Every Team's Early Top Target in the 2021 NFL Draft

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2020

Every Team's Early Top Target in the 2021 NFL Draft

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    'Tis the season for shopping, and for some teams, it's about time to take a serious look at who is going to be available in the 2021 NFL draft. 

    The New York Jets have probably been doing that since Week 1, but with the competition for top-five picks revving up, there are plenty of other teams joining in on the tanking fun. 

    Whether it's the pursuit of a franchise quarterback or that plug-and-play rookie who can elevate a team to the next level, every general manager has his own shopping list. That being said, now is as good a time as any to examine the preliminary options teams should be targeting based on need and their top projected draft pick. 

    For this exercise, we'll use Tankathon's draft order. There are still some fairly serious shifts that could occur in that order, especially in regard to whoever wins the NFC East. 

    For the sake of hitting on as many players as possible, there will be no repeats. Every team that needs a quarterback would love to get Trevor Lawrence, but he can only go to one team, and no one wants to sink to the depths the Jets did to likely be that team.

Arizona Cardinals: CB Shaun Wade, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 20th

    The Cardinals invested in the defense early in the 2020 draft with the selection of Isaiah Simmons. That pick is just now starting to pay dividends, and the defense should still be a focus in the 2021 offseason. 

    In Kyler Murray, the Cardinals have one of the best dynamic quarterbacks in the league. They've surrounded him with weapons, and he's rewarded them with an offense that can compete in the rugged NFC West. But the defense will determine how far the Cards can go under Kliff Kingsbury. 

    That means spending the first-round pick on a cornerback who can continue to infuse the defense with young talent. The franchise hasn't taken a corner in the first round since Patrick Peterson in 2011. 

    The Cards are still heavily reliant on the soon-to-be 31-year-old and veteran Dre Kirkpatrick at the outside corner spots. Drafting Shaun Wade out of Ohio State would give them a high-upside player and help them get younger at the position. 

    He's proved to be a strong option in the slot but has moved to the outside in 2020. He could see a similar arc in Arizona, serving as the team's third corner in the slot while acclimating to the NFL and eventually replacing Peterson or Kirkpatrick on the outside.

Atlanta Falcons: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 10th

    The Atlanta Falcons have tried to find elite pass-rushers in both the draft and free agency over the past several offseasons. 

    They drafted Vic Beasley in 2015. Takkarist McKinley in 2017. They signed Dante Fowler Jr. this past offseason. Brought back Adrian Clayborn in 2019. 

    The results have not been pretty, but a projected pick in the back half of the top 10 of the 2020 draft brings new opportunities, and if Kwity Paye doesn't pan out as a productive pass-rusher in the NFL, then the problem lies with the Falcons and not the players. 

    Paye is an athletic marvel. According to the annual freaks list by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic, he's the most athletic player in college football. He reportedly ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash and a 6.37 three-cone drill (second-best on the team) and recorded a 34-inch vertical.

    He isn't just a workout warrior, though. His play on the field has been strong. He registered 6.5 sacks last season and, although he's missed two games with a groin injury, has been productive in the appearances he's made this season. 

    What's most impressive is the development from his 2019 tape, in which he's just using his athleticism, to 2020, where you can see he worked on utilizing his hands and arms more. That's a sign he's willing to grow and mature into a nuanced pass-rusher at the next level.

    That's exactly what the Falcons need and have been missing for years.

Baltimore Ravens: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 18th

    Lamar Jackson has obviously taken a step back this season. The 2019 NFL MVP is also throwing to a fairly uninspiring group of receivers. Marquise Brown is a dangerous deep threat, but the fact that they've turned to Dez Bryant to play a role says all you need to know about the rest of the receivers. 

    Third-round pick Devin Duvernay hasn't done much in his rookie season. Willie Snead IV and Miles Boykin—a third-rounder in 2019—don't look like part of the solution, either. 

    This year's draft class doesn't feature as many hyped receivers as the 2019 class did, but it's close. That's why it's possible someone like DeVonta Smith could be available to them when they're on the clock in April. 

    In a receiving corps that included Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle, Smith has been a consistent producer. He's a little on the small side at 6'1", 175 pounds, but that didn't seem to stop the Ravens from taking Brown. 

    Smith is a good route-runner who creates separation with his athleticism. He would make a strong complement to Brown and give Jackson another weapon to continue his evolution as a franchise quarterback.

