Saturday Football: 2021 NFL Draft WR1, B1G draft surprises and Tyler Shough
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Good morning and happy Monday! The FCS spring season got started with a double-overtime game between McNeese State and Tarleton State on Saturday night. If the games continue to be that entertaining, spring football could finally be a big thing!
For today’s newsletter, though, we’ll keep our focus on the FBS ranks and the upcoming NFL Draft. We’ll discuss the top receivers in the draft class and some surprising Big Ten draft prospects. Then, we’ll head to Oregon, where the Ducks’ starting quarterback has entered the transfer portal. Let’s get started!
2021 NFL DRAFT WR1
The 2021 NFL Draft class is loaded with elite receivers. Who is the top receiver in the group?
The 2021 NFL Draft will likely feature a quarterback as the No. 1 overall pick. It wouldn’t be surprising, as the last three drafts have had quarterbacks going No. 1. Five of the last six drafts have featured quarterbacks going first. And, this year, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is a heavy favorite to be the top selection, which is currently held by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But, once we get past the quarterbacks, there figure to be a number of receivers who go in the first round (and in the top 10 picks, specifically). So, who should be the first receiver off the board? Well, there are a number of talented options. Here’s what’s being said about the top draft receivers:
- Alabama WR DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy in 2020. He had an outstanding year, playing for an undefeated national championship-winning Crimson Tide squad. Could he go No. 3 overall to the Miami Dolphins? Well, that’s something he and Tua Tagovailoa have discussed. Tagovailoa, now the Dolphins’ starter, connected with Smith on the famous 2nd-and-26 play in overtime of the 2017 College Football Playoff title game, so they have some chemistry. However, NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks explained why Smith’s size is a big hindrance to his draft stock. Alabama coach Nick Saban had a hilarious response to those questioning Smith’s size, though. NFL legend Brett Favre also said recently that he’d take Smith No. 1 overall, even over Trevor Lawrence.
- The other option for WR1 also comes from the SEC ranks. That would be Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU. Like Smith, he won the Biletnikoff Award and helped his team win a national championship. But, Chase opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft. Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox has Chase ranked as the best player in the draft class who didn’t play in 2020. Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow — Chase’s quarterback at LSU and the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft — has expressed interest in an NFL reunion. ESPN analyst Todd McShay has Chase as WR1 in the class, followed by Smith as 1A.
- Who else could be the first receiver off the board? While Chase and Smth are getting plenty of buzz, there are other SEC guys seeing their stocks rise. Florida’s Kadarius Toney figures to be a Round 1 selection in April. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara dove into how much Toney’s stock skyrocketed during the 2020 campaign. Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle is another Round 1 receiver. He’s currently being listed as a potential option for the New York Giants at No. 11 overall.
There are plenty of great receivers in this draft class. There are a pair of Biletnikoff winners and some other speedsters who are turning pro. Chase and Smith are the top options, but anything can happen on draft night. With no normal NFL Combine this year, we’ll see how these top prospects perform in their schools’ respective Pro Days over the next few weeks. A lot of money is on the line!
- Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, so let’s hand out some Valentine’s honors. There have always been some dynamic duos in the SEC. Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith. Those are just a couple from 2020. So, who are the top potential duos for the 2021 season? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara named the duo he can’t wait to watch from each SEC squad in 2021.
- Georgia WR George Pickens is getting major buzz heading into 2021. But, is there a receiver who could usurp him as the league’s best returning pass catcher next fall? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara thinks so. He named the SEC receiver he thinks will be the league’s WR1 in 2021.
- Schedules aren’t created equally in the college football world. Some teams have easy nonconference slates. Others play in leagues that don’t have the best opponents. Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon named the teams that have the most favorable schedules for 2021.
- The Nebraska Cornhuskers face a make-or-break 2021 season. But, heading into the year, they have some key positions they need to fill in order to compete in the Big Ten. Saturday Tradition’s Steve Marik breaks down the biggest holes the Huskers need to fill before next season.
RISING STARS FROM THE BIG TEN
Some unlikely Big Ten names have impressed NFL Draft analysts recently. Who are the biggest surprises so far?
Most of the conversations regarding the NFL Draft typically begin and end with the first round. There’s always plenty of talk about who will be the No. 1 overall pick, which quarterback will be selected first and who are the big stars who might squeak into a Day 1 selection.
Often overlooked are the players who might be taken in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL Draft. Make no mistake, though, a lot of players selected on the second and third days can still make quite an impact with their respective organizations. With pro days coming up and Senior Bowl behind us, a few unlikely Big Ten names have received some attention recently. Who are some of those players?
- Ohio State LB Justin Hilliard really improved his stock during Senior Bowl week. Hilliard was considered a winner from the week in Mobile, but his name is still being mentioned weeks later. Draft analyst and Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy said nobody helped their draft stock more in the postseason and during Senior Bowl preparations than Hilliard. FOX’s RJ Young also labeled the Buckeye LB as a “top 5 winner” from the week. .
