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McShay’s NFL draft rankings: Who is rising up the draft board?

The 2021 NFL draft is getting closer, and I’ll be spending most of my time over the next two months digging through tape and talking with NFL scouts as I begin to finalize my prospect evaluations for this year’s class. And what a talented class it is, starting with an elite quarterback prospect.

Of course, with numerous 2020 college football season opt-outs and uneven game tape across the class, the pre-draft process has been especially complicated this year. It gets more complicated without the traditional scouting combine, which has largely been disbanded this spring. Teams instead will fixate on pro days and player interview opportunities in the leadup to the draft. But even without the combine looming, our rankings are far from complete, and I expect the board to continue to shift as we near April 29, when the first name will be called.

But with that said, here is my most recent evaluation of the top 32 players in the class, updated from my Dec. 30 edition. We will provide updates right through until the week of the draft.

Note: Underclassmen are marked with an asterisk, and grades are from Scouts Inc.

HT: 6-foot-6 | WT: 220
Grade: 97 | Previous rank: 1

Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect I’ve seen come out of college since Andrew Luck was drafted by the Colts in 2012. Lawrence’s intangibles are high-end, and I love his huge arm and the mobility he brings at his size. He’ll need a little refining with his pocket presence, but this kid is the real deal. He had 24 passing touchdowns, 3,153 yards through the air and a 69.2% completion percentage while throwing only five interceptions in 10 games this past season. He also had eight scores on the ground. Lawrence is recovering from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder but is expected to be ready for NFL training camp this summer.


HT: 6-0 | WT: 208
Grade: 94 | Previous rank: 5

The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner tallied 1,780 yards and 20 scores through the air for LSU during that season before opting out in 2020. He is explosive off the line, a smooth route runner and tough in the open field. His body control stands out, and his speed is solid.


HT: 6-6 | WT: 330
Grade: 94 | Previous rank: 2

Sewell gave up only one sack during 2018 and 2019 combined, starting 20 games along the way, but he opted out of this past season. Sewell is massive in pass protection and plays a disciplined game. He has the feet to excel as a zone blocker and the power to move defenders in the run game. Sewell has rare upside and can be a starter from day one in the NFL.


HT: 6-3 | WT: 244
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 3

Parsons had 109 tackles in 2019, including 14 for loss, and forced four fumbles. He’s long and is pretty good in coverage, with plenty of range. He is an above-average tackler and shows the burst to shoot gaps and be disruptive in run defense. Parsons also has the instincts and speed to blitz, tallying five sacks in 2019. Another 2020 opt-out, he will need work in getting off blocks at the next level, but consider him a day one starter in the NFL.


HT: 6-3 | WT: 210
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 8

Wilson navigated his Cougars to an 11-1 record by completing 73.5% of his passes (second in the country) for 3,692 yards (third in the country), 33 touchdowns (third) and three interceptions. If that weren’t impressive enough, Wilson also had 10 rushing TDs. He threw for 425 yards and three scores in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl. I love Wilson’s competitiveness and toughness in the pocket, and he has a high-end ability to extend plays. His deep-ball accuracy is also outstanding.


HT: 6-6 | WT: 239
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 6

Pitts sets up as a versatile matchup in the NFL with great size, a big catch radius and the hands to produce. In only eight games this season, he had 770 receiving yards on 43 catches and found the end zone 12 times, tied for the third-most scores in the FBS. The junior amassed 170 yards and four end zone trips in the Gators’ opener in September, and he piled on three TDs in November’s meeting with Kentucky. And he went over 120 yards on seven catches in each of his final two games.

Pitts flashes as a route runner and possesses above-average separation skills for a tight end. He has some speed to be a threat downfield, and he figures to be a real coverage problem for opposing defenses in the NFL.


HT: 6-0 | WT: 170
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 4

Smith rarely drops anything in his vicinity and displays some jump after the catch, compiling 117 catches (most in the country) for 1,856 yards (also first) and 23 touchdowns (again, first) through 13 games this season. The Heisman Trophy winner had nine games with at least 130 receiving yards and eight with multiple scores. Smith explodes off the line, is crisp in his route running and tracks the ball well vertically.


HT: 6-4 | WT: 308
Grade: 93 | Previous rank: 17

Slater had significant starting time at both right and left tackle before opting out of the 2020 season, but his frame and physical skills might lend themselves to a better trajectory inside. He gives up ground too much, and speed rushers cause him problems at tackle. But I really like his feel for angles, and he is smooth getting set. Power is there in the run game, and his body control in pass protection is strong.


HT: 6-2 | WT: 206
Grade: 92 | Previous rank: 7

Surtain, a true shutdown cover corner, finished with a pick-six, 12 pass breakups (tied for third in the country) and 38 tackles in 13 games. I love his instincts and the way he quickly diagnoses wide receivers’ routes and funnels them where he wants them to go. He is also a natural playmaker, with good ball-reaction skills and soft hands. His father, Patrick Surtain Sr., was a Pro Bowl corner in the NFL and a second-round pick in 1998.


