By Lenn Robbins
It’s almost here. The day that changes the fortunes of NFL teams. The day that makes or breaks a GM’s track record. The day that leaves some fans sobbing while others are shredding paper in preparation for a Super Bowl parade.
The 2021 NFL Draft is a week away and a lot of teams have addressed pressing needs, especially at quarterback.
That does not mean the quarterback shuffle is settled. Who will the 49ers take with the third pick assuming the Jets use the No.2 pick on BYU’s Zach Wilson?
Are the Broncos (maybe) and Patriots (no) content to go into the fall with their current quarterback? Denver has been throwing darts at the QB board with such frequency the tip is dull. The Patriots are having a worse time getting over the departure of Tom Brady than A-Rod and J-Lo are having getting over each other.
The Falcons, with the No.4 pick, could try to find the heir apparent to Matt Ryan but that would mean taking the fourth best prospect in this draft. The Lions face a similar question with the No. 7 pick.
And, as if that wasn’t enough remaining intrigue, Eagles GM Howie Roseman and new coach Nick Sirianni wouldn’t commit to Jalen Hurts as the starter. It could be all smoke but when was the last time a Super Bowl crashed and burned as thoroughly as Philly?
This is our penultimate Mock Draft and we’ve dropped three players out of the first round. We still believe Florida’s Kadarius Toney is going to be a highly-productive wide receiver and return man. Others have Toney going well into the first round. Dropping him to Round 2 is more a case of this being a ridiculously strong WR group and the subtle distinctions between players.
For example, the thought of Rashod Bateman (6-1, 190-pound) complementing Devante Adams and catching passes from Aaron Rodgers is a fantasy matchup. We feel Bateman’s size and route running are a better matchup.
The same goes for Rondale Moore. We think his skillset is a better fit in New Orleans. With the retirement of Drew Brees, the Saints are going to have to be very creative on offense, and then extends beyond the dual-QB monster known as Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. Moore is a quick strike waiting to happen.
Penn State DE Jayson Oweh drops to Round 2. Calling him a steal in the second round is ludicrous. He’s one of the best athletes in the draft and can surely develop into a quarterback’s nightmare. Oweh needs a little more refinement than Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari.
Zaven Collins, who we fell in love with at Tulsa, has everything needed in a NFL linebacker and he can play on all three levels. He’s a terrifically cerebral player more than a dominate at the point of attack. Would not be surprised if his defensive coordinator and NFL commentators are raving about him seeing plays develop before they do.
With those changes noted, here’s how we see the draft shaping up.
- 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, saving 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, who wowed at Clemson’s pro day.
- Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU – Justin Fields has made Joe Douglass’s job a very difficult one. The Ohio State QB (6-3, 228) ran a 4.44 at his pro day and made some terrific throws. In other words, he’s not far off from Derrick Henry (6-3, 238, 4.54 40) with an arm. How do you pass that up? We’re sticking with Wilson. Call it the “It” Factor and the fact that Fields has had thee rare mysteriously bad game.
- 49ers – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State – We’re not convinced that Mac Jones is the third best QB in this draft. Lawrence and Jones are the two most-ready Day 1 starters. San Fran is in win-now mode, which tilts in Jones’s favor. But the 49ers have enough weapons to not have to rely on Fields winning games. He just can’t lose them.
- Falcons – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida – Atlanta could stand pat and take Trey Lance as their QB of the future but why settle for the 4th QB in this draft when Matt Ryan is still producing at an elite level? Pitts could be a generational talent. And the 2023 QB class sure looks good, giving the Falcons two draft classes to build toward.
- Bengals – Penei Sewel, OT, Oregon – It sure would be tempting for Cincy to pick WR Ja’Marr Chase and reunite him with QB Joe Burrow. But protecting their franchise quarterback from another major knee injury has to be the priority. There will be serious WR talent in Round 2.
- Dolphins – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU – One has to admire the way the Fish are doing business. They slide down just a few slots, add picks to an already emerging team, and still take the best WR in the draft. Doesn’t it figure that the Jets are finally headed in the right direction when the rest of the division is finally stepping up.
- Lions – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State – Can’t believe the Lions think Jared Goff is their QB of the future. Lance gets to sit a year and Detroit, which hopes to never pick this high again in the near future, gets to see if it hit the jackpot.
- Patriots – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama – True, this is not the Patriot Way. Neither is spending $160 million in free agent signings. And the AFC East is the most formidable it’s been in a decade. Just as Mike Krzyzewski, who was forced to change his thinking on one-and-dones, so must Belichick adapt. And he must leapfrog Denver, which seems to be perennially seeking its franchise QB.
- Broncos – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern –If the Broncos can’t get one of the five elite QB prospects, they can get an elite blocker for Drew Lock. If Denver gets beat out, it could trade down. If you asked us which O-Lineman will be a perennial All-Pro in 10 years, Slater gets the nod. Lot of ifs.
- Cowboys –– Patrick Surtain, CB, Alabama – Lord knows the Cowboys need help at CB and there are three to choose from. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Fairley, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II. Surtain II is the most polished and will form a Bama cornerback duo with Trevon Diggs. But man is Horn a beast.
