The 2020 college football season will begin to resemble a bit more of what we are used to seeing, as the SEC joins the ACC and Big 12 on the field this weekend. So let’s dive deep into the mailbag to talk about the latest NFL Draft rumors and news. This week’s questions include thoughts on Pooka Williams, Azeez Ojulari, numerous mid to late-round quarterbacks, and more. But first, we begin with some talk about which player will be the first defensive player off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Related | Cumming’s 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft

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NFL Draft Rumors & News: The Tony Pauline Mailbag (9.23.20)

I know it’s early. But if you had to guess, who do you think will be the first defender selected in 2021?

That’s a great question, especially with so many offensive prospects at the top of the board. My highest-rated defensive player in the nation is LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., but he’s not draft-eligible in 2021.

I think Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons has the edge right now, but his decision to opt out and prepare for the draft will open the door for Alabama’s Dylan Moses. I also think Ronnie Perkins of Oklahoma is going to make a huge march up draft boards.

How would you compare Clemson’s Xavier Thomas, Duke’s Chris Rumph, and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari? Which has the higher ceiling at the next level?

I think far and away it’s Azeez Ojulari, who I wrote glowingly about over the summer.

I think he’s a stronger, more explosive version of Leonard Floyd. While Floyd failed to live up to expectations in the NFL, he was highly regarded when he entered the draft. Ojulari, who’s only a redshirt sophomore, lacks great size but has shown the strength to come out of a three-point stance and the athleticism to stand over tackle.

How do scouts view Kansas running back Pooka Williams? Is he more of a third-down back in the NFL, or can a team draft him to develop into a lead back?

While he plays big football, Williams’ lack of size will prevent him from being a featured starter at the next level.

Third-down back? Yes. Rotational back? Yes. Occasional starter? Yes.

A guy that can be the feature runner each week? No.

What did you think of Appalachian State QB Zac Thomas this past week? What do you think his future holds from an NFL Draft perspective?

Thomas was solid, and he’s a nice college quarterback who really doesn’t project well at the next level. He scatters too many of his throws and all too often makes his receivers work unnecessarily hard to come away with the reception. Fortunately for Thomas, he has four receivers who will be in NFL camps next summer.

I gave him a street free agent grade coming into the season, which parallels what scouts thought of him.

How do you and other scouts view SMU quarterback Shane Buechele? I feel he’s painfully underrated around the nation.

He’s a leader on the field as well as a smart, poised signal caller who has had some wow moments since last season. He’s also a quarterback who has really improved his game. But Buechele is short and does not have a cannon for an arm.

Related | Shane Buechele vs Texas State All-22 Film Review

I gave Buechele a sixth-round grade over the summer, which was a round earlier than the seventh-round grade scouts gave him. He is the kind of prospect who would benefit from a great week at the Senior Bowl.

What are your thoughts on Louisville QB Malik Cunningham?

Cunningham is a super interesting guy. Is he an RPO quarterback for the NFL? Is he a running back?

I think he’s definitely a playmaker. But if he’s drafted as a quarterback in the NFL, it will be by a team that has a designed plan and scheme for him, a la Kyler Murray.

Does Notre Dame’s Ian Book have a future as an NFL starter? Or will his height and physical limitations hold him back at the next level?

Starter? I doubt it. Maybe a No. 3 quarterback.

Scouts gave him a last-round grade and I stamped him a bit lower than that.

Book is tough, but he has physical limitations. And let’s face it — Notre Dame quarterbacks have not fared well in the NFL or really shown great development on the college level for a long, long time.

Tony Pauline is Pro Football Network’s Chief Draft Analyst and Insider. Follow him on Twitter @TonyPauline. Follow PFN on Twitter @PFN365