Thoughts one week before the 2021 NFL Draft


We’re officially less than one week away from the 2021 NFL Draft!

It’s pretty crazy to write that and I’m sure I’ll say this again next week when I post my final mock draft for the 2021 NFL Draft. With so much uncertainty on this years draft and much of it due to COVID-19, it feels as if this draft could go in any direction once you get away from the first few picks of the first round.

That tends to be the case but this year is truly a wildcard and the process of groupthink has gone astray. Fortunately for all of you, I have a bunch of thoughts floating around my head about this years draft. With the 2021 NFL Draft being a week away, I thought it would be best to write down all of these random thoughts rather than regurgitate them to myself while driving around in my car. So with that, here are a weeks worth of thoughts as we are one week away from the 2021 NFL Draft!

Making the case for each QB at the 3rd overall pick 

As we all know, the 2021 NFL Draft really starts here. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are pegged in at the first and second overall selections. What happens at third overall? It’s so interesting of what QB the San Francisco 49ers select here. So let me just make the case on each one and we’ll go from there.

Currently, the betting favorite — once again — is Mac Jones. He makes a ton of sense for a few reasons. Put aside the jokes about his athletic ability, and you get a player that shows the intelligence to read an offense and defense. Just from what I saw on his tape to listening him talk to Kirk Herbstreit on the “QB 21” interviews for ESPN. Jones showed the ability to recite the plays with very little hesitation and he’s definitely comfortable with the type of player he currently is.

Aside from that, he throws with great anticipation. Despite the limitations, he knows where his receivers will be and puts a lot of trust in them coming down with the ball. As he should, though. He’s had multiple first round wide receivers and a running back that should go on the opening night as well. Where does he fit in San Francisco? He brings a familiar style that could make Kyle Shanahan’s job easier. I’ve often said that Jones is similar to Cousins so having him throw with that anticipation or execute throws off play action just seems ideal.

Justin Fields is the player we all want to see in San Francisco. Love him or hate him, Fields is a dynamic quarterback and he was once viewed as this year’s consolation prize to Lawrence. He can run the football or absolutely spin it. The way he processes can improve but putting him in a system like San Francisco could really help with that. I’d also like to point out that his “QB 21” interview on ESPN was also impressive. He responded well to every question thrown his way and seems to be a highly motivated player that is willing to put in the work. He seems to have strong leadership qualities.

Transferring from Georgia to Ohio State, he had a presence on the field and in that locker room. Beyond how far he can throw or how fast he can run, Fields shows the toughness needed to survive in the NFL. The way he hangs on to keep playing and surviving is a resemblance to what the Detroit Lions saw from Matthew Stafford for so long. Put him in San Francisco and I think he could succeed from day one.

Lastly, Trey Lance from North Dakota State. Even though he didn’t have a season in 2020, he’s been putting in the work with Quincy Avery (QB coach) and Paul Alexander (offensive line coach). He’s learned protections and how to improve on key areas such as reading defenses to his footwork. Lance might be drafted more so of his projection than who he currently  is as a quarterback and that’s okay. He runs like a running back in the open field but the ball flies out of his hand. When you talk about overall fit for him, there might not be a better one than with the 49ers. Even though the contract of Jimmy Garrapolo is moveable (less than $2 million in dead cap money), Lance could easily sit behind Jimmy G and wait for the opportunity to start.

Regardless, the potential and tools are all there for Lance to succeed. Shades of his game resemble Josh Allen but I wouldn’t be too worried about Lance wearing maroon and gold if it were to happen.

Atlanta won’t be taking a quarterback 

I’ve been asked about the Falcons plenty this past week on my radio spots across the country and I’ll be honest, I don’t think they’re taking a quarterback. Also, don’t feed me the “Well, the Falcons owe it to themselves to draft a QB” line either. Look at the big picture: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. The contract of Ryan is locked in and is essentially unmovable. I don’t see a team taking on that contract but most importantly, the Falcons would be nuts to consider taking on the dead cap money of Matt Ryan that sits around $73 million. Jones is also around $20 million in dead cap money.

