This will be the most unusual season in history for college football hopefuls attempting to make the NFL, as COVID-shortened seasons, combined with a raft of opt-outs make it tough to know who is feasting on weak competition and who should have stayed in school for another year. Amazingly, fully half of the top ten college football prospects opted out of the 2020 season.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson QB
Already the betting odds favorite to go number one for over a year, Jets fans think Lawrence should have an engraved locker already in New Jersey. The 6-foot-6 Lawrence has been a wunderkind ever since he arrived at Clemson, winning the national championship as a freshman and returning to the title game in his second season. Lawrence’s numbers are eye-popping, he has thrown for 83 TD with just 14 interceptions, alongside 14 rushing scores, and Trevor has improved his play in the postseason; Lawrence has thrown 14 TD without a pick in 6 ACC Championships and CFP games. This year, Lawrence has shown his worth even more, as his Clesom Tigers lost their first regular season game in years when Lawrence became ineligible for COVID-related reasons. It will take an incredible performance from anyone else the rest of the way to supplant Lawrence as the moneyline odds favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2021 Draft, assuming he chooses to skip his senior season.
2. Justin Fields, Ohio St. QB
A fellow Georgian like Lawrence, Justin Fields could be the only player with the potential ability to steal the mantle from Lawrence as first overall pick. Speaking of picks, Fields does not throw them, he has thrown just three interceptions in his two-plus seasons in college football, to go with his 56 TD passes, and 16 rushing TD. Incredibly, two of his three career interceptions did come in his head-to-head matchup with Lawrence in the College Football Playoff semifinal, as Fields went 30 for 46, for 320 yards, with 1 TD and 2 INT in a 29-23 loss to Clemson. Fields is a junior like Lawrence, but the people who make the college football odds would have to consider him a major longshot to return to Columbus for his senior season. As of now the Jaguars would pick second, and it’s hard to imagine them passing up on Fields.
3. Penei Sewell, Oregon OT
Scouts will have to rely on Sewell’s 2019 tape when judging his pro prospects as Sewell opted out of the 2020 college football season. That being said, he was named first-team All American, and won the Outland Trophy given to the nation’s best offensive lineman. There is a slight risk involved in picking a lineman who only has played 21 games above the high school level, and will be coming off nearly two years of inactivity when the 2021 NFL season begins, but many scouts consider the 6’6”, 325 LB Sewell a nearly perfect offensive line prospect.
4. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU WR
Like Sewell, Chase opted out of the 2020 season and therefore everyone will need to watch his 2019 tape to assess his draft prospects. Good news for Chase: his 2019 game tape is as good as anything ever put on film by a young receiver. In 2019, Chase caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards, and 20 TD. Twenty! Chase won the Biletnikoff as the nation’s best receiver, and had 221 yards receiving against Clemson in the national title game. By the way, he did this all as a teenager. Chase will also need to deal with a long layoff, but teams drafting in the top five will not be able to get past his rare talent.
5. Micah Parsons, Penn St. LB
If you are sensing a trend then you know that Parsons also opted out of the 2020 college football season, primarily due to COVID-concerns around his young son. Unlike Sewell and Chase, Parsons does not have a season under his belt as the top player at his position in the nation, but he did have a fantastic 2019. Parsons was named the Big 10’s best linebacker and was a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker. In 2019, Parsons had 109 tackles to go with 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.
6. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama CB
Surtain, who started for Alabama as a true freshman has an excellent pro pedigree, his father Patrick made 3 Pro Bowls in eleven seasons with the Chiefs and Dolphins. Patrick II, a 6’2” junior is as close to a shutdown corner as college football has. Despite being tested infrequently, last season Surtain had two interceptions and three forced fumbles to go with 42 tackles.
7. Trey Lance, North Dakota St. QB
No matter how many seasons Lance plays in the NFL he will never match his 2019 at NDSU where he threw for 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Interested NFL teams will have to mostly watch 2019 tape on Lance, because NDSU only played one game in 2020, due to COVID cancellations. Lance did snap his streak, by throwing an interception in a win over Central Arkansas.
8. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech CB
Farley is another elite player who sat out the 2020 college football season, but he has more tape on him than some of his peers who opted out. The 6’2”Farley was All-ACC first-team in 2019, when he intercepted four passes and is near the top of an excellent class of cornerbacks.
9. Gregory Rousseau, Miami Edge
After suffering a season-ending ankle injury early in 2018, Rousseau had a remarkable 15.5 sacks in 2019 as a redshirt freshman, including a stretch against Pitt and FSU where he had 7 sacks in two games. Rousseau also opted out of 2020, so scouts essentially will only have one season of film to watch on the edge rusher, though it should be quite impressive tape.
10. Zach Wilson, BYU QB
You could have asked for incredibly high moneyline odds a few months ago for Wilson to appear on this list, as he did not start the 2020 season on anyone’s radar but he has emerged this year for the undefeated BYU Cougars, with an amazing stat line of 22 TD to go with only 2 INT. Wilson has completed a ridiculous 75.4% of his passes and has an unheard of 11.4 yards per pass attempt.