As is the case in just about every NFL draft, there are certain positions that feel like there's a clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the 2021 talent pool. For as good as Justin Fields and Trey Lance are and can be, Trevor Lawrence will continue to be the presumptive QB1 until the draft opens next spring.
At running back, Clemson's Travis Etienne feels like a clear-cut standout. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons should find little resistance on his way to being 2021's top LB drafted. Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey is a stand-alone prospect at the offensive line's keystone position. And there are even still other positions that feel fairly cut and dry. There will be a debate, but the top talents are well established. Tight end is one such position with Florida's Kyle Pitts and Penn State's Pat Freiermuth as the clear candidates. LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase will be joined by at least one of the Alabama pass catchers (either Jaylen Waddle, our personal favorite at The Draft Network, or DeVonta Smith) atop the positional rankings.
But then there's the 2021 safety class. As things currently stand, it's a murky, muddled mess with little to no clarity on which prospects will command first-round consideration, if any at all. The 2020 draft saw no safeties called in the first round—and we may have a repeat on our hands once again this season. Last April, Xavier McKinney, Kyle Dugger, Grant Delpit, and Antoine Winfield Jr. all slid into the first 15 picks of the second round. Even that may be too rich for some of this year's top candidates.
We're waiting for someone to separate themselves from the pack. Pittsburgh has a fun striker in Paris Ford, but over-aggressiveness and stature are marks that call his candidacy as a top safety into question. Then there's Florida State's Hamsah Nasirildeen—a ball magnet in pursuit with freakish stature—but Nasirildeen was hurt at the end of the 2019 season, and he's been impacted by the lingering effects of that injury in the early portions of an abbreviated ACC schedule. Texas' Caden Sterns has plenty of potential but he, like the rest of the Longhorns program, has failed to live up to lofty expectations. Oregon safety Jevon Holland has already declared his intentions for the 2021 draft, and with his versatility, he may make a push to the top of the safety rankings, if he wasn't there already. But his athletic profile is something of a question mark and athletic testing will be a massive hurdle for him to clear if he's going to establish himself as a top prospect.
In short, if you need a safety in a bad way this offseason, good luck! You may be better off drawing from the free agency pool for a plug and play starter unless we see other prospects rise to the occasion and a handful of the 2021 candidates mentioned offer clarity on their resumes.
One safety prospect capable of rising to the occasion is TCU’s Trevon Moehrig. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler holds him in high esteem; he ranked Moehrig as the top eligible safety back in August. And, on further review, I don't think I'd argue too hard about it. I reviewed a handful of TCU contests from 2019 after watching Moehrig stand out for all the right reasons in TCU's narrow loss to Kansas State earlier this fall, which came after Moehrig flashed in TCU's upset over Texas the week prior. Moehrig has got the skills that will move the needle. He's silky smooth for how long he is, and his ability to squeeze and contest routes in isolated coverage stands out for a player that is often assigned deep portions of the field and asked to cover a lot of ground. He struggled at times with squaring up ball carriers on the games from 2019 that I studied in the open field, but he's clearly got ball skills and coverage upside to go with strong burst and ample length.
The 2021 safety class isn't the strongest group eligible for the draft. There's plenty of players that will move the needle for certain roles in certain kinds of defenses. But which safety has the best chance to move the needle the most? It might just be Moehrig. We'll next see the Horned Frogs next Saturday against the Oklahoma Sooners, and Moehrig will have the opportunity to leap off the screen and continue to force himself into more conversations with scouts and draftniks as they attempt to filter through a crowded, murky safety class.
The more I watch, the more I like. And I'm hoping that trend continues when we see him square off with Oklahoma.