Matthew Garant’s 2021 Pre-Season Rookie Rankings (Bonus Content)

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Part 1: The Introduction

I’m not posting OL/IDL/CB rankings because I still have a lot more to learn about the positions before I post rankings on the internet. I’m still learning a lot more about all of the positions on defense but I feel more confident about some than others.

Link to QB Rankings: https://matthew-garant.medium.com/quarterback-2021-pre-season-rookie-rankings-ca2deea9750b

Link to RB Rankings: https://matthew-garant.medium.com/running-back-2021-pre-season-rookie-rankings-c1c33075afda

Link to WR Rankings: https://matthew-garant.medium.com/wide-receiver-2021-pre-season-rookie-rankings-1cf93df76186

Part 2: The Other Rankings

  1. Kyle Pitts (Comp: Darren Waller) (He’s in the WR Rankings)
  2. Tommy Tremble (Comp: George Kittle)
  3. Brevin Jordan (Comp: Jonnu Smith)
  4. Noah Gray (Comp: Travis Kelce)
  5. Pat Freiermuth (Comp: Adam Shaheen)
  6. Kylen Granson
  7. Kenny Yeboah
  8. Tre’ McKitty

Breakdown:

That’s me!

I don’t mean to toot my own horn here (I do) but it turns out I was right. College football in 2021 is starting to flood with star tight ends including the likes of Michael Mayer (Baby Gronk v.7), Jahleel Billingsley, Sean Dykes, Greg Dulcich, Jalen Wydermyer (if he can catch the ball), Isaiah Likely, and James Mitchell. All of college football and the NFL now have the tight end formula and they’re not afraid to use it.

This was an elaborate preface to acknowledge the fact that I know my comps here are crazy. It’s probably seems a bit crazy that I compared basically every top TE in this class to pretty much every single one of the best TEs in the NFL but, it’s not just me saying these comps. To be fair, Pat Freiermuth has been hailed as Baby Gronk (v.6) for a few years and I didn’t even include that one.

In conclusion, here are some notes on the class:

  • I think Pitts is going to completely change the league.
  • I’m higher on Tommy Tremble than the rest of the world despite his tape being kind of boring.
  • Brevin Jordan and Noah Gray have a lot of interesting traits to their game.
  • You should basically never doubt a Steelers draft pick but Pat Freiermuth doesn’t excite me. I feel like we’ve seen this story before with Adam Shaheen where he relies a little too much on being a big dude in college. He didn’t impress me much as a route runner and he’s kind of slow on tape (he didn’t test at his pro-day). I feel like if you’re looking for the next Gronk then Michael Mayer (2023 Draft) is the guy. If I’m wrong about him then it’s because he’s more athletic than I thought and ends up being more T.J. Hockenson than Adam Shaheen.

EDGE/Defensive End Rankings:

  1. Joseph Ossai
  2. Odafe Oweh (Comps: Danielle Hunter & Michael Strahan)
  3. Jaelan Phillips (Comp: Chandler Jones)
  4. Patrick Jones II (Comp: Jadeveon Clowney)
  5. Gregory Rousseau
  6. Kwity Paye
  7. Joe Tryon
  8. Ronnie Perkins
  9. Quincy Roche
  10. Payton Turner
  11. Azeez Ojulari (Comp: Shaquille Barrett)
  12. Shaka Toney
  13. Dayo Odeyingbo
  14. Carlos Basham (Comp: Clelin Ferrell)
  15. Cameron Sample

Breakdown:

I think this EDGE class is about 7 deep with star players and 5 deep with superstars. This is an incredible class. I have scouting reports reminiscent of the ones I did for QB/RB/WR at Part 3 of this article if you’re interested to know how I feel about the top 3 guys. I know you’re probably interested in the Michael Strahan comp for Oweh. Every player in this class has to get over some kind of gigantic obstacle like Ossai’s injury mixed with how he needs to better his pass rush, Oweh needs to learn how to finish plays, Phillips needs to set the edge, Patrick Jones needs to learn technique, Kwity Paye needs to play with higher IQ (for the position, I’m not calling him dumb. It’s an inexperience thing, he’s an awesome player), and Joe Tryon needs to stop being a one-trick pony.

