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2021 NFL Draft check-in: top prospects who will miss their final seasons

Our weekly look at the college football scene with an eye on the 2021 draft.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s official now: the Big Ten and PAC 12 conferences — along with the MAC and plenty of non-FCS conferences — have cancelled fall football.

This is hardly a shocker, but it’s still sad for college football and NFL Draft fans to see. Despite the nearly unanimous vote of the schools, players and coaches in the Big Ten have been vocal about wanting to play. Nebraska and Iowa’s athletic directors were the only ones in the Big Ten to vote to play football; they sounded like they are actively looking for any avenue to play.

Meanwhile, the Big 12, SEC and ACC are all still planning to go forward with their abbreviated fall schedules.

Effect on the 2021 NFL Draft

Some conferences are pushing for a spring football schedule that would overlap the NFL draft season. While some adjustments could be made, the NFL has made it pretty clear that it prefers to keep its draft timetable as it is. If some conferences go for a spring season, most draft-eligible players will likely decide to forgo the spring season and prepare for the draft.

There are rumors of some other options, such as an NFL rookie league hosting some play for draft prospects in the fall, a longer duration for the Senior Bowl — or perhaps even the XFL getting up and running before draft season begins. Any of these could open more avenues for college prospects to prepare for the NFL.

But for now, many college players are simply going to be out of football this season — and that puts them into a major bind. Some of these players needed to show more development — or return from an injury — and that opportunity has been taken away. They could always maintain their eligibility by returning to school, but then they would be entering the NFL one year older — which presents another set of problems.

Finally, the playing field will be uneven. Players from some conferences will miss opportunities, while prospects from other conferences will have them. Players in the ACC, SEC and Big 12 will have their chance to put their best foot forward one final time — which will inevitably help their draft stock.

Potential top targets for the Chiefs

Here are some of the best prospects from the Big Ten, PAC 12, MAC and FBS who will miss their seasons — and could be of interest to the Kansas City Chiefs.

This isn’t a Top 25 players list from these conferences. Instead, it’s a list of some prospects who could make sense for the Chiefs in terms of draft position and team need — but for various reasons, really needed their final college seasons.

All of these top-tier guys will still have a good chance to go in the first round of the draft — but all of them had questions to answer to make it a certainty.

  • Kwity Paye DE Michigan
  • Chris Olave WR Ohio State
  • Shaun Wade CB Ohio State
  • Javon Holland S Oregon
  • Jayson Oweh DE Penn State

We touched on Paye and Oweh in our EDGE preview — but now, both will be selling their flash plays and athletic testing even more than anticipated. Given his limited playing time, Oweh in particular will face a difficult decision: going back to school or coming out. Holland and Olave have both already shown where they win — and why they are good prospects — but a final season showing a bit more versatility or consistency could have helped them a lot.

Wade has a story that’s a little different. He had serious first-round hype before the draft last spring — but the microscope may not have been fully focused on him. He’s a very large, physical cornerback, but he’s only played in the slot — and his movement isn’t particularly fast or fluid. He needed a final year playing outside to really drive his point home. Without a big final season outside — like Damon Arnette, Jeff Okudah, Denzel Ward and others will have — his stock could fall a good bit.

These ten second-tier players have draft stock from the end of Round 1 to the end of Day 2. They’re listed here because their stock is a bit more stable; with or without their final seasons, a significant change in their draft stock doesn’t seem likely. Most of them have multiple years of consistent, quality play; you feel pretty strongly that you know what you are getting.

  • Rondale Moore WR Purdue
  • Jaylen Mayfield OT Michigan
  • Wyatt Davis IOL Ohio State
  • Josh Meyers IOL Ohio State
  • Daniel Faalele OT Minnesota
  • Dillon Radunz OT North Dakota State
  • Paulson Adebo CB Stanford
  • Joe Tryon EDGE Washington
  • Hamilcar Rashed EDGE Oregon State
  • Jay Tufele IDL USC

Some of these players — like Faalele or Tufele — have fantastic size and speed profiles. They could have used another year to flash better technical development to spring up the draft boards, but their floor is safe.

Other players — like Radunz or Adebo — were banking on this season to show off their skills against top competition. Coming from a FBS school, Radunz’s opening matchup against Oregon was going to be huge; he simply out-athletes most of the edge rushers he normally faces. Adebo plays in a major conference but hasn’t had the best showings against top-tier competition — especially last season. Both players had some big-time matchups on the schedule that would have really helped their draft stock.

This final tier of prospects really needed this season to show off their talents before heading into the draft process; most needed a strong final year to push into the Day 2 conversation — but were poised to do so.

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown WR USC
  • Walker Little OT Stanford
  • Deommodore Lenoir CB Oregon
  • Palaie Goateote IV LB USC
  • Baron Browning LB Ohio State
  • Alaric Jackson OT Iowa
  • Rashawn Slater OT Northwestern
  • Malcolm Koonce EDGE Buffalo
  • Camryn Bynum CB California
  • Nico Collins WR Michigan

Little, Lenoir, Koonce and Jackson have all had quality seasons; they are good prospects. They were on the edge of teetering up to the next tier. A final season could really have helped them.

Other players — like Collins, Goateote, Bynum and Browning — have highly interesting physical profiles and have flashed good film. They just needed to show development and consistency if they were to push into the top 50-75 picks.

The oddball here is St. Brown, who has showcased excellent ability on the field. There are just some reservations about his ability to play on the outside — and depending on the quarterback, some inconstancy in production. This final year was his chance to really solidify his draft stock by showcasing a more complete game with higher-tier playing speed. Missing this last season — and his limited college usage — could really be problematic for him.

Here’s to hoping the people in charge of the SEC, Big 12 and ACC have their health protocols in place, so we can see some real college football this year. If not, many more prospects will be entering this strange gray area of the draft process.

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