Who are the most talented NFL Draft prospects over the past decade? How do these draft classes stack up against each other? We’ll answer those questions in part one of the NFL Draft All-Prospect Team.
It’s always fun to compare the talent level of current and past NFL Draft classes. Much like last year’s class, the 2021 class is particularly deep at positions related to the passing game, which is no surprise given the emphasis put on it by both the NCAA and the NFL. The 2021 class has plenty of highly graded prospects.
I’ll compare the grades I’ve assigned to each prospect over the last 10 years (2012-2021) to put together the most talented unit. We’ll then compare the talent level of each class. Today, we’ll look at the offensive side of the ball of the NFL Draft All-Prospect Team.
First Team: Andrew Luck – Stanford, 2012 – Colts, #1,
Luck has been the bar by which all quarterback prospects have been measured over the last decade. He was not only ‘toolsy’, but he was accurate, consistent, intelligent, and poised. Luck had all the intangibles and natural abilities that you look for in a quarterback prospect.
Second Team: Trevor Lawrence – Clemson, 2021 – TBD
Lawrence has been dubbed by many as the best QB prospect since the aforementioned Luck. He balances elite arm strength with great athleticism and a long frame. His accurate passing translates to the NFL level and he led Clemson to two CFP championship appearances, winning one as a true Freshman.
Honorable Mention: Robert Griffin III – Baylor, 2012 – Redskins #2
Lawrence is all but guaranteed to be selected #1 overall but he isn’t the only prospect worth paying attention to. Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Kyle Trask, and Zach Wilson make it six QBs that might hear their name called on day-one. This group is better than the 2018 class that saw 4 quarterbacks selected in the top-10.
First Team: Saquon Barkley – Penn St, 2018 – Giants, #2
Barkley boasted an insane blend of size, agility, speed, and production, but he was more than that. He was a fantastic receiver and a great locker room guy. Of the thousands of prospects I’ve scouted over the years, Barkley is still my favorite.
Second Team: Ezekiel Elliot – Ohio St, 2016 – Cowboys, #4
Much like Barkley, ‘Zeke’ had a great blend of size and speed. He was just as productive and was the better pass-blocker between the two. However, Zeke didn’t have the intangibles that Barkley does, and he wasn’t as dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Honorable Mention: Leonard Fournette – LSU, 2017 – Jaguars, #4
Travis Ettiene is the top dog in this class. He offers three-down value, much like his big-bodied rival Najee Harris. Meanwhile, Michael Carter, Kenneth Gainwell Jr, Khalil Herbert, Kylin Hill, Chuba Hubbard, Trey Sermon, and Javonte Williams bring depth to the party. I wouldn’t consider this class special but it’s by no means bad. On the whole, it’s very average.
First Team: Amari Cooper – Alabama, 2015- Raiders, #5
Cooper showed great short movement skills but he wasn’t considered one of the top athletes in this draft class. We were more enamored with Cooper for his technical abilities. We saw a great route-runner who could win at every level of the field and had great hands. He added elusiveness after the catch.
First Team: Sammy Watkins – Clemson, 2014 – Bills, #4
Watkins was an elite deep threat and a RAC monster. His forty-time was good but his game speed was even better. Watkins showed great contact balance along the route and offered plus value in the screen and short game.
First Team: Ja’Marr Chase – LSU, 2021 – TBD
Just like with Cooper, we’re not looking at Ja’Marr Chase as a top athlete but rather a technician. He’s great at running the route-tree, and has elite ball-skills. Chase wins at the catch point with amazing consistency and he displays a great catch radius for someone who’s 6’ 1”.
Second Team: Justin Blackmon – Oklahoma St, 2012 – Jaguars, #5
Blackmon was an absolute game-wrecker during his years in Stillwater. He boasted an elite frame, great hands, and amazing run after catch ability. While Blackmon is considered a huge bust by… everybody, he was a solid prospect leading up to the NFL Draft.
