2021 NFL Draft: 3 Surprise Players Who Could Go In Round 1

Photo: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially less than two weeks away from the 2021 NFL Draft. Pro days are officially in the books and teams have begun the process of finalizing their draft boards. This year's draft cycle was an unprecedented one in that there was no scouting combine. Missing a huge piece of the puzzle forced teams to rely heavily on their contacts at various schools in order to find out background information about prospects, but area scouts had to work overtime in order to accumulate testing numbers as well.

With the tedious process of gathering their own data points and other factors now coming to their closing stages, teams now have rhyme and reason for possibly ranking Prospect A over Prospect B based on thresholds or other forms of variables that they tend to use in their process. Each team has their own secretive rankings based on strategies and beliefs that they all have formulated, which usually leads to hearing some surprise names in the first round. This tends to happen every year. In 2019, it happened when the Seahawks selected L.J. Collier with the No. 29 overall pick and a similar occurrence happened again with the team when they drafted linebacker Jordyn Brooks with the 27th overall pick in 2020. 

The Seahawks are one of the few teams that routinely go against the grain of what’s perceived to be a consensus board across many media outlets. Without a first-round pick this year, we will be without the randomness of what Seattle's selection ends up being. Despite that, given the strenuous circumstances of this draft cycle, we could still see some names called earlier than expected. 

Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

If you were a general manager and someone told you that there was an offensive tackle that started multiple seasons in the SEC at both tackle and guard, was a part of national championship-winning teams, and finished as a 90th percentile athlete, there would be a lot of intrigue early on for him. That’s a big reason why I think Leatherwood will ultimately end up hearing his name during the first night of the draft. 

The former Crimson Tide left tackle has his warts as he’s a bit stiff and mechanical in his lower half—which leads to him lunging into some blocks and facing challenges with resetting his base—but considering the success that he had at both guard and tackle, it’s easy to see some team taking a chance on outside of the top 20. The Steelers (No. 24), Packers (No. 29), and Chiefs (No. 31) are three teams that could take a liking to Leatherwood.  

Creed Humphrey, IOL, Oklahoma

In years past, there seems to be an interior offensive lineman that everyone falls in love with that eventually goes in the first round. Saints interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz was a prime example of that last year as the franchise selected him with the 24th overall pick. A strong argument could be made that this year's offensive line class is a little bit better across the board than what we saw last year.

Humphrey was the anchor of the Sooners offensive front and started in 36 straight contests (37 games played). Although he appeared to be a marginal athlete on the field, he tested as a high-level athlete across all events. “Solid” is one word that was commonly used to describe the former Sooners center to me by an area scout.

“He fits all of the run of the mill draft cliches. 10-plus year starter, lunch pail worker, hard type guy, you name it. He’s that.”

Although he’s never played guard, there’s belief that he could play there if asked to. Two ideal spots where we could see him selected are the Jets (No. 23) and Steelers (No. 24). Both teams have interior offensive line needs.

Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia

Right now, I feel strongly about three cornerbacks going in the first round. Those are Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, and Greg Newsome II. The jury remains out on Caleb Farley because of the two back surgeries that he’s had since 2019 combined with opting out of the 2020 season. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if he ends up being selected in the first round or if he’s quickly snatched up by a team during the opening moments of the second round. After those top four, there’s a random cluster of outside corners that include Eric Stokes, Asante Samuel Jr., Ifeatu Melifonwu, Kelvin Joseph, and Paulson Adebo. Each brings their own flavor and style to the table, but one player that the term “upside” will commonly be attached to is Campbell.

The former Georgia corner has all of the ingredients necessary in order to become a starter on the next level, but they have failed to be mixed together in a blender. Campbell is very reminiscent of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis coming out of Auburn, who was ultimately selected in the second round (No. 63 overall). Campbell has lots of tools, but needs the right coaching in order to grab them off the shelf. A spot to watch for Campbell is the Buffalo Bills at No. 30, who have met with him on multiple occasions.

Written By:

Jordan Reid

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Jordan Reid is a Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Gaining experience from various lenses of the game, he has previously served as a college quarterback, position coach, and recruiting coordinator at North Carolina Central University. He now serves as a Color Commentator for FloSports, covering both high school and college football games around the country while also being the host of The Reid Option Podcast.

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