NFL draft: Tracking college football opt-out prospects for 2021

Eric Edholm
·23-min read

Several college football players have opted out for the 2020 season amid concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The full list of college opt-outs can be found here.

For the players who have forgone their college eligibility, the 2021 NFL draft awaits. Here are some brief scouting snapshots of the prospects whose college football careers are now over:

Sept. 10

USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker

Vera-Tucker was a standout for the Trojans last year at guard, but he returned to school with the idea of being USC’s left tackle this season, taking the place of Miami Dolphins first-rounder Austin Jackson. Once the Pac-12 pushed back the football season, Vera-Tucker’s plans changed. Now he’s decided to opt out and enter the 2021 draft.

The 6-4, 310-pound Vera-Tucker showed some nice athletic skill and movement ability last season at left guard. One of the things that stood out on tape last season was his ability to adjust to line games (stunts, twists, blitzes) and adjust on the fly. Vera-Tucker has the makings of a good run and pass blocker, but his lack of experience could work against him. It’s not clear why he didn’t become a full-time starter until last season.

And now he’ll miss out on the left tackle experience, too. Vera-Tucker might be pegged more as a guard now by NFL scouts, as he hasn’t played outside since his final season of high school. Even sill, he’s regarded as a Day 2 prospect who could hear his name called in the top 50 or 60 overall selections.

Sept. 9

Oregon CB Deommodore Lenoir

Lenoir is a senior, so his decision to opt out just means he’s not waiting for the Pac-12 to reverse course and potentially play at some point. The 5-11, 202-pound Lenoir is a scrappy, instinctive and physical corner who is an interesting evaluation.

Teams that seek aggressive, tough corners who can tackle on the edge are going to love his approach, even if his lack of length is a worry, especially in some red-zone reps we’ve seen where it clearly has hurt him.

Right now, we view Lenoir as a potential top-100 player. He had a breakout season in 2018 (three INTs, seven passes defended) and was solid in 2019, even if his seven penalties last year — all vs. Pac-12 competition — are worrisome. Lenoir can stand to tone down his style at times, and some NFL teams might want to project him inside, even if he’s had very little experience in the slot in college.

Sept. 7

Oregon OT Penei Sewell

Here’s the news from Yahoo Sports’ Sam Cooper on the Ducks’ All-America tackle opting out and declaring for the 2021 NFL draft.

We’ll have plenty more on Sewell, who could be a top-five overall selection, in the coming weeks and months. Although he’s not the perfect prospect some analysts have made him out to be, Sewell is roundly viewed as the top OT prospect for the 2021 class.

The amazing part is that he’s still 19 years old (Sewell turns 20 on Oct. 9), and Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal — a man who knows a little something about offensive-line play — told us during Yahoo Sports’ 2020 NFL draft show that he thinks Sewell is one of the greatest tackles he’s seen and that the 6-foot-6, 330-pounder actually still has room to grow. Possibly as high as 375 pounds!

Watch:

Sept. 6

California CB Camryn Bynum

Even though the Pac-12 shut down a fall season, Bynum made it official by opting out and starting his prep work for the 2021 NFL draft. The 6-foot, 195-pound corner was primed for a big season, even though he was seen rehabbing from an unknown lower-body injury back in March. Bynum had only one pick in 2019 but intercepted five passes in his Golden Bears career

Pro Football Focus had Bynum graded as the second-best Pac-12 corner entering this season, with an 84.1 overall grade. He briefly considered coming out for the 2020 NFL draft before returning to school. Summer grades for Bynum ranged from the third to the fifth round, so he has his work cut out for him to ensure a Day 2 landing spot next spring.

Sept. 2

Georgia QB Jamie Newman

Which is your favorite Newman memory as a Bulldog? The Wake Forest transfer was one of the more highly coveted players to switch uniforms this offseason, but Newman’s stay in Athens, Ga. was a brief one. Rumored to have been behind fellow transfer J.T. Daniels on Kirby Smart’s QB pecking order, Newman opted out of the 2020 season and will begin his prep for the 2021 draft.

On the surface, it’s a questionable move. Summer grades for Newman hovered in the early-to-mid-Day 3 range for the 6-4, 230-pound passer, but a strong final college season could have vaulted him up into the Day 2 range. Still, if he wasn’t going to start, why shouldn’t Newman bail?

