When looking back on the 2021 Draft, it’s hard not to think about the marquee attractions like Trevor Lawrence, Devonta Smith and Trey Lance.
But in retrospect, there are over 224 picks and a well-stacked list of diamond-in-the-rough types of talent that can be traced back for decades. Players picked between rounds 2-7.
2021 NFL Rookies | Names to Note
And in this class, there will undoubtedly be tons of talent that slipped down the rankings. Most notably at the wide receiver position. This is a group that former pro-bowl wideout Desmond Howard describes as one of the best and most profound.
“The depth of this receiving class is very impressive, and the talent pool is even more impressive,” said Howard on ESPN’s “get up” show. “I think this might just be the best receiving class we have seen in an NFL draft.”
The receiver was the second most selected position at 36 picks, with corners coming first at 38. Even more impressive were the three wide receivers taken in the top 10, the first time that has happened since 2017.
Little wonder, then, that this top 5 list will consist of some wideouts along with other hidden gems from the 2021 NFL Draft.
Wide Receiver: Frank Darby, Arizona State (6-0, 200 pounds)
Current team: Atlanta Falcons (6th round #187)
Frank Darby, who sports a prospect grade of 5.97 according to NFL.com rankings, is likely to slot in as a first-year backup/special teamer, but with the recent loss of Julio Jones to the Titans, Darby could find himself in a position to contribute.
Currently, he is likely slotted in behind Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Tajae Sharpe. But Ridley and Gage have had problems staying on the field in the past, so Darby could find himself on the field sooner than later.
He’s not exactly a speedster by any stretch. Darby ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, but it’s the other tangibles that make him intriguing, like the 19 bench press reps or his impressive 34.5 inch vertical. Darby, who is 201 pounds, will be tough to take down in open space, especially with that kind of strength.
Darby has never been a number one option, even in his collegiate career. However, his best season came in 2019 when he was second fiddle to Brandon Aiyuk, and he produced. Darby was able to average 19.9 yards per catch, and secured eight touchdowns which led to him being ranked 2nd in the PAC-12 for yards per catch.
He played in all four games of his senior season, starting three as a team captain but later suffered a rib injury that might have led to his draft stock dip. If Darby can get back to his 2019 red zone production, he could make an impact on this Falcons roster.
Quarterback: Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (6-3, 211 pounds)
Current team: Minnesota Vikings (3rd round #66)
Before the draft, Mond was often looked at as the next best outside of the big five in Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Zach Wilson. Instead, he ended up slated as the 7th quarterback drafted and just two spots after Florida Quarterback Kyle Trask.
Mond is a physical specimen that can throw and run and is probably one of the more athletic quarterbacks in this draft class. Although he is still rough around the edges and probably still needs some more time in the quarterback incubator, he can easily step in and turn some heads if something happens to starter Kirk Cousins.
The former Aggies quarterback scales in with a 6.12 prospect grade on NFL.com. That leaves him with the title of “good backup who could become the starter” according to NFL.com, and that probably holds true for the future.
Mond showed promising improvement in all his college seasons, with his average yards per attempt increasing steadily throughout his four seasons. His quarterback rating was also on a steady incline.
It jumped 38 points from his first season, where he sat at 108.8, to his last, where he sat at 146.9. He has shown steady progress in every statistical category, so there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue improving.
Running Back: Micheal Carter, North Carolina (5-8 201 pounds)
Current team: New York Jets ( 4th rd #107)
It is an outright crime that Carter fell in the draft as much as he did, but if anything, that will add some extra motivation for the former Tar Heels running back to prove everyone who passed up on him wrong.
Carter’s 3,403 total rushing yards over his collegiate career are fourth-best all-time for the school. He was also named a finalist for the 2020 Paul Hornung Award. Carter was able to average 8.0 yards per carry with nine scores on just 156 carries.
8 yards per carry is more than any NFL player had last season, so its not likely the UNC standout will have too many problems leapfrogging veteran teammates La’Michal Perine, Tevin Coleman, and Ty Johnson. Not exactly the running back room of the 2015 Alabama Roll Tide.
The 22-year old running back holds a prospect grade of 6.21 according to NFL.com, which is the highest on this list so far and rightfully so. That lands him in the “will be a starter within two years range,” but that might get accelerated. Carter is someone who Runs low to the ground with plus balance and knee bend and has not fumbled the ball in his last two seasons, so safe to say he can hold that rock.
As for his weaknesses headed into the league, scouts were worried about his Top-end speed and said it appears to be very average. Another knock on the young back was his Tendency to gear down into interior contact. These problems aren’t out of the ordinary, they are easy to improve areas that NFL coaching will round into form.
Wide Receiver: Elijah Moore, Mississippi (5-9 178 pounds)
Current Team: New York Jets (2nd rd #34)
Sticking with the New York Jets theme, next on the list is Elijah Moore, who was the 6th receiver taken off the board in this year’s draft but quite honestly could have easily been a first-rounder. Moores new team, the Jets, even stated he was their #16th ranked prospect, so from that Lens, they feel like they got a huge draft day steal.
As for Moore’s college career, he was nothing but solid for Ole Miss. The 21-year-old was heavily dependent upon the target in his three seasons and performed beautifully.
Moore accumulated 2,441 yards, with 1,193 of them coming last season. The feat was accomplished in a shortened eight-game slate. Ranking him second in the nation only behind Heisman winner Devonta Smith who accumulated 1,856 in 5 more games.
On top of that, he added a career-best eight touchdowns and averaged 13.9 yards per reception. If last season’s performance wasn’t enough to excel his draft stock, the combine day extravaganza definitely would. The speedy wideout put on a show posting a 4.34 40-Yard dash time, the second-fastest in 2 years behind Raiders Henry Ruggs.
Moore received a 6.43 prospect grade according to NFL.com, which would project him to be a “boom or bust” prospect, surely the Jets bank on it being a boom. The wide receiver finished the season with a Monster three games, averaging 13 catches and 200 yards per game.
If that didn’t boost his stock, his Alabama performance definitely added some fuel to the fire. He was able to catch 11 of 12 passes on the top defence.
For Moore, the only thing standing in his way should be quarterback play. If he can get some solid balls from Zach Wilson sky is the limit.
Defensive End: Jayson Oweh, Penn State (6-5 257 pounds)
Current Team: Baltimore Ravens (Rd 1 #31)
The only first-rounder to crack the list, Jason Oweh, also known as Odafe Oweh, one of the best athletes in the class. The Penn State pass rusher finished his college career with 7.0 sacks, 13.5 Tackles for loss and 37 solo tackles in three seasons, albeit in only 20 games after an injury-plagued freshman season.
It’s not really Oweh’s stats that led to his position in the draft. It’s more the intangibles, some pretty special ones at that. The 22-year old ran a freakish 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds at 257 pounds. On top of that, the Edge Rushers explosiveness showed as he achieved a 39.5 inch vertical and a broad jump of 11.2 inches.
It’s likely his draft stock may be a victim to the high level of talent in front of him. Oweh is primed to have the best seasons of his career at the highest level as scouts gave him high praises leading up to the draft.
He was given a 6.44 prospect rating and was said to be very rangy, and able to cut off both play-side corner and back-side cutback lanes. He is perfectly set for the NFL as he can explode into tight ends off the line and beat them around the edge with ease.
Although a very raw prospect with a lot to learn, the former Nittany Lion is poised for an excellent NFL career.