Before the NCAA Season officially kicks off, I want to take the time and highlight some of the prospects who have a ton of pressure to help their draft stock over the next several months. Be it off field concerns, medical uncertainty or actual play, there are players with a very wide range of draft projection that most certainly feel the pressure that comes with the chance to clarify issues for the NFL. There are also players with monstrous expectations headed into the season, and that pressure can show up in performance. I’ll also spotlight some of those players that are facing expectations that are almost impossible to ignore.
Trey Smith isn’t on this list for anything really in his control. All he can do is control the quality of his play. Listed at 6’6 and 335lbs, Smith is a behemoth of a human being. A former 5 star recruit, he went down in Tennessee Volunteer history when he became the first freshman to start at Left Tackle in more than 30 years. His efforts as a Freshman landed him Freshman All-SEC Honors and All Sec 2nd team. As a Sophomore in 2018 he developed blood clots 7 weeks into the season and was shut down. The condition was considered career threatening. He was cleared before week 1 and returned to the starting lineup as the Left Guard. The season, for Smith, was tremendous- 1st Team All SEC Honors, Jason Witten Collegiate Man Of The Year Award, the Pat Summitt Ignite Greatness Award and Winner of the Fritz Pollard Trophy. Keeping a promise to his late mother, Smith returned for his senior season to obtain his degree. He does so as a Pre Season All American and on the watch list for both the Wuerffel and Outland trophies. As a draft prospect, he is in the running to be one of the top lineman off the board. My own scouting report for Smith is a ringing endorsement for a top 10 pick. I’m very curious to see if he returns to tackle as a Senior, even if for stretches. He has the traits to be successful at tackle, and good film there could skyrocket his draft stock. Bottom Line: Trey Smith is known around Knoxville for his strong community presence, is considered an excellent teammate and leader. His on field performance is very good bordering on dominant at times. Medical checks at the Combine will determine much of how is NFL journey is started. Here’s wishing Trey Smith a healthy and productive senior run for the Volunteers.
Micah Parsons has been billed as a star in the making since High School, and, at least to this point, he’s lived up to the hype. 6’3 and 245lbs, Parsons has been a terror for opposing teams since the minute he arrived to Penn State. His team leading 83 tackles as a True Freshman made him the first freshman, true or redshirt, to do so in PSU history. 2019 earned him all consensus All American status, finishing with an eye popping 109 tackles. In his time as a Nittany Lion he has added 6.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 5 credited pass deflections. many draft analysts project Parsons as a top 5 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and I haven’t seen him out of the top 10 anywhere. The expectations on Parsons are immense. He is expected to be the best player on the football field every time he is on it. Impacting the game the way he is expected to from the linebacker position is a big ask, and it’ll be even harder to make the same impact on Sundays. Stout in the run game, athletic enough to play sideline to sideline and a fantastic motor, it’s easy to see why Parsons is so highly regarded, and easy to see why the pressure is building to have an even stronger 2020 campaign. Bottom Line: I’m not quite as high on Parsons as some are. He’s definitely a first round prospect, and definitely one of the best linebackers in the country. One of. I have questions about his instincts and field discipline. I’m not 100% confident he’s a better football player than Dylan Moses, or Chazz Surratt. And, for the hype surrounding him, I’m not sure I value what he brings to the game in the top 5 in such a talent rich class. I really like Micah Parsons. That said, there is a ridiculous amount of pressure on him to continue growing, and the hype and outside noise will be difficult for the young playmaker to drown out.
Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance (maybe) all look the part of future high draft picks to teams starving for a savior at the game’s most important position. Playing quarterback is already a pressure packed position, but each of these 3 are unique in their circumstances and hence lumped together here. Trevor Lawrence has been projected as a number one overall draft pick since he set the college football world on fire as a freshman. Gifted with an extraordinary arm, above average athleticism and a prototype frame, there’s not much not to love about his game. From a trait perspective, he is the most gifted quarterback I have ever evaluated and will receive the highest grade I have ever given. Many feel the same, and that creates a level of pressure I’m not sure we can relate to as observers. This year, it counts for his future. This time, he can let himself consider the possibilities that come with another championship run, perhaps a Heisman and hearing his name called first in the 2021 Draft Class. While it is true that there is very little Lawrence could do to hurt his draft stock short of off field transgressions previously unknown, the expectations around his play are almost unrealistic. He’s a guy who has only lost one game as a collegiate athlete, and many are saying there is no excuse for a second. Justin Fields should have won a National Championship for the Georgia Bulldogs by now, but alas. He came close to winning one in his first season as a starter for Ohio State. Fields is an incredible athlete with a great arm, and he plays on one of the most talented and well coached teams in the country. I do think Fields had a very lucky stat line this past season, and I was underwhelmed on film. The pressure of starting for Ohio State is nothing to scoff at, and everyone is looking at #1 expecting to see more. Trey Lance is the most talked about FCS prospect I can recall. As a one year starter for NDSU he has already been talked about more, and with higher praise, than former #2 overall pick Carson Wentz ever was. Lance, much like Lawrence and Fields, possesses a rare combination of physical tools and posted gaudy numbers on a fantastic team. I personally have a hard time seeing a 1 year FCS starter make the jump to the NFL, but its 2020. It wouldn’t even touch my radar of weird, honestly. Bottom Line: Any time there is a potential franchise quarterback, they are going to be scrutinized, picked apart and questioned on every aspect of their lives, both on and off of the field. This year, there are 3 guys who all have a strong case to make for a top pick, and in any given draft there’s a decent chance all 3 would be #1 overall selections. Each of these players have a unique circumstance as to why they are likely feeling the pressure to an extreme degree. I genuinely hope all three shine this season.
Shaun Wade, 6’1 195lbs, was seen in the same light as fellow teammates turned first round draft picks Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette. i’m thankful that Wade chose to return to school instead of declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft, but the burden and outcome of that decision rests solely on how he handles transitioning from the nickel to playing the boundary. Inside and outside corner are drastically different, but Wade certainly looks the part. An early front runner to be the first secondary player drafted in 2021, he is betting on himself. However the class is deep enough, and talent rich at the position, that should he struggle during the season the long term ramifications could be quite big. Bottom Line: If Wade plays as well this season as he did last season, he could find himself getting drafted in the same range as former top shelf corner prospects Jeffrey Okudah and Jalen Ramsey. He has that top 5 potential. I also expect a few rough moments, particularly early in the season. I don’t think there is a better draft eligible corner in the country, and I don’t think the pressure will phase him. It will be fun to see how a player of Shaun Wade’s caliber handles the pressure that comes with the transition and the void of talent lost to the NFL in his supporting cast.
At the season’s end, some of these players listed will have set out what they hoped to accomplish. Likely, some won’t. The players I talked about stand out as being under a different kind of pressure than the typical draft prospect. Trey Smith needs to stay healthy, and dominant. Micah Parsons has an uphill climb to justify the hype around him. Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance are going to be dissected weekly by literally everyone. Shaun Wade bet on himself in a big way after passing on the chance to join Okudah and Arnette as first round picks, and many eyes will be on his transition to outside corner. Let me know what you think! Are there other players deserving to be recognized for heading into the season under immense pressure? Who’s going to falter? Who’s going to shine? Wear a mask so we can find out.