By Adrian Gutierrez, Courtney Burrows, and Rich Maletto
Nearly a month before the NFL draft, let’s gather around and dim the lights as we sit down and look at the crystal ball. We examine the data, looked at the film, and beckoned the spirits of NFL experience to create the best case hypothesis of five rookies who have the best chance of becoming All Pro – in the next several seasons. This one is hard to predict considering that some of these players opted out, missed games due to the COVID pandemic, or had shortened seasons with limited competition. So we have to look at the overall trajectory of their collegiate careers in order to predict the future All Pros. We know the team that drafts them has plenty to do with their maturity. Nevertheless, here are our best guesses of the most plausible five.
- Trevor Lawrence, Quarterback, Clemson
This one is a no brainer. This 2021 NFL draft is unique as it has an abundance of solid quarterbacks available in the first round, but Trevor Lawrence is the name that has been in the spotlight since high school. It is all but certain that Jacksonville will select Trevor Lawrence first overall because he is the most complete quarterback at this point in his career, and one of the greatest in college history, with just a few negatives. As a true freshman, he took over the reigns in 2018 and led Clemson to a national championship in 2019 beating Nick Saban’s Alabama handedly, and he was just getting started.
He would lead Clemson to two more championship runs, and most wins as quarterback in Clemson history finishing with 758-of-1138 career passes (66.6 percent) for 10,098 yards with 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a pass efficiency rating for 164.26 in 2,237 snaps over 40 career games (36 starts). He also rushed 231 times for 943 career rushing yards with 18 rushing touchdowns, the fifth-most career rushing touchdowns by a Clemson quarterback in the modern era. This fulfills the stats portion for the numbers junkies out there, but how do you judge the #1 prospect coming out of the draft? Well why not let Urban Meyer explain it to you as a then contributing analyst, for Fox Sports on September 12, 2020.
Fast forward to the present and Urban Meyer is now the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Meyer knows what Trevor Lawrence brings to the table: Competitiveness, Toughness, Leadership, and Adaptability. A 6’6” quarterback that knows how to use his feet, meaning in the face of pressure, he can come out of the pocket still square up and throw a touch pass. He is a dual threat quarterback that has plays designed around his passing accuracy or his ability to keep it and go for first downs or touchdowns. “Reminds us a lot of Peyton Manning, smart who studies a lot of film,” says Courtney Burrows, ProFootball Mania Contributor.
Trevor Lawrence can succeed in Jacksonville if they build the supporting team around him. Coming into free agency, Jacksonville had the most available cap space to spend. They recently signed veteran Marvin Jones, and they still have DJ Chark. Tight ends are revolving, but they have dynamic and tough James Robinson in the backfield. Give this rookie the tools, protect him and he could be the next Justin Herbert or better. He is destined to be an All Pro.
2. Javonte Williams, Running Back, University of North Carolina
When asked who he thought would become an all pro in the coming years, Rich Maletto, fantasy contributor and writer for various fan sites, did not hesitate: Javonte Williams, UNC. Maletto would explain with a story, “Did you see that game against the University of Miami? In tandem with Michael Carter, both of them were beasts in the backfield. They collectively rushed for an astronomic 500 yards plus!” In fact, on December 12, 2020, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams rushed for a combined 544 yards against 8-2 Miami. Carter had 23 carries, 308 yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns, while Williams had 23 carries, 236 rushing yards, and 3 rushing touchdowns.
So why does Rich Maletto prefer Javonte Williams over Michael Carter? “Javonte Williams is willing to share the ball and would succeed in a zone blocking scheme, such as San Francisco. He can share the load, runs downhill fast, and carries guys behind him. Don’t sleep on Michael Carter either, it wouldn’t surprise me to see both backs as all pros.” Williams at 5’ 10”, and 220 lbs, recently ran the 40 yard dash at 4.55 seconds. In eleven games in 2020, Williams exploded for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns on 157 carries. He also developed as a receiver, catching 25 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Williams owns the single season record of 22 touchdowns at the University of North Carolina. No we won’t sleep on Michael Carter, but we will focus on Javonte Williams because he can do this:
Javonte Williams is a power runner that is agile and elusive as he runs downhill. With great vision, he is a dangerous asset out of the backfield where he can handle the load between the tackles or bounce it upside. Williams also has a nose for the end zone, a vital reason he was the goal line back in North Carolina. He is the complete package and can be a three down back at the NFL level. Wiliams also has no problem sharing the workload. Paired with a David Montgomery in Chicago or a Raheem Mostert in San Francisco in a two back system and he’s a perfect fit. He’s willing to share the ball if it means success. Javonte Williams is our number two choice to go All Pro.
