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2021 NFL draft: Talented FSU safety has high ceiling but injury questions

Eric Edholm
·18-min read

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw

Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here are how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

95. Wisconsin-Whitewater C-OG Quinn Meinerz

6-foot-3, 320 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.73 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Small-school stud with toughness and smarts who has learned to play center and could be the next D-III success story

Games watched: UW-LaCrosse (2019), Mary Hardin-Baylor (2019), St. John’s (Minn.) (2019)

The skinny: Despite being named all-state at offensive and defensive line his final year of high school, Meinerz was an unrated recruit out of Hartford, Wisconsin and received zero FCS offers. He played in two games as a freshman at Whitewater before cracking the starting lineup as a sophomore, when he was named first-team all-conference. In 2019, Meinerz was named to the D-III Associated Press All-America first team, was named team captain for the national runners-up and was voted the team’s best lineman and MVP. After his would-be senior season was canceled, Meinerz was invited to the 2021 Senior Bowl, where he was named the top offensive lineman on the National team (as voted by the defensive linemen who faced him in practice).

Upside: Turned in dominant Senior Bowl week in one-on-ones and appeared to have zero rust from canceled season. Handled quickness and power deftly against Power 5 competition. Took snaps at center and both guard spots and didn’t have issues with snapping despite not doing it in college.

Patient, balanced footwork. Stunts and twists don’t appear to faze him. Keeps legs moving through contact. Maintains a wide base in pass protection.

Active hands and good grip strength. Outstanding wingspan (82 inches) for interior blocker. Broad-chested frame to carry excellent mass. Big hands (10 1/4 inches) that are ideal for the position. Wrestling background paid off in his ability to leverage defenders and occasionally pancake them.

Mean streak is easy to spot. Always looking for work — keeps his head on a swivel and shows outstanding reaction. Can routinely be seen driving his man off the screen. Rolls off the ball with a flat back and can wash defenders down the line. Seeks to reach second level and initiate contact on linebackers.

Check out No. 77 here at left guard vs. St. John's in 2019:

This isn't Quinn Meinerz's (No. 77) most dominant rep at Wisconsin-Whitewater, but it gives you a taste of how he likes to finish off defenders through the whistle.
This isn't Quinn Meinerz's (No. 77) most dominant rep at Wisconsin-Whitewater, but it gives you a taste of how he likes to finish off defenders through the whistle.

Self-motivated and driven. Eager to prove doubters wrong and make it. Smart and likable. Dependable leader who set the tone for a highly successful D-III program.

Downside: Lack of center experience is concerning. Meinerz strictly played left guard in three college seasons. Only center work has come in practice and at Senior Bowl. Must fine-tune footwork at that spot, master shotgun snapping in game situations and learn all the proper checks.

Even with an influx of sub-FBS offensive linemen making the NFL, the level of competition remains a concern. Suffered lost year of development when D-III cancelled football last fall.

Operated in a wider-split system that made blocking assignments more clear-cut. Wasn’t as dominant in tighter spaces. Average arm length (33 inches) and height.

Athletic traits might fall in the middle spectrum to below-average. Lacks great flexibility and bend (but neither should keep him out of the league).

Will work too aggressively downfield at times — guilty of some uncalled illegal man downfield flags. Gets out over his skis at times and will lunge too far to make contact. Guilty of playing patty cake with a bump-and-steer approach at times — want to see more dominant reps in spots. Occasional bear hugs on tape, plays that are easy whistles in the NFL.

Best-suited destination: Ideally, Meinerz would be brought along at a proper pace as a reserve guard/center and not asked to start from Day 1. He could end up being a smart, heady and competitive center who starts by the end of Year 1 or the start of Year 2.

Did you know: Meinerz has spent his past summers on a remote lake in northern Ontario working for his uncle. Without a full weight room up there, Meinerz had to improvise with a "Rocky IV"-style regimen that included knocking down trees with his hands and pushing boulders up hills.

Player comp: Dallas Cowboys 2020 fifth-round pick Tyler Biadasz.

