It’s draft season! For me, draft season officially kicks off with the Senior Bowl. All respect to the other collegiate all-star games, but the Senior Bowl is the main attraction. From the official measurements to the practice sessions to the game itself, it is the center of the NFL’s scouting universe for a week. It is often where people who do not follow college football get the first glimpse of prospects that can help their team. Click here for a list of players that will appear in the game.
I thought it’d be a good idea to rank prospects at positions of need. In my opinion the biggest positions of need are quarterback, wide receiver, quarterback, inside linebacker, quarterback, and free safety. Oh, and quarterback. How did I make my rankings? This ranking is based on what I saw during the season and watching a few games after the season’s end. To not undercut upcoming draft profiles, these won’t be deep dives into the players but initial thoughts on their play and how it translates to the pros.
I will watch more games leading up to the draft and update my rankings periodically, either before or after significant offseason events. Please mention prospects that you think should be on the team’s radar.
1. Kenny Pickett, Pitt – 6’3” 217lbs
Kenny Pickett is the most pro-ready quarterback prospect in the draft. He has a good arm, sound mechanics, the ability to escape the pocket and improvise, and is accurate. He can take chances on throws and put the ball into harms way, but doesn’t force plays often. He has small hands, but I do not think that will be a problem at the next level.
2. Sam Howell, UNC – 6’0” 221lbs
I was not as high on Sam Howell during the college football season, but I’ve become more of a fan in the offseason. He has a stronger arm than Pickett, but I think he is more of a gunslinger and makes riskier passes. Although coming from a run-pass option system, he displayed the ability to throw with anticipation and work through progression. He also is a tough runner, but I think he should do less of this in the NFL.
3. Matt Corral, Ole Miss – 6’2” 205lbs
If there was a quarterback I was high on prior to the college football season, it was Matt Corral. Despite a lot of turnovers last year, Corral displayed a good arm, athleticism, and leadership. This year, he cut down on the turnovers while maintaining the other qualities that make him an excellent prospect. I rank him behind Howell because I don’t think his arm is as strong and I didn’t see as many pro-level throws from him; less anticipatory throws, less working through progression. He also suffered a significant injury in his final game, so medical for him will be important.
4. Carson Strong, Nevada – 6’4” 226lbs
There is a lot to like about Carson Strong as a QB prospect. He has ideal size, is very accurate, and possibly the strongest arm in his draft. He might be the only QB I saw make calls pre-snap as he read the defense. There are two big knocks on him. First, he lacks mobility. He isn’t a statue in the pocket, but he’s close. Second, he has a knee issue that could be a problem for him going forward. Medical will factor into his draft evaluation.
5. Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati – 6’3” 207lbs
What! No Malik Willis in the top five! This was hard because I think Willis offers loads of potential at QB, but I think he is too raw to rank him ahead of Desmond Ridder at this point. Ridder offers a lot of the same things as Willis: good arm, athleticism, escaping the pocket and extending plays. The biggest knock with Ridder is his accuracy is inconsistent, especially his ball placement.
1. Chris Olave, Ohio State – 6’1” 188lbs
There are a lot of good wide receiver options in this draft, but I think Chris Olave is the best all-around prospect at the position. He might be the best route runner in the class and has excellent hands. He doesn’t look to have blazing speed, but he always appears to be running by defenders. Other than speed, the biggest issue for him is he possesses less than ideal size.
2. Drake London, USC – 6’5” 210lbs
Drake London was a one-man wrecking crew for the Trojans at wide receiver. Because of his long frame, great hands, and athleticism, he was always open. I worry that it might be hard for him to get in and out of breaks at his height, but it wasn’t an issue in college. An ankle injury derailed his season, but if he’s healthy, he might be the best receiver in this draft.
3. Jahan Dotson, Penn State – 5’11” 184lbs
Hands, route running, and speed make Dotson a top prospect in this draft. If Curtis Samuel were not already on the roster, Dotson would be an ideal candidate for his role. He disappeared in some games, but he was the only player defenses had to worry about. The other knock I have against Dotson is he is a small receiver.
4. Jameson Williams, Alabama – 6’2” 188lbs
Williams might be the fastest receiver in this draft and the best deep threat. He has a great ability to track the ball deep and make catches. I have seen a few concentration drops, but generally, his hands are reliable. An ACL tear will likely drop him down in the draft.
5. Treylon Burks, Arkansas – 6’3” 225lbs
There are a lot of receivers in this draft that may lack in speed, but make up for it with size. Treylon Burks is probably the best of those types of players. Burks is almost the size of a tight end, so he can box out defenders. While he has good speed, I don’t foresee him running away from defenders at the next level. If I was focused solely on the need to this franchise, I might rank him ahead of Dotson and Williams.
1. Devin Lloyd, Utah – 6’3” 235lbs
Every time I watched Utah play this year, Devin Lloyd was in the middle of their defense making a big play. He is at his best when playing around the line of scrimmage and moving forward. I’d like to see more of him in coverage, but I think he has the tools to excel in this area.
2. Nakobe Dean, Georgia – 6’0” 225lbs
Nakobe Dean was the leader of one of the best defenses college football has ever seen. He did everything for the Bulldogs, even lining up outside in coverage. It was a tough decision between Dean and Lloyd, but I knocked Dean down because he might be a little small for the position in the NFL.
3. Chad Muma, Wyoming – 6’2” 241lbs
I was surprised by the play of Chad Muma. He is good athlete, but he his best quality is his instincts. He can shot gaps, drop in zone, and hang with receivers in coverage.
4. Ellis Brooks, Penn State – 6’1” 240lbs
To rank Ellis Brooks so high, ahead of his teammates Brandon Smith and Jake Luketa, is crazy. But anytime I saw Penn State play, Brooks played well in the middle of the defense and had the ability to run sideline-to-sideline. Need to see more of him in coverage, but if he does that well, he’ll probably have a spot in my top five.
5. D’Marco Jackson 6’0” 235lbs
D’Marco Jackson is a quick-twitch athlete who looks like he was shot out of a cannon. He is very good at getting into the backfield to make plays. What I’d like to see is whether that explosion downhill translates into coverage ability.
1. Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame – 6’4” 220lbs
Notre Dame’s do it all safety is easily the best prospect I saw at the position this year. He can play single-high safety, has great range, and isn’t afraid to come up and hit players. I doubt he’ll be unseated as top safety in this class.
2. Jaquan Brisker, Penn State – 6’1” 200lbs
If there was a player closest to Hamilton in this draft, that’s Jaquan Brisker. He doesn’t have the length and size of Hamilton or the range, but he is a very good all-around safety. He’s not afraid to play the run or make hits and offers interchangeability at the position.
3. Verone McKinley III, Oregon – 5’11” 193lbs
I didn’t think Verone McKinley III would declare for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, but I’m glad he did. He might be the best pure free safety in this draft. He had a knack for not only knowing where the ball was going, but getting there and intercepting it. He tied for the most interceptions in the country this year with six. My knock on him is he isn’t very physical.
4. Daxton Hill, Michigan – 6’0” 192lbs
Daxton Hill is similar to Brisker; he should be a very good all around safety. My favorite thing about Hill is his man-to-man coverage ability. It might be the best at the safety position in this class. He is also physical making plays around the line of scrimmage. Deep coverage is my question with him.
5. Reed Blankenship, Middle Tennessee – 6’1” 196lbs
KyleSmithforGM’s 2021 draft profile on Reed Blankenship put him on my radar. I haven’t seen a ton of tape, but I like his athleticism, instincts and production. He has struggled with injuries and I’m not sure how he’d hold up playing in the box.