His processing speed and intermediate accuracy are questions in our minds, and Newman finished last season for the Demon Deacons on a down note, struggling noticeably once WR Sage Surratt left the lineup with injury.

Still, Newman has some toughness, athleticism, deep-ball touch and moldable traits to project as an NFL backup with low-end starter upside. He reminds us a bit of Brett Hundley coming out.

Sept. 1

North Carolina Central CB Bryan Mills

Perhaps not a household name outside of major draft enthusiasts, Mills nonetheless is very much on NFL scouts’ radars. He’s now opted out for the season and will begin his draft prep.

Here’s what we wrote about Mills in July in our list of the best small-school prospects for the 2021 NFL draft (before, you know, most small schools shut down fall football):

Mills is a long, strong corner who looks like a future Seahawks defender — and he’s said to emulate former Seattle CB Brandon Browner as a pro model.

The 6-foot-2 Mills had five interceptions last season, with three of them coming against Morgan State, tying a school record in the process. Two of those picks came in the end zone, too. Right now, he’s very much on the Day 3 spectrum.

Mills’ combine performance will carry extra weight now, as will his private workouts (if those can happen this coming draft cycle). He’s also listed on the Senior Bowl Top 250 watch list, so landing there and having a big performance could really help make up for a lost final season.

We’d guess Mills has a shot to crack the top 150 picks next spring.

Aug. 31

LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase

Chase has opted out for the 2020 season, and though his social media post did not explicitly indicate that he was headed for the NFL in 2021, it would be a shocking upset to see him return to Baton Rouge. In fact, we believe Chase’s decision — which reportedly was not purely for COVID-related reasons — could end up being a tipping point in college football reasons for future underclassmen entering their third years.

As far as the draft is concerned, it will be difficult in our eyes for another wide receiver in the 2021 class to surpass Chase on most teams’ boards. Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman also has opted out and will not play this fall. Same with Purdue’s Rondale Moore. Perhaps one of Alabama’s duo, Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith, can make a run at him.

LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could end up a top-five pick next spring. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip).
LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could end up a top-five pick next spring. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip).

But from our view, Chase is expected to be a top-10 pick — and perhaps the first top-five overall wideout since Corey Davis went fifth in 2017. Chase’s play speed, body control, route running and tremendous production give him the look of a future WR1 for many NFL clubs.

LSU DT Tyler Shelvin

The 6-foot-3, 346-pound Shelvin was an unsung hero for the Tigers’ championship defense last season and will be a fascinating prospect in the 2021 class after opting out. He’s more of an old-school style defensive lineman who can occupy two gaps and erase teams’ inside run games. But there’s still a solid fit for a player who flashed some dominant reps last season.

Shelvin was well-liked and well-regarded by people in the program, even if many felt his best football was just starting to emerge and that he could have turned in a more dominant 2020 season had he stayed. He’s never going to be a high sack producer, but Shelvin can help cave in blocking schemes, disrupt the passing-game timing and make his impact felt.

With excellent workouts, Shelvin could be in the first-round picture. At the worst, it would be hard to see him escape Round 2 next spring in what’s shaping up as merely a so-so DT class so far.

Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell

Like Chase, Gainwell appeared to leave the door open to returning to school — and in his case, it might be slightly more likely that happens — but will sit out this fall after his family was hit hard by COVID-19. But we still believe Gainwell, who is only a redshirt sophomore, could end up leaning toward leaving.

The 5-11, 195-pound back has been extremely productive in a short amount of time for the Tigers. As a redshirt freshman, he ran for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and caught 51 passes for 610 yards and three scores. A neat note from Yahoo Sports’ Sam Cooper: Gainwell was the only FBS player to rush for more than 1,000 yards and total more than 500 yards receiving in the 2019 season.

If Gainwell does enter the draft, he’ll do so with fewer than 300 touches — and that might not be a bad thing. With so much tread left on his tires, especially with a smaller frame at running back, Gainwell has fresh legs despite lacking experience. He’s a slippery mover with good pass-catching chops, and scouts believe he has room to grow a bit, too.

Right now, we view him as a top-100 prospect with the ability to move into the mid-Day 2 range.

Miami (Ohio) C Danny Godlevske

The third-team all-MAC pick joined his line mate, Tommy Doyle, in opting out but is a lesser-known prospect than his fellow RedHawks teammate. Godlevske started for three of the past four seasons at center at Miami, missing the remainder of the 2017 season after suffering a broken foot in the season opener that year against Marshall.

