The Cincinnati Bearcats are the top AAC team in the nation for the 2021 season. Led by head Coach Luke Fickell and a really experienced roster, they should be a New Year’s Six team. This is truly one of the best group of five rosters in recent memory. Here are the top five NFL prospects to keep an eye on in the fall.
Desmond Ridder QB (1st Round Grade)
Quarterback Desmond Ridder decided to return for his senior season. He has all the tools to be a first-round pick in the 2022 draft. Ridder is an elite athlete and has a fantastic arm. Last year, he improved a tremendous amount as the season went on. By year’s end, opponents had no answer for him. He elevated his teammates and is praised for his leadership skills. With another good season, there will be a tremendous amount of interest in Ridder. Expect him to be All-AAC and the top quarterback at the Senior Bowl; Ridder is that good.
Myjai Sanders DE (1st Round Grade)
The Bearcats defense was one of the best in the country last season. A considerable part of their success was pass rusher, Myjai Sanders. Sanders was excellent as a sophomore but looked like a man on a mission in 2020. He can get after the quarterback with ease. He uses his length, athleticism and pass rush repertoire to consistently disrupt the quarterback. Sanders had seven sacks last season and should have double digits next year. In addition to Ridder, Sanders should be a top Senior Bowl pick. His tools will translate really well in the one on ones.
Ahmad Gardner CB (1st-2nd Round Grade)
With a nickname like ‘Sauce Gardner,’ it is easy to see why everyone loves Bearcat cornerback Ahmad Gardner. He has been on the national radar since his freshman year of college and for good reason. Gardner has the ideal frame for a press man cornerback. He is tall and long, to go with a physical presence that isn’t common for a cornerback. His playstyle is similar to Panthers' first-round pick Jaycee Horn. In coverage, Gardner can make plays with his length and gives up minimal separation. The one aspect of Gardner’s game that could be improved on is his technique. He is sloppy at times and is very grabby. If he can improve on that, he’ll fly up draft boards.
Josh Whyle TE (2nd-3rd Round Grade)
The 2022 draft class has a lot of talent at tight end, and because of that, Whyle isn’t getting the attention he deserves. His film as only a true sophomore was fantastic. His overall speed and athleticism will make him a mismatch nightmare for defenses. Whyle does an excellent job of changing direction and getting in and out of his breaks. He is going to play a full-time role in 2021 and should be a breakout candidate. Few tight ends possess the skillset that Whyle does. He can be a true difference-maker as a pass-catcher.
Alec Pierce WR (3rd-5th Round Grade)
At the receiver position, Cincinnati has a very reliable X in Alec Pierce. Pierce is a really good athlete for a receiver. He is very quick out of his stance and is a faster player at his size. Pierce can beat man coverage by stacking defenders and using his body to create separation. Pierce also has great hands. He doesn’t drop passes and plucks the ball out of the air. In terms of complete players, it doesn’t get much better than Pierce. He does his job as a receiver and will be a contributor on special teams. These types of players will go higher than expected. Pierce is extremely talented and should rise in a weaker receiver class.