At the moment, it’s unclear if there will be college football this fall. However, the NFL Draft will still go on, and, thus, we need to be looking ahead; it’s never too early to project the best college prospects to the NFL level! Based on past research conducted at this website in the past, I’ve put together an objective model in order to identify not only who the best prospects are, but who the most valuable ones will be. Positional value is a topic that isn’t utilized enough with draft boards, as is the ideal balance between college production and athletic tools.
So, how should we weigh production versus tools? Pro Football Focus has conducted various studies in the past on how to properly to do so, and in simpler terms, here’s the answer:
Importance of Production (Greatest to Least)
- Pass Rushing
- Run Defense
- Offensive Tackle Pass Protection
- Runningback Production
- Offensive Tackle Run Blocking
- Pass Coverage
- Receiver Production
- Interior Offensive Line Pass Protection
- Interior Defensive Line Run Blocking
Interestingly, nearly all of NFL trench production, outside of interior offensive linemen, can be explained by their college production and athleticism. Meanwhile, players at perimeter positions generally aren’t very stable when it comes to projecting NFL performance.
By using this information, Pro Football Focus advanced statistics, and looking for key information from scouting reports, I’ve geared my model to be able to project a player’s grade, and, in addition, their Wins Above Replacement (WAR). As we’ve discussed in the past, a win isn’t valued the same at the marketplace by each position, so in order to combat this market inefficiency, we’ll use the mean value for a player’s $/year worth based on WAR and their implied value based on the open market to calculate their true $/year value.
Without further adieu, let’s go over the top 100! As a simpler way to not create too substantial of a list this early on in the process, I used Pro Football Focus’ top-100 players that they listed in their recent draft guide. We’ll start at 100, and work our way to the very top!
#100-91: Talanoa Hufanga to Kennedy Brooks
#100: S Talanoa Hufanga, USC
As NFL offenses continue to spread out their passing attacks, defenses will have to combat this by utilizing athletic players. Thus, box safeties are no longer a valuable position, and that’s exactly what Talanoa Hufanga is. He’s a bigger safety that is probably of a linebacker, as he doesn’t project well in pass coverage; he has had poor ball production and is athletically limited.
#99: LB Palaie Gaoteote, USC
Sticking with USC defensive players that don’t quite fit the modern NFL, Palaie Gaoteote hasn’t been able to hide his woes in pass coverage whatsoever. He has excellent size and athleticism, but, at the moment, he’s a liability against the pass.
#98: IOL Cade Mays, Tennessee
With a Pro Football Focus grade around 35 on true pass sets, it’s safe to say that Cade Mays doesn’t project well in pass protection. With poor technique and limited athleticism, my model believes he’ll end up being a below-replacement level NFL player.
#97: EDGE Joshua Kaindoh, Florida State
His length and athleticism, Joshua Kaindoh is easy to dream of. However, he currently has no pass-rush plan, and it shows with his lack of production.
#96: QB KJ Costello, Mississippi State
Once upon a time, KJ Costello was a potential first-round pick at Stanford. Well, after a miserable injury-shortened season last year, he’ll team up with head coach Mike Leach, hoping to get back to those levels. With a lack of playmaking ability and subpar accuracy numbers, he’s unlikely to do so, per my model.
#95: TE Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin
Slow and needs to add weight; that’s not the ideal combination for a tight end. For Jake Ferguson to at least be a solid #2 tight end, he’ll need to add weight to be better in an in-line role.
#94: OT Alaric Jackson, Iowa
Iowa offensive linemen always garner hype around the draft, and with his length and hand size, Alaric Jackson theoretically should develop into a decent run blocker. At the same time, he struggles to get out of his pass sets, and his agility will hurt him significantly.
#93: IOL Jimmy Morrissey, Pittsburgh
You’d think that my model would appreciate Jimmy Morrissey’s college grading profile, but, as alluded to previously, interior offensive linemen grades aren’t very stable when it comes to projecting NFL production. Thus, Morrissey’s poor physical profile should be weighted far more.
#92: LB KJ Britt, Auburn
Five years ago, KJ Britt would have been in high demand as a physical, downhill linebacker. Unfortunately for the Auburn product, he can’t make plays behind him, thus he can’t be trusted on passing downs.
#91: RB Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma
Kennedy Brooks isn’t your prototypical running back with his lack of receiving ability, and he’s played in a favorable scheme. At the very least, he’s been productive and is a physical player.
#90-81: Shane Buechele to Dylan Moses
#90: QB Shane Buechele, SMU
It’s been a rocky college career for Shane Buechele, but the former Texas quarterback has made a name for himself at SMU; he’s been able to limit pressure and has produced a lot of chunk plays. At the same time, though, his accuracy remains a major issue.
