Is there even going to be a 2020 college football season? Will the NFL Draft even be conducted on time? Who knows?
Scouting for the draft typically comes with plenty of uncertainty this early in the year, but preparing for the 2021 draft brings even more unpredictability at this stage. However, with none of the four major American sports in play yet, what better time is there to get a head start on watching tape of some college football’s best?
Quarantine has kept this analyst’s options to spend free time limited, so early draft scouting has been a fun way to kill some time. Much will change between now and next April—if that’s even when the draft will take place—but as of now, here are my top 50 prospects in the 2021 draft class this offseason.
Jacob Infante’s Offseason 2021 NFL Draft Top 50
|2||Micah Parsons||LB||Penn State||LB1|
|4||Gregory Rousseau||EDGE||Miami (FL)||EDGE1|
|5||Patrick Surtain II||CB||Alabama||CB1|
|7||Pat Freiermuth||TE||Penn State||TE1|
|13||Justin Fields||QB||Ohio State||QB2|
|15||Shaun Wade||CB||Ohio State||CB2|
|21||Marvin Wilson||DL||Florida State||DL1|
|24||Trey Lance||QB||North Dakota State||QB3|
|26||Brevin Jordan||TE||Miami (FL)||TE3|
|27||Quincy Roche||EDGE||Miami (FL)||EDGE3|
|28||Jayson Oweh||EDGE||Penn State||EDGE4|
|29||Journey Brown||RB||Penn State||RB3|
|32||Palaie Gaoteote IV||LB||USC||LB4|
|33||Max Borghi||RB||Washington State||RB4|
|34||Caleb Farley||CB||Virginia Tech||CB4|
|38||Chuba Hubbard||RB||Oklahoma State||RB5|
|39||Josh Myers||iOL||Ohio State||iOL2|
|41||Israel Mukuamu||CB||South Carolina||CB5|
|45||Carlos Basham Jr.||EDGE||Wake Forest||EDGE5|
|46||Wyatt Davis||iOL||Ohio State||iOL3|
|48||Chris Olave||WR||Ohio State||WR7|
|49||Amon-Ra St. Brown||WR||USC||WR8|
|50||Sage Surratt||WR||Wake Forest||WR9|
Another stacked receiver class
A record-breaking 13 wide receivers were selected in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft: the most receivers ever taken in the first two rounds of any draft. While this year’s draft class was stacked on a whole new level, next year’s draft could come very close.
Ja’Marr Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as a true sophomore and was a key role in the explosive LSU offense that won a national championship. He has stellar ball skills, hands and body control and projects well as a true No. 1 ‘X’ receiver. Another receiver who fits that role would be Rashod Bateman, whose physicality and fluidity could see him selected in the first round next year. Justyn Ross and Sage Surratt both could be realistic options as ‘X’ wide outs in the second round, as both are coordinated, physical and lengthy wide outs who should translate well to the pros. The former projected as a first-round pick before suffering a spinal injury that will cost him his 2020 season.
Arguably the best route runner in the 2021 class is DeVonta Smith, a polished receiver who exploded with 68 catches, 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns on an Alabama offense that featured several talented weapons. Other productive wide outs include Chris Olave, a fluid and athletic ‘Z’ wide out who scored 12 touchdowns in 2019, and Amon-Ra St. Brown, the younger brother of Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown who topped 1,000 yards in his true sophomore year.
There are two elite athletes who stand out among the crowd from a speed standpoint: Jaylen Waddle and Rondale Moore. Waddle’s production has been just okay, but he is a game-breaking speedster whose elusiveness and breakaway athleticism rivals that of former teammate Henry Ruggs III, who ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the Combine. Moore missed all but four games in 2019; however, he has averaged nearly 97 receiving yards per game in his collegiate career and was a consensus first-team All-American in 2018 thanks to his stellar acceleration off the snap and ability to make defenders miss after the catch. Neither are the bigger wide outs, but both are insane athletes who can also run crisp and intelligent routes.
Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller are certainly talented weapons, but the former is a No. 1 target who hasn’t been locked up yet, and the latter hasn’t proven able to put together a whole season of quality production. The rest of the Bears’ receivers room is either unproven or has a capped ceiling. That said, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if they looked at a wide out in the 2021 draft.
Were the Bears a year too early to take a tight end?
The Bears selected the prospect most deemed as the best tight end in the 2020 class in Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet. They hope that he will be the impact starter they’ve desperately needed at the position, and his skill set when compared to a weak tight end class made it enticing for the Bears to secure a top talent while they still could. That won’t be the case for teams in the 2021 draft though, as next year’s class should feature a handful of potentially elite prospects.
As of this writing, the top-three tight ends in the 2021 class have higher grades than the top tight end on my board from this year’s draft (that player was Brycen Hopkins—Kmet finished just behind him). Pat Freiermuth is a prototypical ‘Y’ tight end prospect who has ideal size, physicality, athleticism and route-running IQ. Kyle Pitts is more of a ‘U’ tight end with a skill set similar to that of Broncos 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant—he is a stellar athlete who accelerates well off the snap, makes sharp cuts as a route runner and has top-notch body control. Brevin Jordan also fits a ‘U’ mold, as his burst and long speed, along with his footwork and crispness as a route runner, make him an early-round candidate despite not having top-notch physical attributes.
The Bears would have been unlikely to use a first-round pick on a tight end anyway, so it’s probably for the best that they free up that spot to fill up a premier position. However, whichever teams draft a tight end early this year should be able to snag a player who can possibly develop into one of the game’s best at the position.
Intriguing offensive line options
With two potential starting lineup holes to fill along the offensive line after the 2020 season, the Bears would be smart to target an offensive lineman at some point in next year’s draft. There should be a handful of prospects they could secure within the first three rounds.
The obvious headliner is Penei Sewell, my top overall prospect by a country mile and the best offensive tackle prospect I have ever personally scouted by a country mile. He rivals Quenton Nelson as far as pro-ready, dominant skill sets go: the 19-year-old has textbook pad level, hand usage, footwork, tenacity, weight distribution, and ability to adjust his set points to ride out the speed rush or block off an inside line. His athleticism is also pretty solid, and in all it’s very tough to find a weakness in his game.
There are also some solid offensive tackle prospects who could realistically be available for the Bears. Among them are two lengthy and athletic prospects in Samuel Cosmi and Alex Leatherwood, both future NFL starters with the quickness, size and footwork to be valuable pass protectors at the next level. That does not apply to Jackson Carman though, who wins at left tackle with powerful hands and a strong anchor in a 345-pound frame.
While not as top-heavy of a class, the interior offensive line also has some solid talents in next year’s class. Arguably the best of them is Creed Humphrey, who could have been an early-round pick had he declared for the 2020 draft. He is a technically-sound center who understands leverage in his pads and packs a mean punch at the point of attack. The next two interior blockers both hail from Ohio State and have high upside in zone schemes. Josh Myers is a coordinated and intelligent athlete at center with good quickness and awareness to clear out his zone, while Wyatt Davis is a powerful guard with a mean streak and a bulky frame.
Chicago wisely addressed most of their needs in the 2020 draft, but the lone pressing need they didn’t address early was their offensive line, using their two seventh-round picks on linemen. They will likely be in the market for some more immediate help next year, and they should be able to find a starter-worthy prospect next year.