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Rankings

2021 NFL Draft S Rankings

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: April 21, 2021, 6:24 pm ET

This is the 12th and final installment of our 2021 NFL Draft prospect rankings series, following quarterbacksrunning backs, a two-parter on wide receivers (WR1-9 here, WR10-50 here), tight endsoffensive tacklesinterior OL, interior DLEDGElinebackers and cornerbacks.

Coming later this week: the Thor500, my 500-player big board with 500 player comps, along with a seven-round mock draft.


1. Trevon Moehrig (TCU) | 6'1/202

Comp: Harrison Smith

RAS: 7.37

TCU found Moehrig, a three-star cornerback from Spring Branch, Tex. (near San Antonio), early in his recruiting process, earning his verbal in the months following his junior season. As Moehrig’s process picked up, the Horned Frogs had to fend off a bevy of suitors -- including Georgia, Stanford, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Baylor -- to get to the finish line of his signature.

Moehrig appeared in 12 games as a part-timer his true freshman season in 2018, flashing on special teams (TCU special teams MVP). Elevated to the starting lineup the next year, Moehrig took home 2019 First-Team All-Big 12 honors. In 2020 he repeated the trick, and also won the Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s best DB) while being named a Second-Team All-American.

Across 22 starts two seasons, Moehrig defended 26 passes and picked off six more -- mind-boggling ball production. A two-way player in high school that starred at wide receiver in addition to defensive back, the rangy Moehrig got to the catch point more than any safety in college football the last two years and played the ball like a wideout once there. Per PFF, Moehrig led all FBS safeties in breakups in both 2019 (12) and 2020 (eight). 

Built long and wiry, Moehrig comes with greasy hips, quick feet and explosive lower-half horsepower. Not a sprinter but oh-so-bursty. Moehrig gets-going any direction downhill quick and arrives at the doorstep freaky-fast like Jimmy John's, detonating an H-bomb of speed-to-power force as he drives his shoulder pads through the target’s hips.

Back deep at safety, Moehrig sees play development so clearly. Rarely fooled. Generally efficient paths. Incredible closing speed. Neck-snapping, crash-test dummy hits, especially at the end of a runway. Below is an example without one, near the goal line. Moehrig not only saves the touchdown, but gives his team the ball back.

In front of a crowd that included Panthers HC Matt Rhule, Saints HC Sean Payton and Vikings GM Rick Spielman at TCU's well-attended pro day on March 19, Moehrig decided to test despite suffering a back flare-up in the week leading up. He ran a strong 4.50 40-yard dash (77th RAS percentile) with a 4.19 short-shuttle (72nd).

Moehrig’s splits offered proof of concept of his closing ability (93rd-percentile 2.57 20-yard split). But Moehrig bombed the vertical with a 30th-percentile and skipped the broad and 3-cone. Sage business decisions.

Believe him about the back or not, but athleticism isn't a question for this Feldman Freak's alum. We got plenty of chances to see Moehrig in space against athleticism in man coverage lined up closer to the ball. Nearly half of Moehrig's defensive snaps at TCU came in the slot (796; the others were distributed almost evenly between free safety and box work). 

Moehrig’s swivel hips and squirrel-quick feet keep him on top of tight ends and most receivers out of breaks. Ball skills translate with his back to the action. Let's receiver tell him when it's time to find the ball. Picks it up and makes aggressive receiver-like plays on it.

Twitchy movers and skilled route-runners in the Big 12 were able to win separation out of breaks on Moehrig. With his 20-yard burst downhill from centerfield not available to him here, Moehrig can have a hard time recovering the step. Can get nicked by quick-hitters in this way.

And though generally solid in run defense, that area of his game also has a quirk. Moehrig's vision accentuates and multiplies his athleticism in general. Opposite phenomena when Moehrig’s vision is compromised, as can be the case when he's lined up closer to the ball.

In the clip below, you'll see an example of the point I’m making, a rarer example of a vision glitch from a two-deep look. Moehrig takes a few steps down as the run begins to develop, but seems to get confused by information overload amid the rush of bodies coming upfield. 

The exact same moment a cut-back lane opens for the running back at the line of scrimmage, Moehrig loses his place eight yards upfield. Moehrig turns his head left, away from the ball, briefly preoccupied with the outside receiver entering the frame (who is engaged blocking a TCU corner).

Moehrig takes two full shuffles towards the receiver -- as the runner accelerates through the lane -- and, peaking back, realizes in horror that the ball-carrier is about to sprint through the spot he vacated a split-second before.

You can see Moehrig's stunned reaction in his legs, which jellify. His eyes so rarely fail him. What should have been a two- or three-yard run ending in a Moehrig mega-hit instead became a 40-yard explosive jaunt because of Moehrig’s mental error.

As an all-purpose, scheme-versatile safety that hits like a truck and contests oodles of balls, there are elements of Harrison Smith in Moehrig’s game. Smith is very dangerous in coverage because he reads quarterback intention like a book and has all the athleticism needed to crash catch-point parties he wasn’t invited to with the soft hands to steal the ball.

So very similar with Moehrig. I love safeties like this, because they don’t take plays off, they do not botch routine assignments, they defend the run and pass with equal vigor and skill, and, in addition to increasing the efficiency of the defense they play for, they also increase its explosiveness.

Because of Moehrig’s ability to handle almost any assignment you hand him from a variety of alignments, he’s truly a fit for any scheme. His skills play up most in split-safety looks, where you get the downhill, clever menace in coverage and against the run situated from a vantage point where he can see the whole field without leaving yourself naked in the back-end in those random glitchy plays where he reacts to a ghost and removes himself from the play.

Moehrig will offer your special teams coach a core player from the jump while offering your defensive coordinator in-game versatility to shift into the slot from his split-safety base on a matchup basis. Moehrig's one of the safest players in the entire class. He may never be one of the game's top-3 safeties, but Pro Bowls are almost assuredly in his future.


