Next Gen Stats

2021 NFL Draft: Ja'Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts headline Next Gen Stats' can't-miss prospects

The Next Gen Stats Draft Model is back!

Originally debuted ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft -- and refined for this year's draft class -- the Next Gen Stats predictive draft model estimates a prospect's chances of pro success based on his athleticism, production and size profile. The results of each position-specific model are transformed into scores, ranging from 50 to 99, representing the measurable dimensions of an NFL prospect.

While the numbers do not tell the complete story, the blend of objective data and subjective reasoning can often lead to better decision processes on draft day. That's what we set out to do with the Next Gen Stats draft score.

Using Daniel Jeremiah's mock draft as a proxy for round projection, we identify seven "can't-miss" prospects who enter the draft with an overall draft score of 92 or higher and are projected to be first-round picks. These seven guys stood out on tape and scored in the top five percent of players in the NGS model.

NOTE: We do not currently have a model to predict pro success for offensive linemen. Players who did not participate in drills at their respective pro days are given an estimated athleticism score based on their size and projected time in the 40-yard dash.

Rank
T-1
Ja'Marr Chase
LSU · WR · 21 years old

Production Score: 89

Athleticism Score: 99

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 99

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 24%


Who will be the first non-quarterback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft? It very well might come down to Kyle Pitts vs. Ja'Marr Chase -- and the numbers support the hype. Driven by elite athleticism and record-breaking statistics, Chase enters the draft with the highest probability of making a Pro Bowl within his first three seasons (24%) of any wide receiver over the last four draft classes. Among 52 wide receivers invited to this year's combine, Chase posted top-three numbers at LSU's pro day in the 40-yard dash (4.34), broad jump (11 feet even), vertical jump (41 inches) and short shuttle (3.99), making him the first wide receiver (invited to the combine) to break four seconds in the short shuttle since Amari Cooper did it in 2015 (3.98 seconds). The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner -- the award is given to the nation's top wide receiver -- led the FBS in receiving yards (1,780) and receiving touchdowns (20) as a true sophomore in a receiving corps that also featured eventual first-round pick and rookie Pro Bowler Justin Jefferson. Despite opting out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft -- which did affect his production score -- Chase grades out as one of the most complete wide receivers to enter the NFL in some time.

Rank
T-1
Kyle Pitts
Florida · TE · 20 years old

Production Score: 99

Athleticism Score: 98

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 99

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 19%


When it comes to the quantifiable, Pitts has one of the cleanest analytical profiles in recent memory. Measuring in at 6-foot-5 5/8 and 245 pounds, with a wingspan of 83 3/8 inches, Pitts ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at Florida's pro day and posted a 10-foot-9 broad jump -- all numbers that would have ranked in the top 10 among 52 wide receivers invited to this year's abbreviated NFL Scouting Combine. With elite athletic traits and a history of big plays in the air game (770 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in just eight games last season), Pitts offers everything you want in an impact pass catcher. Expect the Florida prospect to play a role similar to that of Travis Kelce, who lined up detached on 62 percent of his offensive plays in 2020. Pitts is only the 12th prospect in our data set (2003-2021) to enter the draft with a production, athleticism and overall draft score of 98 or higher. Ten of the previous 11 have made the Pro Bowl: Mario WilliamsEric Berry, Ndamukong Suh, Dont'a Hightower, Luke Kuechly, Aaron Donald, Derwin James, Denzel Ward, Saquon Barkley and Kyler Murray. The only omission from the list? Super Bowl LV champion Devin White.

Rank
3
Micah Parsons
Penn State · LB · 21 years old

Production Score: 97

Athleticism Score: 83

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 97

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 18%


Linebacker U -- as Penn State is often labeled -- has another top prospect coming through the pipeline. Parsons, a former five-star high school recruit, led the Nittany Lions in total tackles as a true freshman (with 83) and again as a sophomore (109). Despite opting out of the 2020 season, Parsons earned a 97 production score due to his elite two-year output. At his pro day, Parsons ran a reported 4.36-second 40-yard dash, which would have ranked fastest of any linebacker at the combine since at least 2003. On the surface, Parson's 83 athleticism score would appear low for the 246-pound linebacker. However, raw speed is not among the most important athletic traits for linebackers -- the NGS model finds linebackers just have to be fast enough (think 4.65 seconds in the 40), and that agility and burst numbers are also predictive. Parsons tested closer to the middle of the pack in key drills like the short shuttle (4.40 seconds) and vertical jump (34-inches). No matter -- overall, our model still predicts Parsons has elite pro potential. His 97 overall draft score is tied for third-highest among linebackers invited to the combine since the 2013 NFL Draft, behind only Devin Bush (99) and Devin White (99).

