Plenty sure has happened in the world of football in recent months, hasn’t it?
The NFL preseason got cancelled, several games have been moved around due to positive COVID-19 tests, numerous top college stars opted out, the Big Ten and Pac-12 both cancelled their 2020 fall seasons, and then the Big Ten and Pac-12 both came back.
Needless to say, it’s been a wild start to football this year.
While one can dwell for hours on many of the pandemic-related events that have transpired in both professional and collegiate football in 2020, that's not what we’re here for today. Instead, we’re here to focus on the on-field play itself—more specifically: which college prospects have increased their stock for the 2021 NFL Draft?
Though some of the top prospects in the nation have opted out of the 2020 season—four out of my top five players have, in fact—there has still be no shortage of fantastic action in college football this year. The Heisman race looks to be incredibly tight, and the impending returns of Big Ten and Pac-12 action could make for a really interesting postseason down the line.
I published my top 50 big board in July, but now that I’m at a total of 200 prospects for the upcoming class, I figured now would be as good of a time as any to unleash my top 100 prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. Plenty will change between now and next April, but with a couple of weeks of 2020 tape now available to go off of, these rankings provide more timely and accurate information to go off of than my last.
Plus, now that the Bears are on track to have a first-round pick for the first time since 2017, it makes this year’s draft much more interesting than years past.
So, without further ado, let’s begin.
2021 NFL Draft Top 100 Big Board - October Edition
|Patrick Surtain II
|Amon-Ra St. Brown
|North Dakota State
|Carlos Basham Jr.
|Palaie Gaoteote IV
|Kary Vincent Jr.
|Richard LeCounte III
|Patrick Jones II
|Hamilcar Rashed Jr.
|Asante Samuel Jr.
|Damon Hazelton Jr.
|Pooka Williams Jr.
QB3 through QB6 are incredibly fluid
For a majority of the offseason, the top three quarterbacks in the 2021 class seemed relatively set in stone: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance.
However, after Lance’s disappointing outing in his lone 2020 game for North Dakota State and the performances from numerous intriguing college quarterbacks, that QB3 spot is a lot more up in the air. That serves as good news for the Bears, seeing as though they’ll likely be in the market for a quarterback and won’t be picking high enough for Lawrence or Fields barring a trade up.
I recently discussed in detail a couple of quarterback options the Bears can consider, so I won’t repeat myself too much. While Lance and his impressive tools should be enough to see him drafted in the first round, the two quarterbacks I have my eye on are BYU’s Zach Wilson and Florida’s Kyle Trask.
Trask was someone I had as a late-round prospect heading into this season, but his performance to kick off 2020 has been fantastic. His pocket presence and awareness has looked much better than it did in 2019, and his toughness in the pocket and his timing and accuracy have been consistently improving throughout his collegiate career. Plus, he’s 6-foot-5 and roughly 240 pounds, which certainly helps his case as an early-round draft pick. While he doesn’t have great athleticism and his footwork can fall apart under pressure at times, Trask has looked the part of a strong Heisman contender this season. He might not go in the first round, but he could be a strong player to look at as a Day 2 option.
While Trask had a low grade for me heading into 2020, Wilson wasn’t even on my board until after the season had started. The more I’ve come to watch of him, though, the more I’ve been impressed. His throws have good velocity behind them, his footwork and weight distribution are textbook and his release is quick, he’s poise in the pocket, and he has pretty good athleticism, too. His production through five games is phenomenal, too: he has 1,241 yards, 8 touchdowns and just one interception with an 81.2 completion percentage. While his upside may be limited due to average physical tools and a skinny frame, Wilson seems like a polished option who could be well on his way to a first-round grade on my board by the time the season comes to an end.
Inside linebackers galore
Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan haven’t been a necessarily bad duo for the Bears at inside linebacker: Smith has made some big plays in run support and Trevathan has picked things up in recent weeks after a slow start. However, neither of them are playing as well as they should be, and with the team’s poor depth at the position, Chicago could consider spending a pick on one of the several talented linebackers in the 2021 draft.
Standouts like Micah Parsons and Dylan Moses will likely be gone before the Bears pick in Round 1, but the Day 2 options they could choose from are plentiful. Jabril Cox was an FCS All-American at North Dakota State who has excelled since transferring to LSU this offseason. He is a very athletic and fluid linebacker who has a very similar skillset to that of former LSU linebacker and 2020 first-round pick Patrick Queen. Nick Bolton is another productive tackler who has shown plenty of speed, physicality and toughness at Mizzou. He was named a first-team All-SEC defender in 2019, and with 36 tackles in three games, he could be on par for that honor again this year.
There are so many talented linebackers who could realistically go in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft that it’s incredibly hard to give everyone as much credit as they deserve. Kuony Deng and Palaie Gaoteote IV are both big-bodied Pac-12 linebackers who are much more athletic than their sizes would indicate. Cameron McGrone is a well-built and strong defender who plays with great instincts and patience and ideal tackling form. Chazz Surratt is a high-motored, athletic player who has taken mind-bogglingly big strides considering 2019 was his first year on defense—he was a quarterback for North Carolina before. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a versatile and athletic chess piece who brings ample value in coverage and has sideline-to-sideline range as a tackler.
Not all of those players will likely get drafted as high as I have them on my board, but I could realistically see a strong argument for any of them going in at least the second round. The Bears currently have picks in both the second and third rounds for the first time since 2016, and if they keep those selections, then they may want to consider using one of them on any of the talented linebackers in this draft.
Bears could get a strong WR2 in this class
As it stands right now, Allen Robinson is on track to hit the open market after this season and Anthony Miller is still inconsistent. This means that the best wide receiver the Bears have who has a clearcut long-term future with the team is rookie Darnell Mooney. While things may change with a Robinson extension and/or Miller getting into a groover, Chicago would be smart to do some research on 2021’s stacked wide receiver class.
Ja’Marr Chase will likely end up getting picked too high for the Bears to select him, and while the same can be said for Jaylen Waddle, I wouldn’t be opposed to a trade-up for the latter. Waddle is arguably the fastest receiver in this class who brings top-notch ball skills, underrated physicality, vision and elusiveness after the catch and quick-twitched sharpness as a route runner. If he happens to fall out of the top 10 picks, then the prospects of a Robinson-Waddle-Mooney trio in the long run could be too good for the Bears to pass up.
Rashod Bateman has been a popular mock draft choice for the Bears this early in the process, and while he would bring an incredibly similar skillset to Robinson and wouldn’t give them as much play-calling versatility as some other receivers in this class, that may not be such a bad thing, especially if Robinson leaves in free agency. Bateman’s ball skills are fantastic, he plays with plenty of physicality in tight-window situations, and he has an acute understanding of leverage and how to open up a cornerback’s hips in coverage. Rondale Moore is another possible first-round option who missed most of 2019 due to a knee injury, but his game-breaking speed, mental acuity as a route runner and his dangerousness after the catch project him as a true playmaker at the NFL level.
There are several other wide receivers worth remembering in this class. Tamorrion Terry is a big, physical and elusive receiver who brings some shades of former Bears Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall’s skillset to the table. DeVonta Smith is one of the best route runners in the class and put up stellar numbers in 2019 in a loaded Alabama offense. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Chris Olave are both fluid and athletic wideouts with impressive ball skills.
As for weapons I’m high on who could be available on Day 3, look out for Damon Hazelton Jr. and Kadarius Toney. Hazelton is a physical ‘X’ receiver with great ball skills and plenty of intelligence as a route runner. Toney isn’t the most physical wide out in the world, but he’s a dynamic athlete who has tremendous vision and agility in the open field.