The 2021 NFL Draft changed direction in a big way, as the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles went trade crazy with some desirable early round picks last week. The trade dominoes started when Adam Schefter tweeted the blockbuster between the 49ers and Dolphins, which sent two future first round picks, a 2022 third rounder and their 2021 No. 12 overall to Miami for their No. 3 overall.
The 49ers obviously are moving up to get in on the top quarterbacks while the Dolphins are set with Tua Tagovailoa — but, Miami wasn’t done. The 12th overall pick wasn’t high enough for their needs, so they turned around and traded their No. 12 pick and their 2022 first round pick to the Eagles for their No. 6 overall.
It was a wild Thursday to be sure and changed the makeup of the draft completely. Below, we’ll take a look at how the draft might go in the aftermath. Chet Gresham offers a look at each team’s needs heading into the draft and Collin Sherwin offers some prospect analysis for each pick.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence
Team needs: The Jaguars have been offloading veteran talent for a few years now as they prepare for what they hope is a quick rebuild centered around No. 1 pick Lawrence. This pick is locked in, as Lawrence is widely considered the best quarterback coming out. The need is obvious after the Jags haven’t had a strong starter behind center since, um, Mark Brunell?
Prospect analysis: This guy is so good Urban Meyer didn’t have to spend time with his family anymore. Built like a barn, huge arm that’s accurate, just fast enough where defenses will have to account for him as a scrambler, and has all the “makeup” tools baseball scouts rave about too. This decision got made about 2019, the only question was which team would get to take him.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson
Team needs: The Sam Darnold experiment was mostly a disaster and no matter what you hear out of Florham Park, we can expect them to draft a quarterback. That opinion was reinforced after what went down with these recent trades. After the Eagles-Dolphins trade, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that the Eagles were interested in moving up from the sixth spot, but they were interested in Zach Wilson and the Jets appeared set on him. Rapoport later deleted the tweet and went with vaguer wording, but it sure makes sense that the Jets have locked in on Wilson after they got a look at him on his pro day.
Prospect analysis: The Mormon Manziel has all the tools athletically, and his pro day showed he might have the arm talent to be a force at the next level. For him personally, landing in New Jersey is maybe the worst possible outcome since he won’t have much protection, and his size (allegedly 6′3″ 209 lbs ... we have some doubts) could make it challenging at the next level. But he’s very fast, accurate, and can spin it deep. Baker Mayfield potential here.
3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance
Team needs: The 49ers went to the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, but his play has been too erratic, including in that Super Bowl, to count on him long term. Bring in the next quarterback, which will likely be a choice between Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones. Deciding who Kyle Shanahan will choose is a tough call, but he must have a good idea to trade away two future first rounders and this year’s draft capital to get him. Fields has yet to have his pro day, which might mean that Shanahan locked in on Jones or Lance after their pro days. It might not, but Lance would be my choice out of that group, especially if Garoppolo sticks around to give the 49ers a buffer to help Lance develop.
Prospect analysis: Pro day matters to Lance more than anyone, as there are throws he can make on tape that are simply elite. Carson Wentz looked like a perennial All-Pro coming out of North Dakota State, and Lance is working with a higher base of raw talent. Can he make as smooth an FCS to NFL transition? Hopefully he doesn’t fall off a cliff like the last guy to make this leap at the top of the draft.
4. Denver Broncos: QB Justin Fields (Trade, Falcons 9th pick)
Team needs: It’s hard to really know what the Falcons are going to do here. They could end up going with a quarterback or wait until next season. If they wait to bring in Matt Ryan’s replacement, they’d be better off trading down for draft capital. Getting what they want back in a trade is always perilous, but if they can, they should be open to trading back. And if that happens, it will be to a team in need of a quarterback.
