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The Rams laid the blueprint. Now everyone is trying it. Los Angeles general manager famously rocked a NSFW t-shirt at the team’s championship parade this year that summed up his feelings on draft picks. Let’s just say he doesn’t regret his aggressive approach to roster building.
As the old saying goes: it’s a copycat league. A whopping eight teams currently do not have a first-round pick in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft. There are a few outliers in the group, as Chicago and San Francisco both parted with their 2022 picks in 2021 to trade up to draft a quarterback. However, the rest, which includes Denver, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Miami and, or course, the LA Rams, all did so in a win-now move in pursuit of a Super Bowl.
For the Rams, we’ve already seen the tact work. They brought in Matthew Stafford and sent Jared Goff packing. Continued aggression saw them acquire Von Miller from the Broncos for a second-round pick. It all paid off in the form of a Lombardi trophy won in February. Even if the Rams are terrible in two years, which is possible with an aging core and fewer draft picks to replace them, it will have been worth it because they won a title.
The important thing to remember when it comes to trying to emulate Los Angeles is that this was already a championship contender. The Rams featured in the Super Bowl three years prior against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That group ultimately came up short, but L.A. was very clearly within reach of a title. They just made the move to put them over the top.
I can’t say the same thing for any of the teams that have attempted to follow in their footsteps this offseason. We obviously saw the Colts fall well short of expectations last year and ultimately ship Carson Wentz to D.C. after just one season. They brought in Matt Ryan, but as I’ve talked about, they have some holes they still need to fill at corner, left tackle and wide receiver.
Then you have the Browns, who mortgaged their future to acquire Deshaun Watson. Cleveland is probably closer than most to competing for a title, but they need another receiver to complement Amari Cooper, possibly a new center and tight end and an edge rusher. It’s also far from a guarantee Watson will be available for much of this upcoming season given that he is facing civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and harassment. The Browns also compete in the same division as the reigning AFC champions and the 2019 MVP in Lamar Jackson. Plus, you can never count out Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.
Miami has fewer clear holes on the roster after spending big in free agency and adding Tyreek Hill via trade. That being said, they have maybe the 10th best quarterback in the conference. We simply have not seen enough from Tua Tagovailoa to believe he is capable of leading the Dolphins to a Super Bowl, or even to stay healthy for a full season. Perhaps he will take the next step in his development with a new, offensive-minded head coach in Mike McDaniel. Still, the Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. Not exactly a contender putting in the final piece of the puzzle. While Miami is unquestionably better, it’s hard to say they are even the best team in their own division with Buffalo coming off an impressive year and adding Von Miller.
Then there are the Raiders and Broncos. Many are describing the AFC West as the best division we’ve ever seen in football with Russell Wilson joining the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. Denver had a good defense last year, but some abysmal quarterback play, which led to a 7-10 record and the end of Vic Fangio’s tenure with the team. Las Vegas snuck into the playoffs after beating the Chargers in Week 18. Rich Bisaccia righted the ship after a season full of controversy and hardship.
There is no question both teams are better, but given the moves made by the Chargers (re-signing Mike Williams, signing J.C. Jackson and trading for Khalil Mack) and the continued presence of Patrick Mahomes, I’m hard pressed to say either Raiders or Broncos are a lock to make the playoffs, much less a true championship contender. All four teams are talented enough to make it, but the likelihood is someone will miss out because of how brutal those divisional games will be.
The all-in approach is one that I can respect. If you think you have a championship window, you should be doing everything possible to maximize it. The problem is, if you fall short after going all in, you wind up staring down a long rebuild without the resources necessary to do so. My prediction, none of the teams that went all in will win the Super Bowl this year. I think we are much more likely to see a team like the Chiefs, Packers or Buccaneers hoist the Lombardi trophy than a team like the Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins or Browns. What the Rams did is much harder to imitate than it might seem.
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Monday after the regular season ends is usually a busy day for front offices across the NFL. It is when coaches and general managers are let go following the end of the season. The Vikings, Bears, Giants and Dolphins all moved on from either their general manager, coach or both after missing the postseason. That came in addition to Vic Fangio losing his job on Sunday when the Broncos’ season ended on Saturday night.
Most of these firings were predictable. Pressure had been building in Minnesota, Chicago and New York all season. Denver stumbled down the stretch and perhaps Fangio took too much blame for a team whose fatal flaw was at quarterback. That was not something he had control over. That being said, the Broncos went 19-30 in his tenure.
Then there is what happened in Miami, which cannot be classified as anything other than a colossal mistake. Brian Flores took a young, developing roster to the brink of the playoffs two years in a row. He posted back-to-back winning seasons, overcoming uneven drafting by the front office. Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Liam Eichenberg have all gotten off to rough starts in South Beach. Then there are free-agent decisions like signing Will Fuller, who played in two games and recorded four receptions, and releasing Kyle van Noy, who had six sacks in 14 games for the Dolphins in 2020.
Sure, you can hold not reaching the playoffs over Flores’ head at this point, but that feels incredibly unreasonable. Tua Tagovailoa has struggled at times early in his career, but seemed to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem down the stretch for Miami. Just as he was finally settling into his role as franchise quarterback, this now removes any sense of stability for him heading into his third season.
Beyond any of that, Flores was beating the Patriots! He went 4-2 over his three seasons against his former team, including sweeping them in 2021. Former Bill Belichick assistants have rarely had success against him. It is truly inexplicable for the team to move on from him, especially at this point. Yes, the Dolphins started the season terribly, but they have so many young players in key positions. I think the second half of the year is closer to what that team really is right now: a wildcard-caliber team that seemed to be headed in the right direction.
This is just hard to understand. Miami does not need to look far to see what true futility looks like. The in-state Jaguars had the biggest distraction in the league as their head coach, secured their second consecutive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and largely wasted the first year of Trevor Lawrence’s career. Then there is the team in their own division. The Jets have had one winning season since 2010, have finished last in the AFC East in five of the past six seasons and are in the midst of at least their third rebuild in the past 12 years.
