Every year there’s prospects that enter the season with lower draft projections than what they end the season with. The 2021 NFL Draft is no different. Heading into the 2019 college season, former LSU WR Justin Jefferson wasn’t a projected first rounder on any draft board. He still ended up being one of first 25 players selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. That’s how quickly things can change for players after a great season. Sometimes players go from being a projected 5th round pick to a 3rd round pick. There’s players that get drafted that weren’t even on draft boards at the beginning of the season. College football is always presenting us with under the radar talent. Here’s five players that will improve their stock and climb draft boards by seasons end.
Reggie Roberson, WR, SMU
Similar to the 2020 NFL Draft, the 2021 NFL Draft is filled with talent at the wide receiver position. Due to that, Roberson will have his work cut out for him when it comes to climbing draft boards. The first thing you notice about Roberson when you cut on the film is his speed. He consistently gets behind defenders on vertical routes.
SMU WR Reggie Roberson has legitimate juice behind him. Straight up baller along with James Proche. Great field stretcher with sure hands.pic.twitter.com/dU0qiTvoTb
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 20, 2019
As a result of his blazing speed, even with a big cushion, Roberson beats his defender easily. That’s the problem his speed presents. He ran track in high school and it really shows up on the field. Through eight games In 2019, serving as the number two WR for SMU, Roberson recorded 43 catches, 803 yards and 6 TD’s. During that same 8-game stretch, SMU’s top receiving option (James Proche) recorded 61 catches, 692 yards and 9 TD’s. Unfortunately, Roberson’s 2019 season was cut short due to a foot injury suffered against Houston.
Now that James Proche is off to the NFL, it’s Roberson’s turn to be the number one WR. Roberson possesses tremendous acceleration along with elite speed, precise route running and good body control. He has all the tools to be one of the top WR’s in college football. I see Roberson living up to that potential with a big season in 2020. He’ll shoot up boards after teams see what all he brings to the table.
Journey Brown, RB, Penn State
After sending Saquon Barkley to the NFL in 2018 and Miles Sanders in 2019, it looks like Journey Brown will be the next Penn State running back to be drafted. Brown is a 5’11, 206 pound speedy RB who keeps his feet moving through contact.
Through the first eight weeks of the 2019 season, Brown didn’t get consistent touches. However, over the teams final five games of the season, Brown emerged as a playmaker. During that five-game span, Brown rushed for 593 yards on 78 carries to go along with 9 TD’s. He capped off his season in the Cotton Bowl with A PSU bowl record 202 yards and two TD’s on only 16 carries.
A former two time state champion in the 100 meter dash for Meadville high-school in Pennsylvania, Brown‘s best attribute is his game breaking speed. He put that on display on numerous occasions last season. Like on this play against Pittsburgh:
Journey Brown's guide on how to deal with bad field position:
1. Run fast pic.twitter.com/mioJyUWCfS
— Onward State (@OnwardState) September 14, 2019
Or on this play against Memphis:
Journey Brown… SEE YA ✌️
Brown sprints untouched into the end zone to put Penn State (-7) up 28-13. pic.twitter.com/AWFPjcyDLl
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) December 28, 2019
Brown also has a punishing stiff arm:
Journey Brown follows that stiff arm with the best run of the day pic.twitter.com/Gjy9rwhq8e
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) November 23, 2019
With Brown’s game breaking speed and his ability to break tackles, he possesses two traits that you love to see in a RB. But it doesn’t end there. He also has great athleticism to go along with what you see on the film. Brown reportedly bench presses 395 pounds, squats 500 pounds and runs a 4.29 in the 40 yard dash. In other words, he’s a freak. Being the full time starter, along with improving his receiving abilities, will help boost Brown’s draft stock.
At RB, Alabama’s Najee Harris, Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard and Clemson’s Travis Etienne are viewed as the cream of the crop in the 2021 NFL Draft. Brown belongs in that group too. Look for him to get some consideration in rounds one and two after a breakout senior campaign.
Elerson Smith, DE, Northern Iowa
Standing at 6’7, Smith has great length for the position. He weighs in at 245 pounds with a lean frame but it looks like he could put on another 15-20 pounds. Smith’s understanding of how to use his length was showcased several times throughout the year. As a result, he ended the season with four pass breakups and two blocked kicks on special teams. Even when he’s not batting a pass down at the line of scrimmage, Smith still bothers QB’s with his length by getting his arms up into the passing lane.
Playing at the FCS level, Smith can beat tackles solely with his athleticism but he has good hand usage as well. Here he uses his length to get the tackle off balance. Then he uses good hand technique to rip through the tackle and get to the QB for the sack:
— UNI Football (@UNIFootball) September 23, 2019
Smith was used as a part-time pass rush specialist in 2018 and ended the year with 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He exploded onto the scene in 2019 as a full time starter. Smith ended the 2019 season with 63 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.
Smith is a disruptive force who lives in opponents backfields. With his size and athleticism, it would be surprising if he didn’t receive an invite to the senior bowl. If Smith puts together another great season in 2020, he has a good chance of being a promising day 2 prospect.
Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
Jackson fell victim to multiple injuries in his first three collegiate seasons. He finally had a clean bill of health in 2019 and he made the most out of it. Jackson racked up 9.5 sacks along with 12.5 tackles for loss. He also ranked sixth in the country with 54 pressures according to data taken by PFF. Jackson has a ton of potential due to his athleticism. Physically, Jackson carries all the traits of a premier pass rusher.
Jackson gets by off of his speed and power but he has to improve in other areas in order for him to reach his full potential. He’ll need to refine his pass rushing technique and add some variety to his moves. He also needs to improve on his run defense. If he does that then his stock will rise in the 2021 NFL Draft. Rumor has it that Jackson lost ten pounds this off-season. He should move even better now that he’s at 255 pounds. It looks like Jackson is putting the pieces in place for him to have a big year in 2020.
Warren Jackson, WR, Colorado State
As of late, Colorado State has been successful at developing WR’s for the NFL. Since 2016, four CSU wide receivers have landed on NFL rosters. Rashard Higgins (Browns) Michael Gallup (Cowboys) Preston Williams (Dolphins) and Olabisi Johnson (Vikings). Jackson is next in line. He put the country on notice after a big junior season in which Jackson registered 77 catches, 1,100 yards and 8 TD’s in 10 games.
Jackson is a big WR at 6’6, 220 pounds and therefore he plays with a physical nature. He makes catches in tight coverage with ease. Jackson has long arms with strong hands and that makes it tough for DB’s to prevent him from catching any balls thrown his way. A surprising aspect of Jackson’s game is his body control. He made several tight rope like catches along the sideline last season.
Jackson also runs well for a player his size and can play from the slot and on the outside. Decent route runner but has room to improve in this area. Here’s a couple clips of Jackson showing off his speed and route running ability:
Warren Jackson, WR, CSU
6'6'', 220 lbs
2019 – 77 rec/1119 yards/8 TDs
Really disappointed he didn't declare. This dude is a pterodactyl with the feet of a much smaller/quicker runner.
— Felix H. Sharpe II (@sharpereview) February 29, 2020
The video above shows just how much of a matchup nightmare Warren Jackson can be for opposing defenders. His size and speed is a lot for DB’s to handle. Once he furthers his route running skills, he’ll become even more dangerous. Jackson has the skill set and physical profile to climb into the second or third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.