News & Analysis

Top 10 performances from 2021 NFL Draft prospects in Week 7

Oct 12, 2019; Athens, GA, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive back Israel Mukuamu (24) reacts with defensive back Jaycee Horn (1) after intercepting a pass against the Georgia Bulldogs during the first overtime at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s been any theme for 2020 so far, it’s offense. These lists each week are dominated by offensive players, as receivers and quarterbacks are having field days. This week, however, we were graced with the best defensive performance we’ve seen all season, and it was good enough for the No. 1 spot on our list.

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1. CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

That was some draft-status defining tape from Horn against Auburn and, specifically, wide receiver Seth Williams on Saturday. On 10 targets, Horn allowed only two catches for 55 yards. He forced an absurd five incompletions to lead all defenders on the week and intercepted two passes — including a pick-six.

Those marked the first two interceptions of Horn’s career despite two years of starting experience. Oh, and he also did this to Williams on a screen play.

Yes, it wasn’t perfect and Horn was flagged twice. But the number of high-level plays he made against a legit draft prospect was special.

2. G Ben Cleveland, Georgia

I know what you’re thinking. A guard at No. 2? Well, go back and watch some Cleveland tape against Alabama’s always dangerous defensively line, and you’ll understand. On 72 snaps Saturday night, the Georgia right guard didn’t have a single play downgraded.

Cleveland has now gone three straight games without allowing a pressure and is making the most of his first year as a full-time starter. Rumored to be a candidate to break the combine bench record (if they still do it this year), Cleveland could be playing his way into the Day 2 conversation.

3. Edge Jaelan Phillips, Miami (FL)

The former five-star recruit finally looked the part against Pittsburgh. He racked up six pressures on the day for the second straight week, including a sack. His pop on contact was simply too much for Pittsburgh’s right tackle.

He also added in two run stops for what was his best performance in a Canes jersey after transferring from UCLA. The burst, quicks and size are there, but we’ve seen very few complete performances from Phillips in his career like Saturday’s.

4. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Another week, another speed bump on the Lawrence express.  While he made one ugly, panicked decision under pressure early on, Lawrence was lights out the rest of the way.

You can pencil his name in here most weeks. The dude is that special.

5. Edge Quincy Roche, Miami (FL)

The other Miami edge rusher had himself a day rushing off the right side on the Canes' defensive line. Roche racked up four pressures himself to bring his season total to 19 through five games. Roche’s real work, however, came in the run game, where he notched five stops on the day.

Roche’s biggest question marks revolved around his size, so playing at a high level against the run in the ACC is a massive win for him.

6. WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama

Ball skills like you read about. They highlighted it on the broadcast, but the way Smith attacks the football for a player listed at only 175 pounds is rare. He’s caught 38 passes now on the season without a single drop and has all of six drops on 161 catchable targets in his career. In this one, Smith hauled in 3-of-4 contested opportunities and finished with 167 yards along with two scores.

Doing it against a secondary like Georgia’s is about as difficult a matchup as you’ll see in college football, too.

7. RB Javonte Williams, North Carolina

A week after fellow North Carolina running back Michael Carter made this list, Williams now earns his spot. He broke 10 tackles on only 18 carries and went for 119 yards on the day. At 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, Williams can lower his pads and steamroll defenders seemingly with ease.

The game will be remembered more for his crucial drop on fourth down to end the Tarheels' comeback, but from a draft perspective, he showed just about everything you could want from a runner.

8. C Drake Jackson, Kentucky

It’s very possible that Jackson will be the first pure center to come off the board come next April. He’s been a four-year starter for the Wildcats and seen his grade improve every single year of his career. Through four games this season, Jackson has yet to allow a single pressure. He owned the line of scrimmage this past week against Tennessee.

You saw pure nastiness whether he was single blocking nose tackles or climbing up on linebackers. He was already one of the most agile centers in the country, so adding some more oomph to his run blocking is a welcome sight.

9. QB Mac Jones, Alabama

Is it time to take Jones seriously as a top prospect? Georgia has arguably the most talented defense in the country, and Jones just carved it up for 417 yards and four touchdowns. His lone interception didn’t even go down as a turnover-worthy play for us, as it was an errant throw caused by a hit in his throwing motion. First-rounders like DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle obviously gave him some massive throwing windows downfield, but Jones’ first touchdown to John Metchie was a straight dime.

Jones has some serious arm strength concerns he’s going to have to prove he can overcome over the course of a full season, but he hasn't slipped up yet, posting a 94.3 overall grade on the year.

10. WR Jaelon Darden, North Texas

We had to sneak a Group of Five player on the list. Darden has made some serious noise from the slot for North Texas this season, as his 689 receiving yards are over 100 more than anyone else in the country and his 10 receiving touchdowns are three clear. The crazy thing is, he could have even better stats were it not for five drops on 51 catchable targets. This past week against Middle Tennessee, he had his second straight 200-yard receiving game.

Darden has real-deal wheels and leads the country with nine deep receptions. What most impressed me in this one, though, wasn’t his ability to fly but rather to stop. His jitterbug stop-start ability will play from the slot in the NFL at 5-foot-9, 174 pounds.

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