The 2021 NFL Draft: Analysis from COVID’s Impact to Local Talent


Graphic by Quinn Lennon '22

The top prospects from local universities are ready for their moment to shine as pros.

The time from mid-February to late April is one of the most exciting times in the year for NFL fans. Why? Because of the NFL Draft and the events preceding it. Even if no games will be played in the months before or after the Draft, the publicity surrounding it has made this time of year close to, if not as exciting as, the regular season or playoffs.  

This year, the hype around the NFL Draft has felt even greater than normal: more analysts and fans alike have been making mock drafts and ranking prospects in preparation for the draft. This is mainly due to how ambiguous the rankings of the draft’s top prospects are. Of course, the impact of COVID-19 on the draft is a huge talking point this year, but this draft could also mark a turning point for football in Florida, both in the NCAA and NFL. The colleges in Florida could see many players potentially getting draftedand while the three Florida NFL teams are in different tiers of contention, they are all looking for extremely solid 2021-2022 seasons, beginning with this year’s draft. 

The Impact of COVID on the Draft Process 

If you’ve been following college football or the NFL Draft process, the impact of COVID-19 has been very noticeable. From opt-outs to an altered scouting combine, both the league and the prospects have had to adapt to the pandemic. Many top players, such as potential top wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, top linebacker Micah Parsons, and the second-best offensive tackle prospect, Rashawn Slater, opted out of the 2020 college football season. While the talent of these three players is not in question, some people are concerned about the potential rust on other players that opted out. And during the 2021 Senior Bowl, some of these concerns were proven true. As CBS Sports analyst Ryan Wilson put it, former Georgia and Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman “at times was understandably rusty” during the Senior Bowl game and practices after opting out of the 2020-2021 season. 

The NFL Scouting Combine, usually the marquee event of the NFL offseason other than the draft, has now been reduced to virtual meetings with prospects, rather than a make-or-break event that could cause a player’s draft stock to rise or plummet. The Combine usually includes workouts and in-person meetings that players rigorously prepare for months prior; but now, this combine is much less indicative of a player’s athleticism and character.  

Even with virtual, one-on-one meetings between individual teams and players, we can all agree that it is much easier to look better in virtual meetings than in meetings where you’re meeting face-to-face with a potential future boss. This shakeup has led to teams and players alike focusing on college-specific pro days, which, as many fans have noticed, seems skewed in the prospects’ favor. It seems that nearly everyone under the sun is running a 4.3 or 4.4 40-yard dash, which should display elite speed, but the sheer commonality of these ridiculously solid 40 times calls into question their validity. Prior to the start of College Pro Days this year, CBS Sports analyst Chris Trapasso said to be ready for some INSANE times and measurements. It’s been difficult to trust pro days because of their exaggerating tendencies.” These times are always in the favor of the player because colleges want their players to be drafted as high as possible, but without the Combine, these are the only numbers scouts get.

Florida College Prospects

Traditionally, NFL Draft prospects from colleges in Florida are taken early in the Draft, and despite the uniqueness and variety of top prospects’ colleges, this year is no different. There are six players from Florida universities that are projected by many to be drafted in the first round, with even more projected in the mid to late rounds. Headlining this group are: top tight end Kyle Pitts (Florida) and two of the top defensive ends, Gregory Rousseau (Miami) and Jaelen Phillips (Miami), wide receiver Kadarius Toney (Florida), cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (FSU), and safety Richie Grant (UCF)Here’s a short analysis of the 12: 

