College News & Analysis

Top 10 performances from 2021 NFL Draft prospects in Week 16

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon (8) rushes for 65 yards ahead of wide receiver Kamryn Babb (18) and Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Chris Bergin (28) during the third quarter of the Big Ten Championship football game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Ohio State won 22-10. Big Ten Championship Ohio State Northwestern

It’s the final weekly prospect review of the season, and somehow it ends with a running back in the top spot.

While I’ll have one final top prospect performance article highlighting the top individual performances we saw all season, most of my energy for the next month and a half will go toward creating the PFF draft guide.

1. RB Trey Sermon, Ohio State

It was the kind of game we had been waiting to see from Sermon his entire career. His mixture of size and elusiveness has always been elite, but he’d garnered more than 20 carries only once before in his entire college career (2018 vs. Texas Tech when he ran for 206 yards on 26 carries). It’s safe to say that changed Saturday.

He broke the Ohio State record with 331 rushing yards on 29 carries, including 196 after contact. Sermon broke an unbelievable 17 tackles in the process. You won’t find a more impressive rushing performance this season.

2. QB Mac Jones, Alabama

Another week of lights-out, efficient football for the Alabama signal-caller. His 33-of 43 for 418 yards, five scores and one pick stat line would be a career day for most quarterbacks, but it was only Jones’ fifth-highest-graded passing performance on the season.

Jones’ numbers are starting to creep into an unheard-of territory in college football. While he doesn’t quite have the volume that Joe Burrow had last season, Jones’ 94.3 passing grade is just a smidge better than the 94.1 mark Burrow finished with in 2019.

3. TE Kyle Pitts, Florida

Even if you take away the tight end designation and evaluate Pitts as a receiver alone, what he did this season is still nothing short of remarkable. He averaged 96 yards and 1.5 scores per game over the course of the season while not dropping a single pass on 65 targets.

Pitts is a different breed from any tight end prospect we’ve seen since we started college football grading in 2014. His ability to win from any alignment will be highly coveted come April.

4. EDGE Tyreke Smith, Ohio State

We'd been waiting all year for Smith to make a splash, and similar to Sermon, he finally delivered in the Big Ten title game. After a bit of a slow start to the season, Smith racked up nine pressures on 29 pass-rushing snaps against Northwestern, including four hits.

While his 80.2 pass-rushing grade this season wasn’t quite the leap we had hoped for heading into the year, he can still make himself some money in the College Football Playoff.

5. WR Simi Fehoko, Stanford

Standing at 6-foot-4, 227 pounds with reported 4.3-second speed, Fehoko is one of the most physically imposing receivers in the country. Stanford coaches must have liked the matchup Fehoko presented against UCLA on Saturday, as the receiver saw a ridiculous 23 targets. He hauled in 16 of them for 230 yards and three scores on the day.

While he’s more of a straight-line player than a true nuanced receiver, the physical tools he brings to the table are undeniable.

6. EDGE Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

As evaluators get to watch more of Bonitto’s tape this year, I predict he’ll rise up draft boards. He’s not only one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the country, but he's also easily the most productive this season.

On 162 pass-rushing snaps, Bonitto has an incredible 45 pressures. It was more of the same against Iowa State in the Big-12 championship; he posted six pressures on 19 pass-rushing snaps.

While undersized, Bonitto has a unique combination of bend and burst that makes you think he can still work in the NFL. The recent success of Brian Burns — a similar edge player — will help Bonitto's cause.

7. WR Tre Walker, San Jose State

While it’s yet another incredibly deep receiver class, don’t sleep on the San Jose State product. After 1,161 yards last season, Walker notched 544 yards in seven games this season — including 137 against Boise State.

He’s a very sudden, crafty route-runner, though he is undersized and has struggled with drops. He’s dropped 13 passes on 130 catchable the past two seasons but has also broken 28 tackles over that span.

8. QB Kyle Trask, Florida

It wasn’t a perfect performance, but when you light up a Nick Saban-coached defense for 400-plus passing yards, you deserve a spot on this list. Not only did Trask rack up the yardage, but he did a lot of it through the air as opposed to after the catch. He finished with seven big-time throws in a game that scouts will no doubt pore over all spring.

9. LB Kana’i Mauga, USC

Mauga has always had the explosion to play linebacker in the league, but he has far too often looked like a chicken with his head cut off for the Trojans.

Against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, however, Mauga looked like a distinctly different linebacker. He was sticking backs left and right en route to seven defensive stops. He also added a pick and a pass-breakup for an all-around excellent day.

10. QB/S Shawn Robinson, Missouri

While he may not have a ton of tape just yet, Robinson deserves a shoutout for his performance over the weekend against Mississippi State. On two targets, he didn’t allow a single catch while breaking up one pass and picking off another.

That would be one thing if he were, you know, a safety. But for the past four years, Robinson has played quarterback. He hadn’t taken a single snap anywhere else until this past weekend, when he earned a 92.3 overall grade. It was such a good performance that the redshirt junior may want to consider the switch next season.

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