3. Kyle Pitts, Tight End, University of Florida
Kyle Pitts is a Wide Receiver who is trained to block. However, if you use him to block most of the game you would be wasting the top tight end prospect in years. “Kyle Pitts is nearly the same size of Calvin Johnson, just a bit slower,” says Rich Maletto. “This past week he ran the 40 at 4.44! At 6’6” 240 lbs, he’s moving! If you watch him in college, they moved him all over the formation. It won’t surprise me if NFL teams line him out wide, and still call him a tight end.” It’s true, he’s a mismatch for every defender he faces.
He is already out jumping, out catching, single or dual coverage matchups. Kyle Pitts has a longer wingspan than any WR or TE in the NFL (83 ⅜”) in the last 20 years, surpassing the wingspan of D.K. Metcalf (82 ⅞”), and has a vertical jump of 33.5 inches.
Pitts uses his speed, long arms and outstanding jump to his advantage. In eight games last year in a pandemic season, he had 43 receptions for 770 yards, and 12 touchdowns, culminating with the John Mackey Award for best tight ends. He finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy voting, becoming the first tight end to finish in the top 10 in 43 years.
So not only is he super human by design, he’s also an excellent route runner. Pitts is capable of blowing by NFL cornerbacks and safeties. He demonstrated this in 2019 against LSU cornerbacks Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton. He was able to run by them with ease. He was lined up in every possible formation, and challenged the most dominant defenders. “He is the all around player that can do it all. The coveted yards after the catch, he is able to use a stiff arm and just take off!“ said Courtney Burrows, Profootball Mania contributor who is an SEC super fan. “He is going to be present on all downs. He is special.” Kyle Pitts, wherever he goes, will be a quarterback’s best friend for years to come.
4. Elijah Moore WR, Ole Miss
We wanted to name a wide receiver on this list and Courtney Burrows, SEC superfan was passionate about her choice: “Ok hear me out, prior to Coach Lane Kiffin’s arrival at Ole Miss, Moore was the 3rd WR behind DK Metcalf and AJ Brown. Moore stayed in Oxford and blew up in Ole Miss. He produced 86 receptions, 1,193 yards, with 8 touchdowns in eight games. He has incredible hands that snag the ball effortlessly in the air and with his quick feet and excellent route running, he makes for a complete slot receiver. If he was paired alongside an already established WR1 like AJ Brown, Micheal Thomas, or Devante Adams, he would exceed already growing expectations. Moore might not be the most talked about “Moore” in the draft, but wait and see, this guy is special. He’s coachable and he’s good. He’s going to a PPR machine. It was a lot of fun watching the offense at Ole Miss.”
Looking at Elijah Moore highlights and it is easy to see why he makes our list. The first thing you notice is how explosive he is. Moore is fast, period. He can make plays because of his superb route running and breakaway speed. For those teams who love to go vertical, he’s an excellent slot receiver choice. He finds the spot in defenses, makes himself available, puts one move on and he is gone. Do not dismiss him because of his 5’9” frame, that can quickly be made up by his maximum effort on every play. Back in September 2020, in a game against the Florida Gators, he racked up 227 yards on 10 catches!
In fact, he had 10 receptions in each of his games except for one. That’s notable because Moore was just 127 yards shy of A.J. Brown’s 2018 mark of 1,320 yards, which was set over a span of 12 games. Elijah Moore’s talent was compromised by a pandemic season. His receiving yardage ranks third on Ole Miss’ single season record books. And listen to this endorsement: “This is a first round slot,” said Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. “I didn’t coach him, but he kind of reminds me of the Carolina Steve Smith. Just the stop and start ability is so explosive and a great route runner. Even though I didn’t have him, that would be what I would compare him to.” We expect to see great things out of Elijah Moore in the coming years.
5. Travis Etienne RB, Clemson
It will be between Etienne and Harris on which RB is taken first in the NFL draft. “My money is on Etienne all day. He is a starter now!.” says Courtney Burrows. Why? “Etienne has proven himself as not only a dynamic runner who will push through defenders and have positive yardage, but he is a strong passing receiver who has bursts of speed in the short-passing game. In today’s game, passing backs are highly coveted for their versatility. Etienne will be a Pro Bowler. He will not be happy nor utilized to his fullest potential in a running back by committee. I would love to see him go to Miami where it seems like they are striving to rebuild around the offense. He would be a great fit in Pittsburgh too, where Coach Tomlin can finally mold him into even more greatness and power.”
