The NFL Draft always brings back plenty of memories. Especially for this writer, who recalls the days long before the draft became an industry unto itself, and working on rudimentary draft previews for the heck of it. We recall the days when the draft festivities would take place almost at the conclusion of the regular season, and then when it would be conducted in late January during the years immediately following the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Before the advent of ESPN, keeping track of the draft meant waiting for the evening newspaper (remember those?), which would provide info on first-round selections, then waiting for the following day’s morning paper to report upon subsequent picks. Or, listening to news radio when it was time for the sports reports every half hour, and charting reports of the latest picks. Upon its launching in September of 1979, ESPN, however, thought that providing extensive draft coverage might not be a bad idea for pro football junkies who were looking for their gridiron “fix” in the offseason. Indeed, one of ESPN’s first major breakthroughs was its on-site coverage of the 1980 draft, just a few months after the network began its operations. Veteran Jim Simpson, a top announcer at ABC and NBC the previous two decades and ESPN’s first “celebrity” hire, would play an integral role in those early coverages of the draft, beginning in 1980.
We can also recall the draft days before Mel Kiper, Jr. became a household name, although we suspect a young Mel was doing some of the same things we were doing long ago, in a low-flying orbit with our draft previews, about the time ESPN began its coverage of the draft.
In those days, there were few media coverage options for hard-core NFL fans and “draftniks” outside of Joel Buchsbaum’s mesmerizing reports for Pro Football Weekly. The mysterious Buchsbaum, based in Brooklyn and rarely seen in public, had quickly developed a cult-like following in those days, as he was featured not only in PFW but also on various sports talk radio shows (notably in St. Louis, where he cultivated a new legion of fans in the midwest on blowtorch KMOX when preceding the Monday night games). There was also a fellow named Jerry Jones, different from the one who would buy the Cowboys several years later, who would preview the draft with a small, goldenrod-colored booklet called the Drugstore List. Jones’ labor of love, which began in 1978, continued thru 2012, with his last edition published shortly before his passing. Back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, however, the Drugstore List was one of the few reference sources for the draft besides Buchsbaum’s material for PFW.
The passing of all-time draft all-stars such as Jones and Buchsbaum, and the demise of Hub Arkush's PFW (the first publication to set the bar high for draft coverage), are all viewed sadly by draftniks, although there are still countless other draft previews, some still in print, but most now online, to satisfy an ever-growing number of admirers. (We are sure the likes of Jones and Buschbaum are nodding approvingly from above.)
The draft provided something unique for me, too, as I produced my own version of a preview long ago to a very small collection of clientele while I was finishing my college work. Those early draft previews were among the items I first sent along to TGS Founder Mort Olshan when looking for a job outside of the college sports information office sphere some forty years ago.. Mort liked what he saw, and darned if he didn’t hire me, providing my entree into this fascinating business. We even toyed with the concept of producing some serious draft previews at TGS in the early ’80s before passing on the idea; among other things, by the time the draft rolled around each spring, we were too exhausted from a season’s worth of football and basketball publishing work to so quickly sink our teeth into another project. No Mel Kiper, Jr. for us, though in retrospect perhaps we should have gone for it way back when. We had an idea that the draft held the potential to captivate the NFL audience, as forward-looking thinkers such as Kiper were able to capitalize upon later in the ‘80s.
Fast forward to 2021, and the NFL Draft remains a pretty big deal. And deserving of a big kudo from the masses, too, after providing the only hint of normalcy during the first few months of the pandemic last year. With no baseball, basketball, or hockey in April, the only event that proceeded as scheduled was the NFL Draft, even though it had to make concessions to the times, effectively being conducted from the home of commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL Draft also reached a new level of awareness in the sports betting community; while it had gained in wagering popularity in recent years, it elevated to a new plateau thanks to being the only game in town in April of 2020, and states with mobile features built into their wagering platforms found the Draft an oasis of sorts in the parched sports landscape of a year ago.
For us, this is a treat, and a walk down memory lane when we used to do these draft previews just for fun. After all of these years, we still get the same kick out of previewing the draft as we did back in the early ‘80s!
Following are our team updates, revolving around first-round draft projections, and our predicted selections. As always, trades can alter draft order, but for the moment this is how we believe things might proceed beginning Thursday in Cleveland. We’ll go in draft order (as of Tuesday, April 27), with a brief review of offseason activity followed by the predicted first-round choice in bold italics.
