The 2021 NFL Draft featured the most intriguing quarterback class this century, as well as bumper crops at wide receiver, offensive tackle, center, cornerback, and linebacker. And even after the second and third rounds wrapped up on Friday night, there is still a lot of talent on the board.
Will there be players selected who are not included on my list or players whom I gave draftable grades who sign as free agents? Probably. But my rankings have proven to be among the most accurate in the business in the past, which is why I’m confident that even in an unprecedented year such as this, they’ll stand up to the competition.
Along with the numerical ranking, to help distinguish the tiers of talent available, we’ve provided Blue Chip (potential All-Pro), Red Chip (immediate starter, potential future Pro Bowler), Green Chip (can compete for starting role), Yellow Chip (developmental player who projects as a starter within two years) and Gray Chip (long-term project) grades for each player.
Here are the best players available heading into Saturday's final rounds of the draft.
Don’t let the small school background fool you, Rochell is among the elite athletes in the 2021 draft class and didn’t look the least bit out of place at the Senior Bowl – until, that is, he missed the last few days with a minor injury, which might be why he remains on the board. With the run on cornerbacks that capped the third round – five of the last seven picks went to this position – Rochell shouldn’t be waiting long.
Along with first-rounders Zach Wilson (QB), Jaelan Phillips (DE) and Jamin Davis (LB), Nixon was one of the true breakout players in college football last season, exploding for 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks to be named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year. A junior college player who wasn’t as impressive as hoped during his Pro Day workouts and interviews, Nixon can use this slight as motivation to surprise again in the NFL.
The lack of normal medical evaluations may be the culprit behind the massive and mean Smith still being on the board. Smith missed time over his career with blood clots being discovered in his lungs – though the situation was thought to be under control – leading to his returning to All-SEC caliber play in 2020. A throwback brawler best suited to a power scheme, Smith is an easy NFL starter if a team will give him a chance.
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A bowling ball of butcher knives just scratching the surface of his potential, Tufele would almost surely have heard his name called in the Top 100 had he not opted out on the season. He did it for all the right reasons, however, with his sister contracting COVID and spending months in ICU, leaving her "little" brother understandably needing time with family. If teams are sure he is locked in and in shape, Tufele won’t be on the board long, as his quickness and power are starter-worthy.
Ultra-productive and reliable as both a pass-catcher and downfield blocker, Wallace has been overshadowed by many flashier receivers so far in this class. Don’t be surprised at all when he outlasts many in the NFL once he gets his opportunity.
A classic run-plugger stuck in an era that no longer places the same value on them, Tuipuloto is one of several defensive tackles in this class who are, frankly, being a bit disrespected by scouts. He’ll wind up making an NFL roster and sticking, outplaying his draft position. Football is still a big man’s game.
Viewed by some as a ‘tweener caught between strong safety and outside linebacker, Nasirildeen just needs to fall to the right team to wind up proving a steal. At worst, he’ll prove to be a special teams demon, possessing not only the speed and length to excel in this area but also the temperament and toughness.
Another opt-out, Smith made the NFL leap following an eye-popping junior season at Northern Iowa in which he collected 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and five forced fumbles. Sure, it was against lower competition, but Smith flashed at the Senior Bowl practices. He’ll need a year in an NFL weight room to develop the strength needed to compete at the next level, but the talent is there.
Speaking of talent, in a class full of small receivers who boast blazing speed, Fehoko stands tall, boasting a Chase Claypool-like raw skillset at 6-4, 222 pounds with sub 4.4 speed. Like a lot of receivers his size, Fehoko is too straight-linish to run every route in the tree but he’s tall enough to catch over them, if necessary. Just ask former NFL head coach Chip Kelly, whose UCLA Bruins Fehoko destroyed in his final collegiate game with 16 catches for 230 yards and three scores – including the game-winner in overtime.
One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang has been covering the NFL draft for over 20 years with his work found at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others.
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