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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Top 2021 NFL Prospects Falling Down Draft Boards

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Heading into the 2021 NFL draft, players must rely on an entirely different set of criteria while making their cases to professional teams. 

    When combined with tape, the combine is usually the most important draft metric, but it was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. College pro days now take on great import since that’s where players will record official measurements and perform on-field drills. 

    It’s also where some could see their draft stocks go down. 

    When we talk about prospects’ stocks falling ahead of the NFL draft, it doesn’t always mean there’s some inherent red flag like a bad pro day, health issues or character concerns. Sometimes, it’s as simple as teams trading up to target different players or having interest in alternative options.

    Let’s take a look at some players who, for any of the reasons above, may find themselves selected later than expected.

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    At one point, Virginia’s Caleb Farley could have been the top cornerback to come off the board in the 2021 NFL draft. He was in Daniel Jeremiah’s Feb. 16 mock draft and Charley Casserly’s Feb. 25 mock draft for NFL.com, going to the Denver Broncos at No. 9 in both.

    However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on March 22 that Farley would not work out at his March 26 pro day because he was scheduled to have a microdiscectomy on his back. 

    According to Schefter, Farley’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the cornerback “will be cleared for full activities before the start of training camp.” But the surgery has some analysts pushing him further down their mock drafts. 

    On a March 24 episode of Draft Insiders, Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline said Farley’s surgery is “significantly more serious than people are portraying it to be in the sense that he is going to drop because of this.”

    “I have talked to people in the league. [People in his camp] are trying to pawn it off as it is no big deal, he’ll be ready for football, for camp,” he continued. “People in the league say this is something that will have to be monitored, something we are going to have to watch. This is something that is a concern and will negatively impact his draft stock.”

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Most published results from this year’s pro days were solid, which means those that weren’t stand out even more. 

    That was the case for Pittsburgh defensive back Paris Ford, who posted pedestrian—if not actually poor—numbers on March 17. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.90 and 4.83 seconds, per Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy. (Yes, that’s slower than Alabama quarterback Mac Jones.)

    “I wouldn’t say a great day. I’ll say a decent day,” he said afterward, per Jerry DiPaola of TribLive. “Probably wish I could have done a few things better, but the proof is in the pudding now.”

    After the Panthers suffered a four-game skid this season, Ford decided to opt out and end his year early. The move “drew controversy,” Nick Farabaugh of Pro Football Network wrote, as he didn’t get to put up any tape against Clemson. He finished his 23-game career with six interceptions and three forced fumbles.

    As Marcus Mosher of Raiders Wire pointed out, Ford’s 0.28 relative athletic score, which seeks to provide context by comparing player metrics, was shockingly low.

    The combine could have been a great opportunity for Ford to supplement his tape with a great workout and demonstrate his ball skills. However, his pro day was his last major opportunity to convince NFL teams before the draft, and he didn’t leave the best impression.

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    The first four selections in next month’s NFL draft are widely expected to be quarterbacks (some order of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and BYU’s Zach Wilson), and Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones won’t wait too long to hear his name called. 

    Jones is generally considered No. 5 among this year’s quarterback class. But on March 11, an AFC scout told NFL’s Tom Pelissero, “He’s not in that same conversation with the other guys.”

    An AFC executive also said, “I don’t think the talent level is there, from either an arm-strength standpoint or an athleticism standpoint.”

    In the first of three Alabama pro days, Jones had an opportunity to make a case that he deserves to be drafted soon after the other four—if not even sooner. However, he didn’t blow anyone away at a workout that saw him miss a few throws.

    He did, however, impress with 40-yard dash times of 4.72 and 4.68 seconds.

    Jones could still come off the board in the top 10, but it might take a quarterback-needy team trading up for him. In ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s mock draft on March 23, he fell to the New England Patriots at No. 15.

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Like teammate Paris Ford, Patrick Jones II was counting on a strong showing at his pro day to make his final predraft case.

    Unfortunately, he pulled his hamstring while running his 40-yard dash and had to end his pro day prematurely. 

    That was after Jones failed to seize a great opportunity at the Senior Bowl with a “quiet week of practices with the National team,” per Mike Wison of Cardiac Hill.

    Wilson did add that Jones impressed with a three-man sack of quarterback Jamie Newman in the second quarter and a solo sack later on. However, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein thought the Senior Bowl was “a tough week for Jones, too, as he failed to dominate in one-on-ones as some expected.”

    Zierlein noted that given his “explosive get-off,” the 40-yard dash and vertical leap at his pro day would have helped Jones. However, he wasn’t able to show off that explosivity and will have to hope there’s enough on his tape to convince teams.

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    Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

    It might seem ridiculous to suggest the first Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991 might be falling down draft boards, but that could be the case for Alabama’s DeVonta Smith.

    There’s no question Smith can bust open a game. In 2020, he had 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns before playing a huge role in Alabama’s win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, in which he had 215 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

    In his college career, he amassed 235 receptions for 3,965 yards and 46 touchdowns.

    However, Smith hasn’t done much to quell teams’ worries about his weight heading into the NFL draft. If anything, he has exacerbated them.

    In January, NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread reported that Smith “declined to be weighed in or measured for height” at the Senior Bowl. After that, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks dropped him to No. 16 in his mock draft, behind LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase (No. 3) and fellow Tide wideout Jaylen Waddle (No. 7).

    Last week, the San Francisco 49ers traded up to No. 3, and the Philadelphia Eagles moved down to No. 12 from No. 6. That certainly won’t help Smith land within the top 10 as it’s clear the first four teams on the board (the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, 49ers and Atlanta Falcons) will likely go after quarterbacks.

    In a post-trade mock draft, USA Today‘s Nate Davis had Smith going to the New England Patriots at No. 15. 

    At his pro day, the 170-pounder declined to participate in workouts and said he’d been weighing in at the “same thing I’ve been weighing.” Alabama had him listed at 6’1″, 175 pounds. 

    In a March 24 edition of Draft Insiders, Pro Football Network’s Trey Wingo pointed out that Smith would be the second-lightest receiver drafted in the first round since 1999.

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Marco Wilson is the sole player on this list who has not yet had his pro day. It could be premature to claim his draft stock is falling, but a lot is already riding on his performance. 

    Executives will be looking for maturity when they speak with Wilson. It’s not a good sign that he may be best known for picking up tight end Kole Taylor’s shoe and throwing it down the field to draw a 15-yard penalty and set up LSU’s 57-yard game-winning field goal.

    On the field, Wilson turned heads as a true freshman in 2017 with 34 tackles and 10 passes defensed before suffering a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore. Over the next two years, he didn’t leap off the stat sheet with three interceptions and 36 tackles in 2019 and 29 tackles and four passes defensed over eight games in the last campaign.

    It’s not a given that a good pro day could firmly establish Wilson in the Day 2 range, but it could certainly rehabilitate his draft stock.

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