Belinson: Way-too-early Iowa State 2021 NFL Mock Draft

Then-sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy gets ready on the sideline against the University of Kansas on Nov. 23. Iowa State won 41-31.

Matt Belinson

Yes, the time has come. 

The 2020 NFL Draft is probably still fresh in the minds of just about every football fan in the country, which makes it the perfect time to make my 2021 mock draft for Iowa State’s top prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 2020 NFL Draft was a big letdown for Iowa State fans who were hoping to hear the names of former Cyclones get drafted, but fear not, 2021 is going to offer plenty to get excited about.

So with that in my mind, let’s jump ahead almost an exact year from right now, when the 2021 NFL Draft takes place April 29, 2021, and see where some of the biggest names for the Cyclones will land in my eyes as of today.

In this mock draft, I won’t be picking which teams will select these players because I don’t have any Iowa State players currently being picked in the first round, so I don’t want to throw players onto teams that I don’t even know will have a pick in that area. So for right now, let’s just look at where in the draft I have Iowa State’s 2021 NFL prospects going.

Brock Purdy: Early second-round pick

Without question, Brock Purdy has the best odds of any Cyclone to hear their name called in the first round next year, but he has a long way to go before that happens. And he’s got some stiff competition from other quarterbacks that could stop that from happening.

I think Iowa State fans might be viewing Purdy through a very biased point of view if they believe Purdy is a clear-cut first-round pick right now. 

Purdy is easily the best quarterback that has ever played for the Cyclones, but take away where he stacks up in the history of Iowa State, and he is just another average quarterback right now with a lot to improve — which is where my previous mentioning of him having a long way to go comes into play.

Purdy is a dual-threat quarterback, like most in the collegiate ranks these days, and that is a huge positive when you look at Purdy overall. However, sometimes Purdy forgets he has the ability to make plays on his own, and sometimes he is way too careless when he chooses to break out of the pocket and let magic happen.

For Purdy to make the jump to the next level, he’ll have to find a happy medium in his decision-making. And I think he can.

His arm strength is decent, but he has never shown the consistent ability to hit his receivers in stride; take the Deshaunte Jones 75-yard touchdown catch against Texas from this past season as an example.

Purdy uses his natural ability to see the pressure; he does a spin move to break out of the pocket and sees Jones flying wide-open down the middle of the field. Jones has cleared his man and is running full speed toward the end zone, but Purdy gives the ball everything he has, and Jones has to stop and wait to grab the pass, barely beating a Texas defender who caught up to Jones.

I think Purdy has shown flashes of brilliance in threading passes into coverage and connecting on big-yardage plays, but he needs work.

I don’t want to be the guy that harps on size at the quarterback position, but Purdy does stand at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds — not the biggest quarterback on the board. And like it or not, teams value the height of their potential franchise quarterback.

And if you still think my analysis of Purdy is bogus, take a look at what Purdy is going up against in the 2021 class of quarterbacks.

You’ve got the number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson as well as Justin Fields from Ohio State, but there are some dark horses that will earn the attention of many once college football kickoffs, whenever that ends up being.

Jamie Newman transferred from Wake Forest after this past season where he threw for 2,868 yards and had 32 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But now, Newman is at Georgia, a school that is no stranger to a high-powered offense and talent at all of the skill positions to make any quarterback shine. Newman will improve on his stats from Wake Forest and could become a high first-round pick in 2021.

Trey Lance may play at a Football Championship Subdivision school at North Dakota State, but he is flying up draft boards after his 2019 season. Lance threw 28 touchdowns with no interceptions. And, for good measure, he also had 14 rushing touchdowns. 

In my mind, Purdy is still very raw and lacks the size and decision-making to be worthy of a first-round pick, but with another season under his belt, he can definitely become a first-round talent.

JaQuan Bailey: Mid-second-round pick

I think everyone, Cyclone fans included, has forgotten how great JaQuan Bailey is. When the 2020 season rolls around for Iowa State, Bailey will remind everyone what kind of force he is on the defensive line.