Keep in mind, the Falcons are in cap room hell. There’s hardly enough money to keep the lights on.

There’s plenty of mutual respect between Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Matt Ryan. There seems to be a two-year window to compete and win. That’s what they’ll do with the fourth overall pick. The price tag is far too high to trade it so they’ll look to get the best player to help them win and help them win now. That player could be Penei Sewell from Oregon but ultimately, all signs point to this selection being Kyle Pitts from Florida.

Whether you want to talk about new head coach Arthur Smith having a preference of using two tight ends in his offense or the fact that you have Calvin Ridley and Jones on the outside with Pitts running all over the middle of the field. Take your pick, it becomes a matchup nightmare for defenses and makes the Falcons offense deadly.

Where does the first defensive player get drafted? 

Sure, you could make a case for the Falcons to draft a defensive player. You could also do the same at seventh overall for Detroit or even eighth overall for Carolina. However, nothing feels for sure on the defensive side of the football in this draft. In fact, we could see eight to 10 offensive players get taken before we even see a defensive player get drafted.

That being said, it does feel like the latest we’ll see the first defensive player off the board will be at the 10th overall selection and the Dallas Cowboys. That defense was absolutely putrid last season. Whether it wasn’t being able to generate pressures, stopping the run or stopping the pass, it was all bad. The flood gates were open and the opposition did what they wanted. Aside from the Cowboys, Detroit and Carolina make sense like I said. Either team could consider a linebacker like Parsons but Carolina could really consider a true number one cornerback such as Patrick Surtain from Alabama or Jaycee Horn from South Carolina.

The question then becomes, who is the first defensive player off the board? As talented as Micah Parsons is, the maturity concerns and off-the-field issues are alarming. Could we see an edge rusher such as Jaelan Phillips from Miami (FL) or Kwity Paye out of Michigan land on the star like Terrell Owens celebrating a touchdown?

Right now, I’ll go with my personal favorite and that’s Patrick Surtain II from Alabama being the selection at 10th overall. This gives the Cowboys a sure-thing in their secondary and he could help to try and stop some of the weapons that are on the rosters of the Washington Football Team and New York Giants.

Which teams will trade down?

Stopping it before it even begins, I don’t see the Giants trading back. Dave Gettleman doesn’t do it so why start now? They hold the 11th overall pick and could easily consider another pass catcher such as Devonta Smith or they could be the team that pulls the trigger on Micah Parsons for their defense.

I’m not trying to be biased but it really feels like the Detroit Lions are likely to trade back. Some teams could be onto the Miami Dolphins moving all over the draft board to stockpile draft picks so they could look to avoid giving a pretty good team more draft capital to get better. Detroit sits right behind Miami so teams could consider giving the Lions some of that capital due to their track record and knowing they could be years away from truly competing — especially if they get right.

So who could be the teams that could be interested in trading up with a team like Detroit? Going to the second part of this idea, I’d have to think a team that’s interested in a quarterback makes sense. The obvious choice has been New England and it makes sense. They’ve spent more money in free agency than they ever have under the Belichick era. While having Cam Newton for a season could lead to success, they should look beyond that window.

If Fields becomes available, you’d have to think they consider giving up some draft capital to possibly make that happen. Also, how about the Denver Broncos? It’s hard to determine exactly what Drew Lock is but not everything has been encouraging. From lack of positive results to injuries, he just kind of feels like a guy. Much like I said with the Patriots, if Fields or even Lance were available, the Broncos could easily consider giving up their second round pick this year to move up two spots to improve their quarterback situation.

Aside from those two obvious choices, how about teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles or the Los Angeles Charges. Some point last week, the Eagles were rumored to be interested in moving back into the top-10 of the draft order. Getting the seventh overall pick could be intriguing — especially if the Eagles want to move in front of Dallas to ensure they get their top defensive weapon before their division rivals do.

