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5 NFL Draft prospects who will be drafted higher than expected in 2021

Matt Johnson

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Everyone knows Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson will be the first two NFL Draft prospects off the board on April 29. After that, how things play out in the 2021 NFL Draft is the fuel for intriguing draft rumors and fun NFL mock drafts.

There will be plenty of surprises on April 2019. The first round always delivers a few unexpected picks, with players coming off the board earlier than expected. We saw it in the 2020 NFL Draft when Henry Ruggs was drafted No. 12 by the Las Vegas Raiders and they followed that up with cornerback Damon Arnette at the 19th pick.

We’ve covered the most overrated NFL Draft prospects, players with high upside, teams who must nail their draft class and late-round prospects flying under the radar. With draft day closing in, it’s time for the latest in our series of spotlights on the 2021 draft class.

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Let’s examine five NFL Draft prospects who will be drafted higher than expected.

Jamin Davis, linebacker, Kentucky

When the 2020 college football season began, Jamin Davis was barely on the NFL Draft radar. The 6-foot-4 linebacker appeared in just 15 games and racked up 18 solo tackles and two interceptions in his first two seasons on campus. Barring a breakout season, there was little reason to view him as one of the top linebacker prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. Needless to say, a lot has changed.

Read More: Top 2021 NFL Draft sleepers who will be Day 2 and Day 3 picks

The hype around Davis really started after the season. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah said he has “Rookie of the Year-type ability” and a cascade of buzz around him quickly followed. Teams were keeping a close eye on his Pro Day, waiting to see if the athleticism he showed on film was reflected in the testing numbers. He ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash, posted a 42-inch vertical jump and an eye-popping broad jump.

Elite length, a stellar 9.93 RAS score and quick reactions. Any of those traits alone would catch the eye of NFL scouts and Davis has all of them. He is very inexperienced dropping back in coverage and there’s only one great year of film, but the elite traits will likely make Davis a first-round pick.

Kadarius Toney, wide receiver, Florida

NFL Draft prospects
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There’s no denying Kadarius Toney is one of the 50 best NFL Draft prospects in 2021. There are few players at any level, including the NFL, with his ability to make plays after the catch. The highlights at Florida are simply insane and play-callers with even a little imagination will dream of the things he can do in an NFL offense.

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But Toney is still raw as a wide receiver. He essentially freelanced in the Gators’ offense, turning designed routes into whatever he felt could get him open against inferior competition. That won’t work at the next level, he must become a far more polished route-runner to get open.

With that said, the upside is undeniable and it might be enough for one team. Recent rumors have hinted that Toney could be a top-15 pick, potentially even drafted ahead of DeVonta Smith. It would be seen as a massive reach on draft day, but we can’t deny that it’s exciting to think about what a team that views him that highly will do once he is on the field.

Davis Mills, quarterback, Stanford

NFL Draft prospects
Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The top five quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft have been broken down and discussed to the point of exhaustion. The focus is now on second-tier passers, prospects who aren’t ready to play in 2021 but could be groomed into starters in a few short years. While there’s plenty of buzz around each of the quarterbacks, Davis Mills might be the first to come off the board.

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A former five-star recruit, Mills never quite put it together at Stanford. Injuries and his own inconsistency led to disappointing results and a promising talent seeing his draft stock plummet. But with NFL coaches getting more involved in the draft process, this 6-foot-3 passer has climbed up boards.

The prototypical arm strength and size teams covet from a quarterback are both there. Just as importantly, he showed in limited snaps that he can get the football out quickly and deliver it with some serious velocity. He is very inexperienced and it’s going to make at least two years before he could even potentially be trusted as an NFL starter. But there’s smoke around him as a top-40 pick and that fifth-year option might compel a team to grab him late in Round 1.

Christian Barmore, defensive tackle, Alabama

NFL Draft prospects
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Barmore was invisible for a majority of the 2020 season, quickly becoming one of the most disappointing NFL Draft prospects. As he continued to get erased by offensive lineman, often getting little penetration into the backfield, this 6-foot-5 defensive tackle slid further down consensus draft boards. Something clicked in the College Football Playoffs.

Read More: 5 NFL Draft surprises we could see later in April

Barmore utterly destroyed Notre Dame’s offensive line, tearing through it like it was ribbon. Pro Football Focus credited him with 12 pressures and eight stops in the CFP, absurd numbers for a two-game stretch. Still, the lack of consistency led to some legitimate concerns.

But this is not a good defensive tackle class. Barmore is the only player viewed as a first-round talent and he might be the only interior defensive lineman selected with a top-45 pick. Because of that, don’t be surprised if he goes higher than expected. The Las Vegas Raiders (No. 17), Tennessee Titans (No. 22) and Cleveland Browns (26th overall) are all potential landing spots for Barmore.

Quinn Meinerz, center, Wisconsin-Whitewater

NFL Draft prospects
Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

One of the best parts of every NFL Draft is seeing a prospect from a small program hear his name called ahead of players from iconic universities. This year, that prospect is going to be Wisconsin-Whitewater’s offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz.

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This 6-foot-3, 320-pound center ran a blazing 4.92-second 40-yard dash. He also showed up to the Senior Bowl, facing Power 5 talent for the first time in his life, and proved he can compete with some of the best defensive linemen in the draft class. A player who wasn’t even on the recruiting radar coming out of high school has proven that he offers NFL-caliber skills and athleticism.

It will take a team willing to be a little patient with Meinerz, since he’s not going to be a standout interior lineman right away. But his size, strength and explosiveness are hard to find. From a zero-star recruit to a second-round pick, Meinerz could become a great pro and he’s certainly one of the most unheralded NFL Draft prospects.