Flores is one of the most-respected leaders in the NFL. He inherited a team headed nowhere with a huge question mark at quarterback and a roster that needed to be torn down. This is going to be an attractive head coaching opening with a young quarterback, tons of cap space and a talented defense.
For Flores, I hope he gets picked up right away. The Bears, Vikings, Giants, Broncos and Jaguars should all have him on their shortlist of coaches to interview. He would be an upgrade over most of the coaches that were previously in place, with Mike Zimmer and Fangio standing out as potential outliers.
As a Jets fan, I should be thrilled by this news. I don’t really see someone well-suited to take over this franchise and guide them to immediate success. More likely than not, the new coach will likely run Tagovailoa out of town and send the Dolphins into another rebuild.
However, I am more disappointed that a good coach was unjustly fired. I think Flores had done enough to deserve at least one more year to show he could get this team over the hump and into the postseason. If he failed to do that again in 2022, then I think it would have been fair to make a change.
All in all, this is a shocking move. Miami will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason as they search for a new coach and look to take the next step.
It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.
There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.
New York Jets – Robert Saleh Heat Index: 🔥 A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.
New England Patriots – Bill Belichick Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.
Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott Heat Index: 🔥🔥 The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.
Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores Heat Index: 🔥 Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.
Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.
Houston Texans – David Culley Heat Index: 🔥 If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.
Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens– John Harbaugh Heat Index: 🔥🔥 A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.
Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski Heat Index: 🔥 After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.
Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.
Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid Heat Index: 🔥 Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.
Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.
Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley Heat Index: 🔥 Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.
Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.
New York Giants– Joe Judge Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.
Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni Heat Index: 🔥🔥 It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.
Dallas Cowboys– Mike McCarthy Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.
Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.
Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith Heat Index: 🔥 After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.
New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton Heat Index: 🔥🔥 It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians Heat Index: 🔥 The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.
Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule Heat Index: 🔥 2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.
Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell Heat Index: 🔥 If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.
Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.
Green Bay Packers– Matt LaFleur Heat Index: 🔥🔥 Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.
Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.
Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.
Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury Heat Index: 🔥🔥🔥 Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.
Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay Heat Index: 🔥🔥 While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.
San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan Heat Index: 🔥 After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.
It’s officially draft week! To kick off our week of draft content at the Aftermath, Brian Mandel, Jack Venezia and Matt Luppino joined me via Zoom to mock the first round of this year’s draft. This was our sixth annual mock draft together. We each take eight picks and operate as the general manager for that selection. This is what we would do if we were in charge on draft day, not what we think is going to happen. It’s a really fun exercise because we each have different priorities and draft boards. For the second year running, we also allowed for picks to be traded. We got a few really interesting swaps, which are as follows.
Detroit trades 1.7 to New England for 1.15, 2.46 and a 2022 second-round pick
New York Giants trade 1.11 and 4.116 to Miami for 1.18 and 2.36
Those moves shook up much of the first round and led to some really fun scenarios. We even got a bonus trade the day after we finished the mock when the Ravens sent Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs and acquired the 31st pick. We obviously went back and amended our final two selections. Without further ado, this is what we think should happen on Thursday night in Cleveland.
1.Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson You know I had to think long and hard on this one. But there is simply no way around it: Trevor Lawrence is the best player named Trevor in this draft class. How could the Jaguars go anywhere else with this pick? Jokes aside, the Jaguars will hope that they found a franchise quarterback in Lawrence. – Venezia
2. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU After Darnold was inevitably traded (best of luck to him in Carolina), the Jets could use the opportunity of the second pick to draft their new quarterback of the future. Although Jets decided to pick Wilson, who all of the experts have them picking in their mock drafts, the quarterbacks after Lawrence are closer in ability than many think. Still, Wilson is super athletic, has a great arm, and is an improviser, so a perfect pick for a modern NFL offense. – Mandel
3.San Francisco 49ers via Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State Really interesting pick here – any of the three quarterbacks could flourish in the Kyle Shanahan offense. However, for my money, the big arm, playmaking, and big-game pedigree inch Justin Fields just above Trey Lance and Mac Jones. Oh, and which of these other quarterbacks have beaten Trevor Lawrence head-to-head? That would be Fields. – Luppino
4. Atlanta Falcons – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State Much of the NFL draft hinges on what the Atlanta Falcons decide to do with this pick. It is a popular trade spot in many mock drafts. There were no offers to move up here, so I grabbed the Falcons’ quarterback of the future. Trey Lance has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL with a huge arm, incredible mobility and a good head on his shoulders. He needs some time to get up to speed in the NFL without a ton of game reps in college. Sitting behind Matt Ryan for a year or two is a great situation for him. Atlanta has other needs, but this sets the team up for future success. – McGlynn
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon Joe Burrow may want more wide receivers, but with the injuries he has accumulated behind the Bengals’ make-shift offensive line, I had to go elsewhere. Penei Sewell is the clear-cut top offensive tackle pick, making this choice easy for the Bengals. – Venezia
6. Miami Dolphins – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU The Dolphins’ war room is very excited at this moment. They, somehow, have the opportunity to draft the top wide receiver or tight end in the draft. Ja’Marr Chase is one of the best receivers to declare for the draft in a while, and will be an immediate difference maker for Tua Tagovailoa. – Mandel
