'Pick Six' is a new series where I'll take a deep dive into events happening in or around the NFL giving you, the reader, six key takeaways, predictions, or opinions on said topic!
With the first night of the 2021 NFL draft now just days away, a lot of uncertainty still remains. The only picks that seem set in stone are the first two. Unless something changes drastically in the next few days, we will see Trevor Lawrence go one to the Jaguars and Zach Wilson go two to the New York Jets. After that, well that's where it gets hazy... The 49ers are no doubt dead set on adding a QB, but which one? Will the Falcons select Matt Ryan's successor or load up the offense for another run? How many QBs actually go in the first round? When will the first defensive player go off the board? What is love? Why are we here? Does any of this really matter?? Like I said, things are a bit hazy... Chaos will, without a doubt, ensue and I'm here for it! In today's edition of 'Pick Six' I'll give you six BOLD predictions that could shake up the first night of the NFL Draft and, hopefully, a little fun along the way! Also, one more thing before you read! I am by no means saying that all six of these predictions will come true, that would be insane. I'm merely giving some long-shot predictions that don't seem totally crazy to me.
1. The 49ers select a QB NOT named Mac Jones or Trey Lance
It's no secret that the San Fransisco 49ers traded up for the third pick in Thursday's draft for one reason, to get their QB of the future. From the moment the trade was announced in late March there has been a sense around the NFL that the 49ers had their eyes on Alabama signal caller Michael McCorkle Jones (yes, that is really his real name). On my most recent mock draft, however, I challenged this thinking. I just find it hard to believe that a team would mortgage their future for what many think is a rich man's Kirk Cousins.
Then, late Sunday evening, NFL insider Ian Rapoport dropped what the kids would call a "bomb". Rapoport reported the 49ers "shifted" their focus to two specific players. The aforementioned Mac Jones and, North Dakota State quarterback, Trey Lance. I, however, being the contrarian that I am, am not buying it. In this first prediction, I'm predicting that the 49ers shock the NFL world by selecting a QB not named Trey Lance OR Mac Jones. Instead, San Francisco takes the Ohio State passer Justin Fields. Fields' recent slide in draft projections has boggled my mind. In my eyes, Justin Fields is a better QB right now than Lance and has a much higher upside than Jones. In this scenario, the Niners obviously have the same sentiment. The draft really starts at pick number three, and if the pick turns out to be Fields what a chaotic start it would be!
2. Six quarterbacks are selected in the first round
Sticking with the theme of quarterbacks, it has become a near guarantee that we will see five quarterbacks not only go in the first round of the draft, but potentially go in the top ten! Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Trey Lance are all expected the see their name called on night one of the 2021 NFL Draft, but what about a sixth guy? In recent weeks the idea of a team at the back end of the first round either taking a sixth QB or trading their pick to someone coming up to get that sixth guy has picked up steam. Why does this scenario make so much sense? Well, it's quite simple really. The reason we see teams make a concerted effort to trade back up into the first round to select a QB instead of waiting to see if they drop to the second round is because of the 5th-year option included in the contract of first round rookies. Having that 5th-year option means that teams can have that young QB on a very affordable deal for one year longer than they otherwise would if he was, say, a second or third round pick.
So which QB would be that sixth guy? After the first five guys the 'other guys' seem to be Florida's Kyle Trask, Stanford's Davis Mills and Kellen Mond out of Texas A&M. Trask's numbers last year at Florida were other worldly and he has the size and arm strength to convince teams that he could develop behind a veteran QB. Mond has the arm and athleticism that, if put in the right situation, could turn into something special. Mills had a ton of hype coming out of high school as the top rated quarterback of the 2017 class, but his 11 college starts isn't quite enough for teams to make a fair evaluation. Whether it's Mond, Trask or Mills that is eventually picked as the sixth QB in this draft, don't be surprised if that sixth guy sneaks into the end of the first round. Look for teams with established, but aging, signal callers to potentially trade back up into or sit where they are to take a guy that they can develop for the future. Teams like the Steelers and Buccaneers make the most sense.
3. No running-backs taken in the first round
In recent years, the idea of taking a halfback in the first round of the NFL Draft has become quite frowned upon among draft 'experts'. Although I don't totally agree that under no circumstances you should draft a RB in round one, there has been enough evidence in the last decade to make this argument a fair one. Of the last ten backs taken in the first round (dating back to 2015) six have made at least one Pro-Bowl, three have been on an All-Pro team and six have rushed for 1,000 yards more than once. Those numbers on their own don't actually look all that bad. However, only four of those players (Todd Gurley, Sony Michel, Leonard Fournette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire) were key contributors on legitimate championship contenders, and two of those four players are no longer on the team that drafted them. Add to that the fact that signing a running-back to a second contract has yet to pay big dividends for a team and the case for taking one in the first round becomes less and less appealing. In short, taking a round one running-back has shown to have little to no correlation with actual team success.
