If you follow Draft Twitter at all, you may have caught a glimpse recently of writers and analysts listing their “My Guys” teams. It’s something that happens during the pre-draft process every year: Certain players just stand out and impress, and become a favorite of somebody who believes they will go on to success in the NFL, whether it’s as a star, or just rising from obscurity to make a roster and stick long-term.
Rather than just post names on Twitter, I wanted to give some quick reasons for each of the players who made my 2021 “My Guys” team. Every one of them stood out in some way, and while I’m not advocating for reaching to select as many as you can, these are players who I am pounding the table for if my team is about to select, and the value is there.
QB: Justin Fields, Ohio State
My opinion has not wavered since the College Football Playoff: Justin Fields is the QB2 in this year’s class. His athleticism is some of the best in the modern draft era and leaves you imagining the type of mobile QB he can be if a team lets him. His arm talent is obvious, and I love his aggressiveness to take chances downfield. But what won me over was his performance against Clemson. To take as hard a hit as he did from James Skalski, and then fight through pain to lead his team to absolute dominance, is incredible. This is the player I want leading my offense.
RB: Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
When I began watching Gainwell’s film, I was skeptical of a player with only one season at the college level. But by the end of his film, I was sold on investing a Day 2 pick to make him my starting running back. Gainwell has speed, receiving ability, and a toolbox of moves to embarrass defenders that makes him incredibly fun to watch.
WR: Rondale Moore, Purdue
Moore isn’t the only player on this team who will have health questions moving forward. But at full health, you don’t find athletes like Moore. Not only does he run a 4.29 40, but he has a 42.5” vertical. His tape illustrates a player who can make magic in the open field and who few defenders can stick with. Moore is a superstar waiting to happen in the slot.
WR: Frank Darby, Arizona State
It is so incredible to see a player display the type of happiness and love of playing the game as a professional that we all displayed growing up playing football. Hines Ward and his constant smile are the biggest example of that on the field in recent memory. Well, there’s someone like that in this class, and it’s Frank Darby. He constantly has a smile when he is out on the field, even when faced with tragedy like his mother’s death in March. Of course, Darby has the skills to back it up, and played like a dependable outside receiver at the Senior Bowl. But it is that personality that will make him a fan favorite. Combined with his on-field ability, that’s somebody I want to draft on Day 3.
TE: Zach Davidson, Central Missouri
If Justin Hilliard is my 1a. favorite player in this class, Davidson is my 1b. The combination of tight end/punter is incredibly unique, and his athleticism at the tight end position coming from Division II Central Missouri is better than many of the names from major D1 programs. His dedication to his teammates, shown both by staying at CMU even when the season was canceled and by being a target for his QBs at the College Gridiron Showcase after doing two workouts himself, is a major selling point.
OT: Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
I wasn’t sure what I would see from Radunz during my tape study, whether it was a starting left tackle in the NFL or a mid-round project. I saw a player much closer to the former, both on his 2019 film and in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. Radunz played well as Trey Lance’s blindside protector, and I think he will provide great ROI for any team who can snag him in the second round.
OT: Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
Yes, Eichenberg’s arms are smaller than those of most NFL tackles. But I watched a player who can handle himself against NFL linemen on the outside. Eichenberg doesn’t give up on plays, he is a capable run blocker, and it’s fun to watch a tackle who can meet power rushers off the edge and out-muscle them. Whomever drafts him should give him a chance to start at tackle.
IOL: Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater
I just want it said that I started supporting Meinerz BEFORE it was cool and he became a draft favorite following the Senior Bowl. Meinerz has it all to be a fan favorite: An underdog from a Divison III school, taught himself to play center by snapping to a pizza paddle and trash can, trains by hauling stuff around his uncle’s fishing camp. And his nickname: The Gut. But Meinerz showed in Mobile that he isn’t just a great story. He handled defensive linemen every practice, and proved he has what it takes to face NFL rushers and stand his ground. (Fighting with his coach to play through a broken bone in his hand is just a bonus reason to be on here.)
IOL: Trey Hill, Georgia
It was a scouting report by colleague Alex Kozora (linked in Hill’s name) that made me go and take a deeper study into Hill, and what I saw is my type of center. Hill is incredibly strong, and he uses that to manhandle smaller players and hold his own against bigger ones along the line. Someone who can maul people on the interior, finish his blocks, and set the tone for his line? Sign me up.
IOL: Landon Dickerson, Alabama
Much of what was said for Hill can be said for Dickerson, who to me is the ideal type of player for teams such as the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Dickerson on the field is absolutely mean, ready to plant anyone in his path in a different uniform. He will be a complete leader of his unit and one of the leaders of the entire team. Off the field, he is yet another player with the personality to quickly endear himself to fans. I’m not advocating a team take someone with his injury history in the first round. But it will be a grievous error if he lasts until the back end of the second.
