2021 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Top Five Players by Position
In the first of a series of articles profiling the best 2021 NFL Draft prospects, we look at the top-five draft eligible prospects at each of the offensive skill positions.
By Ben Matthews.
Gridiron Xtra writers Ben Matthews and Bobby Bishop submitted their top-five rankings for each position. Below are their consensus rankings as things stand. These rankings will probably move around as we progress closer to the 2021 NFL Draft but for now, check out the players who are most likely to have an immediate impact within both the NFL and your fantasy football team in 2021!
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Will be number one overall. Best QB prospect since Luck. Read Bishop's Scouting Report.
2. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Would have been top pick in any other draft sans Lawrence. Read Bishop's Scouting Report.
3. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Dripping with upside, but inexperienced and raw. Worth taking a chance on in the first frame. Read Bishop's Scouting Report.
4. Zach Wilson, BYU (Matthews)
Mac Jones, Alabama (Bishop)
Wilson: Shot up draftboards in 2020. Lean frame despite excellent athleticism and could benefit with a little more bulk to withstand pressure effectively in the NFL. Arm strength good, not great. Decent mobility and touch and will probably go in round one due to ability to extend plays and the plethora of QB needy teams in the NFL.
Jones: Jones' best quality is his accuracy. He’s not going to wow you with his legs, but he’s a pro style QB that has very accurate placement of the ball with solid arm talent. He’s replaced Tua extremely well for the Crimson Tide.
5. Kyle Trask, Florida (Matthews)
Zach Wilson, BYU (Bishop)
Trask: Has an average amount of arm strength in comparison to the other quarterbacks higher on this list. Trask is a pocket passer that could thrive in the right situation, but is on of two or three others who could easily becom the fifth name off the board come next April. He has questionable velocity on the balls he throws and limited mobility. Having said that, he is raw as he has not played the position for long and his physique makes him an impressive presence in the pocket.
Top-5 Running Backs:
1. Travis Etienne, Clemson
Etienne is our consensus top back. He is the most explosive and complete back in the class with prototypical size and rushing abilities. He has to show improved vision and patience at the next level to thrive and sometime appears over eager to hit the hole, but Etienne has all the raw talent to mature into a prolific, multi faceted back within the NFL.
2. Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis (Matthews)
Najee Harris, Alabama (Bishop)
Gainwell: The running back position in 2021 is particularly difficult to gauge. Beyond Etienne at number one, there are genuinely eight or ten rushers who could sneak their way into the top-five at the position. Gainwell is my pick here as he appears to be the runner who has been naturally gifted the most traits required to be a success in the NFL. He oozes potential despite being slightly undersized and can take it to the house at any given moment. Gainwell is an exceptional weapon in the passing game and will be able to affect games at all three levels of offense with his ability in space and propensity to create yards after the catch. An NFL team with a creative coordinator will relish the opportunity to manufacture touches for the explosive back.
Harris: Harris is a bruising three-down back who has an upright running style reminiscent of the battering ram that is Derrick Henry. Harris does not have elite speed, burst or quickness, but is tough to bring down when he is afforded time and space to build momentum and should be able to carve out a successful career within the NFL.
3. Najee Harris, Alabama (Matthews)
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (Bishop)
Hubbard: is an excellent runner and has great patience and vision. He will be hoping that this translates at the next level where he will have much less room to operate than in the spread offense within he currently function. Hubbard possesses big play ability and displays a burst that is on par with many of the top backs in the class. Concerns lay within the passing game however, as he needs to improve on his blocking and pass catching ability in order to become a true three-down back in the NFL.
4. Javonte Williams, North Carolina (Matthews)
Zamir White, Georgia (Bishop)
Williams: A competitive running back. Always fights for extra yards and is a genuine tackle breaker. He has good power and never gives up, keeping his legs going through would-be tackles and crowded boxes. He is not overly explosive, but makes up for that with his power and churning legs to get to the first down marker. He is not easy to bring down and builds up speed and momentum well. He is patient waiting for his blocks and runs with a real attitude. Is in possession of an impressively dismissive stiff arm.
