2021 NFL Draft prospects to watch in college football Week 1

After last week's FCS kickoff, college football begins in earnest this weekend. Who are the 2021 NFL Draft prospects to watch in Week 1?

Southern Methodist University @ Texas State

Shane Buechele, QB Southern Methodist University

Shane Buechele, the former Texas quarterback, rediscovered his freshman form in 2019 as SMU’s pass-happy offense allowed him to rack up career-high passing yards, yards per attempt, and touchdowns.

Related | 2021 NFL Draft: Shane Buechele offers intriguing sleeper potential

Although he doesn’t have the strongest arm in college football, he does have the ability to move the ball well vertically and with a relatively high degree of accuracy. Buechele shows good mobility to work inside the pocket, but lacks the elite athleticism to be a significant threat with his legs outside of the pocket.

Buechele is arguably the highest-profile 2021 NFL Draft prospect featuring in college football Week 1.

Reggie Roberson Jr., WR Southern Methodist University

Despite amassing 1,605 yards and 12 touchdowns in the last two years, Reggie Roberson can expect to have a career year in 2020 as he is will presumably be tasked with replacing the lost production from James Proche’s departure to the NFL.

Roberson has the speed, fluidity, and hand skills to battle with the best of the wide receivers in the class. He has been predominately used as a deep threat for SMU, so he will need to show that he can adapt to a varied route tree in the NFL.

Jarron Morris, CB Texas State

At 5’9″ and 158 pounds, Jarron Morris might not have the prototypical size that NFL scouts covet in a cornerback, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in sheer tenacity.

Morris hasn’t allowed his diminutive to stop him becoming a playmaker in the Texas State secondary, accounting for two interceptions as part of 13 passes defended in his two-year career. His tenacity also shows up in the stat sheet with two forced fumbles, five tackles for loss, and a sack.

If he can keep Roberson in check in this Week 1 matchup, he will inevitably see his NFL Draft stock increase.

University Louisiana-Monroe @ Troy

Josh Johnson, RB University Louisiana-Monroe

If you’re looking for an under the radar 2021 NFL Draft prospect in the Week 1 college football slate, then Louisiana-Monroe running back Josh Johnson may be your man.

Related | UL Monroe RB Josh Johnson set to distinguish himself in 2020

With an average of 6.4 yards per carry, he ranked in the top 10 in college football in 2019 chalking up 1,298 yards. A stocky 215 pounds in a 5’9″ frame, Johnson has the strength to shake off tackles while also having quick enough feet to make a man miss.

If he can repeat last season’s performance, he won’t stay under the radar for long.

Josh Pederson, TE University Louisiana-Monroe

After a breakout 2019 season, which saw Josh Pederson lead the Warhawks in receiving yards and touchdowns, Pederson returns in 2020 as one of the best, if not the best, tight ends in the Sun Belt Conference.

Pederson has excellent receiving skills, especially when it comes to contested catches, and last year showed that he could be the athletic tight end that is required of the position in the modern NFL. Although he has demonstrated an ability to block when needed, that is one area where he can improve and, in doing so, put himself in contention in an excellent 2021 NFL Draft class.

Carlton Martial, LB Troy

Carlton Martial ticks almost all the boxes of a modern-day linebacker, despite lacking the prototypical size for the position. Another 5’9″ 2021 NFL Draft prospect will be on show in college football Week 1. Martial plays bigger than his measurements to impact the game in multiple ways.

His 127 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and three forced fumbles led Troy in 2019 and speak to his tough tackling ability and sheer drive to make a play. Question marks over his size in relation to coverage were answered with three interceptions; one returned for a touchdown.

Houston Baptist @ North Texas

Jaleon Darden, WR North Texas

Jaleon Darden, a former quarterback turned wide receiver, led North Texas in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2019. His performance attracted the attention of the Senior Bowl staff, who named him to the Senior Bowl Top 250 watch list. Darden also features on the Maxwell Award, and Biletnikoff Award lists ahead of the 2020 season.

With 587 kick/punt return yards and an 81-yard punt return touchdown on his resume, Darden can boast the special team’s abilities that can often be the difference-maker between winning and losing an NFL roster spot.