2. Jamar Johnson (Indiana) | 6'0/205

Comp: John Johnson III

RAS: 6.19

Johnson was a do-it-all, three-way stud in high school in Sarasota, Fla. (Riverview), starring at receiver on offense, corner/safety on defense, and as a returner on special teams. He fell through the cracks of the recruiting services, a three-star cornerback that checked into the 247Sports composite outside the top-1,100 prospects in the nation.

But in a small-scale harbinger to his meteoric rise this NFL Draft process, Johnson started out overlooked but became the bell-of-the-ball in the lead-up to signing day, with roughly one-fifth of the FBS’ 130 teams offering officially. A litany of G5 programs vying to steal Johnson got their offers trumped by Indiana, Iowa State, Virginia Tech and Washington State, four P5 programs that do a very good job evaluating the position at the prep level.

When new college coaches get hired, you’ll often hear that they have “recruiting connections” in Area X. Johnson’s story is a good example of how “recruiting connections” manifest in the college football ecosphere. Indiana HC Tom Allen got his coaching start in 1992 as defensive coordinator at a Florida high school -- he and his wife had moved to the Sunshine State to begin teaching careers.

Over the next five years, Allen proved a natura; teaching on the football field, and a new full-time career path emerged. Off the Allens went around the country, climbing the stretching-to-heaven coaching ladder. Allen reached the rung of his first FBS coordinator job in less than a decade, returning to the state it all began as Willie Taggart’s DC at South Florida in 2015.

One dominant defensive season complimenting Taggart’s "Gulf Coast Offense" (back when that wasn't a joke) convinced Indiana, Allen’s alma mater, to poach him as DC. Allen’s “recruiting ties in Florida” were oft-cited in stories about the hiring, fleshing out the “returning home” narrative. When Allen replaced the ousted Kevin Wilson -- under fire amid allegations of player mistreatment -- as Indiana HC a year later, even more so.

Allen, a two-year DC who looks like what would happen if you combined the DNA of James Woods and Jim Tressel, wasn’t the easiest sell as the permanent HC choice to those who remained Hoosier football fans. Some saw it as a hire lacking in imagination and guts, like when West Virginia elevated career assistant Bill Stewart to replace the wildly successful Rich Rodriguez (I promise you this analogy works on scale -- Wilson’s Hoosiers qualified for bowls his last two seasons, the first time the program had gone bowling in back-to-back years since 1990-91).

But by 2020, Allen’s fourth season in charge of the Indiana program, he'd built the Hoosiers from perennial laughingstock to the doorstep of the Big 10 championship game (and they would have made it had the B1G not changed its rules last-minute to allow Ohio State, previously disqualified after crossing the two-game COVID cancelation threshold, to hop Indiana in the methodology).

Last season was the first time Allen had a full roster of hand-picked prospects he’d developed himself. The roster was just like Allen himself. Roughly half was native to Indiana. Most of the rest was fleshed out with Floridians -- 22 Sunshine Staters, including a chunk of the team’s best players, like QB Michael Penix and WR Whop Philyor. And, of course, Jamar Johnson.

College football’s Lord Varys of Florida, Allen’s little birdies tipped him off to opportunities to get in early on potential P5 gems who for one reason or another hadn’t drawn interest from the bluebloods. In a beautiful bit of symmetry, Allen’s fastidious teaching style proved most effective mining untapped ceiling out of these talented, high-variance projects teeming in athleticism but needing to learn physical technique and position assignment.

That was the story of how boring old Tom Allen rebuilt Indiana into a Big 10 player in just four years' time. It’s also very much the story of Jamar Johnson himself. Allen didn’t see a tweener in the overlooked cornerback/safety -- he saw the ever-rare starter-kit tools to build an uber-valuable nickel/safety hybrid defender.

Johnson’s education began his true freshman year in 2018, spent as a core special-teamer (only 15 garbage snaps on defense). As a sophomore in 2019, Johnson had not fully graduated from Allen’s apprentice program but had proven ready for matchup-specific slot duties, getting plenty of snaps (232 in the slot) despite starting only one game. 

Allen also tossed Johnson some box snaps as a zippy fourth linebacker in obvious run situations. Johnson showed promise, posting ridiculous per-snap havoc numbers (4.5 TFL, three sacks, two interceptions, one of which he returned for a tuddy, and four additional passes defended). Allen spoon-fed him specifically and deliberately. Johnson took only three snaps as a deep safety in 2019, per PFF.

Allen intended to change that in 2020. But plans changed again roughly one month before the Oct. 24 opener against Penn State following the ACL tear of standout redshirt senior Marcelino Ball. Ball was the slot-defending starting “Husky” in Allen’s 4-2-5 (a third safety/fifth DB that takes the third LB off the field while hopefully not neutering your run defense).

Johnson was Ball’s backup at Husky in 2019. Following Ball’s season-ending injury this past September, Sports Illustrated Indiana noted Johnson “surely [would have] been the number one replacement for Ball” had Allen not first shifted Johnson full-time to safety during spring ball to replace graduated free safety Khalil Bryant in the starting lineup. In an accompanying house-keeping depth move, Allen shifted junior S Bryant Fitzgerald to Husky, filling Johnson’s vacated spot on the two-deep as Ball's backup.

In a hubbub with the media following news of Ball’s season-ending injury, Allen announced Fitzgerald would assume Ball's starting Husky gig. Interestingly, Allen wasn't done talking about his plans for the position, adding: "We also have Jamar Johnson, who played there last year as the backup to Marcelino. Jamar is an extremely talented football player and has the ability to play there." 