Expected draft range: Rounds 3-4

94. Tulane EDGE Cameron Sample

6-foot-3, 274 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.73 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Tweener rusher who is a jack of all trades but lacks a single superpower other than his effort and motor

Games watched: Ohio State (2018), Auburn (2019), South Alabama (2020), East Carolina (2020), Tulsa (2020)

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit who had trouble attracting major recruiting attention, Sample ended up at Tulane, the biggest school to offer him. He cracked the DL rotation as a true freshman, starting three games in 2017, and then became a full-time starter the following season. Over his final three seasons, Sample rose to first-team all-AAC and racked up 20 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and seven passes defended.

Upside: Workhorse who played 78.4 percent of the team’s defensive snaps the past two seasons at nearly 280 pounds — and that includes sitting out latter parts of a few early-season laughers. Positional versatility was on display nearly every game — lined up as a rush end, interior rusher, stand-up linebacker. Nice wingspan (81 inches) and hand size (10 inches) to handle trench warfare at multiple spots.

Violent, potent hands to shock blockers — punches with urgency and power. Has good grip strength and will work half a man to gain a path to the ball. Great lower-body power and burst to help maintain his rush momentum. Varies his approach and wins with speed, finesse and power. Developing swim move.

Accomplished run defender. Takes on blockers and isn’t easily rooted off his spot. Decisive to shut down the edge. Channels as much burst off the ball as possible and marries it well with his base strength. Can cross blockers’ faces quickly.

Tulane's Cameron Sample had a great Senior Bowl week for the American Team. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Tulane's Cameron Sample had a great Senior Bowl week for the American Team. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Elite competitiveness. Almost never takes a play off. Tone setter up front who gives his all and maximizes his gifts. Outworks and frustrates opponents with his effort and pursuit. Takes it as a personal affront when a blocker gets the best of him — even on one rep.

At the Senior Bowl, Sample dominated one-on-ones, was voted American Team’s best d-lineman by the blockers he faced during the week and had a strong game performance. Considering smart and accountable. Should do well in interviews.

Downside: Not an elite athlete. Solid but not great quickness and change-of-direction skills. Limited length (32-inch arms and shorter-than-normal height). Tweener size for end/tackle.

Needs more tools in his pass-rush arsenal — wins often off of his bull rush and because of his great pursuit. More of a pressure player now than a projected sack producer in the NFL. Could use better countermoves and maximize his edge as a rusher.

Only one career forced fumble. Asked to drop in coverage more in 2020, but it’s still an area in which he’s green.

Might not have a super-high ceiling as a prospect — not maxed out, per se, but close to reaching his potential. Positional versatility is nice, but he’s likely not going to play a high volume of snaps as a stand-up rusher (unless he drops a few pounds) or over the nose (unless he puts on a few).

Best-suited destination: We’d like to see Sample used predominantly as a base or power end in a 4-3 system, although he certainly can kick inside or stand up on occasion for special defensive packages.

Did you know: Sample had a sack of Dwayne Haskins and 2.5 tackles for loss against Ohio State as a sophomore.

Player comp: Reminiscent of 2015 fourth-rounder Trey Flowers and 2016 fifth-rounder Ronald Blair.

Expected draft range: Round 4

93. Ohio State LB Pete Werner

6-foot-3, 242 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.74 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Three-down linebacker with the competitive and athletic traits to be a fixture on a defense, but perhaps falling short of Pro Bowl-level performance

Games watched: Indiana (2020), Clemson (2020), Alabama (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Werner originally committed to Notre Dame before flipping to the Buckeyes. As a true freshman, Werner appeared on special teams and as a defensive reserve before earning a starting spot at the start of the 2018 season. Over his final three seasons, Werner collected 176 tackles (15.5 for losses), four sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Upside: High-floor prospect who will enter the NFL with terrific experience against top competition and in high-pressure situations. Played multiple LB spots for OSU under multiple defensive coordinators and was a consistent standout for the past three seasons. Textbook frame for the position.

Possesses the athletic traits to run with tight ends and backs in coverage. Good length to handle bigger targets and even breaks up passes. Natural feel for zone coverage — gets quick depth in his drops and keeps receivers in peripheral vision while keeping his eyes affixed to the QB.

Good hitter who loves to finish. Brings a physical edge to the position. Uses length and hand technique well to disengage from blocks and stop a runner in his tracks close to the line — fits the throwback stack-and-shed mold.

Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner has been a steady, versatile starter for three seasons. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner has been a steady, versatile starter for three seasons. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Surprisingly good blitzer — times up the snap well and can even get home on delayed pressure. Took down Trevor Lawrence in the national semifinals. Takes good paths to the QB, closes quickly and hits his target squarely. Generated high rate of pressure in limited chances rushing the passer.

Accountable, football-first prospect who earned the praise of teammates and coaches alike with his effort and commitment. High football IQ. Versatile and willing to take on whatever role is asked of him. Factor on special teams units all four seasons and stood out there his first two years.

Downside: Struggles in coverage have come against quicker and faster targets. Werner is not a defender you stick man to man on, say, Alvin Kamara. Speed appears average for the position. Can flip his hips and turn but will be beat on double moves. Zero career interceptions and seven passes defended (zero in 2020).

Could do a better job slipping blocks (as opposed to taking them head on). Isn’t a tackle machine, even amid a talented LB group, wasn’t around the ball quite as much as you’d ideally like to see. Not as instinctive as his reputation might suggest.

Must clean up his tackling. Fails to wrap up and misses ideal strike zone on ball carriers in space. Lacks ideal lateral range as a run defender and can let players outflank him to the flats. Not as effective breaking down in space.

Played alongside elite talent and was well-shielded in this system. Declined a Senior Bowl invitation, to the dismay of some talent evaluators.

Best-suited destination: Werner would be a great fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 front or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 system, but either way he projects to be a high-floor, three-down defender who brings value on passing downs.

Did you know: Greg Werner, Fred’s father, was a tight end who spent one season with the New York Jets in 1989. His high point was a 61-yard performance at New England where Wener caught a 36-yard pass on the penultimate play to set up the game-winning field goal in a 27-26 victory. Greg Werner is now an orthodontist in the Indianapolis area.

Player comp: Similar to 2016 fourth-rounder Nick Kwiatkoski

Expected draft range: Top-100 pick

92. Florida State S-LB Hamsah Nasirildeen

6-foot-3, 220 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.74 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Freaky athlete with terrific size and versatility, but medical concerns and some coverage limitations could cloud his NFL evaluation

Games watched: Boise State (2019), Virginia (2019), Clemson (2019), Syracuse (2019), Duke (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 63 nationally), Nasirildeen committed to the Seminoles over Alabama and a slew of schools. He played in 13 games as a freshman in 2017, earning starts against Syracuse and Clemson (a 10-tackle game). Nasirildeen then started only five of 12 games in 2018 but led the team in tackles. The following year, he collected a team-best 101 tackles (two for losses), one sack, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery and had two 17-tackle games. Nasirildeen suffered a torn ACL against Florida that year and missed all but two games as a senior in 2020. He declared early for the 2021 draft.

Upside: Huge physical athlete. Outstanding length for the position. Rare mix of size, speed, strength and versatility. Eats up ground in a hurry and arrives at the ball with force. Terrific range and fluidity.

Packs explosive hitting ability into his frame — hits with with the intention of sending a message. Unafraid to take on blocks, even by bigger linemen, and will shed and displace very well for a DB. Uses his length and athleticism well to get free of blocks. Has eyes on the ball when tackling and looks to dislodge it.

Florida State defensive back Hamsah Nasirildeen is a terrific athlete but has durability concerns. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
Florida State defensive back Hamsah Nasirildeen is a terrific athlete but has durability concerns. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

Excellent football instincts and intelligence. Strong desire for the game. Understands angles well and takes smart paths to the ball. Not a lot of missed tackles on tape. Marries intense approach with nice control in his performance — doesn’t fly around like a headless banshee. Smart, measured player who improved his coverage technique over his college career after some early struggles.

Good blitzer who can be part of pressure packages. Has lined up at corner, linebacker, safety and has rushed from safety and the box. Good special teams work early in his career, too.

Has a high ceiling as a prospect and some unmet potential that could be mined out by a creative defensive coordinator.

Downside: Torn ACL sidelined him for longer than expected (shelved for nearly 12 months). Medical evaluation will be important if knee will be a long-term concern.

Positional projection will vary team to team and might fall into that 'tweener category as Nasirildeen is not quite fast enough to play high safety and not quite thick enough to thrive as a full-time box defender.

