The 2021 NFL Draft superlatives have arrived. In high school, you might have been voted on who was the "most likely to succeed" or "worst car" -- here is the NFL's version. Ryan Wilson, Josh Edwards, and I hand out early honors to prospects based on what we see as the likely future for these 10 players in the league.
Quenton Nelson Award: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Highly touted prospect who'll instantly live up to the hype
Wilson: This is a no-brainer. In fact, it feels like the rare draft-prospect layup, similar to Washington taking Chase Young in 2020. Everybody knew Young was special, and that his dominance in college would immediately translate to the NFL, and that's exactly what happens. Pitts feels like that kind of layup, which is even more amazing given that the draft is such a crapshoot. Plus Pitts regularly dominated SEC cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers, a good number of whom will also be drafted, some in the first few rounds. Wherever Pitts lands -- and it's hard to imagine getting past the Dolphins at No. 6, we expect him to have immediate success, mostly because it's difficult to envision a scenario where he struggles.
Antonio Brown Award: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa
Late-round receiver most likely to become an All-Pro
Edwards: Smith-Marsette is a thin-framed wide receiver that can be used in a variety of ways. The Hawkeyes moved him all around and manufactured ways to get him the ball. They utilized him on jet sweeps, tunnel screens and more in addition to flexing him wide and allowing him to make catches outside of his frame. Balance is a concern and there is room for improvement as a route runner. I just see him as a very talented player with good speed and natural motion.
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Kolton Miller Award: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Most likely to be considered a reach on draft day, then regarded as a fantastic pick two years later
Wilson: If Rondale Moore was 5-foot-11, he would be a top-15 pick all day long. This is what happens when you run a 4.29 40-yard dash, register a 42-inch vertical, and dominate Big Ten opponents every time you step on the field. Unfortunately, Moore is only 5-foot-7, which is two inches shorter than Tyreek Hill. Unlike Hill, who has played in at least 75% of the Chiefs' games since 2017, Moore was on the field for just seven games the last two seasons for the Boilermakers (due to injury and a partial opt-out in '20). Size aside, it's hard to argue with Moore's production, both as a receiver who can threaten defenses on short and intermediate routes, as a playmaker running jets sweeps and quick screens, and as a returner. NFL teams will have to decide how much Moore's size and lack of playing time affects his draft status but, man, he is special with the ball in his hands.
Andrew Whitworth Award: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
His tape is boring because he just blocks everyone
Trapasso: Darrisaw allowed six quarterback pressures in 2020, and they were all hurries. No hits. No sacks. He's effortless as a pass blocker, and his free-flowing athleticism allows him to glide to the second level as a run blocker, and he's very patient there before mashing a linebacker. All the talk is about Rashawn Slater as OT2 -- and to some teams, OT1 -- but Darrisaw's film is as clean it gets, and he's exceptionally boring to watch because there aren't very many "ugly" wins or clear-cut whiffs.
James Robinson Award: Justin Henderson, RB, Louisiana Tech
Most likely to be the next surprisingly good undrafted free-agent running back
Trapasso: Henderson probably won't get drafted. And much of the reason for not hearing his name called will be due to the fact he averaged 3.4 yards per attempt on just 75 carries in his final year with the Bulldogs. That stat line has undrafted free-agent written all over it. But his 2019 film is spectacular. When he was the lead back, Henderson averaged 5.6 yards per pop and scored 15 touchdowns.
While I'm not a huge believer in watching performances two or three years in the past and using them to project into the NFL, running backs are essentially at the mercy of their offensive line, and the blocking was noticeably more porous in 2020 at Louisiana Tech.
Henderson is built low to the ground, which natural provides him outstanding contact balance, and he's an efficient slasher who sees the hole, and hits the hole, even if he has to subtly cutback to sneak through. Honestly, I kept getting James Robinson vibes while watching him. Don't let the (likely) undrafted status throw you for a loop. Henderson is good.
