NFL

Ranking the Top 5 NFL Draft Prospects For Every Position: Offense Edition

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman, Clemson running back Travis Etienne
Photos Courtesy of USA Today Sports

With less than ten days until the 2021 NFL Draft, teams and general managers will begin solidifying their top prospects on their big board. With a plethora of offensive talent in the upcoming draft, here are the top 5 NFL draft prospects at every offensive position before the draft.

Quarterbacks

North Dakota State Bison quarterback Trey Lance (5) scrambles from James Madison Dukes safety D'Angelo Amos (24) in the third quarterat Toyota Stadium.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
  2. Justin Fields, Ohio State
  3. Zach Wilson, BYU
  4. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
  5. Mac Jones, Alabama

Honorable Mention: Kyle Trask, Florida

With quarterback being the premier offensive position in the game, most teams have already done extensive homework on the five prospects listed. Based on the lists produced by most draft analysts and scouts, this seems like the best composite list. Lawrence is by himself at the top, with Fields a close second.

Wilson, Jones, and Lance are interchangeable between the last three. Teams are higher on Lance based on his long-term potential, while Wilson seems to be a favorite of the Jets at No. 2 overall. San Francisco has played their cards very close to the chest since trading up to third overall. Any one of Lance, Jones, Fields, and Wilson are definitely still in play for San Franciscos’ top pick.

Out of Fields, Lance, Jones, Fields appears to be the favorite of most NFL teams. His ability to operate in any offense and production against top-tier talent makes him a very safe bet. Lance has a higher ceiling but has a long way to come in terms of accuracy and getting up to speed with a real NFL offense. The run-heavy scheme he ran at North Dakota State is unlike most offenses in the NFL today.

Kyle Trask Scouting Report

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is a name to watch as a potentially sneaking into round one. Trask is a big quarterback and a pure pocket passer. In his three years with Florida, he showed tremendous improvement year over year. His passing grade ranked in the 95th percentile while passing for 43 touchdowns. His frame and traits are intriguing, with his height ranking in the 93rd percentile and his hands ranking in the 87th percentile. Especially with such great year-over-year developments in the last three seasons, teams may believe there is still a lot of untapped potential with Trask.

The issue with Trask is his mobility and lack of playmaking ability. If a play goes off-schedule, the odds are that Trask will not be able to pick up yards using his legs. He also struggled to produced when the Gators were missing their top targets. In the Cotton Bowl versus Oklahoma, Floridas’ top receivers Kyle Pitts and Ka’Darius Toney decided to sit out to protect their draft stock. Trask threw for 3 interceptions in the 35-point loss. A great landing spot could be in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers are loaded with weapons and have a similarly immobile quarterback in Tom Brady that they have built a solid system around.

Running Backs

North Carolina Tar Heels running back Javonte Williams (25) runs for a touchdown as North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Jakeen Harris (6) defends in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Najee Harris, Alabama
  2. Travis Etienne, Clemson
  3. Javonte Williams, North Carolina
  4. Michael Carter, North Carolina
  5. Khalil Herbert, Virginia Tech

Honorable Mention: Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

While running backs play a prominent role in nearly NFL offense, their value does not transfer over to the draft, especially not this year. None of the six running backs mentioned are projected within the top-15 picks. It is unlikely that even two of them end up being selected in the first round. The lack of long-term durability for running backs has steered teams away from using their first-round picks on this position.

Despite the lack of emphasis from the draft, the running back group features multiple talented players. At the top are Harris and Etienne, the undisputed top backs from two of the top programs in the country. After the first two, it is up for debate. North Carolinas’ tandem of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter are intriguing as value picks in rounds two and three.

UNC’s Dynamic Duo

To start with Williams, this guy is an absolute tank. A bruiser in every sense of the name, Williams runs with unmatched power. Not only is he one of the most explosive backs in recent memory, but he also combines that with fantastic contact balance and elusiveness.

According to Pro Football Focus, his 0.48 broken tackles per attempt were the highest recorded rate of any running back ever. While he is limited as a receiver, Williams will be a great value pick in round two or three.

