Final Big Board for 2021 NFL Draft: Joel Klatt's Top 50
By Joel Klatt
FOX Sports College Football Analyst
The 2021 NFL Draft is here.
When the first picks are made Thursday night (join the FOX Sports Draft Watch Party at 8 p.m. ET), expect to see a flurry of quarterbacks come off the board, but this class is deep at several other positions.
Here are the final rankings of the top 50 players on my Big Board, regardless of team needs.
THE TOP 10
As is the case with most big boards in 2021, Lawrence ranks as my No. 1 player in this draft. This guy is phenomenal, folks, and we've been seeing that since he burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2018. Lawrence possesses the experience and leadership traits that NFL teams are seeking. He can make every single throw. The only knock on Lawrence is that he threw a lot of screen passes. Well, that's because the Tigers had Travis Etienne in the backfield. Lawrence is a for-sure bet, and I think he will be a top-five quarterback in the NFL in his first three to four seasons.
Pitts' best trait is that he consistently beats man coverage regardless of the defender. Corners, safeties, linebackers ... nobody can cover him. He has great hands, keeps his feet on the ground and is an absolute nightmare matchup for defenses.
Chase opted out of the 2020 season, but trust me, folks, this guy is an absolute monster. I love his physicality at the line of scrimmage. He's big enough to body up defensive backs, but he also has that suddenness of movement that allows him to create space, and then he catches the ball well. Chase is outstanding after the catch, and he's also a clean route runner. He's the whole package at wide receiver.
It has become en vogue to knock Fields during the draft process. Everyone's saying, "Oh, he's not Zach Wilson. He's not this or that." The fact remains that Fields was the best player on the field virtually every time he stepped out there. He is a phenomenal talent. He developed well under Ryan Day. This guy has a great arm and attacks the field with accuracy in all areas. He didn't turn the football over, and he displays tremendous athleticism. He's a great leader, and I think the critics are being far too hard on Fields.
Wilson is an incredible talent, and I love his game. He reminds me a little bit of a poor man's Patrick Mahomes, with a little Baker Mayfield in there. What I love about him is he can throw the football off any platform. If his feet aren't with him, he can still drive the football. He's very accurate. He's like a shortstop playing the position. He's athletic, and he has strong leadership skills.
Smith is unbelievable. I was one of those championing his cause for the Heisman Trophy early last season. He's silky smooth through the field, whether he's running from the slot or outside. He understands spacing and defensive structure. He can manipulate the defense by forcing pressure on certain zones or a man defender. He really opens up the picture for a quarterback, and that speed is something you just can't teach. And he has great hands to boot. I love his ability. I think he's going to succeed. I know there are some questions about his size and his skinny frame. But if you can succeed at Alabama, and if you can succeed in the SEC with that frame, you will be able to succeed at the next level. No questions for me about DeVonta Smith. I think he's a fabulous player.
The tackle from Oregon is an absolute athletic freak. When you talk about a prospect with a really high floor, Sewell is one of the safest picks in this class. But Sewell's ceiling is also incredibly high, and there's a chance he could become one of the top tackles in all of football. He already has the strength and athleticism, but the 20-year-old is also still young and developing. He will get more reps under his belt and develop further. He jumps off the tape, and I love his game. Sewell is a plug-and-play tackle, and he can be your franchise cornerstone for the next 10 or 15 years.
Even though he's coming off that ankle injury, Waddle can affect the game in such dynamic ways as a special-teams player. He's one of the best returners we've seen in a long time. The fact that he's such a fearless returner and has the speed to take it the distance at any moment makes him a really dynamic player on a 53-man roster. That speed is incredible. Waddle possesses a lot of the same traits that Smith has. He has an understanding of how to attack defenses. When those two were on the field together, defenses didn't stand a chance.
Parsons has skills that you just can't coach. He is physically so talented – his burst, his speed, his instincts on the field. He’s not even really a natural linebacker. He moved back to linebacker at Penn State after playing more defensive end in high school. I think he is going to have a fabulous career. He was a game-wrecker and the best defensive player in the Big Ten in 2019. Penn State surely missed him last year when he opted out. He’s going to have an excellent NFL career. He can do everything the modern game requires.
Lance has a great skill set. When you watch him play, he's strong, he's physical, and he has a great arm. All these traits will translate to the next level. Now, it's a bit of a concern that we haven't seen him play that much. In fact, he threw a little more than 300 passes at North Dakota State. In his one season as the starter, Lance averaged about 18 pass attempts per game. That isn't enough to fully vet a quarterback. So his lack of experience and the lack of competition are my only concerns.
THE REST OF THE BIG BOARD
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