2021 NFL Draft Burning Questions
The NFL “offseason” flies by. I used the quotes because the NFL really never sleeps.
Later this month, free agency will get underway. And before you know it, Roger Goodell will be announcing Trevor Lawrence as the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The only thing we can bank on in this year’s draft is that Lawrence will go first. After that, things get interesting. Here are my burning questions leading up to next month’s draft.
1. What will the New York Jets do?
The draft really begins with the New York Jets at No. 2 overall. The Jets have a ton of options, and nobody really knows what they’ll do. The most common prediction is Gang Green will part ways with Sam Darnold, then take Zach Wilson or Justin Fields second overall. Jets general manager Joe Douglas recently revealed that the team would field trade calls on Darnold.
#Jets GM Joe Douglas said he “will answer the call” when teams call about trading for Sam Darnold.
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) March 3, 2021
This is quite a change of tone for Douglas, who previously spoke much more glowingly of Darnold. However, it’s not a guarantee the Jets trade Darnold. He’s still widely regarded as a prospect with plenty of upside. And it’s entirely possible Darnold’s play was dragged down by terrible coaching, a lousy offensive line, and a lack of talent around him.
So there’s still the possibility the Jets hang onto Darnold and take Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. They could also trade down to later inside the top 10 and take a playmaker like Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, or Kyle Pitts.
The options are endless for the Jets. The decision they make could have long-lasting ramifications.
2. How early do the top four quarterbacks go?
Teams have become much more aggressive in pursuing elite quarterback prospects. Last year, three quarterbacks were taken within the first six picks. In 2018, four quarterbacks went within the top 10. This year, there are four quarterback prospects with elite upside: Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, and North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance.
There’s a decent chance all four are off the board within the first 10 picks. Excluding Miami, who I think ultimately sticks with Tua Tagovailoa, there are five teams with a top 10 pick who need a quarterback: Jacksonville, New York, Atlanta, Carolina, and Denver. You also can’t rule out the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, or Chicago Bears getting aggressive and trading up into the top 10 to get their guy.
Free agency will certainly give us greater clarity of how much demand there is on draft day. But I’m guessing we’ll see teams get especially aggressive to land whoever the last of the top four QB prospects let on the board.
3. Where do the top three pass catchers land?
It’s a fairly deep wide receiver class this year, but Chase, Smith, and Pitts clearly stand out from the group. And I’m really curious to see where they land in the draft, especially if there’s a rush for quarterbacks early on.
My expectation is Chase to be the first pass-catcher off the board, and he could go as high as No. 3 overall to the Miami Dolphins. If not Miami, I suspect Chase won’t get past the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 6. Smith and Pitts likely won’t be on the board much longer, as the Detroit Lions (7th overall) and New York Giants (11th overall) have a glaring need for skill position players. I wouldn’t rule out a team like New England trading up to get one of these three guys or Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
I am a huge fan of all three of these rookies, as well as Waddle. But where they land will play a big role in whether they’re fantasy factors in 2021.
4. Where do Najee Harris and Travis Etienne land?
This is a pretty thin running back class, with Najee Harris and Travis Etienne being the clear-cut prospects. They’ll likely be the only two tailbacks taken in Round 1, and there’s plenty of demand for both of them.
In his latest mock draft, our own Mike Tagliere believes Harris will wind up with the Miami Dolphins, while Etienne will be drafted at the end of Round 1 to Tampa Bay. These would be amazing fits from a fantasy perspective for both runners. The Dolphins relied on Myles Gaskin as their lead back much of last year, while the Bucs relied on a committee approach featuring Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones.
Etienne on Tampa Bay’s offense would be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Tom Brady loves checking down to his tailbacks (just ask James White), and Etienne is a threat to take it to the house any time he touches the ball.
Something tells me both players could be off the board earlier than expected. There’s a significant drop-off in the class and plenty of teams who need help at running back. The Bills, Packers, Steelers, Jets, Cardinals, and Patriots all could be interested in landing one of these top two backs.
Situation obviously matters, but I’m a big believer in both backs regardless. Unless they join teams with crowded backfields, I’ll be targeting both Etienne and Harris in dynasty and redraft formats.
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.