#89: EDGE Jamar Watson, Kentucky
When analyzing college prospects, simply looking at their grade isn’t sufficient. Jamar Watson doesn’t have the length, burst, or strength that you’d hope for in an edge rusher, and he’s racked up most of his production against inferior right tackles.
#88: S Paris Ford, Pittsburgh
I’m always going to be intrigued by a converted cornerback as a safety prospect, and Paris Ford has some really nice traits. He also isn’t a polished player, and really needs this season to happen in order to prove that he’s refined his play.
#87: IDL Jaylen Twyman, Pittsburgh
Anytime evaluators “miss” on a certain prospect, they tend to try to overcorrect themselves. That’s what I believe is happening with Jaylen Twyman. The Pittsburgh product is compared often to Aaron Donald, as both played at the same University and are undersized interior rushers. Yet, Tymann’s 11 sacks came with just 36 pressures, and he’s both undersized and not very explosive.
#86: EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Listed as the tenth player on Bruce Feldman’s freak list, Jayson Oweh could go in the first round in next year’s draft. So far, his pass-rush production would warrant that selection, but he’s a liability in run defense and hasn’t proven himself over a large enough sample size.
#85: EDGE Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. has exceptional length and the athleticism that you’d want from a straight up off-ball linebacker. Regardless, he doesn’t have much power to his game, so he’s essentially a one-trick pony at this stage of his development.
#84: QB Kyle Trask, Florida
With a low average depth of target, no big time throws, and a lot turnover-worthy plays, there’s a lot working against Kyle Trask. Yet, with his solid accuracy numbers, there’s reason to believe he can be a sufficient backup quarterback, which holds a lot of value.
#83: QB Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
A backup quarterback is the bets way to describe Kellen Mond, who takes care of the football adequately, but also has zero pocket presence.
#82: RB Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
This could be a very big year for Kylin Hill. In Mike Leach’s offense, he’ll get a chance to prove himself as a receiver, which he needs to improve his draft stock; his yards/after contact numbers are subpar, and that’s something that tends to be stable from college to pro.
#81: LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
I’m sure that this will be one of the most polarizing rankings from my model, as Dylan Moses is regarded as a potential top-ten pick in the 2021 draft. Simply put, though, his coverage production has been poor, his athleticism is excellent but not so much when he isn’t working downhill, and we may be at the fault of overvaluing a prospect based on the school he plays for.
#80-71: Darius Stills to Marco Wilson
#80: IDL Darius Stills, West Virginia
West Virginia’s scheme has done Darius Stills no favors, so, right now, he projects as a solid rotational player. A big season could change that, however.
#79: TE Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
With the most production of any tight end in this class, Charlie Kolar has the numbers to justify a ranking much higher than this. Yet, most of his production comes from outmuscling lighter-weight college players, which isn’t sustainable- he’s not very athletic.
#78: OT Daniel Faalefe, Minnesota
Listed at 6’9″ and 400 pounds, Daniel Faalefe is a physical freak that is an interesting development project. That’s what he is at this point, though; his lack of flexibility and change-of-direction skills may affect him more than the power he brings.
#77: RB Zamir White, Georgia
The University of Georgia has had tremendous success producing quality running backs, and as a former five-star recruit, Zamir White is expected to be their latest success story. Due to his ACL injuries, he hasn’t played yet, and it’s unclear what he’ll provide in the passing game. At the same time, he’s an above-average athlete who gives me some Dalvin Cook vibes.
#76: OT Jackson Carman, Clemson
Sticking with theme of “powerful plodders” on the offensive line, Jackson Carman is an exciting projection when working in a gap scheme, yet his performance true pass-sets have demonstrated his main issue- he’ll have issues against explosive edge rushers.
#75: IDL Tyler Shelvin, LSU
There was a time where having a run-stuffing nose tackle was useful for NFL defenses. That time isn’t now, however, and Tyler Shelvin isn’t a threat whatsoever rushing the passer.
#74: TE Brevin Jordan, Miami
David Njoku was a first-round athletic project coming out of Miami in 2017, and Brevin Jordan is a very similar player. With flashes of exceptional route-running, production after the catch, and plus athleticism, there’s a chance he could be a fantastic tight end. At the same time, though, he’s a work-in-progress who is more of a third-round flyer at this point.
#73: S Eric Burrell, Wisconsin
With really sound coverage grades, good instincts, and well-coached technique, there’s a part of me that wished that Eric Burrell could rate out better from my model. He just doesn’t have the size and athleticism to project favorably to the NFL level, unfortunately.
#72: S Andre Cisco, Syracuse
Given how NFL evaluators tend to extrapolate players’ high-end plays, Andre Cisco is likely going to go in the first round- he just produces unbelievable highlights. However, the reason he does that is because he plays with a certain level of aggression that leads to a lot of negative plays, which begs the question: how truly valuable are those standout plays?
