2021 NFL Draft: Ranking the summer’s top 50 prospects

After evaluating the best players at each position, Matthew Valdovinos, PFN analyst, ranks the top 50 players in the 2021 NFL Draft class.

35) Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

Yes, you probably disagree with this ranking and that’s fine. If you have a major issue with it, feel free to tweet at me, and we can discuss it. However, under no circumstances should you enter my mentions with the fallacy that Gregory Rousseau is on the level of Chase Young.

Rousseau possesses impressive physical traits and sack production, but he lacks down to down consistency and is a bit underdeveloped as a pass rusher. He’s better against the run than I would have expected, but can lose leverage at times. His upside is obvious, but he’s too raw for me to consider him more than a late first-round project.

34) Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

Last year you could find people who thought Alex Leatherwood was a surefire first-round prospect headed into the season. He didn’t quite live up to the hype, but I think people are over correcting themselves with his evaluation.

He possesses excellent length and uses it well. He has the requisite athletic ability and size to be a quality NFL tackle. I think the first round hype was a bit premature, but if he has a strong season this year I don’t see why he shouldn’t be one of the first 32 players selected.

33) Elijah Molden, DB, Washington

In my eyes, Elijah Molden is the top man coverage DB in the 2021 Draft class. That skill alone will likely get him drafted in the top 50. He’s a strong athlete with a high football IQ and great ball skills. He’s a bit undersized, and this leads to problems disengaging from blocks.

I think in the NFL he’ll be best used as a match-up piece, but can’t be considered an every-down player until he improves his play strength. Has the ability to impact the passing game like a Tyrann Mathieu, but can he ever be nearly as good against the run as the Honey Badger.

32) Caden Sterns, Safety, Texas

If your defense needs a safety that can cover ground in an instant, Caden Sterns is your man. The most natural single high safety in the class, Sterns has good size, excellent range, and elite ball skills.

He’s not incredible against the run, but he does a great job acting as the last line of defense. An injury-riddled season last year has lowered his draft stock, but if he can return to his freshman form this season, he has a good chance to be the first safety selected.

31) Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Ohio State has quietly become one of the top WR factories in the nation. Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, Terry McLaurin, and next up Chris Olave. Olave is a well-rounded receiver prospect with impressive explosion and sure hands. He’s a solid route runner and should shine this season as the Buckeyes undisputed number one.

30) Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee

I list Trey Smith as an “OL” because his best film has been at guard, but I’m not sold on the idea that he can’t play tackle. He has superb size at 6’6″ 335 pounds, and he’s a plus athlete. He’s smooth in pass protection and can move bodies when clearing holes for the run game. He has some inconsistencies that need to be cleaned up, but I think he can play guard or tackle in the NFL.

Related | 2021 NFL Draft: Top 10 interior offensive line rankings

29) Patrick Jones, EDGE, Pittsburgh

My currently highest-rated edge defender, Patrick Jones is a physically intimidating force for the Panthers defense. 6’5″ 260 pounds, impressively bendy, and an excellent athlete, Jones was built to be a pass rusher.

His burst off the line of scrimmage is ridiculous and his motor runs hot making him an effective run defender too. He has to clean up some issues, but in my eyes, Jones is the obvious top edge rusher.

28) Hamsah Nasirildeen, Saf, Florida State

Built-in the same mold as Isaiah Simmons, Hamsah Nasirildeen blurs the line between safety and linebacker. Not quite on Simmons’ level, I think Nasirildeen can be a similar player. Athletic enough to utilize as in single-high looks and big enough to bring up against the run.

His 6’4″ frame makes it easy to get his hands in passing windows, and he’s athletic to run with tight ends in man coverage. He’s far from a finished product, and his draft stock is highly built on potential, Nasirildeen must return with a big year after suffering an ACL tear late last season.

27) Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State

One of my favorite prospects in the class, Rasheed Walker is being underrated by seemingly everyone. Easily a first-round prospect in my eyes, he possesses the needed length, athletic ability, and technical proficiency to succeed in the NFL.

His hands are arguably the best in the class and his football IQ is phenomenal. As an offensive line enthusiast, he was one of my favorite watches this summer.

Related | NFL Draft 2021: The top 10 offensive tackle rankings

26) Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis

Personally, I’m a believer that the running back position should not be selected in the first round unless they can impact the offense as both a runner and a receiver. Kenneth Gainwell is the perfect embodiment of that.

Last season he led all running backs in receiving yards and posted 1,000 yard rushing season. That was while splitting time with two future NFL players, now Gainwell has the backfield to himself and all eyes will be on him.

25)  Paris Ford, Safety, Pittsburgh

This was the most fun I’ve had watching tape in a while. Paris Ford is an old fashioned, clean somebodies clock type of safety. Elite sideline to sideline speed and explosion, and when things line up right, he’s all over social media with another highlight.

His elite speed makes him project-able as a single high safety, but Pittsburgh likes to play him close to the line of scrimmage to wreak havoc. When evaluating prospects I highly recommend watching full games to judge the good and bad plays, but if you wanna spend ten minutes and have a good time, watch a Ford highlight reel.

24) Darius Stills, IDL, West Virginia

Arguably the most proactive interior pass rusher in the class, Darius Stills projects as a pocket pushing 3-tech in the NFL. 6’1″ 291 pounds, he’s not the world’s biggest interior defender but his functional play strength and ability to leverage help prevent him from losing in power. He’s extremely explosive off the snap and possesses active hands that keep him clean on his way to the quarterback. Double-digit sack potential as a defensive tackle.

23) Tyler Linderbaum, iOL, Iowa

This one is a name you might not know yet, but you will. Tyler Linderbaum was the second-best player on Iowa’s offensive line, only behind 13th overall pick Tristan Wirfs. Linderbaum’s play strength is truly special, reminiscent of Quenton Nelson’s ability to generate torque and move any poor defender caught in their way.

Linderbaum came to Iowa as a defensive lineman and made the switch to center last spring, so his game is still far from complete. He must make improvements on his down to down consistency and technical refinement. However the upside is more than impressive, it’s jaw-dropping.

22) Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami

The most well rounded of the three tight ends to appear on this list, Jordan is an above-average receiver and blocker and can be utilized as both a big slot or an inline tight end. Not the same level of receiving threat as Kyle Pitts but he’s a superior blocker, and he’s not as talented a blocker as Pat Freiermuth but he’s a better receiver.

Jordan has a high floor while still maintaining an impressive ceiling, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he were the first tight end selected.

Related | 2021 NFL Draft: The top 10 tight end rankings

21) Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

The top receiving tight end in the class, Pitts is built in the mold of an Evan Engram or Noah Fant. He is a 6’6″ and 240-pound man that moves like a wide receiver, creating a match-up nightmare. Few NFL players can cover Pitts by themselves, even fewer college players can.

The Gators had a lot of inconsistency at the quarterback position last year, but this year the job is Kyle Trask’s alone. This is a best-case scenario for Pitts who has a very real shot of putting together a 1,000-yard season.

Continue for Matthew Valdovinos’ top 20 prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft.


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