Ranking the Top 10 Prospects Eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2020

Ranking the Top 10 Prospects Eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft

0 of 10

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft is still nearly a year away, but you can bet that some teams are already zeroing in on their top targets.

    While franchises will never openly admit to tanking, they are wise to know what draft fate awaits if they finish at or near the bottom of the standings. It's just good business.

    What awaits next year is a collection of potentially franchise-changing players in a group perhaps more impressive than 2020's.

    Here, you'll find the 10 best draft-eligible prospects for 2021, selected and ranked based on factors like physical upside, proven production, NFL readiness and positional value.

10. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

1 of 10

    John Amis/Associated Press

    Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses carries health concerns in 2020 as he suffered a torn ACL last offseason and missed all of 2019. He'll have to prove that he can perform at a pre-injury level.

    If he does and can remain healthy, he should be one of the first defenders off the board.

    "Alabama's fantastic senior 'backer, Dylan Moses, is the type of athletic middle defender you want to build around," Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller wrote.

    Capable of shutting down pass-catchers, stonewalling ball-carriers and pressuring passers, Moses is a true do-it-all defender. Though perhaps not as much of an athletic marvel as 2020 eighth overall pick Isaiah Simmons, Moses' production could put him in a similar draft slot.

    In 2018, Moses amassed 86 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. With Alabama likely to be in the national spotlight once again, fans and NFL decision-makers alike should see plenty of him in 2020.

8. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

2 of 10

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Elite NFL offenses typically have two things: a franchise signal-caller and an anchor offensive tackle. While the first gets all the glory, it's difficult for them to achieve success if they're constantly under pressure. That's why we saw four offensive tackles go within the first 13 selections last month.

    There could be a similar run on tackles next season, and Texas' Samuel Cosmi will likely be one of the first off the board.

    "He has great feet and can also bowl over edge defenders in the run game. If he puts all of his talent together, he could be a top-10 pick," ESPN's Mel Kiper wrote.

    Listed at 6'7" and 310 pounds, Cosmi has the size that NFL line coaches covet at the position. Having played both right and left tackle, he also brings a tremendous amount of versatility to the proverbial table, which increases the pool of teams that could benefit from selecting him early in the 2021 draft.

8. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

3 of 10

    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    This year's draft class was largely highlighted by a stellar wide receiver group. The 2021 class might be even better. At the very least, a couple of wideouts could end up going in the top 10.

    One of them is Alabama's DeVonta Smith, who would have been a likely first-round pick in 2020 had he decided not to return to college for his senior season.

    In 2019, Smith caught 68 passes for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns. He did so while playing alongside Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, who just so happened to be the first two receivers off the board in April.

    Now, Smith will get his opportunity to lead the charge in Alabama's receiving corps. He'll have to do so without 2020 first-rounder Tua Tagovailoa under center, but if he can carry the passing attack with a new signal-caller, it will only solidify his status as an early first-round pick.

    Smith will likely be catching passes form either Mac Jones or incoming freshman Bryce Young now that Taulia Tagovailoa has decided to transfer to Maryland.

    At 6'1" and 175 pounds, Smith is a little on the lighter side, but another year of collegiate development could remedy that. Expect him to be in the conversation to become the first wideout off the board next spring.

7. Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami

4 of 10

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Defensively, there's nothing more valuable than a player who can get after the quarterback.

    Miami's Gregory Rousseau showed that he could do exactly that in 2019. In 13 games, he amassed 15.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and 54 tackles. That's impressive production for a redshirt freshman.

    The one question mark with Rousseau is his ability to repeat that sort of production. One-year wonders can be tricky, and Rousseau appeared in just two games as a true freshman before an ankle injury ended his season.

    "We want to see a jump up in production. For some of these guys, put [together] two great years back-to-back. That's what we're looking for," ESPN's Mel Kiper said (h/t Robbie Weinstein of 247Sports).

    Should Rousseau rack up double-digit sacks again in 2020, he'll be a virtual lock for the top 10. He could potentially be the first non-quarterback off the board, as pass-rushers Nick Bosa (2019) and Chase Young (2020) were before him.

6. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State

5 of 10

    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    While interior defensive linemen don't always get the recognition of their edge-rushing brethren, they can be the most disruptive defenders on the field. Interior defenders can pressure the quarterback from the middle, prevent them from stepping up into the pocket and also provide direct resistance to the running game.

    There's a reason Aaron Donald has twice been named Defensive Player of the Year.

    Last month, the Carolina Panthers made Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown the seventh pick in the draft. Florida State's Marvin Wilson may be an even better pro prospect.

