By Lenn Robbins
I need to have the apartment swept for bugs.
Just as we put the finishing touches on Mock Draft II, word broke from Detroit that the Lions and QB Matt Stafford, who deserves to play in a Super Bowl before his outstanding career comes to an end, have agreed to part ways.
Then, just as we were about to submit Mock Draft III, the Lions and Rams pull off the blockbuster of deals. Detroit sent Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff, his albatross of a contract, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, and a third round pick this year.
This is one of the best things to happen to Detroit since Motown.
Now the Rams are poised to make a run at the NFC title next season and Lions fans know their team just got a jump start on a legitimate rebuild. There is a plan in Detroit, a sentence not often written.
Let’s not forget that an even more highly coveted quarterback – Deshaun Watson – is on the market. If the price for Stafford was two 1st-rounders, a 3rd-rounder and Detroit taking on Goff’s staggering contract which has him due $43.325 million in fully-guaranteed payments due in 2021 and 2022, imagine what the Texans want for Watson?
All this is set against the backdrop of the April 29th draft that features the best college QB prospect in decades – Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. With Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, this might turn out to be the best QB draft class since 2004 (Rivers, Roethlisberger, Eli Manning). But that’s part of the story.
Acquiring a franchise quarterback is the fastest way to winning in the pass-happy NFL, as long as you have a semblance of a roster. Which is why this year’s quarterback landscape is the most fascinating in memory.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will try to rework Big Ben’s contract so that he can remain in Pittsburgh for one more Super Bowl run. Roethlisberger, 38, carries a $41 million cap hit, which is onerous.
Meanwhile, we’re still awaiting formal announcements on their futures from Saints QB Drew Brees and Washington QB Alex Smith, who completed one of the greatest injury comebacks in NFL history. Brees, 42, is almost certain to retire. Smith, 36, got the WFT into the playoffs and remains the best quarterback on the roster, although Taylor Heinicke impressed with his playoff game performance.
The Jets and new coach, Robert Saleh, have to make a decision on Sam Darnold: Does Saleh and GM Joe Douglas think they can transform Darnold into a winning quarterback, no less a franchise one. He unquestionably has the arm strength, intelligence and is well-liked in the locker room but his league-worst 40.2 quarterback rating in his third season was a neon orange flag. Douglas reportedly likes Darnold but he didn’t draft him.
The Jets are hardly the only team facing a quarterback decision. The Colts do not have a starting QB on the roster after Phillip Rivers announced his retirement.
The Chicago Bears (Mitch Trubisky; Nick Foles) Carolina Panthers (Teddy Bridgewater), Denver Broncos (Drew Lock), and New England Patriots (Cam Newton) aren’t thrilled with their quarterback situations. The Eagles (Carson Wentz; Jalen Hurts) and 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo also have to make decisions.
And then there’s the beautiful mystery known as Aaron Rodgers.
It’s the Great Offseason Quarterback Quandary which moved into the next phase with Saturday’s Senior Bowl, which culminated a week of practices and interviews.
None of the quarterbacks who played in the game are worth a first-round draft choice. Kellen Mond of Texas A&M looked good and received MVP honors. Felipe Franks, the Florida transfer who transferred to Arkansas after losing the starting job to Kyle Trask, did an excellent job of engaging his teammates.
And Notre Dame’s Ian Book is so elusive in the pocket and smart we can’t imagine him not having a career in football, however that looks.
Now that the Senior Bowl has been completed, we bring you our third NFL Mock Draft. Because the NFL Combine has been canceled, our next mock will include trades.
- Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson – Every place Urban Meyer has succeeded, he’s developed quarterbacks. Josh Harris was a star at Bowling Green. Utah’s Alex Smith wrote one of the great comeback stories of all time, saved Washington’s season. Tim Tebow won a Heisman at Florida. Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones were terrific QBs at Ohio State. None of them were as heralded as Lawrence.
- Jets – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon – Saleh comes from the defensive side so he knows how bad the Jets offense was. He also loves physical football. Sewell, and last year’s pick, Mekhi Becton = Bookend tackles, a good place to start.
- Dolphins – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU – We plead guilty to infatuation. DaVonta Smith was so spectacular, especially in the two playoff games, we had him here. But at 6-1, 174 pounds (with rocks in pocket) he looks small compared to the 6-1, 207-pound Chase, who led the nation in receiving in 2019.
- Falcons – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU – The hiring of former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as head coach points to Atlanta taking a QB. Smith did wonders with Ryan Tannehill. He’d be a great fit for a young QB who can learn from Matt Ryan.
- Bengals – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern – Did you see the injury suffered by franchise QB Joe Burrow? ‘Nuff said. There is some talent in Cincy but not on the O-Line. Bottom line, Burrow threw for 2,688 yards in just 10 games. Protect the man.
- Eagles – DaVonta Smith, WR, Alabama – At his initial news conference, new coach Nick Sirianni was noncommittal when asked about the team’s QB position. Whether it’s Wentz or Hurts this team’s lack of depth and talent at WR must be addressed. Yes, they took Jalen Reagor last year in Round 1. Not enough.
- Lions – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota St. – No way the Lions believe Goff is their franchise QB. Do they think Lance is? We had Justin Fields here as the third QB off the board but the injury he suffered against Clemson, allegedly a hip pointer, has set him back. If they don’t think Lance and/or Fields is the answer, Jaylon Waddle is the pick.
- Panthers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio St. – It’s hard to reconcile Fields. He was exceptional in the playoff win over Clemson but awful in the Big Ten title game. Matt Ruhle coached in the Senior Bowl so he’s been compiling college QB info. Remember, the Panthers could start the season with Bridgewater and let Fields develop.
- Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State – The Broncos must decide on the option they hold on DE Von Miller. S Justin Simmons played (terrifically) on the franchise tag. Jurrell Casey missed of the season with a biceps tear. Got defense? Not so much.
- Cowboys – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama – There is debate about far or close the Cowboys are to being a contender. It wouldn’t be shocking if Dallas traded down. If so, Surtain II is probably off the board but Jaycee Horn, our favorite DB, might not be.
- Giants – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida – The Giants will never know if Daniel Jones is a franchise QB if they don’t get him more talent at WR/TE. Evan Engram is an inconsistent talent. Giants can move him or play them both. Both are WRs playing TE.
- 49ers –– Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan – Quarterback is the key but Nick Bosa is coming off a season-ending injury. Dee Ford’s back injury is cause for concern. Niners relentless defense starts up front. Cornerback is in play, especially now that Stafford joins Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray in Arizona.
- Chargers – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech – The Chargers made 2 curious (dubious) decisions already. They fired coach Anthony Lynn and hired Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Priority 1 – Protect Justin Herbert. Priority 2 – Explain the plan.
- Vikings – Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami – The Vikings have one last season with Kirk Cousins, which could be good or bad. Without a QB of the future, the title window is closing. The Vikes slipped to 29th in defense. Rousseau could be a game changer.
- Patriots – Jaylon Waddle, WR, Alabama – We had Purdue’s Rondale Moore here and he remains our favorite offensive player but Bill Belichick can’t believe Waddle, who missed most of the season with a broken ankle, is still on the board.
- Cardinals – Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa – Khyler Murray is a magnificent talent but he can’t compensate for his team’s defensive deficiencies like Patrick Mahomes does. Cards need to get a lot more physical to compete with Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.
- Raiders – Caleb Fairley, CB, Virginia Tech – Always fun trying to predict the most unpredictable franchise in the NFL. Jon Gruden has finished 4th, 3rd and 2nd. It sounds like progress. But this year’s 2nd-place finished came via an 8-8 record, not a great return on a 10-year, $10 million deal. A shutdown corner opposite Trayvon Mullen would help. Or, do the Raiders trade up for a QB. Or do they go defensive line? Or another speedy receiver? Anything is possible. Maybe they love Darnold?
- Dolphins – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – Is Tua Tagovailoa the answer? The best way to find out is to surround him with elite talent. We gave him the best WR in the draft. Now we add the best RB. Harris is a three-down back. Sure would like to see local guy Brian Flores succeed.
- Washington – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC – The Redskins have a big decision to make: Do they take Mac Jones, who could be off the board with the next pick? Of course, Alex Smith’s decision to return is huge. Regardless, the O-line needs to be bolstered.
- Bears – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – Jones didn’t play in the Senior Bowl but according to reports he looked exactly as he did all season for Bama in practice – accurate, smart, terrific touch. Chicago doesn’t have the answer in house.
- Colts – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota – Rivers announced his retirement leaving Indy’s QB depth chart consisting of Jacoby Brissett and Jacob Eason. This is a win-now roster. Stafford would be great here. They need another WR opposite Michael Pittman Jr.
- Titans – Jaelan Phillips, DE/OLB, Miami – Phillips is our favorite defensive player in the draft. He pops off the screen. Titans couldn’t find the QB with Waze. WR is a need but maybe they saw enough from former No.1 pick Corey Davis, and A.J. Brown should be better after surgery on both knees.
- Jets – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, OLB, Notre Dame – Saleh had a linebacker in San Fran by the name of Fred Warner who is an every down impact defender. Give him the Butkus Award winner and let the defensive build begin.
- Steelers – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa – Devin Bush (ACL) should be back. Bud Dupree (ACL), also should return but he’s a free agent and the cash-strapped Steelers may not be able to keep him. As coach Mike Tomlin said, Pittsburgh died on the vine this season.
- Jaguars – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina – Urban Meyer had a hand in six Ohio State cornerbacks who were No.1 picks. Horn is his kind of player, a press corner with a physical style. Jacksonville never replaced Jalen Ramsey, the best corner in football.
- Browns – Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State – We had Paye here but moved him up in light of Ford’s injury. You’ll hear Oweh described as a physical freak. He’s raw but this kind of athleticism is hard to find.
- Ravens – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida – We’re guilty of flip-flopping. We’ve had Terrace Marshall Jr. here but Toney can return kicks and is better in the slot. The real issue is how much improvement can Lamar Jackson make as a passer.
- Saints – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – There is talk about the Saints taking Florida’s Kyle Trask here. QB usually gets the nod come draft day. But we think they go with a Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill combo in 2021. And a more dominating defense.
- Packers – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue – Moore is our favorite offensive player in the draft but there is a glut of really good slot WRs which could force him to the second round. He’s a perfect complement to Davante Adams.
- Bills – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – As good as Buffalo’s defense was – kudos to Leslie Frazier – the Bills need more bulk inside. Barmore was the lynchpin of Bama’s defense, often taking up 2-3 blockers. O-Line a strong option here.
- Bucs – Jaylen Mayfield, OT, Michigan – We had Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis here but tackle trumps guard. As long as Brady is here protecting him is Job 1. In the 5 games Tampa lost he was sacked 11 times and picked off 9 times.
- Chiefs – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma St. – The biggest under-the-radar Super Bowl story thus far is the loss of tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles). KC has been patching together its line all season. Patrick Mahomes has compensated for that – until now.