The NFL draft is a crapshoot. Risk comes with virtually every selection, especially those made in the early rounds.
That said, there always are a handful of players every year who enter the draft with so much promise that they don’t feel like much of a gamble.
Here are the five players in the 2021 draft class who we view as the “safest bets,” or the least likely to be attached with the “bust” label.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
You had to have seen this one coming, right? Lawrence might be the most coveted quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. Why? Well, the Clemson product possesses pretty much everything you want in a franchise signal-caller. He boasts ideal size at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, has a big arm and can excel outside of the pocket. Lawrence also is battle-tested, having played on huge stages on multiple occasions over his three years at Clemson. The only thing that might hold Lawrence back is a poor situation in Jacksonville.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
“Matchup nightmare” can be an overused cliché, but it undoubtedly applies to Pitts. The freakishly athletic tight end might be the best non-quarterback prospect in the entire draft class. The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder has tremendous ball skills and can be dangerous after the catch. Pitts ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day, further suggesting opposing defensive coordinators will have their work cut out and then some trying to keep him at bay. Pitts isn’t a great blocker, but his abilities as a pass-catcher and play-maker, in general, should outweigh that weakness.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
How good is Chase? The LSU product sat out the 2020 college football season, which saw plenty of other top-flight receivers — including Heisman Trophy winner De’Vonta Smith — put up eye-popping numbers. Still, Chase is widely expected to be the first wideout off the board on April 29. He’s a home run hitter, but he’s also above-average when it comes to 50-50 balls and battling for separation. Chase only is 6-feet, but he’s solid at 200 pounds. He shouldn’t encounter any difficulty transitioning to the pro level.
Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Many project Penei Sewell to be the first offensive lineman selected on Day 1 of the draft. But we believe Slater, between the two of them, actually will put together a better NFL career. The reason being is the Northwestern product, who opted out of the 2020 season, can be molded into pretty much anything you want him to be along the O-line. At 6-foot-4 and 315, Slater can play tackle — albeit an undersized one — but he might be better served as a guard or even a center. He has big hands, plays with an edge and his experience in the Big Ten — well known for its nasty battles in the trenches — should allow Slater to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
No disrespect to Micah Parsons or Christian Barmore, but we believe Surtain is the best defensive player in this class. It’s impossible not to be wowed by the physical tools of the 6-foot-2, 208-pound cornerback. The ‘Bama product has great ball skills and instincts, but he’s not a “boom-or-bust” corner who will take too many chances jumping routes. Surtain is excellent at the line and is capable of staying on a receiver’s hip throughout a route, regardless of what it may be. He’s poised to be a lock-down CB for a long, long time.