Travis Etienne is a hardworking, every down back who hasn’t yet reached the pinnacle of his career. He is the ACC’s all time leading rusher because he waits for his blocks, protects the football and has this uncanny ability to make a long gain out of short gain play. Fantasy players love data, and looking at his career numbers tell a story about Etienne.
Notice the stats in his progression since 2017 when he started as a True Freshman. In 2018 he exploded for a monstrous 8.1 yards per carry and 1,600 yards in rushing subsequently leading his Clemson Tigers to a National Championship. The following year, he delivered again, but this time he became a pass catching running back. In 2019, he had 37 receptions with 432 yards and 4 touchdowns while rushing for over 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. In a pandemic shortened 2020 season, he had 48 receptions for 588 yards and 2 touchdowns while rushing for 914 yards and 14 touchdowns. We are watching growth here. On Pro Day recently, Travis Etienne ran the 40 in 4.40. Having the ability to catch the ball is an NFL bonus, and this versatility is instrumental as he moves to the pros.
This represents the culmination of our crystal ball session. We will await and see where these players land. Hopefully they will land in the proper coaching schemes to see them flourish. The coaching is a critical aspect to this game, which is why we didn’t list more. Nevertheless, these players have the IT factor to succeed in whatever team they land in. We are looking forwards to a full, COVID free, season in 2021 with 17 games and lots of points. Like you, we’ll watch the NFL draft unfold and get our fantasy teams ready.
The following is our honorable mentions list. These are the players we saw who have great talent, tenacity, intelligence and leadership but we couldn’t agree cohesively to make our top five One of the reasons we did not put the players above, is because we are worried they will end up in playoff averse football clubs. You know the ones. These are players we’d like to see flourish because we see the potential.
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Predicted as the 2nd or 3rd QB to be drafted, Wilson has the arm strength, accuracy, and timing on his throws that rarely is not directly on target. In the 2020 season, he finished with 3,692 yards and a QB completion rate of 73.5% over 10% higher than 2019, which shows you his track of improvement and growth. He is smart, determined, dedicated, and a guy in the locker room that teams will rally around like a young Brett Farve. Wilson fits best in San Francisco or Carolina where the offense already has strong playmakers and coaches that know how to ease him right into play-action passing. Wilson will remain pivotal in the NFL for years to come and might start off slower depending on where he lands, but will turn into a Josh Allen making runs for the SuperBowl in no time at all.
Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
NFL Scouts have been looking at Micah Parsons for a long time because he’s an outstanding linebacker who can deliver great violence. “The man is an absolute beast! And he has the size, speed and natural instincts,” says Rich Maletto, Profootball Mania contributor. “At 6’3,” 245 lbs., he just ran the 40 yard dash on Pro day in a jaw dropping 4.39 seconds. Normally wide receivers run that fast, not linebackers.” At Penn State in 2019, he started 12 of 13 games, delivering 109 tackles, with 14 tackles for loss; 5.0 sacks and four forced fumbles, plus five pass deflections.
His best game came in the prime moment when everyone was watching, at the Cotton Bowl in December 2019. There he made 14 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He took over the game and he could not be stopped. It needs to be said that Micah Parsons does have some controversy following him for alleged hazing rituals he may have participated in when he was 18 at Penn State. In 2020, he did not play during the pandemic to help his family & raise his toddler son. Despite the absence, he is still expected to be taken in the first round. We hope to see a more mature Parsons in 2021, off the field, and the difference maker on the field.
Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
This young man reminds us so much of Chase Young, and we see how Young panned out. At 6’ 4” and 277 lbs, Kwity Paye is explosive off the edge and has the speed and athletic build to defend the pass and the rush. He was the bright defensive spot in under performing Michigan. He is a raw talent with a wonderful backstory that still has room to grow, and in the NFL that translates to coachable. Paye has big hands that get in the offenses’ way. He will bulk up and absorb the playbook, and end up being a defensive player of the year in the next 2-3 years…just watch.
You can follow Adrian Gutierrez at AdrianGutierrez@kitchenisdads, Courtney Burrows at Courtney1013@luvtractor3 and Rich Maletto at Boda@bodaciousbeer