NFL Draft 2021: Top Prospects Who Didn't Play During 2020 Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2021

NFL Draft 2021: Top Prospects Who Didn't Play During 2020 Season

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Many top college football players, such as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, DeVonta Smith and Christian Barmore helped cement their spots as high-end NFL draft prospects in 2020.

    Others opted out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but several of them will still wind up near the top of Round 1. These prospects were trending as high picks before the pandemic, and their draft stock shouldn't take a significant hit because of their 2020 hiatuses.

    The 2019 college season may feel like it was a lifetime ago, so we're here with a refresher on some of the best prospects we last saw that year. We'll recap some of their on-field accomplishments and just what makes them potential first-round selections.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order.

Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith has shot up draft boards thanks to his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign. However, teams won't forget about LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, who may be the top pass-catcher in this draft.

    Chase showed he can be a game-changer by racking up 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns on 84 receptions in 2019. Yes, some of his production can be attributed to the presence of quarterback Joe Burrow. But Chase, in turn, helped Burrow rack up the passing yards and become 2020's No. 1 overall pick.

    Listed at 6'1" and 200 pounds, Chase has the size and physicality of a No. 1 NFL perimeter receiver—which the 6'1", 175-pound Smith does not. 

    "Chase has the best traits of the group," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on the First Draft podcast recently.

    Don't be surprised if Chase goes from not playing in 2020 to being one of the first few prospects off the board in 2021.

Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley could also go within the first few picks. Teams looking for a legitimate No. 1 cover corner should be all over the former Hokies star on draft weekend.

    Listed at 6'2" and 207 pounds, Farley has the size to match up with No. 1 receivers on the edge. Perhaps more importantly, he has the skill set of a top cover man.

    "He's got the size [6'2", 207 lbs] and speed part of the position down pat and was pretty darn good at the coverage part when we last saw him in 2019. He allowed a passer rating of only 26.8 that season," Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus wrote last month.

    In 2019, Farley racked up 12 passes defended and four interceptions to go with 20 tackles and a defensive touchdown.

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    OK, so we're bending the rules a bit. North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance did play in 2020, but only in one "showcase" game against Central Arkansas. He displayed a bit of rust in that October contest, tossing an interception to go with 149 passing yards, 143 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.

    However, Lance was phenomenal in 2019. He amassed 2,786 passing yards, 1,100 rushing yards, 42 total touchdowns and no interceptions. Going 287 passing attempts without a pick is impressive for a quarterback of any type.

    What makes Lance intriguing, though, is his potential as a dual-threat signal-caller. Players like Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray have taken the NFL by storm, and Lance has the traits to do the same.

    The 6'3", 221-pound Lance also has ideal size, making him perhaps the best quarterback prospect you probably missed in 2020.

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons had little to gain by suiting up in 2020, so he didn't. The 2019 star already appeared to be one of the best all-around defenders in this draft class, and his stock should remain high after a year off.

    "The Penn State linebacker earned the second-highest run-defense grade we've ever given to a true sophomore. What the 240-plus-pounder can do as a blitzer is going to be a weapon in the NFL," Renner wrote.

    Parsons, at 6'3" and 245 pounds, has the size and length to play inside or outside linebacker. He can also impact games in a variety of ways. In 2019, he amassed 109 total tackles, five sacks, five passes defended and 14 tackles for loss.

    Because of his versatility and pass-rush potential, Parsons could easily be the first defender off the board.

Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    If Parsons isn't the first defender off the board, that honor might go to a pass-rusher like Miami's Gregory Rousseau. While he is a raw prospect—he's played in just 14 collegiate games—his combination of physical traits and production are hard to deny.

    "With his long, athletic frame, Rousseau is just scratching the surface of his potential." The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote.

    The 6'7", 265-pound Rousseau has the physical makeup of a dominant pass-rusher who can bend the corner and consistently bring pressure from the edge. That's precisely what he did for the Hurricanes two seasons ago.