Let’s enjoy the NFL Draft!
1-JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS...Sweeping changes for sure that were telegraphed more than one of George Foreman’s roundhouse rights aimed at Ali during the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire. Though even with knowledge that a clean sweep was forthcoming, the ability of mustachioed owner Shad Khan to present Urban Meyer an offer he couldn’t refuse to return to the coaching ranks is a signal that the Jags mean business. Trent Baalke, ex of the 49ers, was also brought in as GM. The rebuild begins with the certain selection of Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence at the top of the first round and the hope he can vault J’ville into contending status much as Andrew Luck was immediately able to do with the Colts nine years ago. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
2-NEW YORK JETS...Consensus opinion seems to be that the Jets hit a home run with their hire of ex-49ers d.c. Robert Saleh as the new HC. We’re encouraged, but not ready to deify Saleh just yet, as we’ve seen too many coordinators fail to make the grade when taking the next step up the ladder. GM Joe Douglas, who survived the purge that claimed HC Adam Gase, made what seemed to be several sensible moves in free agency, as well as shipping out QB Sam Darnold to the Panthers. Among the additions, DE Carl Lawson (ex-Bengals) and WR Corey Davis (ex-Titans) should make the most impact. It would be a surprise if Douglas goes in a direction other than BYU QB Zach Wilson with the second overall pick, and expect the Jets to start re-working their secondary and offensive line with subsequent picks (inclduing later in the first round). Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
3-SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (from Houston via Miami)… The center of much intrigue after trading up to the third slot and triggering all sorts of speculation, much of it centering around which of the available QBs the Niners might take. (It hardly seems likely that SF would have traded up this high and without the thought of drafting a QB.) Not lost in the rumor mill is Jimmy Garoppolo, who is tentatively slated to be at the controls in the fall no matter whom GM John Lynch drafts. Though much chatter still surrounds Jimmy G, who in a best case scenario for the Niners now seems a short-term option at best, and still the subject of various trade rumors (including one that continues to float with Bill Belichick bringing him back to Foxborough). Whatever, a healthy roster (especially including Jimmy G) might be able to whip SF back into contention after the rash of injuries last season, and Lycnh did an admirable job inking most of his key free agents, including LT Trent Williams. Now, which QB will Lynch select? Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
4-ATLANTA FALCONS… In what appears to be an early period of transition, the Falcons had too many cap issues to be a serious player in free agency, and will probably have to wait for those situations to sort out across the next year or two before truly remolding the look of the team. The process has begun with new GM Terry Fontenot and new HC Arthur Smith (ex-Titans o.c.), while longtime franchise linchpins QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones are surely nearing the ends of their decorated runs in the ATL. But maybe not yet, even if Ryan, in particular, has been the subject of trade speculation. That's unlikely in the short-term, as his cap hit would be too monstrous for the Falcons to absorb (there’s a chance they could more realistically explore moves after June 1, when the hit will slightly decrease). In the meantime it would be no surprise if Fontenot looks for a successor QB at some time in the draft, but probably not in the first round, where generational talent Florida TE Kyle Pitts would be too tempting to bypass. Especially considering how Smith made liberal use of his tight ends while with the Titans. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
5-CINCINNATI BENGALS… Entering 2021, there is some conjecture as to just how much rope HC Zac Taylor has remaining after a mere six wins across two seasons. The bar has been set admittedly low, and the serious midseason knee injury to Heisman QB Joe Burrow, who was having a pretty good rookie campaign, stalled progress last fall, but the thought is that Taylor likely has to make a move toward .500 to last into 2022. Cincy was active in free agency but most of the additions simply replaced players going out the door (such as ex-Saints DE Trey Hendrickson moving in at the same time Carl Lawson left for the Jets). Versatile veteran OL Riley Reiff, however, will likely be a very useful signee. There will be temptation to provide Burrow a big-time target like his former college teammate at LSU, Ja’Marr Chase, but after their franchise centerpiece went down in a heap last fall, protecting him better has to be the Bengals’ first order of business in the draft. Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
