2021 NFL Draft: Position by position watchlist headlined by Alabama, Ohio State prospects

The 2020 NFL Draft was loaded with elite talent and depth throughout. Teams will find no shortage of talent available to them in the 2021 NFL Draft either. In an early look at some of college football's most talented players, CBS Sports provides some names to watch at each position this fall. 

Quarterback

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Jamie Newman, Georgia
D'Eriq King, Miami

Lawrence and Fields are the top two quarterback prospects and it is hard to envision either being challenged. Lance possesses a strong arm and a mountain of potential but it is difficult to project him as a successful contributor long-term with his play style. He must continue to develop as a passer. Newman, a transfer from Wake Forest, made strides last season but he transferred to Georgia to further his growth. King is an active player with some dynamic mobility. The draft has seen a string of smaller passers being valued by the NFL. King could be next.

Running back

Travis Etienne, Clemson
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Master Teague, Ohio State
Zamir White, Georgia
Max Borghi, Washington State

Etienne runs a bit upright at times but he is as explosive as they come. It was a pretty stacked group this season so Etienne has the chance to differentiate himself in 2020. Hubbard needs to strengthen his base to get through tackles and hold up in pass protection but his speed is lethal. Teague is a well-put together back that should compete with Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon. White is the next Georgia running back to see interest from the next level. His pass production was limited but he holds up well as a blocker and is a strong, downhill runner. Borghi has caught 159 passes over the past two seasons. He does not sacrifice any running ability though. Alabama's Najee Harris is just on the outside looking inward.

Wide receiver

Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Devonta Smith, Alabama
Rondale Moore, Purdue
Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

Several of the nation's top cornerbacks reported that Chase was the most difficult to cover in 2019 rather than Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III or CeeDee Lamb. He has a chance to be really special. Waddle and Smith are next in line at the position. Waddle has Ruggs-level speed while Smith could be the best of the bunch. Moore almost single-handedly carried the Boilermakers against Ohio State in the best single game of his career. If he can stay healthy, he will impact the game in a way that few can. Minnesota has not seen a talent like Bateman for awhile. He is superior to Tyler Johnson, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Clemson's Justyn Ross and several others were close to this list as well. 

Tight end

Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
Kyle Pitts, Florida
Brevin Jordan, Miami
Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin
Zach Davidson, Central Missouri

There is a clear line at the top with Freiermuth and Pitts right now but several intriguing options could challenge them. Jordan stood out in the Hurricanes' challenge against Florida. In comparison to others, he is a smaller tight end prospect. Ferguson is a little light but has great height. He comes from a program that has used their tight ends a lot in the past. Davidson is a small school prospect drawing some early buzz. 

Offensive tackle

Penei Sewell, Oregon
Walker Little, Stanford
Samuel Cosmi, Texas
Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
Rashawn Slater, Northwestern

Sewell is the consensus top offensive tackle heading into the season and many believe he's a surefire bet to be selected within the first five picks overall. However, this offensive tackle class is loaded at the top and there is potential for more players to be selected on Day 1 in this class than there were on Day 1 in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Interior offensive line

Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
Deonte Brown, Alabama
Trey Smith, Tennessee
Josh Myers, Ohio State

Brown blocks with good leverage and continues to churn his feet in the run game. Davis and Myers are a large part of one of college football's best interior offensive lines. Davis might have been a first-round selection in 2020 had he entered. Humphrey surprisingly returned to Norman after receiving some first-round hype. In an interview with private offensive line coach Duke Manyweather, he boldly declared that Smith would have been a first-round pick had he entered the 2020 draft class. 

Defensive line

Marvin Wilson, Florida State
Jaylen Twyman, Pittsburgh
Christian Barmore, Alabama
Tyler Shelvin, LSU
Mustafa Johnson, Colorado

Wilson's frame is reminiscent of a bowling ball but he is not lacking in activity and quickness. His sack production has increased year after year. Twyman is fast off the snap and uses his hands well. His size and ability are uncommon for a player his age. Alabama has been loaded along the defensive line so a lack of early playing time is not necessarily an indictment against him. Those that know him speak glowingly of his potential and it would not be a surprise to see him land on Day 1 next spring. Shelvin is a true nose tackle drawing double teams. Johnson has some room for development after returning to Boulder. The coaching staff change did not come at the best time for him.

Edge rusher

Gregory Rousseau, Miami
Quincy Roche, Miami
Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
Joe Tryon, Washington
Xavier Thomas, Clemson

Chase Young had 16.5 sacks last season. Rousseau was right behind him at 15.5. The Hurricanes are loaded at the edge rusher positions with Quincy Roche, Jaelan Phillips and Rousseau. Basham gets skinny and uses his hands well. He allows himself to get washed out of gaps too often and needs to become more consistent. Tryon took a large step forward from 2018. Thomas was regarded as the No. 3 overall prospect coming out of high school. It is finally his time to step up for the Tigers. 

Linebacker

Micah Parsons, Penn State
Dylan Moses, Alabama
Nick Bolton, Missouri
Palaie Gaoteote IV, USC
Jabril Cox, LSU

Parsons has a thin frame but that only means he can fill out and become a more destructive player. He has been a great communicator for the Nittany Lions and does well sorting through trash. Moses was firmly on the league's radar entering the season but a torn ACL put his professional aspirations on hold. He will attempt to get his career back on track in 2020. Bolton is an undersized linebacker with good awareness and explosiveness. Gaoteote is another former highly-rated recruit that has all the talent in the world. If the light clicks on, he could jump into Day 1 consideration. LSU lost almost their entire linebacker unit so Cox is stepping into a great opportunity to be developed by some of the best in the business. 

Cornerback

Shaun Wade, Ohio State
Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
Paulson Adebo, Stanford
Eric Stokes Jr., Georgia
Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

Wade was a nickelback last season while first-round picks Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah manned the boundary. He will get a chance to move outside this season, which should only boost his stock. Surtain was called upon to play immediately at Alabama. He is next man up in that talented Crimson Tide secondary. His teammate, Josh Jobe, is another to watch. Adebo has been on the radar for a few years. He is a savvy player that finds himself in the right place at the right time. Stokes has great size but the ball production has not been there yet. Horn has ideal size and athleticism but he does not trust his technique downfield yet. If he relaxes and plays freely, the sky is the limit.

Safety

Jevon Holland, Oregon
Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
Andre Cisco, Syracuse
Caden Sterns, Texas
Talanoa Hufanga, USC

When watching Oregon's draft-eligible defenders in recent months, Holland always stood out. He has put himself in a position to be the first safety off the board. Nasirildeen is a long, lean player that covers ground quickly. Cisco has 12 interceptions over the past two seasons. Few can match his ball production. He changes directions well but needs to start wrapping up his tackles. Sterns and Cisco have been on the radar since their transcendent freshmen seasons. Hufanga has ideal size and took his game to another level last season. 

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