7. New England Patriots via Detroit Lions – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama Is this the Patriot Way? Maybe not, but with Detroit begging someone to trade up with them and a field general in Mac Jones available, I see New England picking up the phone for their quarterback of the future. If there are several suitors for this pick (Denver, Washington, Chicago), don’t be surprised if that 2022 pick becomes their first rounder. – Luppino
8.Carolina Panthers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern Carolina would be wise to learn from the Jets’ mistakes with Sam Darnold. Darnold rarely had good protection during his time in the Big Apple. Greg Little is not a reliable left tackle and Russell Okung still has not been re-signed. Rashawn Slater gives the Panthers an instant upgrade at the position. He brings good play power and an extremely high floor because of his ability to play guard. Even if he does not work out as a tackle, he will be a starting caliber interior lineman. – McGlynn
9. Denver Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State With all of the top quarterbacks taken at this point, the Broncos biggest need is at linebacker. Micah Parsons is the type of all-around player who you could fit into any defensive scheme. While off-the-field issue may be a concern, the Broncos won’t pass up this talent. – Venezia
10.Dallas Cowboys – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama The Cowboys have a lot of needs to be filled going into the draft, and most of them have to do with their defense. There is a few different directions they could go here, but it’s hard argue against Patrick Surtain II. He has the potential to be a shut down corner, and should be able to play in a few different defensive schemes. – Mandel
11.Miami Dolphins via New York Giants – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida Somehow, Kyle Pitts fell all the way to the 11th pick. The Dolphins see this as chance to have an embarrassment of riches at their skill positions, and know once and for all if Tua Tagovailoa is the right guy to lead their offense. It might have been a little bit of an overpay for them to move up, but it’s worth it for a tight end with Travis Kelce-type potential. – Mandel
12.Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama Good luck stacking the box against the Eagles after this. Between Jalen Reagor and Jaylen Waddle, Philly would have two game-breaking receivers. Unlike Reagor though, Waddle is worth the first-round pick. He is possibly the most electric athlete in this class. His suddenness and change of direction speed is incredible and would give the Eagles a reliable No. 1 receiver. Everyone will point to DeVonta Smith’s success, but Waddle was actually putting up even better numbers prior to his injury. He would be a steal at this spot. – McGlynn
13.Los Angeles Chargers – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech Justin Herbert took the NFL by storm last season and if the Chargers want to protect that asset they will make the smart pick and take Christian Darrisaw. He is a bit of a reach at this point in the draft, but the drop off at the position after him is substantial. – Venezia
14.Minnesota Vikings – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami The Vikings could have gone either side of the line with this pick. With some of the top offensive linemen off the board, drafting Jaelan Phillips seemed to be the best direction. Phillips has the ability to be a top edge rusher with his combination of power, speed and pass rushing moves. He can be an impact defender against the run, too. Still, teams have to recognize that Phillips has some legitimate injury concerns. – Mandel
15.Detroit Lions – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama Did Detroit just get two second round picks and is still able to get the guy probably at the top of their board? Dan Campbell is killing his first draft! But seriously, after losing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., this pick needs to be a receiver, and no one will complain about the Heisman Trophy winner’s route running and hands. – Luppino
16.Arizona Cardinals – Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC Arizona is getting by with Brian Winters and Justin Pugh, but Alijah Vera-Tucker would provide a great upgrade along the interior of the offensive line. He could even take over at tackle potentially after playing there during his final season at USC. Kyler Murray loves to scramble, but he can be dangerous from the pocket as well. Keeping him clean as much as possible is essential to the Cardinals’ success. – McGlynn
17.Las Vegas Raiders – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina Cornerback may not the biggest need for the Raiders at this point, but Jaycee Horn was too good of a value to pass up at this point in the draft. Horn could slot in as a starter for Las Vegas from the get-go. Looking back on this now, knowing that none of us drafted Trevon Moehrig in the first round, this is where he should have gone. – Venezia
18.New York Giants via Miami Dolphins – Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan The Giants’ biggest hole is on the edge, but they could not easily justify taking one at 11 with guys like Kyle Pitts still available. Taking advantage of the phone ringing lets Dave Gettleman still grab the top pass rusher on my board, and grab a little capital off the pick-rich Dolphins to fill in other needs. – Luppino
19.Washington – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame The Football Team (can’t believe we are still at this point) thought about trading up for a quarterback before the Patriots swooped in, but they can survive a year with Ryan FitzMagic and Taylor Heinicke running the show rather than having to give up what could be an early 2022 first round pick to move up. Instead, take the best defender available, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is just that. He will fly all over the field. – Luppino
20. Chicago Bears – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas Perhaps this is a bit of a reach, but I have always felt that offensive tackle is a good place to be aggressive. Samuel Cosmi is massive at 6’7″, but has some room to fill out his frame. He moves incredibly well for someone his size and could be a real asset in Matt Nagy’s offense. He likely needs a bit of time to fully mature, but he has incredible upside at a major position of need, and value, for the Bears and across the league. – McGlynn
21. Indianapolis Colts – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech I really struggled with this pick. It may have actually been the longest of this mock draft. The offensive tackles and edge rushers (the two biggest needs for the Colts) that are left on the board here are reaches. While the Colts are thin at wide receiver, their current receiving corps is young, and I think they would be better served by signing a veteran after the draft. So, I went for best value available in Caleb Farley, who could have been taken five picks earlier. Venezia
22.Tennessee Titans – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia The strategy for the Titans is best player available (as it should be for all NFL teams), given all of the holes they have across their team. By picking Azeez Ojulari, Tennessee should be solving one of them. Ojulari will have the potential to be an every down edge ruser that is constantly disrupting the pocket. – Mandel
23.New York Jets – Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern Lots of amazing receivers here – Rashod Bateman, Kadarius Toney and Elijah Moore all caught my eye – but with the Jets holding the 34th pick and two third rounders, I will turn to defensive needs first. Corner is a huge one, especially with division rivals stockpiling weapons in this draft already. The speed of Greg Newsome will do well for a defensive-minded coach like Robert Saleh, maybe even as the team’s top cornerback. – Luppino
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan I considered grabbing Najee Harris here, but I think Pittsburgh’s issues running the football are more closely linked to a poor offensive line than unreliable running backs. Jalen Mayfield seems poised to start from Day 1 on the right side of the line for the Steelers and could grow into a left tackle with some further coaching. He has great size at 6’5″, 320 pounds and you can’t coach that. There will be some growing pains, but he has the ability to develop into a reliable starter. – McGlynn
