During every scouting process before every draft, there are a select few games from prospects that never leave your mind. Joe Mixon against Texas Tech in 2016 remains the most dazzling individual performance from a running back I've seen. Erick Kendricks against USC in 2014 was pure linebacker bliss. And last year, Antoine Winfield Jr. vs. Penn State is in my Hall of Fame for safety prospect play.
That got me thinking -- what games from 2021 prospects have been burned into my brain, in a good way? I pinpoint my five favorites below.
Oklahoma RB Trey Sermon vs. Northwestern
29 carries, 331 yards, two touchdowns
Sermon had the most effortless 300-yard game I've ever scouted. Sure, Ohio State's blocking was pretty good for most of the evening in the Big Ten title game -- particularly in the second half -- but Sermon showcased his complete, underrated skill set en route to the ridiculous performance.
He started the third quarter with a long run to spark the Buckeyes, and I don't know if there's a single run in which he didn't gain extra yards after contact. Subtle juking ability and second-level burst was apparent too when Sermon found cutback lanes on stretch run plays.
Sermon had eight runs of 10-plus yards and five of 20-plus in the epic effort on the big stage.
Arkansas State WR Jonathan Adams Jr. vs. Kansas State
8 catches, 98 yards, three touchdowns
If you've heard of Adams as an intriguing Day 3 prospect, it's likely you've seen some highlights from the Randy Moss impersonation he put on in Manhattan, Kansas this past fall.
Early in the game, he adjusted magnificently to an underthrown deep ball and elevated to make the snag. He ended that job in style, with a box-out touchdown on an end-zone fade. That drive was foreshadowing. In the fourth, with the game tied, Adams slowed his momentum and found the football in tight coverage on a back-shoulder catch to move the chains.
Then on the same side of the same end zone of his first score, Adams got even more contact from a defender but somehow came down with another fade for a touchdown. With his team down three with under a minute to go, Adams ran a post from the outside and made the catch a split second before the over-the-top defender tried to knock the football away. Game, Arkansas State.
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle vs. Missouri
8 catches, 134 yards, 2 touchdowns
Waddle was operating on another level in Alabama's season-opener against Missouri in 2020. Late in the first quarter, he made one of the most uniquely phenomenal grabs I've ever seen, leaping for a deep ball from Mac Jones, securing the grab and holding on despite getting hit by one defensive back while in mid-air, then taking a hit from the opposite direction as he was parallel to the ground.
His flex after standing up was justified. His first touchdown demonstrated Waddle's burst and long speed, as he ran by everyone on a deep over route. Layup for Jones. In the second quarter, he took a swing pass from Jones and provided us with the craftiest, most dynamic 13-yard gain I've watched this draft season -- four violent cuts away from defenders and a head-first dive to make sure he got the first down.
Then, a few plays later, from the slot, Waddle juked to the outside, then exploded down on a go route and made a very difficult over-the-shoulder catch with two defenders in tight -- and one essentially hugging him -- in the very back of the end zone. This film was nirvana for me.
South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn vs. Auburn
3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups
You know when you were a kid, and you were playing your favorite video game, and got stuck on a level because you just couldn't beat the boss? Kept trying everything. Nothing worked. You contemplated if the game was rigged.
That is exactly like what happened to Seth Williams and the Auburn passing attack against South Carolina. Quarterback Bo Nix kept trying against Horn. Over and over and over. To no avail. First quarter featured two pass breakup on jump balls in the end zone -- and Williams is no slouch in contested-catch situations -- and a pass breakup on a slant near the end zone.
Then, Nix provided the first reminder that he hadn't learned. He scrambled left and tried to fit the ball into a receiver. Horn jumped in front. Intercepted.
There was one contested-catch Williams came down with, but it was an anomaly in this game. Another scramble drill led to another Horn pass breakup that was ultimately picked by a teammate. Early in the third, Nix tried to rifle a pass into Williams. Broken up. Late in the third, after a few targets that fell incomplete, Nix continued to try Williams, and a miscommunication paved the way for an easy Horn pick.
Purdue WR Rondale Moore vs. Ohio State (2018)
12 catches, 170 yards, two touchdowns, three carries, 10 yards, one touchdown
This remains the most scintillating film I've watched from any 2021 draft prospect. And yes, it happened three college football seasons ago. I don't care. In fact, it makes it even more impressive, because Moore went wild on an Ohio State defense littered with future NFL players on it as an 18-year-old true freshman. That sounds made up. It's not.
In that convincing upset, on those 12 catches, Moore forced seven missed tackles, an absurd figure against any opponent, much less the Buckeyes. He put fellow 2021 classmate Shaun Wade in a blender all evening, a performance so dominant it began the "should Wade move to safety?" narrative.
The team that ultimately picks Moore will have watched that Ohio State game multiple times. Moore, a fully healthy Moore, is a top 15 overall talent in this class.