6-MIAMI DOLPHINS… We might never know if the Dolphins would have made a serious pitch for Deshaun Watson had the Texans QB not found himself in hot water during the offseason. There was some speculation that Miami had soured on last year’s first-round QB, Tua Tagavailoa, who was not nearly as effective as Ryan Fitzpatrick last fall, with Tua often guilty of “Paxton Lynch-itis” (constant dump-offs, and a reluctance to pass downfield). In the end, however, Tua remains in the pilot’s chair, with Fitzpatrick off to Washington and Jacoby Brissett the new safety-blanket after being signed away from the Colts. Looking to upgrade Tua’s weaponry, GM Chris Grier added ex-Texans WR Will Fuller in the offseason, but don’t be surprised if Grier and HC Brian Flores want Tua to have even more toys in his box this fall. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
7-DETROIT LIONS… As almost everything the Lions have tried with their head coaches has failed for nearly a half-century since Joe Schmidt had contending teams in late 60s and early 70s, new team prexy Sheila Ford Hamp (bestowed that title by franchise matriarch, and mom, Martha Ford last June) decided to hire a coach who still thinks he’s a player. Enter Dan Campbell, a 10-year tight end in the league and longtime assistant who had a brief stint as an interim coach in Miami during 2015 after Joe Philbin was dismissed midway in that campaign. Campbell’s introductory press conference had more the feel of one of Dana White’s UFC rumbles, but the last time we checked, Campbell won’t be doing hand-to-hand combat with Mike Zimmer or other opposing coaches in the NFC North. Of course, the major player news in the offseason was dealing QB Matthew Stafford to the Rams for a trove of draft picks plus out-of-favor QB Jared Goff . There is speculation that Goff is on a short leash and that the Lions could go for a QB early in the draft, while Campbell, if in character, might prefer an early pick for a lineman to bloody an opponent’s nose. But after addressing needs on the defensive line (DT Michael Brockers over in a separate deal from the Rams, plus signing DE Charles Harris from the Falcons), new GM Brad Holmes likely focuses first upon a depleted receiving corps that was weakened by Kenny Golladay’s FA move to the Giants. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
8-CAROLINA PANTHERS...Another team that might have been in a player in the never-materialized Deshaun Watson Derby, the Panthers opted to look elsewhere for an answer at QB and found Sam Darnold on the market. Perhaps Darnold just needed a change of scenery after his Jets adventure went off of the rails, but that’s the direction the Pan-thas seem headed at QB until further notice. (Teddy Bridgewater remains on the roster but is likely to be on the move by the summer.) Injuries mostly wrecked Matt Rhule’s maiden voyage as an NFL HC in 2020, and no telling how much a healthy Christian McCaffrey might mean to Carolina this fall. New GM Scott Fitterer made what appear to be some sound moves in the offseason, bolstering the OL and improving the pass rush with Haason Redick (12.5 sacks in 2020) added from the Cards, but Carolina probably still needs some upgrading at the corner spots to deal with the various big targets in the NFC South. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama (Note: Bridgewater was traded to Denver on Wednesday for a 6th-round pick)
9-DENVER BRONCOS… Sure, the draft is interesting, but the real day they’re waiting for in Broncos Country is July 12, when the future of franchise ownership is going to be at stake as the trial to resolve the estate of Pat Bowlen is slated to begin. At the center of the case are the feuding Bowlen heirs, but serious fans along the Front Range simply want the Bowlen offspring out of the picture and for the franchise to sell, ridding itself of the current set-up no one likes with three trustees, including longtime team exec Joe Ellis, acting as caretakers. Thus, almost everything appears short-term in Denver, from the Bowlen ownership, to team president John Elway (who “promoted” himself from GM, but has only a year left on his contract), to Ellis and the trustees, to HC Vic Fangio, and beleaguered QB Drew Lock. Even most of first-year GM George Paton’s offseason signings (featuring some apparent upgrades in the 2ndary, applauded by defense-minded Fangio) were just for a year. including an exercise of LB Von Miller's option. Don’t be surprised if Paton might be tempted to roll the dice in the first round on the QB of the future (or very-near future), after Elway's numerous failures in looking for a successor to Peyton Manning over the past five years. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State (Note: Paton acquired QB Teddy Bridgewater from Carolina for a 6th-round pick on Wednesday)