Second Team: Mike Evans – Texas A&M, 2014 – Buccaneers, #7
Coming out the same year as Watkins, Evans helped make this one of the top receiver classes that we had seen in awhile. Evans, himself, was an elite deep threat. He understood the subtleties of footwork that were necessary to separate for big gains. He had fishnets for hands and knew how to use his elite frame to body defenders at the catch point. He also boasted great long speed.
Second Team: Kevin White – West Virginia, 2015 – Bears, #7
Kevin White was considered one of the best athletes in the 2015 NFL Draft class. He blew it up in every drill at the combine but that wasn’t the only reason White was selected early. His 2014 season with West Virginia displayed his natural abilities. His ROI in the short game was unprecedented and he dominated college corners at the catch point.
Honorable Mention: Corey Davis – Western Michigan, 2017 – Titans, #5, Mike Williams – Clemson, 2017 – Chargers, #7, DeVonta Smith – Alabama, 2021 – TBD
Following Chase and Smith, Rashod Bateman, Rondale Moore, and Jaylen Waddle will all likely be first-round selections. The list of day-two prospects is much longer. This group rivals the record-breaking 2020 receiver class.
First Team: Kyle Pitts – Florida, 2021 – TBD
Pitts may not bring the in-line blocking ability that you want from an NFL tight end but he’s the top receiving prospect that we’ve seen at the position in quite some time. He has a crazy catch radius and the hands to match. Pitts is a receiver stuck at the tight end position. His ability to win contested catches should make him an early selection.
Second Team: O.J. Howard – Alabama, 2017 – Buccaneers, #19
O.J. Howard was not only the best blocking tight end in his class but one of the best receivers as well. He could stretch the field with his speed and frame, and would always haul it in. As a blocker, Howard had the feet and the power to move bodies in the run-game.
Honorable Mention: T.J. Hockenson – Iowa, 2019 – Lions, #8
Pitts is the best tight end prospect since Vernon Davis. After him, there’s still depth. Pat Freiermuth might be a first-rounder, while Brevin Jordan is a guaranteed second-round selection. There’s a list of dudes to follow but most of them are day-three prospects.
First Team: Penei Sewell – Oregon, 2021 – TBD
Penei Sewell is about as close as you can get to a sure thing. It’s difficult to find anything negative in his game. He’s got a high floor and no ceiling. Sewell is the top tackle prospect since Joe Thomas.
First Team: Eric Fisher – Central Michigan, 2013 – Chiefs, #1
Fisher is the perfect example of the superficial draft season riser that we witnessed throughout the 2010’s. He showed up at the combine with eye-popping numbers and did a great job mirroring his MAC opponents. All in all, Fisher was a top-five prospect but not worthy of the #1 overall selection, even in the famously weak 2013 draft class.
Second Team: Laremy Tunsil – Ole Miss, 2016 – Dolphins, #13
If not for an ‘unfortunate’ video just prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, Tunsil would’ve been a top-5 selection. Mistakes aside, he ranks as my third tackle prospect over the last 10 years. Tunsil displayed one of the best combinations of feet and anchor that we had seen in awhile.
Second Team: Greg Robinson – Auburn, 2014 – Rams, #2
Greg Robinson was a prospect in which you bet on his potential. He was a guy that came with some concerns but his size and feet had everybody excited. While he packed a punch and could move with anybody, he struggled to put it all together.
Honorable Mention: Matt Kalil – USC, 2012 – Vikings, #4, Andrew Thomas – Georgia, 2020 – Giants, #4
Even without Sewell, this is a decent tackle class. Sam Cosmi and Christian Darrisaw both have the potential to be selected in the top half of the first round. Alex Leatherwood, Walker Little, RaShawn Slater, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and a handful of RT prospects could also hear their name called on day-one.
First Team: Quenton Nelson – Notre Dame, 2018 – Colts, #6
Quenton Nelson was an absolute stud. He had an NFL frame, great feet, solid awareness, and elite practical strength. His skill-set would have translated well to tackle at the NFL level. As a guard, Nelson we a no-brainer.