Despite all of the negativity surrounding this idea, teams have continued to select RBs in the first round. In fact, you have to go back to 2014 to find the last time a halfback was not taken in the first 32 picks. So what makes this year different? Is there a lack of talent at the position? Most definitely not. There are three backs that most believe have a real shot of being first round selections. Najee Harris, Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams all fit the bill of first round players at the position. So what's the problem? Well, the running-back position, like all other positions, will be affected by the influx of quarterbacks taken in this year's first round. The running-back position might actually be affected even more than most. I'm predicting that as talented non-QBs get pushed down the board, teams will opt to take the value at much more important positions such as edge rusher, corner, offensive line etc. This will cause the talented running-backs to get squeezed out of the top 32 picks. Also, when you think about all the backs that have been picked outside the first round in recent years, such as Le'Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook, it just makes sense for teams to wait on what has become a very expendable position.
4. No defensive players taken in the top 10
Out of all the predictions I'll make in this exercise, this might be the longest of long-shots. Is it very likely that we really go ten or more picks before seeing a defensive player taken? In a word, no. Is it possible? Surprisingly, yes! The easiest way to look at this is to just go through the picks in the top 10. The first three or maybe even four picks are most likely quarterback, and almost certainly all offensive players. Then, the teams sitting at 5,6,7 and 8 (Cincinnati, Miami, Detroit and Carolina) all have needs either along the offensive line or at pass catcher. Add to that a team that could potentially grab one of the QBs at 9 in Denver, and a reasonable expectation that we could see one, maybe even two, teams trade up into the top 10 for a quarterback and BOOM, all the picks, and then some, are spoken for.
The key to this prediction coming true is the Dallas Cowboys. If one of the top tier passers is still on the board at 10, I would expect they would strongly look for someone to trade with to get the best value possible. There is also a very important factor that applies to the Cowboys specifically: the Jerry Jones factor. With the rumors swirling lately of Jones' love for Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, it makes it all the more likely that the 'Boys do something off the wall. Now, if you're someone reading bold predictions about the NFL Draft on the internet, this should excite you. If all these scenarios really do come true, a defensive player likely wouldn't have to wait long after the top ten to hear their name called. Not only would a lot of the top tier offensive players be taken, but also there are some very talented defensive players that are more than deserving of hearing their name taken in the first ten picks.
5. A team trades, from the twenties into the top 10, for a pass catcher
All the discussion about teams trading up into the top ten has mostly been about quarterbacks. What if, however, we see a team trade from all the way at the back end of the draft to the top ten for a receiver? That would certainly be fun! There are two teams that I could realistically see doing this trade.
First, the Green Bay Packers: Green Bay is a year removed from completely ignoring the receiver position, and, instead, drafting the successor for a QB that would go on to win the MVP award. That decision has no doubt created much unnecessary tension for Aaron Rodgers. What would be the best way for the Packers to say, 'I'm really really sorry' to the Jeopardy host? How about trading real assets to go and get one of the extremely talented receivers. I recently spoke on my podcast about how fun it would be to have Bama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle end up in Green Bay. This would give Aaron Rodgers the deep threat that he is currently lacking in his offense and is an idea that's almost too hot to handle.
The second team I could see making a strong push to secure one of the top wide-outs in this years draft is the Baltimore Ravens. Having recently acquired an extra first round pick, they now have the ammunition to do so. Signing receivers in Baltimore has been a real struggle as of late. The offense in Baltimore is not conducive to high production at the wide receiver position and having a current receiver, Hollywood Brown, constantly complain about not being used enough certainly doesn't help things. Trading up into the top ten is a good way to fix this problem while still ensuring you get top end talent at the position. You know what they say, "If you can't convince people to join you, why not force them to!" (they definitely don't say that).
6. A surprise team trades up for a quarterback
That's right, I'm back in the quarterbacks again! Look, this is one of the most QB-heavy drafts we've seen in years, and if you're not ready to talk about that than I apologize. With my final prediction, I'm saying that a team that no one is talking about drafting a QB shocks the world and trades up for one. Now, you could say the 49ers trading up to three already covers that scenario. You could also say that just leaving it at "a surprise team" is much too vague and not BOLD enough for you, but... this is my article so I make the rules.
Who would this mystery team be? Well, there are a few options. On my podcast I have been banging the drum for weeks now that the Minnesota Vikings should make an aggressive play for a young QB. Adding a young quarterback to an offense FILLED with play-makers seems like a picture-perfect scenario for any young QB, plus it brings much more excitement than another few years with Kirk Cousins under center. Another sneaky team to watch out for is the New Orleans Saints. Sean Payton loves collecting quarterbacks and the QB situation in New Orleans already confuses me to no end. Why not add a little more confusion? Either one of these teams trading up would certainly send shock waves around the NFL landscape on Thursday night, which, intern, would make me a very happy man. Long live chaos!
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