College football takeaways from the 2021 NFL draft


The NFL draft was back in person for 2021 after going virtual last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cleveland played host to the event, where we get to see our favorite college football players make their NFL dreams a reality.

You can read draft grades for all 32 NFL teams here, but let’s examine the most compelling draft notes from a college football perspective:

The SEC dominated, as usual

The SEC led college football with 65 players drafted out of the 259 total picks in the NFL draft, the most by a single conference in the common draft era (since 1967).

The previous record was 64 held by the SEC just two years ago, which you probably could have guessed.

Among those selections were four wide receivers: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and Florida’s Kadarius Toney. It’s the first time in the common draft era that four wide receivers from the same conference were selected in the first round of a single draft.

Behind the SEC was the ACC, which had 51 picks, including Notre Dame’s nine selections (the ACC had just 27 last year). It was followed by the Big Ten (44), the Pac-12 (28) and the Big 12 (22).

Bama’s historic day

The 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide were one of the best college football teams we’ve ever seen, and that showed itself once again during draft weekend.

Alabama had six players selected in the first round (Waddle, Patrick Surtain II, Smith, Mac Jones, Alex Leatherwood and Najee Harris), tying 2004 Miami’s record for a single school. The Tide also had eight taken in the first two rounds, which was a record.

Also, Alabama having a QB, RB and WR drafted in the first round was just the second time in the common draft era a school has had all three positions taken in the first round of the same draft. The other happened last year with LSU (QB Joe Burrow, WR Justin Jefferson, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire).

There have been many great technological advances in the world, like your ability to read this from your computer, tablet or phone. Hopefully one day we’re in a place where we can get 2019 LSU and 2020 Alabama on a football field together, or at least the most accurate simulation.

With 10 picks in 2021, Alabama has had 51 picks over the past five drafts, tying USC (1973-77) for the most NFL draft picks over any five-year span in the common draft era.

One of Alabama’s 10 draftees was offensive guard Deonte Brown, who went to the Panthers in the sixth round. That isn’t a particularly notable pick, though it is a reason to bring up one of the best images of the college football season to admire his size:

The Big 12 and other Power 5 schools that struggled

For the first time in history, the Big 12 went without a first-round draft selection. For the 10th straight year, the conference (which has 10 schools, the fewest of any Power 5) had the fewest amount of draft picks.

Along with the Big 12’s woes, there were six other Power 5 schools without draft picks in the 2021 NFL draft: Kansas, Utah, Washington State, Michigan State, Rutgers and Virginia.

The most notable of that list is Michigan State, which had previously gone 80 straight drafts with a player selected, the third-longest streak in NFL draft history. USC, Michigan and Florida are now the only schools to have a player selected in every draft of the common draft era.

BYU’s great showing

Remember when BYU and Coastal Carolina gave us one of the best games of the college football season? Well it turns out that the Cougars had a solid amount of NFL talent on their side of the football, despite coming up short in that game.

Including No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson to the New York Jets, BYU had five picks in the 2021 draft, its most since the Cougars also had five taken in 2002.

Between 2014 and 2020, BYU had five total players selected

The reunions

One of the cooler trends of the NFL draft was seeing old college buddies reunite. It started with Chase going fifth overall to the Cincinnati Bengals, where he’ll play with Burrow, the quarterback who threw him his last pass (because Chase opted out of the 2020 season).

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Bengals’ selection of Chase is the first time in the common draft era that a team used top-10 picks on a QB-WR duo that played together in college.

With the next pick in the draft, the Dolphins took Waddle sixth overall, reuniting him with Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins selected fifth overall in the 2020 draft.

The reunions became a trend 24 picks after the Jaguars selected Trevor Lawrence, when they also took Clemson running back Travis Etienne.

They might not win a ton of games immediately, but the Clemson Jaguars should be fun to watch.

Quote of the draft

Courtesy of former Clemson and current Green Bay Packers WR Amari Rodgers:

Other notable tidbits, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information

  • Duke had three players selected in the 2021 draft, the most in a single draft for the Blue Devils since they also had three players selected in 1996.

  • Ihmir Smith-Marsette (now of the Minnesota Vikings) became only the second Iowa wide receiver drafted since 2002, and the first since Marvin McNutt was drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round in 2012.

  • A couple of Georgia could-have-beens were taken back-to-back. DeVonta Smith, who was committed to Georgia during his junior season of high school and eventually scored the game-winning touchdown against the Dawgs in the 2018 national championship for Alabama, was selected at No. 10 overall by the Eagles. At No. 11, Justin Fields (who spent his freshman season at Georgia) was selected by the Chicago Bears.

  • The Dolphins selected UMass tackle Larnel Coleman, giving the school a player selected in three straight NFL drafts for the first time since the Minutemen had a player taken in seven straight drafts from 1970 to ’76.

  • The Missouri Valley Football Conference (FCS) finished with more draft picks (four) than the FBS’ Mountain West Conference.

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