White: The latest product of RBU, White is a former number one high school running back recruit in the nation. A one cut style back, Zamir runs between the tackles as well as anybody in the nation. When he has a hole, White’s 4.4 speed gives him the capability to take any run to the house.
5. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State (Matthews)
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis (Bishop)
Just missed the cut: C.J. Verdell, Oregon; Kylin Hill, Mississippi State; Michael Carter, North Carolina; Jaret Patterson, Buffalo; Demetric Felton, UCLA.
Top-5 Wide Receivers:
1. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
Chase has been dominant against all-comers. He has displayed this against elite college competition and is the best receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft. Chase has elite body control and catch radius, has great deep speed and is an absolute terror against man coverage. He can simply do it all: excellent hands, terrific athleticism and is a savvy route runner. Read Bishop's Scouting Report.
2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
An unfortunate injury ended Waddle's 2020 season early, but he will remain a top-five receiver on most teams' board throughout the draft process. Waddle is one of the most explosive pass catchers in the 2021 NFL Draft and possesses genuine speed. He can go from zero-to-sixty in the blink of an eye and easily turns short passes into long touchdowns. He has an uncanny ability to beat the press despite his size, although his slight frame does knock his profile a touch. Waddle is one of the best returners in the draft and teams will value this highly due to his ability to contribute right out of the gate.
3. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (Matthews)
DeVonta Smith, Alabama (Bishop)
Bateman: Has all the tools to become a number one receiver in the NFL. He has nice size, excellent playing speed and outstanding hands. He has an ability to take over games, but this could be due to the level of competition that he is playing against. He has a string run after the catch ability, but perhaps does not have elite top speed. If he tests well at the NFL combine then, for me, he could jump to second place in these rankings. Bateman has some impressive one-handed catches on tape and competes for every ball in play, tracking back to the ball well, believing that nothing is a lost cause. He will wrestle the ball away from defensive backs if necessary and appears to have a true alpha mentality.#
Smith: Smith has great wheels and gets to top speed extremely quickly. He has a good catch radius and reliable hands and is another who is willing to go after anything, believing he can come down with the ball. He is an electric playmaker but does possess a small frame, meaning that teams may only view him as a role player in the NFL. He has also been viewed to have focus lapses but his college production highlighhts why he deserves to be a first round pick.
4. DeVonta Smith, Alabama (Matthews)
Terrace Marshall, LSU (Bishop)
Marshall: A height, strength, speed prospect, Marshall has the ability to go up and get jump balls against shorter DBs. Bishop projects that he will test well at the combine and jump up NFL draft boards.
5. Rondale Moore, Purdue
Both Matthews and Bishop agree that Purdue's Rondale Moore is deserved of a place on this list. At only 5'9'', he may never become a true number one target for a team, but as a secondary or tertiary target and in the right system, Moore could become a human highlight reel due to his impressive open field ability and slippery skills after the catch. He has an explosive suddenness about him and plays stronger than his size. As intimated he is small, but utilises his change of direction skills and elusiveness to beat defenders and create the requisite separation.
Just missed the cut: Chris Olave, Ohio St; Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma St; Tamorrion Terry, Florida St; Frank Darby, Arizona St; Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC.
Top-5 Tight Ends:
1. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State (Matthews)
Kyle Pitts, Florida (Bishop)
Freiermuth: Simply the best all-around tight end in the class. Yes, Pitts garners all the attention and is a spectacularly gifted prospect, but Pat 'Baby Gronk' Freiermuth is the most pro ready tight end to come out in a few years, which is a position that is a notoriously difficult one to transition to in the NFL. Freiermuth could become a lucky quarterback's best friend in the red zone and will eat across the middle of the field. He may not wow with flashy explosive plays a la Pitts, but will be a reliable target across the formation and a dependable lead tight end for whoever drafts him for years to come. Perfect build to play the position.