At 6-foot-2 and 287 pounds, Godlevske lacks ideal size. But he packs some nice punch in his frame and is an efficient mover in space, leading a strong RedHawks run game. With 37 career starts (in 40 games), Godlevske has plenty of tape for scouts to pore through and he’s considered football smart. We see him as a late-round possibility right now.

Aug. 26

Miami (Ohio) OT Tommy Doyle

The first-team all-MAC selection last season has opted out, but as a redshirt senior this just means he won’t be competing in a possible spring season,. Doyle is 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds and started 13 games at left tackle in 2019 after starting at right tackle the year before.

Doyle has some nice tape against Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa from last season, holding the 2020 Buffalo Bills second-rounder to one tackle and a few pressures in last year’s opener. Profiling as a solid pass blocker, Doyle turned in a cleaner 2019 season with fewer penalties (two, after five in 2018) and fewer sacks and pressures allowed after shifting to the left side.

Miami (Ohio) left tackle Tommy Doyle is a well-regarded NFL prospect. (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)
Miami (Ohio) left tackle Tommy Doyle is a well-regarded NFL prospect. (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)

Summer grades on Doyle ranged from the third-round to the fifth-round range, and he has a chance to end up on the higher end of that spectrum with some strong combine workouts. He’s considered a good athlete for his size and appears to be just starting to unlock his blocking prowess after arriving at school as a defensive end.

Aug. 29

Washington EDGE Joe Tryon

Tryon has signed with Athletes First and apparently declared for the 2021 NFL draft. It had to have been a tricky call for Tryon, who has massive upside, but the Pac-12’s decision to bail on a fall college football season likely forced his hand.

As a first-year starter last season, the 6-foot-4, 263-pound Tryon logged a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks for the Huskies. He has the potential to become a top-50 pick, with the athleticism, size and upside to make a push at the first two rounds.

But to this point, his production has been a bit sporadic, with 12 of his tackles for loss and seven of his career sacks coming in four games over the past two seasons. Tryon’s testing and workouts will hold a lot of weight in his final evaluation.

Aug. 20

Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater

Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported Thursday that Slater is now leaving school early and preparing for the 2021 draft. We wrote about Slater’s draft outlook, highlighted by a standout performance against this year’s No. 2 overall pick, Chase Young.

Michigan CB Ambry Thomas

Thomas announced Thursday night that he would be opting out and starting his prep work for the 2021 draft. He was another victim of the Big Ten’s canceled fall season, and it comes one year after he wasn’t even sure he could play at all in 2019.

Thomas was diagnosed with colitis last June, and dropped 35 pounds after being hospitalized. Doctors told him he should plan on not playing last season, but Thomas showed incredible toughness by getting back to to around 190 pounds and starting every game at right corner.

He’s a tough, aggressive, feisty and long-armed man corner who belied his lack of bulk to battle with the Big Ten’s best receivers week in and week out. Thomas allowed only one TD pass last season and was a quality tackler. His summer grades landed in the third-to-fifth-round range, but even in what’s shaping up as a good CB class, we can envision him easily landing on Day 2 with good workouts if he puts on weight.

Aug. 19

USC DT Jay Tufele

When we listed the Big Ten and Pac-12 prospects who could be most affected by a lost fall college football season, Tufele was a player we considered adding. But amid rumors that he might declare early anyway, Tufele was left on the cutting-room floor for that list.

He has now officially decided to opt out and start his 2021 NFL draft prep, which is not shocking considering his talent — and his family situation. Tufele’s father, Line, had five double-bypass heart surgeries while Jay was in high school, and his mother takes care of Line full-time, leaving the family in a very tough spot financially.

On the field, Tufele’s meager production limits his appeal somewhat. But with freaky movement skills, good quickness and heavy, effective hands, he profiles as a disruptor on the next level — with some clear upward mobility as an NFL prospect.

USC defensive lineman Jay Tufele has strong NFL potential, even if his production is lacking. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
USC defensive lineman Jay Tufele has strong NFL potential, even if his production is lacking. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The 6-3, 312-pound Tufele was more effective on a snap-to-snap basis as a part-time starter but had some big performances in 2019, too; he had a good battle with Fresno State OG Netane Muti and registered sacks against the talented O-lines of Washington and Oregon. Prior to the bowl game against Iowa, Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz told Fox that Tufele was the best defensive tackle they had seen on tape all season long.

