15 SEC players who could be 1st-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft
The SEC just set a record by having 15 players selected in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Now, as we turn our attention to 2021, it’s worth wondering how many SEC stars will work their way into Round 1 contention by this time next year. It’s unlikely that 15 more SEC athletes will go in the first 32 picks, but it’s not impossible.
So, which 15 players could be 1st-round picks in the 2021 draft? I think these could be in the mix, starting with the guys I am most confident will go in Round 1:
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Chase won the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s best receiver in 2019, not his teammate Justin Jefferson. Considering Jefferson was just the No. 22 overall pick this year, Chase could be taken even higher in 2021 if he declares early. Don’t expect him to put up the same video game numbers he put up with Joe Burrow and Joe Brady, though.
Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
Like Chase, Leatherwood probably would have been a first-round pick in 2020, too. But he decided to return for 1 last ride at Alabama. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Leatherwood is as close to a lock to be a Round 1 pick as there is from the SEC in 2021. The NFL always needs more reliable linemen.
Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Moses was a borderline Round 1 pick for most of the 2020 cycle, even though he missed the year with a torn ACL. If he comes back close to full strength this season, he’ll be 1 of the top linebackers in the 2021 class. If he looks even better than he did in the past, he could be the first linebacker off the board.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Trevon Diggs went in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft, but *very ESPN voice* what if I told you he wasn’t the best cornerback on the 2019 Crimson Tide? That honor goes to Patrick Surtain II. Surtain had 42 tackles, 2 interceptions, 8 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Surtain has the natural instincts and size that NFL executives will love. That’s no surprise, as his dad was an NFL cornerback from 1998 to 2008, playing in 3 Pro Bowls. Surtain II has all the skills to follow in his father’s Pro Bowl footsteps.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Waddle, like Chase, wasn’t eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft. But now that he’ll be able to go out for the 2021 draft, he’ll almost certainly skip his senior season. In addition to his blazing speed, Waddle is also a dynamic punt returner. He’ll make an NFL team very happy in 2021 and beyond.
Trey Smith, OL, Tennessee
Yes, Smith has some worrying issues with blood clots in his past, but when he’s on the field, there’s no doubting his immense talent. He’s a 1st-round player if he’s healthy. If things go back to normal by next February, you can bet a bunch of NFL teams will want to do their homework on him and get medical data. If doctors clear him, he’s a home-run NFL player.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Smith was eligible to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, but decided to return to school for his senior season. Let’s not forget that it was Smith, not Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III, who led the Tide in receiving yards (1,256) and touchdowns (14) in 2019. Considering both went in Round 1, Smith should be in the mix for a Day 1 selection, too.
Richard LeCounte III, S, Georgia
LeCounte was everywhere for the Bulldogs’ secondary in 2019. He had 61 tackles (4.5 for a loss), 4 interceptions, 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries. That’s some serious versatility. I know Alabama’s Xavier McKinney fell to the early part of the 2nd round this past draft, but if there’s a team that needs a safety in the latter part of Round 1 in 2021, that team should take a long look at LeCounte.
Cade Mays, OL, Tennessee
Mays’ eligibility situation will be very interesting to watch. He transferred from Georgia and hasn’t received an eligibility waiver from the NCAA yet. Will he get one? Will the NCAA decide to allow 1-time transfers without penalty? Or, will Mays have to sit out the 2020 season?
If he can play and shows his skills alongside Trey Smith, he could work his way into the Round 1 discussion in 2021.
LaBryan Ray, DL, Alabama
Based on Ray’s stats from his first 3 years in Tuscaloosa, he doesn’t look like a 1st-round pick. But he only played in 3 games before a foot injury ended his 2019 season. This will be a major “prove it” year for Ray, but we only need to look back to 2018 and Quinnen Williams to see how fast an Alabama defensive lineman can rocket up draft boards.
Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia
Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields will almost certainly be the top 2 quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class (assuming they both declare early). But the No. 3 spot will be open. It could certainly play out that Newman works his way into that mix. He has the dual-threat ability some NFL teams love. He’ll also get a chance to showcase his skills at the SEC level in 2020. If he performs well in his 1 year at Georgia, climbing into the 1st-round conversation isn’t out of the question.
Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
Mond bumped his completion percentage up from 57.3% in 2018 to 61.6% last year, but that was about the only number he improved. In many ways, he took a step back. And, now that he will be without WRs Kendrick Rogers and Quartney Davis, who both went undrafted after declaring a year early, things will be tougher in 2020 for Mond.
But if he makes a big jump this fall, he has the arm strength, dual-threat ability and sturdy frame NFL scouts will love.
Israel Mukuamu, CB, South Carolina
Mukuamu was a terror for Jake Fromm last year. Three of his 4 interceptions came in the Gamecocks’ win over Georgia, including 1 he returned for a touchdown. The other came against Charleston Southern. It’d be nice to see him have a bigger impact against other foes this fall, but he was a consistent performer, making 59 tackles and breaking up 9 passes. NFL teams will love his 6-4, 205-pound frame, too.
Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
Campbell has yet to record an interception in 2 years at Georgia (his 2019 season was hampered a bit by injury), but his coverage skills are elite. He also has a knack for scooping up fumbles and returning them for touchdowns. He has done it twice in his career so far. If he continues his solid play, a team could take a chance on him in Round 1.
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Before you non-Florida fans get upset and say there’s no way Trask could ever be a Round 1 pick, just remember that you would have been laughed out of the room if you said Joe Burrow would be the No. 1 overall pick heading into the 2019 season.
Can Trask mimic Burrow’s meteoric rise? He has a talented tight end in Kyle Pitts and some intriguing weapons in the receiving corps, including the versatile Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. We’ll see what happens this year, but crazier things have happened than Trask potentially rising into a Round 1 prospect.