It is nearly here. We are a mere day away from hearing Roger Goodell call prospects’ names in Cleveland. However, even as teams set their final boards, there is no movement still occurring on boards throughout the league. With no Combine, wonky medical information, and little in-person contact with prospects, this draft has the potential to be a wacky one. That leaves open the possibility that prospects can ascend late in the process. Who are some of these potential late risers in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Five potential late risers in the 2021 NFL Draft
One thing that all of these players below have in common is traits that set them apart. That does not always mean physical but also technical traits. These potential risers are all extremely easy to see because of these traits that are mostly unique or impressive within their games.
Derrick Barnes, LB, Purdue
The first of the potential late 2021 NFL Draft risers, Derrick Barnes is a guy who has moved up boards for good reason in recent weeks. PFN’s own Chief Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline talked about Barnes’ stock going through the roof, and Barnes could go as early as Round 2.
Even if he does not, Pauline says teams have “solid Day 2 grades” on the Purdue product. Looking at his game, it is easy to see why Barnes is so highly thought of around the league.
Barnes has special physical traits. While he may lack true freaky 4.4 speed, Barnes may be the most vertically explosive linebacker in the class. In addition, this is a guy who has incredible lateral quickness. Combine that with a fantastic football acumen, and you have a guy who has all the traits to be a modern-day standout at the linebacker position.
Barnes’ ability to cover space allows him to stick out. Even in such a deep class, his upside as a coverage linebacker is tremendous. There is legitimate belief based on his tape and what he did at the Senior Bowl that Barnes can thrive on an island in man coverage.
Even in run defense, Barnes bangs around at the line and can avoid second-level blocks with ease. In today’s sub-package NFL, he is the perfect fit to be a three-down linebacker. Thus, it is easy to see why Barnes could be climbing up 2021 NFL Draft boards quickly.
Milton Williams, IDL, Louisiana Tech
Arguably the player with the most meteoric rise, Milton Williams has gone from a draft afterthought to a potential top-50 selection at this point. Williams is another guy that Pauline has mentioned is getting lots of tread around NFL circles. In one of the most notoriously weak interior defensive line classes in a long time, Williams has a few traits that will make NFL teams intrigued.
Williams is a relatively explosive athlete who has the flexibility to bend around the arc or in notably short areas. Now, he is no edge rusher, but this gives Williams the versatility to move up and down fronts. Williams lacks length, which is one of the big knocking points from a physical traits perspective.
However, when he has been productive from various alignments up and down the line, Williams can help protect linebackers at the second level and open up blitz packages. That is more than most prospects can say in this defensive line class.
Even still, Williams is stout and sturdy at the point of attack. His best trait is his phenomenal, consistent pad level. While the toolbox is still coming along as a pass rusher, Williams will be an impact run defender from Day 1. Combine that with intriguing tools and a weak defensive line class, and it is easy to see why Williams is on the up in league circles.
Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington
Joe Tryon is a young man that is just a gamer. Similar to Williams, Tryon enters an edge-rusher class with a lot of uncertainty around it. PFN’s own A.J. Schulte recently mocked Tryon to the Baltimore Ravens in his 7-Round NFL Mock Draft, and it makes a lot of sense why.
For one, there are a lot of edge-rusher-needy teams in that back end of the first round. The Browns, Ravens, Bills, and Buccaneers all have a somewhat significant need at the position. That certainly creates an opportunity for Tryon to sneak into the first round.
However, even aside from that, Tryon’s tape sticks out in a good way. He is such a smooth and explosive athlete. The ease in which he covers ground is eye-opening at times. Considering flexibility, Tryon is quick laterally and can bend to reduce surface area around the arc well. It helps give him true schematic flexibility as a potential 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 base end.
Despite those physical traits, it is Tryon’s technical ability that is likely attributing to his rise. Tryon has a vast pass-rush plan and toolbox to work with. There are seriously advanced and mental techniques that Tryon displays on tape that are far advanced. There is no reason to think Tryon cannot step in and be an instant problem for opposing teams. Thus, it is why he is certainly among the late 2021 NFL Draft risers.
Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Unlike Tryon and Williams, Elijah Moore has no such satisfaction of being in a class with multiple questions. As it has been the past few seasons, the 2021 NFL Draft wide receiver class is among the deepest positions in the entire draft.
So, a guy like Moore is going to have a tough time making rumblings. Yet, he has all the traits to be the potential surprise riser out of the group. Pauline mentioned that Moore has a chance to be the sleeper that rises up and gets taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
It is easy to see why Moore would allure teams. In terms of natural route-running ability, there are few better in this class than him. Even against top competition in the SEC, Moore would repeatedly put cornerbacks in a blender. His natural twitch in and out of hard breaks is spectacular, and he is smooth as silk.
Just aside from the NFL-ready routes that Moore runs, his yards-after-catch ability is one of his best traits. He maximizes it with his open-field vision and impressive contact balance. This makes Moore not just an expert separator to all three levels of the field but also someone who must be accounted for in the growingly horizontal NFL.
Moore’s strong hands are the last trait that could put him over the top, if you will. He has all the physical and technical traits to be a receiver who is either a dominant slot receiver or can shift both inside and outside. Moore should be a problem at the NFL level, and his role simply depends on what a team needs from him within their system because he is so versatile.
Tre’ McKitty, TE, Georgia
The tight end position is one of the weaker positions in this draft. Particularly on offense, it may be the weakest position group when the whole group is put together. That has left a vacuum that could be filled with a strong process.
Georgia’s Tre’ McKitty, who stuck out in a good way in Mobile, has ridden his momentum through to the draft. Tony Pauline has talked about McKitty, once thought of as a mid-Day 3 pick, now as a potential late Day 2 pick to those around the league.
McKitty transferred up to the SEC from Florida State to showcase his blocking acumen. That was well-received, and with heavy hands, he is one of the more polished blockers in the class.
Even though he may not be fully fleshed out as a receiver, McKitty has fantastic hands and is quicker in and out of his breaks than his frame would have you believe. This type of skill set gives him significant versatility. McKitty can work as an H-Back, inline blocker, or comfortably be flexed out into the slot.
It is likely that type of versatility in a weaker tight end class will give McKitty appeal to teams in need of that extra tight end. With so many teams opting to run more 12 personnel in the NFL over the last few years, McKitty can help complete this depth package for a team, perhaps as early as the third round.
Podcast: Between the Hashes Note: This article continues after the podcast player. To subscribe to Between the Hashes with Tony Pauline and Cam Mellor, find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.
Want more prospect news? Want to do your own mock draft?
Dive into PFN’s Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator and test your own drafting acumen. Continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis beyond NFL Draft risers. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay in the loop on all things college football and the NFL Draft landscape.