Of the 32 players in the latest 2021 NFL first-round draft projection by ESPN analyst Todd McShay, 15 will not be suiting up to play college football this fall.
The cancellations of autumn competition in the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences sidelined such talents as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. There are others who have opted out of competing in leagues still moving forward, most notably the Atlantic Coast Conference duo of Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, McShay's top overall pick, has been outspoken on social media in recent weeks about his desire to play. McShay's projected No. 2 selection, Alabama junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II, isn't opting out either.
"I wasn't considering it very heavily," Surtain said this past weekend on a Zoom call. "I wanted to be out there with my teammates and play this year, because we have a lot to prove this season, and I feel like it was best for me to play this year to give out some extra film and get another opportunity to play with the guys."
Surtain could hardly be faulted had he decided to bail, given his lineage — Patrick Surtain Sr. played 11 NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins (1998-2004) and Kansas City Chiefs (2005-08) and tallied 37 career interceptions — and the fact he was the No. 1 cornerback nationally during the 2018 recruiting cycle. His impact in Tuscaloosa was immediate, with Surtain starting 12 of 15 games as a freshman and collecting 37 tackles and seven pass breakups for the 2018 Southeastern Conference champions.
As a sophomore last season, the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder from Plantation, Florida, amassed 42 tackles, eight pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two interceptions, earning honorable mention All-American recognition from Pro Football Focus.
Alabama's defensive backfield pipeline to the NFL produced first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey in 2017, first-round safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2018 and second-round safety Xavier McKinney earlier this year. Those three developed into leaders at different stages during their tenures with the Crimson Tide, and Surtain must do the same for a secondary with promising talents such as Jordan Battle and Josh Jobe.
"I know I have to play a big role and a leadership role and come on the field every day ready to lead those guys," Surtain said. "I'm a quiet guy, so I've got to speak up more to deliver my message. I'm trying to live up to that expectation, and I'm excited about it."
Like many across the country who have expressed the desire to play, Surtain said his comfort level in staying safe within Alabama's athletic facility is quite high. He is taking mostly online courses for the fall semester.
"I'm very comfortable with the protocols that Alabama has provided us," Surtain said, "and I feel like we have our own little bubble to where we don't have to get involved with other things going on around campus."
Warren picks UGA
Georgia picked up the 14th commitment for its 2021 signing class on Monday, receiving a nonbinding pledge from cornerback De'Jahn Warren of Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The 6-foot, 175-pounder from Hyattsville, Maryland, is rated the No. 2 overall junior-college prospect nationally in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.