First Team: Brandon Scherff – Iowa, 2015 – Redskins, #5
Unlike Nelson, Scherff was drafted to potentially play tackle in the NFL. After all, that’s where he played all of his snaps at Iowa. However, we knew Scherff projected better to the inside. His footwork as a tackle was good, not great, and he lacked the arm length necessary to play left tackle. However, Scherff showed elite strength and explosion. We knew he’d land on his feet somewhere in the NFL.
Second Team: Zach Martin – Notre Dame, 2014 – Cowboys, #16
Zach Martin wasn’t blessed with long limbs or elite physical abilities, however, he was one of the most technically sound prospects we had seen at the guard position in awhile. His intelligence, hand technique, and footwork were all elite for an interior offensive line prospect.
Second Team: Jonathan Cooper – North Carolina, 2013 – Cardinals, #7
On the other end of the spectrum from Martin, lies Jonathan Cooper. While short, at just 6′ 2″, Cooper had long arms and plenty of width to his frame. He also displayed elite athleticism and explosion for the guard position, though Cooper lacked refinement in his technique.
Honorable Mention: Chance Warmack – Alabama, 2013 – Titans, #10, David DeCastro – Stanford, 2012 – Steelers, #24
2021 Outlook: Wyatt Davis is the only guard prospect that’s in the conversation to be selected in the first round. Davis is solid, not great, and there isn’t much depth behind him. Deonte Brown, Ben Cleveland, and Trey Smith should all compete for day-two selections. With Slater and Vera-Tucker listed as tackle prospects on my big board, this is a weak class of guards.
First Team: Frank Ragnow – Arkansas, 2018 – Lions, #20
Frank Ragnow had good numbers at his Pro Day, running a sub-5s 40 yard dash. That athleticism showed up on his tape in the rare opportunities that he was asked to play in space. Ragnow was consistently under control of the assignment in front of him. He lost just a handful of reps in the run game and the pass game.
Second Team: Ryan Kelly – Alabama, 2016 – Colts, #18
Ryan Kelly was considered a solid, unspectacular athlete, though he showed no red flags. He had everything you want mentally from a center prospect. He handled the calls at Alabama for three years, was sound in his assignments, and fought past the whistle every play,
Honorable Mention: Garrett Bradberry – NC State, 2019 – Vikings, #18
Landon Dickerson, Creed Humphrey, and Josh Meyers are the top three center prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft class, but none of them is special. I have a 3rd-round grade on all three of them. Much like the guard position, the talent in this center class is pretty shallow.
2012: 1 1st-team, 1 2nd-team, 3 Honorable Mentions
2013: 1 1st-team, 1 2nd-team, 1 Honorable Mention
2014: 1 1st-team, 3 2nd-team, 0 Honorable Mentions
2015: 2 1st-team, 1 2nd-team, 0 Honorable Mentions
2016: 0 1st-team, 3 2nd-team, 0 Honorable Mentions
2017: 0 1st-team, 1 2nd-team, 3 Honorable Mentions
2018: 3 1st-team, 0 2nd-team, 0 Honorable Mentions
2019: 0 1st-team, 0 2nd-team, 2 Honorable Mentions
2020: 0 1st-team, 0 2nd-team, 1 Honorable Mention
2021: 3 1st-team, 1 2nd-team, 1 Honorable Mention
After totaling the numbers, the biggest surprise to me was the lack of representation from the 2020 NFL Draft class. While this class was full of NFL-caliber talent on the offensive side of the ball, it lacked truly elite talent. None of the wide receivers, or even #1 overall selection, Joe Burrow, cracked the list. Only Andrew Thomas made it as an Honorable Mention. The 2014 class of wide receivers had more elite talent.
The 2021 NFL Draft class is full of elite talent. Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, and Penei Sewell were all first-team selections. Trevor Lawrence qualified for the second-team, while DeVonta Smith vaulted himself into an Honorable Mention with his play this season. Make no mistake, this is a talented 2021 NFL Draft class.
Stay tuned for more draft coverage from Game On Wisconsin and the release of my NFL Draft All-Prospect Defense.