#71: CB Marco Wilson, Florida
After looking like a future first-round pick as a freshman, Marco Wilson’s development has stagnated at the University of Florida- he’s cited as being a free-lancer. On the bright side, he still possess the same exciting tools that he’s always had, and coverage production is pretty unstable- if the season happens, I could see him rebounding.
#70-61: Richard Lecounte III to Xavier Thomas
#70: S Richard Lecounte III, Georgia
As Pro Football Focus’ lead draft analyst Mike Renner puts it, Richard Lecounte III “puts the safe in safety”. He isn’t going to wow you with a lot of ball production, yet he’s also going to not make mistakes and has plus instincts, which may make him a more valuable contributor that a more volatile player like Cisco.
#69: RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard lacks elite athleticism and plays in a favorable scheme, which makes him not a very inspiring prospect. At the same time, he’s a well-rounded player, and is a pretty safe projection as a starting-caliber running back.
#68: RB Max Borghi, Washington State
When drafting running backs in the middle rounds, teams should be looking for players that are more like Max Borghi. He’ll likely only be a third-down running back, but he has excellent receiving skills and may legitimately be a slot receiver.
#67: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
As a well-coached player from the University of Michigan with strong technique and surprising athleticism, Aidan Hutchinson is an intriguing prospect. He projects more as a run defender, though, so he isn’t likely to be the most valuable of edge defenders.
#66: IOL Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
You have to love Alijah Vera-Tucker’s production and technique, especially in pass protection. Yet, with interior offensive line play being the most unpredictable from college to the NFL, his lack of length and power needs to be taken into account.
#65: RB Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis
A candidate for the prospect that I’m going to randomly believe in, Kenneth Gainwell is exactly what I believe the modern running back looks like. He’s the best receiving running back in this draft, its extremely explosive, and if he was able to accumulate enough snaps in a high-octane offense, could be the best running back out of this class- based on quality, I believe he is.
#64: RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State
Yet, players like Trey Sermon are better bets to handle a serviceable workload, and since he projects as a solid player with few weaknesses, he’s a slightly safer projection to accumulate more WAR.
#63: IDL Cory Durden, Florida State
With tremendous production, Cory Durden is likely to be a quality pass rusher at the NFL level. If he doesn’t improve his ability against the run, however, no team is coming to play him on early downs, which obviously hurts his ability to accumulate enough value.
#62: WR Seth Williams, Auburn
Seth Williams has great ball skills and run-after-catch ability, and has slimmed down this offseason. That’s a big deal, as he lacks separation skills, so his production relies on contested catches, which isn’t sustainable.
#61: EDGE Xavier Thomas, Clemson
No player has seen their draft stock slip more than Xavier Thomas. Not only was he misused in Clemson’s 3-1-7 scheme, but he now has significant health issues from COVID-19, so it’s unclear what his status as an NFL prospect is. Most importantly, he just needs to get healthy for his own well-being, and as a prospect, he’ll need a team to buy into his athletic tools and production as a freshman.
#60-51: Walker Little to Brock Purdy
#60: OT Walker Little, Stanford
Since he injured his knee in the first game of the season, Walker Little wasn’t able to improve upon his average production over his college career. He has strong technique, though, so I’m confident he’ll be able to increase his draft stock if he is somehow able to play. (Pac-12 cancelled fall football)
#59: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
Partially based on the position he plays, my model doesn’t see Najee Harris as the first-round-caliber player that some believe he is. Nevertheless, he is surprisingly productive in the passing game, and is also a powerful runner.
#58: CB TJ Carter, Memphis
You wouldn’t expect a smaller cornerback to be so proficient in press-man coverage, yet that’s the case with TJ Carter. He’s a superb athlete that will stick with receivers, though it’d be nice to see him challenged by better receivers.
#57: LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
Whereas a lot of developmental linebackers struggle in coverage, Chazz Surratt is the opposite. Despite switching from quarterback to linebacker, he was relatively productive in pass coverage in his first ever season at the position, and he should get even better in that regard with more experience- he has the physical tools you want from a modern linebacker.
#56: IDL Malik Herring, Georgia
As a “tweener’ between interior defensive line and edge rusher at 280 pounds, Malik Herring is a difficult projection to the NFL. However, given his production outside the tackles, I’m bullish on his ability to produce on the interior, similarly to Auburn’s Marlon Davidson in this past draft.
#55: OT Liam Eichenburg, Notre Dame
It’s nice to have a mauling offensive tackle, but, at the end of the day, it’s more important for a player at that position to limit the negatives. That’s what Liam Eichenburg has done at Notre Dame, so his lack of athleticism should be taken with a grain of salt.
