Well, that was fun.
With the 2020 NFL season officially behind us following Tampa Bay winning last week’s Super Bowl, we now shift our focus to the next big event on the NFL calendar: The NFL Draft.
Each year the top collegiate prospects and players enter the draft as they kickstart their NFL careers while NFL teams seek to find the players that will best help their squad chase the Lombardi Trophy.
How beneficial is a good draft class?
Just ask the reigning champion Buccaneers. In the 2020 NFL Draft, they landed standout OT Tristan Wirfs, playmaker S Antoine Winfield Jr., and young wideout Tyler Johnson, all of whom played big roles en route to the title.
So, lets get to it.
1. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
The Pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This has been the pick since the moment Trevor Lawrence stepped on the field at Clemson just three years ago. Perhaps the highest touted collegiate prospect since Andrew Luck (or maybe Peyton Manning, Lawrence is everything a franchise wants in a QB and more: incredible build (6’6, 215), elite athleticism, and a generational arm talent.
All that combined with a champion work ethic and leadership skills, Lawrence is the most highly coveted prospect in some time.
Even Jacksonville can’t mess this one up.
2. NEW YORK JETS
The Pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The draft really starts at the second pick.
New York has a lot of needs and questions to answer before then. 2018 third-overall selection QB Sam Darnold has shown some promise throughout his short career, and the question to be answered is whether he’s done enough to warrant another year at the helm or should the Jets look in a different direction. A possible Deshaun Watson trade centered around this pick would also be on the table.
Until the Jets have more answers than questions, the safe pick is assuming some wandering eyes from the front office and a QB taken here.
BYU Zach Wilson had an outstanding junior season, showing plenty of athleticism as a dual threat QB, passing for 33 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, while rushing for another 10 scores.
Justin Fields could be an option here as well, but Wilson has seemingly passed him up as the consensus QB2 on most experts’ boards.
3. MIAMI DOLPHINS (from HOU)
The Pick: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
This is one of my favorite fits in the draft.
Miami is coming off a near-playoff season and is fielding a roster centered around rising sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa, the former Alabama superstar.
While Tagovailoa didn’t light up the NFL like some may have thought, he showed plenty of promise, and with a new offensive coordinator and some better playcalling, there are high expectations for him.
What could most effectively turbocharge his development would be drafting former collegiate teammate and reigning Heisman trophy winner wideout Devonta Smith, who dominated opposing defenses all season. He exploded for 123 receptions, 1,856 yards, and 23 touchdowns while frequently facing double-teams and game plans designed for stopping him.
While there are fair concerns about his slight build (6’1, 175), it hasn’t affected him yet, and it’s well worth the risk.
The former Alabama teammates and class of ’17 recruits should hit it off immediately in the NFL, making this an easy selection.
4. ATLANTA FALCONS
The Pick: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Falcons brought in new management this season, hiring Terry Fontenot as the general manager and Arthur Smith as the head coach. It’s easy to imagine that planning for the future will be the primary concern since incumbent QB Matt Ryan will turn 36 this summer, WR Julio Jones turns 32, and longtime C Alex Mack is entering free agency at 35.
While the new regime could run it back again and use this pick to bolster the defense, I expect the team to capitalize on this uncommonly high draft position (highest since 2008, where they took Matt Ryan at 3) to take a new quarterback and usher in a new era.
That quarterback should be Georgia native and Ohio State superstar Justin Fields, who throughout two seasons as the starter at OSU, demonstrated everything a franchise wants in a QB: unreal arm talent, electric playmaking, and uncanny toughness, demonstrated by his 2021 CFP semifinal performance as he threw 4 touchdowns after breaking his ribs. He also profiles as a threat on the ground, rushing for 700 yards and 15 touchdowns across two seasons at OSU.
All that, and combined with Fields affinity for Georgia, make this a match made in heaven.
5. CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Pick: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
This might be the second easiest pick in the draft.