If Marcelino Ball hadn’t gotten hurt, Johnson would have been a starting deep safety in 2020 -- and likely not moved around a ton. Instead, Allen was forced by circumstance to roll out his pet hybrid project from Florida in all his glory a year before he otherwise would have, giving Johnson 93 slot snaps, 141 box snaps and 236 safety snaps from a split-field alignment in 2020.

In eight games, Johnson exploded for 3.5 TFL, four interceptions and four breakups passes to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors. Half of those interceptions came in Johnson’s national coming-out party, a ruckus late-November Indiana upset bid that fell just short.

He wrote Justin Fields’ Heisman concession speech with two interceptions. Fields entered that game completing 87% of his passes with zero interceptions (having thrown only three career INT prior to that game).

Check the absolute beauty of a rep below. Watch how ridiculously smooth that backpedal is as he enters Fields' brain like Magneto Man. Watch how perfect the depth is throughout. The last line of defense in the 1-high look, Johnson's initial movements take away any thoughts Fields has of throwing to the receiver on the right boundary.

Two defenders on the other side have taken care of the left boundary receiver, and three linebackers are standing five yards upfield from Fields' only dump-off option in the flat -- those options are off the table, too.

At this point, Fields has only two options: Drive the ball into the receiver up the seam who appears to be the open man, or take off. Johnson, watching him like a hawk, is playing an angle game, scurrying laterally like a spider. Before Fields has even begun his throwing motion, watch how quickly Johnson swivels his hips from the right boundary receiver to the seam receiver.

He knows. He knows that Fields can only throw to one player. And dang if Johnson didn't know how appealing that proposition is to Fields in general -- he was going to attempt this throw. Watch how quickly and seamlessly he turns 180-degrees.

And -- you may have to go frame-by-frame to catch this one -- note that Johnson already taken a full step toward the slot receiver before Fields has raised the ball, and has driven three full steps towards the slot receiver before the ball is released. Fields thought this was an easy downfield completion. Instead, it was an easy interception.

High-level stuff. High, high-level stuff. Fields only targeted Johnson twice that afternoon -- both were picked. And it wasn't just the interceptions. Watch the tenaciousness of the blitz below from the slot on a clutch sack of Fields just outside the red zone. Johnson gives a few pitter-patter steps on approach to RB Master Teague, the poor back on the field that play tasked with picking up the free blitzer.

Instead of going right or left, watch how much power Johnson generates in sending Teague sprawling into the left tackle’s legs. A three-car pile up in his wake, Johnson snatched Fields and ripped him to the ground. Johnson piled up 11 career pressures in only 33 pass-rushing opportunities -- that's an incredible rate. He ought to be sent more often in the pros.

In his slot snaps last season, Johnson showed the ability to mirror in man coverage that flashed in his 2019 platoon snaps. Comfortable with his back to the ball, Johnson has a good sniffer for when the ball’s coming and he tends to pick it up immediately without slowing, putting himself in better situations to make plays on it.

Eye-opening in 2020 were Johnson's split-safety coverage snaps, a new role for him. Sees field like he’s watching All-22 on half-speed. Clever, instinctive night stalker presence in zone. Fealty to his area with flash-bang downhill burst to close on balls in front of him. Conviction in his reads for instantaneous trigger ignition. Adaptive and reactive to changing information. Doesn’t put teammates at risk. 

Johnson has flashes against the run, quick and enthusiastic to trigger downhill, arriving quickly with jarring hits when he’s able to reach the ball-carrier. Assignment-minded play when he can’t, setting outer-edges to funnel runners inside to help, minding his gaps. But tackling remains stuck in the neophyte development stage. 

He botched 18 attempts over the last two years for a red-flag 22.5% missed tackle rate.  Stunning for a player that made such enormous developmental leaps in every other category over three years at Indiana, Johnson’s lust for collision impact can overpower his good senses. Flies in hot with head down, leaves feet like a battering ram, only passing thoughts to wrapping. 

At Indiana's Pro Day on April 2, Johnson ran a 4.58 forty that would’ve ranked top-12 among safeties at last year’s combine. Explosion seen on tape displayed in 35-inch vertical jump (64th-percentile RAS) and 10’02” broad jump (76th).

Johnson was having one heck of a day until he bombed the agility drills, with a 21st-percentile shuttle and 30th-percentile 3-cone. I was surprised by the agility times, as I saw an athlete not with Barry Sanders jukes, but certainly enough functional agility to stay on top of route breaks, enough lateral quickness to wreak havoc in zone.

More and more, prospects, especially those ranked as Day 1 or Day 2 prospects, are skipping the agility drills. That Johnson didn’t with these times indicates he thought he was going to do better, probably because of training times. I trust the functional agility I saw on the field.

Johnson declared for the NFL Draft early, following his true junior season, with only nine career starts under his belt. During his 2020 metamorphosis, we saw the tip of the spear of what he could become as a nickel/safety hybrid offering efficiency, explosion and mismatch-nullification.

The NFL has been obsessed for almost a decade with identifying safeties with LB/CB traits to use as nickel hybrids in the war against spread offenses. These offenses not only force defenses to thin the box for running, but put athletes in space outside, including, of course, offensive hybrid players (think: Kyle Pitts). 

Against opponents that regularly used a move-TE in conjunction with an inline tight end -- 12 personnel -- hybrid nickels are utterly essential unless you want to watch your undersized slot corner get posterized downfield all afternoon.

Johnson, Tom Allen’s most prized pupil and a driving force behind Indiana football’s renaissance despite starting less than 10 collegiate games, is entering the league at just the right time.

He looks like he’s only getting started as a ballhawking goblin in coverage deployed around the formation. Johnson’s only barrier of entry to NFL stardom is improving his tackling from poor to average. The coverage chops are going to play.