#54: WR Nico Collins, Michigan
At 6’4″ and 216 pounds with elite speed, Nico Collins has the tools that teams dream on, and he also has played 99% of his snaps out wide. If he could just improve his production (hard to do if he can’t transfer), I have no doubts that my model would like him even more.
#53: TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Both Friermuth and Kyle Pitts, the next player on this list, are seen as a first-round picks. However, I believe that is due to the fallacy we face when evaluating prospects- we only compare them to players at the same position they play. In other words, even if a player could be one of the better tight ends in football, that says as much about the lack of depth at the position than anything else, and compared to high-end receivers, there are few tight ends that are more valuable than them. Freirmuth, to his credit, projects well as an in-line tight end who breaks an extraordinary amount of tackles. He also hasn’t been an elite producer, though, which you’d expect for someone with his tools- he’s not a sure-fire prospect.
#52: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
I’m more bullish on Pitts, who is younger than Friermurth and has a more valuable skillset. He’s shown the ability to legitimately beat cornerbacks out wide in single coverage, and with his athletic traits, could be game changer in the right offense. Just don’t ask him to block.
#51: QB Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Pro Football Focus currently ranks Brock Purdy as the 15th-best prospect in this draft, but my model isn’t quite on board. His anticipatory throws are great, yet he failed to progress from his freshman season, and also doesn’t rate out well in the following areas: pocket presence, turnover-worthy plays, and arm strength (may not even meet NFL threshold). With a big season, though, he’d surely go from a second-round flyer to a first-round pick.
#50: Hamsah Nasirldeen to Eric Stokes
#50: S Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
It’s important to versatile as a safety, but not if it comes at the cost of not being particularly strong in any facet. Hamash Nasirldeen has played practically every position imaginable for a safety, yet he isn’t a great fit anywhere, and doesn’t have much ball production to speak of. His profile reminds me a lot of Jabrill Peppers.
#49: IOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Despite being listed at 289 pounds, Tyler Linderbaum has been very production. He’s still a work-in-progress as a converted defensive lineman, yet his agility and early production are enticing- he just needs to add strength.
#48: IOL Trey Smith, Tennessee
As a former top recruit with experience at tackle, Trey Smith is garnering a lot of hype in this draft. Assuming he’s fully healthy (blood cots), I could certainly get on board, given his tremendous length and power; he’s certainly a “people mover”. He’ll need to improve his pass protection, however.
#47: IOL Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
Creed Humphrey is undoubtedly going to be a first-round pick in this draft. He hasn’t allowed a sack, and also has been a hyped-up player for some time. Yet, he’s also been abysmal in pass protection, so even though he has plus athletic traits and strong hands, his first season in the NFL could be rough- he’s a developmental project.
#46: IDL Levi Onwuzirike, Washington
With solid production and clear athletic tools, Levi Onwuzirike is a prospect to keep an eye on in this draft. He just needs a greater range of pass-rush moves, though, as he hasn’t dominated the way you’d hope for a player with his raw talent.
#45: CB Deommodre Lenoir, Oregon
For a cornerback that plays with a lot of physicality, it isn’t very encouraging that Demmodre Lenoir lacks the ideal length and speed for the position. On the bright side, he has really strong instincts, and should develop into a reliable #2 cornerback.
#44: QB Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
Tanner Morgan plays in a simplistic offense, doesn’t possess tremendous arm strength, and had TWO elite wide receivers last season. So, why does my model him as a high second-round pick? He’s very accurate and has shown playmaking ability, and just needs to limit his turnovers. At the very least, he’ll be a high-end backup.
#43: IOL Josh Myers, Ohio State
He certainly benefits from playing with tremendous offensive lineman, and his pass protection needs some cleaning up. Still, with his tools (power and agility), I think that Josh Myers will develop into a quality starting center, especially with what he know about the instability of interior offensive line production.
#42: WR Amon-Ra St.Brown
As a versatile playmaker who has the size and athleticism to develop into a quality receiver. At the same time, he hasn’t been super productive, and also isn’t the most physical of players. Will he be able to be an outside receiver, or is his ceiling Tyler Boyd? His case is very similar to LSU’s Justin Jefferson in this past draft.
#41: CB Eric Stokes, Georgia
Eric Stokes is very similar to Lenoir in that he plays with a lot of physicality. He doesn’t have great instincts and his incompletion percentage is average, though, so he’s more of a projection based on his length and speed.
#40-31: Tamorrion Terry to Kwity Paye
#40: WR Tamorrion Terry, Florida State
Tamorrion Terry is similar to Nico Collins in that he has the size/speed combination to make NFL evaluators salivate. At the same time, he hasn’t been very productive, nor has he shown the ability to run a diverse route tree.
