Here we are! This 2021 NFL Draft cycle has been unique in a variety of facets. No NFL combine, players opting out, limited medical information and so many more aspects have made the evaluation process more challenging unlike ever before. With the draft tonight approaching rapidly, here are my four bold predictions for the first round.
1. The 49ers will not take Mac Jones at No. 3 overall.
I understand the buzz has run rampant recently, and in no way am I stating that this is not a valid possibility. This could be someone that Kyle Shanahan covets as Jones’ decision making and ball placement make him appealing for this offense. He also has been said to be an exceptionally smart football mind, who can read and process the defense in order to get the ball out on time to the proper spot. Shanahan surely values those qualities. However, mortgaging your future to get up this high usually exudes the desire for somebody transcendent or someone that upgrades a facet of your team that needs it.
Trey Lance for example, is another rumored candidate to be taken at this spot. His offense at North Dakota State asked him to handle a pro style offense with numerous pre snap responsibilities. He is an explosive athlete, who can bail a play caller out with sheer twitch and improvisational ability. Lance has a live arm, and can also make every throw asked. His accuracy is sometimes spotty, however we saw Josh Allen’s accuracy improve greatly throughout his young career in Buffalo. A difference also worth noting, is that Buffalo’s offense is more reminiscent of a vertical passing game. San Francisco will give Lance a lot of layups and easy outlets. Shanahan has to salivate over being able to call plays similarly to when he was with Washington and had Robert Griffin III at the helm.
Jones is a good player, but Lance can provide what Jones offers while adding additional upgrades and beneficial qualities. Therefore, I feel like Lance will be the pick at No. 3.
2. The Cowboys will take a “best available player” approach.
The Cowboys certainly have a variety of needs that need to be addressed. Their secondary needs blue chip talent and their offensive line needs to get younger while also obtaining more depth. Demarcus Lawrence could use an edge counterpart and they need to upgrade their interior defensive line. Sean Lee just retired, leaving them a hole at LB.
I say all of that to state the following: The Cowboys have enough needs to be able to take the best player available at their draft position. When asked about his strategy, he said “What is exciting about the 10th pick is you got a chance to do something unconventional.” To me, that even says that they may even trade up for a guy like Kyle Pitts if the value makes it realistic. The Cowboys have a variety of needs, however Jerry Jones I think will take this opportunity to infuse blue chip talent in any area to a roster that needs it greatly. The BPA at 10 may fill a need, but if a guy is sitting there hard to pass up the Cowboys seem like an organization to take him and figure it out later.
3. If Penei is not the pick to the Bengals, the Chargers will be aggressive.
It is no secret that the Chargers goals this offseason revolved around creating a front five that will allow Justin Herbert to be kept upright and operate from the pocket. He was after all, the most pressured QB in the league last year. Left tackle is the only area left that needs to be fixed with proper talent. If Sewell is not an option, I do feel the Chargers can take a guy like Alijah Vera-Tucker or Christian Darrisaw at 13. However, if Sewell gets past Cincinnati, my estimation is that the Chargers will move up in front of Carolina to take my highest ranked offensive lineman in this class. In this scenario, the Chargers get a bookend tackle.
4. The Ravens will not take an offensive tackle in Round 1.
After the Orlando Brown Jr. trade, it is obvious that the Ravens have a hole at right tackle. However, I do not feel as if the Ravens will spend a premium draft asset to fill it. In the past few weeks, the Ravens have met with Alejandro Villanueva and Dennis Kelly which showcases interest in getting a cheap veteran as a placeholder. As Daniel Jeremiah says, you cannot have a glaring hole on your offensive line. As of now, the Ravens do not have a center who was draft pick as Trystron-Colon Castillo and Patrick Mekari were two undrafted free agents.
The most logical pathway would be signing a veteran right tackle while looking for a guy like Creed Humphrey at No. 31. Structuring it that way, will give the Ravens a reliable offensive line with few exploitable weaknesses. I also feel like they will not take a tackle due to the fact that I do not think they will like the value of who is left at that spot. It is even reasonable to suggest the Ravens trading out of 31 to accumulate a second round pick and another late round pick which is something Eric DeCosta covets.
The Ravens have flexibility here, as they can also look at interior linemen like Aaron Banks, Trey Smith or Wyatt Davis in Round 3 while moving Bradley Bozeman to center. The Ravens have options, and they do not need to impress upon the tackle position in Round 1 if there are no appealing options. Edge, receiver and interior offensive line can all be emphasized instead.
Enjoy the draft tonight! These could all be wrong, but these serve to be valuable discussion pieces and things I find worth watching for. It has been a long journey, but we made it.