Here are some extra notes on the class:

  • Ronnie Perkins is an interesting player. I don’t know why I’m always so intrigued by Patriots defensive rookies because Belichick sucks at drafting and constantly lets me down. Also, unathletic EDGE players have a really low hit rate. However, Perkins was productive and he’s going into a great environment behind Matt Judon and a few other veterans. I also like how Perkins has some good traits like burst off the line of scrimmage and being too slippery for linemen to get a hold of at times.
  • Azeez Ojulari is worth monitoring. There’s points where he looks like he has a NOS boost after seeing the QB but his limited traits really showed on tape. I think he compares really well to Shaquil Barrett but that’s a tough one to live up to. Matter of fact, it took Barrett 5 years behind DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller to become what he is on the Bucs. It’s tough to see Ojulari having that luxury on a Giants team that has a GM and coach I can’t believe in. PS: Embarrassingly enough, I originally saw that comp on YouTube comments and loved it.
  • It’s pretty funny how similar Payton Turner is to Marcus Davenport. It’s like the Saints said, “Well, we screwed up with Davenport so let’s just start over” and drafted Turner to fix their mistakes. I feel like you could look at this two ways:
  1. It’s almost like the Saints have a second chance at developing the same player which makes them more likely to do it right this time
  2. The Saints messed this up once and they’ll do it again.
  • I’d love to have ranked Shaka Toney higher but it gets too confusing when taking into consideration that he’s likely to be a rotational edge rusher at the NFL level. Think of it kind of like Chase Winovich. He’s had a couple years in the NFL now and I have no clue where I’d slot him in with the other 2019 edge rushers.

Linebacker Rankings:

  1. Jamin Davis
  2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Comp: Isaiah Simmons)
  3. Micah Parsons
  4. Zaven Collins
  5. Nick Bolton
  6. Derrick Barnes (Comp: Donta Hightower)
  7. Tony Fields II
  8. Jabril Cox
  9. Chazz Surratt
  10. Baron Browning
  11. Cameron McGrone

Breakdown:

I’d like to be at the point where I can see defensive comps all the time but I’m not (I’m still 23 and learning, give me a break). Anyway, I feel like I’ve learned enough to say that Jamin Davis is going to be freakishly good. He’s my defensive rookie of the year prediction (my offensive rookie of the year is Trevor Lawrence) and that’s because he’s a freak athlete, his landing spot is absolutely PERFECT, and he was so productive that it got to the point where if he didn’t make the tackle himself it felt like no one was going to. I tend to get a little overexcited by linebackers who are great in the run game but Davis can cover too so…

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is a freak. He’s not necessarily a ‘traits’ guy because he’s really small but he’s an excellent athlete and his instincts are some of the most impressive you’ll ever see. JOK runs full speed before he even knows where he’s going and that leads to some good plays and also some bad ones but his big play potential is off the charts. Big hits, HUGE TFLs, and crazy interceptions are going to make him a household name. Micah Parsons was a glorified EDGE rusher who was never asked to cover but he’s almost as freaky athletic as his fellow Penn State draft-mate, Odafe Oweh, who may be the freakiest athlete I have ever laid eyes on. Parsons has a great motor and he’s just too darn good to be bad as simplistic as that sounds. I can definitely see why someone might not like Parsons but he’s just not the type of player you see come out of the draft very often. Zaven Collins was getting Brian Urlacher comps, need I say more? He’s an absolute freak, he’s physical as all get-out, and he was very productive in college. Nick Bolton was probably my favorite one of these linebackers to watch live but like I said, I get a little too excited watching run-stopping LBs. I’d have him higher but I’m the type of guy who prefers to learn from my mistakes. Derrick Barnes and Tony Fields II had amazing tape but this is the part where we start getting into the guys who have more limited athleticism and traits. They had some of the most fun tape to watch out of all of these guys because they were so productive but it’s rookie scouting lesson #1 the best production doesn’t always equate to the best player…it certainly gives a MAJOR boost though.