#39: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
In an analytically-inclined model, it’s going to be nearly impossible for a running back to be considered a first-round prospect. This is probably the highest Travis Etienne will rank. To celebrate his skills, though, he’s one of the best prospects at the position for some time; he’s super explosive, has been dominant in all stable metrics, and also contributes in the passing game.
#38: WR Sage Surratt, Wake Forrest
Sage Surratt certainly isn’t the “modern receiver” with his really poor speed, though he’s been productive and his size really helps him out. I could see him developing into a solid #2 receiver, similarly to Allen Lazard of the Packers.
#37: OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
With his pass protection production, length, and agility, Alex Leatherwood is seen as a top-ten prospect by Pro Football Focus. My model doesn’t love his lack of power, though, and it’s worth noting that second-tier tackles aren’t as valuable as many believe them to be.
#36: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
Controversial ranking alert! Look, I get it. Gregory Rousseau has legitimate 100th percentile freakiness with his superb length and athleticism. Yet, edge rusher production is the most stable from college to pro, and he hasn’t dominated the way you’d expect. Until he diversifies his pass-rush skillset, he’s probably not a high-end prospect.
#35: QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Sam Ehlinger has been able to lead a revamped Texas program by taking care of the football and making big plays, but is he an NFL starting quarterback? Not with his current pocket presence and middling accuracy numbers, but his ranking here shows the value of any player who has a chance of being a starting quarterback.
#34: QB Jamie Newman, Georgia
The same applies to Jamie Newman, who has a chance to emerge as a true first-round talent. He has tremendous deep ball production and strong big-time-throw/turnover-worthy-play numbers, but he needs to display more consistent accuracy and just prove himself more.
#33: LB Nick Bolton, Missouri
Nick Bolton’s lack of length and superb athleticism will likely drop him down a lot of draft boards. However, he’s also the most productive linebacker in the country with superb instincts. Positional value is the only reason why he isn’t even higher on this draft board.
#32: EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami
It’s hard to ignore when someone has a grading profile as elite as Quincy Roche, even in the AAC. He has a lot of pass-rush moves, and even though he’s underweight for the edge rush position, he plays far bigger than he is. He needs this season to prove himself in the ACC after transferring to Miami, but I’d be more than comfortable selecting him in the first round.
#31: Kwity Paye, Michigan
The #1 listed player on Bruce Feldman’s freak list, Kwity Paye is the developmental project that I’d feel most comfortable selecting in the first round. He’s been pretty productive considering that he doesn’t have any pass-rush moves right now, so his untapped potential is off-the-charts. He projects as a very solid all-around edge defender.
#30-21: Ambry Thomas to Tylan Wallace
#30: CB Ambry Thomas, Michigan
Ambry Thomas lacks elite change-of-direction-skills and he’ll need to add weight. He also is a well-coached player with elite speed and solid production, and given the high demand for cornerbacks, is someone I’d currently be fine selecting in the first round.
#29: EDGE Chris Rumph II, Duke
As the most productive edge rusher in the country, a case can be made for Chris Rumph II to be ranked higher on this list. Yet, this is likely the most recognition you’ll see him get by any outlet, as he’s currently listed at 6’3″ and 225 pounds.
#28: Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
The son of former standout cornerback Asante Samuel, junior has made a name for himself by being a very sticky player in man coverage. He’ll always struggle at the catch point, since he’s undersized, yet he looks tailor-made to go to a man-heavy defense, such as the Patriots.
#27: WR Tre Walker, San Jose State
Wide receivers are always going to rank highly on this list, but that shouldn’t diminish what Tre Walker brings to the table. Although he doesn’t have great play strength, he’s a plus route runner who has produced, while he also is cited with having terrific ball skills. That sounds like someone I’d use a high pick on.
#26: IDL Marvin Wilson, Florida State
In a lot of ways, Marvin Wilson is a nearly identical prospect to Auburn’s Derrick Brown in this past draft. He doesn’t have high-end athletic tools, yet he dominates with the immense power he possesses, making him a very safe projection to the NFL level.
#25: OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
Production, elite athleticism and length, experience at both left tackle and right tackle; Samuel Cosmi has it all. He still needs to prove himself against elite pass rushers, and getting stronger would help with that, but he’s the second-best tackle in this draft.
#24: CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford
Paulson Adebo isn’t going to tackle anyone, nor is he going to impress anyone with his ability to change directions; he’s also too aggressive. At the same time, with his length and ball skills, he’ll be a high-end starter in a cover-three/press-heavy scheme. The 49ers, Chargers, and Jets stand out as clear potential fits.
