The Pac-12 conference is losing a ton of top-end football talent in this year’s draft, but they return even stronger prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft cycle. There will be no shortage of impact-players from this group heading into the 2020 season. I list my top-10 football prospects available for the 2021 NFL Draft below, in what should be another ultra-competitive year in the fast-paced Pac-12 conference.
1. Penei Sewell, OT Oregon
Following the loss of senior quarterback Justin Herbert to the NFL, left tackle Penei Sewell will look to step up as the leader and backbone of the 2020 Oregon Ducks’ offense. Along with running back C.J. Verdell, the Oregon offense should remain a strength for this team once again. Unlike the uncertainty that surrounds the top of the 2020 offensive tackle class, the 2021 group is all about the redshirt-junior Sewell. He is a monster of a man at the left tackle position and will continue to dominate Pac-12 defensive linemen in 2020. He is a devastating run blocker and almost equally as efficient in pass protection. Look as he took out two blockers here against Oregon State last season:
Rewatching the Civil War. It took one play for Penei Sewell to do something ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/pV4rD0GQQF
— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) December 2, 2019
Sewell was a unanimous five-star recruit by almost every major recruiting outlet coming out of high school and has shown why through two seasons starting for the Ducks. The team will be utilizing at least three new starters on the offensive line in 2020, as well as a new signal-caller. Sewell should help ease the transition for all newcomers and keep Oregon competitive once again this season. I previously mentioned the big left tackle as my top offensive tackle prospect available in 2021, and I am doubling down here. Sewell is the cream of the 2021 crop and will be in the mix for the top player overall in the next draft cycle.
2. Jay Tufele, DT USC
USC has seen a steady stream of productive college defensive tackles come through their program in the last ten years, and Jay Tufele may be the best. He was another highly touted high school recruit that landed in Southern California and has been a real bright spot on this Trojans’ defense.
Tufele is quick and powerful and is an absolute terror as an inside rusher on the defensive line. He is similar to former Trojan lineman Fili Moala but carries a much higher upside and could be a top-10 pick when the evaluation process concludes. He’s one of the top talents available for the 2021 NFL Draft, regardless of position.
3. Hamilcar Rashed Jr, EDGE Oregon State
I recently discussed Rashed as one of the great breakout players of the 2019 season. His 14 sacks ranked third overall in the nation, and he was a real difference-maker for the Beavers. He heads into the 2020 season with sky-high expectations to be the best pure edge rusher in the Pac-12 conference.
Rashed is one of the veterans on this Oregon State team, starting 21 of 36 career games for the Beavers. He should threaten the college sack record once again this season as he splits time between defensive end and outside linebacker. If he can match his 2019 production, Rashed looks to be headed for a first-round selection.
4. Paulson Adebo, CB Stanford
Paulson Adebo briefly flirted with the idea of entering the 2020 NFL Draft but decided to return to school following a down year in 2019. He is a tall, long outside corner in the mold of fellow Stanford great Richard Sherman. Adebo can be the top cornerback prospect available, not only in the Pac-12 but in the entire draft class.
PFN’s own Matt Valdovinos mentioned the 6’1″ and 192-pound corner as one of the seniors with the most to prove in 2020. Valdovinos says, “If he can improve his level of consistency and polish his overall technique, he (Adebo) could be a top cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft class”. Adebo is one of the more talented 2021 NFL Draft prospects available in this top-10 and the Pac-12 football conference. Adebo will get a chance to bounce back and prove himself again this coming season.
5. Walker Little, OT Stanford
Walker Little is another Stanford standout that contemplated the 2020 NFL Draft before returning for his senior season. He appeared to be one of the top offensive linemen available before the 2019 season, but injuries and inconsistent play led to a down year for the massive tackle prospect.
He was a player I spoke about as a possible early entry back in Week 14 of the college season. At the time, Little was arguably the top draft-eligible player on the Stanford team. He has great size (6’7″, 315 lbs) and mobility for the position, and he looks like a plug-and-play left tackle at the next level.
6. C.J. Verdell, R.B. Oregon
The 2021 NFL Draft class brings a host of incredibly talented running back prospects, and C.J. Verdell may be my favorite. He may not be the biggest back, but he is a game-breaker with the home run speed that is a threat to score with every carry. Look below as he runs through one of the better safeties available in the 2020 NFL Draft and takes it the distance.
C.J. Verdell is gone!!! Looked like Terrell Burgess met him in the hole and just didn't wrap up. pic.twitter.com/iF4AOmfp67
— Jake Schyvinck (@JakeNFLDraft) December 7, 2019
Verdell is a very tough runner for his size and is also a capable receiver. He has a chance to be a difference-maker and every-down back in the NFL. While Clemson’s Travis Etienne may be the darling of the position in 2021, Verdell is not far behind as a potential first-rounder.
7. Thomas Booker, EDGE Stanford
Stanford has produced multiple NFL-quality defensive linemen and linebackers in recent years, and Thomas Booker is the next in line. He’s the prototype for the edge rusher position with sufficient strength, length, and speed from the defensive line.
Booker has racked up 7.5 sacks the past two seasons in a part-time role and will look to take the next step forward in 2020 as a junior. He started six games and earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. If Booker can improve as a full-time starter this year, he could become a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
8. Levi Onwuzurike, DT Washington
All Pac-12 First Team selection as a redshirt-junior in 2019, Levi Onwuzurike is a great one-gap penetrating interior lineman for the Huskies. He has great pass rush moves and will be one of the better defensive linemen in this class.
Onwuzurike is not a great run defender and will need to add bulk to succeed at the next level. He should be a better pro than a college defender once he is placed in the right scheme to maximize his pass-rushing talents. He looks headed for a second-day selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
9. Jevon Holland, S Oregon
The Oregon secondary has produced some decent talent in recent years, and this is one of the better units in 2020. Jevon Holland teams with cornerback Deommodore Lenoir to form one of the better secondaries in the Pac-12. Holland is a versatile safety for the Ducks, splitting time between defense and special teams, where he serves as the Ducks’ regular punt and kick returner. He is a top-three safety in this class, according to PFN’s own Chris Spooner.
Holland has decent range and cover skills for the position. He is stable in all areas but not particularly special in any of them. However, he is a steady presence for the Oregon defense that has also done a solid job covering slot receivers and tight ends. Holland also has good size and speed at the position and should be a second-round pick next April.
10. Tyler Vaughns, WR USC
Tyler Vaughns seems to be the forgotten man amongst the Trojans’ uber-talented receiving corps. Potential 2020 draft hopeful Michael Pittman and former five-star recruit Amon-Ra St. Brown receive most of the hype, but Vaughns continues to be a big-time producer for USC. He rounds out this Pac-12 list of the top-10 football prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The redshirt-senior is heading into his fourth year as a starter for the Trojans’ offense and could step into the number-one role this year following Pittman’s departure. The team likes to move St. Brown around the offense quite a bit, so they will depend on Vaughns consistency to keep everything running smoothly. He looks like a rock-solid second-day pick at this point in the process.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him @sgormanPFN on Twitter.