Safety Rankings:

  1. Talanoa Hufanga
  2. Trevon Moehrig
  3. Jamar Johnson (Comp: Budget Eddie Jackson)
  4. Richie Grant
  5. Jevon Holland
  6. Ar’Darius Washington
  7. Andre Cisco
  8. Tyree Gillespie
  9. Richard LeCounte III

Breakdown:

There’s really not much to say about these guys because I just don’t think it’s a very good safety class at all. I like Talanoa Hufanga a lot but he could use a lot of work in coverage and he’s kind of a tweener. Trevon Moehrig is pretty awesome too. There’s a mini-scouting report for him at the bottom of this article. Jamar Johnson is interesting because he’s teeming with football IQ but he doesn’t pass the eye test as a stand-out NFL athlete. The Ohio State game is where Johnson made his money and he was awesome in it and he didn’t look bad in any other game either. I hope it’s just a case of over-analyzing his tape because of how much his ball-hawking style of play reminds me of a rookie year Eddie Jackson. Richie Grant had a lot of good moments but UCF’s defensive system was really weird with all the exotic blitzes they used. It’s like they had 11 LBs on defense. Grant has a lot of upside but I’m not wholly confident he can reach it. I’m concerned that he’s just too much of a tweener safety that doesn’t full fit the mold of safety or linebacker (he’s DEFINITELY not a LB). Jevon Holland is a complete project. He’s with the guy who I believe will be coach of the year after this season in Brian Flores but it would take a miracle to make Holland really good in his first year. I could see him making some plays and getting interceptions (he had 9 in his college career) but opting out of the season just makes everything so much more confusing. If I’m wrong on Holland I’m blaming the fact that I’m just missing way too much information to have made the correct prediction. However, if I’m right, then it is 100% thanks to my elite scouting skills.

Part 3: Extra Scouting Reports

1. Joseph Ossai
Texas
Cincinnati Bengals
Confidence Level: 100%

But I have more conviction that Joseph Ossai is Edge Rusher #1 than I have for any other position group.

The best telltale sign that Ossai is going to eventually be a star is that he makes winning plays constantly.

  • Forced fumble vs Oklahoma State in OT
  • Fumble recovery versus Texas Tech in OT

Just to name a couple big ones from this season. Ossai is a beast.

If you want to find Ossai on the field then look for the fastest guy off the line or you could wait until the end of the play where the tackle was made and he’ll be there. That guy loves him some screen-time, it’s foolproof. Ossai spent 2+ years flying around the field being everywhere at once for Texas. He doesn’t really get enough credit for his 9.49 Relative Athletic Score that matches how fast and explosive he looks on tape.

The best thing about Ossai’s tape is that his motor is the gold standard. He is relentless and has a drive to make a play in all areas of the game that basically no one else does. Runs up the middle are doomed if you leave him as a free rusher. I really started to appreciate that after watching some lower tier players who don’t have the athleticism to accomplish that “simple” feat. He’s a TFL waiting to happen in the run game.

He rushes mostly from a 2 point stance and boasts adequate bend. It’s not world-breaking but it’s impressive nonetheless. He moves around both sides of the line often and he seems to prefer rushing outside the Tackle instead of doing a bull-rush and going inside which he is easily capable of. I think he could stand to gain from cutting inside the tackle much more often, he’s kind of raw in the passing game but I’m confident he has all the tools to be successful at it.

Watching a ton of film on edge rushers has taught me that some players are capable of performing stunts and others just aren’t. Well, Ossai on a stunt is a scary sight. He’s fast and hits the QB frequently on them which is rarer than you’d think at the college level.