- Giants – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama – GM Dave Gettleman spent a lot in free agency and the offense should get a big boost from the addition Kenny Golladay and the return of Saquon Barkley. Imagine a WR corps of Waddle, Golladay and Darius Slayton. And if Evan Engram ever gets right for four quarters, Big Blue can match weapons with most teams. Now, about the QB…
- Eagles – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina- Let the Great NFC East Cornerback Debate begin. It seems since the day after the Eagles won the Super Bowl they’ve had major problems in the secondary. Who will be better, Surtain or Horn? Of course, the real question is at QB where Jalen Hurts will be scrutinized. Wait, that already started.
- Chargers – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech – The Chargers need only look at what happened to Burrow last season to know how to proceed. Justin Herbert was the surprise QB of the 2020 season. He looks and acts the part. Don’t mess with your leading man.
- Vikings – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State – Linebacker is not a position of need for the Vikes. They need help on the offensive line and an edge rusher. But when a talent such as Parsons is on the board (think CeeDee Lamb last year to the Cowboys at No.17), you take the talent and find a way to make it work.
- Panthers – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame- Parsons and O-K are the Nos. 1 and 2 LBs. This is a great move by the Panthers who pick up another 2nd and 3rd rounder this year and a second next year to slide back from No.9 and still get a great defensive prospect. Finally, they can turn the page on the retirement of Luke Kuechly.
- Cardinals – Caleb Fairley, CB, Virginia Tech – Having opted not to retain Patrick Peterson, cornerback becomes a need; a big need. Arizona is competing in the toughest division in the NFL. Too many terrific receivers to leave this unaddressed. Tech has a tradition of putting out great defensive backs.
- Raiders –– Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC – We had the Raiders going defensive line but they spent heavily in that area in free agency. They’re in the process of revamping the offensive line and that’s the play here. Vera-Tucker is a Day One starter. Pressure is mounting on Chuckie to get it right.
- Dolphins – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – We gave Tua a great weapon in Chase. We give him another in Harris. Clemson’s Travis Etienne is an option here. He’s not as strong as Harris but has quicker acceleration and change of pace. Both are excellence receivers. Harris is a beast as a blocker. If Tua remains healthy this can be a scary offense.
- Washington – Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU – We had Rondale Moore going here because the offense needs weapons but Washington believes it addressed that with the signing of Curtis Samuels. Ron Rivera recently said his team is not desperate. Nothing desperate about taking the best safety – by far – in this draft.
- Bears – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State – Does anyone truly understand what the Bears are doing? Andy Dalton is the new starting QB over Nick Foles? Combined, that’s half a QB at best. At least whoever is back there trying not to lose game should feel better about Chicago’s O-Line with this pick.
- Colts – Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia – If there was another tackle worth this pick Indy should do it and plug the hole left by the retirement of Anthony Costanzo to retirement. The second biggest need is getting to the QB. Ojulari simply wrecked offenses in college.
- Titans – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss – The Titans believe they addressed their pass rush with the signings of Denico Autry and Bud Dupree. The addition of WR Josh Reynolds is nice but not a game changer. Moore can be moved around more than U-Haul trailer.
- Jets – Jaelen Phillips, DE, Miami – This could be the surest sign yet that Gang Green is finally the recipient of some good karma. Phillips is our favorite defensive player in this draft. He pops off the screen, can rush, drop and motors sideline to sideline. Why is he available? Concussions issues early in his college career.
- Steelers – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson– The retirement of Maurkice Pouncey makes center a priority but we think Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey or Bama’s Landon Dickerson could be available in Round 2. The Steelers offense crashed in the second of the season and needs new life.
- Jaguars –– Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama -Urban Meyer targeted secondary and defensive line as two areas that need upgrading. The Jags signed CB Shaq Griffin to play opposite C.J. Henderson. DT remains a major weakness. Barmore gives him a DT with pass rush abilities.
- Browns – Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan – The Browns signed Jadaveon Clowney to a one-year deal in what is becoming a “rich get richer move,” something we’re not accustomed to writing when it comes to the Browns. Paye hasn’t played a lot of football but the upset fits exactly with Cleveland’s needs.
- Ravens – Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami – We’ve been heavy on WR for the Ravens but they lost a lot on the edge in free agency. Rousseau could be a real get at 27. He’s exactly the type of Baltimore defensive player who plays with an edge. If they go receiver, how about that kid from Florida?
- Saints – Rondale Moore, WR. Purdue – We’ve had the Saints going defense here and that certainly could be the case. But if New Orleans sticks with Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill at QB, they’ll need another playmaker to open up things for Michael Thomas. Moore can work the slot and out of the backfield. Think gadget plays.
- Packers –Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota – The situation in Green Bay gets more fraught as we get closer to the draft. Last year they didn’t get Aaron Rodgers any help. Bateman perfectly complements Devante Adams and keeps Rodgers from going to Jeopardy. Man, he’s good at that, too.
- Bills – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – KC remains the team to beat in the AFC, but Tampa Bay wrote the playbook on how to beat the Chiefs. Attack that offensive line in multiple ways. How about a DT with pass rush skills?
- Chiefs – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern – Everyone saw the Super Bowl. The Chiefs O-line needs help. So does the secondary. KC already began rebuilding the line in free agency and with no O-Lineman worth a first-round pick, the Chiefs get lucky with Newsome II, a heady, versatile corner.
- Bucs – Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky – Thought long and hard about a CB here but the Bucs front seven is beginning to show some age. Ndamukong Suh is 34, Jason Pierre Paul, 32, Lavonte David 31. Davis, who needs some technical polish, is a perfect fit here. By his second season he will be a starter and impact player.