2021 NFL Draft: Monday Morning Mailbag


Now that “super” NFL wildcard weekend has come to a close, we’re starting to see more of the order for the 2021 NFL Draft get figured out. For example, the Washington Football Team played well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but ended up losing and now own the 19th overall pick.

Aside from the playoffs, we’ve got plenty of speculation on potential head coaches going to the NFL. Urban Meyer is rumored to have begun the process of putting together a coaching staff. This, is after his meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars — so you have to think, he’s destined to become their head coach.

Meanwhile, Matt Campbell has been rumored to be one of the top coaching candidates for the NFL but he’s already indicated that he will be returning to Iowa State to remain their head coach. He won’t be coming back alone. Their tight end, Charlie Kolar will also return to Iowa State for the 2021 season.

Last but not least, Deshaun Watson is extremely frustrated with how the Houston Texans have been handling things. First, they traded their star receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for practically nothing. Then, they’ve traded numerous first round picks over the years and have left little draft capital to build around Watson.

The icing on the cake is that ownership told Watson that he would be involved in the hiring process of a new GM and coach. They went ahead and hired Nick Caserio from the New England Patriots and haven’t interviewed Watson’s preferred head coach, Eric Bienemy. So amidst all of the drama in the NFL and more of the draft order being figured out, I wanted to do a Monday morning mailbag on everything NFL Draft! Let’s jump into the questions.

Most likely landing spots for Zach Wilson

I wish I could just pick one team. That being said, I have three teams in mind. For starters, the New York Jets. As we know, they won some games and lost out on the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. Now, they have the second overall pick and there’s plenty of speculation on what the Jets could do with that pick. They could stay put and build around Sam Darnold or they could trade him and draft his replacement. That player could very well be Wilson.

Certainly, it’s hitting the reset button at the position but if there’s any doubt on the confidence of Darnold, which there should be. He hasn’t played as well as he should be playing. With a new head coach, Wilson could be the guy viewed as the centerpiece to get the Jets back to relevancy.

Next, the Atlanta Falcons make a ton of sense. I know Matt Ryan is still there and really isn’t the problem but the Falcons are in a weird position at the top of the draft to potentially draft their future franchise quarterback. Ryan isn’t getting any younger but he could serve as a potential bridge quarterback for the 2021 season and Zach Wilson could step in for the 2022 season and beyond. After all, the Falcons have some nice weapons in their offense with Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. Meanwhile, Julio Jones is still there, for now.

Lastly, how about the San Francisco 49ers? They own the 12th overall pick of the draft and should be looking to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s due over $26 million in 2021 but would only have a $2.8 million dead cap hit if he were released or traded. He’s struggled to stay healthy and by bringing in Wilson, he could provide a spark to an offense that has playmakers such as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.

The team they could look to trade with would be the Miami Dolphins with the third overall pick. The 49ers have eight picks in the 2021 NFL Draft but by moving Jimmy G to a team like Washington, they could end up with possibly 10 draft picks. That would help entice the Dolphins in moving back that far in the draft for the 49ers to move up for their new franchise quarterback.

Trey Lance, the Carolina Panthers or best player available?  

Staying on the topic of quarterbacks, what do the Carolina Panthers do with the eighth overall pick? They should certainly take a look at Lance from North Dakota State. I was all for Teddy Bridgewater getting another job as a starter in the NFL. In fact, I’m still on board for him to be the starting quarterback of the Panthers. Give him a season with Christian McCaffrey fully healthy and that offense would be much better. Now that being said, I’m not opposed to them trying to improve the quarterback position, either. Especially when you have Matt Rhule and Joe Brady on your coaching staff. Keeping all of that in mind, Lance is only 20 years old and never lost a college game.

On tape, Lance shows really good mobility but can certainly sling it. He’ll get stuck on a certain read or rush his footwork on some throws but he’s got the ability to make every throw on the field. His throwing motion is clean and he fits what teams are looking for in today’s NFL quarterback. By drafting Lance, they could let him sit for another year or two and let him learn from Bridgewater. If Bridgewater plays well, great but if he struggles, they have another option for the position. Most importantly, it would point to them investing in more of a franchise quarterback rather than what many view as a bridge quarterback with Bridgewater, no pun intended.

Now if they don’t consider the quarterback position, I think it would be wise to consider these three players and only these three players. On defense, it would Micah Parsons from Penn State. He would be viewed as what was lost when Luke Keuchly retired but he would be paired with players such as Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn. This would give the Panthers great players on all three levels of their defense. Parsons is always around the football and would even provide some ability off the edge as he’s a former defensive end.