Carter runs as hard as Williams, which makes up for his lack of size. Carter bounces off defenders with a low center of gravity and can break in and out of his cuts as good as any skill player in this draft. His receiving ability is also a huge matchup advantage, as his film is littered with plays of him exposing helpless ACC linebackers.

Oklahoma States’ Chuba Hubbard is a guy to watch come draft night. After a phenomenal 2019 season in which Hubbard was one of the best backs in the nation, he had a hugely disappointing 2020 season. He went from over 2,000 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns to 627 yards and 5 touchdowns. Injuries and lack of ball security hindered his performance and simultaneously drove down his draft stock. While Hubbard is currently projected as a Day 3 pick, teams could find potential value if he can regain his form from the 2019 season.

Wide Receivers

Mississippi wide receiver Elijah Moore (8) drives into the end zone for a touchdown past Vanderbilt during the second quarter at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com
  1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
  2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
  3. Devonta Smith, Alabama
  4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
  5. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

Honorable Mention: Ka’Darius Toney, Florida

The past few wide receiver classes have been supremely talented, and this year is no different. The top three guys listed could all end up going in the top-10. Bateman and Moore are likely to go first round as well. The wide variety of skill sets and types of receivers in the draft is intriguing.

The great debate is currently between the Crimson Tide teammates, Waddle and Smith. After a strong College Football Playoff performance and a Heisman award, people were quick to name Smith as the best receiver in this class, some going as far to say he was better than Chase. While Smith’s season was historic, Waddle offers more as an NFL receiver.

The current trend of the league is using misdirection to create favorable matchups in space. We have seen this with Sean McVay’s Rams offense, where they constantly run motions and end around with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. The same is true in Kyle Shanahans’ offense with the 49ers.

Receivers with top-level speed and after-the-catch explosiveness are highly coveted. Waddle fits that mold beautifully. While his ankle injury limited his performance this year, his elite speed is well documented. He brings a lot of versatility to whatever offense he lands with, which puts him slightly ahead of Smith in these rankings.

Scouting Reports on Bateman, Moore and Toney

Bateman and Moore should not be ignored either as potential first-round breakout stars. Bateman is one of the draft’s most polished route runners at 6’2, 210 pounds. His releases off the line of scrimmage are a thing of beauty and can produce out of the slot or on the outside. He is physical at the catch point and competes for every ball. Like Waddle, his versatility will be a big selling point for NFL teams, who can use him to create mismatches in any given situation.

Moore is definitely the draft’s best slot receiver and plays through contact despite his size. He has the speed to play out of the slot while also possessing the physicality to win on the outside. His hands are as reliable as they come, with just two drops on 101 targets during the 2020 season. Moore has all the tools to be the next great slot receiver in the league.

Toney being an honorable mention on this list shows the talent at receiver in a nutshell. Toney could easily be a top-30 pick but is arguably not a top-5 receiver in his class. Like Moore and Waddle, Toney makes his money after the catch. The number of times Toney would catch a bubble screen at the line of scrimmage and run 20-30 yards after the catch is astonishing. His top-end speed, combined with his amazing strength and balance, makes him very difficult to bring down in the open field. While he has a lot of work to do regarding his route running, the potential to be a speed demon gadget receiver makes him a first-rounder.

Tight Ends

Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) catches a pass against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Jordan Battle (9) and linebacker Christian Harris (8) during the fourth quarter in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Kyle Pitts, Florida
  2. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
  3. Brevin Jordan, Miami
  4. Tre McKitty, Georgia
  5. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame

Honorable Mention: Hunter Long, Boston College

While tight ends are not as glamorous as wide receivers or running backs, the position deserves respect. Tight ends serve as great assets in the run and pass games and help stretch a defense with their versatility.

Pitts is far and away the best tight end and arguably the best player in this class. After that, there is a huge dropoff to Freiermuth. The best in-line blocker of the group, Freiermuth, has drawn “Baby Gronk” comparisons during his time with Penn State. Jordan excites as a big red zone target but has a long way to go as a route runner and blocker. McKitty has a lot of potential after producing lackluster numbers during his college career. The group is very top-heavy, as it could be a long drought until a third tight end is picked after Pitts and Freiermuth are selected.

