2021 NFL Draft Burning Questions
With excitement for the 2021 NFL Draft reaching a fever pitch, it is time for us to check back in with some of the most burning questions observers have regarding what is a deep and talented draft class. We will focus on 12 questions that will likely be discussed ad nauseam leading up to draft day, but for good reason.
Will quarterbacks go 1-2-3-4?
If you believe the mock drafts, the odds are that quarterbacks will go 1-2-3-4. The New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons both have starters but may be looking for succession plans (or, in New York’s case, potentially a new starter). Failing that, we could see one or both opt to trade down with a team targeting a quarterback.
Who will be drafted first: Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater?
Penei Sewell has been hailed as a generational talent since his sophomore season. However, Rashawn Slater’s tremendous showing against Chase Young, along with his positional versatility, has him in the mix to be the first offensive lineman off the board. The odds are stacked against Slater, but if the Jets pass on Zach Wilson and want to keep Mekhi Becton at left tackle, Slater may be the name they call on draft day. Cincinnati and Miami will likely go with Sewell if they opt to select an upgraded blindside protector for Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa.
How many quarterbacks will be drafted in the top-10?
There are no fewer than six teams in the top-10 that are likely hoping to land a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, draft grades on Trey Lance and Mac Jones will dictate how many go in the top-10.
Will a receiver be drafted in the top-10?
If we have learned anything over the years, it is that mock draft season is often inundated with prognosticators overvaluing the wide receiver position. D.K. Metcalf, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy were all consistently mocked in the top-10, and all lasted past that point (with Metcalf lasting to the second round).
With that said, the difference between those drafts and the 2021 NFL Draft was the first round talent on the defensive side of the ball. This year’s class is still deep defensively but lacks the blue-chip talents with truly elite upside along the defensive line and at linebacker. This could result in one or more wide receivers getting the tap, with Cincinnati and Detroit being the ceiling for players like Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, and Jaylen Waddle.
Who will be drafted first: Devonta Smith or Ja’Marr Chase?
Devonta Smith has been spectacular for the last two seasons, and more should likely be made of the fact that he looked like the best receiver on the field when Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, two first round picks, were still on the team. It was impossible to watch either of their game films and not be taken aback by Smith, similarly to what we experienced with CeeDee Lamb when scouting Marquise Brown the year before.
However, it should be noted that it was Jaylen Waddle who functioned as the number one receiver when both were healthy in 2020. Smith piled up the yardage due to his route tree, but Waddle led the team in targets and receptions. Take from that what you will.
On the other hand, Chase was almost as productive as Smith was in 2020 back in 2019, and that was with Justin Jefferson on his team and Terrace Marshall catching 16 touchdowns. Chase is as good of a wide receiver prospect as we have seen in years and should be the first receiver off the board.
Which teams are looking to trade down?
Atlanta should and probably needs to trade down if they are not going quarterback at fourth overall. They have made some of the most perplexing first round selections over the past few years, so if they are planning to go with another position, acquiring additional draft capital to move down a couple of spots would be in their best interest.
The Miami Dolphins may not be done wheeling and dealing, especially if Penei Sewell is off the board by sixth overall. They stand to profit draft capital wise if the Panthers, Lions, or Broncos come calling, so expect them to be listening to offers right up until it is time to inform the NFL of their selection.
The Los Angeles Chargers may look to trade up if Rashawn Slater slips. The versatile offensive lineman would be a godsend for a team that has prioritized protecting franchise quarterback Justin Herbert this offseason.
Which teams are looking to trade up?
The Carolina Panthers would love to make an upgrade at quarterback and likely prefer Justin Fields or Trey Lance in Joe Brady’s offense. Atlanta or possibly even Miami are likely the teams they are talking to.
Denver may be interested in a new quarterback now that John Elway is no longer the general manager. Drew Lock has flashed, but they may very well view Fields, Lance, and Jones as superior fits. Addressing their cornerback issues in free agency increases the likelihood of a quarterback being their target in the first round. Whether they feel the need to trade up for one of the three names mentioned above is the question.
New England is another team that is likely enamored with Trey Lance and Justin Fields. They may be able to stand pat if Mac Jones is their target, but a trade up with Denver on the clock may be in the offing if they feel that the Broncos may go with Jones if they stay at ninth overall.
How many running backs will be selected in the first round?
One is always the smart answer, especially with how the position continues to be devalued across the league. However, elite talents usually sneak their way into the first round, and this year may be no different with Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. Harris is almost a lock to go in the first round, so the discourse here is whether or not there is a second team willing to spend first round draft capital on the running back position. Arizona, Miami, Washington, the New York Jets (at 23), Jacksonville (at 25), and Tampa Bay are all potential landing spots for first round running backs.
Who will be the surprise first round selection of 2021?
His talent dictates that he should not be a surprise, but his selection may shock the draftniks nonetheless. Tight end Pat Freiermuth has a strong chance to get the tap at the end of the first round to a team like the Buffalo Bills or Jacksonville Jaguars. If Pat going in the first round is not a surprise to you, then Tylan Wallace is the one receiver not commonly mocked in the first round who should be higher on the draft boards of NFL teams than that of the draft analyst community.
Who did the San Francisco 49ers trade up for?
The smart money is on the 49ers angling for Justin Fields or Trey Lance, two quarterbacks who would be exceptional with Kyle Shanahan’s offensive genius. The scuttlebutt would have you believe that Mac Jones may be their target, but there are a couple of problems with that position. The first and foremost being, you don’t need to trade up to third overall for Mac Jones. Mac Jones is not worthy of a top-three selection, and depending on which scout or team you ask, may not even have the upside to be a first round pick outside of scheme synergy. Lance or Fields will be the pick if Zach Wilson goes second overall.
Who are the Miami Dolphins targeting after trading up to sixth overall?
Do you give up a first round pick to draft a wide receiver like Ja’Marr Chase? Probably not. Do you do it if you just acquired two additional first round picks to move down from third overall to 12th overall? Possibly. Still, the smart money is on the Dolphins targeting Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater with this pick. Hearing the Miami Dolphins go with anyone else if they stand pat at sixth overall would be a major surprise.
Will the Green Bay Packers draft a first round wide receiver?
There is no reason they shouldn’t, but the Green Bay Packers organization has a history of prioritizing other positions in the first round. With that said, there are expected to be some exceptional talents on the board for the Packers taking at the end of the first round. They will have their choice of type as there will be slots, outside receivers, do-it-alls, and YaC monsters, all with first round talent.
Having Elgton Jenkins in-house to play center in the stead of the departed Corey Linsley gives them the flexibility to focus on a center later in the draft. However, whether or not a receiver they deem worthy of a first round selection drops to them at 29th overall remains to be seen.
Beyond our fantasy football content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our free mock Draft Simulator – which allows you to mock draft against realistic opponents – to our Cheat Sheet Creator – which allows you to combine rankings from 100+ experts into one cheat sheet – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football draft season.