Next, it would have to be looking at improving their offensive line and Rashawn Slater from Northwestern is a great fit. He’s a versatile offensive lineman and is actually my top ranked interior offensive lineman for the 2021 NFL Draft. Yes, I view Slater as a guard. He played it in high school and I think he’s best suited to succeed in the NFL by moving back inside. Now he did move to offensive tackle at Northwestern and only allowed five sacks in his career. He’s technically sound and everyone will point to his game last season against Chase Young. in his career, he ended up with 26 starts at right tackle and 11 starts at left tackle for the Wildcats.

Lastly, how could you not love Kyle Pitts? He’s the top tight end in this class and would provide a much needed upgrade to the worst TE group in the NFL. Two years ago, the Detroit Lions had the worst tight ends (statistically) in the NFL and they added Jesse James in free agency and still drafted T.J. Hockenson with the eighth overall pick.

Pitts is a versatile TE that can play in the slot, outside as an ‘X’ receiver or even as an ‘H’ back. He’s not terrific but he gives an honest effort as an in-line blocker. Meanwhile, he’s a fluid route runner and does a great job at the catch point. With his athletic ability and what he provides as a receiver, this would be a great selection for the Panthers.

Scout the player, not the helmet 


First and foremost, this is a great question but scout the player and not the helmet. By comparing Paye with Taco Charlton and Rashan Gary is definitely helmet scouting and not the player.

All of that aside, Paye was on top of Bruce Feldman’s Freak List. Making that list is not an easy thing to do unless you are an absolute athletic freak. But being the top player on that list shows how athletic he truly is, especially as a defensive end. It’s been rumored that he can run the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at 271 pounds. Meanwhile, he’s been able to put up 30-reps in the 225-pound bench press and has ran the 3-cone drill in 6.37 seconds.

Aside from what he can do in shorts and a T-shirt, Paye had a great start to this season against Minnesota. He registered two sacks and was in the backfield all night long. Despite not having another sack on the season, he only played four games and battled through a groin injury all season.

Consistently on tape, Paye shows a great blend of power-and-speed with a thick and solid frame. In his pass rush, he shows the ability to use a long arm technique to generate pressure but can also win with his ability to translate speed-to-power. His explosiveness helps him win at the point of attack and gives him an advantage with his pursuit to the football. He should be drafted for what he can be and not necessarily what he’s done. However, what he’s done so far for Michigan is a good enough sample size and should justify him being a top-15 selection.

Syracuse prospects for the 2021 NFL Draft 

It’s still early but from the two games I’ve watched from this year and three games in the summer, Andre Cisco is the best player on the Syracuse Orange. Unfortunately, his 2020 season was cut short after two games due to a torn ACL but his tape before the injury actually looked pretty good. He was my top safety going into the season and much of that is due to his playmaking ability and the range that he has. In 24 career games, Cisco has 14 interceptions and 14 pass deflections. I have some concerns with how he tackles when running the alley but near the box, he actually does a pretty good job showing patience, a square lower body and tackling form.

The other player worth keeping tabs on is also in their secondary and that’s Ifeatu Melifonwu. He’s a 6-foot-3 and 198-pound cornerback for the Orange. He might be best suited to transition to safety in the NFL but from the two games I’ve seen, I like him at cornerback. He’s athletic enough to run with receivers and has done a really nice job in run support. With his length, he should be able to match against bigger receivers in the NFL too. Going forward, people might bring up his brother Obi Melifonwu quite a bit but I think they’re completely different players. That being said, the younger Melifonwu should provide a team with good value and depth for their secondary.

Players that opted-out 

This is always a fun and interesting question. To be honest, I’m not sure how teams in the NFL will view the players that opted out. It’s something we’ve never experienced before. Meanwhile, how I feel about a player is normally different from how an NFL franchise views that player. If you don’t believe me, watch my Twitter on the nights of the NFL Draft.

In all seriousness, I think players that opted-out should still be fine. Especially the players that have played well during their career. For example, Micah Parsons and Ja’Marr Chase have some of the best tape for any player at their position in this draft. But what matters most is what those players look like when they get a chance to compete during the Scouting Combine or their Pro Day. Plenty of workouts will be virtual this year but most scouting departments should be able to get a feel for how a player changes direction during a workout or just looks on tape. After all, you shouldn’t base your grade and evaluation on a player with just the current season of tape, unless that’s the only season the player has played.

That’s all of the questions and these are all of the answers I have for you! Thank you to everyone for their questions and I look forward to doing this again next Monday! Be sure to find me on Twitter @RussNFLDraft to ask me anything and everything. Meanwhile, I’ll talk to you all next Monday with more NFL Draft talk!

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.