5 B1G players I expect to be 1st-round selections in the 2021 NFL Draft
Making future projections for the NFL Draft is an incredibly difficult task. There’s a reason why ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah and others dedicate so much time, film study and research into putting their mock drafts together.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that there are so many uncertainties — what are the team needs for each organization? What will the draft order look like? Will there be any last-minute trades.
While forecasting what will happen on draft day can be nearly impossible, we can still get a good idea of which players have the best shot at becoming first-round draft picks. Those who stand out during the college football season and NFL Scouting Combine can usually lock themselves into a first-round situation weeks before the draft begins.
I’m stepping into the shoes of the NFL Draft experts (kind of) and taking a look at which B1G players I expect to see selected in the first round of the 2021 draft. Since the B1G had five first-round selections this year, that’s the number I’ll use for this projection.
These are the five names I anticipate hearing called on Day 1 of next year’s NFL Draft.
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
When there’s such a talented quarterback available in the draft, someone is going to take him. And in the 2021 class, there’s going to be two extremely gifted gunslingers with Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. The biggest question will be which elite QB goes first?
Fields would’ve been a first-round selection this year if he was eligible after just one year as the starting quarterback at Ohio State. He led one of the nation’s most potent offenses, throwing for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns while rushing for 484 yards and an additional 10 scores. If Fields produces similar numbers again this year, he’ll not only be a first rounder, he’ll likely be a top five pick.
Last season, Fields showcased the ability to make every throw in the book, was extremely patient in the pocket and was able to scramble on broken plays in order to keep drives alive. What was perhaps most impressive was his decision-making and his awareness on third-down situations. Making plays to keep the punt team on the sideline is an important characteristic for a quarterback an Fields has it.
The lone concern regarding Fields is the knee injury he sustained late at the end of the 2019 season. If he’s back to full strength and playing at 100 percent, he could be the No. 1 overall pick in 2021.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Entering the 2020 season, Parsons is going to be regarded as the top defensive player in the B1G and possibly college football. He has an incredible knack for finding the football, is capable of getting into the backfield and disrupting plays and creating turnovers. What more do you want in a linebacker?
Parsons has already notched nearly 200 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and five pass break-ups in two years with the Nittany Lions. As if that wasn’t enough, Parsons is hoping to show off his versatility on special teams this year, begging the coaching staff to allow him to field kick returns this fall. We’ll see if that actually happens.
Maybe Parsons doesn’t get his shot on special teams, but he’s still an athletic, 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker who packs plenty of punch with his hits. He’s excellent at stopping the run and filling gaps and is usually one of the best overall athletes on the field.
The skill, athleticism and frame is more than enough to land Parsons a first-round selection.
Alaric Jackson, OT, Iowa
Iowa has proven to be a great place to get developed as an offensive lineman under Kirk Ferentz. Could Alaric Jackson join Tristan Wirfs as a first-round selection in back-to-back drafts? He has a good shot to do so.
Jackson has used his 6-foot-6, 320-pound frame to move defensive linemen in the B1G and has plenty of experience, playing in 34 career games with the Hawkeyes. Because Iowa utilizes a pro-style offense, the transition for offensive linemen out of Hawkeye country tends to be a little bit smoother. That will be appealing to plenty of draft scouts.
Some draft experts look to Jackson’s footwork as a potential issue at the next level, but he’s got another season to improve that area and really improve his draft stock. Plus, if he’s able to put up some big numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine like Wirfs did this year, Jackson could lock himself into a first-round spot.
Jackson would have likely been selected in this year’s draft but opted to return to Iowa to recover from injury and hopefully propel his stock for 2021. Don’t be surprised if he skyrockets on draft boards throughout the season.
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Knowing Ohio State’s history of success with cornerbacks in the NFL Draft, it’s easy to see why Shaun Wade could be a Day 1 selection next April. While he could’ve hit the draft this past season, he decided to follow Damon Arnette’s path and return to Columbus for one more season.
Arnette turned that additional year of experience into the 19th overall selection during the 2020 NFL Draft. Wade, who will be one of the top defensive backs returning to college football, could enjoy a similar fate.
Wade did an excellent job in Ohio State’s secondary last season, collecting 25 tackles, breaking up eight passes, recording an interception and forcing a fumble. Now that Jeff Okudah and Arnette have departed, he’ll be the leader of the Buckeye cornerback group with expectations of being a first-team All-B1G selection and the conference’s Defensive Back of the Year.
Just like Arnette, Wade’s decision to return to Ohio State could improve his stock from a Day 2 or Day 3 pick into the ninth Buckeye cornerback to be selected in the first round of the draft since 2014.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Putting up big numbers isn’t always what appeals to NFL head coaches and general managers, but Bateman’s statistics were too impressive to ignore last season. The Minnesota receiver totaled 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns on 60 catches in 2019 and is now one of the B1G’s top returning receivers for the 2020 campaign.
It’s not just the stats that makes Bateman a likely first-round candidate. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Georgia native has shown the ability to make catches in traffic, locate the ball at its highest point, haul in one-handed grabs and outrace defenders when the ball is in his possession.
Bateman is one of the best do-it-all receivers in the B1G.
Another year at Minnesota will allow him to show off his athleticism and play-making ability on the field. Bateman may be on the border of a first- or second-round selection, but another solid season and a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine could bump him into a solid Day 1 guy.