3. Jevon Holland (Oregon) | 6'1/207

Comp:  Xavier McKinney

RAS: 9.53

A two-year starter that entered the lineup immediately after signing as a four-star recruit in 2018, Holland bounced between a traditional safety role and slot duties in Eugene. Flashing ball skills from his days as a receiver in high school, Holland piled up nine interceptions and 11 breakups over two seasons before opting-out in 2020.

Not only active and productive in coverage, Holland is also extremely reliable. In 109 career targets, Holland allowed a 61.1 passer rating against while drawing only one penalty. Yahoo’s Eric Edholm reported Holland hammered corner drills during his 2020 opt-out. Holland believes he could stick there in the pros. Many agree with him, including PFF.

A well-built safety with long arms, Holland is a smooth mover on the field. More fluid and efficient in his maneuverings than a herky-jerky, north-south explosive athlete, ala a prospect like Andre Cisco (talked about below).

Holland’s 9.54 RAS score is legitimate -- he competed in every athletic test except for the 3-cone. Since he posted a 78th-percentile shuttle, and since he has precise feet with hips that swivel like an office chair, agility isn’t in question.

There were questions about Holland’s speed -- notably, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein reported earlier in the process that NFL scouts had “concerns about [Holland’s] long speed” -- so the prospect did well to run a 4.47 forty (88th percentile) with strong splits and well above-average jumps, including a 10’06” broad jump (86th percentile).

To my eyes, Holland’s on-field speed was more than adequate for safety duties (as well as punt-return duties, a job Holland held at Oregon that he’s been doing since high school). But in man coverage out of the slot, there were instances of speed players getting a step on him and turning the lead into two or three steps by the time they were in the deep sector.

This is precisely the area where Holland’s idea of potentially being able to swing full-time corner duties at the next level falls apart for me. Holland had all the size, length and ball skills needed to deal with most of the athletes and routes he saw out of that post in the Pac-12. 

But in the same way NBA defenses can sell-out to crowd shooters who haven’t proven they can create off the dribble, NFL teams will test Holland’s ability to carry a route downfield early and often if his drafting team gives him man-coverage corner assignments. It’s not just a speed thing. For all his natural feel seeing and playing the ball with the action in front of him, Holland has an awkward relationship with the ball with his back to it in man assignments.

A good illustration of each of these weaknesses, as well as an example of Holland’s occasional susceptibility in biting on double-moves, can be seen below on a 57-yard touchdown pass ceded to Arizona State WR Frank Darby. In this case, Holland was lined up as a safety, with the corner, in zone, passing Darby off to him. 

Holland’s job of not letting Darby get behind him should have been more than doable. But Darby not only froze Holland with just a hint of a route break, but he ran past him and added distance. Darby’s no burner. Even if Holland had somehow caught him by the time the ball got there, this still may have been a touchdown -- the WR-like ball skills Holland has coming forward don’t translate with his back to the ball.

But mixing in nickel work based on matchups remains more than viable in the NFL -- it’s how he should be used. Holland gets after his run-game assignments, crashing down with authority and bringing the hit stick with him. Love to see both the willingness to scrap and the team-oriented small things he’ll do in this area, a compete-until-the-whistle type willing to sacrifice his body.

Holland missed nine tackle attempts in each of his two starting seasons for a middling 14.0% missed tackle rate. More than half of the misses occurred by user error, generally when Holland realized a step or too before the collision he'd come in too hot, leading him to leave his feet for a chance at a kill shot or get out over his skis with his head down to barrel through. 

Outside of these instances, he’s extremely reliable in this area, including corralling in space. Wouldn’t have said that prior to 2019, but Holland made a huge lead forward in this area in 2019, cutting his missed tackle percentage by 7.1%. PFF charted Holland with 24 “stops” (tackles constituting a failure for the offense) that season, up from six as a true freshman.

Holland’s proven coverage chops and ball skills from his safety post will play in the NFL in any scheme. He adds additional value with slot versatility (matchup-dependent) and punt returning. High-floor cost reliability for a team needing immediate safety help and hoping to improve its pass defense.


4. Richie Grant (UCF) | 6'0/197

Comp: Justin Reid

RAS: 7.8

An ignored two-star receiver recruit out of high school, Grant was discovered by former HC George O’Leary, who came through with Grant’s only FBS scholarship offer. But Grant had to sweat through O’Leary’s firing and Scott Frost’s hiring before learning that, indeed, Frost was honoring the scholarship offer.

Then Grant had to hope Frost would keep his word for almost a year -- and he did. Turned into one of Frost’s best recruiting decisions in Orlando. Grant started 33 games, earning First Team All-AAC honors all three years he started. In 2020, Grant was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (nation's top defensive back). 

As a true freshman, Grant was a key reserve and full-time special-teamer that likely would have started for most any other program in the nation, including in the P5 -- UCF's secondary at the time just so happened to boast Shaquem Griffin and Mike Hughes. Last game of that season, Grant made five tackles in the Sugar Bowl as UCF upset Auburn 34-27 in the Sugar Bowl.

He remained a core special teamer the next three years, taking over 500 special team snaps (3,000-plus snaps total when you toss in the defensive work). Grant’s impact on UCF was undeniable. George O’Leary’s last team, in 2015, went 0-12, with Frost going 6-7 the next year. Grant arrived in 2017. In his four years on campus, under two different staffs, the Knights went 41-8. 

In three seasons as starter, Grant collected 10 interceptions, 16 passes defended, seven forced fumbles and two recoveries. A big plus in run defense that brings his lunch pail. Grant missed 20 attempts between 2018-2019, but only 6-of-78 (7.7%) attempts in 2020, per PFF.

Grant’s got the range of a shortstop, and his receiving background is apparent at the catch point. He naturally plays the ball and is diligent in the split-seconds before it arrives to put himself into a position to get hands on it. Deceiving length, a sub-6 footer with a 77-inch wingspan.

