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.
Wide receiver has long been considered one of the most difficult positions to evaluate outside of quarterback. That is in part due to the trend toward spread offenses in college, where elite athletes can star in simplified route trees simply by being bigger, strong and faster than most of the competition. Sometimes, however, the talent is simply too good to ignore. That was certainly the case in the 2020 draft, which saw six receivers selected in the first round (the most in the opening frame since 2004) and 37 selected overall (tied for most in modern league history).
Not surprisingly, the shelves are a bit bare by comparison in 2021 but not as much as one might think.
After all, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver returns in LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, who simply led the country in both receiving yards (1,780) and touchdowns (20) a year ago. Duplicating that production in 2020, given all of the changes at LSU following their national title run, may be impossible but don’t expect a reduction of statistics to impact Chase’s draft stock. At least at this point, he looks like a top 10 lock for next spring’s draft.
Clemson is one of the few programs who can match LSU’s recent track record of producing elite receivers and they have another first round talent in Justyn Ross, a prototypical split end with excellent size, leaping and tracking ability to “big boy” defensive backs. Pro-style offenses at LSU and Clemson have also made Chase and Ross effective run blockers, something that Travis Etienne and the rest of the top running back prospects certainly appreciate.
UPDATE - Ross will miss the 2020 season after undergoing spinal surgery.
Minnesota has not produced a first round pick since 2006 but that could change in 2021 should Rashod Bateman's stellar play continue.
The well-known trio of Chase, Ross and Bateman are polar opposites from Purdue’s speedy RonDale Moore, a big play waiting to happen in the Tyreek Hill mold.
Blue blood programs like Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and Southern California have gifted pass-catchers eager to prove that the draft picks selected from these programs this past spring did not exhaust the talent pool. Of them I am most excited about Jaylen Waddle and Chris Olave from the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes, respectively. Neither possess the size scouts would prefer but each possesses terrific elusiveness, straight-line speed and grit, excelling on special teams as well as offense, thus far. I expect monster seasons out of both underclassmen this season. Each has been two productive, already, to characterize them as a true breakout candidates, but if you’re looking for one, watch out for former highly recruited Michigan transfer Taril Black to take over as the primary downfield threat at Texas for Sam Ehnlinger, among the top 20 QB prospects returning to college football this year. Texas is seeking to replace Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson at receiver, each of whom were drafted this past spring.
Black could leap into All-Big 12 consideration if he can build quick rapport with Ehlinger but the leader in the clubhouse in that conference is clearly Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace, who could jump back into the top five at the position by proving he is recovered from the torn ACL which abruptly ended his junior campaign last November. Wallace enters his senior season with 146 career receptions for 2,512 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk. All players listed are potentially eligible for the 2021 NFL draft.
The Top Five
1. *Ja’Marr Chase 6-1, 200 LSU
2. Rashod Bateman, 6-1, 205, Minnesota
3. *Rondale Moore 5-09, 180 Purdue
4. *Jaylen Waddle 5-10, 182 Alabama
5. *Chris Olave 6-0, 185 Ohio State
Best of the Rest
6. Tyler Vaughns 6-1 185 Southern Cal
7. Tylan Wallace 6-0 185 Oklahoma State
8. Dez Fitzpatrick 6-1 202 Louisville
9. DeVonta Smith 6-0, 175 Alabama
10. Tarik Black 6-3, 215 Texas
11. Nico Collins 6-3, 222 Michigan
12. Damonte Coxie 6-2, 197 Memphis
13. *Sage Surratt 6-2, 215 Wake Forest
14. Reggie Roberson, Jr., 5-11, 200 SMU
15. Terrace Marshall, Jr. 6-3, 200 LSU
16. Amari Rodgers 5-10, 210 Clemson
17. *Amon-Ra St. Brown 6-1, 195 Southern Cal
18. Rico Bussey, Jr. 6-1, 193 North Texas
19. Kadarius Toney 5-11, 194 Florida
20. Davontavean Martin 6-2, 190 Washington State