Ossai want to be a part of every single tackle on the field, he has a great grasp on angles of pursuit, he disengages from blocks instantly (even if he’s being doubled),

I think people are scared of putting Ossai higher because of the viral butt-whooping he took from Teven Jenkins in the Oklahoma State game. People neglect to acknowledge that even though Jenkins had some really flashy blocks on him, Ossai still had a really good day and even beat Jenkins on the final play of the game to force a fumble and seal Texas’ victory. However, I’ll admit that he got a lot of production from that game by going to the other side and dodging Jenkins. Counter to that point he switches the sides he rushes from often in every game anyway.

As much as it sucks that Ossai got injured, he might even benefit from a year off where he can build up his strength in the gym which is well needed. Ossai would also benefit greatly from learning more hand-fighting techniques to help him rush the passer.

Despite the Bengals already having kind of a mediocre defense on paper paired with an ominous looking Jessie Bates contract situation coming up, I’m still not worried about Ossai’s development getting stunted on this team.

2. Odafe Oweh (Comp(s): Danielle Hunter, Michael Strahan)
Penn State
Baltimore Ravens
Confidence Level: 100%

Getting drafted by the Ravens whose regime currently has a renowned history for developing mid-late round defensive ends is as good a landing spot as you could ask for. Justin Houston is an incredible veteran pass rusher with great experience who can help Oweh learn. Pernell McPhee was a veteran who I would have to imagine helped him out through camp and pre-season before getting cut right before the season and having a fellow rookie companion in Daelin Hayes learning alongside him can be beneficial as well for. People often take for granted how important it is for a young player to have a veteran with an impressive resume to show them the ropes. I could find you days’ worth of articles from this off-season alone to support that claim.

Odafe Oweh’s primary issue is his lack of production. 7 games, 0 sacks in 2020 is pretty ugly. I also wouldn’t say his tape is that much better than his production either, but there’s a lot of upside and projection to his game. Right away I noticed that despite 2020 being his first year as a full-time starter he was being treated like Khalil Mack by Indiana for some reason. That would stop happening later on in the season and honestly, he’d done nothing to warrant that kind of attention in the first place. He was being chipped or double teamed almost every play in the game. The Penn State defense has been flying under the radar lately for how awful they are too. A key element in the projection of both Oweh and Micah Parson’s NFL careers are that they get to escape that terrible scheme.

There’s no lack of effort is Oweh’s game but I questioned a couple times if that was because he gets so close to the QB so often and can’t finish. I don’t know if he runs out of steam, throttles down, doesn’t know what to do, or what the deal is at all with his pass rushing. The circumstances these players are put into plays a big role in scouting as well and I didn’t see him ever get the benefit of being a free rusher off the edge like I saw for Joseph Ossai multiple times a game.

He’s not afraid to go inside of a Tackle and generally takes what he’s given. If he’s not clearly given an option then it’s bull-rush time which you’ll see quite often. That’s not really what you want to see from a guy whose worst quality out of all his incredible athletic traits is his strength. He actually puts pressure on the QB often making his game reminiscent to the whole ‘is Jadeveon Clowney good even though he doesn’t get sacks?’ conundrum.

Any time anybody says a player is raw you can basically check off that they don’t use their hands correctly and that’s no different here. His bend is a lot better than you’d expect for a guy with his size/speed.

His motor is pretty solid, he’ll work with the contact all day and will never shy away from a tackle or block but he’ll jog if the play is too far away. It would be cool to see him dive around more and try to make plays reaching around right over a lineman, especially since he has extremely long arms, but that should come with experience. His eyes and mind are in the right place constantly but I can’t reiterate this enough:

He . Can’t . Finish . Plays

Too much running right down the middle of defenders, not enough technique to get around a Tackle from the outside, and he positions himself terribly. I liken his position to be like a guy standing right under the hoop in basketball and then wondering why he’s not getting many rebounds. I saw a few off-sides from him and I think it’s prevalent enough to add even though I don’t necessarily value that too much.