HT: 6-2 | WT: 207
Grade: 92 | Previous rank: 18

The first high-end draft prospect to opt out of the 2020 college season, Farley broke up 12 passes and intercepted four in 2019. His blend of size, length and speed is rare, and he has burst to his game. A former wide receiver, he has strong ball skills and flashes the ability to recognize route combinations. Farley is still developing, but the toolbox is there.


HT: 5-10 | WT: 177
Grade: 92 | Previous rank: 11

Waddle returned from an ankle injury for the College Football Playoff national title game and finished his junior campaign with 28 catches for 591 yards and four TDs. His 21.1 yards-per-reception average stood at eighth in the country. Waddle’s game is all about elusiveness, part of the reason he also pops in the return game. Put the ball in his hands and let things happen. He tracks the deep ball well, explodes out of his breaks and shows excellent lateral agility and field vision.


12. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State*

HT: 6-3 | WT: 224
Grade: 91 | Previous rank: 22

Lance has size and toughness at quarterback. He played only one game in 2020, a win against Central Arkansas in which he completed half his passes for south of 150 yards. But he shined in 2019, when he didn’t throw a single interception, picked up 1,100 rushing yards and produced 42 scores in all. He has only one career game of 300-plus passing yards, and we never saw him in action against an FBS foe. But the third-year sophomore is effective dropping from under center and selling play-action, and his downfield touch is strong, despite some inconsistent placement on shorter throws.

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0:19

Trey Lance fakes a handoff and then throws to Hunter Luepke for a 23-yard score, giving North Dakota State a 32-28 lead.

HT: 6-3 | WT: 228
Grade: 91 | Previous rank: 9

Fields starred in 2019 with 41 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, and he really progressed under Buckeyes coach Ryan Day. In 2020, he had 22 passing touchdowns, a 70.2% completion rate (seventh best in the FBS) and 2,100 passing yards in eight games.

He is very accurate throwing downfield and throws effectively off-schedule and off-platform. There is some zip on his ball too, and he displays a quick release. Fields is mobile in the pocket and rushed for five scores. There might be some consistency concerns, but he is dynamic and grades out as a good NFL starting QB, as his 91.7 Total QBR (second in the nation) might suggest.


HT: 6-2 | WT: 220
Grade: 91 | Previous rank: 12

I love Owusu-Koramoah’s tape. He is fast, he is instinctive and he is only getting stronger as he develops. His recognition skills are very good too, as he always seems to be around the ball. Owusu-Koramoah is fluid in coverage and even flashes the ability to get home on the quarterback, thanks to his suddenness. He does it all: In 2020, he had 62 tackles (11 for loss), 1.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, a fumble-return TD, 3 pass breakups and an interception.


HT: 6-2 | WT: 208
Grade: 91 | Previous rank: 14

Moehrig is a playmaker. He breaks quickly on the ball, times his jump and has the ball skills to haul in interceptions — he had two through 10 games after grabbing four in 2019 and broke up nine additional passes this season. Moehrig is above average as a tackler (47 in 2020) and even has some return-game experience.


HT: 6-7 | WT: 253
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: 16

Rousseau is tall, long and quick off the edge. He has power to overwhelm blockers and works back inside once he is even with the quarterback. He opted out of the 2020 season, but he had 15.5 sacks in 2019 for the Hurricanes — which ranked him No. 2 in the country behind Chase Young — and he totaled 19.5 tackles for loss (tied for seventh). As a run-defender, Rousseau can set the edge and make plays. He has future Pro Bowl talent.


HT: 6-5 | WT: 266
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: 31

A transfer from UCLA, Phillips medically retired from football in 2018 after injury-plagued seasons with the Bruins. But he was able to return, deciding to join the Hurricanes. And wow, did he burst back onto the scene in 2020. In 10 games, Phillips had 8 sacks (tied for 13th in the nation), 15.5 tackles for loss (sixth), 45 tackles and an interception. I love his length and suddenness.


HT: 6-3 | WT: 270
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: NR

Paye can slip blocks and make plays in the backfield. He is still developing as a pass-rusher — though he had 6.5 sacks in 2019 and 2.0 in four games this season — but the ceiling is high. I like his range, and he has a professional approach to the game. Paye is possibly a 3-4 OLB candidate in the NFL.


HT: 5-11 | WT: 199
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: NR

Toney isn’t the biggest receiver in the class, and he isn’t the most polished, but he is super versatile and very explosive. He will be very effective in the NFL with the quick game, screen throws and reversals. He is the kind of receiver with whom you just want to get the ball in his hands. He made 70 catches (seventh in the country) for 984 yards (13th) and 10 touchdowns (tied for seventh) this past season. Plus, he added 161 rushing yards and returned double-digit kicks and punts for the Gators.


HT: 6-2 | WT: 232
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: 27

Harris has great size and good speed, and he has shown excellent ball security. He is strong on contact and slippery between the tackles. I was previously a bit concerned he danced too much, looking for the home run, but Harris was decisive in his final season at Alabama. His 26 rushing touchdowns ranked No. 1 in the country this past season, and his 1,466 rushing yards were No. 3. He looks improved in pass protection too and remains underrated as a pass-catcher.


