With the report cards for the 2020 NFL draft completed, NFLDraftScout is turning its attention to the class of 2021, offering a quick “First Take” with rankings and perspective of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position group.

It used to be that interior offensive linemen were considered some of the safest picks on draft day.

Wide splits in the college game have contributed to some notable busts in recent years with more and more NFL teams opting to simply slide college tackles inside in the pros to protect them. That may very well prove the case in 2020.

Eight offensive linemen were selected before the first pure guard, LSU’s Damien Lewis, came off the board at No. 69 overall to Seattle. Lewis is expected to be a plug and play candidate for the run-heavy Seahawks and there were some other quality fits at this position, including the Ravens stealing the tough and technically-sound Ben Bredeson in the fourth round.

The 2021 class at the position looks bigger and better, starting off with Tennessee’s Trey Smith, who may very well have been the first guard selected had he made the NFL jump. Notre Dame’s Tommy Kraemer suffered an MCL sprain late last season which may have contributed to his returning for another year with the Irish, though, he too, has the look of an early round pick.

Underclassmen have leapt ahead to be the first interior linemen selected in several recent drafts, including last year’s with the New Orleans Saints nabbing Michigan center Cesar Ruiz in the first round. Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis, Clemson’s Jackson Carman and Oklahoma’s Marquis Hayes all appear capable of making a massive leap up draft boards this fall, as does Cade Mays from Tennessee, who joins Smith to give the Vols’ their best duo up front in years. In fact, multiple offensive linemen drafted out of Knoxville has only occurred twice in the past decade and not since 2014.

Davis and Hayes are “natural” guards, starring inside already for their respective powerhouse programs. Carman is a promising young left tackle who helped limit Chase Young to just two tackles in the Tigers' Fiesta Bowl win. He had plenty of help in doing so, however. If he develops as hoped, Carman may remain at tackle in the NFL, joining Oregon's Penei Sewell and an already surprisingly stout class. At this point, however, he is viewed as likely to slide inside, at least initially. Regardless, he and the rest of the top five guards listed below, are a significant upgrade from last year's crop.  

Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk. All players listed are potentially eligible for the 2021 NFL draft.

The Top Five

1. Trey Smith 6-5, 325 Tennessee

2. *Jackson Carman 6-5, 345 Clemson

3. *Wyatt Davis 6-3, 313 Ohio State

4. Tommy Kraemer 6-5, 319 Notre Dame

5. Ben Cleveland 6-5, 335 Georgia

Best of the Rest

6. *Cade Mays 6-5, 328 Tennessee

7. Navaughn Donaldson 6-5, 345 Miami

8. *Marquis Hayes 6-4, 330 Oklahoma

9. Deonte Brown 6-3, 338 Alabama

10. *Ben Brown 6-4, 320 Mississippi

10. Josh Sills 6-5, 338 Oklahoma State

11. Brady Christensen 6-5, 300 BYU

12. Stewart Reese 6-5, 345 Mississippi State

13. Kevin Jarvis 6-3 321 Michigan State

14. Zion Johnson 6-3, 300 Boston College

15. Bryce Hargrove 6-3, 315 Pittsburgh

16. Tristen Hoge 6-4, 301 BYU

17. Jauan Williams 6-6, 310 Maryland

18. D’Ante Smith 6-4, 336 East Carolina

19.  Luke Wattenberg 6-5, 300 Washington

20. Derek Kerkstetter 6-5, 305 Texas

Prior “First Take” Positional Previews:

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Tackles