Fields: Top Six 2021 Pac-12 NFL Draft Prospects
Posted on April 25, 2021
TThe 2021 NFL Draft is just a few days away, and several Pac-12 players are expected to make their marks in the opening rounds.
Here’s my take on the Conference of Champions’ top six prospects.
Position: Offensive tackle
Penei Sewell has opted out of his junior season in Oregon, but that won’t prevent him from being the first offensive lineman to make the 2021 NFL Draft. In his sophomore year, Sewell won the Outland trophy for the country’s best lineman. In addition, he was the first sophomore to win the Morris Trophy for the Pac-12’s best offensive lineman.
Strengths: Sewell is a great offensive lineman, but he’s also very athletic for his size, being quick and agile with exceptional awareness on the line. Sewell knows how to move his feet, which makes him an exceptional pass blocker – an essential skill at the NFL level. Sewell is also a capable run blocker. His strength and athleticism allow him to shoot the ball, and once he has a dominant position over a defender, he won’t escape.
Weaknesses: When you are tall and athletic, like Sewell, you sometimes neglect your technique and try to depend on your athletic ability. Sewell tends to do it sometimes, and in the NFL it can get you in trouble. Additionally, many observers question the level of competition of the Pac-12’s defensive ends. Most of the Pac-12’s defensive ends aren’t as fast as other conferences, so Sewell will have to adjust to the speed of play in the NFL.
Outlook: Sewell will be a Top 5 pick and has the potential to play in many Pro Bowls. His strength and athleticism set him apart from all the other offensive linemen in this year’s draft. If the Bengals take Sewell, quarterback Joe Burrow should be happy with Oregon’s product protecting his back. If the Bengals go in another direction, another team will get a steal. There’s no question Sewell has been the best offensive lineman for a long time.
Position: Offensive guard tackle
In 2018, Alijah Vera-Tucker started left guard for USC Trojans and was part of the second conference team for his game. In 2020, Vera-Tucker played left tackle and won. the honors of the first team of the conference for their efforts. He also won the USC Offensive Lineman on the Year award.
Strengths: Vera-Tucker is fast and is a smart offensive lineman. He can pick up blitzes and stunts, and has the speed and athleticism to get out onscreen and be a marksman guard. His speed has allowed him to be one of the best blockers in the country.
Weaknesses: Vera-Tucker’s length could hamper her ability to play the tackle in the NFL; his less than ideal length could allow the defensive lineman to join him quite quickly. The former USC lineman relies more on technique than strength.
Outlook: Vera-Tucker has the ability to play tackle in the NFL, and he could be pretty good. But on guard, he could be an All-Pro with his speed and athleticism. The former Trojan is the second offensive lineman caught in the draft behind Penei Sewell.
Position: Defensive tackle
Levi Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season, but the previous season he totaled 45 tackles, six for loss and two sacks, earning him All-Pac-12 first-team honors.
Strengths: Onwuzurike is fast and agile with long arms. His speed allows him to easily enter the backfield. In Washington, he was constantly in the opposing backfield. Onwuzurike also has excellent spinning motion which he uses well.
Weaknesses: One of the reasons to worry about Onwuzurike is its size; at 295 LBS, it will be difficult for him to consistently measure himself against the NFL offensive line. Sometimes Onwuzurike plays high, and at his height this can be a problem. The former Washington defensive lineman needs to work on staying low to be effective at the NFL level.
Outlook: Onwuzurike is a one-sided lineman, and one day he could be a three-technique player. Teams will appreciate his ability to step onto the pitch and disrupt play in the backfield. Look for Onwzurike to participate in the second round.
Position: Edge Rusher
Joe Tryon opted out of the 2020 season, but he had an outstanding 2019 season with 41 tackles and 12.5 tackles for a loss. Tryon also had eight sacks and was part of the All-Pac-12 second team.
Strengths: Tryon is an athletic edge runner with the ability to play while standing and sometimes with his hand on the ground. He has a quick first step and can keep his balance to join the quarterback. Tryon can also lower the cover and play in space. In addition, his athletic ability gives him the ability to chase runners.
Weaknesses: One of the things Tryon needs to do is get stronger; in 2019 he gave up a lot of ground trying to give the advantage. Tryon has long arms, but he doesn’t use them well. Tryon will need to learn how to use his arms better to be a major asset at the NFL level.
Outlook: Tryon will be able to contribute right away as a pass-rush specialist in the NFL. If he learns to use his arms and gets a bit stronger, he could prove to be an exceptional player.
Jevon Holland had nine interceptions in his first two years at Oregon; he only started two games as a rookie, but still managed to make five interceptions. He returned the following year with four picks. In his second season, Holland took home All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors by signing 66 tackles, four interceptions (one of which came back for a touchdown) and four breakouts.
Strengths: Holland is a versatile safety that can cover tight ends and play nickel-back. In Oregon, Holland was in charge of getting everyone lined up before the play began. Holland is a great defender, and what makes him a special player is his football IQ; safety is a coaches dream in the back of a defense. Holland’s ability to come back on the punt is also a huge advantage.
Weaknesses: Holland’s height and athleticism are question marks; he’s an average athlete at best. He’s going to fight faster receivers in the lunge, and doesn’t have enough speed to be a single consistently high safety.
Outlook: Whatever Holland lacks in speed and athleticism he makes up for with his football IQ. Holland can still be a capable starter in the NFL; I think he would thrive in two cover systems where his instincts would help him a lot. He could also play a little nickel and become a thief in the box.
Davis Mills only played 14 college games and had 3,468 yards in those games; he also threw 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He played in a pro-style offense at Stanford, which allowed him to work in progressions.
Strengths: Mills is another quarterback who has a good height and good athleticism. It can make precise throws when the pocket is not clean. Mills has a good arm and the ability to play with his legs. One of Mills’ strengths is the back shoulder throw, which he thrives on. Mills also knows how to escape pressure and create avenues of projection.
Weaknesses: Mills’s arm strength is average at best for an NFL quarterback; it won’t be able to challenge narrow windows much. Another issue is his lack of playing time – he needs more reps to get used to defenses and speed of play. Many scouts also question his throwing mechanics.
Outlook: Mills has the talent to play in the NFL. Limited experience will hurt him, but Mills has talent in the NFL. He will need to go to a place where he can learn and get plenty of preseason reps. The mills could be fished out in the middle of the towers.