NFL Draft 2021 Preview
Issue 14, Volume 111
After a free agency blitz, the NFL will be back in the news this month with the 2021 NFL Draft, in which teams will pick their future stars. There will be sleepers, there will be busts, there will be memes, and there will be stories. No matter where each player ends up, this draft is sure to be an interesting one.
Mock Draft for the Top 11 Picks
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson University: No-brainer; Jacksonville gets their guy. Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect in a decade, and the Jaguars need to start building a supporting cast. This pick has been set in stone since Urban Meyer took the job.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, Brigham Young University: With Sam Darnold out of the fold, BYU’s Wilson is the best option available for the Jets’ current and future success.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields, Ohio State University: The Mac Jones and Trey Lance hype ends up being a smokescreen, and the 49ers take the consensus number three quarterback who just so happens to be perfect for a Kyle Shanahan offense.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Ja’Marr Chase, Louisiana State University: This may not seem like an immediate need, but Julio Jones is getting older and more injury prone, and Calvin Ridley will already be 27 by the time he signs his next contract. The Falcons need young playmakers on the outside and are getting one of the youngest and best receivers in this class.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, University of Oregon: The Bengals need to give quarterback Joe Burrow the tools he needs to succeed coming off an injury, and a good offensive line is the first step.
6. Miami Dolphins: Devonta Smith, University of Alabama: With Sewell off the board, the Dolphins get a future All-Pro receiving threat for Tua Tagovailoa in Heisman-winner Smith. Already having an upper-tier tight end in Mike Gisecki, the Dolphins will be fine passing on the best tight end in the draft, Kyle Pitts out of Florida.
7. Detroit Lions: Trey Lance, North Dakota State University: This pick may seem surprising given the Lions’ recent trade for Jared Goff, but he can be cut without sacrificing a tremendous amount of cap space as soon as 2023. Lance needs time to develop after only starting for one season in college, and he will get that time behind Goff in Detroit.
8. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Pitts, University of Florida: With Darnold’s arrival in Carolina, the Panthers have no need for a quarterback. Carolina is light on the tight end position and has a history of good tight ends (Greg Olsen). Pitts is an athletic anomaly and generational talent.
9. Denver Broncos: Mac Jones, University of Alabama: The Drew Lock experiment is not working out in Denver, and the Broncos are ready to compete next season as long as they get a quarterback. Jones is arguably the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft, even if his ceiling is lower than the four quarterbacks taken above him.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, University of Alabama: The Cowboys’ biggest need is at cornerback, and Surtain will be elite. It’s that simple.
11. New York Giants: Micah Parsons, Penn State University: Having taken care of their secondary and receiving core in free agency, the Giants will choose to shore up their linebacking core. Putting off offensive line help for day two, the Giants will select one of the highest upside prospects of the entire draft in Parsons.
Two prospects you’re high on, one you’re low on
KG: Both of the prospects I’m high on are named Kyle and are coming out of the University of Florida. The first is quarterback Kyle Trask. Pro Football Focus has him as only the sixth ranked quarterback prospect in the 2021 class, and CBS Sports has him as low as seventh. These low rankings are despite his record-setting 2020 season, in which he led the nation with 43 touchdown passes and was second in passing yards. There are reasonable concerns over his one-dimensional play style. He has very limited mobility, a direction opposite of where the league is heading. Though legs certainly help a quarterback’s case, plenty of quarterbacks who wouldn’t be considered dual threats have had significant success. Another concern is his lack of a deep ball, but there are also several quarterbacks who have championed the short pass and found success. An apt comparison for Trask is Alex Smith. Alex Smith is known for the short pass, and riding this style, he has achieved a good NFL career as a starting quarterback. No matter which team selects Trask late, they will be getting a low-risk, high-ceiling player who can be a steady starter in the NFL.
The other Kyle out of the Swamp is top tight end prospect Kyle Pitts. Here’s an interesting pattern over the recent Super Bowls: each matchup has featured two elite tight ends battling it out, even when the quarterbacks weren’t both elite. This year it was Travis Kelce vs. Rob Gronkowski. Last year it was Kelce vs. George Kittle, despite having Jimmy Garropolo, an average quarterback at best, behind the helm. The year before that it was Gronk again, and before that it was Gronk vs. Zach Ertz.
The tight end is the most underrated position in the league. There are so few elite tight ends that any team with a top tier tight end can compete for the playoffs and for championships. The athletic freak Pitts is a once in a generation tight end talent. If teams let Pitts slide out of the top 10, they will miss out.
While I think he will be a solid NFL starter during career, I don’t believe the hype surrounding Jaylen Waddle. While PFF has him as their second-best wide receiver prospect, it is ridiculous that Heisman winner DeVonta Smith is rated below him. Waddle evokes Henry Ruggs and John Ross, two speedsters who are solid WR2s but haven’t gained their touted elite status. Teams have overrated 40 yard dashes for years. Last year, the Las Vegas Raiders surprisingly took Ruggs early, despite options such as Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb still on the board. Whichever team is clouded by Waddle’s speed will regret taking him over DeVonta Smith for years to come.
I am going to start with the prospect that I am lower on because I strongly disagree with Krish’s admiration of Trask. Trask is one of the least mobile quarterbacks in recent memory both outside and inside the pocket. It’s the pocket movement that makes other slow quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady, effective, and Trask has terrible pocket movement. On top of his limited mobility, Trask’s arm strength is not very good and was consistently bailed out by Florida’s insanely talented receiving core. In Trask’s two years as starter, the Gators have had six receivers (including Pitts) who have been drafted or will be drafted. The ludicrous amount of talent that Trask threw to and the offense heavy Southeastern Conference that he played in inflated his stats and stock so much that a player who should go no earlier than the sixth round is getting second-round buzz.
My favorite prospect who isn’t a part of the top tier is Jaelan Phillips, the defensive end from the University of Miami. Phillips was the number one recruit coming out of high school, but due to multiple concussions, he had to take a couple of years off in college. This past season was his first back from injury, and he reminded everyone why he was such a highly touted recruit. Though his injury history is scary, for a team to pass on such a dynamite talent for fear of injury in a sport where any player’s career can be over in a single play makes absolutely zero sense.
Another prospect I really like is Rondale Moore, the receiver out of Purdue University. As a freshman, Moore was a consensus All-American, and the only reason he did not keep racking up accolades was because of injuries. Moore’s injuries scare me a bit more than Phillip’s because they are nagging hamstring and lower body injuries, which, as Julio Jones showed this past season, can really derail a player. As long as Moore is able to stay healthy, he is a versatile weapon for whoever drafts him. He fits the Tyreek Hill mold of receiver in that he is very small but does not lack muscle and is very quick and shifty with the ball in his hands. Hill is a bit high of a projection for Moore, but whichever team drafts him will be improving their offensive potency immensely.
With the draft quickly approaching, watch out for the storylines and the stars as teams select players that will be the cornerstones of NFL franchises for years to come.