I see the Broncos, Patriots and Panthers as the most motivated teams to get help at quarterback, but the Broncos are in more of a win now situation and the Panthers are in their division. Denver has strong pieces both on offense and defense, but a big question mark at quarterback. Drew Lock didn’t show any improvement in his second season and was taken in the second round in 2019, so replacing him isn’t going to be all that controversial. Of course, much depends on their evaluation of Fields, Jones or Kyle Trask, but Fields would likely be the odds on favorite to be chosen in the Top 5.
Prospect analysis: Fields ended a lot of doubts in the national championship semifinal game, where he was an absolute monster in a win over Clemson. He also played well through injury against Alabama in the title game, which proved he’s got things like “toughness” and “grit” that go pretty far in draft war rooms. The question about Fields will be consistency, as his game tape against teams like Indiana show some puzzling decisions and wandering focus.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Penei Sewell
Team needs: The Bengals are all in on Joe Burrow and getting him help is a key priority. The choice here is likely going to be between an offensive tackle, tight end or a wide receiver. I think protection is more important, but they may have trouble passing on Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, or DeVonta Smith.
Prospect analysis: This is the best football player in the draft, and Joe Burrow can sleep a bit easier as he recovers from his injury. Sewell is 6’6, 330, and runs like he’s got rockets on his heels. He can maul people in the run game, and is an elite pass blocker. His game tape is preposterous, and he should impact the NFL in ways almost heretofore unseen by an offensive lineman.
Other than that, we’re not expecting too much.
6. Miami Dolphins: WR DeVonta Smith
Team needs: The Dolphins could be in a similar situation as the Bengals, as they have a sophomore quarterback who needs all the help he can get. There are some strong wide receiver candidates and Ja’Marr Chase is my favorite, but the Dolphins don’t seem keen on drafting a player who opted out in the 2020 season. Of course, talent is king and they could go with Chase, but Smith is worth an early round pick as well and his ability to get open quickly should be a big plus for Tua Tagovalia and his development.
Prospect analysis: There are questions about his size, raw talent, and dumb scout stuff like hand size. There are absolutely no questions about what he can do on a football field, because that is everything. He separates like dairy and cleaning products at the supermarket, can go over the middle or torch the ladder, and has exactly zero visible-to-the-naked-eye flaws in his game.
There might be receivers with higher ceiling elsewhere in this draft, but there’s none with a higher floor. Smith is a lock to become an All-Pro.
7. Detroit Lions: WR Ja’Marr Chase
Team needs: The Lions lost Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay to free agency and replacing them should be a high priority. Of course, cliche machine Dan Campbell could go with a defender to “set the tone,” but it would be tough to pass on Chase with their obvious need.
Prospect analysis: Both a higher ceiling and lower floor than Smith, and teams will have to figure out how to grade a player that sat out the 2020 season just to prepare for the draft. Is it a plus or a minus he hasn’t played a football game in 18 months?
But his sophomore game tape from LSU has plenty of OBJ vibes in it, and some of the catches he made with his 1,780 and 20 touchdowns to win the 2019 national championship were jaw-dropping. He could be a special player, but he’s also more of a gamble.
8. Carolina Panthers: QB Mac Jones
Team needs: These recent draft pick trades likely hurt the Panthers the most, as a QB needy team cut in line. And the Panthers need a quarterback badly. Even though they’re stuck down in the eighth spot, there is still some talent available. Carolina is reportedly very much focused on trying to pry Deshaun Watson from the Texans, so that would change things completely. But, if Watson doesn’t look like a possibility come April 29th, they should feel compelled to take a quarterback. Jones isn’t the player they’d prefer, and they may end up passing on him for someone like tight end Kyle Pitts, but if they can talk themselves into Jones, they will take him.
Prospect analysis: This seems like a bit of a reach, but the stats Jones had as part of the national champions are eye-popping (13 games, 4500 yards, 41 TD’s, 4 INT’s). But when you’re throwing to DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, and have Najee Harris behind you... how tough can it be to put up ridiculous numbers?
He may not be a franchise changing quarterback, but he probably won’t be overwhelmed by the NFL game either.
