Ranking the Top 10 Players Eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft
The 2020 NFL regular season is winding down, and teams with no hopes of a playoff appearance will be taking a hard look at the top draft-eligible players.
This year's draft class features top-tier talent at quarterback, but there are standout players at other positions as well. Collegiate production is important when evaluating an NFL draft prospect, but not as much as the tape they put together when on the field.
Positional value is also a factor, but some players are so good that they have to be considered a top-tier prospect regardless of position.
Let's take a look at the top 10 prospects for the 2021 NFL draft if the season ended right now.
10. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Tight end isn't the most valuable position on an NFL roster. However, Florida Gators star Kyle Pitts has earned his spot in the top 10 draft-eligible players.
Pitts has looked dominant in seven games with the Gators this season, catching 36 passes for 641 yards and a career-high 11 touchdowns. He has multiple touchdown catches in three games thus far, including a four-score game in the season opener against Ole Miss.
At 6'6" and 240 pounds, Pitts moves more like a wide receiver than a tight end in the passing game. His footwork and athleticism makes him a dependable route-runner, while his frame and body control allow him to make difficult contested catches.
Pitts also puts in a ton of effort as a run-blocker, even if he isn't always the cleanest. On the bright side, that means he has yet to unlock his full potential as an all-around tight end.
Because he's a tight end, Pitts may not be drafted as high as he'd like. However, New England's Bill Belichick could help turn Pitts into a suitable successor to Rob Gronkowski if he's still on the board when the Patriots are on the clock in the first round.
Best Fit: New England Patriots
9. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
A shutdown corner can change the complexion of an entire defense. For teams drafting early in the first round, Alabama's Patrick Surtain II has that potential.
Through nine games this season, Surtain has 27 total tackles with seven pass deflections and an interception returned for a touchdown. Those may not be eye-popping numbers, but opposing quarterbacks have been shy about throwing his way.
Surtain isn't the fastest cornerback, but he is arguably the calmest in this draft class. He doesn't panic at the route stem or when trying to break up a pass, which helps him avoid pass interference or holding penalties. He also has great size and length at the position, coming in at 6'2" and 202 pounds.
Plenty of teams could use Surtain on their roster, but the Dallas Cowboys desperately need some defensive help after a disappointing 2020 campaign. They drafted Trevon Diggs last year to be a replacement for Byron Jones, but they could still use some extra help in their secondary next season.
Best Fit: Dallas Cowboys
8. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Alabama will be well represented in the NFL draft once again next year, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith will likely be the first Crimson Tide player taken.
Smith was productive last season despite playing alongside fellow star wideouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. He's been even better this year, catching 80 passes for 1,305 yards and 15 touchdowns in only nine games.
Smith has been so productive because he's almost always open. Whether it's off of his release or at the route stem, he uses great footwork and lateral agility to create separation. He's dangerous once the ball is in his hands, and his terrific speed and elusiveness give him plenty of yards after the catch.
The Detroit Lions could use a long-term option to play alongside No. 1 wideout Kenny Golladay. Having two talented receivers in Golladay and Smith could give Matthew Stafford—and his eventual successor—more weapons with which to work.
Best Fit: Detroit Lions
7. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The battle for the top draft-eligible cornerback is close, but given his play in 2019 and physical tools, Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley has a slight edge over Patrick Surtain II.
Farley was one of the most productive defensive backs in the nation last year. He led the ACC with 16 pass deflections and was tied for second in the conference with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He ultimately opted out of the 2020 season due to health and safety concerns.
Coming in at 6'2" and 207 pounds, Farley has a great frame for an outside cornerback. He's tough at the line of scrimmage and can jam receivers effectively, but he's able to stay in stride with them downfield to limit separation as well. His instincts also allow him to react quickly, even when it comes to stopping the run.
Farley's size and instincts make him a great cornerback prospect for a team looking for a player that can hold his own on the boundary. The Los Angeles Chargers have a lot of needs, but finding another cornerback to pair with Casey Hayward would be a solid defensive addition.
Best Fit: Los Angeles Chargers
6. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
From a pure talent perspective, Penn State's Micah Parsons might be one of the best players in this year's draft class. But considering the value added by an inside linebacker, he comes in just outside of the top five draft-eligible players.
Parsons opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL draft and to avoid any health risks with his child. His draft stock skyrocketed in 2019 after he recorded 109 total tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles and five pass deflections.
Not only is Parsons a terrific athlete, but he also does an excellent job getting to the ball by diagnosing the play in front of him. His ability to read the offense allows him to play all over the field, whether it's stopping the run, rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.
That kind of versatility should make Parsons a top-10 pick. A few teams could use an impact linebacker, but the Washington Football Team would be the best fit. Washington has a strong defensive front, so if it isn't in position to take a top quarterback with its first-round pick, Parsons could be a nice consolation prize.
