It’s shaping up to be a solid group of RB’s for the 2021 Draft. A few top names have opted out on the Covid season so we’ll have to wait for the Combine to update their files, but most of my top guys are, or will be, playing in the coming weeks. Here they are as I have them ranked right now.
- TRAVIS ETIENNE Clemson
- NAJEE HARRIS Alabama
- CHUBA HUBBARD Oklahoma State
- KENNETH GAINWELL Memphis
- KYLIN HILL Mississippi State
- JOURNEY BROWN Penn State
- ELIJAH MITCHELL LA/Lafayette
- MICHAEL CARTER UNC
- LARRY ROUNTREE Missouri
- RAKEEM BOYD Arkansas
- TREY SERMON Ohio State
For now I would project ETIENNE & HARRIS to fall in the Top 15 Picks, and HUBBARD in the latter Picks of Round 1.
PITT has been a mystery team under Head Coach PAT NARDUZZI. They are questionable from week to week while their Defense tries to keep games close for a potential offensive spurt in the second half. In watching them, I have pined for a look at DT/JAYLEN TWYMAN, who reminds me a bit of AARON DONALD when he was a Panther. But alas, he has opted out of the 2020 season and will enter the 2021 NFL Draft. But all is not lost, as I realized while jotting gameday notes on the Panthers 19-31 Loss to Miami last Saturday. My self-revelation was the reality that PITT may have the best pair of S’s, and NFL Prospects, in college football.
Junior PARIS FORD (#12) is the best known and most highly regarded of the two, with some scouts feeling he will be a First Round Pick if he declares for the next Draft. FORD displays elite athletic traits on game days, and has a knack for making high impact plays. He posted 97 tackles with 3 INT’s and 11 PBU’s in 2019 as a soph. He is a big hitter, but also shows cover skills. At 6’0/190, he has decent size, and throws his body into action willingly in run support. And against Miami he had a typical (for him) solid performance with 6 tackles, 4 of them solo, as well as 1 QBH and an Interception. Senior DAMAR HAMLIN (#3) is right behind FORD in stats and athleticism. HAMLIN seemed to be headed for the 2020 Draft, but then changed his mind and returned to the PITT program for one more season. He was second to FORD in 2019 with 84 tackles, 10 PBU’s, and 1 INT. He’s not as much of a ball hawk as FORD, but is just as aggressive supporting their run-D and putting licks on receivers who enter his territory. HAMLIN is 6’1/196 and recorded 11 tackles, 7 of them solo, including 2 TFL last weekend. If HAMLIN posts good workout numbers at the 2021 Combine, he might crack the Top 100 Picks in the Draft. Right now I’d say he’s a Round 4 player.
I watched the UCF/Memphis game, as the Tigers mounted a great comeback win by dominating the second half after UCF owned the first half. And it left me wondering, again, why Memphis QB BRADY WHITE gets so little luv from the media and scouting community. He’s a savvy, veteran QB who makes plays and few mistakes. He has a strong arm, and has developed a high FBI based on what I have noticed in watching him. He’s not an explosive run threat, but he can extend plays with his feet. He’s also in a situation where he needs to do more with less this season. Ace RB KENNETH GAINWELL opted-out of the current season, and his top receiver (COXIE) has also announced his exit from the team for Draft prep. The team has also lost several games from their schedule and the UCF contest was only their 3rd game. WHITE displayed pretty much all of his skills against the Knights. He throws with good accuracy and appears to deliver a very catchable ball. For the game, WHITE was 34/50, 68%, for 486 yards and 6 TD’s. He had no INT’s, which has been an area of his game that he has improved in tremendously over his career. He has 13 TD’s and 3 INT’s on the season to date. I like this guy as a solid Day 3 prospect. If you were paying attention, I had him listed on my Top 10 list last week in this space.
With several Power 5 conferences not playing yet this season, it has provided opportunities for some non-power 5 players to get some exposure above and beyond their usual lot. And one of the best performers in those ranks plays for Arkansas State. They practice wide-open offenses in the Sun Belt Conference, which has earned the nickname the Fun Belt Conference because of their wide open offensive displays each week. Leading the charge for the Red Wolves has been senior WR JONATHAN ADAMS (#9). He’s a fast, big guy (6’3/209) who ranked third on their team in catches with 62, behind BAYLESS & MERRITT, who were both on NFL Training Camp rosters this Summer. ADAMS can catch in a crowd or beat defenders deep. Last weekend, in a 59-52 W over Georgia State, ADAMS burned them for 15 catches, 177 yards, and 2 TD’s. In 5 games this season, ADAMS has 7 TD’s on 41 receptions. An athletic display at the Combine, after perhaps an eye-catching week at the Senior Bowl, could put this guy close to Day Two of the Draft, in another crowded WR group for drafting.
Georgia got handled by Alabama last Saturday, by a big second half from ‘BAMA QB MAC JONES, who is moving up prospect lists. However, in the midst of major fireworks, I was drawn to the performance from Bulldogs OG BEN CLEVELAND (#74). The big guy, 6’6/330, is an absolute road grader in the run game, driving defenders out of the way of his RB group. But I was pleasantly surprised at his effectiveness in pass-pro as well. He thrives in the limited area of the Interior OL, but can slide out a bit to help his mate at OT, or to pick up a blitzing defender. He displays good footwork overall and stays upright on his feet. Plays to the whistle on every down. He could creep into Day Two of the Draft.