25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU There are a lot of wide receivers on the board to choose from at this point. Terrace Marshall Jr. stands out to me both literally and physically. He is one of the largest receivers available at this point in the draft and that lanky frame will pair well with Trevor Lawrence’s game. Plus, Jacksonville’s receivers aren’t much to write home about these days. – Venezia
26. Cleveland Browns – Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami With Greg Newsome off the board, I saw this pick as a chance to give the Browns one of the scariest pass rushing groups in the entire NFL. Rousseau has tremendous upside, and should be in a good position to develop next to Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. He also has shown the ability to to line up on anywhere on the D-Line, which should allow the Browns to get creative on defense. – Mandel
27. Baltimore Ravens – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa Baltimore could really use an edge rushing linebacker here to replace Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon, both of whom left in free agency. Zaven Collins should probably be right at the top of their list – even though he profiles more as a 4-3 outside linebacker, he showed flashes of pass rushing ability at Tulsa to pair with good coverage and ball pursuit skills. – Luppino
28. New Orleans Saints – Jabril Cox, LB, LSU Jabril Cox is built to play linebacker in the modern day NFL defense. He is fast and reliable in space. His ability to cover backs and tight ends makes him a true three-down player. I love the experience he has coming from both North Dakota State and LSU. He strikes me as a Day 1 starter at weak side linebacker with the potential to take over in the middle when Demario Davis eventually retires. – McGlynn
29.Green Bay Packers – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota The Packers have avoided drafting a wide receiver in the early rounds for a few years, but, as of this moment, they do not have any wide receivers under contract past 2021. Rashod Bateman is an NFL-ready receiver who will provide a solid option opposite Davante Adams while learning from Aaron Rodgers this year. He could also be a foundational piece in years to come. – Venezia
30.Buffalo Bills – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama I was hoping a cornerback or an offensive lineman would fall to Buffalo. However, that failed to happen. Thus, the Bills have to “settle” for Najee Harris. Drafting a running back in the first round can be successful when the team is in a contention window, like the Bills. Ultimately, Harris will super charge an already solid running back group with his power running and jukes. – Mandel
31.Baltimore Ravens via Kansas City Chiefs – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss Seeing Rashod Bateman off the board not even four picks before it is on the clock hurts, as Baltimore really needs a possession receiver to partner with the reliable Mark Andrews and the home-run threat Marquise Brown. Luckily, Elijah Moore can be that guy out of the slot for Lamar Jackson, running crisp routes over the middle of the field and making guys miss with the ball in his hands. He can go up and get balls too, even though undersized. – Luppino
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama Somehow, Tampa brought back just about everyone from its Super Bowl run despite having a ton of free agents. This team has very few short-term needs, but there are a number of long-term needs along the defensive front seven. Christian Barmore is athletic and powerful and feels like the perfect successor to Ndamukong Suh in Todd Bowles’ defense. With Suh having turned 34 this year, he is likely in the final years of his career. Barmore can serve as a rotational option this season with hopes of starting in 2022.
NFL Free Agency is just about settled, pro days are winding down and a mega trade has made for some massive changes to draft projections. Mock draft season is about to hit a fever pitch!
The 49ers moved up to No. 3, likely positioning themselves to take the top quarterback available. There was apparently significant interest in moving up, as the Eagles reportedly explored the possibility of making the move to No. 3. Miami, not content with moving down, decided to move back into the top 10. With the Eagles realizing they were likely to miss out on the top quarterbacks, they decided to move down. Now the 49ers are at No. 3, the Dolphins are at No. 6 and the Eagles select at No. 12.
That doesn’t even get into any of the major waves caused in free agency. Kenny Golladay heads to New York, New England went on a spending spree and the Bears, well I’m not really sure what the Bears did. Either way, the NFL landscape has drastically changed since my last mock draft.
We are now less than a month away from the start of the 2021 NFL draft. Smokescreens will be popping up everywhere as teams angle to land the players they really want on draft day.
The draft order is according to Tankathon. Here is what I would do based on my scouting as we wrap up March. Let’s dive into this two-round mock!
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson Despite what Chris Simms might have to say, I just don’t see the Jaguars passing on Trevor Lawrence. He brings elite physical traits, tons of big-game experience and leadership to an organization that desperately lacks it most of the time. There is a chance he immediately becomes the best quarterback in franchise history. Mark Brunell and Byron Leftwich had their moments, but Lawrence has a chance to be special.
2. New York Jets (2-14) – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU Possibly the most telling thing about San Francisco trading up to No. 3 is that the Jets were clearly not willing to trade down. Had New York been willing to move down, that likely would have been the deal here. Instead, it seems like the Jets are going to take a new quarterback to replace Sam Darnold. Zach Wilson looked fantastic at his pro day and his film offers a ton to get excited about. If he can stay healthy in the NFL, which is my biggest concern about him at this point, he has Pro Bowl potential.
3. San Francisco 49ers via Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans (6-10) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State We knew there were going to be trades. I don’t think people expected them to be happening this early in the process. Kyle Shanahan gets a chance to draft his quarterback of the future. While some will advocate for Justin Fields, I think Trey Lance has a higher ceiling. He needs to work on his consistency and polish his footwork, but the physical traits he brings to the table are the best of anyone in the class. He is a tough runner and has a huge arm. Sitting for a year behind Jimmy Garoppolo would be a great opportunity to get acclimated with the NFL before taking over in 2022 as the starter.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State The trade attention now shifts to Atlanta. The Falcons could very easily stand pat and take the best player on their board, like Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase or Penei Sewell. Interest will be high in this pick from teams looking to trade up for a quarterback though. Denver, Chicago, Carolina and New England would all likely jump at the chance to move up to grab Justin Fields. I didn’t mock any trades this time, but even if I did, I don’t know that I would’ve had Atlanta trade down. The opportunity to grab a high-upside quarterback like Fields does not come around too often. He has solid arm strength, good mobility and incredible toughness. He has a long way to go with his reads and overall technique, but there is enough there for Atlanta to stay put.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) – Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon This is probably the best-case scenario for Cincinnati. Miami moving down likely clears a path to Penei Sewell for the Bengals. There is still a chance the Falcons could grab him, but that is far from likely. I know the team signed Riley Reiff, but that does not inspire a ton of confidence for me. Sewell could develop into a top-five tackle in the NFL, well above Reiff’s current level. Protecting Joe Burrow is the priority. That shouldn’t change.