As a defensive end, Bailey is tasked with getting after the quarterback and causing massive disruptions behind the line of scrimmage for all opposing offenses. 

At 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, Bailey is on the smaller side when it comes to defensive ends to some people, but to me, he fits the model perfectly.

With 18.5 career sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss to his name, Bailey will return to a stacked Iowa State defensive line and become Iowa State’s all-time leader in sacks. 

Some NFL teams might be scared of the injury that pretty much cost Bailey the whole 2019 season. Teams could have concerns about how long it will take for Bailey to be back to what he was before the broken foot he suffered in the early stages of the 2019 season, but for my money, Bailey will be just fine.

This is a pretty top-heavy pass rushing class, so Bailey could squeak into the first round, but for right now, he will stay in the second round where a team will get him for an absolute steal.

Charlie Kolar: Mid-third-round pick

I know this is going to create some drama in the Iowa State fandom, so let me address my grade for Charlie Kolar right up front.

I understand how dynamic Kolar was in Iowa State’s offense in 2019 and how he will likely end up in the top five in a lot of career rankings for Iowa State tight ends, but I think Kolar will need a monster 2020 season to become a legit first- or second-round selection. 

Plain and simple, Kolar is faced with two realities that might prove to be detrimental to his draft stock: 1) Tight ends rarely go in the first round and 2) The 2021 tight end class is loaded.

Over the last 20 NFL Drafts, 23 tight ends have been taken in the first round. And over those same 20 drafts, only six drafts have seen more than one tight end taken in the first round.

Safe to say, Kolar is not in a position to be taken in the first round, unless the other top tight ends in the class take a stumble in 2020 and fall on draft boards or Kolar produces a monster outing in 2020.

I don’t see either of those happening.

While Kolar turned a lot of heads with his 51 catches for 697 yards and seven touchdowns last season, there are other tight ends around the country who have been doing the same for much longer or have done it at more prominent programs.

Pat Freiermuth from Penn State will likely be the first tight end off the board in 2021, hauling in 507 yards and seven touchdowns last season for the Nittany Lions. The season before that, his freshman year, he had 368 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts ended the 2019 season with 54 catches for 649 yards and five touchdowns. Brevin Jordan from Miami has 67 career catches for 782 yards and six touchdowns.

Kolar certainly had a breakout year for himself in 2019, but right now, that’s all it is. It was a banner year. He will need to show doubters that he is the tight end we saw in 2019 and can be dominate in more than just one of his three seasons in Ames to potential NFL evaluators.

If Kolar and Purdy end up having the same connection like they did in 2019, he’ll find himself toward the second round at best.

Mike Rose: Mid-third-round pick

With 70-plus tackles and five career sacks in his first two seasons in Ames, Mike Rose has shown he can do everything a linebacker is supposed to do.

Rose is primarily an outside linebacker and has shown he has no trouble blitzing, containing the outside of offensive schemes and keeping up in coverage on most running backs and receivers he comes across.

Rose is a little under-sized for what most teams might want in their franchise linebacker, but with some bulking up, Rose could become an effective linebacker for whichever NFL team drafts him.

Greg Eisworth: Late-fourth-round pick

Greg Eisworth could end up being a steal for a team in the later rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. As a two-time First Team All Big 12 selection, Eisworth has earned his captain status for the Iowa State secondary over the last two seasons.

With great tackling skills and an eye for being in the right position most of the time, Eisworth is a valuable piece in the secondary as a solid coverage defensive back that will pride himself on wrapping receivers up right away, not over-leveraging himself to try and go after the ball like some defensive backs might.

The interceptions for Eisworth are low — two in his Cyclone career — but tackling in the open field and stopping opponents in their tracks at the point of attack has made Eisworth who he is.

For right now, I like Eisworth as the lowest selection of this group, but if a team needed a solid defensive back on their roster, Eisworth could be their man in earlier rounds.