NFL Draft 2021 – Day 1 Turn in the card or turn the page?

NFL Draft 2021 – Day 1 Turn in the card or turn the page?
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As the @ninetynineyards Draft Talk team detailed our top 5’s by position group week after week there were players that we either agreed on or saw differently in terms of their potential. We all came away with our favourites and those prospects we were not so high on. Differences in how teams view players is a factor we should all be ready for come draft day. With a far more limited amount of pre-draft activity there will be less consensus, particularly on players who have sat out 2020. In turn this may impact on how much risk teams want to take, particularly with their precious first-round picks.

Bearing this in mind, who are my top “sure things” in round 1 and who do have some lingering concerns over. If I was in a team’s Draft War Room who would I be banging the table for and who would I be advising caution against drafting? I have avoided, for the most part, the expected very early day 1 picks. Nobody needs me to state that the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Kyle Pitts and JaMarr Chase should do very well in 2021!

Banging the table for………….
  1. Patrick Surtain II, Cornerback (Alabama)

In my view, the surest of sure-things in round 1. The craftsman. Outstanding tape, a true technician at the cornerback position. Surtain looks like a veteran in the league at the position already. Yes there will be a step-up in terms of quality wide receivers to go up against each week but he is up to the challenge. His intelligence and understanding of the position will serve him well and I anticipate he will shutdown receivers regularly in his rookie year. If the first 10 selections are dominated by offensive picks the Dallas Cowboys should not hesitate at #10 to upgrade their secondary.

2. Alijah Vera-Tucker, Tackle/Guard (USC)

Tucker has grown on me throughout the process. The versatility and experience of playing both guard and tackle during his spell at USC, although his arm length (32 1/8”) is most likely to limit him to the inside of the O-line in the NFL. Another technically gifted player at his position who ticks all the boxes in terms of football IQ and character. Tucker can be up to speed from day 1 and a Pro-Bowl calibre at Guard in time and will solidify his team’s offensive trench year after year. His consistency should slot him in to any team needing to bolster the offensive line from the NY Giants at pick #11 onwards on opening night.

3. Rashod Bateman, Wide Receiver (Minnesota)

He may not have the physicality of JaMarr Chase, the route running of DeVonta Smith or the X-factor of Jaylen Waddle, but Rashod Bateman could be the best value prospect of day 1 at wide receiver. Bateman has all the prototypical traits to make it as a top receiver in the NFL. To me he presents as an all-rounder. Working the outside primarily but with crisp route-running ability, he posted a 4.39s 40yd dash time demonstrating he does have elite top-end speed. Any team in the back-end of round 1 in need of a receiver will draft a top talent. Can you imagine him at the New Orleans Saints (#28) or the Green Bay Packers (#29) should he fall that far?

4. Najee Harris, Running Back (Alabama)

Yes, that’s right, a running back in round 1. Harris is a round 1 talent and I hope his currently undervalued position group does not delay his name being called. He is everything you want from your RB1, a bulldozer in the run game, the ability to block and a useful receiving option out of the backfield. Think of all the teams who made the 2020 playoffs: the majority of them were well-stocked at the running back position. I would take Harris anywhere from #18 onwards starting with the Miami Dolphins.

5. Zaven Collins, Linebacker (Tulsa)

Not many linebackers are built like Collins, coming in at 6’4 and 260lbs. Then turn on the tape and watch him move, it is rare to see anyone glide like that with his physical attributes. Surprisingly quick and athletic with an ability in coverage you may not have expected. Also with the technique and instinct to come downhill and rush the passer or help to stuff the run. As a recruit out of High School only Tulsa wanted him, whereas now several teams will be taking a serious look at Zaven Collins probably from pick #20 onwards with the Cleveland Browns (#26) my favourite landing spot for him.

Advising caution about……….
  1. Mac Jones, Quarterback (Alabama)

I don’t wish to indulge in more Mac Jones-bashing but the evaluation of putting him in the mix with Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Zach Wilson is just plain wrong. He does have qualities as a game manager, displays intelligence at the position (moving through progressions, taking care of the ball etc.) but he is not elite. In recent years his grading would not have been round 1 let along a top-10 pick. I would put him in the same tier as Davis Mills and Kyle Trask in terms of his potential ceiling. I believe, come draft night, the smoke will lift and Jones will go much later than predicted, second half of round 1 is his best bet.

2. DeVonta Smith, Wide Receiver (Alabama)

There is no doubting his talent. The premier route-runner in the draft class and that was good enough for Justin Jefferson and the Minnesota Vikings last year. However, I cannot get past the 170lbs stat line. My concerns would be around durability in the NFL when defenses no doubt target Smith after the catch. It will take some pretty clever scheming to keep him out of harm’s way.  With such a deep wide receiver class and with plenty more small, elusive receivers why take Smith in round 1 when you could take a Jaelon Darden or similar in round 3 or 4?

3. Almost all the EDGE prospects!

Taking an edge rusher on day 1 is a dicey prospect this year. Not a particularly strong draft class at the position with potential nuggets throughout the process as opposed to just the top end. Kwity Paye is probably the safest bet a team could take around the middle of the 1st round. As for the rest there are reasons why a 1st round grade could be rich:

Jaelan Philips, Miami – the best technician at the position but look at the injury history including serious concussion issues.

Greg Rousseau, Miami – astonishing 2019 tape and production, but that is all you have. Still inexperienced at the position and a disappointing Pro-Day which has seen him slide (maybe all the way out of day 1!)

Azeez Ojulari, Georgia – athletic speed-based pass rusher but limited in his technique and power.

Jayson Oweh – speed, speed, speed (4.36s 40yd) ridiculous athletic traits but raw without the production at College-level to accurately predict how that will translate to the NFL.

4. Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, Linebacker (Notre Dame)

This would be a difficult one as it is nothing about his talent. Some of my favourite tape in looking through all defensive prospects. Koromoah is one of the hardest hitters I’ve watched this year, and is a “lightning in a bottle” defensive prospect. My concerns would be around how a team is going to use him. We’ve seen from last year’s draft how Isaiah Simmons was talked up as a defensive swiss army knife and drafted by the Arizona Cardinals at #8, only to remain largely anonymous for most of his rookie season. I would need reassurance from the Defensive Coordinator that there was a plan for Koromoah (whether at linebacker or strong safety, sub-packages etc.) as his talent is too great to be wasted if taken as a 1st round pick.

How do you view the round 1 prospects for this year’s draft? Let the @ninetynineyards #DraftTalk team know who you would be banging the table for and who you would not risk a round 1 pick on?

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