There are bound to be some spectacular busts in this year’s NFL draft, just like every year before it.
The cold reality of the process is that not every first-round pick can turn into a Hall of Famer, and the players your favorite team takes on Day 3 won’t all be diamonds in the rough who turn into 10-year starters.
That said, the football world can be confident that these five players are destined for stardom at the professional level.
TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The phrase associated with Pitts that pops up everywhere you look is “nightmare matchup.”
It’s little wonder why draft evaluators universally feel that way, with Pitts’ 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame combined with a 4.44-second 40 time and reliable hands. Pitts is often ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the class, absurdly high for his position. No tight end has been selected in the top five since 1972, but he might break that mold.
That’s partly due to the rising star potential of his position. From Rob Gronkowski’s heyday to the emergence of Travis Kelce and George Kittle, athletic tight ends have become more valuable — and more desired — weapons in passing games around the NFL. Pitts is ready to join them in the pro ranks.
WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
The wide receiver class is stacked this year, with five to seven receivers projected as first-round picks. There’s particular star power at slot receiver — two hail from Alabama, Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith — but Chase rises above them all as the complete package.
Chase, who opted out of the 2020 college football season, has top-end speed and more size than Waddle and Smith, allowing him to line up anywhere in an offense’s formation. He averaged 21.2 yards per catch and caught 20 touchdowns in 2019 for national champion LSU. Scouts have said Chase can still improve as a route-runner, which makes his pro potential all the more frightening for defensive coordinators who will have to deal with him.
CB Patrick Surtain, Alabama
Most mock drafts are predicting a run on offensive players to kick off the first round. Surtain might not go until the Dallas Cowboys pick at No. 10, but he’s the best defensive prospect available this year. SEC quarterbacks rarely challenged Surtain, whose length is ideal for a prototypical shutdown corner at the next level.
“I can’t say enough about this guy in every regard. He’s gonna be very successful, no doubt,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said last season, pointing to Surtain’s smarts and coachability in particular. And the Crimson Tide know how to churn out NFL-ready defensive backs. Surtain is following in the footsteps of Marlon Humphrey (2016 first-rounder), Minkah Fitzpatrick (2017 first-rounder) and Xavier McKinney and Trevon Diggs (both 2020 second-rounders).
OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
It’s not the sexiest position out there, but star left tackles certainly exist, and this year’s draft class is heavy on those all-important blindside protectors. Some analysts prefer Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater or Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, both projected for the first round, but Sewell has been the class’s most coveted lineman for a few years.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was just a sophomore when he won the 2019 Outland Trophy — the award given to the best college lineman, offensive or defensive. According to Oregon’s athletics site, Sewell only allowed one sack in two seasons starting for the Ducks. Scouts believe he has a high floor, and generally speaking, first-round tackles rarely turn out to be busts unless you’re talking about Tony Mandarich.
QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence is the most acclaimed quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and the Jacksonville Jaguars will make him the first overall selection Thursday. But rather than reciting all of Lawrence’s talents and traits, let’s instead remember that star college quarterbacks are not in complete control of their NFL success. First, Lawrence needs to walk into a situation where the franchise is set up to build around him.
The Jaguars have swung and missed on first-round QBs before (Blake Bortles in 2014, Blaine Gabbert in 2011). Perhaps those players’ careers would have turned out differently if Jacksonville didn’t lack talented skill players to complement them or cycle through coaching staffs so frequently. But with Urban Meyer hired as coach and four more draft picks in the first three rounds, this time feels different.
No pressure, kid.
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media
Identifying Super Bowl contenders in win-now mode is rather simple this time of year.
The Kansas City Chiefs wasted little time stacking a complete offensive line in front of Patrick Mahomes after watching helplessly as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers devoured their half-billion dollar quarterback in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were in the running for multiple left tackles, acquired Orlando Brown from the Ravens and signed the top interior lineman on the market in guard Joe Thuney. We’re betting former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher, recovering from a torn Achilles, gets a reunion offer there, too.
Keeping pace with the Chiefs was a challenge for pretty much every team this side of Tampa. The Buccaneers committed to a run-it-back tour by keeping all of their key parts from the Lombardi float trip and brought in another durable running back in Giovani Bernard.