HT: 6-4 | WT: 315
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: NR

Vera-Tucker gets into sound initial position and has the strength to drive defenders off the ball. He has a good feel for angles in zone blocking, but he gets a little top-heavy and falls off blocks late. In pass protection, he gets his hands inside and anchors well. He allowed just four pressures and two sacks on 849 pass-block snaps over the past two seasons.


HT: 5-10 | WT: 212
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: 19

Etienne has above-average speed with an explosive second gear when he hits daylight. He is a real home run hitter in space, breaking off 19 plays for 20-plus yards this season. I like his contact balance too. Etienne has 70 career rushing touchdowns, including 14 in 2020 (tied for seventh in the country). He bested 1,600 rushing yards for the second straight season in 2019 before gaining 914 through 12 games this past year. Etienne also had 588 receiving yards in 2020, better than the totals in his other three seasons combined, showing massive improvement on that front.


HT: 6-4 | WT: 260
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: 15

What a season for Collins. A 3-4 outside linebacker, he has great versatility and can bring a lot to a defense. In eight games, Collins had 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions — two of which he returned for touchdowns — and a forced fumble. His closing burst to the quarterback and to ball carriers is tremendous.


HT: 6-5 | WT: 314
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: 23

Darrisaw has been a mainstay at left tackle for the Hokies. Over the past two years, he has allowed just three sacks on 643 pass-blocking snaps. Darrisaw is powerful as a pass protector and smooth working to the second level as a run-blocker. His technique is a little inconsistent, but he has a high ceiling and the tools to be a starting left tackle from day one.


HT: 6-4 | WT: 294
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: NR

A 2020 opt-out, Onwuzurike is a highly disruptive 3-technique with great quickness. He had a great week at the Senior Bowl in January, and in 2019, he had six tackles for loss with Washington.


HT: 6-5 | WT: 319
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: NR

Mayfield is a strong drive blocker who walls off defenders and gets good initial push, but there’s room for improvement when it comes to angles climbing to the second level. He gets set quickly and tends to stay in front once engaged in pass pro. But his hand placement is inconsistent. Mayfield has played both left and right tackle at Michigan.


27. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina*

HT: 6-1 | WT: 205
Grade: 90 | Previous rank: NR

The son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee is long and instinctive. And he tends to play his best in big games. Horn opted out in the middle of the 2020 season but not before hauling in a pair of interceptions and breaking up six more passes over the course of seven games.

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1:03

Junior Jaycee Horn credits his defensive coaching staff for implementing a game plan that set the Gamecocks up for success against Auburn.

HT: 6-3 | WT: 214
Grade: 89 | Previous rank: 32

I really like his touch and ball placement, and he anticipates really well, leading receivers and throwing them open. Jones also processes quickly and has really fast eyes in getting through progressions. In the pocket, he has poise and toughness, and though he isn’t a dangerous runner, Jones has a good feel for how to extend plays — all while keeping his eyes downfield. In 2020, he completed a nation-leading 77.4% of his passes, and he gained 4,500 yards through the air (first) and threw 41 touchdowns (second) with four interceptions. His 96.1 Total QBR was the best in the FBS.


HT: 6-3 | WT: 240
Grade: 89 | Previous rank: NR

Ojulari has good size, speed and bend. I really like his first-step burst when pass rushing, and his instincts are advanced. He is definitely better as a pass-rusher than in coverage, but he does have pretty good range underneath when asked to drop back. Ojulari’s 8.5 sacks tied for eighth most in the country in 2020, and his three forced fumbles were tied for fifth.


HT: 6-5 | WT: 310
Grade: 89 | Previous rank: 20

Barmore had eight sacks (tied for 13th in the FBS) and three forced fumbles from the interior of Alabama’s defensive line this season. He is still developing as a pass-rusher, but he can get home with quick hands. Against the run, Barmore locates the ball quickly, shows adequate change-of-direction ability and is stout against double-teams. As a bonus, he is versatile along the line. But keep in mind that Barmore was a third-year sophomore in 2020, and he entered this past season with only one career start.


31. Joe Tryon, DE, Washington*

HT: 6-5 | WT: 252
Grade: 89 | Previous rank: 25

Tryon opted out of the 2020 season, but he tallied 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks for Washington in 2019. He has some versatility to his game, lining up as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker. Tryon exhibits a quick first step as a pass-rusher, showing a fluid swim move and flashing a quick spin maneuver on blockers. And against the run, he is strong and can fight through double-teams, though he loses outside contain a bit too often.


HT: 6-0 | WT: 232
Grade: 89 | Previous rank: NR

Bolton is a solid off-the-ball linebacker with great instincts and a good motor. He is very good in coverage, has pop at the point of attack and plays faster than his straight-line speed would suggest because he locates the ball quickly. Bolton is a bit undersized, but it hasn’t stopped the production. In 10 games, he had 95 tackles (tied for 18th in the nation), 8.0 tackles for loss, 5 passes broken up, 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery.

See McShay’s full rankings for the 2021 NFL draft class

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