2021 NFL Draft: What to expect inside the top ten picks

Trevor Lawrence, 2021 NFL draft (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
Trevor Lawrence, 2021 NFL draft (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

The 2021 NFL Draft is just one day away, and the scouting portion of the process is finally coming to a close. We’ve been waiting many months for draft day to arrive, so it will be fascinating to see where each prospect lands. There have been many rumors about what will happen at the top of the draft, so I want to go through the top ten picks and discuss what we can expect to happen early in the 2021 NFL Draft.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

We all know what the Jaguars are going to do with the number one overall pick. They’re taking Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence reportedly already has their playbook, and ten days ago, he announced on Twitter that he and his wife would be donating $20,000 to charities in Jacksonville after their fans sent them wedding gifts. The writing is on the wall, and it would be foolish to expect anyone else other than Lawrence to be the first player off the board.

Lawrence may struggle early on in his rookie season because he played in an offense at Clemson that relied heavily on screens, RPOs, and other one-read throws. Still, he has the physical tools and mental capabilities to be a star in the NFL.

2. New York Jets

This pick seems to be set in stone because most insiders believe the Jets will draft BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second overall pick.

The Jets recently traded Sam Darnold, so they have to draft a quarterback here. Wilson only played one season of high-level football while facing weak competition, but his arm talent is undeniable. This may sound blasphemous, but there are flashes of Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in his game when he operates outside the pocket. His ability to make things work even when plays break down could allow him to succeed in New York.

3. San Francisco 49ers

Two days ago, Ian Rapoport reported that the 49ers have narrowed down their decision to two quarterbacks: Mac Jones from Alabama and Trey Lance from North Dakota State. Interestingly, they’re likely not going to draft Ohio State’s Justin Fields, but anyone they pick here will likely succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback-friendly offense.

Mac Jones is an accurate passer who makes quick, smart decisions and has decent arm strength. He can run any offense to a tee, but he isn’t elevating the ceiling of your offense. He isn’t a great athlete, and his arm strength is just okay. His arm strength isn’t inadequate by any means, but it simply doesn’t compare to the other top quarterbacks in this class. Jones is a good prospect, but if the 49ers want a potential superstar, they will likely look elsewhere.

Now onto Trey Lance. Lance is the rawest prospect of the top five quarterbacks because he played in a run-heavy offense in college and didn’t throw the ball a lot. However, he has the best physical tools out of the group and would have an excellent chance to become a star under Kyle Shanahan. His arm strength and running ability are truly mesmerizing.

After losing to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54, I believe Shanahan will ultimately draft someone who has the physical tools to be a game-changer rather than a game manager. If you’re going to put money on this selection, you should probably bet on Trey Lance being the pick.

4. Atlanta Falcons

There are three directions the Falcons can go here. They can pick a quarterback, Kyle Pitts, or trade back to get many draft picks.

Kyle Pitts is the best non-quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft and can be a perennial All-Pro, but the Falcons need to go in another direction considering they’re diving headfirst into a complete rebuild. Pitts would be awesome in this offense, but they have a lot of holes all over their roster, and Matt Ryan won’t be there in two years. They have to prepare for what’s to come in the near future.

Trading back would be a great choice because the Falcons have so little talent in their secondary while also having a huge need for an elite pass-rusher. If the Falcons trade back, they could choose from several talented defensive players, including Jaelan Phillips, Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain II, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. All four of these players are extremely good and would immediately make this defense better.

The final choice is taking a quarterback, and this is the smartest move for the future. Matt Ryan has a massive contract, and the Falcons can release him in two seasons without taking on a substantial dead cap hit.

Since he played at an average level over the last two seasons and is already thirty-five years old, the Falcons will look to get rid of that contract as soon as possible. With that in mind, they should probably look to find his replacement very soon, and they just so happen to have a top-five pick in a draft with a historically good quarterback class.

If Lawrence, Wilson, and Lance go off the board in the first three picks, the Falcons have the opportunity to draft Justin Fields, who has an excellent argument to be the second-best quarterback in the draft. Fields’ combination of arm strength, mobility, and accuracy is rare and puts him in the same class as former top quarterbacks such as Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray.

It’s crazy that he is likely to be the fourth quarterback taken because he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, played at an elite level for two seasons at Ohio State, then tested well at his pro day, all while having great physical tools. He’s the kind of prospect you’d expect everyone to love. However, that isn’t the case.

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Fields would have to sit on the bench for at least one season in Atlanta, but this would allow him to improve as a processor and learn an entirely new offense. If this happens, which I expect, Fields could explode in his second season and be a pro bowl level player. Their GM wants to draft a quarterback, and Fields is too good to pass up at pick number four. Also, don’t be surprised if the Falcons take Trey Lance here if he’s available because they reportedly love him.

5. Cincinnati Bengals

Here’s another exciting pick because the Bengals can pick Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, or Rashawn Slater, and none of these players would be a bad pick. They’re all excellent prospects who can have a significant impact in the NFL.

The Bengals’ offensive line was abysmal last season, and they don’t have a star tackle. If they want to make sure that Joe Burrow is protected and won’t get hurt because of their offensive line, they can take Sewell or Slater. If they want to get a potential star receiver, they can take Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase.