Best Fit: Washington Football Team
5. Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami
Edge-rushers are so valuable because of the pressure they can put on opposing quarterbacks. Among all of the draft-eligible players at the position in 2021, no one has more potential than Gregory Rousseau.
Rousseau was one of the best pass-rushers in the country last season, picking up 15.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. It was his first full season as a redshirt freshman, but it was enough to secure his draft stock and allow him to opt out of this season to prepare for the draft.
NFL scouts will fall in love with Rousseau's physical tools. He's listed at 6'7" and 265 pounds, while his wingspan stands out when watching him play. He also possesses impressive burst off of the edge, allowing him to blow by offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback.
Rousseau stands out more as a project since he's still a bit raw, but that means that his potential is through the roof. The Atlanta Falcons could be a nice fit depending on the scheme their next head coach uses, but few NFL teams would turn down a talented and promising pass-rusher.
Best Fit: Atlanta Falcons
4. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The LSU Tigers offense took the country by storm in 2019. While quarterback Joe Burrow was the star of the show, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase turned plenty of heads with his own dominant performances.
Chase was a unanimous All-American in 2019, breaking SEC records for receiving yards and touchdowns in a season. He finished his career with 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns, winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver in 2019.
The LSU star opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft since he didn't have much more he needed to prove at the collegiate level.
Although Chase isn't the biggest receiver at 6'1" and 200 pounds, he's excellent in contested-catch situations thanks to his athleticism and body control. He's also terrific at the line of scrimmage, using his strength to handle press coverage while also using great footwork and technique to create separation with his release.
Recency bias may favor other wide receivers, but Chase is still the best prospect at the position in 2021. The Philadelphia Eagles desperately need some more weapons on offense, so if they don't win their division, their top priority should be finding a way to draft the star receiver.
Best Fit: Philadelphia Eagles
3. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
He may not be the top quarterback in the class, but Ohio State's Justin Fields is still one of the best draft-eligible players in the country.
Fields has led a high-powered Buckeyes offense for the past two seasons. Since transferring from Georgia, he has completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 4,680 yards, 56 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
With smooth mechanics and a quick release, Fields gets the ball out in a hurry to his receivers. He delivers the ball accurately at all levels of the field, and he throws a particularly nice deep ball that will consistently hit his targets in stride.
Scouts will love Fields' toughness. He's taken some big hits over the past few seasons, and Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day said Fields played through a knee injury in the final stretch of the 2019 season.
Plenty of teams could use Fields, but if the Dallas Cowboys don't want to give Dak Prescott a massive contract extension, the Ohio State prospect could be the perfect player to step in and keep the offense moving.
Best Fit: Dallas Cowboys
2. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
If this year's draft wasn't loaded with elite quarterback talent, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell would have a real chance at being the No. 1 overall pick.
Sewell turned heads as a true sophomore in 2019, becoming a unanimous All-American and Outland Trophy winner. After accomplishing so much and solidifying his 2021 draft stock, Sewell opted out of the 2020 season to begin prepping for his pro career.
Few offensive tackle prospects have looked more polished than Sewell so early in their playing careers. The 6'6", 325-pounder uses size to bully his opponents. His tenacity shows up on tape in the running game, as he uses good leverage and upper-body strength to drive defenders in back.
Sewell has been nearly perfect in pass protection, too. According to his school bio, Sewell allowed only one sack in 1,376 snaps over his two college seasons.
No team could use offensive line help quite like the Cincinnati Bengals, especially after the season-ending injury to quarterback Joe Burrow. Sewell could come in as a first-day starter to protect Burrow's blind side, beginning the rebuild of Cincinnati's offensive line.
Best Fit: Cincinnati Bengals
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
After being the top QB recruit out of high school, Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence will enter the 2021 NFL draft as the likely No. 1 overall pick.
Lawrence is a proven winner, having lost only one game with the Tigers across his three-year college career. NFL scouts will love to see his improved efficiency each year—he went from 65.2 percent as a freshman to 69.2 percent this year—as well as his 86 career passing touchdowns compared to only 15 interceptions.
At 6'6" and 220 pounds, Lawrence has great size at the position to see over his offensive line. He possesses all of the tools scouts are looking for out of an NFL quarterback, including arm talent, pocket awareness, mental processing, athleticism and confidence to make every throw.
The tape suggests Lawrence is a blue-chip, can't-miss prospect. Although he will likely go to the New York Jets with the No. 1 overall selection, he would be in a much better position if another team with more offensive weapons was somehow able to trade up for the pick.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to take Lawrence, for instance, he would already be surrounded by talented playmakers such as DJ Chark Jr. and James Robinson.
Best Fit: Jacksonville Jaguars