Eros Stock – NFL draft tier rankings 2021
Executives, coaches and scouts for all 32 NFL teams are closing in on their final boards ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Likewise, I’m finishing up my tape evaluations and starting to rank my own board.
And as those rankings get some finishing touches, it’s sometimes easier to compare players graded very close together by tiering them. Thanks to our Scouts Inc. draft grades, we can separate the top prospects into different groups to help predict where they will come off the board during the first three rounds of the draft. I have 111 players with at least a 70 grade, and I stacked them into six tiers.
This year’s Tier 1 consists of only one player, and it won’t surprise you who it is. But 28 other players earn a first-round grade with a 90-plus, and 82 more are designated as a Day 2-caliber prospect. Even though these tiers include only first-, second- and third-round talents, my full rankings currently include more than 300 prospects. I’ll continue to update those rankings right up until the April 29 draft day. But for now, here are my draft tiers for 2021.
Note: This file first ran on April 5 but has been updated with new rankings.
Jump to a tier: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Tier 1: Lawrence all alone
Grades of 95 or higher. Elite prospects. Should be immediate NFL starters and project as perennial All-Pro players. Worthy of a top-five pick most years. I had just one player in this tier in 2020: Chase Young at 95.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (97)
Lawrence really is in a tier of his own, and he is my highest-graded prospect since running back Saquon Barkley in 2018 (97). The Clemson signal-caller is a once-in-a-decade kind of QB prospect, and I’ve likened him to Andrew Luck and his evaluations before Luck was drafted at No. 1 in 2012. In fact, Luck is the only quarterback to have a higher grade from me over the past 10 years (99). Lawrence is also expected to be a No. 1 pick this month. He has excellent touch and accuracy, he makes good decisions with the football, he can drive the ball vertically with velocity and he moves very well in the pocket. Simply put, he’s the definition of a franchise quarterback.
Tier 2: 11 prospects
Grades between 92 and 94. A notch below the elite class but still considered a plug-and-play NFL starter with high-level potential. Worthy of a top-15 pick most years. I had 11 players in this tier in 2020.
2. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (94)
3. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU (94)
4. Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young (93)
5. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (93)
6. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama (93)
7. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon (93)
8. Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern (93)
9. Micah Parsons, ILB, Penn State (93)
10. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State (92)
11. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (92)
12. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, ILB, Notre Dame (92)
What stands out about this group is the pass-catching talent. Each of the four offensive weapons with a 92-plus grade brings something a little different, too. Pitts is a matchup nightmare, thanks to his size, speed, hands and ridiculous wingspan. Chase is elite in the way he adjusts to the ball in the air and is a physical presence. Smith is a savvy route runner with soft hands and explosive acceleration. And Waddle is probably the most elusive player in the class when the ball is in his hands, burning defenders both vertically and after the catch.
I also have two quarterbacks in this tier. Wilson excels when the play breaks down, extending with his legs, instinctively creating on second-reaction throws and adjusting his arm angle to hit windows. And his arm strength and accuracy are high-end skills. For context, I had two quarterbacks last year who met or exceeded Wilson’s grade: Joe Burrow (94) and Tua Tagovailoa (93). Then there is Lance. I love his big-time arm, the way he reads the field and his ability to run for big chunks of yardage. Those are key areas in today’s NFL offenses.
Tier 3: 17 prospects
Grades between 90 and 91. Good NFL starters and are considered strong values in the bottom half of Round 1 in any given draft class. I had 11 players in this tier in 2020.
13. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (91)
14. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (91)
15. Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC (91)
16. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech (91)
17. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU (91)
18. Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan (91)
19. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama (90)
20. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida (90)
21. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama (90)
22. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (90)
23. Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa (90)
24. Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia (90)
25. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (90)
26. Jamin Davis, ILB, Kentucky (90)
27. Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern (90)
28. Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami (90)
29. Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU (90)
The first thing we notice about this pack of prospects — the last 17 whom I have a Round 1 grade on — is the two QBs. Fields is accurate and can hit the deep ball really well, and I like the way the ball jumps out of his hand with zip. Jones doesn’t have the same mobility traits as the four previously mentioned QBs, but he shows high-end touch, anticipation and ball placement. En route to a national title with Alabama, he led the nation in many statistical categories, including Total QBR and completion percentage. In all, this is an extremely good quarterback class.
Check out the best highlights from Oregon safety Jevon Holland’s college career.
The second thing that pops is the appearance — finally — of our first pass-rushers. A year after Chase Young topped our board with a 95, the first 2021 edge rusher checks in with a 91 at No. 18 (Paye). But he leads four defensive ends or outside linebackers with at least a 90 grade, which is actually a slight jump up from three in 2020 (and Isaiah Simmons was more of a hybrid prospect). Paye has explosive closing speed and a high ceiling, but the stat sheet hasn’t caught up just yet for him.
We also see our first two running backs. Harris is terrific between the tackles, has power and agility and is effective both catching passes out of the backfield and pass protecting. Etienne is explosive and has the second gear to break away for long touchdowns, and he’ll be a very good pass-catching back in the NFL.
Tier 4: 20 prospects
Grades between 85 and 89. Good future NFL starters. Second-round value. I had 23 players in this tier in 2020.
30. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State (89)
31. Nick Bolton, ILB, Missouri (89)
32. Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama (89)
33. Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss (89)
34. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina (88)
35. Ronnie Perkins, DE, Oklahoma (88)
36. Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (88)
37. Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame (88)
38. Joe Tryon, DE, Washington (88)
39. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota (88)
40. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State (88)
41. Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami (88)
42. Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville (87)
43. Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State (87)
44. Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington (87)
45. Jabril Cox, ILB, LSU (86)
46. Carlos Basham Jr., DE, Wake Forest (86)
47. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky (85)
48. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State (85)
49. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama (85)
I like many of these prospects a lot and think they would be great gets at the beginning of Day 2 — though a few will of course end up late-Round 1 selections. To name a few:
Bolton is a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine at inside linebacker.
Moore reads the coverage well and can find soft spots in coverage.
Williams has great contact balance carrying the football through the hole.
Bateman has good hands and will attack the middle of the field.
Samuel is quick, technically sound and instinctive in coverage.
Onwuzurike is sudden and uses his quickness to penetrate against the run.
Watch for the offensive linemen in this tier to slide into Round 1. I had 14 linemen in the first two rounds of my most recent mock draft, and five of them went on Day 1. Teams seek pass protectors in the first round, and guys such as Jenkins, Mayfield and Eichenberg can be high-end starting tackles in the NFL.
Tier 5: 16 prospects
Grades between 80 and 84. Future solid to good NFL starters but might need to serve in substitution package/situational roles early in career. Mid- to late-second-round value. I had 12 players in this tier in 2020.
50. Elijah Molden, CB, Washington (84)
51. Chazz Surratt, ILB, North Carolina (84)
52. Patrick Jones II, DE, Pittsburgh (83)
53. Richie Grant, S, UCF (83)
54. Hunter Long, TE, Boston College (83)
55. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue (82)
56. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas (82)
57. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon (82)
58. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma (82)
59. Alex Leatherwood, OG, Alabama (82)
60. Payton Turner, DE, Houston (81)
61. Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse (81)
62. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia (81)
63. Jackson Carman, OG, Clemson (81)
64. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse (80)
65. Quinn Meinerz, OG, Wisconsin-Whitewater (80)
Four players with an 80-84 grade in 2020 ended up first-round picks, so there is plenty of reason to believe some of these prospects can rise before draft day. Here we see quite a few defensive backs, including a pair out of Syracuse. Cisco is a rangy ball hawk on the back end, while Melifonwu has the speed and size to excel in a press-heavy scheme. Holland is another ball-hawking safety who plays a physical game. But Washington’s Molden is the highest rated of the defensive backs in this group, and he’s a nickelback who is terrific in zone coverage.
Check out the best highlights from Texas LB Joseph Ossai’s college career.
Also keep an eye on Leatherwood. When he locks on in pass protection, he rarely loses. I could see him ending up a strong pick.
Tier 6: 46 prospects
Grades between 70 and 79. Project as future solid starters but need time to develop, have limited upside or come with baggage. Third-round value. I had 41 players in this tier in 2020.
66. Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State (79)
67. Chris Rumph II, OLB, Duke (79)
68. Alim McNeill, DT, NC State (79)
69. Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia (79)
70. Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn (79)
71. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State (78)
72. Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF (78)
73. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State (78)
74. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan (77)
75. Milton Williams, DT, Louisiana Tech (77)
76. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota (77)
77. Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State (77)
78. Walker Little, OT, Stanford (77)
79. Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina (77)
80. Joseph Ossai, OLB, Texas (76)
81. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan (76)
82. Jay Tufele, DT, USC (76)
83. Tay Gowan, CB, UCF (76)
84. James Hudson, OT, Cincinnati (75)
85. Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson (75)
86. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina (73)
87. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (73)
88. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M (73)
89. Shakur Brown, CB, Michigan State (73)
90. Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana (73)
91. Aaron Banks, OG, Notre Dame (73)
92. Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State (72)
93. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford (72)
94. Richard LeCounte, S, Georgia (72)
95. Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa (72)
96. Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina (71)
97. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa (71)
98. Pete Werner, ILB, Ohio State (71)
99. Trey Smith, OG, Tennessee (71)
100. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State (71)
101. Hamsah Nasirildeen, S, Florida State (71)
102. Osa Odighizuwa, DT, UCLA (71)
103. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida (70)
104. Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest (70)
105. Josh Myers, C, Ohio State (70)
106. Baron Browning, OLB, Ohio State (70)
107. Marco Wilson, CB, Florida (70)
108. Dayo Odeyingbo, DE, Vanderbilt (70)
109. Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State (70)
110. Tyler Shelvin, DT, LSU (70)
111. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma (70)
Plenty of these players could become impact starters in the NFL, but they all come with some risks and a need to develop in some areas. Davis is an excellent pass protector who should earn a starting gig on the interior of an NFL line, and while Little has played very little football over the past two years, he is an effective run blocker. Adebo and LeCounte are ball hawks who can help NFL defenses generate turnovers. Ossai is disruptive and flies all over the field. Collins and Surratt are big targets in the pass game. And Nixon has a lot of agility for his size and is a strong tackler up the middle.
My sixth and seventh quarterbacks also fall here. Neither is a surefire starter in the NFL, but both can be capable backups who could become starters if developed in the right system. Mond definitely needs to work on his footwork and mechanics, though his arm is impressive. And Trask is very accurate but lacks arm strength and pocket mobility. The next QBs on my board fall below 70 grades, starting with Stanford’s Davis Mills (69) and Georgia’s Jamie Newman (65). Check out how all 300-plus prospects on my board stack up.