EDGE: Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa
Elerson Smith is all about length, standing at 6’7” but just a touch over 250 pounds. He uses his incredible size and his athleticism to win with speed off the edge, and was a fun study live at the Senior Bowl with how he battled opposing linemen. A Day 3 pick, Smith’s unique measurables make him a player I want to see a team turn into a project, and develop into an NFL edge rusher as a Day 3 selection.
EDGE: Daelin Hayes, Notre Dame
People seem to be forgetting that over the three days of practice at the Senior Bowl, few had as consistently good a showing as Daelin Hayes. Hayes was in the backfield and pocket on many his reps in Mobile, and showed that he is able to beat future NFL linemen, and should find success at the NFL level. I won’t give him the ceiling of other edge rushers in the class, but you don’t need a sky-high ceiling to be on this team. A consistent producer at the position is enough, and Hayes can be that for a franchise.
DT: Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA
Like the other name here at defensive tackle, Odighizuwa was in Mobile, and used that event to boost his stock. Of tackles to play the entire week, none had a better set of practices than Odighizuwa, who was an eye-catching combination of power and speed on the interior. It was rare for him not to beat a blocker with one or the other, and he combined them for some big plays in drills. Add in his background as a three-time state wrestling champion in high school, and this is a player everyone should watch as he goes to the NFL.
DT: Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
You’ll notice my entire defensive line is players who were at the Senior Bowl, and that is because it was one of the better position groups at the event, and why I always kept walking down to watch OL/DL one-on-ones. Onwuzurike missed part of the practices with an injury, but when he was there on the first day he was great. He showed a rare level of ability for a DT to penetrate off the snap and rush the pocket, and was also in position to blow up run plays. He was simply just playing a step ahead of everybody else.
LB: Justin Hilliard, Ohio State
I haven’t been shy about letting people know Hilliard is my favorite player in the class, and it is more than just the play he showed at the end of Ohio State’s season, when he came up clutch in the Big Ten title game and the College Football Playoffs, and played strong defense in coverage and against the run as OSU’s SAM linebacker. What makes Hilliard a player I will pound the table for is the drive he showed to fight through multiple serious injuries to begin his career, and keep playing for the Buckeyes through his sixth season before finally getting his shot this postseason that he earned after arriving as a five-star recruit. That’s heart.
LB: Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
The transition from starting QB for a Power 5 school to starting at linebacker is an unusual one, but you can tell watching Surratt play that he brings an offensive mentality to his game on defense. An outstanding athlete at the position, he attacks the opposing offense using athleticism and his inside knowledge from running an offense of his own before at the FBS level. His ceiling is one of the highest at his position this class.
CB: Aaron Robinson, UCF
I like physical corners. Players who aren’t afraid to provide contact from the snap all the way along the route, and challenge receivers to stay on the stem and fight through contact just to reach their spot, and then to make the catch. Robinson is one of those corners, and had one of the best weeks of practice at the Senior Bowl by muscling up opposing receivers and consistently winning their matchups. One of my favorite defensive players in the draft.
CB: Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota
I like physical corners. Players who aren’t afraid to provide contact from the snap all the way along the route, and challenge receivers to stay on the stem and fight through contact just to reach their spot, and then to make the catch. St-Juste is one of those corners. While Robinson is NFL-ready to start, St-Juste is more of a raw player as a result of his journey to this point. But he has 6’3” length and makes physicality a pillar of his game. If he can continue rapidly improving how he plays physical, to avoid drawing frequent penalties, he will outplay his draft slot quickly.
S: Andre Cisco, Syracuse
Cisco is a player who I’ve been waiting to see in the draft since his freshman season ended with seven interceptions. Cisco is a ballhawk, someone who can never be ignored in the secondary and who has an ability to come away with interceptions. There are improvements that have to be made to his game in coverage, but he is a big play waiting to happen at all times, and an exciting player to have lined up deep on a defense, particularly in a single-high look.
S: Richie Grant, UCF
The play that won me over on Grant wasn’t any of his many interceptions during Senior Bowl practice. It was on one of the last plays of the second day of practice, when Grant came up and delivered a hit to send Michigan’s Chris Evans to the ground. Safeties that can show a little bit of intensity and deliver hits are tremendous assets to their defenses, and Grant is one that can deliver some big shots while also showing ballhawk tendencies to get interceptions playing high, and break up passes by playing tighter coverage closer to the line.