Alex Hale’s 2021 Big Board

Amazing how a pandemic makes time fly by, doesn’t it?  It seems like a year ago, we were here discussing would a College Football season takes place in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.  And yet, somehow we made it through another College Football season crowning Alabama once again as National Champions. 

As for the NFL, we’ve finally reached the end of an exhausting season, whereas of publishing, we have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers facing off against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

With that said and Football season is over, we can finally turn our attention once again to the NFL Draft.  This year has been challenging for many evaluators where there’s limited film for some prospects because of either shortened seasons or in some cases no season at all. 

For example, North Dakota State QB Trey Lance played in one game this past season after setting the FCS on fire putting up video game numbers.  In his one game, he looked solid, but nothing for evaluators to go off of to project him with.  This has hurt numerous players’ stocks who could be higher with a regular season. 

Add to that the NFL Combine has been canceled and teams will have to do everything over Zoom meetings, the entire process is going to be one big guessing game.  For once, you have to go off the game tape and look beyond athletic numbers.

This brings me to the long-awaited draft big board. If you want to view my first mock draft, you can check it out here.

Alex’s Top 15 Big Board

Trevor Lawrence is my #1 Player on my Big Board
  1. QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) – He’s been QB1 and the presumptive #1 pick in this draft since his National Championship victory over Alabama his freshman year.  Forget his Ronny Bass hairstyle and outspoken nature, the kid is the real deal.  He’s a rare talent that has the prototypical size (6’6’’ 220) but has the arm talent that sets him apart from everyone else.  It’s not just his pure arm strength and accuracy, it’s his ball placement and the ability to place the ball exactly where his receiver needs it.  Add to that his footwork in the pocket showcases his calm demeanor in the pocket, easily moving in the pocket or allowing himself to scramble, which he’s effective at as well.  In an era where passing is the name of the game and QBs who can extend and make plays are critical, Lawrence is the complete package.  Add to that his leadership since he arrived at Clemson, he’s the best QB in this draft and it’s not close.
  2. OT Penei Sewell (Oregon) – Penei Sewell is the best OT prospect I’ve ever scouted in the 8 years I’ve done this.  He has the size, power, agility, and footwork that have made him the constant anchor of the Ducks’ O-Line.  Without question, he’s going to be an easy plug and play left tackle in the NFL and should provide instant All-Pro talent to any O-Line looking for a left tackle.  One can make the case he’s that good of a prospect at such a crucial position, you can put Sewell at #1 over Trevor Lawrence.  At the very least, Sewell is the safest pick in this draft.
  3. QB Zach Wilson (BYU) – I normally follow one major rule when evaluating QBs, don’t buy on one-year wonders.  I’ve tried to temper my excitement about Wilson, but the film screams he’s one of the best, if not the best QB in this draft.  Sure BYU really isn’t facing any competition, but Wilson has dominated whoever he faced and almost led the Cougars to a last-minute TD drive in their biggest game against Coastal Carolina, coming up one yard short.  His footwork is outstanding, some of the best I’ve ever seen in a QB.  He shows great arm strength and puts even better touch on the ball.  He looks the part and carries a swagger along with him that will help whoever drafts him to be their QB of the future.
  4. WR Devonta Smith (Alabama) – Smith was already a talented receiver on an explosive Alabama offense, but after Jaylen Waddle’s injury, he took his game to another level, winning the Heisman Trophy after catching 117 passes and totaling up 1,856 yards with 23 touchdowns.  While Smith is an explosive athlete, his game revolves around his route running, which can be described as cerebral.  One of the best pure route runners in recent years to go with soft, reliable hands and the explosiveness to break out big plays.  He’s dominant at the point of attack, not afraid to go up and get the ball.  What makes him the most valuable is his game makes him able to line up anywhere as a receiver and thrive.  Teams can scheme him around to create matchup nightmares for defenses.  He’s made himself the clear cut #1 WR in the draft.
  5. LB Micah Parsons (Penn State) – This ranking goes solely on game tape.  On pure talent alone, Parsons is the best LB to come into the draft since Myles Jack (before his injury concerns).  He’s an athletic freak who is best in a system that utilizes him in a blitz heavy scheme.  He’s still developing in pass coverage and relies on his athletic ability to defend the run.  He’s great in pursuit who can wrap up a runner or make the big hit.  He’s the kind of LB who can start for a team on day one and be a difference-maker.  The question mark is he has major character concerns that will push him down in the draft.
  6. WR JaMarr Chase (LSU) – Joe Burrow’s main target in 2019 decided to opt-out of the 2020 season as the clear cut #1 WR in the Draft and a Top 5 talent.  What makes Chase so talented is the fact he’s so polished for a College WR.  What he lacks with average size and athleticism, he makes up for with great route running ability, good hands, post catch ability, and blocking ability that make him a reliable 3 down receiver.  What’s slightly concerning is he only played in Joe Brady’s offense with Joe Burrow that without both in 2020 took a big step back.  Would Chase have had similar production because of his talent in 2020?  Or was he a product of the system?  That’s something teams have to find out for themselves.