10-DALLAS COWBOYS… The major Dallas news in the offseason was Jerry Jones finally relenting and giving the big-bucks contract extension (4 years, $160 mill) that QB Dak Prescott had been seeking while playing the past two years on the franchise tag. A bit more risky in 2021, however, as Prescott tries to return from a serious ankle injury, and we have long had questions about Prescott and his hollow stats qualifying as an elite-tier QB. Last year’s struggles after Dak went down (though the Cowboys were only 1-3 with Prescott) convinced Jones that this was his best QB alternative moving forward. Of course there is the rest of the roster which was nowhere near the Super Bowl-level that Jones envisioned, especially on defense, where Jones loaded up in free-agency with lower-priced options. Will they really provide an upgrade? The Cowboys still look to need help on the stop end, and Jones will likely use the majority of his 10 picks (trades notwithstanding) on defense. Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
11-NEW YORK GIANTS...It’s now-or-never for GM Dave Gettleman, who hasn't had a winning season on his watch with the G-Men and is generally considered to be sitting on a very hot seat entering the fall, much more so than second-year HC Joe Judge, who impressed most onlookers a year ago by keeping his injury-ravaged troops in the playoff chase (such as it was) in the NFC East. Getting RB Saquon Barkley healthy will obviously be a major plus in the fall, but ex-Duke QB Daniel Jones needs to make progress in his third year. To that end, Gettleman tried to bolster the supporting cast in the offseason, with ex-Lions WR Kenny Golladay a major addition, though he wasn’t the only upgrade, with ex-Titans CB Adoree’ Jackson another marquee add. Gettleman now likely prioritizes the pass rush, one area where the defense still needs some help. Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami-Fla
12-PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (from San Francisco via Miami)… The phone lines have been heating up all winter and spring on WIP about the direction of the Birds, who when last seen were generating comparisons to the Ali-Liston II fight when some curious personnel decisions seemed to sabotage the regular-season finale vs. Washington. That was the end of a desultory 2020 that cost HC Doug Pederson his job just three years after winning a Supe. Carson Wentz has also left town (to Indy), and GM Howie Roseman is left with a smoldering wreckage of a team. The QB job has apparently been handed to ex-Bama and Oklahoma Jalen Hurts, who performed with a bit of flair down the stretch last term, with slow-footed Joe Flacco signed on a one-year deal as short-term insurance. No matter, don’t be surprised if Roseman opts for a QB in the second day of the draft, as Hurts can't yet be considered a sure-fire, long-term answer. There are holes galore on this roster, but the chance to give new HC Nick Sirianni, most recently Frank Reich’s o.c. with the Colts, some pieces to work with offensively, would be well-received (perhaps even by the WIP crowd). Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
13-LA CHARGERS...Injuries had much to do with the Chargers falling out of contention long before a belated December run got them to 7-9. Which was not nearly enough to save the job of HC Anthony Lynn, who had dug himself a deep hole by midseason, by which time the Bolts had inexplicably blown several big leads. New HC Brandon Staley has been recruited from the other side of SoFi Stadium, where he was the Rams’ d.c., to oversee the recovery and try to maximize the potential of second-year QB Justin Herbert, who looked the real deal in 2020, and now working under new o.c. Joe Lombardi. Though an improvement in special teams (place-kicking in particular) might be the key to more wins in 2021. As is the case with Cincinnati and Joe Burrow, protecting the Spanos investment in Herbert has to be a priority for GM Tom Telesco, who will likely be looking to fortify his OL in the early rounds. Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC.
