2021 NFL Draft: Ryan’s Big Board (Top-30)

With the offseason underway for 30 of 32 teams, it’s not too early to start looking ahead to the NFL Draft (despite it being three months away). The Eagles and new head coach Nick Sirianni are in the process of hiring the rest of their new-look staff, and soon they’ll be shifting gears toward the actual offseason.

The Eagles pick 6th overall this upcoming April, and Howie Roseman absolutely needs to deliver on this pick. Of course, GMs always need to deliver on their picks, but something about this selection feels like a make-or-break moment for a front office firmly in the cross hairs of the fan base and media.

Without further ado, here’s my initial 30-man Big Board (non Eagles-centric) for the 2021 NFL Draft:

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson

The consensus top player in the draft and the best QB prospect since Deshaun Watson, Lawrence has had his name inked in here for a while. Size, athleticism, arm talent, field vision, intangibles—the ingredients to be an elite signal caller at the next level are all there.

2. Penei Sewell, OT Oregon

Sewell is not only considered the best tackle prospect in the class, but the best in a decade. His size, power, athleticism, and light feet might as well have come from a lab; and he has the technical prowess to boot. Any team who drafts Sewell is adding a bookend tackle and anchor in the run game—he should be the clear number 2 prospect on every board.

3. DeVonta Smith, WR Alabama

Smith doesn’t have the gaudiest physical or athletic traits, but he’s an absolute stag on the field. He wins at the line, he wins on his routes, and most importantly he wins at the point of catch. He’s a quarterback’s best friend in every sense of the phrase, and he’ll become a go-to target on third down and in the red zone for whatever QB is fortunate enough to work with him.

4. JaMarr Chase, WR LSU

If it weren’t for Smith’s Heisman campaign we’d be drooling at Chase instead. Similar to Smith, he’s actually underwhelming physically compared to a typical top-10 WR, but elite leaping ability and explosive burst allows him to play above the rim and separate out of breaks with ease. Scouts will fade Chase as a benefactor of LSU’s historic 2019 offense, but that analysis doesn’t hold up on tape.

5. Zach Wilson, QB BYU

QB2 is apparently up for debate, but I’m not sure why. Wilson is a good athlete with good size and excellent arm talent. He sees the field well and throws with natural anticipation. He’s capable of and adept at throwing from awkward angles and uncomfortable bases (a la Wilson, Mahomes, Stafford) and his best football comes under pressure. He has all of Fields’ skillset plus some polish.

6. Christian Darrisaw, OT Virginia Tech

Darrisaw shouldn’t challenge Sewell for OT1 but he’s pretty safely number 2. He checks all the same boxes—size, athleticism, technique—but slightly more developmental. He’ll need time in an NFL weight room and to hone his technique/fundamentals, but the traits and tape don’t lie, this is blue-chip tackle prospect.

7. Micah Parsons, LB PSU

Uber athletic and one of the more fun players on film, Parsons is lean, fast and packs a punch with a nose for the football. It’s hard to disagree with a skillset as versatile as his—rushing the passer, making plays in the open field, and working in coverage all at a high-level. Defenses with attacking, one-gapping LBs will treasure him, but he’s useful in any scheme. There’s room to grow into a traditional MIKE LB (added technique, eye-discipline) but he has the tools to be a three-down backer right away.

8. Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech

Despite being new to his position, Farley is as natural as they come and has every tool a corner could need. He pairs plus size, length, speed, and athleticism with quiet feet, fluid hips, and instinctive mirroring skills to stick in man coverage; more reps will allow him to get a better feel for zone, but his ball skills are apparent on tape. Tackling fundamentals will need to be refined, but he’s physical and willing in this regard. A playmaker through and through, Farley has it all.

9. Jaylen Waddle, WR Alabama

Waddle is going to fly somewhat under the radar given the status of Smith and Chase and his being injured for much of 2020, but he’s an equally exciting prospect as the first two names. The speedster of the bunch, Waddle is sub-4.3 runner who demands attention over the top. He’s not limited to a deep-threat, and can handle a varied route tree, excel as a RAC threat, threaten in quick passing game, and even lineup in the backfield. He’s a walking touchdown.