3. Jaelan Phillips (Comp: Chandler Jones)
Miami
Miami Dolphins
Confidence Level: 95%

Visit the RAS website to see any of your favorite athletes. It’s a really great tool to measure different players athleticism versus each other — https://ras.football/ras-information/?PlayerID=20133

A perfect RAS score is 10 and Phillips, Oweh, and Ossai all happen to be extremely close to perfection. I’m not someone who believes that more superior athletes make more superior football players but it sure does help. It’s also a trend lately that players with extraordinary traits are just translating to the league quicker. Justin Herbert, Tristan Wirfs, and Chase Claypool were all extremely raw prospects from last year who carved out some incredible rookie seasons.

Phillips lined up anywhere from 1 to 9 technique with no issues. He primarily worked across the Right Tackle in a 5-tech role and flashed an ability to penetrate the defense from any angle. He can hit the QB coming from the C gap or the A gap and it doesn’t matter one bit. He doesn’t really do well on stunts but that’s not a huge deal. I have a philosophy that if an edge rusher is good on stunts its a nice boost but if he can’t then it doesn’t matter at all. This is an odd edge class because really none of the top guys rely on an overpowering bull-rush including Phillips. Matter of fact, he’s actually really unique in how he prefers to go inside on the Tackle when rushing the QB.

Phillips is slippery as heck and retains great bend for a guy his size. He has great hand placement & utilization to go along with a nice long-arm move and a rip/swim combo. When he gets it all working at the same time he’s almost unguardable. You’ll see the flashes of this showcased within both the Duke and Virginia Tech games where he practically had two 60 minute highlight reels. I realized early on while he was obliterating Virginia Tech that he looked very similar to Chandler Jones. They both have good hands, extremely similar size/builds, and will begin their careers in similar systems (Jones with the Belichick-Patriots defense and Phillips with the Flores-Dolphins defense). I fully anticipate Phillips to live up to this comp.

He has incredible effort when rushing the pass rusher and can even look desperate to make the tackle at times. When Phillips is totally stuck he’ll resort to a spin move but it kind of stinks right now. His effort in the running game isn’t quite as great but it’s not even close to bad. He’s another one of those guys who won’t run for the far away plays but there aren’t many players who do (Ossai). This is kind of scheme based, but Phillips primary issue for me is that he doesn’t set the edge at all. Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina and a couple other schools GASHED Miami on outside runs because of Phillips’ penchant to run put an inside move on the Tackle. I can’t find it in me to think of that as a problem because it goes hand-in-hand with one of the traits that makes him so special. Coach Brian Flores is my pick to win coach of the year so you best believe I’m of the train of thought that he’s going to be able to work around that minor pitfall. It’s also pretty cool that he gets to stay in Miami and go from the Canes to the Dolphins.

He was assigned to drop back into coverage far too often (Rousseau did too) which is a pretty big waste of his talents from my perspective. In addition, his motor ramps down when he’s not rushing the passer and his pursuit speed is like an entire tier below his pass rushing speed. If its an effort thing then he’s really good at pretending to try because it looks like he’s running his hardest and just can’t catch people from behind once they’re past him. Moreover, if he’s rushing free off the edge and he sees the RB going to the other side of the field he’s pretty much done with the play. Phillips is likely going to have a lot more sacks over the course of his career than Ossai but lacks the same level of versatility and ability to make plays all over the field. He possesses a specific niche as a pass-rush specialist.

he gets cooked as the read man on the option way too often. It’s like whatever he does he’s screwed, usually defenders tend to at least get lucky once. When he’s too aggressive it burns him, when he chooses the RB its the QB who has the ball, when he chooses the QB its a RB who has the ball, when he’s too conservative they get by him too…the guy just can’t win.