14-MINNESOTA VIKINGS… Lots of rumors floating around the NFC North that this might be Mike Zimmer’s last go-around with the Vikings. Unfortunately for Zim, his best chance to win might have come and gone, as last year’s defense was the worst of his tenure. Zimmer’s teams have surprised before, however, and GM Rick Spielman has already brought in plenty of reinforcements for the stop unit in the offseason, including an almost brand-new secondary (CB Patrick Peterson from the Cards, S Xavier Woods from the Cowboys, and CB Mackensie Alexander from the Bengals, now in his second tour of duty under Zimmer). Getting back to the playoffs also means trusting QB Kirk Cousins, though the thought is the offense is good enough, especially after RB Dalvin Cook’s emergence to star level. Zimmer, however, would probably prefer Spielman to further fortify his stop unit that ranked 29th in points and 27th in yards allowed last fall. Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
15-NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS… Beware of Bill Belichick, whose various offseason moves suggested he's not about to let his critics get the last laugh after Tom Brady won another Supe with the Bucs after leaving Gillette Stadium. True, Belichick fell to beneath .500 when sans-Brady last fall, but was also working with short rations after numerous injuries and a couple of key opt-outs on defense (LB Dont’a Hightower and S Patrick Chung in particular). Not to mention getting caught short at QB, rolling the dice late on Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham failing to grasp his opportunity. Afraid of being caught with no options at QB into the summer as was the case last year, Belichick has brought Cam back on another one-year deal, but more as an insurance policy or a bridge to a younger option. Whatever, still plenty of speculation in Foxborough; rumors are flying that Belichick could yet move up in the first round to draft a QB, perhaps look for another pilot in the trade market (a reunion with Jimmy G? Maybe Matt Ryan, if the Falcons can swallow his cap hit that decreases in June?), or simply stay put near the middle fo the first round and draft the best available QB. Belichick has already upgraded the attack arsenal in the offseason, especially the receiving corps with TEs Hunter Henry (ex-Chargers) and Jonnu Smith (ex-Titans), plus WRs Nelson Agholor (most recently Raiders) and Kendrick Bourne (ex-49ers), while Belichick has a history of maximzing defensive weapons such as ex-Ravens edge rusher Matthew Judon. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
16-ARIZONA CARDINALS… While there was some disappointment (understandable) in the desert as the Big Red faded out of playoff contention late last season, casting some doubt over HC Kliff Kingsbury’s future, the Cards are also a long way from where they were two years ago after Kingsbury’s surprise hire. No matter, this looms as a crucial season for both the Kingsbury experiment and GM Steve Keim, who took some admitted risks with Kingsbury, who had been fired by Texas Tech the previous year but deemed the proper mentor for the transition to a Kyler Murray-led future. Keim was aggressive in the offseason, finding a quick replacement for CB Patrick Peterson with ex-Titans and Patriots CB Malcolm Butler, whose Super Bowl moment for the ages came right at State Farm Stadium, and enlisting ex-Bengals WR A.J. Green. Also added was ex-Texans DE J.J. Watt, who, if healthy (and that’s been a big if in recent years), can still prove a force, while punishing ex-Steeler RB James Conner fills a gap in the backfield. Vet PK Matt Prater could also help. Don’t be surprised if Keim looks for more secondary help in the early rounds. Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
17-LAS VEGAS RAIDERS… The Raiders still haven’t played in front of fans at Allegiant Stadium, which will welcome its first guests for NFL games (we’re assuming, at least) in the fall. (UNLV had a handful of fans for a few college games last autumn). So this season will seem like the christening of the franchise in Las Vegas. Jon Gruden, however, continues to often look and like a caricature of himself on the sideline, and will apparently continue to stick at QB with Derek Carr, who has yet to win (or participate in) a playoff game in his career. It has been a choppy offseason, with the offensive line suddenly looking in need of repair on top of a defense that was strafed a year ago and allowed nearly 30 ppg. There are some new faces on the stop end to help implement first-year d.c. Gus Bradley’s schemes (DE Yannick Ngakoue form the Ravens should provide some immediate help), but GM Mike Mayock and Gruden will likely be looking to add more pieces to the D after last year’s collapse of that platoon. Azeez Olujari, OLB, Georgia
18- MIAMI DOLPHINS… The Dolphins are sitting in very good shape with picks in this draft, with four in the first two rounds, and barring more deals will already have made a selection at the sixth spot. If GM Chris Grier goes offense as we expect with his earlier pick, don’t be surprised if he looks for the sort of edge rusher that HC Brian Flores covets with the Dolphins’ own pick in the middle of the round. Jaelen Phillips, DE, Miami-Fla
