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5 college football stars who could go No. 1 in the 2021 NFL Draft

Teddy Chmyz
Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence
Jan 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) in the College Football Playoff national championship game against the LSU Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NFL Draft was the first big American sporting event to take place following the COVID shutdowns. While the format and time of next year’s event are in question, thanks to uncertainty surrounding the college season, we can bet on the NFL doing whatever it can to ensure its marquee event is held.

Less certain, as always, is where in the draft each college star will be selected. The most coveted spot, first overall, is just as unpredictable as the rest. The meteoric rise from relative obscurity of last year’s top pick, Joe Burrow, exemplifies this perfectly.

Despite this, some prospects have put themselves with a better chance than others to be taken No. 1. Especially with a potentially shortened or even canceled season, these five studs are on the inside track to donning the first hat at next year’s Draft. 

Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson Tigers

This one is obvious. Trevor Lawrence is the betting favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick by a mile. After his legendary freshman campaign, he has been hailed as the greatest quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, or John Elway, or straight-up ever. 

Clemson’s star followed up his breakout season with another statistical masterpiece. He finished top 10 in nearly every passing metric, from traditional counting stats like touchdowns and yards to more advanced calculations like Efficiency Rating and Adjusted Yards Per Attempt. Lawrence also added value on the ground, tallying over 500 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. 

However, like all prospects, the presumptive first pick is not without his flaws. Analysts have noted his struggles on film with decision-making and reading defenses. NFL scouts will certainly have picked up on those issues, too. While his elite production and ridiculous physical gifts still make him the favorite to go first overall, it’s certainly no foregone conclusion. 

Justin Fields, quarterback, Ohio State Buckeyes

Discounting Lawrence, (and even that is debatable), Fields is the best player at the most important position in the 2021 draft class. TWhile the former Georgia transfer only has one real season under his belt, he flashed plenty of talent to catch NFL scouts’ eyes.

In some areas, Fields even surpasses Lawrence. The Heisman favorite’s ability to avoid turnovers is second to none. He threw an absurd 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions in 2019. 

The 21-year-old may also have more room to grow than his Tiger counterpart. If he keeps developing in his second full season at the helm, Fields could solidify himself as the top quarterback prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft. Even if he doesn’t, it will come as no great surprise if the first team on the clock, bucks the odds and selects Fields over Lawrence.

Penei Sewell, offensive tackle, Oregon Ducks

While quarterback is the most important position, NFL front offices must account for their rosters and positional needs. Some potential bottom-dwellers, like the Washington Football Team with Dwayne Haskins, already have their (hopeful) quarterbacks of the future. 

If one of these teams finds themselves atop the draft list, they may look to protect their most valuable assets with an offensive tackle. If that’s the case, the likely choice is Sewell, last year’s Outland Trophy winner. 

Sewell has allowed just one sack in two years and is just as effective in the run game. A generational prospect with no true flaws at a key position, no team could go wrong with spending the first overall pick on Sewell.

Trey Lance, quarterback, North Dakota State Bison

For an FCS player to have a shot at first overall, they need to be flawless and transcend their position. Luckily for Lance, that’s what he did in 2019. The redshirt freshman did not throw a single interception, while leading the Bison to an undefeated championship victory.

The Walter Payton Award winner was dominant through the air and on the ground. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards and added another thousand with his legs. Of course, Lance did this against lesser competition than other top prospects, which will hurt his stock among NFL evaluators.

For this second-division stud to have a shot at going first overall, the 2020 season will need to be played, and he will have to be perfect, again. It will still be a long shot. However, the NFL success of Carson Wentz, also an NDSU quarterback, has paved the path for Lance. It’s not out of the question that a team falls in love with his talent and takes a gamble, making him the first FCS player to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick.

Ja’Marr Chase, wide receiver, LSU Tigers

The last time a wide receiver was deemed worthy of the first overall pick, Ja’Marr Chase was still four years away from being born. Since 1996 and Keyshawn Johnson, only offensive tackles, defensive ends, and quarterbacks have been called first on draft night. If Julio Jones and Randy Moss couldn’t break this trend, how does Chase have a chance?

Chase’s talent is undeniable. As a prospect, he truly belongs in the conversation with Moss and Jones. The 2019 Biletnikoff winner outplayed all of last year’s much-hyped wide receiver class, six of whom went in the first round. He dominated the SEC, averaging over 20 yards per reception and hauling in 20 touchdowns. 

Despite all this, it would still take some luck for Chase to be taken first. Most teams that are likely to finish bottom of the league have more important needs than wideout. But as the league trends more and more towards passing above all else, wide receivers become more valuable. If a team feels it has no other holes to fill, Chase’s athletics gifts and talent will make him a tempting choice.