#23: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
My model isn’t doubting that Micah Parsons should develop into one of the better linebackers in the NFL, projecting him to be on the same level as Darius Leonard of the Colts. Yet, it is stating that we perhaps are overvaluing what he’s bringing to the table. Elite linebackers simply don’t move the needle, and considering that he isn’t a flawless player – wasn’t a playmaker in pass coverage last year – he probably isn’t worth a top-ten pick, even if he has freaky athletic traits.
#22: CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
In an ideal world, Shaun Wade would be able to prove that he could be an outside cornerback, as he has the length and speed to thrive there. Even if he can’t, though, nickel defenders remain an extremely undervalued aspect of a defense; they provide more WAR than front-seven players generally do. With his instincts and athletic tools, he could develop into a intriguing chess piece for a smart defensive coordinator.
#21: WR Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
As a dynamic player with great athleticism and run-after-catch skills, as well as experience working on the outside, Tylan Wallace brings a lot to the table. At this point, he just needs to work on diversifying his route tree.
#20-11: Chris Olave to Wyatt Davis
#20: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
For whatever reason, Ohio State consistently churns out underrated receivers, and Chris Olave likely will be the next in line. Sure, he doesn’t have superb athletic traits, but he may very well be the best route runner in this draft, so gaining separation won’t be an issue whatsoever. Now, if he he could provide anything after the catch.
#19: CB Elijah Molden, Washington
Getting back to the discussion on how slot defenders are undervalued (slot receivers generate 1.07 times more EPA), Elijah Molden won’t be drafted before the third or fourth round. That’ll make him the steal of the draft, however. He has tremendous short-area quickness, is strong in run defense, and will be a day-one contributor for any defense.
#18: S Jevon Holland, Oregon
Jevon Holland also has experience playing in the slot, but he also will likely be more of a traditional safety as well. That versatility will allow him to thrive in any sort of defensive scheme, and with his instincts, as displayed with his ball production, he’ll be a key player.
#17: EDGE Carlos Basham, Wake Forrest
Ranked as the best edge rusher in this class, Carlos Basham is someone not getting enough recognition. He’s on Bruce Feldman’s freak list, and the size, power, and explosiveness he brings to the table gives him Cameron Jordan levels of upside. He’s an all-around edge defender, and with better production than Gregory Rousseau, appears to be the superior prospect.
#16: IDL Christian Barmore, Alabama
Based on projected WAR, Christian Barmore ranks just 54th. However, a win from an interior defender costs far more than any other position, which is why he ranks where he does. He has elite length, power, and athleticism, and is well-rounded in terms of his production as a pass rusher and run defender. At this point, we just need him to continue to produce over a larger sample size.
#15: WR Tutu Atwell, Louisville
With the way that offensive coordinators are scheming up opportunities for their top playmakers, gadget players are no longer the “gimmick” options they were once seen as. Thus, Tutu Atwell is a very valuable prospect, even if he isn’t a traditional receiver. He has 4.20s 40-yard dash speed, is a big play waiting to happen, and would be awesome to watch in the right offense.
#14: WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
He’s a more complete receiver than Atwell, but Rondale Moore also falls into the classification as a gadget slot weapon. Saying that he’s in the 100th percentile in terms of his run-after-catch ability would be a massive understatement, and with his strength, I could see him developing into a similar player to former Panthers great Steve Smith, or at least Golden Tate of the Giants. Unfortunately, after an injury wiped out his sophomore year and he opted out of this season, we only have his freshman season to go off of.
#13: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Simply put, Trevon Moehrig is an absolute dream with his length, speed, and explosiveness. He has the body type to be a “thumper”, yet he’s thrived in TCU’s split-safety defense, and is coming off a season in which he posted a Pro Football Focus coverage grade over 90.
#12: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Jaylen Waddle is the same boat as Tutu Atwell and Rondale Moore, as his main contributions will go from his explosiveness and run-after-catch-ability- he’s thrived as a kick returner. His speed is off-the-charts, and we just need to see him prove to handle a larger workload.
#11: IOL Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
An interior offensive lineman ranked just outside the top-ten in an analytically-inclined draft ranking? That’s how talented Wyatt Davis is. He has tremendous technique, exceptional movement skills, has produced at a high level, and never loses his leverage. I’d be shocked if he didn’t develop into one of the top interior offensive lineman in the NFL, and his only flaw appears the be the position he plays.
#10: CB Patrick Surtain III, Alabama
Weight: 203 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.509274869
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Joe Haden
Considering that I’ve seen him ranked in the top-three of some draft boards, my model may actually be low on Patrick Surtain III, compared to public consensus. Yet, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t project to be a impactful player. He has excellent length, which allows him to project perfectly in press, while he’s able to change directions well.