Will other 2020 contenders remain in the thick of it all by hitting home runs in the 2021 draft?
Here are five trades we’d suggest for potential title teams in 2021:
1. Buffalo Bills trade up, draft Alabama running back Najee Harris
Josh Allen’s contract is headline news in New York, but the roadmap to the AFC Championship game involves finding a reliable RB1 first.
Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams are all sensible targets for the Bills with the 30th overall selection. To get Harris, the Bills likely need to jump ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (24th) and get into the high teens. Depending on the number of wide receivers and cornerbacks off the board in the top 15 — we’re counting on five quarterbacks — it’s possible Harris might not last even that long.
He’s a bruiser with dominant production in the SEC and the Derrick Henry comparisons go beyond the Tide connection.
Buffalo didn’t get what it wanted from Zack Moss and Devin Singletary can’t handle a lunchpail workload. Allen as a leading rusher is a good way for the Bills to work their way out of the AFC playoff conversation.
2. Denver Broncos acquire No. 4 pick from Atlanta Falcons
Depending on which side of the fence you stand on this time of year, whispers about Trey Lance or Mac Jones as the No. 3 pick are leaving open the possibility that Justin Fields will be available to the highest bidder starting with the fourth pick.
The Atlanta Falcons can ask for a mint to move out of this spot or attempt to rebuild on the fly.
The Falcons can’t afford to trade Matt Ryan — literally, his cap hit is too great under the 2021 structure — so they part with the fourth overall pick and get Nos. 9 and 40 from the Broncos in return.
Denver drafts Fields after closely courting him the past two months and the Falcons can consider Jones or the best offensive lineman available with the ninth pick.
At No. 40, the Falcons are well equipped to take a flier on a pass rusher such as Miami’s Gregory Rousseau or Michigan’s Kwity Paye.
Fields isn’t a must-start immediately for the Broncos depending on Drew Lock’s development, but he’s the future for one of the few NFL teams with no answer to that all-important question.
3. Miami Dolphins acquire No. 8 pick from the Carolina Panthers for Nos. 18, 50
The Dolphins are ready to cash in on their rebuilding bounty and give Tua Tagovailoa everything he needs to succeed.
Already armed with the sixth overall pick, the Dolphins slide back into the top 10 to guarantee coming away with two of the top playmakers in the draft.
That should equal an offense that centers around Tagovailoa, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts and either LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Heisman winner DeVonta Smith or dynamic Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
4. Chicago Bears acquire No. 5 pick from Cincinnati Bengals
Unless general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have gone through the double secret handshake with president and CEO Ted Phillips, their necks are on the line again this season.
Missing the playoffs and then taking the field with either Andy Dalton or Nick Foles and no plan beyond that is swimming with sharks — with an open wound, in a fish tank.
Does Jones warrant the fifth overall pick?
We can’t decide. He’s a proven winner, has enough arm and would be more of a marketing play than the Red Rifle.
The trouble with missing on top five quarterbacks is the setback that follows (see Trubisky, Mitchell).
The trouble with not taking the necessary risks to find the right man for the job? Pace and Nagy would be risking their own jobs by standing pat.
To get to this spot from No. 20, Pace parts with defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, the 20th pick and Chicago’s 2022 first-rounder.
5. Green Bay Packers acquire No. 10 pick from the Dallas Cowboys.
With all of the offensive firepower owner Jerry Jones coveted off the board, Dallas takes a bundle of picks from Mike McCarthy’s old team and Green Bay breaks character.
But while Aaron Rodgers celebrates at the thought of another playmaker, Green Bay selects Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons to man the middle of a new-look defense. Cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn could also invite interest.
Dallas slides all the way down to 29 where safety is a good match. The Cowboys add a second-round pick to address defensive shortcomings in bulk.
–By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media
Quarterback needs are significant entering draft week, with as many as seven teams looking at uncertain or open depth charts at the position.
Three of the top four picks appear to be almost certain to be used on quarterbacks and the possibility that five signal-callers are gone by the 10th overall pick is a realistic one.
Jacksonville continues its hard reset under Urban Meyer with a franchise quarterback in Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence before the chaos and unpredictability of the top 10 takes center stage.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
The preordained No. 1 pick in this draft since he was a college freshman, Lawrence represents the best chance the Jaguars have ever had to revitalize the franchise.