Speaking of Alabama, ILB DYLAN MOSES (#32), who missed the entire 2019 season with an ACL injury, looks to be pretty much back to his old self after a few games to re-acclimate on that repaired knee. And his old self is one of the best ILB’s, and pro prospects, in the country. Whether or not he can boost his stock back into Round One potential remains to be seen. But he’s moving well and starting to pick up the numbers to go with it. Against arch rival UGA, MOSES was credited with 10 Tackles, 5 solo, and a TFL, which was a Sack. He also looked solid dropping into short and intermediate pass coverage. I eyeballed him on several occasions some 10-20 yards downfield providing coverage on RB’s/TE’s. When rushing the passer, he literally sprints into opponent’s backfields to terrorize the QB. The SEC knows he’s back and ‘Bama is on the hunt to regain their SEC West title from LSU.
Just a quick mention that even though NAJEE HARRIS is rounding into form to do his very best mini-me impression of DERRICK HENRY, NFL teams are keeping close tabs on back-up RB BRIAN ROBINSON (#4), another senior RB who could certainly start on half the teams in the SEC. ROBINSON, (6’1/225), rushed for 441 yds and 5 TD’s last season backing up HARRIS. Should HARRIS miss a couple games to injury (God forbid), ROBINSON could keep the Tide running attack on track. ROBINSON might indeed be draftable, albeit late.
Needless to say, finding edge-rushers to insert into your Defense is a huge deal in today’s NFL. So teams scour far and wide, as well as deep into smaller school programs, to mine a nugget or two. A rising prospect might just be surfacing at Tulane in PATRICK JOHNSON (#7). He’s playing at a DE spot for them, but his forte as a pass-rusher seems to be emerging. He came into this season with 14.5 career sacks. He’s a solidly built player, though not big enough to hold the edge at the pro level at 6’3 and 255 lbs. However, the coaches are cutting him loose this season and in 5 games he has recorded 6 sacks in 5 games. He is strong for his size and has explosive speed off the snap of the ball. SMU double teamed him and tried to run as many plays away from his position as possible. And still, when the game was over, with SMU climbing to 5-0 with a 3-point victory margin, JOHNSON had recorded 5 tackles, including one sack. He is not an elite player, but flashes at times. He’s looking to land a Day 3 Draft spot, and I expect see him in Mobile for the 2021 Senior Bowl.
Let’s take a quick look at one more sleeper along the DL. His name is TAYLAND HUMPHREY (#99) and he is playing his first season for LA/Lafayette. Part of what sets him apart from most of his teammates is his 6’5, 333 lb. frame. He also seems to understand that after Juco play and one year at FIU, this is his last chance to make NFL scouts take notice of him. He showed extreme power, as well as a very positive attitude in doing his job. Coastal Carolina spent much of the game double team blocking against him. As you might expect, he shows decent mobility, but in a short area along the DL. With 10 seconds left in the game, he defeated a double-team block and tackled a Coastal RB for a TFL in a goal line stand. On the game, he recorded 5 tackles, 4 of them solo. He could likely handle a 3-4 NT slot or a 4-3 DT spot. I doubt he gets drafted, but he should have a chance to sign a Rookie FA contract, and could be just what the NFL created Practice Squads for. The Shrine Bowl has a history of inviting a couple of inside giants that may be a bit raw. I wonder if Dan Shonka has his eye on this guy yet. I do now after seeing him in action against Coastal.
Speaking of Coastal again, I was fascinated watching their top offensive weapon (#1) C.J. MARABLE in action. He is clearly an “in-space” player who can do a bit of everything for an Offense, and I suspect on Special Teams as well. MARABLE ran the ball 17 times for 73 yards and 1 TD. He also collected 3 pass receptions for 40 yards and another TD. He is clearly their top offensive weapon. MARABLE shows good quickness and field vision to cut away from traffic. He also possesses the speed to get to the corner. He’s a bit of a light-weight at 5’10 and about 190 lbs (or less), so when analyzing his pro potential one has to keep in mind that he will likely need to have his touches monitored. However, as a late round draftee, he could have a solid influence on some team that needs a few more explosive weapons. Combine speed and quickness numbers will determine whether he’s drafted, but I am certain he will be on a Training Camp roster next year.
My final thumbnail from last week’s action is none other than JAYCEE HORN/CB (#1) from South Carolina. Shutdown Corner is a mighty potent term to apply to a DB. It implies that the player has the size, speed, and confidence to take on any/all receivers who come his way. In today’s NFL, the two guys I would use that description on without blinking would be GILMORE and RAMSEY. HORN could be joining in that discussion soon. Though only a junior, I see HORN as having what it takes to get drafted in Round 1 and starting immediately at the NFL level. HORN starts out with an impressive gene pool, being the son of former NFL receiver JOE HORN. He also has the kind of size scouts dream of on the Corner at 6’1, 205. I would be shocked if he did not post some elite numbers in Combine workouts. As a TV analyst said late in the 3rd Quarter of the Gamecocks win over Auburn, HORN was the best athlete, and player, on the football field. Truer words were never spoken. He is not only a cover guy, but is willing to come up in run support. His numbers don’t tell the complete story, but he was officially credited with 3 tackles, 2 PBU’s and 2 INT’s against Auburn. His presence on the field immediately limits opponents in some of their play calling. Just think of HORN joining fellow South Carolina grad STEPHON GILMORE, as potential Pro Bowl teammates in a couple years. Color me shocked if JAYCEE doesn’t enter the 2021 NFL Draft.
Getting my game watching and recording list put together for this weekend’s contests, with the big bonus being the start of Big Ten play. Lots of pro prospects in that Conference!