6. Miami Dolphins via Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU What a masterstroke by Miami. The Dolphins ultimately move down three spots and take the player they likely would’ve grabbed at No. 3. Ja’Marr Chase gives Miami a clear WR1 for the future. It also sets up Tua Tagovailoa with an exciting complement of weapons for 2021 with Chase, DeVante Parker, Will Fuller and Mike Gesicki. With three more picks in the top 50, Miami can continue to add pieces around Tagovailoa and build out their talented defense.
7. Detroit Lions (5-11) –Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama Kenny Golladay is in New York. Marvin Jones is, strangely, in Jacksonville. Someone needs to catch passes other than T.J. Hockenson. Jaylen Waddle has the ability to take a top off any defense. He is one of the most electric receivers in the draft. Whether you believe Jared Goff is the long-term answer at quarterback or not, the front office needs to rebuild this roster. Finding a playmaker like Waddle could prove to be invaluable in a year or two.
8. Carolina Panthers (5-11) – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama Some people call this a reach. I think this is a great spot for Mac Jones. Carolina is not too far away from competing in the NFC. Mac Jones might be the most pro ready passer in this draft class. He has incredible touch on his throws and at the very least the functional athleticism required to play the position. His arm strength is average, but it is an NFL caliber arm. Matt Rhule seemed to love working with him at the Senior Bowl. I think he would be thrilled to work with him more. I trust Joe Brady to maximize Jones’ skill set.
9. Denver Broncos (5-11) – Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern Sure, Garrett Bolles finally played like a franchise tackle in 2020, but is that what we expect to see going forward? Him maintaining that level is far from a guarantee. Even if he can sustain it, Denver has no real solution at right tackle at the moment. I believe Rashawn Slater could start at either tackle or guard spot in the NFL and be successful. He has his highest potential at guard, but that position simply does not carry as much value around the league. Starting him off at right tackle would be a good way to introduce him to the NFL.
10. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama Dallas already has half of Alabama’s defensive backfield. Why not reunite Trevon Diggs with Patrick Surtain II in Big D? The Cowboys need a corner in the worst way and this defense needs an overhaul after a brutal 2020 season. Surtain brings great size, coverage flexibility and tons of experience to the table. He competed against some great receivers in the SEC and also faced off with DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs in practice in recent years. I would feel very comfortable slotting him in as CB1 across from Diggs.
11. New York Giants (6-10) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State New York spent big in free agency and as a result, the Giants now have a lot more flexibility heading into the NFL draft. They could target an offensive lineman to bolster Daniel Jones’ protection or grab another offensive weapon, but I think finding a linebacker to revamp that entire unit is the smartest move here. Micah Parsons has great range, bonus pass rush ability and elite size for the position. I know there are some character concerns here, but as a Bill Belichick disciple, I don’t think they will scare off Joe Judge. Parsons would completely change the perception of the Giants’ front seven. He and Leonard Williams would offer two great building blocks up the middle of the defense.
12. Philadelphia Eagles via San Francisco 49ers (4-11-1) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida I promise you, I don’t hate Kyle Pitts. I could definitely see him going before this, but given the run on quarterbacks, he could slide a bit on draft day. This would be a dream scenario for the Eagles to move down and still land one of the top receiving prospects in the draft. Pitts is at his best flexed out like a wide receiver, but he is more than capable of playing inline as well. He has enough blocking ability to be considered a well-rounded tight end. Honestly, his pass catching ability and athleticism alone should probably override any concerns about his blocking. He would be a great fit for Philly’s offense, taking over Zach Ertz’s role across from Dallas Goedert.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) – DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama It is tempting to grab an offensive lineman here, but DeVonta Smith is a special talent at receiver. Los Angeles would form one of the best receiver tandems in the league with him and Keenan Allen. Both are elite route runners, but Smith brings a bit more juice to the table. He doesn’t have game-breaking speed, but he will run by you if you are not careful. Given what we saw out of Justin Herbert in Year 1, I think giving him another top receiver is a great way to help him build off his Rookie of the Year campaign.
14. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC Minnesota cut starting left tackle Riley Reiff and has a question mark at left guard as well. Alijah Vera-Tucker could theoretically fill either void. After starting his career as a dominant guard, AVT more than held his own on the outside in 2020 for USC. I believe he best projects as an interior prospect, but he has the potential to be a starting tackle in the NFL. His versatility will only make him more appealing to the Vikings.
15. New England Patriots (7-9) – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech Rumors continue to swirl that Stephon Gilmore could be traded this year. Even if he stays, Jason McCourty is still a free agent and the Patriots could use someone to play across from Gilmore. Farley lost some traction after sitting out the 2020 season, but he brings impressive length and proven production from his 2019 season with the Hokies. His ability to disrupt opponent’s routes and his strength to break up passes should bode well at the next level.
16. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina Patrick Peterson is gone and Arizona has no clear replacement. Byron Murphy is still only 23, but early signs point to him being better suited as a CB2 rather than a top option. Jaycee Horn can slot in across from Murphy and give the Cardinals a talented young duo in the defensive backfield. Horn is comfortable playing in all sorts of coverages from his time with South Carolina. He regularly pressed, played off ball, slid back into quarters or played over the top in three deep all within the same game while playing under Will Muschamp. His versatility gives him a solid floor to work with and his size speaks to his potential ceiling.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) – Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU I considered going offensive line here after Las Vegas dismantled its starting unit this offseason, but this secondary desperately needs help. Trevon Moehrig is a well-rounded safety capable of playing in a centerfield role, dropping down into the box or playing one-on-one coverage. He brings great size to the position as well. Considering that the Raiders had arguably the worst starting safety duo in the league in 2020, this represents a huge need and nice value to grabbing the top option in this class.
18. Miami Dolphins (10-6) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama Running backs are luxury picks these days in the first round of the NFL draft. Well, the Dolphins have positioned themselves well to invest in this luxury. Myles Gaskin went through strong stretches, but Miami spent most of the season attempting to find a reliable option in its backfield. Najee Harris was incredibly reliable during his career at Alabama. He played with Tua Tagovailoa as well, so reuniting them makes a ton of sense. Harris’ blend of power, agility and pass catching is rare. I think he will have an immediate impact on this offense.