2. New York Jets: QB Zach Wilson, Brigham Young
The conventional wisdom for more than a month now is that the Jets favor Wilson, or “Mormon Mahomes” according to some fans, with the second pick as they start over yet again at quarterback.
3. San Francisco 49ers: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
The “buzz” for this pick has pointed to Alabama’s Mac Jones ever since the 49ers traded up, but they’d be unwise to pass on Fields’ accuracy and athleticism.
4. Atlanta Falcons: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Matt Ryan is entering his age-36 season, and Atlanta’s new coach and general manager (Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot) may want to begin their tenures by picking their quarterback of the future.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Joe Burrow reportedly lobbied the Bengals’ front office to select his former college teammate, who would fit in alongside Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to form a dynamic set of weapons.
6. Miami Dolphins: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
Many draft evaluators rank Pitts as the No. 2 overall prospect in this year’s class, with dangerous speed for his 6-foot-6 frame.
7. Detroit Lions: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Detroit is thin at wide receiver after letting Kenny Golladay leave in free agency, and this receiver class has budding stars in the first round.
8. Carolina Panthers: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
The best tackle in the class falls to the Panthers, who have weapons and a new quarterback in Sam Darnold but need more protection to make the offense truly click.
9. Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
Denver could be interested in a quarterback. With needs everywhere, the Broncos make Surtain the first defensive player off the board.
10. Dallas Cowboys: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
The Dallas sports media seems certain the Cowboys are targeting one of the top cornerbacks in the class — Surtain or Horn — to help improve a woeful pass defense.
11. New York Giants: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
The best defensive player available to New York at this point is Parsons, an all-around talent who can cover, tackle and join the pass-rush.
12. Philadelphia Eagles: WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
The Heisman Trophy winner only weighed in at 166 pounds at the medical combine, but the receiver-starved Eagles shouldn’t bat an eye.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
The Chargers have found their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert, but he was sacked 32 times in 15 games as a rookie.
14. Minnesota Vikings: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
The first edge rusher off the board heads to a defense that generated the fifth-fewest sacks in the league last season.
15. New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
Selecting your next franchise QB after Tom Brady is a huge decision; luckily, Bill Belichick can get the inside scoop on Jones from his pal, Alabama coach Nick Saban.
16. Arizona Cardinals: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The Cardinals get a nice replacement for Patrick Peterson, their star defensive back who signed with the Vikings in free agency.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
Owusu-Koramoah would line up on the weak side opposite free agent signing Yannick Ngakoue to make the Raiders’ defense a bit more fearsome.
18. Miami Dolphins: LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky
With two picks in the top 18, Miami can spend one on offense and one on defense, where fresh talent is also sorely needed.
19. Washington Football Team: OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, Southern California
Washington has question marks at left tackle and left guard, and Vera-Tucker can play either spot.
20. Chicago Bears: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Offensive line is one of a couple of major needs for the Bears. Lucky for them, the third-best tackle in the class slides down the board to them here.
21. Indianapolis Colts: EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Ojulari dominated SEC competition, leading the conference with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, with only his 6-foot-2 frame holding him back from being chosen higher.
22. Tennessee Titans: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
With receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith departing in free agency, the Titans will be glad to find a new pass-catcher to complement A.J. Brown.
23. New York Jets: CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
If selected here, Newsome might become the Jets’ best corner by default, given how poor they were at the position in 2020.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
Too early to take a running back? Not if you’re the Steelers, who had the worst rushing offense in the NFL last year and who don’t have an obvious No. 1 back on the roster.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
Historically the Jaguars have loved to select prospects from nearby Gainesville, Florida — and besides, Trevor Lawrence will need someone to throw to.
26. Cleveland Browns: OLB Zaven Collins, Tulsa
One of the best smaller-school prospects available, Collins would fit in with a front seven the Browns are trying to improve (see: the Jadeveon Clowney signing).
27. Baltimore Ravens: EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami (FL)
Baltimore also needs more help at receiver, but it could take the sting out of losing both Ngakoue and Matt Judon this offseason with a first-round pass-rusher of Phillips’ caliber.