While Surtain’s movement skills aren’t an issue, he does have average straight-line speed, and he may be limited to zone-heavy/press-heavy schemes. In addition, his peripheral numbers aren’t special.
Surtain III will likely be the top corner off the board, so this isn’t a critical season for him. Instead, it’ll be the combine that plays a large role, as a strong 40-yard dash could alleviate concerns about his long speed.
#9: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
Weight: 210 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.4260764082
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Jarvis Landry
If you’re looking for a technician at the wide receiver position, look no further than Minnesota’s Rashad Bateman. He is cited as being an excellent route runner with tremendous release packages, and it shows with his college production. He appears to be excellent at gaining separations, and his contested catch and yards-after-catch numbers are exceptional.
The only aspect of Bateman’s skillset that may draw some criticism is his lack of elite athleticism. Outside of that, he’s a very complete receiver.
Bateman, who just opted out of the season, should be a top-ten pick, based on his abilities and production. However, teams consistently undervalue players that aren’t top-notch athletes, and when you add that to the fact that he won’t play this season, I could see him being a tremendous value pick at the end of the first round.
#8: WR De’Vonta Smith, Alabama
Weight: 175 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.4460948001
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Emmanuel Sanders
The most valuable part of a team’s offense, in my opinion, is their deep passing attack, and that’s where De’Vonta Smith thrives. Few receivers have been as effective working down the field as he has, which is a skill I expect to translate very well to the NFL level.
Although it doesn’t really matter considering where he wins, Smith will never be the most efficient receiver out there. In addition, he needs to add some mass, or he may have some difficulty dealing with physical cornerbacks.
Smith may not be a complete receiver, but with the way offenses go about their business now, you don’t need to. A smart offensive mind will take advantage of his vertical skills, and from there, he could the missing the piece for an explosive offense. How he fares as Alabama’s top receiver this season will be fun to watch.
#7: S Ar’Darius Washington, TCU
Weight: 179 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.4757410851
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Earl Thomas III
It’s easy to fall in love with players with elite instincts, and that’s exactly what Ar’Darius Washington has. He’s able to make plays on the ball that are unimaginable, and, thus, his production has been exceptional.
Washington doesn’t have the ideal speed and length, but that’s yet to affect him. Though he’s undersized, he plays far bigger than he is.
Washington’s size limitations, as well as the clear undervaluing of the safety position, may cause him to fall outside of the first round. Yet, he projects as an elite player in both coverage and run defense, and with players like Budda Baker earning significant contract extensions, it’s clear that the safety market is escalating. His mean projection is that off of a top-ten safety, such as Earl Thomas III’s current form, and if all goes well, he could be an absolute game-changer for a defense.
#6: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Weight: 200 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.455463797
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Emmanuel Sanders
After dominating as a sophomore last season, Ja’Marr Chase appears to be consensus’ top receiver in this draft. He ranked in the 100th percentile in deep-receiving grade last season, and is also cited as someone who is extremely crafty with his releases at the line of scrimmage.
Chase’s size and athleticism are merely average, which likely will, and probably should, raise some skepticism over his ability to be a tier-1 receiver; his contested catch numbers also haven’t been exceptional. Still, it’s difficult to find anything resembling a fatal flaw with his skillset.
I don’t think there’s much of a difference between Chase, Smith, and Bateman, which explains why my models see Emmanuel Sanders as the best comparison, in terms of value, for both Chase and Smith. Still, he’s a high-end receiving prospect, and evaluators will have to be careful to not overanalyze him; his production is going to naturally regress now that he’ll catch passes from a quarterback not named Joe Burrow.
#5: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
Weight: 207 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.509274869
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Jaire Alexander
Where should we start with Caleb Farley? Cornerbacks with his height, size, and length don’t grow on trees, especially ones who have elite long speed (he’s projected to run a 40-yard-dash with a time in the 4.30-4.40 second range). Oh, and it’s not like his production has been subpar; in fact, he’s coming off a sophomore season in which he earned a coverage grade over 90.
Farley hasn’t played a lot of man coverage, but that’s about it. There are no flaws that my model sees worthy of hampering his transition to the pros.
So many teams need a #1 corner, and with a mean projection as a top-ten cornerback (albeit at a position with a lot of volatility), Farley is exactly that. He’ll fit into any scheme and dominate, but I haven’t seen his name near the top of mock drafts; now that he’s opted out of the season, some lucky team picking later in the draft may be able to get an absolute steal.
#4: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Weight: 224 lbs
Projected WAR: 1.768455727
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Baker Mayfield
NFL evaluators tend to fall in love with toolsy prospects, and that’s the best way to describe Trey Lance. With exceptional athleticism, a strong arm, and ideal size, he’ll ve the epitome of the quarterback prospect that old-school evaluators pound the table for. That isn’t to say he isn’t a high-end prospect, however; his production at North Dakota State, especially when it comes to limiting turnovers, is more than satisfactory.
