By Shan Reddy
ESPN’s National Football League draft analyst Mel Kiper released his 2021 NFL draft rankings last week with a list of his top five at every position, even digging into next year’s fullback group. Though the COVID-19 pandemic could very well affect the upcoming college football season and throw many predictions way off, Kiper and many others have already gotten back into the swing of the NFL draft, releasing big boards and mock drafts nearly a year before the event.
Cornerback Paulson Adebo, offensive tackle Walker Little and fullback Houston Heimuli are all rising seniors, and all came in at the fifth spot in their respective position group in Kiper’s rankings.
A two-time All-Pac-12 First-Team selection, Adebo entered the 2019 season as a favorite to be picked in the first round of last month’s 2020 NFL Draft. However, rough outings against the University of Central Florida and others early in the season were cause for concern, even in this year’s weak defensive back draft group. Adebo decided to stay in school for his senior season, despite leading the Pac-12 in passes defensed per game and interceptions per game. He also joined the Cardinal track team his junior year as a sprinter. The hype around Adebo has largely been tempered, but he remains a promising prospect that could see his stock rise massively in the 2020 season.
Perhaps most promising of the three, however, is left tackle Walker Little, who was projected to go as high as No. 1 overall in preseason mocks of last month’s draft. Little will always be attached to the five-star designation he earned coming out of high school, and he has lived up to it when on the field. The 2018 First-Team All-Pac-12 selection was a 2019 preseason All-American per most outlets, but he missed the entire 2019 season due to a knee injury in Stanford’s season opener.
Heimuli had a quiet junior season after earning All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention honors in his sophomore year. He had just three catches on the year, but he was a factor in Stanford’s power running game, paving the way for running back Cameron Scarlett ’19, who was signed by the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent shortly after last month’s draft. Look for the 5’11”, 257-pound Heimuli to be a gadget weapon in the red zone this season, as well as a fixture in knocking defenders out of the way for Stanford’s running backs.
If Adebo and Little can return to their 2018 form for the 2020 season, they may well be in conversation for the top 20 in next year’s NFL draft.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.