Since Jim Harbaugh took the helm of the program in 2015, Michigan has become a factory for NFL talent. In the 2020 NFL Draft, Michigan was well-represented, having ten players selected, tied for the program’s most in a single draft. When it comes to top 2021 draft prospects, Michigan offers two players who have legitimate first-round talent. In addition to this, the Wolverines have a pair of intriguing Day 2 picks and a few players whose names won’t be called early but have NFL futures.
Before we get to the headliners, let’s look at some mid-round talents that the Michigan program will offer in 2021. Cornerback Ambry Thomas, tight end Nick Eubanks, and safety Brad Hawkins all have the ability to play on Sundays. Junior wide receiver Ronnie Bell might not be a household name quite yet, but if he can become more consistent catching the ball, he has an NFL future.
Related | Farabaugh’s 4-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft
Another name to keep an eye on is linebacker Joshua Ross, who is returning to the lineup after suffering an injury in 2019. There is no doubt that the Michigan Wolverines will be well-represented in the 2021 NFL Draft, but who are the program’s top prospects?
Top Michigan NFL Draft prospects in 2021
Jalen Mayfield, Right Tackle, Redshirt Sophomore (6’5″, 319 pounds)
You won’t find a better right tackle in college football than Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield. He enters the 2020 season ranked as the 14th-best prospect on Mel Kiper’s initial big board. If Mayfield can build off his 2019 tape, we might just be looking at a top-15 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
For his size, Mayfield possesses outstanding athleticism, paired with tremendous power. He showcases exceptional lateral movement skills, allowing him to control his blocking assignments with ease. While he generates great push in the running game, Mayfield stands out with his excellence in pass protection. Some of his most impressive tape came in a showdown against the Ohio State Buckeyes last season, where Mayfield neutralized the marvelous Chase Young.
Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline is a fan of Mayfield, stating that “Michigan has consistently put talented offensive linemen into the draft, and Jalen Mayfield will be their next bigtime prospect. The third-year sophomore is large, athletic, and versatile. He’s a terrific pass protector who is also effective as a run blocker and in motion. Mayfield also has the ability to play left or right tackle, in my opinion.”
The clip below will showcase Mayfield’s power and technique, as he moves Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes with ease.
Jalen Mayfield taking Willikes for a ride. pic.twitter.com/irVDK7ksYL
— Due# (@JDue51) November 17, 2019
While some might be concerned with Mayfield’s mere 13 starts at right tackle, I am not one of those people. Mayfield has the tools to develop into one of the NFL’s best right tackles due to his ability to dominate in the running game and his ability to excel in pass protection. For a team like the Miami Dolphins, who recently drafted a left-handed quarterback and has two first-round picks in the 2021 draft, it would be wise to have a player of Mayfield’s caliber protecting Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside.
Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Junior (6’6″, 278 pounds)
Michigan pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson is an ascending 2021 draft prospect who could blossom into a surefire first-round selection if he continues to develop. He is coming off of the heels of a 2019 season where he accounted for 69 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 6 passes defended, and 3 forced fumbles. To say Hutchinson is active would be quite the understatement.
Hutchinson is a disruptive force, possessing a rare blend of size and strength that is reminiscent of JJ Watt during his time at the University of Wisconsin. His ability to stack and shed is elite, as is his never-ending motor. He utilizes his length and flexibility to overwhelm offensive tackles on a consistent basis. When I think of Aidan Hutchinson, the term that comes to mind is “havoc”.
As evident in the clip below, tight ends can’t block Aidan Hutchinson. His ability to stack and shed is pure brilliance.
Aidan Hutchinson – #97
Welcome to my early hype team. pic.twitter.com/xeUb4IQY0V
— Zack Thomas (@NFL_Zack) May 7, 2020
When it comes to prospects whose 2021 draft prospectus could skyrocket after the 2020 season, Aidan Hutchinson sits atop of the list. He has the tools of a top-20 NFL draft pick and the competitiveness that will have NFL defensive coordinators salivating.
Nico Collins, Wide Receiver, Senior (6’4″, 222 pounds)
You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the stat sheet, but the Michigan Wolverines had one of the best wide receiver groups in college football last season. The group was certainly hampered by inconsistent and erratic quarterback play from Shea Patterson. The best player of the talented group is the 6-foot-4 Nico Collins.
Collins is coming off a pedestrian 2019 season in terms of production, hauling in only 37 receptions for 729 yards and 7 touchdowns. With that said, scouting is not about production, it is about traits, and when it comes to that, Collins is special.
You won’t find a better jump-ball receiver in the talented 2021 draft class than Collins. Collins excels at the contested catch, utilizing his frame and strong hands to out-muscle defenders for the football. His 19.7 yards per reception in 2019 supports the notion that Collins is a big-play wide receiver. While he lacks game-changing speed, Collins is a savvy technician, possessing the ability to get open consistently. His ability to adjust to the football and fluidity are top-notch.
As I mentioned above, one area where Nico Collins is superior is the contested catch, which is demonstrated in the clip below.
Good to see Michigan using their talented WRs. Great contested catch by Nico Collins. pic.twitter.com/QCHtXhKpFP
— Bobby Football (@RobPaulNFL) October 5, 2019
In a wide receiver group consisting of Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), Rondale Moore (Purdue), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) and Devonta Smith (Alabama), it is hard to imagine Nico Collins being a first-round selection in 2021. However, he is a Round 2 pick all day long.
Kwity Paye, Edge, Senior (6’4″, 277 pounds)
While Aidan Hutchinson might be the more highly-regarded draft prospect, Kwity Paye is an attractive draft prospect in his own right. His strong play in 2019 stood out, as he accumulated 50 tackles, including a jaw-dropping 12.5 tackles for a loss and an impressive 6.5 sacks.
This isn’t the first time I expressed my affection for Paye. As I stated in May, “Paye has a tremendous thick build and transfers his weight quite well. He has heavy hands, tremendous power, and he can set the edge with force. His ability to play inside and outside makes him a viable chess piece on the defensive side of the ball.”
When you watch film on Paye, his passion and love for the game are evident. He constantly puts forward a ferocious effort, and when opportunity presents itself, he can really lay the lumber.
Kwity Paye with the huge hit! pic.twitter.com/lFpcLZ5YaV
— David Noe (@DavidRNoe) September 15, 2018
When the dust settles, Kwity Paye will be a late Day 2 draft prospect. He may be a tad undersized to play inside in a 4-3 defense, so his home in the NFL could be at a five-tech in a 3-4 defense. Regardless, Kwity Paye is one of those types of players that you bet on, and I see a bright future ahead of him.