    "Marvin Wilson is what people want Derrick Brown to be," Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle said on Twitter.

    Wilson's 2019 season ended with three missed games due to a hand injury. In nine games before that, he racked up an impressive 44 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and four passes defended.

5. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

6 of 10

    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Six wide receivers went in the first round of the 2020 draft, but LSU's Ja'Marr Chase may have a higher ceiling than any of them. He flashed that ceiling in 2019, catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.

    "Obviously, you've got to have somebody throwing you the football, but he's a guy who knows the position, knows how to utilize the red line and all the little techniques, and it's been beneficial for him in his young career and can't wait to see him flourish over the years,' former LSU and NFL receiver Michael Clayton said on 104.5 ESPN Baton Rouge.

    The challenge for Chase, as Clayton pointed out, will be proving himself without reigning Heisman winner Joe Burrow under center. If he does that, he should be one of the first non-quarterbacks to hear his name called on draft night.

    At 6'1" and 200 pounds, Chase has the size and athleticism to be a perimeter standout at the next level. A stellar season without Burrow would cement the notion that he is NFL-ready.

4. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

7 of 10

    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Over the past six years, a quarterback has gone No. 1 overall five times. It's likely to happen again in 2021 unless the team with the No. 1 pick is set at quarterback and refuses to trade away the pick for a boatload of returning assets.

    However, if a team does select a non-quarterback at No. 1, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell will probably be the pick. Franchise offensive tackles are nearly as valuable as signal-callers, and Sewell is the cleanest tackle prospect we've seen in some time.

    "Penei Sewell is athleticism, plus explosiveness, plus strength, plus size. Like, all of it, and then technique," Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus said on the 2 for 1 Drafts podcast. "... He is as good as it gets at the tackle position that I've seen in college."

    Listed at 6'6" and 330 pounds, Sewell is an imposing prospect who should be an NFL blindside anchor from the beginning. He might be the safest prospect at any position in this draft class.

3. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

8 of 10

    Sam Hodde/Associated Press

    As mentioned in the introduction, positional value plays a role in these rankings, and there isn't a position more important than quarterback. That's why our top three prospects are all signal-callers, and they could realistically be viewed as 1A, 1B and 1C.

    At this point, the top three quarterbacks appear very close in terms of NFL potential, and teams seem to differ on their opinions about which is the top prospect.

    North Dakota State's Trey Lance may not be familiar to casual fans, but he may already be near the top of draft boards for some franchises. Yes, this is the same school that produced Carson Wentz, but Lance has been impressive enough on his own to warrant No. 1 consideration.

    This past season, he passed for 2,786 yards with 28 touchdowns and zero (zero!) interceptions. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and another 14 scores. Teams looking to add a dual-threat quarterback in the Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray mold will have him in their sights.

    Other franchises are likely to prefer a prospect who has faced more high-level competition, which leads us to the next two quarterback options.

2. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

9 of 10

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State last year and immediately put himself in the No. 1 overall conversation. In his first season under offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, he passed for 3,273 yards with 41 touchdowns and just three picks. He also rushed for 484 yards and 10 scores.

    Fields may not be as dynamic a dual-threat quarterback as Trey Lance, but he's far closer to that end of the spectrum than his statuesque predecessor, 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Expect him to be drafted much higher than Haskins was (15th overall).

    "Fields has the kind of talent and potential that will likely see somebody trading up into the top three to get him come draft time," Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports wrote.

    Depending on how the 2020 season unfolds, Fields could wind up at the top of quarterback draft boards.

1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

10 of 10

    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    If the draft were this weekend, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence would be the clear No. 1 pick. He's seemed destined for that mantle since helping lead the Tigers to a national championship as a freshman. The 6'6", 220-pound gunslinger has done little since to tarnish his draft shine.

    "One area scout who covers Clemson already told me Lawrence is the best sophomore quarterback since Peyton Manning," Miller wrote.

    Of course, carrying such lofty expectations means Lawrence will likely be picked apart by critics between now and next April, which is why a player like Trey Lance or Justin Fields could overtake him as the top quarterback prospect.

    However, any team passing on Lawrence may be overthinking the process.

    He possesses all the physical tools needed to be an NFL franchise signal-caller, and he's already proved himself on the biggest stages offered by collegiate competition. In what was considered a somewhat disappointing 2019 campaign, Lawrence sill passed for 3,665 yards with 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for another 563 yards and nine scores.

    If Lawrence pushes Clemson back into the College Football Playoff, you can probably go ahead and ink him in as the first overall pick.