The TDN scouting staff formally began its film study on the 2021 NFL Draft class on June 1st and it was an incredible week of grinding tape, sharing notes, and discussing prospects with our team. As we generate the initial evaluations and lay the groundwork for finalized assessments with an in-depth look at the class entering the season, it’s exciting to process all this new information and enter discussions about this crop of players for the first time.
With that in mind, these five items stood out most to me in reflecting on last week's work.
Context Key to Joe Burrow vs. Trevor Lawrence Discussion
With Joe Burrow being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and Trevor Lawrence a strong contender to be next year’s top selection, conversations comparing the two outstanding quarterback prospects are inevitable moving forward. Some of the talking points should be obvious and easy to navigate. Lawrence has superior physical traits from arm strength to size and athleticism. Coming off arguably the greatest season ever by a college quarterback, Burrow has elite accuracy, processing skills, and ability to handle pressure, which are all qualities that trump Lawrence at this point.
Context is so important to this discussion, especially at this juncture. When comparing the two prospects and considering the body of work each has put together, the football Lawrence has played has come as a teenager who turned 20 in October 2019. Burrow’s historic 2019 season came as a 22-year-old that turned 23 in December of 2019.
As impressive as Lawrence has been on the field to this point, Burrow’s 2019 season was at another level and that age difference must be kept in consideration. They are both blue-chip prospects and it’s exciting to see the heights Lawrence reaches as he continues to mature as a player.
Chase Young Through A New Lens
Evaluating Chase Young and coming away with the belief that he is an elite prospect was never hard. Watching him throughout the course of the 2019 season and seeing him dominate and then studying his film to write his final scouting report led to a consensus assessment that he is a top of the first round, blue-chip talent.
Without even intending for it to happen, my appreciation for Young’s ability grew this week. With my focus now on the 2021 class, affirming my takes on Young wasn’t something I was looking to do, but I saw him through a different lens this week.
Normally when studying a player, I watch only that player. So when it was time to watch Young, I consecutively watched him play six games and wrote my report. My fresh perspective on Young this week came because I was studying Clemson OT Jackson Carman.
Carman is a good football player that has a chance to be in the first-round conversation with a strong 2020 campaign. In my summer scouting efforts on Carman, I went on a journey reviewing his 2019 film. It started with Texas A&M and then I watched the North Carolina game. Next up was Wake Forest and then South Carolina. Carman dominated. He gave up very few threats of pressure and illustrated good hands and footwork while effectively using his length to maintain the width of the pocket.
Then came the Ohio State game, and I saw Young challenge Carman in ways that no other pass rusher was able to. After seeing Carman comfortably pass block in those first four games, including several matchups with NFL-caliber talent and have very little in the way of struggle, it was clear that Young was on another level. The way he used his footwork and hands to draw Carman out of his pass sets and soften rush angles while putting Carman in a state of recovery wasn’t something found elsewhere.
Watching Young dominate his opponents became common. Watching a player not struggle at all and then face Young and suddenly struggle put a fresh perspective on just how special a talent Young is. Washington got a good one.
Travis Etienne Answered Questions in 2019, More To Answer in 2020
Clemson running back Travis Etienne is so fun to watch. His acceleration is otherworldly and he’s a big play waiting to happen. His burst is easy to spot, but I also love how he runs like his feet are on fire. Not only that, but I appreciate how compact and controlled of a runner he is for the rates of speed he is moving at.
One of the big questions Etienne had to answer in 2019 was if he could be a viable receiving threat to round out his game.
After a 2018 season where he caught just 12 passes for 78 yards in 15 games with numerous drops, Etienne made it a point of emphasis to improve his pass-catching skills leading into 2019. In a moment of honesty to Greg Brandt of Devy Watch, Etienne admitted there were some mental hurdles he had to clear to take the next step.
“I don’t know, I feel nervous I guess. Cause the ball is coming, and I always feel like the defender is right there, so I run before I catch the ball and get spooked by my surroundings.”
Catching 37 passes for 432 yards in 2019, Etienne was night and day not only with production as a receiver but in the comfort he illustrated as a receiver last season.
It was an important question for him to answer but he’s not done improving his game. In a somewhat surprising decision, Etienne opted to return to Clemson for his senior season.
While Etienne is a top running back prospect that has the ability to be a major impact weapon in the NFL, he isn’t without areas he can improve in. In his final games as a Tiger, I’m hoping to see a more patient runner that allows blocks to form with better anticipation of creases. There is more he can do from a technique perspective when pressing the line of scrimmage to help make his blocks right, widen gaps, and manipulate the second level. In addition, some of his decisions as a between-the-tackles runner reveal too much appetite for finding side doors when the intended door in front of him is open.
Racking up more than 4,000 rushing yards with an average of 7.8 yards per carry and 54 touchdowns over his first three seasons at Clemson, Etienne’s been unbelievably productive and his skill set should lead to dynamic plays in the NFL. With that said, he has taken the opportunity to go back to school and the aforementioned items are all areas I believe he can improve on in 2020.
Valuation of Sage Surratt
Wake Forest wide receiver Sage Surratt is a STUD! There’s so much to love about his natural athleticism, ball skills, size, physicality, and resume. With that said, he isn’t exactly like the new trend of receivers the NFL seems to be gravitating toward that are smaller, shiftier, speedier weapons. Surratt is a fluid athlete but not necessarily the most explosive or sudden. He wins with bulk, ball skills, and functional strength but only generates modest separation.
In discussing Surratt with our team and talking about his valuation, Carter Donnick dropped a name that made perfect sense and that was Michael Pittman Jr., who the Indianapolis Colts picked No. 34 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Not that Pittman and Surratt are a perfect comparison, but stylistically and the type of role a team would envision them playing in the NFL provided the perfect example of how Surratt could be viewed and valued by the league.
It’ll be easy to ooh and ahh over dynamic weapons in the 2021 class like Rondale Moore, Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith, and Tutu Atwell, but Surratt is a prototypical x-receiver that can dominate as a power forward-type weapon. There’s still a place for those guys in the NFL.
Hamsah Nasirildeen Perfect For League Trends
With NFL offenses presenting waves of pace, space, RPOs, zone-read, and spread offenses, the value of versatile nickel package defenders is increasing rapidly. Defenses need subpackage defenders that can play deep safety, line up in the slot, serve as an extra box defender, or even play a traditional off-ball linebacker role to help neutralize matchup issues.
After studying Florida State’s Hamsah Nasirildeen, he is going to be a coveted talent to fill that versatile nickel defender role.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Nasirildeen is long, physical, powerful, and an explosive athlete that already has experience in a versatile role in the Seminoles’ defense. He has a quick trigger attacking downhill, tackles well, and has the athletic profile to thrive in coverage.
Nasirildeen is coming off a non-contact ACL tear in November 2019, but what he has developed into and put on film over the last two seasons at Florida State sets the stage for a dominant senior season and ascension as an NFL prospect.