Five NFL prospects who could experience draft-day slides
Mac Jones is going to be a top-20 pick, but there could be a real draft-day slide if the 49ers pass on him. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL Draft is just weeks away, and we’re closing in on Roger Goodell taking the podium to announce Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 overall pick. This year’s top two selections are all but locks, taking away some of the mystery on April 29. Fortunately, fans can count on draft night still having plenty of surprises.

Everyone is sifting through NFL Draft rumors right now, trying to fact from fiction. There is no greater debate than the No. 3 overall pick and whether or not the San Francisco 49ers will draft quarterback Mac Jones. If the Alabama star isn't selected by the 49ers, which is a possibility, he could experience a draft-day slide that many aren’t expecting.

Jones wouldn’t be alone. This year’s class is deep, and teams with top-20 picks should be elated at the talent available this spring. But there are some significant red flags with talented prospects that will push them down the board. Likewise, some marquee names at devalued positions might hear their names called later than expected.

Caleb Farley, cornerback

Defensive back Caleb Farley recently underwent back surgery. Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Farley went into last summer viewed as a projected top-20 pick and decided he wouldn’t take his chances amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia Tech’s star defensive back opted out, citing family reasons, and began his preparation for the 2021 NFL Draft. After missing the entire 2020 season, he entered March as a lock for a top-10 pick.

Everything changed on March 22, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Farley would undergo a microdiscectomy. The procedure on his back could allow him to return before the start of the 2021 season, but it was an alarming reminder of his injury risk. Farley suffered a torn ACL in 2019 and then dealt with back issues the following season. Now, teams are concerned about his longevity.

Farley’s medical examination in Indianapolis went well enough, so he should still be a first-round pick. But a player who some once thought might have a chance to be drafted at No. 4 overall could slide into the final picks on Day 1.

Travis Etienne, running back

Travis Etienne isn’t the best running back in this draft class. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Travis Etienne will be remembered as one of the best running backs in college football from his generation. He did unbelievable things at Clemson, breaking program and ACC records with ease. The home-run ability he showed, routinely taking a carry for 70-plus yards, caught the attention of NFL scouts and fans early in his collegiate career.

There’s no denying his special ability, but he also isn’t the best running back in this draft class. Najee Harris is more physical, coming off a vastly superior season and offers more of the three-down skills that NFL teams are looking for. Plus, the hit rate on first-round running backs isn’t exactly a good sign.

The Miami Dolphins are a threat to draft a running back at No. 18, but Harris fits more of what they want. As for the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, they’ll likely wait to take a running back until Day 2. The only other hope for Etienne is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who would need to view Etienne as a luxury addition. Realistically, the odds just aren’t in Etienne’s favor to be a first-round pick.

Gregory Rousseau, edge-rusher

Defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau is likely destined to be a top-40 pick in the best of circumstances. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Gregory Rousseau took college football by storm in 2019. After redshirting in 2018, the 6-foot-7 edge-rusher exploded for 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks in his first significant action at the college level. It put everyone on notice, with many wondering if the Hurricanes finally had their next star and future top-five pick.

Instead of building upon his breakout year, Rousseau sat out the 2020 season. As he worked out on his own, spending months preparing to wow scouts with his workout numbers, Jaelan Phillips became Miami’s star pass-rusher. Suddenly, Rousseau went from a potential top-10 pick to a fringe top-25 candidate.

At his Pro Day, he posted a 4.68 40-yard dash, did 21 reps on the bench press and had a 30-inch vertical jump. Those are quality numbers, but they also revealed he isn’t the freak athlete many thought he might be. On top of that, Phillips outshined him once more. Now, Rousseau is likely destined to be a top-40 pick in the best of circumstances. Coaches will need to spend a year-plus with him, refining his technique and getting him in the weight room, before he has a shot to become an effective pass-rusher.

Mac Jones, quarterback

Quarterback Mac Jones could slide if the Niners don't select him third overall. Gary Cosby Jr via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This all comes down to Kyle Shanahan. If he goes against the advice of scouts and doesn’t break from his old habits, Mac Jones will be the No. 3 overall pick. He offers the upside to become an advanced version of Kirk Cousins, a quarterback who executes the offense his coach calls and consistently helps keep his team in a position to win. In ideal circumstances, Jones can be a good NFL quarterback.

That’s not the player we see go this high these days. Shanahan has made it clear he isn’t specifically looking for a Cousins-like quarterback at No. 3 overall, and he also acknowledged the quarterback position is changing. Jones fits Shanahan’s mold from previous years, but sticking to that archetype means not evolving and great coaches must adapt.

If Jones isn’t the pick, a draft-day slide is very possible. The Detroit Lions don’t need a younger Jared Goff, the Carolina Panthers pulled off the Sam Darnold trade and the Denver Broncos should prefer Trey Lance. There’s validity to the idea of the New England Patriots or Washington Football Team trading up for Jones, but the WFT reportedly loves another quarterback. Jones is going to be a top-20 pick, but there could be a real draft-day slide if the 49ers pass on him.

Micah Parsons, linebacker

Linebacker Micah Parsons could slide due to maturity concerns. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a theme among players we believe could slide in the 2021 NFL Draft. Sitting out this past season might have been the right decision for them, but some clubs will view it as a major red flag. Even if general managers are willing to look past Parson’s decision, there are other concerns.

Parsons was accused by a former teammate of taking part in extreme hazing and harassment that allegedly happened for months. ESPN also reported last year that Penn State coach James Franklin told a player not to report a fight Parsons was involved in. NFL analyst Bucky Brooks, who has known Parsons since high school, said there are legitimate concerns about the linebacker’s maturity.

In terms of talent, Parsons is one of the best players in the 2021 NFL Draft. He does get knocked down a bit because teams value other positions over off-ball linebackers, but his overall skills can make him an All-Pro linebacker. It just all comes down to his maturity and behavior. While we could see him drafted with a top-10 pick, sliding into the 20s shouldn’t surprise anyone.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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