The 2020 college football season has, against all odds, nearly reached the conclusion. We're playing football later into the calendar year than ever before thanks to the trying times facing us all in 2020—but the conference championship games are just around the corner. With that comes a slew of declarations and inevitably the NFL draft process will kick into high gear. But which talents are going to have the best chance to raise their stock and status this winter?
Our staff at TDN is busy churning through mock drafts to try to find the most up-to-date outlook of the 2021 NFL Draft prospect pool and this week's edition comes from Brentley Weissman. His Mock Draft 3.2 takes a run through three rounds with projected compensatory picks to forecast some player fits, and the exercise is bringing some new names into the fray. But this won't be the finished product, not by a long shot.
Who is absent who will challenge for high draft status? Here are some names to watch that were absent from Weissman's recent mock but could potentially become top-100 selections.
SAF Tyree Gillespie, Missouri Tigers
Gillespie is one of several notable prospects on the Missouri defense, and the hype train appears to be poised to leave the station. Gillespie has accepted his invitation to the 2021 Senior Bowl and has been a physical presence for the Tigers on the back end. In a year in which the safety group is wide open for risers to claim valuable draft stock, this is a player who we should anticipate hearing teams like thanks to his physical play and the opportunities he'll be afforded throughout the process.
WR Dazz Newsome, North Carolina Tar Heels
Death. Taxes. Dazz Newsome tweets on Saturdays from @GrindingTheTape. These are the certainties in life. Newsome has been electric this season as a key member of the Tar Heels' passing attack and his eye for making plays with the ball in his hands is undoubtedly going to get him a lot of attention as a potential "value pick" in the 2021 NFL Draft. Newsome was actually more featured piece in 2019 from a touches per game perspective and he's currently the "second option" to Dyami Brown, who is used more vertically down the field. But the resume for Newsome is clear:
This dude makes plays. Lots of them. And when he does, they're probably at some poor ACC defender's expense.
Newsome has posted 112 receptions for 1,537 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns since the start of 2019 and between his slick moves in space and a projected 40-time in the high 4.4s, he may make a push for Day 2 with a strong finish. If he doesn't, it likely will say more about the depth of the wide receiver class and nothing about his own pro forecast.
OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State Cowboys*
*Opted out of 2020 CFB season
Things got real for Jenkins as a prospect when Jordan Reid came into one of our scouting meetings and urged us to push Jenkins up the board. Then things got really real when NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah dropped Jenkins in at No. 5 of his eligible offensive linemen for the NFL draft. Not tackles. Offensive linemen.
Jenkins won't get any more tape after opting out of the season but the buzz on him only seems to just be starting. Both Reid and Jeremiah have great eye for talent and if they're both willing to pound the table this early on for the Oklahoma State Cowboy, it is only a matter of time before that opinion becomes more popular.
TE Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin Badgers
The 2021 tight end class has a real heavyweight in the class thanks to Florida's Kyle Pitts and fellow tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Brevin Jordan have received first-round buzz at some point. But Ferguson sure looks the part of an NFL tight end with his blend of receiving skills and blocking ability. Is he a star in any singular area? No. But Ferguson has, in just three games for the Badgers this season, logged 18 receptions, 181 yards and four touchdowns. He's been a much bigger part of the offense as Wisconsin looks to pivot to life without Jonathan Taylor in their backfield and as a result he's showing more of his ceiling as a pass-catcher.
Ferguson is athletic for his stature and appears to have some room to add a little something extra onto his frame if teams are persistent in playing him in-line as a traditional tight end.
RB Kylin Hill, Mississippi State Bulldogs*
*Opted out of 2020 CFB season
No one is going to question Hill's physical talents, but the end of his career with the Bulldogs program was about as anti-climatic as you can draw up. Hill played three games under new head coach Mike Leach in 2020 and carried the football 15 times for 58 yards (3.9 ypc) just one season after averaging 5.6 yards per tote and logging 1,350 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns. Hill clearly didn't vibe with his new head coach, who used him more in the passing game (a career-high 23 receptions in just three games) than he did as a runner. The end result? Hill opted out of the remainder of the 2020 CFB season and has become something of an afterthought in the NFL draft pool.
He'll get the chance to reset the narrative with the NFL draft process and if he's able to record some strong athletic testing, it shouldn't be hard for Hill's rushing resume from 2019 to take priority over the odd circumstances of the end of his time at Mississippi State this season.