freiermuth because of Jordan is a superior athlete in my mind, but either one would be a nice second round selection.

Projected Range: Early second round to mid-third round

3. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State -- After a productive freshman season in 2018, Pat Freiermuth really exploded onto the scene in '19, going for 507 yards and seven touchdowns. He proved to be the most reliable part of the Penn State aerial attack, beyond do-it-all K.J. Hamler. 2020 was supposed to be the year where he took the next step and asserted himself as the best in the country, but PSU's passing game was atrocious, and he wasn't healthy. Even so, the former Nittany Lion has proven to be a really effective pass-catcher with good height and an ideal build. He's not as fast or naturally athletic as a Pitts or Jordan, but is more of your traditional, throwback tight end. 

Projected Range: Mid-second round to late third round

4. Hunter Long, Boston College -- There's another drop-off beyond the top tight end trio, although Hunter Long is vastly underrated in my mind. He showed flashes in 2019 as part of an underwhelming Boston College offense, but really broke out this past season, when he went for 57 receptions, 685 yards, and five touchdowns. Long proved that he was a crisp route runner, excellent at catching the ball in traffic, and a decent blocker. He isn't anywhere close to the athlete that other tight ends are in this class, but will probably have to get by as a role player in an NFL offense. He does offer some upside as a middle-round selection, if he can continue to get stronger.

Projected Range: Early fourth round to late fifth round

5. Kylen Granson, SMU -- Kylen Granson began his collegiate career as a little-known pass-catcher at Rice before eventually transferring to SMU, where he evolved into one of the country's best tight ends. In 2019, he recorded 721 yards and nine touchdowns before following it up with a 536-yard, five touchdowns performance in 2020. He leaves with a host of Mustang tight end records, but projects somewhere late in the NFL Draft, or possibly even undrafted. One of the primary concerns is that he's undersized for the position, at 6'2", 242 pounds. That really limits him as a blocker, especially once he gets to the NFL, a whole different animal than what he saw in the American Athletic. As a pure pass-catcher he has a lot of interesting tools, but the lack of size really limits what he can end up being.

Projected Range: Mid-fourth round to undrafted

Sleeper: Matt Bushman, BYU -- With how successful BYU was in 2020, it may be easy to forget that they were missing possibly their best pass-catcher in tight end Matt Bushman. Bushman led the team in receiving each of the last three seasons before rupturing his Achilles prior to the fall. He's the classic case of a guy getting hurt at the wrong time, particularly when we saw what Zach Wilson was able to do in 2020. When he was 100 percent, Bushman was about as reliable as you can get, dropping just two passes on 140 catchable targets over his career. He also showed fairly impressive wiggle and elusiveness for a player of his size, and he could end up being a pretty decent athlete at the next level if he can get back from the Achilles. 

Projected Range: Early sixth round to undrafted

Offensive Line

1. Penei Sewell, Oregon -- If not for the host of QB-needy teams at the top of this Draft, Penei Sewell would be undoubtedly the No. 1 overall pick. After becoming the first Oregon freshman to start in over two decades, Sewell dominated in 2019, where he was an All-American and even received Heisman votes. Sewell ended up opting out of the abbreviated Pac-12 season, but that shouldn't effect his stock too much considering all the chaos surrounding the 2020 campaign. He's still the top edge blocker in the cycle, with excellent footwork, a well-built frame, and a very natural feel for the position. Sewell will still need refinement, especially now that he has missed about a year of real game speed, but I really don't see a lot of notable weaknesses in his game. If there any questions about what this guy can do against NFL talent, simply go back and watch the game tape of his play against Auburn in 2019. He absolutely dominated a group that included Derrick Brown and several other future professional pass rushers.

Projected Range: Early first round

2. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern -- Much like Sewell, Rashawn Slater choose to opt out of his league's shortened 2020 season and instead prepare for the NFL Draft. However, Slater still asserted himself as an incredibly reliable blocker at the collegiate level as a two-year starter through 2018 and '19. The Northwestern product really fit the mantra and attitude of the program, as a physical mauler who might not jump off the page physically, but produces week-in, week-out. The questions about Slater surround what exactly he's going to be in the NFL; he's played primarily tackle through college, but some NFL folks think he'll be a guard in the pros. He's got the athleticism to play either, and moved incredibly well for a 304-pound tackle. Much like Sewell, Slater's also got some game tape that probably earn him a spot in the Top 10, as he shut down Chase Young back in 2019.

Projected Range: Early to mid-first round

3. Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State -- There's a bunch of differing opinions on Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins the closer we get to the Draft. There's a significant contingent of people who think he'll end up somewhere in the late first, but there's also some thought he could slip into Day Two. Part of the differing opinions is because Jenkins has the tools and makeup to be a highly successful starter, but there's questions about his work ethic and commitment. He was an experienced piece of the Cowboy offensive line the last three seasons and helped spur the way for Chuba Hubbard's success, while gaining a reputation for being a particular ferocious blocker. Jenkins moves pretty well for his size (6'6", 320 pounds) and has excellent footwork for his age. I think he will end up being a reliable contributor at the next level, but the off-the-field concerns are there.

Projected Range: Late first to late second round

4. Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech -- Most mock drafts you'll see have Christian Darrisaw usually listed somewhere in the Top 20, but there's also quite a bit of debate surrounding the former Virginia Tech Hokie. Darrisaw does have a healthy amount of experience, as a three year starter in Blacksburg who primarily played left tackle. He earned a reputation as a superb athlete who played with quite a bit of finesse as a blocker. It worked well in college, as he was All-ACC in both 2019 and 2020, but NFL people wonder if he has the necessary toughness and mean streak needed to be a successful tackle in the pros. It may be a valid concern, but Darrisaw checks enough boxes for me that I'd be surprised if he busted. He might not have the potential of other linemen in this class, but his floor is higher.

Projected Range: Mid-first round to early second round

5. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama -- Alabama is an absolute factory for just about every position group and that includes the offensive line, where they've sent a host of talented blockers to the NFL in recent years. Next up is Alex Leatherwood, who contributed from Day One with the Tide and leaves as an incredibly accomplished blocker. After appearing in seven games for 'Bama in 2017, he took over as guard in 2018 before moving to his more natural tackle spot the last two years. Although he still had some issues with consistency each of the last two years, he was still impressive enough to win the Outland Trophy as the nation's best O-Linemen in 2020. His long list of accomplishments, as well as his ideal weight and height makes him a really interesting prospect. You'd assume a guy like that would be a first-round lock, but there's a fairly good chance he drops into the second round. I don't claim to be an expert when projecting offensive linemen, but I can't imagine any reason why a guy like this would last so long.

Projected Range: Late first round to mid-second round

Sleeper: Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater

After an incredibly successful career at Division III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater, Quinn Meinerz has become somewhat of a cult hero in this year's NFL Draft. He came out an dominated at the Senior Bowl against top-notch competition, allowing him to rise from a fringe draft selection to a likely mid-rounder. A former wrestler, Meinerz plays with the type of bruising strength and power you need on the interior O-Line. He's also got the chip on his shoulder mentality that he needs to go from a small-school to the bright lights of the NFL. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he goes a lot higher than projections have him, which is somewhere from the third to fifth rounds.

Projected Range: Mid-third round to late fifth round

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.