As for the Chargers, they could just be interested in moving up to ensure they get one of the top offensive lineman (Sewell or Slater). They could also flirt with the idea of moving back some and still end up with the second tier of offensive tackles (Teven Jenkins or Alex Leatherwood). Much of their offseason has been predicated to protecting Justin Herbert so they could feel like they’re one franchise left tackle away from ensuring themselves that they did that.

Trading out of the first round completely

Staying on the trend of trading down — there will be a team(s) that trades out of the first round. I’m not sure who that team will be but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team such as the New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills or Green Bay Packers being one of those teams.

Taking those three teams into consideration, they could be looking to trade out for a variety of reasons. I’ll simplify it to one position. Saints could consider Christian Barmore from Alabama if he’s available at 28th overall but if he’s gone, they move back and add another weapon to the offense. My favorite choice if he’s there on the early portion of day two would be Kadarius Toney from Florida.

Much like I’ve said all off-season, the Bills can do whatever they want. Moving out of the first round to gain an additional pick somewhere between the third or fourth round (maybe even both), would be really beneficial. This team needs to get another edge rusher and cornerback. If they move back just a few spots, there’s a chance they could land Eric Stokes Jr. from Georgia to clean up their secondary.

Lastly, the Packers could move up or down but their board could alter significantly if we get a run on offensive lineman, cornerbacks or even receivers. While those groups are relatively deep, they could view it as beneficial to move back a few spots, gain additional draft capital and still draft “their guy.” I love (and hate) the idea of the Packers drafting Asante Samuel Jr. from Florida State to pair with Jaire Alexander. If they move back four or five spots and are able to grab him, that could end up becoming a potential steal.

So who are the teams that could look to move back into the first round? The Philadelphia Eagles have 11 picks and I’d be shocked if they used them all in this years draft. They could get aggressive and look to move up for a linebacker such as Zaven Collins or cornerback Caleb Farley. Maybe both of those players don’t go as high as expected. Two other teams could be the Jacksonville Jaguars or New York Jets. Both teams pick early enough in the second round where it might not make a ton of sense but they might just get aggressive to try grab one of “their guys” to give themselves a third selection in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Justin Fields destined to fall on draft day? 

For the longest, it felt like we were all on the same page by saying we’ll see five quarterbacks selected within the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft. While they still might remain true, it’s starting to feel unlikely. If Fields doesn’t land with San Francisco at the third overall selection, we could very well see him fall come draft day. After all, one of these quarterbacks seems likely to fall. Even though the recent news broke on Fields battling epilepsy, that could still scare away a few teams and they could alter their boards because of it.

If they do, Fields could fall outside of the top-10 and there’s chance he ends up falling into the laps of the New England Patriots. But let me just throw this at you and that is the Minnesota Vikings swapping the 14th overall selection with the Washington Football Team for the 19th overall selection. There’s been some rumors swirling around the Washington Football Team being interested in moving up for a quarterback. Moving from 19th overall to somewhere in the top 10 seems unlikely — it’s too rich. But jumping up five spots for a quarterback that has top five potential but slides due to these odd circumstances might be too good to pass up for Washington.

It feels like Washington is one or two players away from being a really good team for the foreseeable future. Fields could be that missing piece. Keep in mind, I’m not saying this will happen, it’s just my speculation and an idea that came to me the moment news broke about Fields on Wednesday. Time will tell but it sure feels like one of the five quarterbacks are going to fall.

Kyle Pitts and then what? 

Back in the summer, I said that Pitts had an “it” factor. Now he’s being labeled as the best player in the draft. OK, fair, lucky guess. Pitts will be the first tight end off the board and possibly the highest drafted ever in the NFL Draft (do it, Atlanta). But what happens at the position after Pitts is selected? Honestly, it gets murky.

Finding the ‘It’ Factor: Kyle Pitts has it for the 2021 NFL Draft

Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State was projected to be the next Gronk but he’s more like Kyle Rudolph (lite). There’s a chance he slips into the back of the first round but he should fall into the second round. That, however, opens the door for tight ends such as Hunter Long out of Boston College or even Tommy Tremble out of Notre Dame.

