The college football season is officially underway, and with it comes the return of our annual college prospect preview.
Much will change between now and the end of the regular season, but there are a handful of college players who have shown that they can be legitimate NFL talents in the near future.
Cream of the crop
Jacob: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (6-foot-6, 220 pounds)
Anyone with even a passing interest in college football knows Trevor Lawrence and how impressive he has been at the collegiate level.
A rising junior who has been the starting quarterback at Clemson since the fourth game of the 2018 season, Lawrence has yet to lose a regular season game and has appeared in two straight national championships, winning one of them. He’s big, he’s athletic, he has a cannon of an arm, he’s accurate when stretching the field, and he has as good of a collegiate resume as you can get. While I’d hesitate to call him the pound-for-pound best player in the class since he can improve his decision-making, he might have the highest ceiling in the class, and at such an important position like quarterback, he’s as close to a lock at the first pick as you can get this early.
ECD: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (6-foot-6, 220 pounds)
Yep, no dispute here. The one “must have” player in this 2021 draft class. The question is, who’s going to do whatever it takes to land the number one overall pick?
Top Bears target
Jacob: Jackson Carman, OT, Clemson (6-foot-5, 335 pounds)
While the aforementioned Lawrence gets most of the attention on Clemson’s offense, his left tackle is a stud in his own right.
A behemoth of a blocker, Jackson Carman has very good length and plenty of bulk to play offensive tackle at the NFL level. He has plenty of natural, well-proportioned strength in his frame, as he can pack a nasty punch at the point of attack and churn his legs to push defenders back as a run blocker. He does a good job of staying low and keeping his weight underneath him on a consistent basis.
Carman is also a pretty nimble offensive lineman for someone his size, as he brings polished footwork and solid overall lateral quickness in pass protection. He isn’t a fantastic athlete when climbing to the second level, but he’s quick enough in a vacuum. His strike placement can be a bit inconsistent, but when he lands his jabs correctly, they can be devastating. With his physical tools and potential to grow, Carman is a first-round talent who would be a very nice addition to the Bears’ offensive line.
ECD: Tamorrion Terry, WR, Florida State (6-foot-4, 210 pounds)
You can never have enough weapons on offense. Where the 2021 class isn’t nearly as stacked as the 2020 class, there are still tremendous options available early to consider. Terry would be a freak-of-nature in this Bears offense.
His combination of size and speed — likely well within the low 4.3’s — will attract attention by scouts seeking athletic phenoms. Over the past two seasons he has recorded 20.3 yards per reception, the highest in all of college football. He is an instant cheat-code player once he slips by initial coverage in the secondary.
If only his route running was actually crisp. That is his biggest issue to work on, just too many times will he bend his route instead of making sharp cuts when needed. His size works to his favor in tight coverage, yet I’d also like to see him bully smaller defenders instead of playing patty-cake against them in bump-and-run coverage.
It remains to be seen what happens with Allen Robinson. Personally, the idea of having Robinson stacked with Anthony Miller, Tamorrion Terry, and Darnell Mooney is too good to pass up. Load up on your armory any time you get the chance.
Hoping they slide
Jacob: Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse (6-foot-0, 209 pounds)
Syracuse hasn’t had a player drafted in the first round since Justin Pugh in 2013, but there’s a strong chance Andre Cisco could break that dry spell.
Cisco has been very productive at the collegiate level, having tallied an impressive 12 interceptions in his first two seasons with the Orange. Those ball skills are apparent on tape, as he does a very good job of tracking down the deep ball, getting under it and adjusting his body to make a play. He has tremendous hip fluidity in coverage and can both change direction and accelerate out of his breaks seamlessly. His ability to cover a significant amount of ground in coverage gives him plenty of range to work with.
When Cisco correctly diagnoses the play and reads the quarterback’s progressions, he does a fantastic job of charging downhill and jumping a route or making the instant tackle. That tackling can be inconsistent since he plays with somewhat of a reckless style of play as a tackler, though. While he won’t fit the bill as a traditional box safety, he is what the NFL values more in its safeties: a bonafide ball-hawk. With Eddie Jackson roaming underneath in Chuck Pagano’s Cover 1 and 3-heavy scheme, the system works best with a rangy safety in single-high coverage, and if Cisco falls to the Bears in the second round, it could be enticing enough for the team to consider bucking their trend of going with one-year veteran rentals at strong safety.
ECD: Max Richardson, ILB, Boston College (6-foot-0, 235 pounds)
We all know the importance of finding a QB for your offense. Teams also need to find a QB for their defense, specifically, an ILB that can do it all on the field and leads his squad in making key plays. Enter Max Richardson of Boston College.
He has all the tools to be a successful ILB in the NFL. High football intelligence, physicality, and the ability to consistently shed blocks. Plus, he’s proven himself savvy in pass coverage against top competition.
Richardson’s floor is pretty high, as his athleticism will be tested once he sees playing time in the pros. He’s not going to “wow” anyone with his actual speed, and he could stand to bulk up a little more. Still, a nice developmental piece who can develop into a quality starter down the line.
Later round hopefuls
Jacob: Dazz Newsome, WR, North Carolina (5-foot-11, 190 pounds)
A big part of North Carolina’s resurgence as a football program has come off the heels of their offensive play, and their 2019 leader in receptions, Dazz Newsome, has played a key role in that.
Newsome was one of two 1,000-yard receivers for the Tar Heels last year, joining fellow 2021 draft prospect Dyami Brown in reaching the millennium mark. He is an elusive runner after the catch who has well above-average ball-carrier vision for the wide receiver position, allowing him to exploit open holes in the secondary to pick up extra yards. Once he hits the open field, he is an electric runner out of the slot who has the breakaway speed to outrun some of college football’s quickest defenders. He’s also pretty tough to bring down, using his coordination and contact balance to stay upright.
Though he’s a dynamic athlete, Newsome’s ceiling is shortened by a lack of premier physicality or technique. He will need to work on staying focused through physical man coverage, as he slows down too easily when met with contact in squat-press coverage from nickelbacks through his stems. His route-running motor can run hot and cold, as he sometimes struggles with attacking leverage points and accelerating with full speed coming out of his cuts. He’ll probably be limited to the slot in the NFL, but if the Bears want a weapon on Day 3, Newsome could be worth looking into.
ECD: Charlie Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech (6-foot-2, 210 pounds)
Continuing with their trend of adding Nickel-type defenders, the Chicago Bears should be fairly interested in this prospect from Georgia Tech. Throughout his career, Charlie Thomas has been listed both as a linebacker, and as a defensive back. He has played within the box and outside on the boundaries as well.
Because he has played multiple positions, it is pretty difficult to give him a firm grade. He’s shown the willingness to be physical and attack downhill against the run game. He’s also demonstrated solid mirroring skills when tasked with man or zone coverage. The trick will be to keep him as a nickel when possible, as I feel he plays his best ball when allowed the flexibility between being a DB and a linebacker.
Jacob: Notre Dame vs. Clemson (Nov. 7)
With Notre Dame a temporary member of the ACC due to scheduling conflicts brought about from COVID-19, they enter the conference as the second-highest ranked team on the preseason AP Top 25. They can consistently be relied on to give a test to top-tier teams, while Clemson is the obvious juggernaut of the conference.
ECD: Miami vs. Clemson (Oct. 10)
Miami has always been a factory for NFL athletes. Clemson, meanwhile, has developed into the top such factory with their latest title runs in recent years. Should be fun to watch how Trevor Lawrence plays against an NFL quality secondary.