From the second the 2020 draft came to a close, Speculation had already started up for the 2021 class.
So, in that spirit, here we are with an article series highlighting prospects who look to be this upcoming draft’s biggest stars.
And the season hasn’t even started yet.
Admittedly, “way too early” draft predictions are exactly what they’re titled: Way too early— and as a result are very rarely, or perhaps never, accurate at all.
In this draft primer series, we won’t be mocking players to any teams, but rather looking at the top players at each position who could get drafted by the Steelers with their first few picks in 2021. Prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Fields, and Penei Sewell, who are all expected to be gone long before the Steelers pick in the first round, will not be included.
The goal? Not to make any “hot take” predictions, but rather to look at some players Steelers fans might want to watch a little closer than usual this college season.
Third in this series we’ll be looking at a positional class which was one of the strongest ever last year and looks to continue the same tradition in 2021: wide receivers. They are ranked in no particular order.
Player of note:
Justyn Ross, WR #8, Clemson
2019 stats: 66 receptions, 865 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns.
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 205 lbs.
Only 24 hours ago, Ross was in this very spot on the list with a full breakdown. Unfortunately, it was just announced Ross will not play in 2020 and may never play football again as he is scheduled to have surgery in Pittsburgh for a congenital fusion in his spine.
Clemson will be without star WR Justyn Ross in the upcoming season pic.twitter.com/sq9N4XolaT— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) June 1, 2020
Jaylen Waddle, WR #17, Alabama
2019 stats: 33 receptions, 560 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns.
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 182 lbs.
We haven’t seen much from Waddle during his time at Alabama, but we’ve seen enough to project him as a top 5 receiver in 2021.
Waddle is lightning fast, and has the route-running ability and separation skills to make him a dangerous wideout. With former teammates and first round picks Jerry Judy and Henry Ruggs in the NFL, Waddle will be presented with an expanded role in 2021.
Jaylen Waddle is dynamic in the open field. His agility makes him hard to tackle when the ball is in his hands. He has Henry Ruggs-esque upside, and if his production gets the expected boost this season, he’ll be a high draft pick.
Some notable articles about Jaylen Waddle:
Speedy Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle wants to be even faster in sophomore season - Montgomery Advertiser
Jaylen Waddle is the best in the country in YAC - 247 Sports
DeVonta Smith, WR #6, Alabama
2019 stats: 68 receptions, 1,256 receiving yards, 14 receiving touchdowns.
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 175 lbs.
Smith isn’t the physical specimen that his Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle is, however, he outperformed his speedy counterpart by a wide margin in 2019.
Smith is a master route runner and might be the most technically sound receiver in his class. His hands are reliable, even though there is some concern with body catches. He also possesses a great ability to separate and get open.
Smith’s calling card is his crisp route running, not just relying on pure speed or athleticism like so many others his class. However, this isn't to say he’s a poor athlete. More worrisome is his weight, at 175 pounds, which is slightly undersized for the position.
DeVonta Smith wisely returned to Alabama for his senior year where he can continue to bulk up and prepare for the NFL. Along with Jaylen Waddle, Smith should help continue Alabama’s tradition of having ridiculously talented receiver cores.
Smith is currently in the first-round conversation for 2021, and it’s unnerving to think that Alabama had four first-round talents playing for them last year in Jerry Juedy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith.
It’s a shame Tua Tagovailoa got hurt when he did— it could have been a historic year for Alabama’s talented offense.
Some notable articles about DeVonta Smith:
DeVonta Smith Draft Profile - The Draft Network
Rondale Moore, WR #4, Purdue
2019 stats: 29 receptions, 387 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 180 lbs.
Moore’s draft hype is mainly based off of his incredible freshman season in 2018 where he put up an incredible 114 receptions, 1,258 receiving yards, and 12 receiving touchdowns. After such a productive season, Moore understandably put himself on the map. But, it all came crashing down after a scary, season-ending injury against Minnesota in week 4 of his sophomore campaign.
Moore is incredibly fast, and has drawn some comparisons to Tyreek Hill due to his blazing speed. He’s also incredibly elusive and agile, and productive when healthy.
