NFL Players Comparison and Draft Predictions for Each Heisman Finalist
On Tuesday evening, one of the top college football players from 2020 will be named the 86th recipient of the Heisman Trophy. This year's finalists are Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.
While college fans will be interested in the award ceremony itself—which will be broadcast on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET—NFL fans will be more intrigued by the pro potential of these four collegiate standouts.
All four of this year's Heisman finalists will be draft-eligible in 2021, and each of them could wind up going in Round 1 should they declare.
What sort of pro prospects could Smith, Jones, Lawrence and Trask prove to be? Where might they land on draft weekend? Using factors like statistical production, physical traits, potential upside and the needs of NFL teams, let's try answering those questions here.
Players are listed in alphabetical order, and full 2021 draft order can be seen here.
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Pro Comparison: Philip Rivers
From a statistical and production standpoint, it's hard not to like what Mac Jones has to offer as a quarterback prospect.
Jones has the Crimson Tide set to play in the College Football Playoff championship game, and he's been a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's system. Through 12 games, he has completed 77.0 percent of his pass attempts for 4,036 yards, 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Not every team is likely to fall in love with Jones physically, however. He's listed at 6'3" and 214 pounds, but he isn't the biggest quarterback prospect in this year's class, and he certainly isn't the most athletic.
While Jones isn't a complete statue in the pocket, he slides to avoid pressure far more often than he scrambles. With athletic quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson taking the NFL by storm, Jones' throwback pocket-passer profile won't cause scouts to drool.
Where Jones will impress personnel executives is with his accuracy and field vision. He doesn't have a cannon attached to his throwing shoulder, but he can put the ball into tight windows and hit receivers in stride on most short and intermediate routes.
Jones' skill set is similar to that of longtime NFL starter Philip Rivers. It's like a Sasquatch sighting when Rivers chews up yards on the ground, but with a clean pocket and a solid supporting cast, he can go toe-to-toe with almost anyone in the league.
It's fair to note that Jones has benefited from a strong supporting cast at Alabama, with players like Smith and running back Najee Harris making his life much easier.
Given Jones' physical limitations—and the inevitable "system quarterback" argument—the back half of Round 1 might be his draft ceiling. Fortunately, several teams in that range could be in the quarterback market.
The Indianapolis Colts could look to Jones as Rivers' long-term replacement, while teams like the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers could similarly view him as a quarterback o the future.
Projected Draft Range: 15-32
Potential Landing Spots: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Football Team
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Pro Comparison: Andrew Luck
There may not be an accurate pro comparison for Trevor Lawrence in recent NFL history.
Lawrence isn't quite as athletic as Patrick Mahomes, and he hasn't produced the gaudy statistics that Joe Burrow did in 2019, but he is a tremendous combination of these two young NFL passers' traits.
"You've seen guys with a bigger arm, and you've seen guys who are faster, but I've never seen a prospect who has every trait you need and has them at a high level," one NFL quarterbacks coach told draft expert Matt Miller back in November.
Andrew Luck is probably the best comparison for Lawrence, as he also had a generational blend of arm strength, athleticism, field vision and ball placement. Lawrence used these skills to rack up 3,153 passing yards, 203 rushing yards, 32 total touchdowns and only five interceptions in 10 games this season.
As a three-year starter, Lawrence also possesses the experience that many recent first-round quarterbacks—like Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins—have lacked.
While Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields outplayed Lawrence in the Sugar Bowl, that shouldn't cause the Jacksonville Jaguars to select Fields over Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection. Lawrence has seemed destined for that spot since his freshman season.
Shouldn't is the key word here, though, as Jacksonville's pending coaching change could complicate matters. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Jaguars are eyeing former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and current Buckeyes coach Ryan Day as possible replacements for Doug Marrone.
If Jacksonville does eventually pass on Lawrence for Fields, the New York Jets would likely jump on the chance to draft him at No. 2. However, the Jaguars would instead likely try to trade down a spot and get something in return from New York for the rights to Lawrence.
It would be the biggest surprise of draft weekend if Lawrence were to fall any lower than that.
Projected Draft Range: 1-2
Potential Landing Spots: Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Pro Comparison: A.J. Green
The only non-quarterback to be named a Heisman finalist, DeVonta Smith still has the potential to be a franchise-changing draft prospect. He has dominated high-level college competition—he just racked up 130 receiving yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl—and he should have little trouble adapting to the pro game.
Statistically, it's hard to find a better offensive weapon from this past season, as Smith has amassed 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns on 105 receptions. He has also 219 punt-return yards and added a return score and a rushing touchdown to his 2020 resume.
Physically, Smith's game is reminiscent of seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green. While Smith doesn't quite have the length of Green—he is listed at 6'1" and 175 pounds, while Green is 6'4" and 210—he is a similarly lanky wideout who wins with savvy field vision and route running over speed.
Like Green, who ran a good-but-not-great 4.48-second 40 at the scouting combine, Smith can create separation, but he isn't a burner. His biggest assets are his consistency as a pass-catcher and his ability to find holes in an opposing secondary. Those traits should translate to the NFL level, and Smith should be one of the first wide receivers off the board in the spring.
However, Smith may not be the first receiver to be selected, as teams may prefer the raw speed of teammate Jaylen Waddle or the physical upside of LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase. Like former teammate Jerry Jeudy, though, he should be a Round 1 target and a strong rookie performer—Jeudy finished his inaugural NFL campaign with 856 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
While Smith could easily be a top-10 selection, the presence of other receivers and a potential run on quarterbacks could push him just outside of that range. He shouldn't fall much farther, though, with receiver-needy teams like the New York Giants, Patriots and Miami Dolphins picking in the teens.
It wouldn't be a shock to see the Detroit Lions pull the trigger at No. 7, either—especially if pending free agent Kenny Golladay departs in the offseason—or to see a team i the 20s trade up.
Projected Draft Range: 6-16
Potential Landing Spots: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Washington Football Team
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Pro Comparison: Sam Darnold
Like Mac Jones, Kyle Trask is likely to fall into the second tier of quarterbacks in this year's draft class.
Trask is a bit more athletic than Jones, but he is better off trying to win from the pocket than as a runner. Listed at 6'5", though, he has a thick, tall frame that will intrigue NFL scouts and executives.
While he isn't quite as athletic as New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, Trask is a similar prospect in most other aspects. He is tough to bring down with arm tackles, he has good-not-great arm strength, and he can throw from multiple platforms and put the ball into tight windows when needed.
Also like Darnold, Trask can struggle with ball security at times, as evidenced by his three interceptions against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and a three-turnover performance against LSU earlier in the season.
While some teams may react negatively to Trask's poor Cotton Bowl performance, it's worth noting that top pass-catchers Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney all opted out of that game. Evaluators should instead focus on the fact that Trask chose to compete, which has been a constant trait of the former high school backup.
Trask is a mentally tough signal-caller who sees the field well and will take what the defense gives him. His 4,283 passing yards and 43 touchdowns didn't come by accident, and neither did his 2019 ascendance to the starting gig. He earned his opportunity through hard work and with his leadership skills, and he may remind some of Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield from an intangibles standpoint.
While Trask's lack of dual-threat potential may push him into the second-round range for some teams, there's a good chance that at least one will trade back into Round 1 to secure him. Teams love having the flexibility of the fifth-year contract option on first-round picks, so if New Orleans or Pittsburgh doesn't grab him toward the bottom of the first round, another team may come calling.
That will largely depend on whether there is an early run on signal-callers during the draft and how free agency plays out at the position. In a vacuum, though, Trask has the feel of a late first-rounder.
Projected Draft Range: 15-32
Potential Spots: Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Football Team