A sub-200-pounder standing a hair under six feet, Grant is a short, lean, last-guy-off-the-bus guy if such a thing existed. But he’s got a Bradley Cooper-in-Limitless cheat code of a mind, processing data in hyper speed and reacting immediately to all actionable data.

 A ubiquitously-mentioned-by-broadcasters presence during UCF’s resurgence, Grant was productive and reliable in the take-out-the-trash assignments -- leading the Knights in tackles twice -- while changing the course of multiple games per year with timely interceptions or third-down breakups.

Grant prefers an all-22 look at the field and sets up very deep. Clever teams avoided testing him downfield but made sure to kick Grant in the shins a few times a game with quick underneath throws he had no chance of contesting in an attempt to take advantage of a little extra intermediate space.

At his pro day, Grant nullified false narratives about his athleticism (Grant was a high school track star, almost assuredly the reason O’Leary and Frost took the developmental stab nobody else would). His 7.8 RAS score was in actuality far more impressive than many guys who left the process with 8s or 9s.

Grant competed in all the tests -- becoming more of a rarity among top-100 drafted players -- and was mostly dinged by the size-adjusted system for his height and weight, poor bench showing, and middle-of-the-road vertical. Grant ran a 4.57 40-yard dash with 90th-plus percentile showings in the 10- and 20-yard splits, broad jump and 3-cone.  

I wouldn’t call Grant explosive, but he arrives very quickly when driving down to contest from centerfield. Commendable dichotomy of quick-trigger aggression without getting toasted deep.

Diverse skillet that UCF moved around to nullify matchups, bringing Grant into the slot for bigger matchups like tight ends and into the box as an extra linebacker for obvious run situations. Hard to slip with movement.

Already 23 with his 24th birthday looming in November, Grant has undergone more development than most in this class and may be more tapped-out in that department than others.

But he’s already a super-reliable deep safety with special-sauce playmaking skills, add-on matchup versatility, and some of the most reliable special teams work seen anywhere in the 2021 class. Day 1 starter with a very high floor.


5. Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State) | 6'3/215

Comp: George Iloka

RAS: 7.77

Over his three-year stint as starter after signing as a top-100 overall recruit, Nasirildeen functioned as Florida State’s free safety with a twist. In addition to centerfield duties, the Seminoles weaponized Nasirildeen’s length, size, movement and love for contact in assignment-specific roles closer to the ball, shifted into the slot for specific coverage matchups and near the line for off-ball LB snaps. 

A team leader at FSU, with an approach and work ethic that Seminoles’ coaches rave about, Nasirildeen is also a special-teams ace that took nearly 500 special teams snaps in college. A plus athlete at a shade over 6’3 and 215 pounds, Nasirildeen also boasts an eagle’s wingspan (81 7/8 inches). Florida State coaches believe he could have played receiver, tight end, linebacker or safety in college.

He’s a good example of why on-field versatility is not a cliche, but a mineable on-field resource. Nasirildeen’s ability to perform disparate tasks around the field allows you to squeeze extra value out of him by playing matchups. Nasirildeen for instance replacing a height-challenged nickel corner with move-TEs in the slot. In that case, your best coverage safety off the bench takes Nasirildeen’s centerfield spot. 

In this way, players with legit versatility allow you to use your bench in situation-specific platoons catered to their strengths, as opposed to letting them rot waiting for an injury or more traditional substitution patterns, i.e., by series, or in generalized game situations (i.e. nickel/dime packages, goal-line D, etc.).

With a chesspiece in the starting lineup, a bench with a player or two at all three levels with a currently-playable skill against either the run or the pass, and a creative, advantage-obsessed defensive coordinator, you keep everybody fresh while simultaneously catering everyone’s usage to their skills, in effect playing all of them up. 

The quarterback is seeing new personnel packages across the line each play -- the chesspiece moving around and a small group of situation-specific reserves shuffling in-and-out around him -- allowing elite coordinators to amp things up even further in the name of confusion and havoc, Replacer blitzes -- made famous by Clemson DC Brent Venables -- where you send guys from all over the field and have another player drop back to “replace” him, are a good example.

Nasirildeen is just as versatile as Carolina’s Jeremy Chinn and New England’s Kyle Dugger, last year’s Round 2 hybrid safeties -- and longer than both. However, whereas Chinn and Dugger each had 4.5 forties and 40-plus inch verticals, Nasirildeen managed a mere 32 inches at his pro day workout before pulling out of the 40, citing a hamstring injury from training. 

Nasirildeen’s 59th-percentile showings in each of the agility tests become more impressive if he was fighting through a balky hamstring. It’s also possible that injury didn’t become a thing until after Nasirildeen’s cringe-inducing vertical. Either way, ballparking from observation, he's more of a high-4.5s or low-4.6s guy.

When Nasirildeen was at his best at FSU, he looked more like a new-agey undersized off-ball linebacker than a free safety, a fearless downhill attacker with a knack for getting to the target without getting touched by blockers, an area of his game clearly honed on special teams. 

He’s a hard-hitter that uses his huge tackling radius for money-in-the-bank reliability (22 misses on 233 attempts). Extremely active, Nasirildeen led the Seminoles in tackles as a sophomore and junior and would have again in 2020 had he been healthy. 

Despite Nasirildeen’s experience in coverage both deep and in the slot, he remains very much a work-in-progress in that area. To his credit, he improved dramatically in this area between 2018 (73.3% completions, four TD allowed) and 2019 (47.6% completions, zero touchdowns), giving hope that more ceiling is left to be uncovered. 

Nasirildeen is a smooth, agile athlete in space, and he uses his length and ball skills carried over from his high school receiving days to pile up production (13 passes defended and four INT in 19 starts). But Nasirildeen lacks wheels, and his feel is improving but a work-in-progress area.

