The 2021 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and with so much discussion revolving around the players expected to go early, such as presumptive No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, it’s worth digging deeper into some underrated prospects who should probably go off the board earlier than they’re likely to.
First, we’ll get into some first-round players who aren’t getting enough love either due to depth at their position or overblown red flags. Then, we’ll zero in on some potential Day 2 selections who have the potential to be among the biggest steals of the draft.
Here’s a nice mix of players from various positions who are underrated in their own unique ways entering the NFL Draft, but could well transform into legitimate superstars who teams will kick themselves for passing on in the years to come.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Now that Justin Fields is apparently emerging as the front-runner to be the San Francisco 49ers’ No. 3 overall pick over previously presumed favorite Mac Jones, there are four quarterbacks squarely at the center of the pre-draft discussion.
One man getting lost in all that is Trey Lance. Only turning 21 in May, the North Dakota State signal-caller boasts a tantalizing blend of advanced football acumen, serious dual-threat ability and mind-blowing arm power.
Although his ball placement leaves something to be desired and his one full season of college starting experience against FCS competition are worthy criticisms, there’s also a flip side to that. Imagine what Lance could do with NFL coaching, as a member of a stable franchise who’s fully committed to him as its QB of the future.
Lance did hail from a pro-style offense at North Dakota State. He knows how to execute those concepts, has plenty of experience lining up under center and can already process and get through progressions better than any 20-year-old you’re bound to find. His cannon for a right arm and breakaway speed as a ball-carrier hint at the insane upside Lance has.
Because of all these unique elements, Lance is among the most fascinating QB evaluations in NFL Draft history. obviously, for a team at the top of the draft like Jacksonville or the New York Jets, there’s pressure to take someone who’s perceived as ready to play and win now. Lawrence and Zach Wilson appear to fit that bill, as does Jones, and now it seems like people are coming around on Fields.
Heck, even perceived Tier 2 QB Kellen Mond is getting lots of hype because of his four-year starting tenure at Texas A&M and his pro-style system roots.
Despite his youth and relative game inexperience, Lance may actually wind up being the absolute best quarterback in the entire 2021 class, and that includes Lawrence. He’s also probably readier to play — and play well — than most realize.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
It’s a pretty stacked class of wide receivers, but Rashod Bateman could actually wind up being the best of the bunch. That sounds like such a ridiculous hot take when prospects like Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith are out there, right? Trust this: it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Think about it this way: Chase is almost certain to be the first receiver off the board, which means he’ll go to an inferior team. There are at least some concerns that Smith’s slender frame might be a detriment to translating his Heisman Trophy-winning success to the NFL. Waddle was hurt for a good chunk of 2020, and any talk of him being WR1 is tied to his comparisons to Tyreek Hill, who’s a one-of-one playmaker.