Mock drafts are great for projecting potential picks, and prospect rankings help illuminate which individual players are worthy of attention — but what about sizing up which position groups are loaded with talent and which groups are lacking?
That’s what my ranking of the position groups in the 2021 NFL Draft is for.
Before we get to the rankings, though, let’s consider the criteria. In assessing each position group, I identified star-caliber players, future starting talent and overall depth relative to that particular position. In general, I focused my assessments on players who should be available between Round 1 and Round 5.
1) Wide receiver
For the second year in a row, the receiver position appears to be the deepest in the draft. For what it’s worth, I actually have the top three receivers in 2021 ranked above the top three receivers from last year, both as a group and individually. Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle all have game-breaking elements to their play, while targets like Elijah Moore and Kadarius Toney are going to be nightmares to cover from the slot. It’s also worth noting the amount of size/speed prospects with good upside that will be available on Day 3 of the draft.
2) Offensive tackle
Last year featured some outstanding first-round talent, and while this year presents a similar offering, there are definitely more holes to poke in this year’s potential first-rounders than there were in last year’s group. Rashawn Slater feels like a safe player but may get kicked inside eventually. Penei Sewell boasts lots of upside but needs to prove he has improved his play strength and consistency after opting out of the 2020 season. While the top end falls below last year’s group, this class is actually much deeper in Rounds 2 through 4, and it should produce a fair number of future starters.
3) Interior offensive line
After landing in last place on last year’s list, this position is very quietly developing into one of the deepest in the draft. Alijah Vera-Tucker will be considered the headliner if he’s drafted as a guard instead of a tackle, but setting him aside, players like Landon Dickerson, Quinn Meinerz, Aaron Banks, Creed Humphry and Trey Smith should all become starters and may go as early as the second round. Even beyond the aforementioned talent, your team should find players with a chance to become eventual starters into Day 3 of this year’s draft.
4) Edge defender
It is not a stretch to say that this year’s top edge prospects have a high projectable ceiling but carry a slightly lower floor than other position groups in this draft. I happen to like the upside potential, considering the incredible physical and athletic traits of Jayson Oweh, Kwity Paye, Azeez Ojulari, Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau, though there is a lack of production and polish for some in that group that is clearly concerning. Payton Turner and Dayo Odeyingbo could be two of the most talked-about players in this class when it’s all said and done. I like the depth here.
Patrick Surtain is a player I would run the card up for, and Jaycee Horn isn’t that far behind. While the health of Caleb Farley will determine his slotting, there are still players like Greg Newsome and Eric Stokes who could become first-rounders and early starters. Day 2 offers a much more exciting group of cornerbacks to choose from than last year’s crop did, boasting length, speed and ball production. The well could dry up somewhat beyond the fourth round, but this is a better overall class than 2020.
This class feels similar to what we saw in 2020, but with more game-ready options at the top. Micah Parsons and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have a chance to become dominant players, and Zaven Collins is a versatile, consistent performer with first-round talent. Teams could feast on linebackers like Jamin Davis, Nick Bolton, Jabril Cox and Baron Browning on Day 2, with all of them becoming early contributors or starters. Beyond that, the crop ranges from good backups to potential starter types.
I would be willing to put the top three quarterbacks from 2020 up against the top three quarterbacks from 2021. However, this draft has five potential first-round starters, and a couple of quarterbacks in Davis Mills and Kellen Mond who are generating some interest along the same lines as Kyle Trask. Beyond those names, there isn’t much, but it’s an OK class relative to star power and depth. All that said, I’m not nearly as high on quarterbacks not named Trevor Lawrence in this draft as others appear to be, which is why I have this position a little lower than some others might.
For the second year in a row, we could see a draft with no safeties taken in the first round. That’s not to disparage 2020 second-rounders Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jeremy Chinn, who had big impacts on their defenses. Trevon Moehrig, Jamar Johnson, Jevon Holland and Elijah Molden all have ball-hawking tendencies and can play over the slot. Richie Grant is a hot name in many in NFL circles, and Rounds 3 through 5 should offer a greater depth of low-end starters to good backups this year.
9) Running back
Travis Etienne is the best of this year’s group, in my opinion, but Najee Harris and Javonte Williams aren’t far behind and should become early starters in the league. Beyond those three, it becomes much tougher to find for-sure future starters. Trey Sermon came out of nowhere at the end of the year, and coaches really like Michael Carter from Duke, but this is a very average group in general.
10) Tight end
If the overall draft class is more like a wading pool, Kyle Pitts is clearly his own body of water. Pitts is to the tight end position what Trevor Lawrence is the quarterback spot — and the difference is even more pronounced here. Pat Freiermuth is solid, but I don’t see him as special. Tommy Tremble has exciting upside and is a feisty blocker but needs to prove he can catch the ball. I’m lower on Hunter Long and Brevin Jordan than others are — beyond that, it becomes pretty sparse.
11) Interior defensive line
The 1998 NFL Draft was the last that didn’t feature at least two defensive tackles selected in the first round — but it’s likely to happen again this year, with only Christian Barmore going. Levi Onwuzurike and Milton Williams are both very intriguing prospects who are likely to go in the second round, but this draft is light on impact interior defenders and very average from a depth standpoint.
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