28. New Orleans Saints: DT Christian Barmore, Alabama
The Saints have few glaring weaknesses, so they turn to the best available prospect, a 310-pounder whom one draft evaluator said “competes with violent intentions.”
29. Green Bay Packers: OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
With all four first-round-caliber corners off the board, Green Bay instead shores up right tackle, where Jenkins (6-foot-7, 320 pounds) excelled in college.
30. Buffalo Bills: DE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
With both starting defensive ends entering their mid-30s, Buffalo ought to take a chance in this spot on either Oweh or Miami (FL)’s Gregory Rousseau, both of whom are considered boom-or-bust prospects.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: OT/OG Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
The Chiefs moved on from two veteran starting tackles by releasing Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, leaving important holes to fill.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DT Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
The Super Bowl champs get richer by taking a fast defensive lineman who can learn from the likes of vets Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars: S Trevon Moehrig, Texas Christian
34. New York Jets: C Landon Dickerson, Alabama
35. Atlanta Falcons: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
36. Miami Dolphins: WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
37. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
38. Cincinnati Bengals: C Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma
39. Carolina Panthers: TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
40. Denver Broncos: LB Nick Bolton, Missouri
41. Detroit Lions: OT Jalen Mayfield, Michigan
42. New York Giants: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami (FL)
43. San Francisco 49ers: EDGE Joe Tryon, Washington
44. Dallas Cowboys: EDGE Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma
45. Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Javonte Williams, North Carolina
46. New England Patriots: WR Terrace Marshall, LSU
47. Los Angeles Chargers: S Richie Grant, Central Florida
48. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
49. Arizona Cardinals: WR Tutu Atwell, Louisville
50. Miami Dolphins: OT Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame
51. Washington Football Team: LB Jabril Cox, LSU
52. Chicago Bears: QB Davis Mills, Stanford
53. Tennessee Titans: CB Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
54. Indianapolis Colts: OT Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
55. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT/OG Jackson Carman, Clemson
56. Seattle Seahawks: EDGE Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
57. Los Angeles Rams: CB Elijah Molden, Washington
58. Baltimore Ravens: WR Rondale Moore, Purdue
59. Cleveland Browns: EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas
60. New Orleans Saints: QB Kyle Trask, Florida
61. Buffalo Bills: CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
62. Green Bay Packers: CB Eric Stokes, Georgia
63. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Aaron Robinson, Central Florida
64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Dyami Brown, North Carolina
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media
The Atlanta Falcons are fielding calls from teams interested in the No. 4 overall pick in this month’s draft and “are open to moving” from the spot, ESPN reported Tuesday.
The teams in the first three spots — Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers — all appear ready to select a quarterback. But with some mock drafts predicting five quarterbacks will be taken within the first seven picks, some QB-needy teams could be looking to move up.
The Jaguars are expected to take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick.
Other quarterbacks projected to fall off the board quickly when the draft begins April 29 in Cleveland are Zach Wilson of BYU, Mac Jones of Alabama, Justin Fields of Ohio State and Trey Lance of North Dakota State.
The Jets, who traded away starting QB Sam Darnold to Carolina on Monday, are reportedly set on Wilson.
Teams that potentially could seek a move up are the Denver Broncos, who have the No. 9 overall pick, as well as the New England Patriots (No. 15) and Chicago Bears (No. 20).
The Falcons enter the 2021 season with veteran Matt Ryan at quarterback. He signed a five-year, $150 million contract extension in May 2018, but he turns 36 in May, and the Falcons could choose their quarterback of the future should they retain the pick.
–Field Level Media
The NFL announced Monday that a select number of fans and prospects will be invited to attend the April 29-May 1 draft in Cleveland.
The entire 2020 NFL Draft was conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are thrilled to be heading to Cleveland for the NFL Draft, which has become one of the most highly anticipated events in sports” NFL executive vice president Peter O’Reilly said in a news release. “Just months after executing a safe and successful Super Bowl LV, we look forward to bringing the excitement of our Draft traditions to fans in collaboration with the Browns, Destination Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the City of Cleveland, and all of our local Cleveland partners.”
Each of the 32 teams will choose fans who have been fully vaccinated to serve as “draft ambassadors.” The NFL did not specify how many fans will be picked.
