Now that the possibility of live sport is transforming from a conceivable mirage on the horizon to a tangible oasis we can almost reach out and touch, it’s time to get back to what matters most: ranking the nation's top draft prospects.
Here is PFF's inaugural 2021 NFL Draft board. We’re starting with a tight 50 for now, but we will be expanding and updating as the season (hopefully) progresses.
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1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence was the highest-graded true freshman quarterback we’ve ever seen in 2018 (90.7), and he followed that up by pushing his grade even higher in 2019 (91.1). The 2020 season will be the ultimate test for him, as his top two targets, Tee Higgins (draft) and Justyn Ross (injury), will not be suiting up for the Tigers this year.
2. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields arrived a little later to the party than Lawrence, but he has been equally impressive. His 92.4 passing grade last season trailed only Joe Burrow among FBS quarterbacks. Oh, and he can run in the 4.5s at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds.
3. T Penei Sewell, Oregon
We’ve never seen a tackle prospect quite like Sewell. Not even 20 years old yet, Sewell was far and away the highest-graded tackle in the country last season, at 95.8 overall. If Sewell had been able to declare last spring, he would have been unquestionably the top tackle in a loaded tackle class. He’s special.
4. WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Chase was only 19 years old last season, but he was still a man among boys. He hauled in 10 more deep receptions (24) than any other returning wide receiver in college football.
5. LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
The 2021 draft class has multiple prospects who legitimately deserve the “generational” tag, and Parsons is one of them. He put up the second-highest single-season run-defense grade we’ve ever seen from a linebacker as a sophomore (94.8).
6. QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Lance lacks the polish of the top two quarterbacks on this list, but from a talent perspective, the three players are indistinguishable. The rising redshirt sophomore has the physical tools to open up the entire playbook — he has a cannon for an arm and running back-esque wheels. He ran for 1,150 yards last season, breaking 40 tackles on 134 attempts.
7. WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
What Moore did as a true freshman at Purdue was nothing short of unprecedented. He led the nation with 37 broken tackles and hauled in a ridiculous 114 catches for 1,258 yards with 12 scores. We’re excited to see what he can do after an injury-shortened 2019.
8. T Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
In his first season at left tackle, Leatherwood allowed only nine pressures and earned an 82.0 pass-blocking grade for the Crimson Tide.
9. DI Marvin Wilson, FSU
Wilson is no freak athlete, but what he lacks in explosiveness he makes up for with raw power and technique. He’s seen his pass-rushing grade improve every year of his career, from 67.3 as a freshman to 81.3 as a sophomore to 90.9 last season.
10. EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami (FL)
Rousseau flashed unteachable, high-level traits in his lone season of college football. He racked up 16 sacks and an 80.7 pass-rushing grade as a redshirt freshman in 2019.
11. Edge Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
Recently checking in at No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Basham has the kind of explosiveness that you want to see in an edge defender. He produced double-digit pressures in two games last year and finished the season with 60 total pressures next to his name.
12. CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
Farley is listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, and he reportedly clocked over 24.0 miles per hour on a GPS tracker last season. His combination of size, speed and production — he earned a 90.5 coverage grade last year — make him an easy choice for CB1.
13. WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
There’s a reason why Waddle handled return duties over the past two seasons at Alabama. After Rondale Moore, Waddle is the most dynamic player in the country with the ball in his hands.
14. T Walker Little, Stanford
Little's 2019 season only lasted one game, but we saw what we needed to feel good about Little as a first-rounder. Dating back to 2018, Little has allowed only one pressure in his last seven games.
15. QB Brock Purdy, Iowa State
Purdy doesn’t have the luxurious situations that the quarterbacks higher on this list do, and that makes it difficult to evaluate him at times. He’s a gamer in every sense of the word, though, and he has put up passing grades of 88.0 and 82.2 as a freshman and sophomore, respectively.
16. DI Christian Barmore, Alabama
Barmore is the next man up in the Alabama defensive line pipeline. He only played 269 snaps last year as a redshirt freshman but earned dominant grades in run defense (83.0) and as a pass-rusher (88.1).
17. S Ar’Darius Washington, TCU
Washington is listed at 5-foot-8, 179 pounds, and he's the No. 1 safety on the PFF board — that’s how talented he is. He sees the game unlike any safety prospect since Tyrann Mathieu. Last season, he allowed only five catches and 65 yards from 14 targets in coverage.
18. S Jevon Holland, Oregon
Holland was more of a traditional safety as a freshman before switching to the slot in 2019 as a sophomore. He showed a knack for getting his hands on the ball at both positions, totaling 20 combined pass breakups and interceptions on the year.
19. T Sam Cosmi, Texas
Cosmi has all the movement skills and has already proved to be proficient in pass protection. He’s also done it at both right tackle (82.8 pass-blocking grade in 2018) and left tackle (86.0 pass-blocking grade in 2019).
20. WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
While Tyler Johnson was racking up his targets from the slot last year for Minnesota, it was the sophomore Bateman who had the more difficult task of beating coverage on the outside. He did just that, recording 20.3 yards per catch to go with 1,219 receiving yards.
21. TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
Pitts is listed as a tight end, but he in no way looks like one with the way he moves on a football field. There’s a reason why Florida had three receivers drafted last spring, but it was the sophomore tight end who led them in receiving yards. He’s special.
22. CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State
You can pretty much throw out any preseason ranking for Wade. After manning the slot admirably the past couple seasons, Wade’s draft projection hinges almost entirely on how he fares transitioning to outside cornerback this season.
23. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
St. Brown is smooth in pretty much everything he does. He’s a crafty route-runner who’s also sneaky good after the catch. He broke 18 tackles last season.
24. WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Smith's size — 6-foot-1, 175 pounds — will be an issue. It didn’t stop him from consistently making plays at the catch point this past season, though. On 112 catchable targets over the past two years, Smith has only three drops.
25. IOL Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
The Buckeyes had easily the best guard tandem in the nation last season, as the duo of Jonah Jackson and Wyatt Davis didn't allow a single sack or hit all season. Davis has even better physical tools than Jackson, too.
26. LB Nick Bolton, Missouri
Bolton is built like a brick at 6-foot, 235 pounds and hits like one, as well. He’s also been sneaky good in coverage, posting a 90.4 grade in that area last season.
27. LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
Moses has all the physical tools to be an elite NFL linebacker, but we’ve yet to see him get his hand on a single pass in his college career. He’s an exceptional tackler in space, though, with five missed tackles on 107 attempts in his career.
28. CB Patrick Surtain, Alabama
Surtain has been starting since he was a true freshman at Alabama, which has him firmly on NFL radars. In two seasons, Surtain has allowed only 681 yards on 986 coverage snaps.
29. RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
The most explosive running back in college football, Etienne broke the PFF record for broken tackles per attempt last season, shedding 91 tackles on 207 rushing attempts.
30. TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Freiermuth is the total package with vise-grip hands, barn-door catch radius and NFL-caliber inline blocking. That’s a rarity in this day and age.
31. S Andre Cisco, Syracuse
There hasn’t been a better playmaker in college football over the past two seasons than Cisco. As a true freshman and sophomore at Syracuse, Cisco picked off 12 passes and broke up 13 more. He has ridiculous range but freelances far too often at the moment.
32. EDGE Chris Rumph, Duke
Rumph is quite easily the most polished pass-rushing defensive lineman in the country and had the highest win-rate in the country last season. He just needs to get his weight up desperately from his listed 225 pounds.
33. WR Tutu Atwell, Louisville
The wide receiver label might be doing Atwell a disservice. He should be listed simply as a playmaker. With a rare blend of speed and agility, Atwell is ideal to play the modern vertical slot role.
34. S Hamsah Nasirildeen, FSU
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Nasirildeen is a thumper of a safety. More realistically, he’s a linebacker in the NFL, but his movement skills are evident —he has lined up all over the field for the Seminoles.
35. IOL Trey Smith, Tennessee
Smith wants nothing more than to bury the man across from him on every single play. After blood clots put his career in jeopardy and limited his offseasons, Smith was arguably the best guard in the country over the second half of 2019.
36. S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
Moehrig is far more of a traditional safety body type at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds than his teammate, but he is far less instinctual and smooth in coverage. That’s no knock, though, with how good Ar’Darius Washington is. Moehrig still put up a 91.9 coverage grade last season.
37. EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Hutchinson holds the crown of being the only defender to give Tristan Wirfs fits last season when he racked up seven pressures against Iowa. The rising junior's versatile body allows him to also kick inside and still produce.
38. EDGE Xavier Thomas, Clemson
Thomas featured in an odd role last season that didn’t play to his strengths whatsoever. However, he showed his true talents as a true freshman when he earned an 84.2 pass-rushing grade on 150 pass-rushing snaps.
39. EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
The No. 1 freak on Bruce Feldman’s list, Paye is only scratching the surface of what he could become. With no polished pass-rushing moves to speak of, he still earned a 77.8 pass-rushing grade in 2019.
40. WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
No corner who lined up across from Olave last season could hold keep pace one on one. He’s already an incredibly advanced route-runner and brings some downfield juice to the table, as well.
41. CB Asante Samuel, Jr., FSU
Samuel is as agile as any corner in college football. His ability to change directions at will and stop on dimes is why he’s broken up 18 passes in two seasons.
42. DI Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
Onwuzurike hasn’t quite harnessed his dominant physical tools into dominant physical play, but you see the flashes. He earned an 82.5 overall grade in his first year as a starter in 2019.
43. WR Tamorrion Terry, FSU
When Terry gets up to speed, there are not many players in college football catching him from behind. The 6-foot-4 wideout has averaged 20.3 yards per catch in his career.
44. T Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
Eichenberg took a massive step forward in 2019 to firmly put himself in the conversation as an early-round prospect. After allowing 23 pressures in 2018, he allowed only 12 last season with no sacks.
45. DI Cory Durden, FSU
Durden is the definition of a bull in a china shop. He misses tackles all over the place (15 on 47 attempts last year) and is liable to get moved 4-5 yards off the ball in the run game. At the same time, Durden’s 45 pressures in 2019 were the most of any returning interior defender in the country.
46. LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
Watching Surratt’s tape, it’s incredible to think that he was playing quarterback as recently as 2018. He’s such a smooth athlete who flashes tremendous instincts for the position. Now, he just needs to learn how to tackle after missing 27 last season.
47. EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami (FL)
Roche was unblockable last season at Temple, but beating up AAC tackles is a little different than NFL ones. If he comes close to replicating his 68 pressures at Miami this season and gains some weight, we’ll talk more seriously about him as an early-round prospect.
48. IOL Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Linderbaum is, quite easily, the most athletic interior offensive lineman in the country. After flipping from the defensive line last season, Linderbaum earned an 81.7 overall grade for the Hawkeyes.
49. ED Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Oweh is yet another edge defender who could shoot up boards if he shows a modicum of polish in 2019. He can reportedly run in the 4.3s at 257 pounds, but he still wasn’t even a full-time starter last year and earned an 81.8 pass-rushing grade on 207 pass-rushing snaps.
50. QB Jamie Newman, Georgia
We think Newman should easily come out on top in the Georgia quarterback competition after earning an 85.7 passing grade last season at Wake Forest. He’s a legitimate dual-threat player and one of the best deep-ball throwers in college football.