As the NFL Draft season continues, you’ll see tons of content about the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. However, I’m of the thought process that it’s never too early to get started on next year. While the 2020 class is loaded with top-tier talent (the best draft class I’ve ever evaluated), the 2021 NFL Draft class could be even more amazing. Starting at the top, you have two quarterbacks who would both likely be QB1 in this class: Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. If you’re reading this article, you’re likely already well informed about those two quarterbacks, so we’re going to avoid them today. Instead, I’m going to give you ten other players who you should watch in the upcoming college football season; players who will likely be top 2021 NFL Draft Prospects.
I had to separate this from the other positions because it’s literally going to be half the list. Over the next four months, you’ll hear a ton about how the 2020 receiver class is “special.” While I do love some of the talents in the class, and it’s incredibly deep, it doesn’t match up to the talent in the 2021 draft class. In 2020, I expect to have three players with a first-round grade, and two others on the border. For the 2021 class, I expect to have five receivers with a first-round grade, and up to five more on the outside looking in.
Rondale Moore, Purdue
Rondale Moore is currently my WR1 for 2021. He lacks size, but his explosive ability and long speed are elite. He’s amazing after the catch, and for someone who lacks stature, he’s surprisingly strong in contested catch situations. The NFL has moved to a game based on spacing and separation, and Rondale Moore does it better than anyone.
Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
While Moore is not my WR1, Ja’Marr Chase is currently the consensus WR1. His ability to push vertically while dominating in contested catch situations is incredible when you combine his ability as a route runner. Expect Chase to be the consensus WR1 for the majority of the 2020 season.
Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Rashod Bateman is a player I’ve been infatuated with since Week 1 of this season. While many were huge fans of Tyler Johnson, I was constantly more impressed with his teammate Bateman. Bateman is an elite physical specimen. His size and speed rival that of Chase, and his hands might be better. Bateman still has work to do as a route runner, though.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
The 2019 Alabama receiving corps is the greatest unit in college football history, and I can’t be convinced otherwise. There were three legitimate first-round talents on that unit, and Jaylen Waddle might be the best of the bunch. With speed that rivals Henry Ruggs, and route running the rivals Jerry Jeudy, Waddle is an electric player who is a YAC monster and the best return man in the nation.
Justyn Ross, Clemson
The final of my five first-rounders, Justyn Ross is the top contest catch receiver in the class, but his development as a route runner is an underrated skill. He can occasionally have a concentration drop, and I wonder about his long speed.
Honorable Mentions: Alabama WR Devonta Smith, Florida State WR Tamarrion Terry, Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace, USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Ohio State WR Chris Olave
Non-WR 2021 NFL Draft Prospects
Patrick Surtain Jr., CB, Alabama
Son of a former NFL player, Patrick Surtain Jr. shows that on the field. As a true freshman and sophomore, Surtain was a pivotal piece of Alabama’s defense. Playing like a veteran, Surtain is sure to impress NFL scouts with his level of refinement and upside.
Caden Sterns, S, Texas
Texas has produced some strong safety prospects in the past few seasons. Not one compares to Caden Sterns. Sterns has the range and size to be an impact run defender and a singe-high ball-hawk. Sterns has the upside to be one of the top safeties in the league, thanks to his well-rounded play.
Xavier Thomas, EDGE, Clemson
As a true freshman, Xavier Thomas dominated on a defensive line that possessed three other first-rounders. Unfortunately, with the talent around him lacking, Thomas was not as good this year as we had all hoped. His upside is evident, and he has proven the ability to dominate the college football landscape. A big bounce-back year from Thomas would make him the top edge defender in the class, and that’s typically a guarantee to be a top-10 draft pick.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Oh man, Micah Parsons is a fun player. He’s the top defensive player in the class for good reason. With elite size at 6’3, 245, and incredible athletic ability, Parson’s has the upside to be a consistent All-Pro, and I would bet money he wins a DPOY award in his career. He’s an elite talent and my highest-rated defensive 2021 NFL Draft prospect.
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
He’s not exactly the most glamorous pick for a top player to watch, but Penei Sewell is special. He’s the closest thing we’ve seen to an elite tackle prospect since Joe Thomas. Sewell is an elite athlete, and it shows in his silky-smooth pass set. His size and power are evident in his ability to dominate in the run game. Sewell will likely be my highest-graded tackle ever and is currently my top 2021 NFL Draft prospect.