Freaky change of direction

If he gets his hands on the ball-carrier there’s a much greater chance than not that they’re going to the ground. I feel like I should reiterate that his effort in the pass rush is incredible. He’s always trying to find the fastest way to the Quarterback and he’s not afraid to join the dog pile and help out in a gang tackle.

2. Trevon Moehrig
TCU
Las Vegas Raiders
Confidence Level: 90%

Moehrig can sometimes whiff on a tackle because he tends to dive at the legs instead of wrapping up when he has a full head of steam but that was much more of a problem in 2019 than 2020. He has an ungodly feel for jumping routes and undercutting receivers right when the deep ball is about to arrive. There’s a specific position that I saw Moehrig get into countless times where it just felt like he was 100% about to break up the pass or intercept the ball.

Bootleg Memes

When the ball is in the air Moehrig hits another gear that he doesn’t look like he has in run support or when pursuing a RB. However, his range is just good, not great. You won’t see him pull off that crazy Ohio State Malik Hooker type stuff because he’s just not that level of fast. He’s a promising sideline to sideline tackler and has a GREAT motor. Moehrig is running constantly and even when he gets knocked down he’ll get right back up and back into the play. Especially in the 2019 film where it felt like he was used much more often as a deep safety he was so consistently playing the ball well that it felt like a sure thing that a pass would get broken up if he’s in coverage. One of my favorite things about his ball skills are that he’s not super grabby but he intimidates the receivers with his great positioning that he can somehow always get into. He also used his hands to jar out the ball from the receiver’s hands extremely well to a level that I might even consider calling elite.

There are a few legitimate concerns with Moehrig. That picture above is the spot where he tends to feel the most comfortable against receivers because he looks like he’s getting burned until he jumps the route from underneath. However, the disadvantages of that are that NFL receivers are faster and NFL quarterbacks have much better throw velocity. Compound that with Moehrig’s the speed concerns that some people believe him to have and that would mean his bread and butter play/strategy doesn’t translate to the next level. Moehrig ran a 4.52 at his pro day which isn’t that bad but people widely believe pro day numbers to be boosted by an entire second or more which would make his actual NFL combine time 4.62. Personally, I think that’s a load of crap but it’s not like it doesn’t have any credence at all.

I also wouldn’t blame anyone for taking a being a little more worried about his missed tackles than I am because they do pretty much happen a couple times a game but I feel like he’s involved in more plays than a normal safety is anyway. Additionally, he’s making a lot more plays in run support than he’s missing. I might even go out on a limb and say he’s a more consistent tackler RIGHT NOW than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah but he obviously doesn’t have his special combination of instincts, speed, and potential. He also doesn’t have as many opportunities to mess up as JOK does either.

I wouldn’t call Moehrig raw but he’s still got a lot of work to do in many areas of his game as you’ll see him recognize whats going on in a play a little late or take bad angles when in pursuit of a ball-carrier.

It’s hard to say whats wrong with Meohrig without making him sound like a bad prospect which he isn’t even close to being. It’s like he’s got issues in every part of his game but they’re flashes of bad stuff and this is comparing him to the standard of being a perfect prospect. I would also say he has a limited ceiling but that makes it sound so much worse than it is because his ceiling is really high, it’s just limited in that he’s never going to be a top 3 safety in the league.

His landing spot with the Raiders doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I think everybody knows that they won’t be contenders this year and that defense might be pretty bad despite finally having a good defensive line but I just don’t see it having any bearing on Moehrig’s success. Safety is actually one of the least dependent positions (in my eyes at least) in terms of whether an individual is successful or not so I wouldn’t blame Moehrig playing bad on Trayvon Mullen like I could possibly do if the opposite was true.

One of the most convincing reasons to like Moehrig is that he has a couple of beautiful highlight interceptions that you don’t see many players capable of performing before entering the NFL. He may not be a freak athlete, but he’s got solid fundamentals.

Joined December 10th 2020, I like to talk about college and NFL football. I plan to write for fun and make it interesting