Struggled in one-on-one coverage at the Senior Bowl against wide receivers. Fared better against tight ends but still has limitations when matched up with top-end speed. Still learning to trust his reads, especially in zone coverage in space.

More of a see-ball, attack-ball defender and isn’t quite as instinctive to diagnose where the ball is going. Playmaking numbers only so-so.

Best-suited destination: Nasirildeen could be a strong contributor if he is cleared medically, but there is a question of what his best role will be in the NFL. We envision him as a jack of all trades who can be a box defender in passing situations and a strong safety on running downs, which is where he was featured in the “Star” role in 2019, as well as a core special teams member.

Did you know: When former head coach Willie Taggart was fired late in the 2019 season, teammates said it was Nasirildeen who stepped up immensely as a leader and implored his teammates to continue working hard and not lose focus amid the pall that had been cast over the program.

Player comp: He’s similar as a prospect to 2020 second-rounder Kyle Dugger but also reminds us of 2020 fourth-rounder Mykal Walker (in terms of what he could do around the line of scrimmage).

Expected draft range: Round 3, but could go higher or lower depending on his medical report and pro-day testing.

91. Houston EDGE Payton Turner

6-foot-5, 270 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.74 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Long, agile, fascinating edge prospect whose best football came out during abbreviated 2020 season

Games watched: Oklahoma (2019), Tulane (2020), BYU (2020), UCF (2020)

The skinny: A knee injury during his senior season of high school limited Turner’s recruiting options, so the 2-star Rivals recruit committed to Houston, the biggest program that offered him. Turner played as a true freshman in 2017, notching 14 tackles (two for losses) and an interception in 11 games. He started all 11 games in 2018 and 12 more in 2019, logging a combined 12 tackles for loss, four sacks and a blocked field goal. Turner then had a breakout season in 2020, despite playing only five games (missing two contests with foot and knee injuries), collecting 10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, one forced fumble and another blocked field goal. He played in the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Outstanding length — 35-inch arms and big hands (10 1/4 inches). Broad shoulders and nicely developed frame. Desired athletic traits for playing on the edge — great mix of power and quickness.

Uses his powerful punch to shock defenders and gain a shorter path to the ball. Good hand fighter who savors mixing it up in the trenches. Displayed good pass rush and run-defending skills in 2020 — a higher level of performance not seen previously on tape.

Terrific effort most snaps. Rallies in pursuit and makes tackles downfield. Plays through the whistle and takes on all comers. Rarely seen taking snaps off. Motor ran hot even in warmer conditions and at the end of a few 60-snap games.

Not a pure edge rusher from his “Bandit” role but can bend surprisingly well when it’s called for. Can line up inside and out — multiple-technique performer. Flashes nice long-arm and rip rush moves. Ideal third-down interior rusher.

Houston EDGE Payton Turner didn't break out until the 2020 season but carries fascinating upside as a prospect. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Houston EDGE Payton Turner didn't break out until the 2020 season but carries fascinating upside as a prospect. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Downside: Lacks great football experience. Turner missed his senior season of high school football and was only a two-year regular contributor in college. Might not be instant coffee in the NFL and could use a patient DL coach to coax the best out of him. Lacks ideal processing skills — can do a better job of spotting the ball, reading keys and beating blockers to their spots.

Needs a better rush plan as Turner repeats moves and could stand to vary his approach. Dominated against lesser talent and was quieter against better competition. Limited success in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl, mostly rushing from the interior (partly because of a lack of interior players on his team’s roster).

Off balance too much. Plays too often with high pad level — pops up out of his stance and gives blockers a bigger target. Doesn’t always get off cleanly and will waste movement. Struggles to defeat double teams — loses leverage and tries to hand fight his way through them. High-cut and could stand to add lower-body strength.

Best-suited destination: Turner’s versatility is appealing, but he might fit best as a base end in a 4-3 scheme or as a 5-technique in an odd front. Ideally, he’ll be given time to develop and gain strength and understanding of an NFL system. In time, he looks to be a future starter.

Did you know: Turner arrived on campus as a freshman as a 6-foot-5, 215-pound athlete. His weight ballooned to a reported 290 before settling back at his senior weight of 270.

Player comp: A similar player to 2017 fourth-rounder Deatrich Wise Jr.

Expected draft range: Rounds 2 or 3

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