Even though I think this group is somewhat shaky beyond Kyle Pitts, there’s a lot to like with Hunter Long. He gives great effort as an in-line blocker, can move around and does a great job using his hands to create separation from defenders. Teams such as Jacksonville, Dallas or Carolina make sense for most of these second and third round tight ends.

There’s a lot of love for Tremble and it’s because he’s a good athlete but an even better blocker. Without question, he’s the best blocking tight end in the draft. He needs to get better as a pass catcher and maybe that’ll happen if he gets an expanded role in the passing game for an NFL offense. That being said, the second round feels a bit too early for him but he’s certainly a player worth drafting and keeping tabs on. Ultimately, if I had to bet on who the second tight end drafted would be, I’d put that money on Hunter Long from Boston College.

Players we weren’t expecting in the first round 

It won’t be sexy but Creed Humphrey from Oklahoma will be drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Since 2009, we’ve seen 9 centers drafted in the first round and we saw two of them get selected back-to-back in 2018. We’ve seen three consecutive drafts with a first round center and we’ll see it again. If Najee Harris is off the board by the 24th overall selection, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Pittsburgh Steelers select Creed Humphrey with that 24th overall selection. Fun fact: They selected David Decastro out of Stanford in the 2012 NFL Draft with the 24th overall pick.

I’ve said on my podcast and I’ve put in my mock drafts but I’ll say it again: Baron Browning from Ohio State. The 6-foot-3 and 240-pound prospect ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash and looked solid at the Senior Bowl. Having a linebacker with that type of length and ability to cover, will intrigue plenty of teams. Don’t be surprised if he ends up playing for a familiar face in Urban Meyer as the Jaguars have the 25th overall pick in the first round.

Barmore will go somewhere in the first round. This defensive tackle class isn’t great and some are calling it the worst they’ve seen in 20 years. That’s fine but there will be some teams that want to grab a defensive tackle before the run on the position happens. Barmore was invited to Cleveland for the 2021 NFL Draft and that’s always telling as it indicates there could be the expectation for him to be selected in the first round. If he were to get selected, teams such as the Raiders, Browns, Saints or Buccaneers are ideal landing spots.

Love this interior offensive line group

While I have Rashawn Slater listed as an interior offensive lineman, the players I have listed behind him are incredibly talented. For Slater, he could be the first offensive lineman off the board but I’d be shocked if his name wasn’t called somewhere in the top 15. If Sewell is gone, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Carolina or Detroit consider Slater.

Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC is my second ranked interior offensive lineman and he’s one of the safer picks in this draft. You know you could roll the dice with him at tackle but he seems destined to play guard and play at a high level there. I consider his draft stock similar to Andre Dillard from the 2019 NFL Draft. Dillard went 22nd overall to Philadelphia in 2019 so it would be surprising if AVT last beyond Tennessee at the 22nd overall pick next week.

Earlier, I mentioned Creed Humphrey as a first round pick. It’s possible he ends up on the second day but it just doesn’t seem likely. However, one of the forgotten players on the second day right now is Wyatt Davis from Ohio State. He could easily be the first player taken on the second day of the draft — he’s that good. No doubt, 2020 was “off” for him but teams will value his ability to plug-and-play at right guard and the way he mauls in the run game is intriguing.

Landon Dickerson from Alabama has first round talent but the injuries are worrisome. Last year it was Tyler Biadasz who fell down draft boards and Dickerson could do the same. If Dickerson goes on the second day, I’m happy. If he falls to the third day, I’m sad. Just know that the team that gets him is getting one hell of a player and no matter where he goes, we should all be rooting for that kid.

Lastly, Kendrick Green from Illinois is such a fun player to watch. He’s got to cleanup his footwork but when he gets the green light, he’s pedal to the metal. Teams should value his positional versatility as well. At times, he’ll start at guard and then move to center during the game. He can play anywhere on the interior and teams will love the way he finishes his block. If you’re looking for a player to set the tone, this should be your guy. I’d expect him to be gone between rounds three and four.

Davis Mills in the first round? 

Can we stop now? Thanks.

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.