One of my favorite parts of the draft process is reaching the end, collecting your breath, and taking a look around to see which prospects end up becoming "my guys"—an exclusive club of prospects that I'm inevitably higher on than most everyone else. Sometimes, like in the case of Eddie Jackson in 2017, that's for the better. Other times (howdy, Jason Spriggs), it's for the worse. Every evaluation offers a unique lesson. Some are easier to see than others. Some aren't taught until a player transitions into the league. But whatever that evaluation is destined to tell you, make sure you listen!
Time will ultimately tell what lessons I'm meant to learn from the 2021 NFL Draft class, but the time is now to call out "my guys." Here are some of my favorite prospects from the 2021 NFL Draft relative to the consensus.
DE Kwity Paye, Michigan
Final Ranking: No. 9 overall
The Skinny: Paye has ample untapped potential as a pass rusher, but despite his perceived rawness here, I think this is a fairly straightforward projection to the NFL. Paye wins consistently in the early downs and showcases the heavy hands necessary to reduce his angles as a pass rusher and collapse tackles back into the offensive backfield. Paye isn't just a promising athlete, either. I think he's got the mental fortitude to thrive amid the pressure of being a marquee draft choice.
The struggles of Paye and his family amid immigrating to the United States as a young child have left him intrinsically motivated for greatness—he shared a great story with our Jordan Reid earlier in the season about his promise to his mother that if she paid his way into Hendrickson High School, she wouldn't have to pay for college. Spoiler alert: she didn't.
Athletic profile? Check. Mental toughness? Check. Accountability? Check. Room to grow? Check. Premier position? Check. There's a lot to like.
OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
Final Ranking: No. 13 overall
The Skinny: I don't care if he plays right guard, right tackle, right wing, or right field. Teven Jenkins' demeanor is the kind I want on my team, point blank. The rudeness in which he pushed the opposition around for much of 2020 is an absolute delight for anyone with a soft spot for trench play. Jenkins isn't my highest-rated offensive lineman in this year's class, but he is absolutely my favorite. He doesn't have the athletic ceiling of Penei Sewell, nor is he as polished or versatile as Rashawn Slater, but Jenkins is a "Move you from Point A to Point B against your will" blocker who will help you to set the tone up front.
The NFL is now very much a passing league, but the teams who can churn out tough yardage situationally are the ones that often end up consistently closing the deal in tight games. As an added bonus, Jenkins has taken snaps on both sides of the line and hasn't allowed a sack in his last two seasons (also conceding just two hits and nine hurries over that stretch according to Pro Football Focus).
LB Baron Browning, Ohio State
Final Ranking: No. 24 overall
The Skinny: Fun fact about Baron Browning: he's explosive as hell. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Browning has prototypical size to play outside linebacker in the NFL. And his athletic profile? It's through the roof.
- 40-yard dash: 88th percentile*
- 10-yard split: 84th percentile*
- Vertical jump: 94th percentile*
- Broad jump: 97th percentile*
- 3-cone drill: 93rd percentile*
*denotes Ohio State Pro Day numbers
Not bad, right? And best of all, Browning's film has come alive this year after spending time on the inside of Ohio State's linebacker room. Browning spoke before the season about how the move back to outside linebacker prior to 2020 was helpful for him.
“I feel like (outside linebacker is) more my natural position I played in high school, so it's something I feel comfortable doing and I'm excited for it,” said Browning. “It's just a different role, I feel like, being outside versus the inside. I feel like when you're an inside, you've got to kind of make sure everybody's in line. You get everybody set. You're the foundation of the defense. And outside, I feel like you're in your own world. They're just two different worlds.”
The film shows a more confident player. And with his profile as an athlete, there's no way I'm not betting on his traits when paired with the context of his early struggles at Ohio State.
DL Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech
Final Ranking: No. 38 overall
The Skinny: I can't lie... this is a three-year projection grade, much like my evaluation of Miami DL Gregory Rousseau. Expecting Williams to enter into a defensive line rotation and command a role that you'd expect with where I have him ranked is probably unrealistic, but he is oozing with potential as a penetration defender. Williams' athletic profile has some good company according to Mockdraftable.com, too. His top three athletic comparisons based on his size and athletic testing?
- Aaron Donald (Uh, yeah)
- Taven Bryan (Former first-round pick)
- Geno Atkins (75.5 career sacks)
Williams is a bit of a tweener and he doesn't have great length on his frame, but he played a lot of gap control and read-react reps up front for Louisiana Tech. That's not a great use of an athletic skill set that logged just one test below the 90th percentile at his Pro Day this spring.
- 10-Yard Split: 93rd percentile
- 20-Yard Split: 94 percentile
- 40-Yard Dash: 99th percentile
- Vertical Jump: 99th percentile
- Broad Jump: 99th percentile
- 3-cone Drill: 99th percentile
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 93rd percentile
- Bench Press: 87 percentile
Call me crazy, but I'll bet on this skill set every single year. There's big-time potential in Williams' game and I'm hoping he lands somewhere that can coach it out of him.
WR Amari Rodgers, Clemson
Final Ranking: No. 46 overall
The Skinny: Rodgers isn't built like very many wide receivers across the NFL. He's 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds. Built more like a running back, Rodgers makes plays with the ball in his hands like a running back, too. His ability in the Clemson offense to create yardage in the shallow areas and put defenders in a bind in space should have no problem transferring to the NFL—his short-area receiving skills can serve as an extension of the running game for some teams. He's a hard-nosed player who is fearless and showed plenty of mental toughness in 2019 by playing the season (13 games) just six months after tearing his ACL at spring practice. The spacing of the passing game these days plus Rodgers' versatility has me feeling confident he'll translate to the pros.