We view Tufele as a potential top-50 selection right now and among the best handful of DT prospects for next season.

Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt

In nine games last season, Surratt established himself as one of the best receivers in college football. Now he’s banking on that abbreviated season giving himself enough of a scouting template for the 2021 NFL draft after opting out of the 2020 season.

The 6-3, 215-pound Surratt is a physical pass catcher who is at his best bullying DBs and winning contested-catch battles. Former Wake QB Jamie Newman could be seen time and time again throwing the ball up for grabs and Surratt winning the majority of those opportunities. He also displayed some very reliable hands and nice technique in the route-running department, looking like a polished craftsman with some grit to his game.

But the biggest concern — one that could keep him out of the top 50 picks next year amid another deep draft class of receivers — is Surratt’s speed. He plays like a 4.7-second 40-yard dash wideout and really can only separate with technique and physicality. Surratt wasn’t a screen threat or a deep target, so his game appears to have some limitations.

Aug. 18

Michigan OT Jalen Mayfield

As a first-year starter last season, Mayfield really stood out at times after barely seeing the field the year before, attracting the attention of NFL scouts. Mayfield decided to opt out of the 2020 season (that the Big Ten already has postponed) and declare for the 2021 draft. It was a fascinating decision.

What made it so interesting is that for all of Mayfield’s promise, he is far from a finished product. He had poor pass-blocking efforts against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State and is clearly in need of refinement in his footwork, balance and technique. Mayfield possesses the physical tools to be an NFL standout, including an ideal frame, athleticism and length.

But is there a clear and obvious path to a top-40 selection now? We’re just not sure, barring Mayfield testing through the roof and winning over OL coaches. He also has only played right tackle, save for a few mop-up snaps at left tackle in two early games in the 2018 season. Expect Mayfield to be one of the trickier evaluations in what is shaping up at an uneven OT class for 2021.

Aug. 16

Colorado State WR Warren Jackson

The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Jackson caught our eye on a number of occasions last season, starting with his strong opening game against Colorado, through his 214-yard game against New Mexico and finally in his good showing against a solid Boise State defense.

Colorado State WR Warren Jackson turned in a monster performance last season against New Mexico. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Colorado State WR Warren Jackson turned in a monster performance last season against New Mexico. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Colorado State quietly has produced three nice NFL receivers in Michael Gallup, Preston Williams and Olabisi Johnson, and Jackson has a chance to join them in the league as a strong performer. His length is most notable on first viewing, and Jackson’s vertical ability must be respected.

Jackson lacks elite speed and might need to work on his strength, separation ability and releases off the line.

There’s enough intrigue to peg him as an early Day 3 prospect with tangible upside and intrigue.

LSU DB Kary Vincent Jr.

Vincent was a hybrid nickel back-safety for Dave Aranda’s defense last season and has 39 games played (19 starts) on his career resumé, so there’s plenty of tape to evaluate now that Vincent has opted out for the 2020 season.

On the plus side, Vincent’s speed should put him near the top of the 2021 DB class. He also intercepted four passes last season, and his versatility is a nice feather in his cap. However, Vincent’s lack of size (5-foot-9, 175 pounds), lack of physicality and occasional lapses in coverage are strikes against him.

He’ll begin draft prep early now after earning summer grades that could put him in the third- or fourth-round range next year.

Aug. 8

Pittsburgh DL Jaylen Twyman

Twyman is coming off a breakout season in 2019, logging a team-high 10.5 sacks while rushing mostly from the interior. Although Twyman profiles as a 3-technique rusher, he has displayed some nice versatility as Pitt asked him to move up and down the line and even stand up on occasion.

At 6-2 and 290 pounds, Twyman isn’t massive, but he plays with a low center of gravity, gets off the snap extremely quickly and always seems to have his motor running hot. There are times when he struggles to locate the ball and can work on his strength, but teams that slant their defensive linemen and seek gap shooters can find a home for his penetration skills.

Twyman sits in the Round 2 range, but strong workouts could lift his stock higher.

Aug. 6

Purdue WR Rondale Moore

It’s hard not to appreciate the powder-keg playmaker Moore, who isn’t big but packs elite elusiveness and surprising strength into his 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame. Moore might be close to maxed out size-wise, but he absolutely has NFL-caliber traits.

