NFL Draft 2021: Highlighting Riskiest Mid-1st-Round Picks in Latest Expert Mocks

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 18, 2021

NFL Draft 2021: Highlighting Riskiest Mid-1st-Round Picks in Latest Expert Mocks

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    How will a top college prospect's game translate to the professional level? That's a question that all 32 NFL teams are asking when trying to decide which players to add each year during the NFL draft.

    Some prospects are close to sure things. These players not only had success in college, but they also have the skills and attributes that make it clear they are going to do big things in the NFL. There's always a small chance these prospects don't pan out, but more often than not, they do.

    Others are much riskier. And while such prospects have a ton of potential (perhaps even more than some of the safer players in the class), there's also a chance they turn out to be huge busts. That's the gamble NFL teams make when selecting these players.

    As there are every year, there are some risky prospects teams are considering taking in the 2021 NFL draft, which is set to occur April 29-May 1. Will these players turn into stars, or will they be looked back on as disappointing selections?

    Here's a look at several high-risk NFL draft prospects and where they are being projected to get taken by expert analysts.

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Many of those who compile mock drafts are projecting three quarterbacks to go in the first three picks: Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars), BYU's Zach Wilson (No. 2 to the New York Jets) and Alabama's Mac Jones (No. 3 to the San Francisco 49ers).

    Trey Lance and Ohio State's Justin Fields are likely to get drafted early too.

    Lance has an impressive skill set, and he's expected to have success in the NFL. However, there is some risk associated with him because he only has one season of college experience. After playing 16 games in 2019, Lance opted out of North Dakota State's postponed spring season. Plus, he didn't face the toughest competition while playing at the FCS level.

    That's not going to stop a team from drafting Lance early, though. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. is predicting that the Atlanta Falcons will trade down from the No. 4 pick to No. 6, where they will take Lance and let him serve as a backup to Matt Ryan before becoming their starter.

    ESPN's Todd McShay has Lance falling further down the board, as he has the Denver Broncos taking the 20-year-old with the No. 9 pick. That's also where NFL Network's Peter Schrager has Lance getting drafted. In that scenario, the Broncos could move on from Drew Lock as their quarterback in favor of Lance.

    Lance is inexperienced, though, and no matter how much talent and potential he has, it could take a little while before he has NFL success.

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

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    Matt Gentry/Associated Press

    Phillips played only 10 games at UCLA from 2017-18 and then sat out the 2019 season after transferring to Miami, where he played 10 games this past season. And throughout his college career, he missed time because of wrist and ankle injuries, as well as multiple concussions.

    So while Phillips has the talent and potential to be a first-round pick in the draft, there are injury concerns regarding the 6'5" pass-rusher. Will that end up affecting him at the next level, or did he show enough in 2020 that there shouldn't be worries anymore?

    One NFL team is going to use an early pick on the former Hurricane to find out. Kiper has Phillips going to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 20, noting that he "might be the best pure pass-rusher in this class, but he needs to improve his all-around game." Kiper also wrote that Phillips' medical checks leading up to the draft are "extremely important."

    NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has Phillips getting drafted earlier, going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 14. Meanwhile, McShay has Phillips falling to the Buffalo Bills at No. 30.

    Either way, it seems unlikely that Phillips would fall out of the first round because his skill set will be too tantalizing for some of the teams drafting in the latter half of the opening round to pass on.

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Not only has Parsons not played in a game since 2019 (he opted out of Penn State's 2020 season), but there are some other concerns that NFL teams could have when scouting the linebacker.

    "There’s some [concern] because he comes off like Odell Beckham Jr. with high-maintenance stuff—like a quarterback playing linebacker," one NFL scout recently told Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.

    That scout also told Dunleavy, though, that it won't be enough to stop teams from drafting Parsons. And based on most mock drafts, the Nittany Lions linebacker will likely be getting taken during the opening round.

    Kiper has Parsons going to Denver at No. 9, while McShay is projecting him to get selected a few picks later, going to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 12. There are a few teams in that range that could use a boost to their linebacker corps, and Parsons could provide a big one, should he live up to potential.

    Schrager is predicting that Parsons will go to the New York Giants at No. 11, and Jeremiah has him going to the New England Patriots at No. 15. Considering all these mocks, it would be surprising should Parsons last until the back half of the first round.

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