NFL Prospects Who Could See Draft-Day Slides in 2021
Many years during the NFL draft, a prospect expected to go high begins to slide. Sometimes, it's a dramatic drop, like Aaron Rodgers' tumble to the No. 24 spot in the 2005 draft. Other times, it's a slight fall, like Laremy Tunsil's drop to No. 13 in 2016.
The reasons for a draft-day slide can vary. In Tunsil's case, a video in which he was apparently smoking marijuana surfaced moments before the draft began. For Rodgers, teams didn't target position after the San Francisco 49ers took Alex Smith No. 1 overall.
"He started to slide and then you looked at teams and said, 'Well, they don't really need a quarterback.' That's what happens," ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky.
It's likely we'll see at least one slide in this year's draft. We'll examine six players who could experience that slide, the reasons why they might and where their potential floors lie.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
CB Caleb Farley
Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley could be one of the first defenders off the board and possibly the first defensive back drafted.
"Based on film, Farley is as good as anybody," Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia wrote.
The concerns with Farley, however, are twofold. For starters, he opted out of the 2020 season—as did a couple of other players on this list. As well, he underwent back surgery last month, though he'll be ready for training camp.
This development is likely what has started Farley's slide on some draft boards. In Bleacher Report's first big board, for example, he was the 18th-ranked prospect. In its latest iteration, he is ranked 26th-best.
If a team is comfortable with what Farley has put on film, he could be a top-15 selection. If teams are concerned about his 2020 absence and the back surgery, however, he could fall toward the bottom of the first round.
The Athletic's Chris Burke mocked Farley to the New York Jets at No. 23.
It's unlikely Farley could fall out of the first round, but if only a couple of teams target cornerbacks in the first round—both Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn rank ahead of Farley on B/R's latest draft board—it is possible. At worst, though, Farley should be an early Day 2 selection.
QB Mac Jones
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones is an interesting entry on this list. Whether he slides could depend on how much the San Francisco 49ers like him at No. 3.
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson are widely expected to be the first two quarterbacks off the board. The 49ers traded up to No. 3 and will have their pick of Jones, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Ohio State's Justin Fields.
Like Lance, Jones is a one-year starter. Unlike Lance or Fields, he's a pure pocket passer with limited athletic upside. Still, he could be San Francisco's target at No. 3.
"I think Shanahan will value accuracy and presence over athleticism and prefer Jones, but that’s not inside info—just my gut feeling," NBC Sports' Peter King wrote.
If Jones isn't San Francisco's preferred quarterback, though, he could drop significantly and become the fifth quarterback off the board instead of the third. How far he would drop would hinge on whether a quarterback-needy team is willing to trade up for him.
Burke mocked Jones to the Chicago Bears in a trade at No. 13 with the Los Angeles Chargers. While that would only be a 10-spot drop, it's a significant slide for a player some view as a top-three lock.
QB Trey Lance
Some analysts, including CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, don't believe Jones will be the pick at No. 3 or that Fields should slide dramatically on draft day:
"I am continuing to find myself among those skeptics. Skeptics who have evaluated this quarterback class and who find themselves shaking their heads at all of the [Fields] slander popping up all over the place. Skeptics who just aren't buying that Jones, for as well he played this season at Alabama, is a superior prospect worthy of being the third overall selection."
Because Fields is a two-year starter, has an appealing athletic profile and played in 2020, it feels unlikely that he'll fall outside the top 10. Burke mocked Fields to San Francisco at No. 3.
Along with Jones, Lance feels like the quarterback most likely to drop out of the top 10. Teams could be concerned about his limited resume and one-game season in 2020. According to Ben Standig of The Athletic, at least one team with a top-10 pick is reluctant to draft prospects who didn't play in 2020:
"One organization picking in the top 10 is shying away from drafting players who opted out of playing last season, according to one person familiar with the team's thinking. A senior executive for another team said he has no definitive stance on players who opted out but has seen some of those players arrive for their pro days out of shape."
Playing a middling level of competition at North Dakota State won't help Lance's stock in the eyes of some teams either. While he probably won't fall past the middle of Round 1, Lance is another potential top-five target who could land in the bottom 16, depending on how things unfold.
LB Micah Parsons
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is an elite defensive prospect with legitimate top-10 potential.
"His rush talent is a potential wild card in how teams decide to use him, but he's likely to show rapid improvement and should be a Day 1 starter," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Parsons.
Kiper mocked Parsons to the Denver Broncos at No. 9 last week. While the versatile linebacker could be a top-10 pick, he could also slide to the back half of Round 1 for a few reasons.
The first is that Parsons opted out of the 2020 season. As we've mentioned, at least one team in the top 10 could keep him off its draft board for this reason. Second, an early run on quarterbacks and wide receivers could push defenders down the draft.
Third, while Parsons has pass-rushing potential, he's more of an off-ball linebacker than an edge defender.
Off-ball linebackers are valuable and often drafted highly—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Devin White fifth overall two years ago. However, some teams will be more interested in selecting an edge-rusher or a pass defender than a second-level player.
Burke envisioned such a scenario in his mock with three cornerbacks off the board before Parsons. He predicts the Las Vegas Raiders to draft him at No. 17, though Las Vegas' need for an edge defender could push him down even further—but not likely out of Round 1.
Edge Gregory Rousseau
Miami pass-rusher Gregory Rousseau may already be sliding on some teams' draft boards. Once considered one of the top edge-rushers in the draft class, Rousseau was viewed as a likely top-15 pick.
In March, for example, Glynn Morgan of NBC Sports Chicago mocked him at No. 11 to the New York Giants. However, Rousseau—another player who opted out of the 2020 season—might fall out of the first round.
Kiper projected him to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 35.
Rousseau only has one season of high-end production to go with a year away from the game. A substandard pro day hasn't helped.
"On tape, I thought I was going to see a little bit more of a dynamic player at his workout," NFL Media's Bucky Brooks said on Path to the Draft (h/t Austin Nivison of 247Sports). "And then when you have the situation where he didn't play this year, you expect him to really test out the gym. And he really didn't blow you away at your pro-day workout."
If a team falls in love with Rousseau's tape from 2019—when he had 15.5 sacks—he could still be a top-15 pick. However, questions could push him out of Round 1. Should that happen, some team will likely take a chance on him early on Day 2.
WR DeVonta Smith
Based on his game tape and production, Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith should be one of the first players off the board April 29. He's the reigning Heisman winner who racked up 1,856 receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns last season.
"DeVonta Smith is one of the best football players I've ever seen," one NFL general manager said, per King. "I know he scares teams with his size [170 pounds], but his hands and his presence and how smart he plays ... I think he'll have an incredible career."
Those size concerns—Smith revealed that he's 6'1" and 170 pounds last month—could cause him to slide. Not only might he fall out of the top 10, he could also be taken after pass-catchers like Kyle Pitts, Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and Kadarius Toney.
Toney is a recent addition to the group of perceived top receiver prospects.
"Kadarius Toney, I think that guy might go top-15. I think he might even go before Smith," NFL Network's Peter Schrager said on the 2 for 1 Drafts podcast (h/t Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia).
Smith is slight, which could cause some teams to have durability concerns and make him the fourth or fifth pass-catcher off the board in Round 1.
Depending on how teams prioritize their draft targets, this could push him toward the back half of the first round. Schrager mocked Smith at No. 16 to the Detroit Lions following a trade down.
If some teams do value Toney over Smith, he could fall even further—Schrager projected Toney at No. 20 to the Chicago Bears. It's unlikely Smith would drop out of the first round, though.