He cedes separation in the intermediate with lethargic transitions, and can get beat over the top by long speed if he isn't careful. Bad habit of shooting himself in the foot by excess peaking over his shoulder for information from the quarterback.

Nasirildeen tore an ACL in 2019, the rehab of which didn’t allow his 2020 season to begin until Florida State’s last two games. And then he struggled at the Senior Bowl and had a nondescript pro day that may or may not have included a phantom injury to skip the 40, an area he wasn’t going to shine in. 

If Nasirildeen can improve his diagnostic skills to the degree it mitigates the speed issue, he'll become a long-term chesspiece starter. On the lower-end of the qualitative scale for what that is, but an extremely valuable piece nonetheless. A base strong safety that can handle slot, box or deep duties.

That usage in a zone scheme in particular would mask a lot of his coverage weaknesses while playing up his strengths. If his instincts never improve, he’ll becomes a backup LB/S with enough usable traits to see the field situationally in service of another chesspiece’s machinations. 

Either way, he’ll be a special-teams ace from Day 1 that will be on all your core units. Those latter two facts mitigate his risk profile and raise his floor such that I see a top-75 prospect overall in conjunction with the ceiling.


6. Ar'Darius Washington (TCU) | 5'8/176

Comp: Lamarcus Joyner

RAS: 5.12

Two-year starter across from S1 Trevon Moehrig in Gary Patterson’s hyper-aggressive 4-2-5 scheme. After a redshirt campaign, Washington earned Freshman All-American honors and won the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year award in 2019. He was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection in 2020.

Patterson ended up stealing Washington, a three-star recruit, out of Louisiana’s Evangel Christian Academy. And it’s not even because nearby LSU missed -- the Tigers were Washington’s first offer, one he immediately accepted verbally before eventually flipping when TCU got involved late (UTSA was the only other FBS school to offer).

A tiny ball of muscle that plays ticked-off, Washington’s non-athlete comp would be a pitbull. Those who like him most liken Washington to Tyrann Mathieu as an undersized do-it-all playmaker that competes every play like you stole money out of his wallet and insulted his mother. Washington has a tattoo on his hand with a world with a crown on it, just like Matthieu’s. 

At Washington’s pro day workout, he ran a disappointing 4.62 40-yard dash. His measurements would make him one of the smallest safeties to play in the NFL over the last 30 years, it’s not like he has long arms (29.25”) to compensate in the length department.

Summing up Washington's career to reporters afterwards, HC Gary Patterson said: “He wasn’t as big as I wanted him to be. He wasn’t as fast as I wanted him to be. All the above. But at the end of the day, he’s a guy who has a lot of passion for the game and he makes a lot of plays.”

We knew he was small and lacking sprinter wheels. Where Washington did well at the workout was posting size-adjusted 83rd-percentile or above finishes in the broad jump, vertical jump and shuttle. In many ways, this was also confirmation of his on-field profile.

Loose-hipped. Not going to run guys down from behind. But boasts incredible bang-bang range to get involved in plays he has no business making -- 40-time be damned. Washington reads the field so well that, like my S1 from last call, Antoine Winfield Jr., he can anticipate the seconds to come and makes calculated risks with supreme confidence. 

For all he lacks in size and speed, Washington is rich in athletic explosion. Nobody at TCU who’d witnessed Washington’s weight-room exploits -- including a 370-pound bench and 640-pound squat -- was much surprised by Washington's pro day leaps.

The diagnostics/short-area explosion areas are so elite -- quick-trigger fuse, shot-from-cannon initial movements -- that Washington can be five-or-more yards upfield closing as some of his contemporaries in the same circumstance would be taking their first step forward. 

After an objectively elite year in coverage in 2019 (11.6 passer rating on targets, zero TD, five INT), Washington fell off slightly in this area in 2020 (99.6 passer rating on targets, three TD, zero INT). Even so, over two years as a starter, he coughed up only 157 yards in coverage.

Washington has zero regard for his own body against the run, an area he legitimately seems to love. Particularly out of the slot, close to the ball, he shines, with the same hair-trigger and short-area explosion, his agility and desire helping him work through traffic along the way (of course, if a blocker can get his hands on Washington, it's usually night-night for Washington on the rep).

Washington's a physical form-tackler, attempting to drive your chest pads through your back for a hug. Washington’s missed-tackle rate also more than doubled from 6.3% to 17.8% between 2019 and 2020. If there’s good news, it’s that the change was mostly circumstantial (which, unlike waning effort or depreciating play, is something we can work with). 

When he’s charging upfield from deep to help with the run, Washington’s eyes can get big as saucers, taking hyper-aggressive routes to the ball, putting him in danger of over-pursuit, getting taken out of the play by a directional change of the ball-carrier, or getting wiped out by a blocker.

But when he did get home last year, he blew multiple tackles, never from a lack of effort or power (he cooks up speed-to-power like a tini microwave), but from a combination of off-angle attempts and a tiny tackling radius. Washington has very little margin for error -- if he doesn’t clean up the angles and arrive on the doorstep flush with his feet under him, he’s at big risk for losing fish out of the boat because of a short net thrown haphazardly.

 

Of the three spots Washington played 200-plus snaps at in college -- slot, box, free safety -- the slot seemed to suit him best overall in part because of this. Washington has shown that he has the footwork, fluidity and ball skills to handle most coverage assignments out of the post -- just needs to be protected from big/strong receivers.

But because of Washington’s high-octane Mighty Mouse blend of field vision and downhill thunder, there are also circumstances where I’ll want him assigned to free safety duties. 

When asked what position he’d play at the next level Washington said: “Where do I see myself? Wherever the ball is to be honest.” With nickel/free safety play-to-play matchup-based versatility, and the desire and athletic explosion to overcome his lack of size or long speed, Washington could offer 85% of the Honey Badger at a middle-round price discount.

Absolute worst-case scenario, he’s a strong special teams player that’s the first DB off your bench used for specific situations.


