With only a handful of weeks left in the 2021 college football season, we’ve gotten a good idea already of which players have taken the proverbial “leap” into first-round pick territory for the 2021 NFL Draft.
And unless things change dramatically, expect defense to go early and often this year. Following Week 8 of the NFL season, here is how a mock draft would shake out, per PFF's Mike Renner.
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1. Detroit Lions: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
The 2021 quarterback class is such a mixed bag that Detroit looks much better off addressing the position with its second first-rounder than passing up on the other elite talents at the top of the draft. Thibodeaux has 25 pressures in his four healthy performances this year after spraining his ankle early in the season.
Our top prospect in the 2022 Draft:
Kayvon Thibodeaux ????pic.twitter.com/g2OVchNdDv
— PFF (@PFF) October 23, 2021
2. Houston Texans: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Hutchinson is not only an elite prospect from a traits perspective, as he checked in at No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s preseason Freaks List, but he’s also been elite from a production standpoint. Hutchinson is the highest-graded edge defender in college football this season (93.7). He's racked up 30 pressures across his past five games and is the kind of cornerstone player Houston can build a defense around.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA): CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
The cornerback spot across from Darius Slay has been an issue for the Eagles this season. With three first-rounders likely at its disposal, Philadelphia should just attack premium positions at the top. Stingley may have played only 154 snaps this year before suffering a foot injury with an indefinite return timetable, but he was the highest-graded cornerback in the country as a true freshman in 2019.
What can’t Derek Stingley do?
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 5, 2021
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Hamilton is simply too much of a rarity to pass up, even if the Jaguars have some options at safety already. He can play the slot, at linebacker or really wherever a team needs him to. He picked off three passes and made three pass breakups this season before suffering a knee injury with an uncertain return timetable.
5. Washington Football Team: QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss
The first quarterback comes off the board, and it’s the one who’s faced the toughest slate of defenses in 2021. Corral is an athlete first with all the tools to be a franchise guy at the position. It’s a tad worrisome he’s been banged up already at only 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, but he’s also earned an 88.9 overall grade in the SEC.
On two bad ankles ????
Matt Corral finds the end zone. pic.twitter.com/qXjxPQckIq
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 31, 2021
6. New York Jets: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
As I’ve said before, I’m going to keep mocking this one until told otherwise. First, the 6-foot-7, 350-pound Alabama tackle would give the Jets the most physically imposing tackle duo in the NFL. Second, it is quite obviously a need with Morgan Moses on a one-year deal. And third, Neal has already played on the right side as a sophomore at Alabama.
Evan Neal…FULL SLAB pic.twitter.com/kERjLxNsYd
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 4, 2021
7. New York Giants: C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Linderbaum is an upgrade over Billy Price, at the very least. He was the highest-graded center in college football last year and has taken it to another level in 2021. He’ll enter the 2021 NFL Draft as the best center prospect PFF has seen since the beginning of college football grading in 2014.
#Iowa stud center Tyler Linderbaum (#65) not being very nice to the ISU linebacker.
He’s got that nasty, competitive edge you want. pic.twitter.com/McJcq9NDXI
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 13, 2021
8. Philadelphia Eagles: EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue
The Eagles love investing in their defensive line, and Karlaftis can seamlessly fill Brandon Graham’s shoes. He already has 41 pressures on the 2021 college football season while posting above-average grades in every single game. He boasts inside-outside versatility, as well.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND): QB Malik Willis, Liberty
The Eagles aren't short on draft capital, so they might as well buy one lottery ticket at the quarterback position. And in that analogy, Willis would be the Powerball of the draft class. He possesses the kind of tools evaluators dream about with his size, arm strength and running ability. Willis is having an outstanding 2021 season, recording a 93.6 overall grade to lead all Group of Five quarterbacks and rank second overall in the country.
Malik Willis has a hose. ????pic.twitter.com/xledvm70Tj
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 30, 2021
10. New York Jets (via SEA): EDGE DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Head coach Robert Saleh will almost certainly look to bulk up his defensive line to 2019 49ers levels. That means adding more juice, even with Carl Lawson returning. Leal can fill the Arik Armstead role of an edge with inside versatility like he’s done at Texas A&M.
DE DeMarvin Leal tossing big Evan Neal around
That wind-up (watch elbows flare back) from Neal is slow and exposes chest…. Then he’s off balance and it’s over
Leal is one of my favorites heading into 2021 for @AggieFootball pic.twitter.com/06qiMdD0H8
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 13, 2021
11. New York Giants (via CHI): EDGE Drake Jackson, USC
The Giants need pass-rushing help any way they can get it. Jackson is the kind of versatile body type that they’ve coveted, and he’s made a massive leap this season from a 66.6 pass-rushing grade in 2020 to an 85.2 mark so far in 2021.