Moore is also an incredibly tough player for a receiver of his size. He’s apparently an overachiever at just about everything, as he’s posted videos of benching 400+ lbs and squatting over 600 lbs, which is incredible for a player his size. He had a 3.7 GPA as a freshman, and was named to the All-Academic Big 10 as a sophomore as well.
The only remaining questions on Moore are his durability as his small size and injury history could make some teams shy away. If he can prove the his freshman season wasn’t a fluke, the Purdue speedster will surely go in the first 32 picks this upcoming draft.
Some notable articles about Rondale Moore:
Rondale Moore Devy Profile - Rotoheat
Rondale Moore: So Much (Moore) Than Just Speed - Downtown Sorts Network
Back for Moore: Purdue’s Rondale Moore is Feeling Good, Back to 100% - Boilermakers Country
Rashod Bateman, WR #13, Minnesota
2019 stats: 60 receptions, 1,219 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 210 lbs.
After playing behind Tyler Johnson’s shadow last year at Minnesota, Bateman has a chance to shine as one of the best receivers in college football.
Bateman isn't a speedy deep threat, but he’ll hold his own on vertical routes which he really improved in 2019. His route running is solid, but the real strength to his game is when he finds himself in contested catch situations.
With excellent body control, great size, and strong hands, Bateman is a nightmare matchup one-on-one when the ball is up in the air. His concentration and physicality really stand out, and he can't be counted out until the ball hits the ground.
Bateman is the full package at wide receiver. If he continues to improve with his route running and agility, he has a good shot and making a name for himself in another loaded wide receiver draft class. Paired with a first-round sleeper in quarterback Tanner Morgan, we could be hearing a lot more about Bateman as the season progresses.
Some notable articles about Rashod Bateman:
2021 NFL Draft: Rashod Bateman a true No. 1 wide receiver in Minnesota - Pro Football Network
Evaluating Gopher Football’s Future: Wide Receiver - 247 Sports
Sage Surratt, WR #14, Wake Forest
2019 stats: 66 receptions, 1,001 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns.
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 215 lbs.
Surratt had a strong connection with quarterback Jamie Newman prior to the latter’s departure to Georgia. Without Newman, Surratt still has a chance to up his draft stock in 2021 after a dominant season last year.
Surratt is a similar prospect to Steelers’ 2020 draft pick Chase Claypool, as he’s a big target who performs well in the vertical passing game but still needs work on his lateral agility. Surratt isn’t as polished a blocker as Clapool is, but still uses his size and strength to his advantage to bully defensive backs before and after the catch. Surratt has had some drop issues, but they have more to do with concentration than anything else.
Returning to school for his senior year, Suratt will have another chance to try to prove himself as the ACC’s top receiver. He’s an intriguing, physical player who can really improve if he can clean up some of the rawer aspects of his game. Currently in the late first/early third round conversation, Surratt’s stock should stabilize based off of how he finishes this season.
Some notable articles about Sage Surratt:
Sage Surratt Draft Profile - The Draft Network
Wake Forest announces WR Sage Surratt to return as well - College Football Talk
Some other names to look out for this season include Florida State’s Tamorrion Terry, Auburn’s Seth Williams, Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace, USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, Ohio State’s Chris Olave, and Memphis’ Damonte Coxie.
LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase is considered by most to be the top prospect in this year’s class, and he’s been a consistent top 5/10 pick in most mock drafts this year. Pending a major disappointment of a season by Chase, or a complete meltdown by the Steelers, there is hardly a chance that he will find his way to Pittsburgh in 2021. As with most blue-chip prospects, Chase is worth watching and studying, but he was omitted from this exercise to include more probable Steelers prospects.
Which wide receiver would you most like to see as a Pittsburgh Steeler next year?
This poll is closed
Will the Steelers have any interest in adding a wideout to their team in 2021?
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has always shown interest in drafting receivers, and in a class that has a chance at being even stronger than last year’s, he will definitely be tempted to draft another athletic weapon for Ben Roethlisberger.
Unless, JuJu Smith-Schuster moves on from Pittsburgh next year, or Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and/or Chase Claypool put up duds of a season, there won't be much room for a high-pedigree newcomer.
The Steelers have put together a talented core of young wideouts over the past few years, and there’s little reason to expect them to change it while they have bigger priorities.
That being said, Kevin Colbert has always shown an affinity for quality second-round wide receivers, so who knows?