One of the biggest keys to winning a football game and becoming a successful football team is winning in the trenches. It is also no coincidence that the offensive line is one of the toughest positions to evaluate and find reliable top-tier players at each position across the line. Here, we will take a look at five players who are among the top interior offensive linemen to know for the 2021 NFL Draft. As a note, we’re not including Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey in this, as we already know he’s going to be a top guy. Humphrey was thought to be declaring for the 2020 draft but surprised many by choosing to return to Oklahoma for this senior season. Therefore, with plenty already known when it comes to Humphrey, who are some other notable linemen that have a chance to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft with successful 2020 seasons?
Trey Smith, Tennessee
Trey Smith was another player, much like Humphrey, that could have been another intriguing option in this year’s draft. However, he also decided to return to Tennessee for his senior season. Smith is already an inspiration to many. After suffering from blood clots in 2018 and potentially seeing his football career ended, he came back in 2019 to play in all 13 games, including 12 starts and got himself back as one of the top offensive linemen in the country. He wanted to come back to Tennessee for his final year to help the Vols and finish his degree.
“I made a promise to my mom, and I’m going to honor that promise,” Smith said during his press conference in January announcing his decision. “I made up my mind, and I don’t expect to ever look back. I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee.”
Smith won the inaugural Fritz Pollard Award, which will be handed to the college player that exemplifies extraordinary courage, community values, and exceptional performance on the field. Smith also won many awards over the years, with perhaps the headline award being named to the AP and Coaches All-SEC First Team in 2019. Additionally, he was a finalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award.
Smith has become such a fan favorite among fans in Knoxville, TN, and there is no question he will, if he hasn’t already, become a fan favorite among all football fans across the college game and in the NFL Draft landscape. He will be one of the most fun studies among offensive linemen during the 2020 draft cycle.
The main concern this season certainly has to be keeping his high style of play intact. And during interviews next year, show teams that the health concerns will be minimal at best, as his medicals will be extremely vital to his draft value.
Cade Mays, Tennessee
Mays just recently announced his decision to transfer to Tennessee from Georgia after spending two seasons with the Bulldogs. At about 6’6″ and 317 pounds, he is one of the most versatile offensive linemen in the country. He played every offensive line position this past season for Georgia and contributed in all 14 games. He started six games at right guard, two each at right tackle and left guard and one game at left tackle.
Mays, a former five-star recruit, originally committed to Tennessee when Butch Jones was still head coach, but later reopened his commitment after Jones was fired and ended up choosing Georgia over Clemson. His family was undoubtedly among the reasons why Mays decided to come back to Tennessee, as his younger brother, Cooper, also committed to Tennessee back in November.
In a statement after Mays made his decision, Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said: “As a guy with multiple years of starting experience on the offensive line in the SEC, Cade is a tremendous addition to our program. He’s tough, and he’s powerful, and he is a versatile player who can line up anywhere on the offensive line. He will have an impact on the field, and he will also have a positive effect on our team and in the offensive line room with his leadership ability.”
Mays started 18 games over two seasons at Georgia and was named to the coaches’ freshman All-SEC team in 2018.
Mays has two years of eligibility left but is appealing for the chance to play immediately with Tennessee. Otherwise, he would have to sit out the 2020 season. Mays’ big question just might be what position will be project best at in the NFL. Will he continue to move along the line or will Tennessee set him at one position?
Jack Anderson, Texas Tech
Anderson was another interior lineman that was being tracked as a potential underclassman entrant into the NFL draft but will be back for another season with the Red Raiders. That was likely mainly due to him coming off of a shoulder injury that ended his season after just three games in 2019.
Before the injury, however, the 6’5, 320-pound Anderson was putting together a quality resume at right guard. He stepped right in as a freshman and had started all 28 games he played in before the injury. If it wasn’t for the injury, Anderson may very well have declared for the draft this year.
His size in the interior is a huge asset for NFL teams and has the power and ability. There was some second-round buzz on him prior to the injury.
Anderson was named to the AP All-Big 12 second team in 2018 after another strong season. Anderson just needs to show he is over the shoulder injury and get back to his strong form before the injury.
Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
Davis is a former five-star and top-25 overall recruit who was ranked as the number one-ranked offensive guard by Rivals, Scout and 247Sports. Davis is listed at 6’4″ and 313 pounds.
Davis got his chance to start in the biggest moment of Ohio State’s 2018 season. His first career start came as an injury replacement in the 2018 Big Ten Championship game against Northwestern, and his second start was in the Rose Bowl against Washington.
In that sink or swim situation, Davis succeeded and went on to start every game in 2019, helping the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoffs. After the Fiesta Bowl, Davis announced his decision to return to Ohio State for one final year and has the chance to play his way into the conversation as one of the top guards in the NFL Draft process.
Really, Davis might just need to stay healthy and he might end up being among the top option right there with Creed Humphrey.
Deonte Brown, Alabama
Brown (6’4″, 338 pounds) was a four-star recruit and a top-10 guard coming out of high school. He redshirted as a freshman in 2016 and made his on-field debut in 2017, playing as a reserve lineman and on special teams. He went on to play in 12 games and start five in 2018. However, he dealt with both a toe injury and suspensions during the 2018 season.
After missing the first four games of the 2019 season, Brown would play all nine remaining games, mostly at right guard. Brown was among an Alabama offensive line that ranked third in the nation, allowing just 0.92 sacks per game in 2019. The solid offensive play allowed Tua Tagovailoa and even Mac Jones to put up strong performances for the Crimson Tide, ending with a win in the Citrus Bowl over Michigan.
There are going to be some intriguing names next season when it comes to the offensive line. Humphrey is the leader in the clubhouse, but the talent behind him should make the 2021 NFL Draft class both a fun group, as well as potentially one dull of talented options.