- Shakur Brown is the big name out of Michigan State. The 2-5 campaign from the Spartans in 2020 didn’t have many people talking about anyone from Michigan State as a potential steal in the 2021 NFL Draft. But Pro Football Focus’s Mike Renner says that Brown is a guy that anyone would want to “go to battle with” on the field. After tallying 25 tackles, 5 interceptions and 4 pass break-ups last year, PFF also has Brown listed as one of its top 100 prospects in this year’s draft class.
- A pair of opt-out players are still receiving high praise. If you thought not playing the 2020 season would automatically hurt a player’s draft stock, you’re incorrect. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins have proven that highly-skilled players can still receive attention without being on the field. Parsons is still considered the top linebacker prospect in this year’s draft by Pro Football Focus, despite not playing a down. Collins did participate in the Senior Bowl, and that was enough to showcase that he possess the speed, athleticism and pass-catching ability to succeed at the next level. Analyst Jim Nagy was impressed by the receiver’s ability to beat defenders deep and make catches at the ball’s highest point.
- Sorry, but we still have to mention Justin Fields. The Ohio State quarterback doesn’t exactly fit the description of “unsung hero,” but there are plenty of draft analysts out there who are still low on Fields compared to other QB prospects in this year’s draft. Recently, ESPN’s Todd McShay had Fields being selected with the No. 4 pick in the NFL Draft. The problem? The other Top 3 picks were all quarterbacks.
The NFL Combine has essentially been canceled and all that remains are pro days, with players getting one last opportunity to improve their draft stock before the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 29. Over the next two months, it should be interesting to see what other unlikely Big Ten stars wiggle their way up draft boards.
JUST FOR FUN
The 2020 FBS season seems like it ended ages ago, but it really only drew to a conclusion last month. But, now that our attention is turned to 2021, let’s see how quickly you’ve forgotten the 2020 stat leaders. Can you name the quarterback who led each of the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) in touchdown passes?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
Oregon lost its starting QB to the transfer portal. Where will the Ducks turn and where will he end up?
The Oregon Ducks got some unexpected news this week, as 2020 starting quarterback Tyler Shough announced he was entering the NCAA transfer portal. Shough took over this past season after Justin Herbert was a Round 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He just won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
So, what will the Ducks do now? There’s a big opening at starting quarterback. And, where will Shough end up? Let’s take a look at the latest out of Eugene:
- Shough was a highly rated recruit coming out of high school in Arizona. Per the 247Sports composite rankings, Shough was a 4-star prospect, the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2018 and the No. 1 overall recruit from Arizona. He finished the 2020 campaign with 1,559 yards,13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, but he was replaced at times in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Iowa State by Anthony Brown, who is returning to Oregon. Media members were surprised by the decision from Shough, wondering what it means about Oregon’s QB battle. Where will Shough end up? Well, Fansided’s Lawrence Santa Maria wonders if Shough would be a good fit at Penn State.
- How about the Ducks? Where do they turn next? Well, Brown is certainly in consideration, but many analysts, including Matt Zemek of Trojans Wire, think 4-star freshman Ty Thompson could beat out Brown, a transfer from Boston College who came to Eugene ahead of the 2020 season.
Whatever happens, this will be a big battle to watch in the Pac-12. The Ducks will once again enter the season as one of the favorites to win the award. Can they do it? Well, that might depend on who wins the starting QB job and how they perform.
The players who led each Power 5 conference in touchdown passes during the 2020 season were:
- ACC: Sam Howell, North Carolina — 30
- Big 12: Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma — 28
- Big Ten: Justin Fields, Ohio State — 22
- Pac-12: Kedon Slovis, USC — 17
- SEC: Kyle Trask, Florida — 43
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“You can try to emulate Coach all you want, but you’re not gonna be able do it. His focus is incredible. His patience is incredible as a human being. I think he’d probably be the same way as a businessman. There’s a lot of stuff thrown at you as a head coach, from the field to off the field to interviews to media to player issues. There’s a thousand things that get thrown at you as a head coach daily. You have to go in there with your boxing gloves every day because there’s always something. To see him at a place like Alabama just with such poise, patience and focus on the task at hand, not getting distracted by things, it’s incredible.
“That was a life lesson right there regardless of football. Family life, children, the focus and the patience that he has allows him to just focus on the task at hand, which is his football team.”
– Former Alabama assistant Major Applewhite explains why it won’t be easy to replicate the amount of success Nick Saban has had throughout his legendary career.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Alabama’s men’s basketball team had quite the game on Saturday, scoring a school-record (for an SEC game) 115 points against Georgia. Nate Oats is the SEC Coach of the Year frontrunner. How did Alabama land such great coaches?