Pitts: Has become one of the most exciting players to watch in college football this year. Has produced numerous standout performances and is the premier receiving tight end in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Pitts is very fast for a tight end and is adept at finding openings at all levels of a defense. NFL teams will love this as he will become a serious mismatch weapon due to his size and ability to snatch the ball away from defensive backs, over their heads. Defenders will struggle to guard him consistently, making Pitts an ideal red zone weapon. More of a big wide receiver in the mold of Darren Waller, Pitts should thrive if utilized primarily in this sort of role, as a pass catcher in the NFL. He has seriously raised his stock in 2020 by dominating the opposition to the tune of 36 receptions, 641 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns at a mammoth 17.8 yards per reception.
2. Kyle Pitts, Florida (Matthews)
Pat Freiermuth, Penn State (Bishop)
3. Brevin Jordan, Miami
Jordan: The next in line from Miami’s “Tight End U”. The Hurricanes have produced the likes of Jimmy Graham, Kellen Winslow Jr, Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen and David Njoku in recent years and Jordan appears to be the next in line from that institution to make an impact at the NFL level. He has similar receiving potential to Pitts and is a physical specimen who can fight through the press and run by linebackers with ease. He may be currently viewed as a poor man’s Pitts, but Jordan has the ability to be a true playmaker in his own right, as he possesses an impressive RAC ability. Jordan is currently only an average blocker, but if he can polish this area of his game, then he could blossom into a top all-around tight end. His route running is not the best right now, but get him the ball in space and watch out!
4. Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin (Matthews)
Nick Eubanks, Michigan (Bishop)
Ferguson: Has an abundance of talent and has the potential to become a fantastic all-around tight end. He is a capable and willing blocker, but can be inconsistent and moved around when blocking in space. Having said that, he has the physiqyue to improve this area of his game with NFL coaching and is a very capable receiver. He could become an excellent safety valve at the next level as he has sure hands and is willing to take on and initiate contact.
Eubanks: Eubanks is huge at 6’5” and 256 pounds and has great length and speed for the position. One of his best attributes is the ability to get separation on his routes. He has limitations as a blocker though, so he will have to work to develop in that area.
5. Kenny Yeboah, Ole Miss (Matthews)
Charlie Kolar, Iowa State (Bishop)
Yeboah: A tall, but slender tight end with excellent hands. May look to add a little extra strength to assist his transition into the NFL, but he is an underrated blocker, with PFF ranking him as the best pass-blocking tight end in the nation in 2019. He could become a valuable red zone target at the next level and will make plays across the middle of the field. At 6’5”, Yeboah is an ideal height to become a mismatch weapon in the NFL. He is an athlectic, but slightly skinny build who could stand to add a little more bulk. If he does this, then he is another potentially terrific red zone threat. He has YAC ability, but a lack of top end speed and may be easily chased down by defensive backs in the NFL. This may limit his ceiling, but this theory could easily be disproved if he tests well at the NFL Scouting Combine. Can be a bit stiff in his routes which may limit ability to generate consistent separation, but he is certainly one to watch as the combine rolls around.
Kolar: Another who will be a solid red zone target in the NFL. Kolar will win across the middle and in tight areas due to his excellent catch radius and ability to catch in traffic. Is an average blocker and does not possess the same level of pop or athletic ability as those higher on this list. Will not generate separation because of his speed or quickness, but will be tough to match up with on contested balls. Needs to develop more nuance to his route running and general play to become a starting tight end in the NFL.
Just missed the cut: Matt Bushman, BYU; Hunter Long, Boston College; Tony Poljan, Virginia.
So that concludes our current top-five 2021 NFL Draft Prospects at each offensive skill position. Agree? Disagree? Tell us who we missed on Twitter @GridironXtra or join our Facebook group here and tell us what you think!