10. Patrick Surtain II, CB Alabama

Surtain comes from an NFL bloodline and he looks every bit of it. His size, length, athleticism, and overall physicality are elite for a corner, and strong technique puts his stock over the top. The one knock compared to Farley is a lack of top-end speed, and for that reason he may always be scheme specific. Nonetheless, he’s a strong prospect for man-heavy teams.

11. Kyle Pitts, TE Florida

Pitts will be a matchup nightmare in the NFL from day one. At 6’6” 240 he‘s a freakish athlete with soft hands and the ability to line up out-wide, in the slot, or in-line. He’ll threaten defenses at all three levels and demand opponents respect him like a receiver. While mostly a receiving threat, he’s a passable and willing blocker who should improve in this regard.

12. Kwity Paye, DL Michigan

A 6’4” 270 lb. athlete with the strength of an ox, Paye is all tools. Massive, quick, powerful, explosive are all words that apply here. He’ll need more reps to hone his technique and unlock some of those elite tools, but given his highly-regarded intangibles (character, work ethic) there’s little doubt around his ability to develop as a pro. You don’t see men his size move the way he does, and for that reason Paye will be off the board early.

13. Justin Fields, QB Ohio State

Fields has all the tools of the previous two QBs—arm, size, athleticism. Where he isn’t quite as developed is processing a defense and working through progressions. Despite that, he makes all the throws in the book, and has the look/running-ability of modern franchise quarterbacks. It’s hard to imagine a prospect like him falls beyond the 4th or 5th pick, but he’ll need to develop from the pocket as a pro to live up to that.

14. Gregory Rousseau, DL Miami

Rousseau is a long, strong, and athletic freak of nature. He plays with great bend and tremendous explosiveness for his size (6’6”). He’s a tad raw in technique, but plays with a fast motor and is bursting with potential. I wanted to talk myself into moving him higher but the potential to bust or mildly underwhel is too obvious.

15. Christian Barmore, DL Alabama

Barmore is mostly raw and still developing fundamentally, but his combination of size, length, and athleticism is rare. Explosive traits flash routinely on tape, and team’s will salivate at his upside along the d-line. He profiles best as a 3-tech with the tools to slide further outside in odd fronts, or even kicking inside to nose on occasion. As a mostly developmental prospect he won’t go top-10, but I can’t see him sliding outside the first round.

16. Trey Lance, QB North Dakota St.

Lance possess most of the tools you look for in a modern QB: plus size, athletic/mobile, possesses a live arm, and shows good accuracy and decision making. Just about everything written for Zach Wilson (QB2) applies here. Where Lance gets dinged is for the low-level of competition and only 15 games on his resume. While Carson Wentz had a similar track record coming out of NDSU (which didn’t prevent him from being graded highly) I can’t rate Lance over Lawrence, Wilson, or Fields with confidence.

17. Rashawn Slater, OL Northwestern

Slater is every bit the prospect of Sewell and Darrisaw minus the ideal length to play tackle. He could very well stick there through a decorated pro career, but his potential is higher inside and sitting out the 2020 season doesn’t help his stock. Of all the prospects in this range he’s the surest thing, but don’t be surprised if scouts value him in completely different ways.

18. Zaven Collins, LB Tulsa

Collins is the most well-rounded LB prospect in the class and safely projects as a versatile, three-down backer in the NFL. He’s a big, physical athlete with a high IQ and excellent feel for the game. He can handle any job he’s asked of at the next level—tackle in space, shed/stack blockers, rush the passer/backfield, drop in coverage—there’s a real Kuechly/Urlacher vibe to his game, and his knack for impact plays underscores that.

19. Jaelen Phillips, EDGE Miami

A former 5-star prospect, Phillips nearly quit football altogether before transferring to Miami and reinvigorating his career. An ideal blend of size, length, strength, and twitch allows him to pop on tape; and developing footwork/hand play allowed him to unlock those tools against both the run and pass in an albeit limited sample. Continued technical development is required, but teams searching for a balanced, versatile, impact EDGE defender won’t do better than this.

20. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Notre Dame

JOK doesn’t have the base strength/girth of a MIKE backer, but he possesses the length, speed, instincts, and overall explosive traits that check every other box for a modern LB. He’ll immediately be one of the fastest players at his position, and truly blur the line between linebacker and safety at the next level. His ability in coverage is what sets him apart, and overall versatility paired with enough thump to handle pro running games makes him an elite target for NFL teams.