 7. Divine Deablo (Virginia Tech) | 6'3/226

Comp: Kyzir White

RAS: 8.03

A track and football star at Mount Tabor High School (N.C.), Deablo decided to ditch a commitment to his local Tar Heels for the Hokies after eating at Beamer’s 25, Frank Beamer’s barbecue joint in Roanoke (website: “friendly service and a culinary passion for good food intercepts the memorabilia of a legendary coach”). 

Instead of asking why the good food was intercepting Beamer’s memorabilia instead of complimenting it, or asking if the menu writer meant to use the word "intersects", Deablo simply threw up his hands and committed to Beamer on the spot. Turned out Beamer was on his way out. Deablo stuck with the commitment after Justin Fuente’s hiring.

Deablo drew more interest than his three-star billing might have suggested -- Florida and Clemson were among his bundle of offers -- because of his tantalizing size/length/athleticism combination.

The Hokies shifted Deablo from receiver to the defensive backfield after his redshirt season. Virginia Tech would do the same to a young receiver named Caleb Farley two years later. In part-time work as a redshirt freshman in 2017, Deablo flashed in coverage, breaking up three balls and intercepting another in only 62 coverage snaps.

Deablo started the next three seasons. From the start, he was an active run defender, eventually wracking up 63 career stops (tackles constituting an offensive failure), as charted by PFF. But in those first two years as a starter, 2018-2019, Deablo was frequently targeted in coverage.

He coughed up 920 coverage yards over those two campaigns. Incredibly, over 816 coverage snaps between 2018-19, Deablo intercepted (1) and broke up (3) the exact same amount of passes that he did in only 62 coverage snaps as a little-used redshirt freshman!

Not only was Deablo extremely mistake-prone, unsure of himself, but, perhaps more troubling, his ball skills had up and disappeared. Had that been the case in 2020, Deablo would be ranked 10 or more slots lower on this list.

Instead, the light flicked on, with Deablo picking off four passes while holding opponents to a 56.3 NFL passer rating on targets en route to first-team All-ACC honors. His PFF coverage grade leapt from 69.6 to 84.4. This wasn’t against a procession of bums, either. One of Trevor Lawrence’s five interceptions came at Deablo’s hands. Not only that, but it occurred in the end zone.

The proven run defender improved for the third-straight season in tackling -- raw and all-limbs at first, he’s now very reliable. Standing 6’3 ⅜, 226 pounds with a condor’s 78’ ⅞ wingspan, Deablo is a tank of a safety, with eerily similar dimensions to Kam Chancellor. 

At his pro day workout, Deablo completed every test and posted a legitimate 80th-percentile size-adjusted athletic composite. In comparison to Chancellor’s best showing in each test between his pro day and NFL Combine workouts, Deablo ran faster (4.42 to 4.59) with a better vertical (34” to 32"), broad jump (126” to 116") and 3-cone (7.01 to 7.36).

Here’s a snippet of a randomly-selected Chancellor scouting report coming out of Virginia Tech: “Elite size and strength. A very physical defender. At his best in run support; acts as an extra linebacker. Coverage skills are lacking. Does not look fluid when he needs to turn and run with a receiver. Speed is marginal. Primarily played free safety in college but will need to move to strong safety at the next level due to his size and lack of coverage skills.” 

This scouting report could be copy/pasted for Deablo. He’s struggled in man coverage in the past, especially with staying close out of transitions, appearing to lack comfort and twitchy change-of-direction mirroring skills in space. He should probably be kept out of that, and Deablo’s free safety days are almost assuredly over.

He’s following the Kam Chancellor path out of legendary DC Bud Foster’s scheme to a strong safety role in the NFL. Deablo took 865 snaps in the slot, 907 snaps in the box and 424 snaps deep as a free safety in college. Only suggested modification to his usage in the NFL is redistributing those 424 deep-safety snaps to the slot or box.

In some ways, Kam Chancellor lucked out by getting drafted by the Seahawks, which ran a Cover-3 system tailor-made for his skillet. Deablo needs to cross his fingers for the same good fortunate the last weekend of April -- his best shot in the NFL is as a Cover-3 strong safety.

Matt Bowen called the Cover-3 "a defense taught at the high school level that is still prevalent on Sundays." This system requires an LB/S hybrid type at SS.* The crux of the Cover-3 strategy is to pack the box at the snap and fan out for passes. 

*(Cover-3 really weaponizes guys like Diablo, but I should be clear that all NFL defensive schemes have their uses for players like him. Here’s what an AFC personnel executive told NFL.com’s Lance Zielein with regards to Deablo: "Every team is going to need a matchup guy who is a big safety or a small linebacker who can play the run and cover tight ends. We all need them with how the league is going and he's that kind of player.")

Chancellor was frequently brought down to create eight-man boxes at the snap. On run plays, he was literally an extra linebacker, not just a diagnose-and-trigger downhill guy, but with additional responsibilities like setting a hard edge to funnel runners back inside to a gang of teammates. 

Deablo almost assuredly isn’t Kam Chancellor, but neither was Kam Chancellor. That's his bonanza ceiling if Deablo’s tackling and coverage continue to improve and he finds a Cover-3 system that weaponizes him.

There’s risk in the profile, of course. If Deablo’s 2020 level-up in coverage was a mirage instead of a harbinger of things to come, he’s going to go from potential hybrid matchup piece to backup linebacker duties very quickly.

Deablo's going to be a special-teams devil (sorry) from the jump (739 career special teams snaps in one of college football’s most vaunted special teams units). The ceiling here is very, very real, and the special-teams chops and LB/S tweener traits guarantee a long-term NFL future even if he never reaches it.

I think Deablo's being slept on.