They will have front-row seats at the NFL Draft main stage, where the pick announcements will be made by commissioner Roger Goodell and other special guests.
Draft festivities will take place at multiple Cleveland locations, including FirstEnergy Stadium, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center.
“Cleveland welcomes the 2021 NFL Draft to our city,” Mayor Frank G. Jackson said. “Residents and visitors from around the world will experience Cleveland’s hospitality and see why our city continues to be a destination of choice for large-scale events. We look forward to working with the Cleveland Browns, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the NFL and our other partners to execute a safe, successful event in accordance with health and safety guidelines.”
Media crews from NFL Network, ESPN and ABC will also be on-site for the draft.
Prospects who aren’t invited to Cleveland will participate remotely from their homes.
Team personnel involved in the selection process will be permitted to gather in draft rooms at locations of their choosing.
Building on the success of the 2020 Draft-A-Thon, the 2021 draft will once again serve as a platform to heighten awareness of issues impacting communities adversely affected by the pandemic.
–Field Level Media
The Dallas Cowboys have been awarded four compensatory picks for the upcoming NFL Draft, the league announced Wednesday.
The Cowboys get an extra pick in Rounds 3-6 after losing seven to free agency — including cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn — and gaining three.
The Los Angeles Rams were awarded three picks for losing three and gaining one. The Rams get two third-rounders and a fourth.
The New Orleans Saints were also awarded two third-rounders and a sixth-round pick. The Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were also awarded three picks.
A total of 37 compensatory picks were awarded to 17 different teams.
The New England Patriots received the highest compensatory pick, a third-round selection that is No. 96 overall. The Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans, 49ers and Baltimore Ravens also received third-round picks.
In addition to the Cowboys, Rams, Patriots and Saints, fourth-rounders also went to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs.
The formula for compensation picks is based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.
–Field Level Media
Projected No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence said the recovery from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder is going well.
The former Clemson quarterback had the labrum repaired in his left shoulder on Feb. 16.
“As you know, this is really the first serious thing that I’ve dealt with, but I’m doing great,” Lawrence told ESPN on Tuesday. “I actually feel way better than I thought I would at this point.”
After having the surgery, Lawrence’s goal was to be ready prior to training camp. He is expected to starting throwing in late April or early May.
Lawrence is currently rehabbing in Orange County in California.
The Jacksonville Jaguars own the top pick in the 2021 draft and are expected to tab Lawrence.
Lawrence completed 758 of 1,138 passes (66.6 percent) over three seasons at Clemson and recorded totals of 10,098 passing yards, 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He added 943 yards and 18 scores on the ground.
Lawrence guided the Tigers to the national championship following the 2018 season.
–Field Level Media
Scouts can roll into Alabama to check out the sterling Crimson Tide draft class on March 23.
With the NFL Scouting Combine shuttered this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prospects entered in the 2021 NFL Draft expect heightened scrutiny at pro day workouts held on their college campuses.
Presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence moved up his own workout this month at the suggestion of new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer. The Clemson quarterback underwent left shoulder surgery and the early pro day cleared his schedule for recovery.
Clemson’s pro day will be held on March 11.
The national champion Crimson Tide could challenge the draft record of six first-round picks that was set by Miami (Fla.) in 2004. Alabama’s list of prized prospects includes wide receive DeVonta Smith, running back Najee Harris, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, linebacker Dylan Moses and defensive lineman LaBryan Ray.
Smith won the Heisman Trophy and scorched Ohio State in the first half of the CFP national championship game before exiting in the third quarter with a hand injury.
He attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., but did not make himself available for workouts or official measurements.
Smith is widely viewed as an expected top-10 pick.
Quarterback Mac Jones is another draft-eligible option from Alabama and some pundits have the him projected to be selected in the first round.
Jones will be competing for attention with the likes of North Dakota State’s Trey Lance (whose pro day is scheduled for March 12), BYU’s Zach Wilson (March 26) and Ohio State’s Justin Fields (March 30).
Below is a list of known pro days released by the NFL on Wednesday:
North Dakota State
Middle Tennessee State
San Jose State
San Diego State
South Dakota State
North Carolina State
–Field Level Media