News & Analysis

Ranking the top returning college football players by position for the 2021 season

Dec 5, 2020; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) runs during the first half against the Baylor Bears at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2021 NFL Draft rapidly approaches, plenty of future NFL prospects have their sights set elsewhere: on strengthening their draft portfolios in the upcoming college football season.

From Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler to Oregon edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux, college football returns a pool of eye-opening talent for the 2021 NFL season.

Follow along below as PFF's Anthony Treash breaks down his top 10 returning college football players in the foremost position groups.

[Editor's Note: For more 2021 NFL Draft coverage, check out PFF's Big Board, mock drafts, Mock Draft Simulator and 2021 NFL Draft Guide!]


The 2020 college football season was the year of the quarterback. As expected, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields produced at an elite level, with each grading above 90.0. There were also a couple of unexpected elite performers who rattled the country in Zach Wilson of BYU and Mac Jones of Alabama. The latter pair broke the PFF College records for highest PFF grade by a non-Power Five quarterback (Wilson at 95.4) and Power Five QB (Jones at 95.8) … Read more

Quarterback is still the most valuable position on the field by a large margin — cornerbacks and wide receivers follow — but having a talented back with elite-level athleticism can be a tremendous asset to any team … Read more

College football has been home to countless examples of immaculate wide receiver play over the past couple of years; the 2020 and 2021 NFL Draft wide receiver classes are two of the best we have ever seen … Read more

It’s time to turn our attention to the trenches. We're going to take a look at the 10 best offensive linemen — regardless of position — heading back to campus next fall … Read more

Coverage is still more valuable than pass rush, but being strong in the latter area can still do wonders for teams. And the same can be said for big men up front who are capable of stuffing the run; having a talent discrepancy in that facet can make the run game valuable to a college offense … Read more

The secondary can make or break a college football team. Programs that struggle on the back end have virtually no conference or national championship hopes, no matter how well things click on offense, while fielding a strong group of cornerbacks and safeties is crucial to building a contender … Read more


Courtesy of PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Guide, find PFF's top draft prospect, biggest riser and wild card to watch at each position here: 

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | iOL | DI | EDGE | LB | S | CB

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