  1. Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida): Pitts is one of the best tight end prospects ever. He has size, hands, speed, route running, and even a decent ability to block. He is, as Daniel Jeremiah puts it, “the definition of a mismatch player.” 
  2. Gregory Rousseau, DE (Miami): Rousseau is more of a project than other defensive ends, but his upside is tremendous due to his unique size and athleticism. He demonstrated proficiency as a defensive end after changing positions while at Maimi, but for him to become a star in the NFL, he must be developed properly.  
  3. Jaelen Phillips, DE (Miami): Compared to his Miami teammate, Phillips is a much more polished defensive end with the ability to play end or even as a pass-rushing linebacker; however, his main issues are his previous early retirement and injury concerns during his college career. 
  4. Kadarius Toney, WR (Florida): Toney is an ideal slot receiver with an explosive playstyle who can open up a game both as a deep threat and as a punt or kick returner. The main knock against him is his smaller frame and current lack of variety in route running. 
  5. Richie Grant, S (UCF): Grant is an extremely solid, all-around safety that can contribute at either safety position right away (strong or free). If he develops consistency in his play, he can become a top-tier safety in the NFL. 
  6. Asante Samuel Jr., CB (FSU): Samuel has the potential to become a great corner with an already very high football IQ. If he joins a team that can develop him to be more physical despite his size, he can become a top-tier corner similar to his father. 
  7. Quincy Roche, LB (Miami)Roche is already a very solid run support linebacker, to the point that he could play in the NFL as an undersized defensive end, so the main question mark to whether he can become a solid linebacker is his development as a cover guy. 
  8. Brevin Jordan, TE (Miami): For the most part, Jordan is a poor man’s Kyle Pitts, which isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. He has a smaller frame, but he displays great athleticism, receiving ability, and pretty good blocking ability, despite his size. 
  9. Hamsah Nasirildeen, S (FSU)Nasirildeen is a versatile defender who can play all over the field relatively well. He still has opportunities to develop all his abilities, and his main knock is his health concerns. 
  10. Kyle Trask, QB (UF): Trask has the size and accuracy to become a solid NFL quarterback; however, he only has average arm strength, and his athleticism leaves a lot to be desired. 
  11. Tamorrion Terry, WR (FSU): Terry, in comparison to many of the receivers in this class, can be solid, but very inconsistent with his abilities. One play, he shines, and the next, he drops a sure reception. 
  12. Marlon Williams, WR (UCF): Williams can translate well as a big slot receiver with his extremely solid ball skills, but his route tree needs to expand in order to become a full-time starter. 

Florida NFL Teams 

This draft is not just important for Florida colleges, but also for the three NFL teams residing in the state. Each team has extremely important 2021-2022 seasons, and drafting well could prove essential to their needs. Each team has a clear goal to accomplish this year: Tampa Bay wants to win back-to-back Super Bowls; Jacksonville is trying to improve after bottoming out last year, and Miami wants to make the playoffs and contend for the AFC Championship.  

Tampa Bay, after reacquiring all their 22 starters from their 2021 Super Bowl champion team through free agency, are looking to run it back for another Super Bowl before many of their key contributors, namely Tom Brady, eventually retire. While this draft isn’t essential for the team to contend, potentially adding another gamechanging player with their first-round pick could help bolster the team in both the short and long term. Previously mentioned prospects Jaelen Phillips or Kadarius Toney are up for consideration for them, and both could shore up their respective positions in the future, with Phillips eventually replacing Jason Pierre-Paul when he retires and Toney replacing either Antonio Brown or Chris Godwin if they ever leave in free agency. 

On the opposite side of the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to rebuild after an abysmal 1-15 season. They have the first overall pick in the draft, which practically guarantees that Trevor Lawrence, one of the best quarterback prospects in recent memory, is going to be paired up with new head coach Urban Meyer 

The Jags also have the twenty-fifth pick courtesy of the Los Angeles Rams, which they can use to shore up a defense that has been completely dismantled since their 2017 AFC Championship run. Again, Phillips could be picked here, but also secondary help, like TCU safety Tavon Moehrig or the aforementioned Asante Samuel Jr. and Richie Grant, or even interior defensive line help could be picked here. They cannot really go wrong with what they do here because almost every position on the team needs an upgrade. It may be a while until they are contending for the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl, but the Jags need to have a good 2021 Draft and offseason to begin taking steps in the right direction. 

In between the best and worst teams from last year, we have the Miami Dolphins, who are looking to continue their rebuild (which is looking more and more successfuland build off their momentum from nearly making the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record. General manager Chris Grier has not been passive this offseason.  

Their already fairly substantial salary-cap space became even larger after cutting Kyle Van Noy, the team’s solid, albeit overpaid, linebacker, and they have put it to good use. They signed potential starters like center Mike Scura and a lot of depth pieces across the team. However, their top acquisition is deep-threat Will Fuller IV, giving secondyear QB Tua Tagovailoa one more weapon.  

Not only were they busy during free agency, but also in preparation for the NFL Draft. After trading offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills in 2019, and the Houston Texans completely collapsing this year, the Dolphins had the third overall pick, which they ended up trading to the QBdesperate 49ers, eventually moving back to the sixth pick in a second trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. This leaves them with two firstround picks, sixth and eighteenthand a very early secondround pick, #36 overall. There are a lot of ways they can use these picks, though most draft analysts have them taking an offensive lineman, wide receiver, and running back in any order. 

With the NFL Draft almost upon us, there are a ton of questions about how it will pan out. Who will be the risers and fallers? Who will be the major sleepers or busts? How will this loaded class be looked back on? Will the Jets screw over another top quarterback’s development? Many people around the league are excited to see how everything will turn out.