21. Rashod Bateman, WR Minnesota

What Bateman lacks in short speed and burst he makes up for with a refined release, nuanced route running, a physical frame, and strong hands. At 6’2” 210 he plays aggressive through the catch and does well positioning himself between corners and the ball. He’s a plus red-zone target, has YAC appeal as a physical runner with the ball, and the tools to release and win on the boundary—a 1st rounder, for sure.

22. Travis Ettiene, RB Clemson

One of the more decorated and productive RBs of the past five years, Ettiene enters the pros in high regard. He’s the full package in terms of threatening a defense out of the backfield—can run inside, outside, threaten in the screen game, or handle a dynamic route tree. One minor hole is in pass protection; though he’s shown progress, development in this regard will go a long way in determining his true value.

23. Trevon Moehrig, S TCU

Moehrig is the most complete safety prospect in the class, excelling in single-high coverage, in the box defending the run, and in man coverage. He’s a plus-athlete (not overly-explosive), instinctive in zone, and aggressive attacking the point of catch. While he’s a physical/ willing tackler, he‘ll need to refine his technique to hang at the next level. There’s a lot to like here, and teams with a need at safety will be pleased with Moehrig.

24. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL USC

Vera-Tucker projects best as a guard at the next level (where his tools are elite) but he has the size and athleticism to kick outside and play tackle if need be. At 6’4” 305 he’s pound-for-pound one of the best athletes in the class; he plays with good bend, is light on his feet, and moves well in space. Good functional strength and balance will allow him to hang in the trenches from day one, and his skillset is ideal for modern NFL offenses.

25. Samuel Cosmi, OT Texas

Cosmi’s projection varies among scouts, but he’s definitely more developmental than other OL in this range. What’s attractive here are the tools—6’7”, long arms, quick feet, plus athleticism—Cosmi has certain traits you can’t teach. He also has experience, having started 35 games at tackle for Texas (21 left, 14 right) there’s plenty of tape to pour over and enough bright spots for scouts to buy into. He needs to add strength and develop better technique, but his tools are worth taking a shot on.

26. Terrace Marshal Jr., WR LSU

At 6’3” 200 Marshal has the ideal size to play receiver, and while he doesn’t have eye-popping speed, he’s a smooth athlete who plays the position like a natural. A highly productive player at LSU, there’s little to dislike about his skillset. He can play outside or in the slot, and fits in any scheme. Marshall may not go in the top 15, but he shouldn’t slip out of the first.

27. Jaycee Horn, CB South Carolina

The son of former pro wideout Joe Horn, Jaycee has the size and length to play on the boundary in the NFL. He’ll be scheme specific to press-heavy defenses, but those teams will value him immensely. His physicality and aggression at the point of catch is valuable in a league full of jump ball threats, but lacking long speed, spotty technique, and a scheme-specific skillset limits an otherwise fun prospect.

28. Najee Harris, RB Alabama

Harris is a bruising runner who forces defenses to tackle all 230 lbs of him. Power is his calling card but his speed and explosiveness shouldn’t be slept on. If he develops as a blocker to complement his ability as a receiver then he could be a three down back in the NFL; otherwise, he’ll confidently handle early-down/workhorse duties and be an ace at the goal line.

29. Alex Leatherwood, OT Alabama

Leatherwood is a 6’6” 315 lb road-grader in the run game. He’s massive, strong, mean, and combines those traits to move defenders with ease. The good news for him is that he plays low enough to translate that power inside to guard, because there‘s real doubt about his ability to hang on the edge athletically. He’s not overly twitchy nor bendy enough to excel at tackle, and he doesn’t have the technical prowess to compensate. Nonetheless, a high floor and elite skillset as a run blocker gives him value.

30. Azeez Ojulari, EDGE Georgia

Ojulari is an impressive athlete whose quickness, bend, explosion, and body control around the edge is tailor-made to rush the passer. While he lacks ideal length, he has a relentless motor, uses his hands well, and does a good job tapping into leverage to play with more strength than he has. He’d need to bulk up to be a traditional 4-3 End, but teams that use a multiple front and like to get versatile with their EDGE defenders will value him a ton. In terms of technique, there’s room to grow, but that won’t hold him back.

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