19-WFT… Here’s another team that would have likely been involved in the Deshaun Watson Sweepstakes, which instead had to look elsewhere for its QB options in the offseason after last year's merry-go-round that included Alex Smith's heartwarming comeback (though Smith has subsequently retired). For the moment, it looks like the triggerman will be 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, signed on a one-year deal from Miami, but as usual appearing a place-holder as WFT GM Martin Mayhew mulls possible alternatives in the draft, with fall-back options Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke as holdovers from last fall. Getting the QB thing right is crucial because Ron Rivera’s defense looks as if it is built to win right now after Washington was a surprise winner (at 7-9, but a winner nonetheless) in the NFC East a year ago before making a pretty good fist of it in the Wild Card round vs. the Bucs. Mayhew has already been busy with personnel moves other than Fitzpatrick in the past few months, with ex-Panther Curtis Samuel providing some speed at WR to go along with Terry McLaurin, and ex-Bengal William Jackson III looking a serviceable replacement for Ronald Darby at one of the corners. Unless Mayhew wants to roll the dice with a QB, he could look defense in the “best available” route if he remains at this spot in the first round. Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, LB, Notre Dame
20-CHICAGO BEARS… Spinning their wheels, that’s what the Bears seem to be doing as the duo of GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy enter 2021 squarely on the hot seats. Nagy will be reclaiming his old play-caller role in the fall, but not sure he made the desired upgrade at QB with Andy Dalton brought in from Dallas as a short-term answer. But is Dalton really much better than Mitch Trubisky (now Buffalo) or holdover Nick Foles? Something tells us the Bears might have another move still to come at QB, but Nagy and Pace are also in win-now mode so they probably aren’t thinking about the rookie class as other options. (Chicago, by the way, could have been the leader had there been actual competition for Deshaun Watson this offseason). Though Pace will be tempted to address various areas of concern on offense, he might think a deep-threat wideout will be his best chance to make an immediate impact...which he and Nagy probably need to stick around into 2022. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
21-INDIANAPOLIS COLTS… This Indy offseason will forever be judged by how well QB Carson Wentz adapts to his new surroundings at Lucas Oil, as GM Chris Ballard made the bold move of trading with the Eagles to find an answer the Colts have been looking for since Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement on the eve of the 2019 campaign. The retirement of Philip Rivers, who took a one-year shot in Indy, and the FA departure of Jacoby Brissett to Miami forced Ballard’s hand. Though reuniting Wentz with his former o.c at Philly, Frank Reich, certainly intrigues. Elsewhere, Ballard was cautious as usual in the FA market, mostly focusing on keeping key players in-house (WR T.Y. Hilton & RB Marlon Mack were re-signed). Ballard has been quick in the past to use the draft to fortify his OL, and with an opening at a tackle spot might decide to address that in the early rounds. Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
22-TENNESSEE TITANS… It was pretty obvious last season that the Titans lacked the sort of pass rush that could propel them deep into the playoffs. After recording just 19 sacks a year ago, that has been an offseason priority for GM Jon Robinson, who inked edge-rusher Bud Dupree to hopefully correct some of those deficiencies that ex-Falcon Vic Beasley couldn’t a year ago. The Titans, however, took a hit in their receiving corps when both WR Corey Davis and TE Jonnu Smith walked, and expect those areas to be addressed in the draft. As might the corner after last year’s starters Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson also both departed. Janoris Jenkins from the Saints was added as a reinforcement, but no surprise if Robinson looks for help in the secondary with his early picks. Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
23-NEW YORK JETS (from Seattle)… GM Joe Douglas added a bushel of picks from the Seahawks in the Jamal Adams trade, including this extra first-rounder. If the Jets go for Zach Wilson at QB as we expect with the second pick, don’t be surprised if they address some needs in the secondary with their extra pick in this round. Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
24-PITTSBURGH STEELERS… One of these years, the Steelers are going to have to get around to identifying Big Ben’s successor (unless they really believe Mason Rudolph is that guy). Roethlisberger gives it one more spin this fall, but Pittsburgh brings little momentum into 2021 after crashing and burning last December, a one-time 11-0 mark proving a mirage with losses in five of the last six, including a numbing loss to the Browns in the Wild Card round. Mike Tomlin, who would prefer his offense have a punishing infantry dimension, has also lost RB James Conner to Arizona, and if the Men of Steel are looking for a replacement, we suspect the best back on the board will still be available. Now, will GM Kevin Colbert look for another QB (Kyle Trask? Ian Book?) in subsequent rounds? Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