Dion Novil, DT North Texas

North Texas lost a commanding presence on their defensive line with the departure of Garrett Marino, but 6’4″ 330-pound Novil is primed to be the man to take his place.

Novil’s 13 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2019 showed that he could be a disruptive force. He also has the reputation of being a locker room leader.

A berth on the Senior Bowl Top 250 list makes him one of less than a handful of 2021 NFL Prospects playing in this college football Week 1 matchup.

Arkansas State @ Memphis

Forrest Merrill, DT Arkansas State

Since arriving at Arkansas State in 2018, Forrest Merrill has been one of the most productive interior defensive linemen in the Sun Belt Conference. He got off to a flying start to 2019, racking up four and a half tackles for loss and three and a half sacks in five games before losing the rest of the season to injury.

How he comes back from that injury will be critical to his NFL Draft stock, but he has the opportunity to impress against a Memphis team that was one of the most dynamic offenses in college football last year.

Damonte Coxie, WR Memphis

With teammate Kenneth Gainwell opting out of this season, Damonte Coxie ranks as the best of the 2021 NFL Draft prospects playing in this college football Week 1 clash.

Coxie has had historical levels of production for Memphis and is within a stone’s throw of several program receiving records. He uses a combination of physicality, hand skills, and vision to be a playmaking threat both at the point of the catch and with his ability to withstand contact to extend the play.

The biggest concern for Coxie as a draft prospect will be with his lack of speed and whether that will impact his ability to create separation at the next level.

Brady White, QB Memphis

Consecutive seasons with 3,000+ passing yards and a 59:20 touchdown to interception ratio show that there is plenty to like about Memphis quarterback Brady White. Since transferring from Arizona State, White has a 63.3% completion percentage demonstrating his ability to throw with some degree of accuracy.

There are some question marks over White’s arm strength, as there are examples of him under throwing his receivers when attempting the deep shot. It will be interesting to see how he performs without Gainwell, who not only provided a threat on the ground but as an extremely accomplished pass-catching back.

Stephen F. Austin @ University of Texas El-Paso

Trae Self, QB Stephen F. Austin

There aren’t many obvious 2021 NFL Draft prospects in the college football Week 1 matchup between Stephen F. Austin and UTEP, but Lumberjacks quarterback Trae Self is about as close as it gets.

A former JUCO quarterback at Butler Community College, Self threw for 2,550 passing yards and 12 touchdowns in his first season at Stephen F. Austin in 2019. He has shown athleticism and arm strength but must cut down on costly turnovers to elevate his game in 2020.

Brigham Young University @ Navy

Matt Bushman, TE Brigham Young University

Matt Bushman has been consistently productive since his freshman season at BYU, racking up 500+ yards in each of his three seasons in addition to 9 career touchdowns.

Bushman has NFL quality catch ability already, with an impressive catch radius and incredibly, is credited with just two drops in his career, a testament to his hand strength and the aforementioned catchability.

Although he flashes a willingness to block, he will need to show an improvement in this area if he is to increase his stock through this season. Bushman will be one of the oldest 2021 NFL Draft prospects playing in Week 1 of the college football season, and that could be another potential knock against his stock, although it shouldn’t be.

Chris Wilcox, CB Brigham Young University

Although BYU has two good cornerback prospects, Chris Wilcox has the edge over his teammate Troy Werner. Werner has been limited for the past two seasons with a lisfranc injury, and although Wilcox also missed most of 2019, he seems to be the safer bet from a health perspective.

At 6’2,” Cox has the prototypical size for the cornerback position in the NFL and combines that with speed and athleticism to make him an intriguing prospect.

Jamale Carothers, FB Navy

Malcolm Perry became the most recent Navy Midshipman to head to the NFL when he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins earlier this year. Although he is a significant loss for Navy, that loss will be mitigated by the emergence of junior fullback Jamale Carothers.

Carothers didn’t play a game until mid-October last season but hammered home 734 rushing yards in just nine games. That included three games with over 10 yards per carry and a standout five touchdowns and 188 yards performance against Houston.

Strong and quick inside a 5’9″ 203-pound frame, Carothers also showed ability as a pass-catching back on limited opportunities in Navy’s run-heavy offense.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter @ojhodgkinson.