By the time the NFL Draft rolls around every year, a multitude of ideas about prospects seem concrete and are accepted as fact, but we all know that in a few years, much of what was conventional wisdom ultimately becomes completely wrong.
After watching around 300 prospects in preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft, I've landed on a variety of opinions I've realized don't exactly align with consensus thoughts with a little over a week until the start of the draft. I've listed them below.
We should be a little worried about Micah Parsons in coverage
Parsons only has five career pass breakups and didn't record an interception in his two seasons at Penn State. Hmmm. He played man coverage 64 times in 2019. That's not a lot of experience. At all. Parsons is big, fast, takes on blocks like an NFL veteran, and has first-round edge-rushing characteristics on the field.
But if the team that picks him asks him to drop into coverage 400-500 times as a rookie and expects game-changing results, those results could very well be beneficial to the opponent's passing attack, not Parsons' defense. Does he have the athletic traits to be a high-end coverage linebacker? Ab-so-lutely. But so did Jordyn Brooks, Kenneth Murray, and Patrick Queen, first-round linebackers from 2020, and they all were major liabilities when sinking in coverage in their debut NFL seasons.
Richie Grant and Andre Cisco are first-round safeties
Grant is an older safety prospect. He's already 23. That's my only clear ding with him. Everything else he's capable of is precisely what teams ask of their safeties today. He comfortably aligns in the slot and stays with sudden receivers. He can range from the deep middle to break up a pass near the sideline thanks to burst, speed, and instincts. Grant avoids blockers on his way to striking against the run, and he'll create big plays as a robber in the middle of the defense. In his last three seasons at UCF, Grant had 10 interceptions and 17 defended passes to go along with five forced fumbles. He's a first-round playmaker. Will he be picked there? No. In a few years we'll all have realized he should have been.
Similarly, Cisco is a big play waiting to happen, and he just turned 21 in late March. This stat that says it all -- 13 interceptions in 25 career games for the Orange, including seven in his freshman season in 2018. He has an NFL safety's body at nearly 6-feet-1 and 216 pounds, thrives as a box defender when needed, then shows off free safety range on the Malik Hooker-Earl Thomas spectrum when aligned well off the ball. Like Grant, Cisco will likely be picked on Day 2. He belongs in the first round.
Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins are better OL prospects than Rashawn Slater
I love Slater as a prospect. He's ultra athletic, phenomenally balanced, and understands how to use his hands to redirect pass rushers. I just love Jenkins and Darrisaw more. It all boils down to this -- Jenkins and Darrisaw give you more point-of-attack power, anchoring ability, and length right out of the gate in the NFL than Slater does. Maybe by Year 2 or Year 3, Slater adds weight and strength -- he probably will -- but Darrisaw and Jenkins will have time to improve their already prodigious strength too. All three belong in the the first round, I just like Jenkins and Darrisaw a tick more than the more highly touted Slater.
Dazz Newsome is the best North Carolina receiver prospect
If the last one wasn't hot enough for you, this one should be. Dyami Brown is the first North Carolina receiver who comes to mind in this class. He had a better 2020 and tested like a much more impressive athlete at the Tar Heel's pro day.
And it wouldn't shock me if Brown is picked three or even four rounds higher than Newsome, the latter of which I believe is a better receiver prospect. Here's my justification -- Brown can get open, regularly, on a variety of routes. Then, when he catches the football, he's dynamic. His return specialty kicks in. Don't get me wrong -- I love Brown's vertical route tree prowess. He can specialize in that area in the NFL. But while Newsome's pro day was worrisome, I genuinely believe -- if the opportunity is even remotely similar, and it may not be based on draft round -- Newsome has a stronger likelihood to become a better pro in today's separation/YAC based NFL.
For the total opposite opinion on this, check Pete Prisco's "Better Than" team. He has Brown as the captain.
Trey Smith doesn't play anywhere near as athletically as his pro day workout
Smith's been on the draft radar for like three years, and the offensive guard surprised a lot of analysts by returning to Tennessee for his senior season in 2020. He's a powerful masher on the interior at 6-5 and over 321 pounds with nearly 34-inch arms. I was totally blown away when I saw his pro day workout. His top comparison on Mockdraftable is Wyatt Teller (hello!), and his 40-yard dash, vertical, broad, and three-cone drill were all in the 85th percentile or higher at the offensive guard spot.