No pick will be a mistake here, but Joe Burrow has reportedly been pushing for Chase, and a lot of mock drafts have the Bengals taking the former LSU star, so that’s who I expect them to take. Chase is a phenomenal outside receiver who can beat press coverage with physicality and stacks opposing corners with ease. If the Bengals go this route, they can fill out their offensive line on days two and three, which might be the better move going forward.

You don’t need an elite offensive line to win in the NFL. All you need are a great quarterback, receivers who get open quickly, and an average offensive line. The Bengals already have a potential franchise quarterback; now they need a star receiver and a few interior offensive linemen.

6. Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins did a lot of maneuvering to get to the sixth pick, but here they are. They have many options here, including Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater, Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith.

The Dolphins actually don’t need to draft a tackle here because their offensive line is fine. It’s not great, but it was around average in sacks given up and sack rate last season. If they genuinely want to see what they have in Tua Tagovailia, they should probably look to draft a pass catcher.

Jaylen Waddle is the best fit with this roster because he can play in the slot and generate yards after the catch on short routes while also being a deep threat, but Kyle Pitts is the best player available. If Ja’Marr Chase is off the board and Kyle Pitts is still available, they will likely take Pitts to help out Tua and give him someone who can get open and make contested catches with his insane wingspan.

7. Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions have many needs, and there aren’t many picks that wouldn’t make sense here. They could get a star tackle since Tyrell Crosby is in the last year of his contract, but their receiving core is extremely weak. They don’t have a true number one receiver who can consistently get open and make plays with the ball in their hands, so I expect them to take DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle.

It seems like every NFL team is enamored with Waddle’s speed and his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands, while Smith’s stock is in question after he officially weighed in at 166 lbs. Smith has the skills to make up for his small frame,  but everyone is looking for the next Tyreek Hill, and Waddle could potentially be that guy.

If a quarterback is available, don’t be surprised if the Lions take one to be their franchise cornerstone. The only reason why they received Jared Goff in the Matthew Stafford trade was to get an extra first-round pick. They do not have to stick with him as their quarterback, and if they have the opportunity to draft Justin Fields or Trey Lance, they should.

8. Carolina Panthers

I don’t think the Panthers will have to think too long about this pick. They just traded for Sam Darnold, and their right tackle, Taylor Morton, is playing under the franchise tag. They could use a star left tackle to protect their new quarterback, so I expect them to draft Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater. Slater is closer to Sewell than people think, especially in the minds of NFL teams, but Sewell has the higher upside, so he’s probably going to be the pick.

If neither of the tackles are available, we could see Jaycee Horn or Patrick Surtain come off the board here. The Panthers need a second corner to pair with Donte Jackson, and either of these guys is a good option.

9. Denver Broncos

The Broncos have a pretty good roster with very few holes. After adding Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby over the offseason, they have a good cornerback group, so their most significant needs are right tackle, linebacker, and quarterback.

They may trade up with the Falcons to get Justin Fields or Trey Lance because Drew Lock hasn’t worked out so far. However, the recent Teddy Bridgewater trade likely decreases the chances of any quarterback selection. If one of the premier tackles is available, they could take Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater.

Micah Parsons is another name that has been connected to the Broncos. They have a significant need at inside linebacker, and many people believe he could fill that role. However, Parsons doesn’t have the coverage skills to maximize Vic Fangio’s defense. There is one linebacker who can do pretty much everything while also being an elite athlete. That player is Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

JOK is unlikely to be drafted inside the top ten, but he is better in coverage and has better instincts than Parsons. If Fangio wants a jack-of-all-trades linebacker who can play in the slot, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos take Owusu-Koramoah with the 9th pick.

10. Dallas Cowboys

Defense! Defense! Defense!

The Cowboys need to repair their defense, and they can start by picking a cornerback or an edge rusher. Patrick Surtain is a popular pick here, and this pairing would be great. The Cowboys hired Dan Quinn to be their defensive coordinator, and his defense relies heavily on zone coverage and, more specifically, cover-three zone coverage.

Surtain is very good in zone coverage while also being one of the better press-man corners in the draft. Jaycee Horn is the best press-man corner in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he wouldn’t be a great fit in this scheme.

Although the Cowboys desperately need help on defense, they could take an offensive tackle here if either Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater is available. Their offensive line struggled last year because they dealt with a ton of injuries. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins both missed most of last season, and a few of their top blockers, Tyron Smith and Zach Martin, will be over thirty years old.

Another sneaky pick here would be Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips. The Cowboys need an edge rusher to go alongside Demarcus Lawrence, and this duo would be deadly. Phillips is an elite athlete and has the bend and technique to be a pro-bowl caliber pass rusher in the NFL. His injury history is concerning, but the talent is undeniable.

Next. Final 2021 Big Board. dark

The 2021 NFL Draft has a chance to be one of the most exciting drafts ever.

The 2021 NFL Draft will be one of the most exciting drafts in recent memory due to covid opt-outs and the NFL combine getting canceled. Teams weren’t able to get as much information on prospects as they would in previous years, making this a strange and unique draft. No one knows what’s going to happen on day one of the NFL draft, but each team inside the top ten has various options. Hopefully, this helped prepare you for what may occur within the top ten picks of the 2021 NFL Draft.