Whenever one draft wraps up, everyone starts looking towards the upcoming class. However, for some reason, people seemingly only choose to talk about the newly-eligible class. Commonly forgotten are the top seniors who returned to school, for one reason or another, but still have the ability to be top prospects. I’ve accumulated a list of five players who chose to return to school, and with a strong season, could still be at the top of their class. These five seniors could be some of the top 2021 NFL Draft rising prospects.
2021 NFL Draft Rising Prospects
KJ Costello, QB, Mississippi State
KJ Costello was at one point thought to be a potential first-round quarterback. At Stanford, he showed a strong arm, requisite athletic ability, and a solid understanding of coverages and a good pre-snap process. Costello was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in high school and in his time playing for the Cardinals.
This offseason, Costello graduated from Stanford and announced he would look to enter the transfer portal as a grad transfer. The school he landed at was Mississippi State, with former Washington State head coach and offensive genius Mike Leach. Leach is known for producing the most consistent passing offense in NCAA history. However, his quarterbacks aren’t known for finding success in the NFL. Washington State quarterbacks have a history of lacking mechanics and the ability to read defenses, but Costello was in a more pro-style offense in Stanford and is already polished enough.
A pairing with Leach could be a best-case scenario for Costello’s stock, as long as he doesn’t start to lose the already developed parts of his game in Leach’s carefree scheme. Behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, there really isn’t an established QB3. With a great season, Costello could cement himself in that spot, and that’s why he’s a 2021 NFL Draft rising prospect.
Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
There were more than a few people who thought Tylan Wallace was an elite player in the loaded 2020 wide receiver class. He was the most productive wide receiver in college before getting injured. He’s an elite deep threat who is both explosive when the ball is in the air and in his hands. Unfortunately, Wallace suffered a serious knee injury and chose to return to school for his senior season.
Between Wallace’s injury and Oklahoma State’s questions at quarterback, how Wallace rebounds in his senior year will be interesting. If he can even come close to matching his 2019 production, he should be considered a potential top-50 pick. With an already polished skill set and strong athletic ability, Wallace must remain healthy above all else.
Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
At the beginning of 2019, many thought Alex Leatherwood could be the 2020 NFL Draft’s top offensive tackle. Unfortunately, Leatherwood was not the top tackle in the class; in fact, he wasn’t even the top tackle on his team. He failed to meet expectations but was still a solid player. With one more year, Leatherwood could develop into a true top-15 player in 2021.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for Leatherwood to become the top tackle in 2021, due to the presence of Oregon’s Penei Sewell. However, if Leatherwood can improve his play overall in 2020, he should be an easy candidate for OT2. His physical abilities are enough to be a first-round selection, and if can become a more polished and well-rounded player, he could be a special prospect.
Marvin Wilson Jr., IDL, Florida State
I recently wrote on how Wilson could be the top defensive tackle in 2021. However, he’s not without something to prove. Wilson is an elite athlete but is not a polished prospect yet. He has the talent to be the top defensive tackle in next year’s draft, but a disappointing season could see him slide outside the top-50.
Wilson’s upside could be higher than that of 2020 NFL Draft darling Derrick Brown, and I think he’s more versatile. However, he must get better against the run, and develop a better level of consistency. If Wilson can do this, I can see him going as high as top-five, depending on how the team needs stack up for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
The final 2021 NFL Draft rising prospect is Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo. Many had Adebo as the top cornerback in the 2020 NFL Draft before the 2019 season kicked off. He showed strong body control and excellent ball skills. Averaging four interceptions a season, Adebo is an established playmaker but must work on his consistency, and technique when taking receivers down the field.
Adebo had a bad tendency to get burnt, and it showed lapses in technique. I actually believe returning to school was a great decision for Adebo. If he can improve his level of consistency, and polish his overall technique, he could be a top cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft class.