But I didn't see a very fluid, effortless mover on film when studying Smith, and yes, that's factoring in how massive of a blocker he is. The workout will likely push him into Round 2. And maybe the predictive powers of measured athleticism work wonders yet again. But Smith seemed more like an early Round 4 prospect on film mostly due to how heavy-footed he was.
Of the top CBs with NFL bloodlines in this class, Asante Samuel Jr. is the best prospect
Size and speed combination typically gets a prospect drafted high, particularly if he's playing wide receiver or corner. Jaycee Horn ran 4.40 and jumped 41.5 inches at nearly 6-1 with over 33-inch arms at his pro day. Patrick Surtain II clocked a 4.42 time in the 40 at over 6-2 with a 39-inch vertical.
Then there's the 5-10, 180-pound Samuel. He ran a more than respectable 4.41 at the Florida State pro day with a 35-inch vertical and a broad jump in the 66th percentile. Horn and Surtain are going to be picked much earlier than Samuel, but Samuel is the more NFL-ready prospect.
Horn is a grabby, super-physical man-to-man specialist. Surtain doesn't have serious twitch and has issues finding the ball in the air, but he's patient in press and his length helps him win at the the line. Samuel has the suddenness and route-recognition skills that are required in today's NFL that isn't dominated by large rebounders, but ultra-quick separators. Samuel was all over the football in college -- 29 pass breakups and four picks in three seasons with the Seminoles. He doesn't have to physically overmatch a wideout at the line to win, and he can stick with receivers down the field.
Landon Dickerson isn't a fit at center in the NFL
Everybody adores Dickerson as a prospect. I get why. His film is loaded with pancakes, and he was a leader on Alabama's national title winning team. I don't believe he can excel at center in the NFL. For a few reasons. First, his size. Dickerson was nearly 6-6 and 338 pounds at the Alabama pro day. That's just too big for the center position, a spot on the field that routinely deals with small, lightning-fast penetrators who get nearly all their power from physics. Low man creates leverage. Low man wins.
Also Dickerson is mobile relative to his size more so than compared to other centers in this class and veteran centers in the NFL. For as much as I liked his film, athletic stiffness was a clear flaw. Dickerson does have a high floor because of his mammoth frame, unreal experience, and power. I just don't think he has the profile to succeed in the NFL at the center position.
Pete Werner is the best Ohio State linebacker prospect in this class
Baron Browning was the five-star recruit who blossomed in his final season for the Buckeyes and has received plenty of pre-draft hype as one of the best Day 2 linebackers in the class. Then there's Justin Hilliard, another five-star recruit -- imagine that -- who battled injuries in Columbus but flashed in 2020 as another athletic linebacker to monitor in the middle rounds.
But the best Buckeyes linebacker in this class is neither Browning nor Hilliard. It's Werner. He looks like an oversized safety, strikes like 2012 Brandon Spikes and has some of the loosest, most fluid hips in the entire class. He had 14 pass breakups and four forced fumbles in his final three seasons as a full-time player for the Buckeyes. While not overly fast, he identifies plays quickly and has the explosion to get to the football. I get serious Fred Warner vibes while watching him.
Gregory Rousseau isn't a top-100 prospect
Rousseau is the ultimate -- and I mean ULTIMATE -- developmental edge rusher/defensive lineman in this class. He played and produced for one season at Miami then opted out. The latter is completely fine, but because of his limited collegiate experience, it should surprise no one that he's incredibly raw.
At nearly 6-7 and 266 pounds, he had a very uninspiring workout at the Miami pro day that exactly matches what he shows on film -- less explosiveness than expected. While Rousseau has a gigantic tackling radius and can close quickly on the quarterback when his sights are set on him, he isn't ready to defeat NFL tackles with hand work, and there's minimal speed-to-power conversion to his game because he -- naturally -- rushes so high. There's not much around-the-corner bend either. I wouldn't feel comfortable picking Rousseau until the fourth round, but he'll be picked a lot higher than that.