It’s fitting the 2021 NFL Draft is in Cleveland – a city which has gone through its fair share of drama in the past few decades.
Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers have mortgaged the house – and their collective jobs – to go up and get what they feel will be the final piece in the chase for Super Bowl glory after coming so close two years ago.
The quarterback owns the headlines in the NFL sphere and this draft is yet another example of that with the possibility of FIVE passers going inside the top 10.
Throw in a generational tight end who is rated by some as the 2nd best player overall, plus a handful of teams who are anticipated to be in play to make a draft night trade up.
We’ve already seen both trade and quarterback movement with Denver and Carolina coming together for a trade, sending Teddy Bridgewater from Charlotte to Mile High, however there remains the distinct possibility that both teams still picks a QB. That’s what makes the draft so exciting, yet so confusing.
Here are the five things I’ll be watching for when the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off;
PROTECTION OR PRODUCTION?
Protect your QB or give him a weapon no one can stop – that’s the question facing a few teams who pick early in the draft but none more so than Cincinnati.
Joe Burrow has already succumbed to injury thanks to inept offensive line play so will the Bengals brass cave and select Penei Sewell to keep Burrow clean or will the opportunity to pair Burrow with his LSU championship-winning team mate Ja’Marr Chase be too good to turn down?
In the end, the Bengals decision will speak to their philosophies as a football team but ask yourself what you would do… protect the QB with the franchise offensive tackle or get the QB a weapon who can win on every snap.
New England, Chicago, Pittsburgh… Carolina, Detroit, Denver – to trade up and to move down. Those decisions confront teams who either want to move up to grab a potential franchise QB or teams who like what they have at QB and can cash in on some draft capital.
The Bears made a run at securing Russell Wilson, but now have a real consideration about adding a QB to a room which currently has Mitch Trubisky and Andy Dalton.
The Steelers will have Big Ben next season, but this is a talented roster which is built for a more sustained run, adding a developing QB to learn for a season would be a wise move.
Then, there is New England, who has Cam Newton returning plus a bunch of playmakers on defence who opted out of last season due to COVID.
Reports arose Thursday morning that initial conversations had been had between the Patriots and Panthers about a trade.
Where is the defensive force? Nick Bosa, Chase Young, Bradley Chubb… there’s no one like these guys in this draft but there has to be some defensive monsters out there.
Who are the defensive sleepers?
In most mock drafts, we don’t see a defensive player taken until the edge of the top 10 with CB Patrick Surtain II and Kwity Paye options for Dallas – among others – in that range.
It’s entirely possible we see zero defensive players taken in the top 10.
Trey Lance is an interesting prospect. ESPN draft guru Todd McShay has him as the ninth overall prospect despite a staggering lack of repetition in college. Not only did Lance attend North Dakota State – which hardly faces Alabama and Clemson in its schedule – the QB has only thrown 318 passes for the Bison, which would be the lowest total for a Round 1 QB in 40 years.
Lance is a lock for round one, but what you’re really getting yourself into will be fascinating to follow.
SLIM, JA’MARR OR WADDLE
A home run hitter with a 44.5 yard TD average, a Heisman Trophy winner or the best WR in all of college football in 2019 with some mind-blowing statistics.
Jaylen Waddle can take any pass to the house – and the odd punt as a dangerous return man.
DeVonta Smith won a Heisman Trophy as an untouchably silky playmaker.
And Ja’Marr Chase outperformed them both the season previous as he amassed 1,780 yards and 20 scores on his way to the Natty.
My Top 10 Players in this Draft;
1 Kyle PITTS (TE, Florida) Pitts is the best player in this draft and will be a top 5 TE next season in the NFL.
2 Ja’Marr CHASE (WR, LSU) A receiver who can do absolutely everything at a high high level.
3 Penei SEWELL (OT, Oregon) A human road grader of an offensive tackle who will keep his QB’s jersey clean.
4 Najee HARRIS (RB, Alabama) Who jumps up to grab the No. 1 RB in this draft?
5 Terrace MARSHALL (WR, LSU) TMarsh was the third banana to Chase and Justin Jefferson but he’s a serious WR.