Drake Jackson is a monster pic.twitter.com/eOstZYBIGm
— Kaelen Jones (@kaelenjones) September 18, 2021
12. Atlanta Falcons: DT Jordan Davis, Georgia
The Falcons desperately need an impact player next to Grady Jarrett. While Davis is still a work in progress, with only eight pressures this season, the 6-foot-6, 340-pounder is a sure thing in the run game (84.7 PFF run-defense grade).
13. Miami Dolphins (via SF): OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The Dolphins can’t stop trying to address their abysmal offensive line, and Cross will enter the 2021 NFL Draft as the most battle-tested left tackle in the class. He’s allowed only 10 pressures on 497 pass-blocking snaps this season.
Miss. St. OT Charles Cross is generating first round buzz and rightfully so. He looked the part against Alabama. Easy athleticism, and football IQ, but it’s his hand timing, and accuracy that are easily his two best traits. pic.twitter.com/Vr6M7SiV8j
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 20, 2021
14. Minnesota Vikings: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida
Head coach Mike Zimmer loves his first-round corners. Elam has allowed only 83 yards on 151 coverage snaps this season. And while the rest of the Florida team got trounced against Georgia in Week 9, Elam didn’t allow a catch.
Kaiir Elam is only a freshman… future 1st round pick pic.twitter.com/nWp46N4yrQ
— Henry Saluman (@SalumanHenry) December 31, 2019
15. Kansas City Chiefs: EDGE Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
Enagbare has been as dominant on a snap-for-snap basis as anyone in the country this season. The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder has earned a 93.4 pass-rushing grade so far this season — a mark that ranks first among college football edge defenders. That will help Chris Jones move back to the interior, where he’s been more impactful.
Kingsley Enagbare: 93.6 pass rush grade
Highest in the Power 5 ????pic.twitter.com/Rv0U8lsvw3
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 18, 2021
16. New England Patriots: EDGE Adam Anderson, Georgia
New England head coach Bill Belichick loves him some versatile front-seven players. Anderson is a long, 6-foot-5 athlete who can rush the passer and cover at a high level. He can be the heir to Dont’a Hightower in the middle.
17. Denver Broncos: LB Christian Harris, Alabama
With injuries decimating the Broncos' linebacker unit and their top three options all set to hit free agency, this definitely qualifies as a need. Harris possesses the kind of special explosiveness and mentality to go high in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Christian Harris tells Master Teague to quit with the whole pass blocking thing. pic.twitter.com/jQB477x8XA
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 12, 2021
18. Cleveland Browns: WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Wilson is PFF’s WR1, and he's just a quick trip down the road for general manager Andrew Berry to evaluate. He boasts the versatile skill set to line up anywhere in the Browns' offense. Wilson has been a monster after the catch this season, forcing 11 broken tackles on 43 receptions.
.@GarrettWilson_V has so many make-you-miss moves in his bag. ???? pic.twitter.com/BKNeEZTZW4
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 30, 2021
19. Carolina Panthers: OT Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State
Ekwonu is playing offensive tackle as well as anyone in college football this season. He’s allowed only eight pressures on 326 pass-blocking snaps for a 92.4 overall grade — which ranks first among Power Five tackles. While he could stay at tackle, he’d also be a massive upgrade over Pat Elflein at left guard.
Ickey Ekwonu is a PROBLEM
PFF’s highest-graded Tackle in college football ????pic.twitter.com/qt1glGgTU3
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 18, 2021
20. Los Angeles Chargers: WR Drake London, USC
London’s broken ankle will throw a wrench in his pre-draft process, but assuming recovery goes as planned, he’s still a first-round talent. He was lapping the rest of college football with 88 catches for 1,083 yards and 22 broken tackles before going down. That sounds like a Mike Williams replacement should he walk in free agency.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Pickett quite clearly has the arm talent to deal with Heinz Field’s inclement weather. He’s earned the highest passing grade in college football this season after making just six turnover-worthy plays through Week 9.
Highest-graded QB on deep pass attempts this season:
???? Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: 98.9pic.twitter.com/9RRtsYm0SN
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 8, 2021
22. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Green has proven to be one of the most versatile offensive linemen in college football this season. He’s made starts at every offensive line position except center this year, allowing only eight pressures in the process.