25-JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (from LA Rams)… Taking advantage of Rams GM Les Snead and his desire to become a modern-day George Allen with his draft picks, the Jags actually got this extra first-rounder from LA back in pre-Covid 2019 with the Jalen Ramsey trade. As Urban Meyer wants to add speed at the skill positions, and provide more potential targets for Trevor Lawrence, don’t be surprised if he and GM Trent Baalke go WR with their second pick of the round. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
26-CLEVELAND BROWNS… Now with a playoff appearance and more importantly a playoff win (the first since the franchise resurrected in 1999) under their belts, the Browns enter 2021 with a target on their back for the first time in a generation. Proceeding with the belief the defense needed a bit more upgrading, the Brownies focused that direction in the offseason, with ex-Rams S John Johnson III, ex-Falcons (and Raiders LY) DE Takkarist McKinley, and ex-Eagles DT Malik Jackson (who once scored a Super Bowl TD!) some potentially useful adds. We suspect GM Andrew Berry is not done with fortifying his stop unit, however, and likely looks for more early help along the DL. Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
27-BALTIMORE RAVENS… Looking to provide more help for Lamar Jackson, GM Eric DeCosta had mixed results in free agency, with ex-Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins the top skill-position add, while ex-Giants G Kevin Zeitler should come in handy along the OL. But not sure how much either of those recruits will move the needle at M&T Bank Stadium, and John Harbaugh is probably wondering about his pass rush after some defections in free agency (including Yannick Ngakoue, gone to the Raiders, and Matthew Judon, off to the Patriots). Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
28-NEW ORLEANS SAINTS… The post-Drew Brees era begins at the Superdome, though the Saints won’t have a dramatically different look this fall after GM Mickey Loomis was able to work around salary cap restrictions by letting loose a variety of second and third-tier players while keeping most of the elite talent in the fold. Still, there was more outflow as cap concerns limited what Loomis could afford in the FA market, and the rookie class will be expected to hit the ground running. There is also a possibility that Loomis and HC Sean Payton look for a developmental project at QB in later rounds, though for the moment they seem content that either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill (or both) can be serviceable alternatives to Brees, especially as the Saints have won with Hill and Teddy Bridgewater when in place of Brees the past two seasons. Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
29-GREEN BAY PACKERS...There is growing unease in Wisconsin that the Aaron Rodgers era is due for an uncomfortable parting sometime soon with the Packers, with a lot of smart money around the league expecting it might happen after this season. Another disappointing stumble in the conference title game, the latest vs. Tampa Bay that rightly should be being laid at the feet of HC Matt LaFleur for some dubious late-game strategy, has heightened the tension. For what it’s worth, GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t work an offseason extension for Rodgers, and some suspect the Jordan Love era could be coming soon if Rodgers decides to force his way out of Lambeau Field after this season. Stay tuned. With limited cap space, Gutekunst had to get creative to keep RB Aaron Jones in the fold, and he did, but there wasn’t much room left over to delve too deep into the FA market. Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
30-BUFFALO BILLS...No reason to do anything dramatic with the Bills, who got all of the way to the AFC title game and look built to stick around for several years, especially with Josh Allen now emerging as an MVP-caliber QB. Shrewd GM Brandon Beane cleared enough cap space with restructures and releases to create enough room to keep marquee players such as key LB Matt Milano, and add a potential top-rate target for Allen in Emmanuel Sanders (most recently with the Saints). Mitch Trubisky was also added from the Bears as a backup to Allen, though some Bills fans were happy with Matt Barkley in reserve the past couple of years. An area of some concern remains along the defensive front seven, where the rush defense (allowing 4.6 ypc last fall) was a bit too permissive in 2020. Carlos Basham, DE, Wake Forest
31-BALTIMORE RAVENS (from Kansas City)… Shuffling a variety of later picks with the Chiefs, the Ravens were able to get another choice at the end of the round and likely look to fortify the OL if they went for defense with their earlier selection. For those interested in some of the "posiiton" prop bets, we might expect to see several offensive linemen go off of the board in the later half of the first round, making that 6.5 OL "total" in the first round an intriguing wager. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
32-TAMPA BAY BUCS...The Bucs look like they are going to run it back in 2021 with effectively the same look they had when winning it all last season as GM Jason Licht has creatively managed to keep all 22 Super Bowl starters on offense and defense in the fold. By extending the contracts of Tom Brady and LT Donovan Smith, Licht was able to free nearly $30 million. With a set roster, don’t be surprised if Licht goes for flash early in the draft and swings for the fences to add another playmaker for Brady to enjoy. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
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