More so than any other position, the tight end group lacks consistency. Apart from Pitts, teams should be wary of how the tight end fits into their scheme before using one of their picks on these players.

Offensive Tackles

Oklahoma State Cowboys offensive lineman Teven Jenkins (73) blocks Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Moro Ojomo (98) during the fourth quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Penei Sewell, Oregon
  2. Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
  3. Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State

Honorable Mention: Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State

Since the tackle position is considered one of the less glamorous offensive positions, we will limit the list to the top three. With that being said, these tackles are some of the best overall players in the draft. Sewell, Darrisaw and Jenkins, all project as first-round picks come draft night.

Sewell has been a monster since his first year at Oregon is indisputably the top tackle. According to PFF, Darrisaw is not far behind, as the 6’5, 314-pound Virginia Tech product finished the 2020 season with an overall grade of 95.6. With elite strength and above-average awareness, Darrisaw will excel in a run-heavy offense at the next level.

Similar to Darrisaw, Jenkins is all about brute strength. He is extremely powerful with his punch and can stifle virtually any pass rusher if he gets his hands on him. In addition to his ridiculous power, he is also quite nimble on his feet for such a large man. He does a great job of getting into his pass sets with speed, giving him an immediate advantage over any pass rusher. For a more in-depth look into Jenkins’ footwork and technique, check out his scouting report constructed by Film Room Specialist Brett Kollmann.

Radunz Scouting Report

Radunz misses out on the top-3 but could still end up in the first round. The left tackle for Trey Lance the last two seasons, Radunz is an athletic freak at 6’6 and 298 pounds. Radunz also allowed 0 sacks in over 1000 snaps played in the last two seasons. Granted, that was primarily against FCS edge rusher, but the consistency is remarkable. Like Darrisaw, Radunz will find success in a run-heavy scheme, similar to the one he ran at North Dakota State these last three seasons.

Interior Offensive Line

Southern California Trojans offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker (75) during the Pac-12 Championship against the Oregon Ducks at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Oregon defeated USC 31-24.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
  2. Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
  3. Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma

Honorable Mention: Landon Dickerson, Alabama

Slater appeared to be a notable omission from the top tackles group. However, he finds himself at the top of the interior lineman group as he projects better as a guard at the next level.

To be clear, Slater is still a phenomenal tackle. During the 2019 season with Northwestern, he played all 783 snaps at left tackle and allowed no sacks and only one quarterback hit. He was phenomenal in pass blocking sets and even stunted Chase Young in the Wildcats game against Ohio State in 2019. However, his measurables suggest he will be more of a guard at the next level. His arm length measured at 33 inches, which ranks in the 28th percentile amongst tackles. That same length would rank around the 80th percentile if he were compared to guards.

Just because Slater is a guard does not mean he doesn’t warrant a top pick. The Colts selected Quenton Nelson at sixth overall in the 2018 draft, and he has been the heart and soul of that unit ever since. Teams should keep that in mind when considering Slater in comparison to other tackles.

Vera-Tucker is in a similar situation to Slater. While he played all of his snaps at the left tackle position in 2020, his arm length and size indicate Vera-Tucker will be better served at guard in the NFL. Unlike Slater, Vera-Tucker does have some experience inside, having played 926 snaps at left guard during the 2019 season. Vera-Tucker will make his money with his consistency and elite awareness when picking up blitzes and stunts.

Humphrey and Dickerson Scouting Reports

Humphrey is the model of consistency coming out of Oklahoma this year. After three years and over 2,400 snaps played, Humphrey has allowed 0 sacks and 2 quarterback hits. He used all three years in college to refine his hand placement and continue to work on his technique. His hands are some of the strongest in the class, as his film is littered with plays of him locking onto three techniques and driving them into the dirt.

Dickerson is similar to Humphrey in terms of his pure strength. An absolute mammoth of a man at 6’6 and 325 pounds, you’re not going to see Dickerson get bull-rushed by a defensive tackle. He has also shown a lot of versatility, having played at least 30 snaps at each of the five positions along the offensive line. While his recovery from a torn ACL is something to monitor, Dickerson can be one of the next great offensive linemen if he can stay healthy.

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