Absurdly Early 2021 NFL Draft Watch List – Part I
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
I promised content, and damn it, I’m going to give you content. The 2020 NFL Draft is behind us. I accurately predicted 25 out of 32 first round players correctly (yet, had the worst mock draft in The Cut’s friendly competition) and my shining moment was accurately predicting Jordyn Brooks going before Patrick Queen. Am I bragging? No. I got extremely lucky and know very little about team tendencies; the prime example being that I thought for months that the Dolphins would surely pick a running back.
The time has come to start hesitantly diving into 2021 NFL Draft prospects. My co-hosts think I’m insane. I have already put preliminary grades on nearly 30 players. Admittedly, a lot of those guys are the ‘blue chippers’ – guys who everyone has already watched in some capacity. But some lesser-known or not-as-highly-regarded guys have caught my eye, and I want to share with you all. Because sharing is caring.
(Image from Pioneer Press)
1. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota – Tanner Morgan feels like a guy who could shoot up draft boards. He processes extremely well. He’s fairly accurate on short-to-intermediate throws. He has a pretty strong arm. But the thing that stood out to me upon initial viewing was his ability to hit receivers in the numbers while on the run. Playmaking ability is something that vaulted Joe Burrow above Tua Tagovailoa (not the only thing, but one thing) and while I don’t think Tanner Morgan is due for an unprecedented ascension to the top of big boards, I think that he could very well be a Day One or Two pick come next April.
2. Brandon Peters, Illinois – Peters was good, not great in his first year with the Fighting Illini. He has issues with accuracy, completing just 55% of his passes and throwing for under 2,000 yards. But the flashes were there. His 369-yard, three touchdown performance in a game against Michigan State was great. The arm talent is there. He doesn’t have a rocket arm like the top three guys (it’s Lawrence, Fields and Lance in whatever order and there’s no debate), but he puts some zip on the ball. He’ll be intriguing to watch as the 2020 season progresses. His accuracy issues could force him to the bench, but if he improves on them prior to the commencement of the season, watch out.
3. Shane Buechele, SMU – I saved my favorite for last here. Buechele was incredibly productive in his first year with SMU, throwing for 3,929 yards (6th in the nation), 34 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He showed promise his first year at Texas, too, so this should have been expected. Buechele benefitted from having James Proche, new Baltimore Raven, on the other end of his throws, but his arm talent is there. If he’s able to tweak his footwork, he’ll be able to reduce that turnover number. Look out for Buechele as a riser in January.
(Image from Through the Phog)
1. Pooka Williams, Kansas – while I’m not sure he comes out in what looks to be a star-studded running back class, Pooka Williams is a fun player to watch. For a 170-pound running back, he sure is difficult to bring down. Add in the fact that he’s one of the most explosive, elusive running backs in the 2021 class, and I think there’s a real chance he does declare. He has elite vision – his ability to take a delayed handoff to the house is astounding. After two seasons of 1,000 yards, he is on pace to become Kansas’ all-time leading rusher. All-time leading rushers are guys I like watching.
2. Trey Sermon, Ohio State – Kennedy Brooks overtook the starting running back job in Oklahoma in 2019 (and he should have – he was great), but Trey Sermon is an intriguing new chess piece for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Losing JK Dobbins will hurt – Master Teague nor Trey Sermon are JK – but if I had to guess today, Trey will provide the closest replication of JK’s production. He’s a one-cut back, something that has excelled in the Ohio State offense for quite some time. Sermon could drastically improve his draft stock if he wins the starting job at Ohio State in 2020.
3. CJ Verdell, Oregon – Verdell is a guy that I will probably finish lower on than most, but he is still very intriguing to me. After two 1,000-yard seasons, Verdell certainly has the production to warrant a look this offseason. What will he do without Justin Herbert? Will he improve his receiving ability? He’s not as undersized as he plays, but he is still more elusive than up-the-gut. Verdell is a wild card in my eyes (despite his current reputation in the community), and I like watching wild cards.
(Image from YouTube)
1. Damonte Coxie, Memphis – I can already tell this is going to be one of ‘my guys.’ Coxie is everything that I hope Tee Higgins is. He’s a big, physical receiver that just bullies smaller corners. He doesn’t have long speed, but he’s adequately fast. I don’t think I’ve scouted a receiver that blocks quite like Coxie; he’s tenacious and goes all out to keep corners off of his teammates. And yes, I scouted Chase Claypool in 2020. I’m really going to keep a close eye on the Brady White to Damonte Coxie connection during the 2020 season, and you should, too.
2. DeVonta Smith, Alabama – you could make the argument that DeVonta Smith was the best receiver on the Crimson Tide in 2019 (and you wouldn’t be far from the truth). Smith surely benefitted from having teammates like Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, but lining up opposite of Jaylen Waddle is no tough task either. Smith is probably never going to be the lead receiver on an NFL team. And that’s fine, because he could still be a Pro Bowl-caliber wideout. What will DeVonta do without the aforementioned first-rounders? Who knows, but I’m excited to see.
3. Tre Walker, San Jose State – talk about a sleeper. Tre Walker was quietly one of the most productive receivers in the nation in 2019, catching nearly 80 footballs for over 1,000 yards. His touchdown production was lacking. His route running is not perfect – and that’s where he’ll win – but another year of experience plus the breakaway speed that he possesses should put him higher up on draft boards come 2021.
(Image from Eleven Warriors)
1. Luke Farrell, Ohio State – the forgotten tight end in next year’s class has to be Luke Farrell for me. He was the 6th-ranked tight end in his recruiting class and while the production hasn’t matched that, the talent is still there. He’s a monster human being that is in an offense that rarely targets the position; thus, bringing his production to its current level. Farrell will probably stay fairly low on draft boards next year, but I think he’s going to surprise once he is out of the constraining Ohio State offense.
2. Josh Pederson, UL-Monroe – one of the more intriguing tight end prospects, in my opinion, Pederson was one of the leading tight end receiving leaders in 2019. I think he can continue that, and while his film is difficult to find, I recommend you catch as many live UL-Monroe games as you can. If Adam Trautman was able to get the clout this year, Pederson may very well be the small school tight end receiving high praise come next year.
Well, that’s Part I of the watch list. I admittedly have not gotten past these four positions, and can’t even provide a third tight end for you just yet, but stay tuned. I will be continuing to dive into my database of prospects and hopefully shine light on some guys (like I did with Noah Igbinoghene, but that’s for a different day) in the very near future.
Starting to see Igbinoghene pop up at the back of the first round in mocks. I was on that about 3 weeks ahead of people, but hey🤷🏼♂️ — Christian Williams (@40_williams) March 2, 2020
Until next time!