Rank
4
Patrick Surtain II
Alabama · CB · 21 years old

Production Score: 87

Athleticism Score: 97

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 96

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 24%


Patrick Surtain II, son of the former All-Pro cornerback who shares his name, has all of the tools to be considered the top cornerback in this year's class. Measuring in at 6-2 and 208 pounds, Surtain ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, jumped 10 feet, 11 inches in the broad jump and reached 39-inches in the vertical leap at Alabama's pro day, numbers that put Surtain in the elite category of athletes for the position (SEE: 97 athleticism score). The Florida native started 38 consecutive games over three seasons at Alabama, earning first-team All-American honors in 2020 as one of the top-performing cover corners in college football. His 87 production score is tied for the best mark (with Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes) among 2021 cornerbacks invited to this year's scouting combine.

Rank
5
Jaycee Horn
South Carolina · CB · 21 years old

Production Score: 72

Athleticism Score: 99

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 95

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 27%


The fast-rising cornerback out of South Carolina is expected to hear his name called in the top half of the first round, according to DJ's latest mock draft. For a position that relies heavily on athletic ability to mirror receivers and length to disrupt, Horn has what you could label the ideal cornerback profile. He measured in at 6-foot 3/4 inches and 205 pounds with 33-inch arms, while running a 4.40 40-yard dash, vaulting 11-1 in the broad jump and reaching 41.5 inches in the vertical leap at South Carolina's pro day. Not to mention, he tossed up 19 reps on the bench press. Only three cornerbacks have entered the draft between 2016 and 2020 with a higher chance of making a Pro Bowl within their first three seasons than Horn (27%): Marshon Lattimore (31%) and Denzel Ward (29%) both made the all-star game in Year 1, while Jamel Dean (41%) played a key role in the Buccaneers' Super Bowl LV run.

Rank
6
Trevor Lawrence
Clemson · QB · 21 years old

Production Score: 99

Athleticism Score: 76 (estimated)

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 94

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 36%


In a draft class filled with high-upside quarterbacks, Lawrence has the tools to be the best of the bunch. The former top high school recruit, national champion and Heisman Trophy finalist had one of the more prolific college careers of the last decade. Lawrence improved his completion percentage and yards per attempt in each of his three seasons, won 34 of his 36 starts and led Clemson to the College Football Playoff in every season as the starting quarterback. Lawrence is only the second quarterback to earn a 99 production score in the history of our data set (since 2003). The first: Joe Burrow, one of our seven 2020 can't-miss prospects.

Rank
7
Kadarius Toney
Florida · WR · 22 years old

Production Score: 81

Athleticism Score: 99

OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 92

PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 13%


The final name on this list of 2021 can't-miss prospects is actually more of a borderline first-rounder than the rest. While Jeremiah had Toney making the cut in his first two mock drafts, the Florida playmaker isn't among the top 32 selections in Version 3.0. Still, I wanted to bend the rules set out in the introduction of this file a bit because the numbers suggest Toney could be a good one. So, let's call this the wild card of the list. Toney was limited to only one full season as a starter at Florida -- as a senior in 2020 -- in part due to injuries and a loaded depth chart. When Toney was given a bigger role in the offense last season, the Alabama native made the most of the opportunity. The dynamic all-purpose contributor made plays as a receiver, in the running game and as a return specialist, showing off elite run-after-catch ability whenever he touched the football. The uber-athlete is one of only two receivers in this year's class (alongside Ja'Marr Chase) to earn a max 99 athleticism score, driven by elite numbers posted in the 40-yard dash (4.37), broad jump (11 feet, 4 inches) and vertical leap (39.5 inches) at Florida's pro day on March 31st. The last Gators wide receiver to enter the draft with an athleticism score over 82? Percy Harvin in 2009 (89 athleticism score).

Follow Mike Band on Twitter.

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