    In 2019, he racked up an impressive 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. If teams believe he can produce similar numbers consistently, Rousseau won't have to wait long before hearing his name called on opening night.

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Yet another player likely to come off the board early, Oregon's Penei Sewell entered 2020 as arguably the country's best tackle prospect. Not playing in 2020 shouldn't affect his stock much. The 2019 Outland Trophy winner will still be highly coveted.

    "He's the rare case of an offensive lineman who is a force before reaching his 20s," Tim Bielik of Cleveland.com wrote. "Sewell started in 19 games in college and was elite almost from the start. He opted out of the 2020 season. But that shouldn't keep him from being the first offensive tackle taken in the draft."

    Sewell turned 20 in October and leaves nothing to be desired in the size department at 6'6" and 325 pounds. That, combined with a high level of play should make him the top tackle on many draft boards.

    And if Sewell isn't at the top, another tackle who didn't play this past season might be.

Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Northwestern's Rashawn Slater is a top tackle prospect who not only opted out of the season but also skipped the 2020 Senior Bowl, though that shouldn't bother NFL decision-makers.

    "If you watch the tape, there is not much more that he could have done," one scout said of Slater, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.

    While not quite as big as Sewell, Slater does possess archetypal size for the NFL at 6'3" and 305 pounds. He should have little trouble matching up with pro defenders physically. However, some believe Slater may benefit from a move inside to guard.

    "The further into the heart of the line he transitions, the higher his potential is to become a perennial Pro Bowl player and potential All-Pro candidate in my eyes," Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network wrote.

    Regardless of where a team plans on playing Slater, one is likely to turn in his draft card early.

Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    This year's receiver class is expected to rival last year's prolific group, and several are expected to go in Round 1. Wake Forest's Sage Surratt could enter the first-round conversation, especially if an early run happens at the position.

    Surratt flashed plenty of production in 2019, catching 66 passes for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, he may be most intriguing because of his size.

    The 6'3", 215-pound Surratt is big, even as far as NFL pass-catchers go. His combination of size and physicality could make him a matchup nightmare on the perimeter and a reliable possession man in virtually any style of offense.

    Given the depth at receiver and that fact that Surratt's not coming from a traditional powerhouse, he's more likely to be a Day 2 selection. However, he is most definitely a 2020 opt-out worth following closely throughout the predraft process.

Jaylen Twyman, DL, PIttsburgh

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Teams looking to add a physical impact along the defensive line should be intrigued by Pittsburgh's Jaylen Twyman. A first-team All-ACC player in 2019, Twyman finished the year with 41 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.

    The 6'2", 290-pound Twyman may not possess the archetypal size and length of an NFL defensive tackle. However, his relentless motor, ability to use leverage and variety of pass-rush moves make him a quality prospect as an interior pass-rusher.

    Let's not forget that the 6'1", 280-pound Aaron Donald was once considered too small to play on the inside as a pro, and he's fresh off his third Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

    This isn't to suggest Twyman is of Donald's caliber, but it's a reminder that teams should be willing to look past what Twyman isn't and what he can be: a player who can stonewall ball-carriers and pressure quarterbacks up the middle.

Kary Vincent Jr., CB, LSU

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    While Surratt may be a borderline Round 1 pick, LSU's Kary Vincent Jr. is likely to be a first-rounder. High-end cover corners are hard to find, and Vincent projects to be exactly that.

    "He has exceptional quickness, fluidity and long speed, which are major assets to him in coverage. In addition, Vincent Jr. has very good ball skills and he loves to bait throws," Joe Marino of the Draft Network wrote.

    The 5'10", 185-pound Vincent may have to play inside and primarily against the slot. However, his ball skills and proven production suggest he can be an early contributor and a huge asset for an NFL defense.

    In 2019, Vincent amassed 47 total tackles, eight passes defended, two tackles for loss and an impressive four interceptions.

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