Take 5: Draft prospects destined for NFL stardom
There are bound to be some spectacular busts in this year’s NFL draft, just like every year before it.
The cold reality of the process is that not every first-round pick can turn into a Hall of Famer, and the players your favorite team takes on Day 3 won’t all be diamonds in the rough who turn into 10-year starters.
That said, the football world can be confident that these five players are destined for stardom at the professional level.
TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The phrase associated with Pitts that pops up everywhere you look is “nightmare matchup.”
It’s little wonder why draft evaluators universally feel that way, with Pitts’ 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame combined with a 4.44-second 40 time and reliable hands. Pitts is often ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the class, absurdly high for his position. No tight end has been selected in the top five since 1972, but he might break that mold.
That’s partly due to the rising star potential of his position. From Rob Gronkowski’s heyday to the emergence of Travis Kelce and George Kittle, athletic tight ends have become more valuable — and more desired — weapons in passing games around the NFL. Pitts is ready to join them in the pro ranks.
WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
The wide receiver class is stacked this year, with five to seven receivers projected as first-round picks. There’s particular star power at slot receiver — two hail from Alabama, Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith — but Chase rises above them all as the complete package.
Chase, who opted out of the 2020 college football season, has top-end speed and more size than Waddle and Smith, allowing him to line up anywhere in an offense’s formation. He averaged 21.2 yards per catch and caught 20 touchdowns in 2019 for national champion LSU. Scouts have said Chase can still improve as a route-runner, which makes his pro potential all the more frightening for defensive coordinators who will have to deal with him.
CB Patrick Surtain, Alabama
Most mock drafts are predicting a run on offensive players to kick off the first round. Surtain might not go until the Dallas Cowboys pick at No. 10, but he’s the best defensive prospect available this year. SEC quarterbacks rarely challenged Surtain, whose length is ideal for a prototypical shutdown corner at the next level.
“I can’t say enough about this guy in every regard. He’s gonna be very successful, no doubt,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said last season, pointing to Surtain’s smarts and coachability in particular. And the Crimson Tide know how to churn out NFL-ready defensive backs. Surtain is following in the footsteps of Marlon Humphrey (2016 first-rounder), Minkah Fitzpatrick (2017 first-rounder) and Xavier McKinney and Trevon Diggs (both 2020 second-rounders).
OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
It’s not the sexiest position out there, but star left tackles certainly exist, and this year’s draft class is heavy on those all-important blindside protectors. Some analysts prefer Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater or Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, both projected for the first round, but Sewell has been the class’s most coveted lineman for a few years.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was just a sophomore when he won the 2019 Outland Trophy — the award given to the best college lineman, offensive or defensive. According to Oregon’s athletics site, Sewell only allowed one sack in two seasons starting for the Ducks. Scouts believe he has a high floor, and generally speaking, first-round tackles rarely turn out to be busts unless you’re talking about Tony Mandarich.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence is the most acclaimed quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and the Jacksonville Jaguars will make him the first overall selection Thursday. But rather than reciting all of Lawrence’s talents and traits, let’s instead remember that star college quarterbacks are not in complete control of their NFL success. First, Lawrence needs to walk into a situation where the franchise is set up to build around him.
The Jaguars have swung and missed on first-round QBs before (Blake Bortles in 2014, Blaine Gabbert in 2011). Perhaps those players’ careers would have turned out differently if Jacksonville didn’t lack talented skill players to complement them or cycle through coaching staffs so frequently. But with Urban Meyer hired as coach and four more draft picks in the first three rounds, this time feels different.
No pressure, kid.
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media