Who will be the first non-QB off the board? And which running back will get drafted first? Get 10 best bets and five longshot value plays on NFL Draft props from SportsLine's No. 1 NFL expert, who is 7-3 on his top five NFL Draft picks over the last two years and hit Baker Mayfield going No. 1 at 25-to-1 odds in 2018!
Christian Ponder Award: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Quarterback who'll go much earlier than he should
Trapasso: For as much as it pains me to write this in an article with Ryan Wilson, one of the nicest, down-to-Earth dudes in the business, I have to pick Jones here. Wilson has been leading the Jones train since like January, but I never jumped on. I love his accuracy and the subtle moves inside the pocket he showcases on occasion. And I do believe there is a tiny window for a hyper-accurate, low-level athlete to succeed in the NFL during a time when freaky arm talent athletes are thriving. But things will absolutely have to be perfect for Jones to flourish as a pro, and I believe we'll see many instances of the limitations that arise when you don't have a big arm and aren't a big-time athlete at quarterback in today's NFL when it comes to the former Alabama star, who's bound to go -- where? -- top 10, top 15 at worst, right?
If Jones didn't have two first-round wideouts and prolific offensive line in front of him, we'd be talking about the passer as a quality pick in Round 2 or Round 3.
Damon Harrison Award: Larnel Coleman, OT, UMass
Small-school deep sleeper who'll have a long NFL career
Edwards: I was torn between Sam Cooper from Merrimack and UMass offensive tackle Larnel Coleman. I do not believe that Quinn Meinerz falls under the category of deep sleeper anymore so I continued to dig. Cooper and Coleman both have intriguing traits that could be elevated with the help of a veteran offensive line coach but I think Coleman's ceiling is higher. He is quick out of his stance and has good technique into pass protection. He does a good job of adjusting his hands when engaged and looks like a natural athlete. He has to work on not giving up the angle and needs to limit the amount of reps that he oversets but the tools are there for him to be successful.
Danielle Hunter Award: Jordan Smith, UAB
Day 2 edge rusher who'll become a consistent double-digit sack guy
Edwards: Smith is a really long player that is fast off the ball. He needs to add weight to prevent blockers from pushing him around and can do a better job of not allowing blockers into his frame. With that being said, I see really good bend at the waist, speed off the snap and the ability to turn speed to power. He has the tools to build a luxurious house but needs to put in the blood, sweat and tears to find that level of consistency in the NFL.
Joel Bitonio Award: Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame
Offensive tackle who'll be a Pro Bowl guard in the NFL
Edwards: I could take the low-hanging fruit of USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker, who played left tackle this season for the Trojans after playing inside a year prior. I could also go with Northwestern's Rashawn Slater, who would undoubtedly be successful as an interior player. He has no business moving from guard, however. I considered Alabama's Alex Leatherwood but I'm going to go with Notre Dame's Robert Hainsey. He has good size for the position and comes from a program known for producing high level professional talent. As a deep sleeper, I'll throw Wisconsin's Cole Van Lanen out there as well.
Derwin James Award: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Stud on film who somehow falls on draft night
Wilson: You knew this was coming. We've been on the Mac Jones hype train for months now, even as media and fans have struggled to wrap their brains around the notion of a "traditional pocket passer" possibly going in the top five. But Jones outplayed Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama and despite both players having similar physical skill sets (above-average arm, good touch to all levels, not considered runners), no one had an issue with Tagovailoa as one of the best players in the 2020 draft class. Meanwhile, Jones is viewed through an entirely different lens. It's hard to figure, for sure, and 49ers fans have made it known they won't be happy if the team takes Jones at No. 3 (in part because three first-rounders is A LOT to give up, and you won't hear us try to argue that isn't). The best way to change that perception, of course, is for Jones to ball out, and we think he's well positioned to do just that -- especially if he lands in a Kyle Shanahan system.