…when you're trying to watch some DL against solid OL competition.
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green
Don't get distracted by Kenyon Green pic.twitter.com/Tu296tef4x
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) June 9, 2021
23. New Orleans Saints: WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
Olave is the consistent vertical threat the Saints are desperately missing. He’s hauled in 59.7% of his targets 10-plus yards downfield since the start of 2020.
Chris Olave caught his 30th career TD reception only four shy of .@OhioStateFB school record. pic.twitter.com/uD7XsTawmq
— Stadium (@Stadium) October 24, 2021
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
With Carlton Davis approaching free agency, the Bucs are no shoo-in to retain him. And Gardner is one of the most experienced press corners in the class, with 666 such career snaps. That will fit well in Todd Bowles' defense.
25. Buffalo Bills: CB Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson
Booth is a physical corner with some of the sweetest feet in the class. He’s still a bit more of a traits projection than a true shutdown corner, as he’s managed only one pass breakup this season.
SOURCES: Andrew Booth might be grown man. pic.twitter.com/sOHhmFJV4l
— Larry Williams (@LarryWilliamsTI) October 23, 2021
26. Las Vegas Raiders: LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia
If Dean keeps playing like this, he won't last long in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s earned a 91.2 overall grade this season and been outstanding in coverage. He has allowed 11 catches on 20 targets for 49 yards all season to go along with two picks and a pass breakup.
NAKOBE DEAN PICK-6️⃣
LB1 on our big board ????pic.twitter.com/mIvDcZOhin
— Boom or Bust: The Draft Show (@BoomOrBustDraft) October 30, 2021
27. Dallas Cowboys: S Jaquan Brisker, Penn State
The Cowboys have had serious issues with their safeties giving up big plays this season. Brisker could easily fix that. He’s allowed only 81 yards into his coverage for the year, also making two picks and four pass breakups.
Great run by TreVeyon Henderson, but look at this hustle play by Jaquan Brisker
Love to see that from one of the top safety prospects in this draft.pic.twitter.com/iwZAdxHey9
— Boom or Bust: The Draft Show (@BoomOrBustDraft) October 31, 2021
28. Green Bay Packers: WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Burks is a faster version of Allen Lazard with better ball skills. Burks would be the perfect complement to Davante Adams as a No. 2 receiver. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder is averaging 3.71 yards per route run, ranking sixth among qualifying college football wideouts this season.
Treylon Burks: 152.1 passer rating when targeted since 2020
Highest in College Football pic.twitter.com/OvUBwyMUrO
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 27, 2021
29. Baltimore Ravens: OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa
The 6-foot-7, 321-pound Penning is a horse in the run game. He can be the people-moving presence the Ravens haven’t had this season after trading Orlando Brown Jr. Penning has also been pretty dominant in pass protection in 2021, surrendering only five pressures on 212 pass-blocking snaps.
LT Trevor Penning is a finisher ???? pic.twitter.com/tT0YKFo2ww
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) July 12, 2021
30. Detroit Lions (via LAR): QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The Lions take their shot at the quarterback position here. Ridder may not have the stats of the other top quarterbacks, but he’s overcome one of the worst offensive lines in football this season. He possesses serious tools and a high-level pocket presence already.
.@DesmondRidder is going to be a dynamic weapon immediately in the NFL.
Cincinnati offense utilizes crossers here. If DBs get held up, can be an easy throw for a QB.
But with Ridder’s running ability, even if DBs are in position, he can exploit the openings. Great run. pic.twitter.com/8Gid3YoMF9
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) October 30, 2021
31. Tennessee Titans: S Jordan Battle, Alabama
Battle's physical play style allows him to do it all at the safety position. This season, he has allowed only six catches on 12 targets for 46 yards with two picks and a pass breakup.
JORDAN BATTLE SAID GIMME ????
BAMA IS ROLLIN’ WITH A PICK SIX!!pic.twitter.com/nJwJA1DNSc
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 16, 2021
32. Arizona Cardinals: CB Martin Emerson, Mississippi State
Emerson will be one of the best zone corners in the 2021 NFL Draft, boasting legit ball skills at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. It’s a very deep cornerback class, and the Cardinals are in desperate need at the position.
MSST JR CB Martin Emerson has a press build but is played off or in bail because of the scheme. He excels in this role, attacking screens, RBs in the flat, and dropping under deep throws. His height makes it tough to throw over him or get a jump ball. #SnapScout22 pic.twitter.com/7MfgH8qfd2
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) July 17, 2021