Projecting Lance to the NFL level is harder to do than it is with any prospect in this draft. He plays in a limited offense at North Dakota State that rarely asks him to drop back at an ideal rate, and since he’s playing in the FCS, isn’t exactly facing top-notch competition.
He’s a complete wildcard, but given his translatable skills and production at North Dakota State, I’m pretty confident that Lance can be at least be a solid mid-tier quarterback, even if he’s on the volatile side like Cam Newton or Carson Wentz. On a rookie contract, that type of quarterback is certainly worth a top-five pick.
#3: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
Weight: 330 lbs
Projected WAR: 0.4953211467
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Ryan Ramczyk
Simply put, Penei Sewell is the best offensive tackle prospect I can remember. It’s rare to see someone at 6’6″ and 330 pounds move the way he does, and calling him a “freak” with his athleticism would be an understatement. Oh, and his 95.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus this season was the best ever for an offensive tackle since they’ve started evaluating prospects.
If you go simply based on how talented a player is at their position, Penei Sewell is the best player in the draft. In the end, he doesn’t play a super valuable position, compared to quarterback, which is he ranks third on this list, but I’d certainly bet on him immediately being one of the top tackles in the NFL. For a team that doesn’t need a quarterback, such as the Dolphins, Bengals, or Chargers, he’s a no-brainer pick, given how the market values high-end players at his position.
#2: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Weight: 228 lbs
Projected WAR: 1.945480321
Projected Pro Comparison (Value Wise): Jared Goff
Justin Fields is seen as the clear “QB #2” in this draft, but I’m not sure it’s by as wide of a margin as some believe it is. He appears to be the most accurate quarterback in this draft, and pairs it with a strong arm and tremendous decision making. A lot of praise is given to Ohio State’s offensive scheme, but it wouldn’t function if Fields wasn’t proficient in making “NFL throws”, which is backed up by his data.
Unfortunately for Fields, he has one flaw that could prevent him from being an elite quarterback, and it’s his poor pocket presence. His pressure rate is very high, and that’s supported by the scouting reports- inability to read pressure and a tendency to hold onto the ball too long come up often.
There is a lot of data to suggest that quarterbacks control their pressure rate, so the fact that Fields puts so much pressure on his offensive line is certainly worrisome. At the same time, accuracy and decision-making are probably the two most important traits for a quarterback to have, which is why it’s okay to be bullish on his potential. His mean projections have him as a fringe tier-2 quarterback; he projects to be better than Jared Goff, Dak Prescott, and other quarterbacks in that mold. Once again, on a rookie contract, that’s very valuable.
#1: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Weight: 220 lbs
Projected WAR: 2.19075653
Player Comparison (Value Wise): Deshaun Watson
Trevor Lawrence has been labeled as a future #1 pick since his freshman year in college, and it’s easy to see why. At 6’6″, 220 pounds, he certainly “looks the part”, but that’s not what makes him an elite quarterback prospect. Rather, it’s his decision-making, playmaking ability, and tremendous pocket presence. It’s rare to see someone with his arm talent have his athleticism, yet here we are.
Lawrence certainly hasn’t been flawless, however. He experience inconsistency with his accuracy last year, and also got off to a slow start. At the same time, inconsistency with accuracy is better than not having it at all (can probably be fixed), and he performed well as a freshman and late last season- his flaws are very minor.
As much as I like Fields, Lawrence is the top quarterback in this draft. His “ceiling” is tremendous, but even a mean projection of Deshaun Watson would surely make any team happy. I’d love to see him be able to improve the small accuracy warts, because if that’s the case, his projections will only increase. Now, who will have the #1 pick in next year’s draft?
So, there you have it! This draft is going to be crazy, given the circumstances, but in the end, aren’t all drafts basically a crapshoot? I see three franchise quarterbacks in this draft, coupled with talent at cornerback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle. That’s certainly enticing, and, as of now, it’s looking like some teams will be able to land some absolute steals in terms of value. Just remember; build through the perimeter!
Best Value Picks Right Now:
#1: S Ar’Darius Washington
#2: CB Elijah Molden
#3: WR Tutu Atwell
#4: WR Chris Olave
#5: WR Tre Walker
Honorable Mentions: EDGE Chris Rumph III, WR Rashod Bateman
Worst Value Picks Right Now
#1: IDL Jaylen Twyman
#2: LB Dylan Moses
#3: EDGE Gregory Rousseau
#4: LB Micah Parsons
#5: EDGE Jayson Oweh
Honorable Mention: RB Najee Harris, TE Pat Freiermuth