10 Biggest Questions Prior to the 2021 NFL Draft
This NFL Draft preparation process may look different than ever before, but the event itself is still coming. With that, here are 10 of the biggest questions as we get ready for the 2021 NFL Draft.
1. How will the lack of the Scouting Combine affect the draft?
Teams work hard to identify diamonds in the rough, but without the Combine and a limited college football season, that job is infinitely harder this year. That February weekend in Indianapolis gives coaches and general managers a chance to get a closer look at potential prospects. The lack of face-to-face interaction will likely cause some teams to take chances on players who may otherwise fall off their draft board. It should also widen the gap between the teams who tend to draft and scout well and those who do not.
2. Will New England draft a quarterback in the first round?
Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are probably out of reach, but the Patriots could be in play for almost any other quarterback on the board. Bill Belichick isn’t the type to make a big splash in the first round but addressing the quarterback position is one of his biggest offseason priorities. Staying put in the first round could put them in a position for Trey Lance or, possibly, Mac Jones, but there is another scenario that intrigues me. They could pick a playmaking receiver at 15 and then trade into the back end of the first round and take Florida’s, Kyle Trask. How Belichick handles this will be one of the bigger storylines of draft weekend.
3. Will the Jets trade for Deshaun Watson?
Watson has reportedly said New York is his preferred landing spot in a trade, and the Jets have plenty of draft capital to make it happen. Watson is an elite talent, and adding him now could accomplish two things for the Jets: Put them in contention in a winnable division and keep him away from the rival Dolphins, who also seem to be in play. The move seems almost too obvious, but if the Jets fall in love with Justin Fields, it would make sense to keep their treasure trove of picks intact and fill the other obvious holes on the roster. The opportunity to get a player like Watson might be too good to pass up, especially if New York feels they are just an elite quarterback away from being in playoff contention.
4. Who will trade up and take Mac Jones?
Jones is coming off a spectacular season for Alabama and, despite just one year as a starter, will check a lot of boxes. The upside of Jones may not be as high as Trey Lance or Zach Wilson, but Jones may represent a safer option for coaches and general managers. With a strong arm and the ability to make good decisions on pre-snap reads, Jones has the intangibles teams love. He has gone from a 3rd day pick to a potential top-10 selection, and it will only take one team to believe he is their quarterback for the next decade to trade up and make that happen.
5. Will a running back be taken in the first round?
This draft is top-heavy for running backs, with Najee Harris being the clear top back available. Will his combination of size, speed, and work in the passing game be enough for a team to take him in the first round? Possibly. There are plenty of analytical-based reasons for teams to avoid this scenario, but seemingly every year, we have at least one team who pulls the first-round running back trigger. Despite the value of taking a player at almost any other position (besides kicker or punter), teams can’t help themselves. Harris could be taken as early as #18 with the Dolphins, but the Bills seem like the perfect fit of need and draft capital at #30.
6. Will Ben Roethlisberger retire?
That is the $19 million question in Pittsburgh (Roethlisberger is due just over $21 million next year whether he plays or not – think about that for a second), and the answer will shape how the Steelers approach things in May. With an offensive line that will need to be rebuilt from scratch and a defensive line that isn’t getting any younger, the Steelers have plenty of holes to fill regardless of who is under the center. Mason Rudolph and the newly signed Dwayne Haskins are already on the roster, and it doesn’t seem like the Steelers would trade up to take Lance, Wilson, or Jones. If Roethlisberger does hang it up, a bridge year with either Rudolph or Haskins seems likely.
7. Who is the best player in the draft not named Trevor Lawrence?
I think a lot of people would say Penei Sewell out of Oregon, and for good reason. He has the makings of a 10-year pro at tackle, and he will likely be Joe Burrow‘s protector for the duration of his time in Cincinnati, but I am going to go with Kyle Pitts out of Florida. Pitts is officially listed as a tight end, but he will be a matchup nightmare for defenses based on his ability to lineup all over the formation. With the speed to outrun linebackers and the size to beat corners and safeties, Pitts could find himself as a top-5 tight end as soon as next season.
8. Where will Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle end up?
Had COVID-19 not been a thing, Chase might be regarded as the shoo-in WR1 for the class, but after he opted out for the season, the door opened, and Devonta Smith swooped in. Despite Smith’s incredible 2020 season and his footwork off the line, Chase still might be the best receiver in the class. At 6’0 and 207, he’s got good size, and he averaged over 21 yards per catch as a sophomore at LSU in 2019, so the big play ability is there. Waddle is a more interesting case as he might have been the best receiver on the Alabama roster this year. Injuries and Smith’s performance have knocked some of the shine off of him, but he is very talented. Someone is going to potentially get a top-10 player at a reduced cost.
9. Which current QB-needy teams will still be in that position?
With Matt Stafford and Deshaun Watson on the trade market and some veteran rentals (Cam Newton, anyone?) also available, there will be a shift in the quarterback market by draft night. Outside of Jacksonville, who seems almost a lock to take Trevor Lawrence, there is a lot of uncertainty that will ultimately drive how the first round shakes out. Teams like the Jets, Panthers, Patriots, and Washington Football Team all could be looking at taking a quarterback in the first round. The Lions and Texans may also find themselves in that group, which would mean a flurry of trades as teams jockey to get their signal-caller of choice.
10. Which team will make a pick or trade that leaves people shaking their heads?
My money for this is on the Jets, although they are in a position that will be tough to screw up. Either trade for Watson or stay put and draft Fields. Seems simple enough, right? It wouldn’t come as a surprise if they end up deviating from that, although I am willing to try and give new coach Robert Saleh the benefit of the doubt.
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