8. Andre Cisco (Syracuse) | 6'1/216

Comp: Ha-Ha Clinton Dix

RAS: N/A

Coming out of IMG Academy, Cisco was a three-star recruit outside Florida’s top-125 prospects with only one year of prep starting varsity experience. What Cisco lacked in experience he offered back double in projectable tools. 

Ignored by colleges for most of his high school career, Cisco drew five Power 5 offers, including Nebraska and Northwestern, near the end of his senior season. Syracuse convinced Cisco, Queens-born and a native of Valley Stream -- Cisco transferred to IMG as a junior with zero varsity football starts -- to return home. Dino Babers and crew were willing to risk a roster spot on the developmental shot.

Cisco vindicated the decision immediately, picking off seven balls his first year on campus to become the first true freshman to lead the country in interceptions since 1951 (Oregon’s George Shaw). He defended an additional 18 passes en route to third-team AP All-American and ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Cisco missed three games to a lower-body injury in 2019 but intercepted five more passes anyway, earning second-team All-ACC accommodation. A torn ACL in Syracuse’s second game of 2020 ended his season early.

Cisco elected to declare early for the NFL Draft. Still recovering from the knee injury, Cisco didn’t test at his pro day workout. For Cisco, his NFL Draft process must feel much like his recruiting process: Instead of being a raw, boom-or-bust three-star recruit, he’s a raw, boom-or-bust tier-three NFL Draft prospect.

Cisco and Stanford CB Paulson Adebo are the dueling Spiderman GIF of defensive back prospects in this class. Both are well-built, stud athletes that believe they can intercept every ball in the air. And both arguably may have picked up a bad habit or two by dominating in the specific way they did as freshmen. 

Cisco’s an unapologetic, YOLO risk-taker. Whereas a guy like Richie Grant makes calculated risks by based on quickly extrapolating information, Cisco just guesses hope hopes. 

After allowing two TD and 264 yards in coverage while getting his hands on 15 passes as a true freshman in 2018 (56.1 NFL passer rating on targets), Cisco allowed six TD and 376 yards in coverage while getting his hands on 10 passes in 2019 (105.8 NFL passer rating on targets.

I’m not even sure he played worse. Same play style, just no adjustments as opponents targeted his habit of biting hard on double moves and pump fakes. Desperation is a stinky cologne, and quarterbacks could smell it wafting off him, able to control Cisco like a marionette with their eyes.

When something happens in front of Cisco, when he’s allowed to scream downhill with a play on the line and the chance to make it, he’s very effective, seen in both run defense and the field-flipping interceptions. Hair-trigger, fast as a bullet once he makes a decision. Hits targets like one fired out of a gold gun in Golden Eye once he arrives.

So much power at collision points at the end of a runway. Vaunted ACC over-the-middle hitman who forced incompletions early in games and left an imprint on receivers who might alligator-arm a ball later.

But Cisco’s aggression and preoccupation with hunting for stadium-roaring play opportunities is a double-edged sword. He flies downhill like a bat out of hell with blinders on, a ball-magnet in every sense of the word, always moving to it without thought of anything else. Doesn’t see blockers well on the hunt and can get de-cleated. 

More he has to move off his straight-line path, less of a chance he’s going to factor into a play. Mental agility under as much suspicion as physical agility. Dies on sword through contact (or whiff), coming in hot and leaving feet. More interested in force of hit than wrapping. Missed 27 tackles over 24 games.  

Cisco just turned 21 last month. He has high-end physical and athletic packages, and he’s a proven playmaker against both the pass and run. But the same style leading to all all the flash plays gives nearly as many back to the offense. He gave up receptions on 36-of-41 targets and missed 15 tackles -- about 15% of his attempts -- over a little more than 750 snaps between 2019-2020. 

The knee injury complicates things further. Classic boom-or-bust prospect -- if everything comes together, he’s a two-way menace. If he doesn't find the right balance between discipline and aggression, he could flame out quickly.


Best of the rest…

9. Shawn Davis (Florida) | 5'11/202| RAS: N/A

10. James Wiggins (Cincinnati) | 5'11/209 | RAS: 9.7 

11. Caden Sterns (Texas) | 6'0/202| RAS: 9.59

12. Tyree Gillespie (Missouri) | 6'0/207 | RAS: 6.01 

13. Talanoa Hufanga (USC) | 6'0/199 | RAS: 5.74

14. Damar Hamlin (Pitt) | 6'1/200 | RAS: 6.98

15. Darrick Forrest (Cincinnati) | 5'11/206 | RAS: 9.69

16. Christian Uphoff (Illinois State) | 6'2/209 | RAS: 6.25

17. Joshuah Bledsoe (Missouri) | 5'11/204 | RAS: N/A

18. JaCoby Stevens (LSU) | 6'2/230 | RAS: 7.82

19. Tyler Coyle (Purdue) | 6'1/209 | RAS: 9.83

20. Jamien Sherwood (Auburn) | 6'2/216 | RAS: 4.24

21. Richard LeCounte (Georgia) | 5'10/196 | RAS: 0.65

22. Brady Breeze (Oregon) | 6'0/197 | RAS: 6.67

23. Mark Webb (Georgia) | 6'1/207 | RAS: N/A

24. Aashari Crosswell (Arizona State) | 6'0/202 | RAS: N/A

25. Tre Norwood (Oklahoma) | 6'0/192 | RAS: 2.69

26. Paris Ford (Pittsburg) | 6'1/197 | RAS: 1.03

27. Zayne Anderson (BYU) | 6'2/206 | RAS: 8.24

28. Donovan Stiner (Florida) | 6'1/205 | RAS: 7.72

29. Tariq Thompson (San Diego State) | 5'11/204 | RAS: 0.33

30. Marcus Murphy (Mississippi State) | 5'11/198 | RAS: 4.97


Check out the rest of our 2021 NFL Draft breakdowns here:

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!