Former 5-Star Recruits with 1st-Round Potential in 2021 NFL Draft

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Former 5-Star Recruits with 1st-Round Potential in 2021 NFL Draft

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Although a top-ranked recruiting class is not a perfect indicator of team success in college football, the NFL draft is an annual reminder that stars matter.

    In 2021, at least eight of the 32 first-round selections are likely to be players who previously held a 5-star billing. Provided that happens, the 2017 and 2018 recruiting classes will have produced 13 (or more) first-round picks who were 5-stars.

    Considering those two cycles had only 62 combined 5-stars, that's a strong hit rate for evaluators. More importantly, though, it serves as validation for elite high school players who continued performing at that level in college.

    The following players from that group—ordered according to recruiting year and ranking within a player's respective class—are all candidates to come off the board Thursday.

More to Know

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood (No. 4, 2017)

    Stanford OT Walker Little (No. 9, 2017)

    Tennessee OG/OT Trey Smith (No. 14, 2017)

    Stanford QB Davis Mills (No. 15, 2017)

    Ohio State OG Wyatt Davis (No. 24, 2017)

    Clemson OT Jackson Carman (No. 17, 2018)

Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

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    Late in 2018, Jaelen Phillips looked like another promising player with a football career derailed by injury. The No. 1 prospect in the 2017 class played two seasons at UCLA but medically retired after dealing with ankle and wrist injuries and three concussions.

    But he changed his mind and thrived.

    After transferring to Miami, he watched from the sideline in 2019 because of transfer rules. Last year, he entered the lineup and excelled. Phillips ranked sixth nationally with 15.5 tackles for loss, notching eight sacks and totaling 45 tackles.

    Phillips, who's listed at 6'5" and 266 pounds, has appeared in mock drafts as early as a top-10 selection.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Although the NFL has begun trending away from drafting running backs early, there are exceptions. Najee Harris is one of potentially twoalong with Clemson's Travis Etiennein 2021.

    Harris developed into an all-around weapon at Alabama, playing a key role on the national championship-winning team last season. He rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns while catching 43 passes for 425 yards and four scores.

    Considered the No. 2 player in 2017, Harris broke program records for career rushing yards (3,843) and rushing touchdowns (46).

    Harris probably won't be a top-10 or even top-15 choice, but he's a definite first-round candidate.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Surprise factor: Zero.

    Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall player in the 2018 cycle, propelled Clemson to a national championship as a freshman. The Tigers finished as the national runner-up in 2019 and made the College Football Playoff in 2020. They won three ACC titles.

    Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns with only 17 interceptions. Plus, he started running more often in 2019 and scampered for 766 yards and 17 scores over the last two seasons.

    Between his high school hype and Clemson performance, Lawrence has been the future No. 1 overall pick for several years. Soon enough, the Jacksonville Jaguars will make it a reality.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Dating back to high school, Justin Fields has been the 1B to Trevor Lawrence's 1A. Fields headed to college as the No. 2 player and remains a top prospect, though his journey is a little more interesting.

    Fields signed with Georgia but transferred after the 2018 season. He gained immediate eligibility at Ohio State and carried the Buckeyes to a pair of Big Ten titles and trips to the College Football Playoff. Last year, they finished as the national runner-up.

    While in Columbus, he collected 5,373 yards and 63 touchdowns as a passer with 867 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Fields tossed just nine interceptions in 579 attempts.

    Right or wrongand from my particular viewFields' perception has slipped as the draft approaches. It's possible he'll be the fifth QB selected behind Lawrence, BYU's Zach Wilson, Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance.

    Still, there's no chance Fields falls out of the first round.

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

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    After playing defensive end in high school, Micah Parsons made the switch to middle linebacker at Penn State. Very quickly, the fifth-best prospect in the 2018 class quieted any skeptics of the move.

    Parsons piled up a team-high 83 tackles as a freshman, helping Penn State finish with the nation's No. 14 defense (yards/play). Then in 2019, he racked up 109 stops with 14 for loss and five sacks, forcing four fumbles while earning first-team AP All-America honors.

    Although he opted out of the 2020 season, Parsons' draft stock hasn't dipped too much. He's shuffled from a possible top-10 pick to merely an obvious first-round candidate.

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Ranked behind Parsons in the 2018 class at No. 6, Patrick Surtain II swiftly worked his way into Alabama's lineup. He started 12 of 15 games, broke up seven passes, snagged an interception and received SEC All-Freshman Team recognition.

    After that respectable season, Surtain established himself as an elite corner. He followed up a strong 2019 with a first-team AP All-America nod in 2020, breaking up 20 passes, intercepting three and forcing three fumbles between the two seasons.

    The son of former All-Pro corner Patrick Surtain is about to best his father, a second-round pick in the 1998 draft.

Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Tyson Campbell fits the "depends on who you ask" definition.

    B/R's NFL Scouting Department considers him the No. 105 overall player, which translates to a borderline Day 2 selection. However, both's Lance Zierlein and NBC Sports' Peter King had Campbell as a first-round pick in their mock drafts.

    For good measure,'s Daniel Jeremiah lists Campbell at No. 51. CBS Sports ranks him 52nd, slightly ahead of Pro Football Focus (66th) and Sporting News (78th).

    This projection is full of uncertainty, but that itself is not surprising. Campbell, the No. 12 prospect in 2018, had a decent yet unspectacular career at Georgia. He started 24 games and totaled 89 tackles with just 10 pass breakups and one interception.

Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

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    Terrace Marshall Jr.'s draft position is contingent on two things: When does the inevitable first-round run on receivers start, and where does Receiver-Needy Team X rank him compared to Florida's Kadarius Toney, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, Mississippi's Elijah Moore and Purdue's Rondale Moore?

    At worst, Marshall shouldn't slip past the second round. His production at LSU demands early attention.

    When LSU won the national title in 2019, Marshall reeled in 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns on the record-setting offense. As the No. 1 option last season, he tallied 48 receptions for 731 yards and 10 scores in just seven games.

    Marshall, who ranked No. 13 overall in the 2018 cycle, could give LSU a pair of first-round wideouts. Ja'Marr Chase (84th in 2018) is an expected top-10 pick.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.