19. Washington Football Team (7-9) – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech While Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the long-term answer for Washington, he gives the team a clear starting option for 2021. Taylor Henickie is a fun project and the front office could look to add another developmental option in the later rounds. Washington can now shift its focus to rebuilding its offensive line. Christian Darrisaw would finally give Washington a replacement to Trent Williams. He is a bit raw, but he checks all the boxes from a physical standpoint. Darrisaw should compete for the starting left tackle job from Day 1.
20. Chicago Bears (8-8) – Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas He will definitely need a bit of coaching at the pro level, but I think Samuel Cosmi could be a good left tackle in the NFL. His technique is all over the place, but he has a ton of power, incredible size and better than average athleticism for the position. This might not totally fit what the Bears will do on draft day because the front office is in win-now mode, but he would be a wise investment along an offensive line that needs to be turned over.
21. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) –Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami Gregory Rousseau is truly one of the biggest mysteries in this draft class. I could see him coming off the board as early as No. 9, but after sitting out 2020, there is just so much unknown about him. He had a fantastic 2019 season, but that is the only college film teams have to look at. His pro day is Monday, March 29, so a strong performance could see him move back up draft boards, but for now, he slides to the 20s. Rousseau would be a great fit as a 4-3 end for the Colts, who lost Denico Autry and Justin Houston (most likely, he hasn’t signed anywhere yet) in free agency.
22. Tennessee Titans (11-5) – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida After signing Bud Dupree and losing Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith in free agency, Tennessee’s draft needs look very different than they did a few weeks ago. The Titans already have an elite receiver in A.J. Brown, but Ryan Tannehill needs some more weapons to work with. Kadarius Toney is an incredible route runner with good speed and solid hands. He would be a fun complement to Brown in this Titans offense. His start and stop ability should fit really well Tennessee’s play-action-heavy offense.
23. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (2-14) – Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern The rise of Greg Newsome continues. He has great range and agility, particularly for a player with his size and length. His ability to make plays on the ball stands out in his film. New York desperately needs a starting option at corner. I believe Bryce Hall could develop into a solid second option, but Newsome would give Robert Saleh a No. 1 corner to build his secondary around. Don’t be surprised if the Jets double down and grab another corner later in this draft. Their secondary is depleted.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame Is this a sexy pick? Far from it. However, landing a player capable of starting from Day 1 at right tackle is a solid investment for the Steelers. Liam Eichenburg will not blow you away with athleticism, but he is a polished prospect with good technique, solid footwork and requisite play strength. He could very easily be Pittsburgh’s right tackle for the next 8 to 10 years. Considering how quickly Ben Roethlisberger’s pass protection deteriorated as the 2020 season went on, this is going to be a top priority come draft time.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars via Los Angeles Rams (1-15) – Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama Tyson Alualu spurned the Jaguars and defensive tackle might be the team’s biggest need outside of quarterback. Taven Bryant has not developed as expected and no one else on this roster has shown the ability to start at the position. Christian Barmore would give Jacksonville a high-upside option capable of playing at least a rotational role from Day 1. He is a handful to contain along the interior and routinely collapsed the pocket for Alabama. In a weaker defensive tackle class, Barmore stands out.
26. Cleveland Browns (11-5) – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame Box safety? Coverage linebacker? You decide. Cleveland could probably use both and could start Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in either role. Owusu-Koramoah flew around the field from his linebacker spot at Notre Dame, but with reports that he is closer to 200 pounds than he is to 225 pounds, he might be best suited as a safety at the next level. He could reasonably start alongside newly acquired John Johnson or slide into the slot in sub packages. Either way, he would provide some much needed speed and coverage ability to a defense desperately lacking in those two departments.
27. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota Baltimore was involved in contract talks with several receivers during free agency, but came away with just Sammy Watkins when the dust settled. That does not move the needle in 2021. Rashod Bateman would bring some much-needed size to this receiver corps. He can become Lamar Jackson’s go-to possession receiver. Bateman has yards after catch ability as well. He dominated the Big Ten in 2019 before playing in about half of Minnesota’s 2020 season. His numbers were a lot less impressive, but his physical profile and past success makes him an intriguing target at the end of round one.
28. New Orleans Saints (12-4) –Jabril Cox, LB, LSU Kwon Alexander is gone. So is Alex Anzalone. Demario Davis is 32. New Orleans needs to rebuild its linebacker room. It would not be a surprise to see the Saints trade out of this spot to acquire more draft picks and rebuild the depth on its roster with rookie contracts given its current cap situation either. If they say put, Jabril Cox is built to play linebacker in the NFL in 2021. He is fast enough to cover tight ends and strong enough to sift through traffic and make tackles around the line of scrimmage. If he runs well at his pro day on March 31, there is a chance he could vault himself into the top 20.
29. Buffalo Bills (13-3) – Eric Stokes, CB, Georgia Buffalo took care of its own free agents and set itself up for another deep postseason run in 2021. The biggest hole on the roster right now is a corner to line up across from Tre’Davious White. Eric Stokes ran a blazing sub 4.3-second 40-yard dash at Georgia’s pro day. That backs up the speed you see when you turn on his tape. He brings great athleticism and impressive ball skills. He should be in line to start from Day 1.
30. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa Green Bay got solid production from Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes, but neither one of those players should prevent the Packers from tabbing Zaven Collins. Collins is a bit of a throwback, listed at 260 pounds on Tulsa’s website. He is an off-ball linebacker with a good first step. He is not an elite pass rusher, but he can line up on the outside or on the interior. His ability in space and in coverage makes him an exciting prospect in the NFL. Collins has a lot of room for growth, but his athleticism means his ceiling is incredibly high.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan The Chiefs spent big to beef up the interior of its offensive line. However, they also cut starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. I fully expect Kansas City to invest in a tackle early in the draft. Jalen Mayfield can start at right tackle early on and has the potential to move to the left side of the line in the future. At 6’5″, 320 pounds, he has the prototypical size for an NFL tackle and moves well for a player of his stature. He will need time to develop with very little time spent playing left tackle in college, but this is worth the investment at this spot for KC.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – Kwity Paye, DL, Michigan Tampa did an excellent job keeping its core together, re-signing a number of key players to make another championship run. However, most of those contracts are short-term pacts. The Buccaneers need to start preparing for when players like Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and William Gholston are gone. Kwity Paye is a bit smaller than Gholston, but he has unrivaled athleticism at his size. He is going to need a year or two to really get up to speed in the NFL, but I think Todd Bowles would be able to maximize his abilities. Paye has the potential to be a starter in 2022 and beyond.
33. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15) – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State Surrounding Trevor Lawrence with more talent is important. Pat Freiermuth is the clear second-best tight end prospect in this draft. He is an inline prospect who can block well and brings plenty of receiving ability. He would be a massive upgrade at the position for Jacksonville.
34. New York Jets (2-14) – Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest Even with the addition of Carl Lawson, the Jets need help along the edge. Carlos Basham has great length to be a 4-3 end in Robert Saleh’s defense. He would round out a suddenly very exciting front four for New York.
35. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami Atlanta continues its search for an edge rusher. After spending several premium picks and some cap space in recent years, this could be the end of the line. There are health concerns with Jaelan Phillips, which is why I think he could fall out of the first round, but when he is healthy, he can be very disruptive. His speed off the edge makes him dangerous.
36. Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans (10-6) – Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky Linebacker is one of the few weak spots on Miami’s defense. Jamin Davis could compete with Jerome Baker for the starting job right away. He is a late riser in the draft process, but Davis has the athleticism and size to be a quality starter at inside linebacker.
37. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) – Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky Back-to-back picks from Kentucky. After grabbing a top-tier offensive weapon, the Eagles need to find a corner opposite Darius Slay. Kelvin Joseph is rather inexperienced as a redshirt sophomore, but Philadelphia is in no hurry. It can allow Joseph to get up to speed as it works to turn over the roster.
38. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) – Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU Cincinnati passed on one of Joe Burrow’s former favorite targets, but they can land another in the second round. Terrace Marshall scored 23 touchdowns in his final two seasons at LSU. He and Tee Higgins would form an exciting tandem on the outside with Tyler Boyd playing out of the slot.
39. Carolina Panthers (5-11) – Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State After grabbing their quarterback of the future, Carolina would be wise to beef up its offensive line to avoid a similar situation to what the Bengals encountered with Joe Burrow. Wyatt Davis would immediately become the favorite to start at left guard in 2021. He is a roadgrader with good athleticism for the position.
40. Denver Broncos (6-10) – Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri With a top offensive lineman on board, Denver turns its focus to Vic Fangio’s defense. Nick Bolton feels like a great fit in the middle of that front seven. A.J. Johnson and Josey Jewell are both free agents following the 2021 season. Bolton could ease that blow and provide some quality depth right off the bat.
41. Detroit Lions (6-10) – Joe Tryon, EDGE, Washington For a few years, Detroit has been searching for an edge rusher. Joe Tryon has above average play strength and a solid set of pass rushing moves. He strikes me as a player with a high floor, but maybe not the highest ceiling. Lining him up across from Romeo Okwara would give the Lions solid pieces to bookend their defensive line.
42. New York Giants (6-10) – Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia I don’t anticipate Azeez Ojulari falling this far, but this is around where I think he should go. He has some impressive physical tools, but he lacks polish and only has one pass rush move. Still, his traits are more than enough for the Giants to work with at this stage. Even if he never turns into a 10 sacks per season type player, he can be a solid contributor as a 3-4 linebacker.
43. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) – Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia Perhaps lost in the hype around Ojulari and Stokes was that Tyson Campbell ran sub 4.4 at 6’1″. He is not the same type of playmaker as Stokes, but he offers good length on the outside and should be capable of developing into a starter very early in his career. With Richard Sherman likely leaving San Francisco, the 49ers will be looking for help in the secondary.
44. Dallas Cowboys (6-10) – Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas If I’m Jerry Jones, I am working hard in this draft to retool my defense. Joseph Ossai is an exciting project off the edge with loads of potential. He could very easily be the team’s starting defensive end across from DeMarcus Lawrence in Week 1. He is a bit raw, having played in more of a off-ball linebacker role prior to 2020, but that only underscores his potential to improve as he learns the position.
45. Jacksonville Jaguars via Minnesota Vikings (1-15) – Dillon Radunz, OL, North Dakota State Jacksonville franchised Cam Robinson for 2021, but that feels more like a band-aid than a desire to keep him around long term. Dillon Radunz has the potential to play tackle or kick inside to guard like he did at the Senior Bowl. Either way, his size and versatility should be more than enough to entice the Jaguars at this spot.
46. New England Patriots (7-9) –James Hudson, OT, Cincinnati While New England pulled off a great move to bring back Trent Brown, he will be a free agent following the 2021 season. Finding his successor now rather than waiting until next year feels like a Bill Belichick move. James Hudson is an athletic tackle rising up draft boards after a strong season with Cincinnati. He could be the team’s 2022 starter at right tackle or even compete for the left tackle spot, ultimately moving Isaiah Wynn to guard.
47. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9) – Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama Los Angeles continues this run on offensive linemen. They pushed the need down the board a bit by signing Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler, but this group is still far from a strength. Alex Leatherwood brings great position versatility, having slide all over Alabama’s line in college. He struggled a bit at the Senior Bowl, which might point to him being better suited to play guard at the next level, but he will provide immediate depth and a projectable starter in 2022 and beyond.
48. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8) – Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa Credit the Raiders front office for landing Yannick Ngakoue, but there is still a massive need in the middle of this defense. Solomon Thomas is a solid stop gap, but Daviyon Nixon could be the long-term solution next to Maurice Hurst. He brings pass-rush ability, good power and impressive agility for a man his size. He was a bit inconsistent at Iowa, but his best plays were special.
49. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson The slide finally stops for Travis Etienne. Arizona let Kenyan Drake walk in free agency and would be happy to add the former Clemson homerun hitter. Pairing Etienne with Kyler Murrary might give the Cardinals the most explosive backfield in the NFL. Both of them are capable of making a house call on any given play. That should give defensive coordinators nightmares.
50. Miami Dolphins (10-6) – Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami Kyle Van Noy only lasted one season with the Dolphins. Miami will be in the market for a pass rusher. Quincy Roche is definitely a bit undersized, but he offers immediate upside as a situational pass rusher. He showed his speed at the Senior Bowl, turning the corner against some of the best linemen in this draft class. Keeping him in Miami would be a good move for the Fins.
51. Washington (7-9) – Chazz Surratt, LB, UNC The trio of Cole Holcomb, Jon Bostic and Khaleke Hudson falls into the category of solid, but unspectacular. Chazz Surratt is still learning to play linebacker after starting his career at UNC as a quarterback. His upside is clear, but at the age of 24, he probably won’t be working his way into the first round. Still, he could provide some solid depth before taking over a starting spot in 2022.
52. Chicago Bears (8-8) – Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF Chicago made the surprising move to release Kyle Fuller, creating a clear hole at corner across from Jaylon Johnson. Aaron Robinson is a physical player who is very comfortable jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. He was one of the standouts during one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl. Expect him to compete for a starting job right away.
53. Tennessee Titans (11-5) – Jevon Holland, DB, Oregon Tennessee’s secondary is a bit of a work in progress. Signing Janoris Jenkins gives the Titans a capable starter on the outside with Chris Jackson across from him. 2020 second-round pick Krisitan Fulton is still in the mix too. Jevon Holland could play the nickel corner role and generally move around in sub packages for this defense. He has experience at both safety positions and has a nose for the football. Mike Vrabel would enjoy moving him around the field to cause confusion.
54. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss After tons of buzz that the Colts were going to be players in the wide receiver market, Indy walked away with nothing. They do have an exciting young wideout in Michael Pittman Jr. and a bit of an unknown in Parris Campbell, who has missed most of his first two seasons with injury. Elijah Moore would give the Colts an explosive playmaker in the slot. He is an excellent route runner and has impressive short-area quickness.
55. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) – Javonte Williams, RB, UNC A running back who plays like a linebacker? That might be the most Steelers thing ever. Javonte Williams is a former high school linebacker who runs angry. His yards after contact ability and willingness to take on blocks makes him an ideal three-down back for the Steelers. He might not have quite as much juice as his counterpart Michael Carter, but he can make some plays in the open field and would give Pittsburgh a much-needed runner to balance this offense.
56. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) – Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State Russell Wilson is unhappy with his protection. Teven Jenkins is a bit raw and will likely stay on the right side his entire career, but he should compete with Brandon Shell for the starting right tackle job on Day 1. At 6’6″, 320 pounds, he has the requisite size needed to play the position. He will just need to get up to speed.
57. Los Angeles Rams (10-6) – Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama While some have Landon Dickerson much higher on their draft boards, his injury history scares me. When he was healthy, he was a dominant force in the middle of Alabama’s offensive line. He wasn’t healthy often though, suffering four season-ending injuries in five years. At pick 57 though, the Rams are willing to gamble on his long-term health, early reports are that Dickerson is crushing his rehab, to find a starting center.
58. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) – Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State Matt Judon’s exit leaves the Ravens searching for a potential replacement. Jayson Oweh brings the physical tools to fill Judon’s shoes and more, in time. He is an incredible raw prospect with essentially zero sack production. However, the Ravens have a good track record with developing pass rushers. They should be willing to wait on his development, knowing he could turn into a dynamic starter.
59. Cleveland Browns (11-5) – Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma Cleveland took a flier on Tak McKinnley, but that will hardly prevent them from grabbing an edge prospect to develop. Ronnie Perkins finished his Oklahoma career on a tear, posting impressive numbers in his final few games. He is not an elite athlete in NFL terms, but Perkins gets the job done and could be a solid starter across from Myles Garrett.
60. New Orleans Saints (12-4) – Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue With Emmauel Sanders now in Buffalo and Jared Cook in Los Angeles, the Saints are going to need another pass catcher to take the focus off Michael Thomas. Rondale Moore possesses game-breaking speed and impressive quickness. He burst onto the scene in 2018, but injuries derailed the rest of his college career. He is an undersized receiver, but he could be very effective out of the slot, especially in Sean Payton’s offense.
61. Buffalo Bills (13-3) – Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh If college production matters to you, Patrick Jones II should be near the top of your prospect list. He 31 sacks over his final three seasons at Pittsburgh. He needs to improve his technique and work on rushing with a plan. Jones got a bit exposed at the Senior Bowl, but there is enough on film for me to think he could go late round two and have an immediate impact in pass rushing situations.
62. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – Ifeatu Melinfonwu, CB, Syracuse If you are looking for a long corner with off-the-charts athleticism, look no further than Ifeatu Melinfonwu. He posted a 41.5-inch vertical at his pro day and ran sub 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. At 6’2″, he has the physical tools to be a disruptive corner at the next level. He has a bit of a ways to go development wise, but Green Bay could view him as a potential 2022 starter and important depth after their secondary fell apart in the NFC Championship game.
63. Kansas City Chiefs (14-2) – Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn This just makes too much sense. Kansas City loves receivers who can turn on the after burners. Anthony Schwartz reportedly ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at his pro day. That speed is very apparent on film as well. He is a bit wiry at 6’0″ and only 180 pounds, but he can fly in the open field, and that is exactly what the Chiefs are looking for after losing Sammy Watkins.
64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) – Jay Tufele, DL, USC Tampa continues to plan for the future. Jay Tufele definitely fits the mold of a 3-4 defensive end. He had a strong 2019 season before opting out of 2020. His draft profile is mostly about projection. He didn’t have a ton of production in college, but after posting 30 reps on the bench and running a sub five-second 40-yard dash at 315 pounds during his pro day, there is more than enough to pique the Bucs interest in him. He could be a potential successor to Ndamukong Suh.
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