The top of the 2021 NFL draft is set in stone — that is, until picks can be traded. We know the order of the first 18 selections, with the remaining 14 in Round 1 to be determined based on the results of the playoffs.
And what we have atop the draft is a fascinating landscape that could lead to a lot of trade activity. Why? Well, it appears that the most interesting — and perhaps most coveted — prospects in the draft’s upper reaches will be quarterbacks.
But not all teams picking in that range will draft QBs. The Miami Dolphins at 3 just announced that Tua Tagovailoa will be their starter next season. The Atlanta Falcons have Matt Ryan under contract, with nearly $50 million in dead money remaining. The Cincinnati Bengals won’t pick another QB.
So that certainly opens the door for multiple trades in the top 10, pending what happens during the free-agency period. Quarterbacks are expected to be the main trade-up targets. We could end up with three going in the top five overall picks and perhaps four in the top 10.
Then again, that means many mock drafts figure to look pretty ugly. Uglier than normal, that is.
Here’s a quick snapshot how the top five stands now:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence has bid farewell to Clemson in an apparent declaration for the draft, so the first domino has fallen. There will be a new general manager in Jacksonville. Could this be like Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay after he hired former GM Ryan Grigson? Grigson admitted after the draft that Andrew Luck was in essence Irsay’s pick.
Earlier this week, Jaguars owner Shad Khan said that he would retain personnel control for the time being. That can’t sit well for prospective GM candidates. But what would happen if, say, Urban Meyer becomes head coach?
Even if Lawrence feels like a mortal lock to Jacksonville, we’re not putting the chances quite at 100 percent right now. We’ll hedge and say 99 or so.
2. New York Jets
BYU QB Zach Wilson
There is a lot of chatter that GM Joe Douglas will look to trade down. But then again, Douglas was pretty vague and non-committal when asked about Sam Darnold’s future in New York. Perhaps Douglas is just playing smart poker. It never hurts to listen to offers and see what options present themselves.
As for the Wilson vs. Justin Fields debate, the one thing we can tell you, having spoken to multiple teams about the quarterbacks this season, is that there will be no consensus. Some like Wilson better. Others prefer Fields. And there are some Trey Lance supporters out there, too. This is going to be fascinating theater to watch everything play out over the next 16 weeks.
3. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans)
LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase
Many are mad that I’ve had Chase in this spot over, say, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, the newly minted Heisman Trophy winner. Readers have informed me that Smith and Tagovailoa were college teammates. Good info; we’ll file that away for certain.
The truth is that I don’t know which receiver the Dolphins favor, and I don’t believe they know yet, either. They’ll take the best player here, regardless of what uniform they wear. Now, is Chase better than Smith? Is there another option that would be superior to either?
Those are fine questions to ask. But keep this in mind: Last year, around late March, there were some reports that came out that the Dolphins did not believe in Tagovailoa. (Go look, most of them are still online.)
So here’s our mock-building tip of the day: If you hear similar reports about a different prospect and Miami this time around, perhaps that’s a sign we should lock that player into the third slot.
4. Atlanta Falcons
Ohio State QB Justin Fields
The Falcons were 0-7 in one-score games. They still have Ryan, and his contract is a boat anchor. Everything in my head is screaming, “no” with this pairing, and yet I think the next general manager is going to have to have a real honest and tough call on the longer-term future of the franchise.
Teams that think too much in the short term tend to fizzle fast. Fans don’t like being patient, and frankly most owners don’t either. This will be a fascinating time for Arthur Blank. But it’s potentially the smartest payoff in the end, with the prodigal son coming home to ATL.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
Oregon OT Penei Sewell
Sewell’s hagiography has frankly been a little too much, at least in some NFL evaluators’ minds. Truly. I’ve spoken to a scout (whose name fans would recognize) who is not a huge fan of Sewell; then again, other people really, really like him.
But my chorus since August on Sewell has been consistent: He’s not Jonathan Ogden, folks. However, if he’s Willie Anderson-level good, certainly if he’s Andrew Whitworth good, Sewell will be well worth it here. The Bengals need blocking help as much as anyone.
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