Over the past two seasons, PFF has credited him with 1,102 yards after the catch on his 1,643 receiving yards — a staggeringly high percentage. Purdue moved him all around (slot, wide, backfield) and used Moore extensively as a receiver, runner, and kick and punt returner, averaging 13.3 touches and nearly one TD per game.

With only 17 career games and fewer than 1,000 plays, Moore’s tape evaluation will be limited. He missed most of last season with a leg injury and also underwent offseason finger surgery before opting out for 2020.

Still, there’s a ton to love in this big-play machine who was dazzling as a true freshman in 2018. We also can’t wait to see how he tests at the NFL scouting combine. Here’s Moore back-squatting 600 pounds — nearly 3.5 times his weight! — as a 175-pounder that year:

Even with the questions with Moore as a prospect, seeing him land in Round 1 in 2021 wouldn’t be a surprise.

Miami EDGE Greg Rousseau

The supremely gifted Rousseau (6-7, 260 pounds) is a fascinating study. He’s coming off a 15.5-sack season as a redshirt sophomore, leading to some Julius Peppers comparisons. But he appears to be a work in progress who might not be instant coffee as an NFL pass rusher.

Physically, Rousseau has it all: length, twitchy quickness, emerging power and a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. He also thrived last season more on that physical ability and less with refined technique. Rousseau could be dominated on the next level by savvy tackles who can use his lack of polish against him early on.

Even so, Rousseau was given strong initial grades by NFL scouting service BLESTO and has all the earmarks of a first-round prospect. He is somewhere on the Montez Sweat-Marcus Davenport spectrum as a prospect, even if those players were at different stages of their careers and faced some different questions from NFL scouts.

Aug. 4

Penn State LB Micah Parsons

It was not a shock when we reported that Parsons would opt out for 2020 and declare early. Although off-ball linebackers typically don’t populate the upper reaches of the draft in this era, Parsons is expected to be an exception.

Penn State LB Micah Parsons has the chance to be a rare top-10 pick at linebacker. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Penn State LB Micah Parsons has the chance to be a rare top-10 pick at linebacker. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 6-3, 245-pounder earned All-America honors and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2019 as a sophomore. His sideline-to-sideline range is rare, as are his football instincts. There have been times when his aggressiveness has been used against him, but Parsons looks the part of the complete, three-down linebacker capable of taking over games as a blitzer, run stopper and in coverage.

There was even talk around State College that Parsons could have been tried on offense this season; he’s that gifted an athlete. He gives Derrick Johnson vibes and almost certainly will be a high pick, possibly even in the top 10 overall.

Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

Bateman has the look of a starting “X” receiver at the next level with the kind of polish and body control you don’t typically see in a 20-year-old with fewer than 1,500 college game reps. The 6-2, 205 Bateman is neither massive by NFL standards, nor exceptionally fast, but he has the kind of game-changing ability every club in the league seeks.

Testing could be semi-important for Bateman come combine time, but he has a chance to start focusing on his testing performance after opting out of the 2020 season. Other minor issues that one scout mentioned to Yahoo Sports are some concentration drops and a lack of blocking prowess.

And certainly, missing out on a potentially prolific season could hurt if others — such as LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, for example — put up huge numbers this season.

Expect Bateman to be in the mix for WR1 honors, firmly in the first-round mix and a potential top-25 selection.

July 29

Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

Farley was one of the first college players to opt out, and he checks a lot of boxes at one of the NFL’s neediest positions — even while taking an interesting path. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound corner had a fantastic 2019 season, making huge strides after a 2018 campaign in which he struggled.

Farley had a strange ride at Tech, having switched back and forth from receiver and DB, admitting he lost his confidence on defense before regaining it and thriving under the guidance of CB coach Brian Mitchell, a former NFL defensive back. Farley also showed tremendous strength after losing his mother to breast cancer before the 2018 season and hearing criticism from fans for his up-and-down play that year.

Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley turned in an elite 2019 season before opting out for 2020. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley turned in an elite 2019 season before opting out for 2020. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

Farley had a chance to cement a spot as a top-15 pick with another standout season. There’s belief that he still could end up going very high despite opting out. With great length, fluidity and ball skills, he has the look of an NFL corner.

Injuries are a concern, however, with Farley suffering a torn ACL before his true freshman season, being knocked out of the UNC game for an unspecified injury and missed spring activities following back surgery to repair an injury that caused him to miss the final two games of 2019. He’s now working out at EXOS in Pensacola, Florida, to prepare for next year’s draft.

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