While it may be hard for some NFL Draft fans to fathom, there is a small outside possibility that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence may not be the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is an absolute star for the Tigers and the draft darling to most, but he is not the only elite prospect in next year’s draft.
There are a few prospects at the top that could challenge Lawrence as the first overall pick in 2021. In this piece, I will take a look at two other names draft fans should already be very familiar with, and why these players could rise to the top spot. Those prospects are Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell.
These two 2021 stars are supremely talented players that very well would have been the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, if eligible. Due to their dominant play and skill-sets, Fields and Sewell have a strong chance to overtake Lawrence in the race to the top.
The case for Penei Sewell
Sewell is a player we have talked about a few times already, as he has become one of the early stars in 2021 Draft conversations. He belongs in the Jake Long and Joe Thomas territory as “can’t miss” offensive tackle prospects.
As the blindside protector for Justin Herbert for the past two seasons, Sewell has done an excellent job keeping his quarterback clean, while assisting one of the better run games and offensive lines in the entire country. He is evolving into one of the better pass blockers in the class and has excellent agility and recovery speed to keep defenders off balance and away from the quarterback.
In terms of his run-blocking ability, I feel comfortable in saying that Sewell is by far the best in the 2021 class and is an absolute road-grading, mauler of a man. Take a look below as Sewell drives the defensive end right into the linebacker, taking them both out of the play.
Keep your eye on the left tackle — and watch how quickly he turns the end like a steering wheel and uses him to whipe out an LB. oofta!
— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) May 8, 2020
Combine that with his exceptional feet and ability to get to the second level in a hurry, and he will be an immediate upgrade to the running game for any NFL team that selects him. Sewell moves ridiculously well for a man standing at 6’6″ and over 330lbs. Watch below against Stanford as he gets to the next level and decimates the linebacker, this time taking out the safety as well in the process.
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 23, 2019
For teams such as the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, and Los Angeles Chargers, Sewell is a genuine possibility in the top five. After resolving their quarterback issues early on in the 2020 NFL Draft, each of these teams could use a dominant blocker on the outside to keep their new signal-callers upright. Sewell is just the man for that job and would be a day one starter and a top-15 player at the left tackle position as a rookie.
Sewell is as clean a player available in the 2021 NFL Draft and will cement his status as the potential first overall pick during the upcoming college football season.
Why Justin Fields might be the top prospect
As the consensus top two high school players in the country, Lawrence and Fields have been competing both from afar and up close for a few years now. Lawrence burst on the scene as a starter during his freshman season with the Tigers, while Fields had to transfer from Georgia to get his first starting opportunity.
Despite 2019 being his first and only full season as a starter, Fields made a lasting impression on all Buckeyes’ and college football fans alike. He finished as a finalist for the Heisman and guided his school to the College Football Playoff.
Fields was nearly flawless during the 2019 season as he threw for over 3,200 yards and a whopping 41 touchdowns, with only three interceptions. He added another 10 touchdowns on the ground while rushing for almost 500 yards as one of the most dynamic players in all of college football last season.
While Lawrence may be the heavy favorite to be the first quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields’ all-around ability provides for at least some hesitation in that conversation. Even NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. recently commented on that same possibility.
When you take a look at the success of the Baltimore Ravens under the Lamar Jackson last season and the Carolina Panthers under Cam Newton in 2015, there is a strong case for dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. Standing at 6’3″ and 228 pounds, Fields is built for success through the air and on the ground in the NFL. You can see how much respect defenses give to Fields’ running ability when you look at his success on play-action throws, like the one below.
— Jared Feinberg (@JrodDraftScout) May 11, 2020
While he may not be the same type of physical specimen as Newton, I believe there are strong similarities in their games that provide evidence for Fields’ potential success in the NFL. The team that drafts Fields in the first round should immediately elevate themselves to a top-five running game in the league.
Places that have flourished by establishing a dominant running attack, like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Newton’s former team, the Carolina Panthers, are organizations that project to finish towards the bottom of the league in 2020 and could find themselves at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft. Both destinations could be very successful with a player like Fields and seem like very fitting spots for the talented signal-caller. In the case of the Ohio State trigger man, the writing is on the wall for a rise to the very top.
Trevor Lawrence could be the reason he isn’t selected first
This reason may be the toughest to debate, as Lawrence is a breathtaking prospect and deserves to be a top-two pick regardless of what happens during the 2020 season. However, like any prospect, he is not without his flaws on the football field. The two biggest concerns surrounding Lawrence are consistency with his accuracy, which affects his completion percentage, and his ability to win with less talent around him.
This year’s number one pick, Joe Burrow, finished the 2019 college season with a completion percentage of 76.3, while Lawrence finished with a “measly” 65.8. Lawrence also finished with more interceptions than both Burrow (6) and Fields (3). He is a gutsy player that can make all the throws, but he does not do it consistently enough, nor has he shown a real improvement in that area over his first two seasons at Clemson.
Lawrence is an excellent runner for his size and stature, but he may not be the same consistent game-breaking threat on the ground as Fields at the next level. If you combine these issues with a shoulder injury he suffered in 2019 and a neck injury sustained in 2018, there are concerns that Lawrence may not be the can’t miss prospect that most have made him out to be.
The race to the top is on, and it should make for an exhilarating 2020 college campaign.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.