9. Atlanta Falcons: CB Caleb Farley (Trade, Broncos 4th pick)
Team needs: As long as the Falcons are sticking with their offensive playmakers and look to win with Matt Ryan, upgrading their pass defense makes for the smartest move. Farley has the best long term upside of the cornerback group and the Falcons pass defense was their biggest weakness last season, so any upgrades should help.
Prospect analysis: Widely considered the best DB in the draft, there are some slight injury concerns that Farley tackled head on to get them behind him. The Virginia Tech Hokie also sat out the 2020 season, so like Chase teams will need to weigh if that’s helpful or harmful. He had 20 tackles and four interceptions in 2019.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II
Team needs: The Cowboys need help on the offensive line and in the secondary. Rashawn Slater makes sense here, but Surtain is the most NFL ready cornerback and the Cowboys are in win now mode.
Prospect analysis: A national champion that has the pedigree for the next level, Surtain is a complete corner that can cover the X and the Z with equal aplomb. If you need a DB, as a team you won’t want to let either him or Farley pass, as it drops off a bit from the top two.
11. New York Giants: LB Micah Parsons
Team needs: The Giants could still select a wide receiver if someone falls who they’re in love with, but signing Kenny Golladay in free agency likely keeps them from taking one this early. They need help at edge rusher and linebacker, and Parson can be a true difference maker at the position.
Prospect analysis: Another 2020 opt-out, Parsons ran a 4.39 40 at Penn State’s pro day this weekend, and that means he’s likely going to not fall out of the top half of the first round. Parsons slots in a bit better as a Mike than a Sam, but he’s capable of being a winner at all three positions.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: TE Kyle Pitts
Team needs: The Eagles look to have landed on Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback for this season after trading down. They have plenty of holes to fill, with cornerback and offensive line a priority, but if Pitts were to fall to the tight end-loving Eagles, he would be impossible to pass on.
Prospect analysis: Eagles fans should be over the moon if this freakish talent was still available at 12. Pitts is 6’6, 240 and strong as steel, with a catch radius measured in kilometers. He’s the best tight end prospect in the draft in a long time, and his highlight reel will leave Birds fans drooling. Jalen Hurts having a target that can just go up and get anything thrown in the same ZIP Code as Pitts might be a perfect fit. If he blocks, that’s just a bonus.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: OL Rashawn Slater
Team needs: The Chargers are perennially in trouble on the offensive line and now that they have Justin Herbert poised to raise their offense, they need to make sure he’s well protected. They did a good job in bringing in center Corey Linsley, but adding a versatile rookie like Slater would be a wise decision for 2021.
Prospect analysis: He’s not Sewell, but Slater projects as one of the best prospects available at left tackle in the draft. There’s plenty of depth at the position in the first round, so this could be any number of players here.
14. Minnesota Vikings: DE Gregory Rousseau
Team needs: The Vikings could go in a few different directions in this draft, but offensive line and defensive line feel like the most pressing. The position they choose will likely depend on their evaluation of the prospects at the two positions.
Prospect analysis: Part of one of the more athletic defenses in America at Miami, Rousseau terrorized both the run game and quarterbacks at The U. He had 54 tackles and 15.5 sacks in 2019 before sitting out the 2020 season, and the Hurricanes performance against Clemson this year showed what a difference he can make to a defense.
15. New England Patriots: WR Jaylen Waddle
Team needs: There is a real chance the Patriots move up in the draft to select a quarterback, but not every quarterback needy team will be able to do so. They also could pry Jimmy Garoppolo away from the 49ers, so this pick is very much up in the air. As it is, the Patriots still need a wide receiver despite adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Maybe they think they’re set with those additions, but they truly need to hit on a young wide receiver and Waddle could be that guy.
Prospect analysis: There’s injury concerns here, but Waddle can absolutely fly and make plays. Managed 591 yards in just five games and a couple plays before getting hurt against Tennessee in October, but fought back to play in the national championship game. Will also be a kick return threat for any team that takes him. If you need a receiver to take the top off a defense, as well as make plays closer to line of scrimmage, he’s your guy.