  7. QB Justin Fields (Ohio State) – I’ve tried to fall in love with Justin Fields, but there’s something I can’t get behind.  Fields was much more reckless throwing the football in 2020 doubling his total interceptions in fewer games.  He seemed at times to lock onto his receiver and tried to force passes.  He may have torn apart Clemson, but he struggled against Northwestern and Indiana.  There’s no doubting his arm talent to go with the pure athleticism that makes him a unique talent.  But he has to go to the right fit for him with a franchise that won’t be going through Head Coaches/Offensive Coordinator.  If he can fix his tendencies to lock onto receivers, there’s no questioning the talent.  It’s just the small things that can hurt him in NFL.
  8. EDGE Gregory Rousseau (Miami) – Another top prospect who took 2020 off by opting out of the season, Rousseau had a monster 2019 season racking up 15.5 sacks for Miami.  This coming from a kid who played WR/S in High School.  He’s still very green when it comes to the position, but the production and raw talent scream a potential stud.  With the lack of a standout pass rusher, the upside of Rousseau makes him a Top 10 talent, but he needs to go to the right team that can develop his game.  The production of his one year at Miami doesn’t lie, the talent is clearly there.  But at the same time, he’s as much bust potential as anyone.
  9. QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State) – Trey Lance might’ve been a Top 5 talent if he played the entire season, but thanks to COVID, North Dakota State only played one game this year in a showcase game vs. Central Arkansas.  Lance in 2019 was dominant, setting the NCAA record for most consecutive passes without an interception.  Lance’s biggest strength is his athleticism and mobility, he’s possibly the most athletic quarterback in the draft and you can see Lamar Jackson in him.  He’s got great arm strength and a quick release that will translate in the NFL.  He needs to clean up his mechanics, as he can tend to miss his receivers high.  He’s a great leader who rallied the Bisons from a slow start to a victory against Central Arkansas.  Without a full 2020 season, he couldn’t answer many of his questions as a prospect but could end up being the best quarterback in the draft when we look back.
  10. TE Kyle Pitts (Florida) – Very rarely do TEs make a Top 10 on a big board, but Pitts is such a unique talent who dominated the SEC, you can’t deny this ranking.  A former quarterback, Pitts converted to a tight end at Florida and has dominated with his size (6’5”, 240lbs.) and freakish athleticism.  He moves like a wide receiver but plays the tight end position.  He can line up anywhere to create matchup problems.  The only thing he really lacks is his blocking, which honestly isn’t a big deal because of the matchup problem he is as a TE.  He’s just that good at everything else from route running to his ball skills, the blocking is the least of anyone’s worries.  Whoever gets Pitts will get an impact player for their QB to utilize and make their offense that much tougher to defend.
  11. CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) – You can make a case Patrick Surtain is the best corner, but for myself, I prefer a cornerback that can play on an island and dominate.  Farley was a high school quarterback who moved to CB at Virginia Tech and while he did tear his ACL in 2017, had played extremely well the past two seasons before opting out of the 2020 season.  He’s best in man coverage and isn’t afraid to be physical against a receiver, he shadows them very well and is very fluid.  He has excellent ball skills and knows how to attack the ball.  At his 6’2’’ 197lbs frame, he can be a dominant CB in the NFL in man coverage.  He still needs to improve his zone coverage ability, but with his talents, he’ll be fine as he learns.
  12. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame) – I’m going to be honest, this is one of my favorite players to watch on film.  For what he’s going to be in the NFL as a three-down versatile linebacker, he does everything needed at a high level.  He’s got a great motor and amazing range as a tackler, he doesn’t stop.  He’s a fiery competitor who has also shown some strengths in pass coverage, which will be a big bonus for teams.  He’s an explosive athlete who will transform someone’s defense and be a rock for them going forward.  He could be slightly better in his run coverage ability and handling blockers, but it’s not necessarily a weakness.  He just does everything well.
  13. OT Rashawn Slater (Northwestern) – Honestly, all you have to do throw the tape on Slater completely dominating Chase Young and you’ll fall in love with his upside.  Slater has the footwork, balance, and mobility as a blocker to handle the best pass rushers.  He also is a very tenacious blocker, who doesn’t back off from defenders and double teams.  The only concern is he doesn’t really have the overpowering strength and also lacks in length to handle certain pass rushers.  He projects most likely as a tackle in the NFL, but he can play all over the line.
  14. CB Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) – The son of the former Dolphins/Chiefs CB, Surtain keeps the family tradition going as another shutdown corner.  A former 5-star recruit who started immediately at Alabama has lived up to the hype being an outstanding cornerback for Nick Saban.  Surtain is just a polished CB who is great in man coverage and can play some zone.  His ball skills are great, probably his best area, much like his father.  He’s smart and has poise beyond his years.  What he lacks in athletic ability, he makes up for it with his football IQ.  Surtain looks like he will keep the family tradition going as he starts his NFL career.
  15. WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) – Amazing the riches of talent at WR the Crimson Tide have had in recent years.  As great as Devonta Smith is, he owes a lot to the unfortunate ankle fracture he sustained in 2020 to the increased touches.  Waddle is arguably just as explosive, if not more explosive than Henry Ruggs.  Waddle is lightning quick and a dominant vertical threat who easily can create separation and be a consistent big-play threat.  He is smaller at 5’10’’ 180, which means he’ll have to rely on his explosiveness and improving his route running to succeed in the NFL.  His toughness showed playing through his injury in the National Title Game to make a few players, but one would be curious to see how he looks once he’s 100%.  If he can return to pre-injury form, he will be a nightmare for defenses in the NFL.

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