2021 NFL draft: Ohio State and Alabama's best prospects in the National Championship Game
When it comes to NFL prospects, no schools are better at it right now than Ohio State and Alabama.
The two schools had the most players on an NFL roster at the start of the season. The Buckeyes had 50 while the Crimson Tide had 56.
The schools get plenty of players in the first-round too. Since 2017, Alabama has accounted for 18 first-round picks. In that same time, Ohio State has 16 top 32 selections.
Those numbers should only go up in the 2021 NFL draft.
Here's a look at how the players in the National Championship Game between Ohio State and Alabama rank as prospects in the 2021 NFL draft:
1. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Fields is getting hot at the perfect time, both for the Buckeyes and for his draft stock. Fields had some iffy moments this season — especially against Indiana and Northwestern, both multi-interception games. But against Clemson, Fields was incredible completing 78.6 percent of his passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns.
He’s so intriguing as an NFL prospect because of his size and athleticism combination. Fields is a gifted athlete and can catch defenses off guard with his ability to run the ball. Sometimes he holds onto the ball too long, though, and the belief is that it’s because he knows he has the athleticism to make a play eventually. That may not be as successful in the NFL. Still, Fields is fully back in the discussion for the No. 2 overall pick by the New York Jets. He’s nearly a top five lock in the draft, assuming he goes pro.
Of course, we're assuming he plays on Monday night.
2. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
This year's Heisman Trophy certainly has the stats to warrant winning college football's top award. In 12 games, he has 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns. Alabama had two first-round receivers on its team last season in Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. They have a likely third one in Jaylen Waddle (more on him later). Smith is another first rounder and arguably the best of the bunch.
Smith is a masterful route runner and his foot quickness — especially at the top of his routes — helps him get separation. Over the summer, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah compared him to Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, an apt resemblance.
3. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
For teams in need of a big corner to play tall receivers, Surtain is the player for them. Alabama lists Surtain at 6'2 and 202 pounds, and he knows how to use his size in the Crimson Tide's man coverage scheme.
If a publication releases an All-American team, Surtain was on it this season. USA Today, Associated Press, CBS Sports, ESPN.com, the FWAA, Pro Football Focus and The Sporting News all had him on the first team for 2020.
4. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
There was some thought that Wade would be a first-round player, but his performance this season for the Buckeyes was middling. Wade was third on Ohio State with 30 tackles this season, to go along with two interceptions. Perhaps his best play was a pick-six interception against Indiana.
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While Surtain is known for his press coverage, Wade appears much more comfortable playing off man. At 6'1, he has good size himself.
5. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
A lot of NFL teams are going to be looking for their own version of Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. Harris may be the closest thing to him in the 2021 NFL draft. At 6'2 and 230 pounds, Harris is a thumper and owns Alabama's rushing touchdown record with 44. In 2020, he had 24 rushing touchdowns alone. Perhaps more importantly for his draft stock, Harris had 36 receptions for 346 yards this season.
6. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Alabama's "other" wide receiver is a bit of a tough evaluation because he's missed most of the season with a broken ankle. The injury was supposed to keep Waddle out all season, but things have changed:
Waddle played just four games this season, but he still managed to have 557 yards receiving on 25 catches. Much like his former teammate Ruggs, Waddle's game is pure speed. He can take the top off defenses deep and run away from them on short catches.
7. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
Not many players get named first-team Associated Press All-Americans twice, but Davis is one of those players. The hulking guard earned that honor in 2019 and 2020 and his game shows why. Davis is a standout run blocker who uses his strength to neutralize and overpower defenders. For teams looking for a mauling interior lineman, Davis will be the player for them.
8. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Despite missing the Big Ten Championship Game, Olave put together a nice 2020 season with 42 receptions for 660 yards and seven touchdowns in six games. He’s not the biggest at a listed 6’1 and 188 pounds, but the receivers above Olave in the draft are of similar size. The difference is minimal. Here’s what ESPN’s Todd McShay had to say recently on ESPN’s First Draft podcast:
“I think he’s a really good player,” McShay said. “I think Olave is going to wind up being, you know, somewhere in the first round and wind up being good. If he’s not the number one wide receiver for an NFL team, he’s going to be the number two and he’s going to be a really good starter. I just think he keeps getting better and better and it’s fun to watch his development.”
9. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Initially, the plan was for Sermon and Master Teague to split carries. But Sermon's carries soared in the last two weeks and few players finished the season hotter than the Oklahoma transfer. In Ohio State’s final three games of the season, Sermon ran the ball 70 times for 636 yards (9.08 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
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At 6’1 and 215 pounds, Sermon has size and speed, which he showed with a 64-yard touchdown against Michigan State and a 65-yard touchdown against Northwestern.
10. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
An argument could be made that you would be successful as the quarterback in Alabama's loaded offense. But Jones is more than just being a lucky game manager. The Heisman finalist completed 77 percent of his passes for 4,036 yards and 34 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions this season. The knock on Jones is that he doesn't really have an elite trait. His athleticism is good but not great. The same can be said for his arm strength. He could carve out a spot in the top 100 picks, but he's not as highly regarded of a passing prospect as others in the 2021 class.