Which Cal players will get taken in the 2021 NFL draft?
The Bears are expecting big things out of the 2020 season with most of the key offensive players returning from the 2019 squad that went 8-5 and won its final three games. The addition of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and his years of NFL experience could provide an additional boost.
Will all that produce more than the three draft picks the Bears had this year?
Of course, the draft picture can change significantly between now and the 2021 NFL draft. Joe Burrow was considered no better than a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft prior to his senior season, but he ended up going No. 1 overall.
The best guess is that three or four Cal players will get drafted in 2021, but six or seven others could become draftable with big 2020 seasons.
So let’s take an educated guess as to which Cal players will get drafted in 2021, with the players listed in the order in which they are likely to be selected.
1. Camryn Bynum, cornerback
Possible draft spot: second or third round
Draft Scout rank: No. 3 cornerback in 2021 draft.
Bynum considered entering the draft each of the past two years, but opted to return to Cal both times. Part of the reason he returned for 2020 was to show his versatility, because he is expected to get some playing time at safety and nickel back this coming season. That should enhance his draft status because there is some question whether he is fast enough to play corner at the next level.
Bynum has been the Bears’ best cover corner the past two years, and one thing that stuck with me was this draftwire preview of Cal’s game against Arizona State in which the matchup between Bynum and Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was highlighted. I don’t know what percentage of the time Bynum covered Aiyuk in that game, but I do know that Aiyuk, a firt-round draft pick, had just two receptions for 31 yards.
Bynum talked about his position change during spring workouts:
2. Chase Garbers, quarterback
Possible draft spot: first to fourth round
Draft Scout rank: No. 10 quarterback in 2022 draft
Yes, Garbers will only be a redshirt junior in the 2020 season, and there is every reason to believe he will remain at Cal for the 2021 season. That’s why Draft Scout projected him for the 2022 draft. But if Garbers improves as much in 2020 as he did in 2019, he could be a prime pro prospect for the 2021 draft. Having Musgrave as his mentor could accelerate his progress. Players can turn pro three years after leaving high school, so Garbers theoretically could have entered the 2020 draft.
Although Garbers was left off SI.com’s list of the top 25 college quarterbacks for 2020, he was ranked No. 32 on Pro Football Focus’ ranking of the top 80 bowl-game quarterbacks in terms of pro potential. That list included all the seniors and departed quarterbacks, such as Burrow and Justin Herbert.
Garbers seems to have the size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds), mobility and arm strength pros are looking for, but he still has some pocket-presence issues to iron out.
Ten quarterbacks were taken in this year’s draft and 11 were drafted each of the two prior drafts.
Garbers noted in the spring that he has watched film of NFL offenses that were coaches by Musgrave.
3. Kuony Deng
Possible draft spot: second to fifth round
Draft Scout rank: No. 17 outside linebacker in 2021 draft
My hunch—not necessarily supported by any experts—is that Deng may be the first Cal player taken in the 2021 draft.
His size (6-foot-6, 245 pounds), length, athleticism, intelligence, versatility and play-making ability all add up to a package NFL teams would like.
He was second on the team with 111 tackles in 2019, while adding 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four quarterback hurries and eight pass breakups. With Evan Weaver gone, Deng could emerge as a monster on defense.
He can line up inside or outside, rush the passer or cover receivers, and the guy is smart.
4. Jake Curhan, offensive tackle
Possible draft spot: fifth to sixth round
Draft Scout rank: No. 23 offensive tackle in 2021 draft
Former Cal tackle Patrick Mekari made an NFL roster—and even started some games—as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Curhan is certainly in that class.
The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Curhan will be a starter for the fourth consecutive season in 2020, and his NFL stock will increase if Cal’s offense starts clicking under Musgrave.
Twenty-one offensive tackles were taken in this year’s draft, so there might be room for Curhan.
5. Michael Saffell, center
Possible draft spot: fifth to seventh round
Draft Scout rank: No. 21 center for 2021 draft
Only six centers were taken in this year’s draft, and none of them weighed less than 300 pounds. That may make things difficult for Saffell, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 290 pounds.
All I know is that Cal’s offensive line play improved dramatically in 2019 when Saffell returned to the starting lineup after missing most of the previous three games with an injury. We talk about Cal’s record when Garbers played more than one half, but it should be noted that the Bears were 8-2 last season when Saffell played more than a half.
Saffell played guard in 2018, and that versatility will help his draft status, but the fact that he missed games each of the past two seasons with injuries won’t help in the durability rating.
Saffell discussed the Bears' offensive line depth during spring drills.
6. Elijah Hicks, cornerback/safety
Possible draft spot: Fifth to seventh round
Draft Scout rank: No. 70 cornerback for 2021 draft
Hicks’ draft status will depend largely on how well he does at his new position of safety. A starting corner the past three seasons, Hicks will increase his NFL appeal appreciably if he demonstrates an ability to play safety proficiently as well.
Overshadowed a bit with Bynum as the other corner, Hicks has just one career interception.
Hicks talked about his position change during the spring.
7. Luc Bequette, defensive end
Possible draft spot: fifth to seventh round.
Draft Scout rank: No. 57 defensive tackle for 2021 draft
Bequette is not a spectacular player, but he demonstrates two things the pros like: consistency and versatility. Although his best position in Cal’s three-man front is defensive end, he played a lot of nose tackle in 2019, and Draft Scout ranked him as a defensive tackle. He always seems to be at the right place in the defensive scheme, and that will count in the pros.
8. Cameron Goode, outside linebacker
Possible draft spot: fifth to seventh round
Draft Scout rank: No. 37 outside linebacker for 2021 draft
A big-play outside linebacker who might be able to play defensive end in a four-man front, Goode was third in the Pac-12 in sacks last year with 9.5 and tied for second in tackles for loss with 14. He also had six quarterback hurries last season, and has two career interceptions, both of which he returned both for touchdowns.
Bmust stay healthy. He has missed games each of the past three seasons with injuries.
Cal defensive coordinator told Stewart Mandel of The Athletic that Goode was “arguably” Cal’s best defensive player last year.
9. Christopher Brown Jr., running back
Possible draft spot: sixth to seventh round
Draft Scout rank: No. 29 running for 2022 draft
Like Garbers, Brown, a junior, is likely to stay at Cal for the 2021 college season, especially since he is so focused on academic excellence.
However, he seems to have the skills pro scouts are seeking. He runs with power, falling just 86 yards shy of 1,000 in 2019, and he can catch passes, collecting 22 receptions for 166 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Whether he is fast enough to play in the pros could be an issue.
Other Cal players with a chance to get drafted with a big 2020 season: defensive end Tevin Paul, offensive guard Valentino Daltoso, wide receiver Kekoa rawford, wide receiver Nikko Remigio, defensive lineman Zeandae Johnson.
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
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