One year after taking LSU QB Joe Burrow with the top pick, the Bengals showed marginal improvement across the board, and Burrow consistently put the team in the position to win games up until an unfortunate ACL injury in his 10th game.
The Bengals allowed Burrow to be sacked a horrific 32 times this season across just 10 games. While there is talent on the offense, it will be hard to capitalize on that when the QB is unprotected. It’s of the upmost importance that Cincinnati takes measures to improve the o-line this offseason.
This leads us to Sewell, the clear top offensive lineman in the class and a true plug-in-play prospect.
Sewell is a generational talent that ESPN expert Mel Kiper compared to Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz. At pick 5, the Bengals (and Joe Burrow) should be thrilled to get him here.
6. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
The Pick: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
This pick is a great fit since Philadelphia desperately needs wide receiver talent.
Chase, who sat out the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, may have been the best receiver in college football in 2019 as a sophomore, tallying up 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Chase would be the consensus top wide receiver prospect in any other season, but unfortunately, he happens to be in the same class as Smith.
Chase is a dominant and physical receiver who consistently comes down with jump balls while also being dangerous after the catch. He gives the Eagles a true number one receiver who pairs well with last year’s first round pick WR Jalen Reagor.
7. DETROIT LIONS
The Pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Like Philadelphia, Detroit needs an influx of talent on offense. While they have talented guys like Kenny Golladay, T.J. Hockenson, and D’Andre Swift, the team’s offensive play fell off a cliff after Golladay went down with an injury.
Waddle is an explosive receiver who has made a habit of turning short routes into long touchdowns. In a league dominated by Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs, Waddle should instantly give Detroit a new no.1 target while opening up the field for the rest of the playmakers.
8. CAROLINA PANTHERS
The Pick: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
This is where it gets real interesting.
Carolina reportedly was all in on a Matthew Stafford trade before he ended up going to the Los Angeles Rams, but that does mean the team is possibly looking to move on from QB Teddy Bridgewater, who had an up and down first season in the blue and black.
That makes Trey Lance an interesting bet at pick 8.
Lance and NDSU had a one-game season in 2020, but in 2019, he showed out to the tune of 28 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. He is an incredible athlete with an huge arm and explosive running ability, which was on display in his lone game this season against Central Arkansas where he ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Lance has high potential as a quarterback, but he’s not a sure thing as he hasn’t played against top-tier competition to this point in his career.
All that adds up to Carolina taking a chance here on their QB of the future, who reminds me of NFL MVP finalist Josh Allen, who was seen similarly as a small school QB with unlimited potential.
9. DENVER BRONCOS
The Pick: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
After spending last season’s first round pick on WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver will likely look to improve their defense after struggling last season. While VCU CB Caleb Farley could be in play here, especially after Denver cut CB AJ Bouye this past week, I think they’ll focus on their front seven and seek another anchor alongside pass rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
While Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, his athleticism really shows as an off-ball linebacker in 2019 at Penn State, where he tallied 109 tackles and 5 sacks. He possesses elite sideline-to-sideline speed with serviceable coverage skills and run-stopping. He seems to fill an immediate role as a jack-of-all-trades linebacker.
He immediately plugs a need in the linebacker corps,and could be a potential Von Miller replacement down the road.
10. DALLAS COWBOYS
The Pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys had plenty of problems exposed throughout the 2020 season, but the defense was especially poor. Poor play echoed throughout all three levels, but no unit was perhaps worse than the secondary, who struggled all season after losing top corner Byron Jones in free agency last season.
Patrick Surtain II is the top ranked corner back by numerous experts and for good reason. Kiper of ESPN summed him up in his recent mock draft:
“Surtain, my top-ranked corner, could be a starter on Day 1. He had 27 pass breakups and four interceptions over three seasons at Bama. At 6-2, Surtain has the size and speed to play on an island and lock down wideouts.”
It is believed that Surtain could step in immediately and contribute to a defense that sorely needs help.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com
Media by Isaiah Atkins.