NFL Draft rumors can hint at what direction teams might go with their picks, but the leaks are often smoke used to generate buzz and potential trade interest. It’s especially true as draft day gets closer, with final grades on prospects finalized and general managers wanting to convince another team to overpay in a trade.
There are going to be plenty of surprises on April 29, moves that will leaves analysts scratching their heads and picks that will shock the NFL world. With that in mind, let’s dive into our bold predictions for the 2021 NFL Draft.
San Francisco 49ers draft Trey Lance
Kyle Shanahan has had a type at quarterback for years. Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo have all experienced varying levels of success in his scheme. It comes as no surprise after the 49ers traded up that Mac Jones is viewed around the league as the likely target, he fits the exact mold Shanahan prefers. But that is based on old thinking.
Shanahan blasted the notion he is looking for the next Cousins and that’s not to create greater mystery around the pick. During the 2020 season, long before the 49ers were thinking about drafting a quarterback, San Francisco’s head coach explained how his thinking on the position has changed.
It’s not that Jones is a bad talent, he can be a quality starter. But if the 49ers are focused on evolving, which the price they paid for the No. 3 pick suggests, it’s not going to be the least physically-gifted quarterback among the first-round talents. Trey Lance is more of a project than Justin Fields, isn’t quite as accurate and the concerns about moving from the FCS to the NFL are legitimate. But Lance operated in a pro-style offense at North Dakota State, is one of the best athletes in this draft and can revolutionize Shanahan’s scheme.
Philadelphia Eagles trade up for Justin Fields
Sitting at No. 6 overall, the Eagles seemingly had Ja’Marr Chase on their mind. With it becoming increasingly clear that the Cincinnati Bengals are locked in on him at the 5th pick, Philadelphia wisely traded down. Pair that with the Carson Wentz trade and Philadelphia is loaded with draft capital in 2022.
It seems the Eagles might not be done trading. Not only are they exploring avenues to acquire another 2021 first-round pick, but they might want to move back into the top 10. It’s certainly possible that could be for cornerback Patrick Surtain II or wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, but we suggest another possibility.
The Eagles shouldn’t be sold on Jalen Hurts and not simply because he completed just 56% of his pass attempts last season. He is best served as a backup quarterback, lacking the physical tools to be a high-end starter. That’s not the case with Justin Fields.
If Fields is available at No. 8 overall, it could be a prime opportunity for Philadelphia. The Eagles can package No. 12 with the No. 84 and No. 189 picks to move up. With their face of the franchise drafted, Philadelphia will still have two Day 2 picks in 2021 and potentially three 2022 first-round picks to build around him.
Mac Jones falls out of the top 10
Jones needs to hope the 49ers love him as much as many around the league think. Otherwise, the Heisman Trophy finalist could be headed for a bit of a draft-day slide. Teams want a potentially transcendent talent when investing a high pick and Jones isn’t that.
There’s a reason he is the No. 35 player on our draft board. He played behind one of the best offensive lines in the country this past season and played with a better receiving corps (DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie) than some NFL teams have. It’s also not like he boasts outstanding physical skills to compensate for a diminished supporting cast.
That’s not a player the Detroit Lions need and the Denver Broncos might be better off staying at No. 9, drafting a skill player and trading for Teddy Bridgewater. After that, no team from No.11-14 is a real threat. That leaves the New England Patriots (No. 15) hoping he falls to them or the Chicago Bears getting aggressive and jumping ahead.
Jaelan Phillips, top-10 talent, sees draft-day slide into Round 2
This year’s draft class isn’t exactly strong along the defensive line. The crop of defensive line talent is arguably the worst it’s been in a few years and things aren’t much better along the edge. Miami Hurricanes edge rusher Jaelan Phillips is the exception, viewed as a consensus top-10 talent. Unfortunately, red flags might drag him down.
Once the No. 1 overall recruit in 2017, everything came undone at UCLA. This 6-foot-5 edge rusher saw limited playing time as a freshman and then suffered a concussion that forced him out for the majority of the 2018 season. Due to a variety of injuries, including some suffered when he was hit by a car, Phillips medically retired.
He returned to football after sitting out in 2019, transferring to Miami. After recording 15.5 TFL and eight sacks in 10 games, then shining at his Pro Day, Phillips demonstrated his elite gifts. But there are huge medical red flags with him and he couldn’t get his medical check due to COVID-19. Knowing the risks and that he already retired once for medical reasons, NFL teams might look elsewhere on April 29.
Six quarterbacks taken in first round of 2021 NFL Draft
Only once in NFL history have we seen six quarterbacks taken in the first round. It happened in the iconic 1983 NFL Draft, when John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and Dan Marino made league history. Time will only tell if this year’s quarterback class comes remotely close to matching that iconic group, but we still might witness a rare moment.
We all know five quarterbacks will be drafted within the top-20 picks this year, possibly even higher than that. The real intrigue centers on who will be the next signal-caller off the board. Ultimately, it will come down to Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond and Davis Mills.
There’s buzz surround all three quarterbacks, especially Trask and Mond. If a team is looking for a risk-reward prospect, Mills and Mond are the choices. Trask offers less upside, but is a safer bet to become a starter. Just keep an eye on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, who might value that fifth-year option like the Green Bay Packers did with Jordan Love.