Buffalo Bills: EDGE Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 28th

    The Bills took a swing at addressing their need for pass-rushers with the selection of A.J. Epenesa. So far, the rookie has only played a marginal role on defense while notching one sack this season. 

    It's still a position of need, though. Their leading pass-rushers right now—Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes—are 33 and 32, respectively. Buffalo is in the bottom third of the league in pressure percentage

    Carlos Basham Jr. is a power-rusher much in the same mold as Epenesa but with more athleticism. The 6'5", 285-pound defensive end converts speed to power off the edge and is a plus run-defender with pass-rush production to boot. 

    According to Wake Forest's website, Basham Jr. had 112 quarterback pressures between his sophomore and junior campaigns, and he hasn't shown signs of slowing down as a senior. He has five sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss in just six games this season. 

    If Epenesa turns things around in his second season, Basham and the Iowa product would give the Bills a pair of young edge-defenders who are stout against the run while getting after the passer. If he doesn't, it only magnifies the Bills' need for an elite pass-rusher. 

    Basham Jr. gives them the best odds of that happening with their current draft slot.

Carolina Panthers: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Current top pick: Seventh

    Under new head coach Matt Rhule, the Carolina Panthers spent every draft pick they had in 2020 on defense. That trend could continue in 2021, as there are still holes to fill on that side of the ball. 

    Derrick Brown is a cornerstone of the defensive line. 2019 draft pick Brian Burns is showcasing elite edge-rusher potential. Jeremy Chinn is turning out to be a Swiss Army-knife linebacker-safety hybrid you can build a scheme around.

    The only archetype they don't have that you'd like to see from a burgeoning young defense is a lockdown corner. 

    That could be addressed with another top-10 pick for the team in Caleb Farley. The Virginia Tech product brings good size (6'2", 207 lbs) and physicality to the position. He has also demonstrated good ball skills and a willingness to fight at the catch point. 

    He racked up six interceptions and 19 pass deflections as a freshman and sophomore in college. He can excel in press-man coverage or a zone scheme, making him one of the top corners in the draft. 

    In short, he's a perfect complementary piece to the young defense Rhule and Co. are building in Carolina.

Chicago Bears: QB Mac Jones, Alabama

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 13th

    Regardless of where the Bears' pick winds up—and there's a good chance it's only getting better from here—they have to get a quarterback. After wasting another year with a good defense, head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace (if they are still around) can't afford to trot out Nick Foles and/or Mitchell Trubisky one more season. 

    So whether it's by trading up or simply earning the right, the Bears have to come away with one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. 

    Trevor Lawrence is probably out of the question, and getting Ohio State's Justin Fields could prove to be difficult, too. Right now, Chicago has probably played itself out of the Zach Wilson, Kyle Trask and Trey Lance range as well. 

    Fortunately, Mac Jones is showing he is worthy of first-round consideration at Alabama this season. When you watch Jones play, he approaches the position with the savvy and nuance of a player much more experienced than he is. 

    Jones might not get as much credit as his fellow passers in the class because he's playing with the most talented group of receivers in the country. However, that discounts all of the traits he's shown in getting them the ball with an opportunity to make plays. 

    Even if the Bears are the last team to take a quarterback in the first round, Jones would give them someone to get excited about.

Cincinnati Bengals: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Current top pick: Third

    The Bengals got their quarterback of the future in Joe Burrow. Unfortunately, they don't have the means to protect him right now. 

    Losing Burrow for the rest of the season is devastating news for the franchise, but it also should serve as a wake-up call. The Bengals allowed their franchise quarterback to absorb 32 sacks in 10 games before he suffered a torn ACL and MCL that could keep him out into early next season. 

    Many a promising young quarterback has had his career derailed by a franchise that couldn't protect its most prized asset. With another early pick in 2021, the Bengals have an opportunity to ensure that doesn't happen to them. 

    That's because they will be in a prime position to pick the best tackle prospect in the draft in Penei Sewell. Sewell was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded lineman last season despite a draft class that included Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas and Jedrick Wills Jr. 

    Each of those players has already proved they have a future in the league. Sewell has All-Pro potential given that he achieved that as a sophomore. He opted out of the 2020 season, but that shouldn't hurt his stock. He's already put everything he needs to on tape, and the Bengals would trip over themselves rushing this pick to the podium.

Cleveland Browns: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 24th

    In most offseasons, the Cleveland Browns have a top-10 pick and needs all over the field. They can literally take the best player available, and it would be an upgrade over what they have. 

    That won't be the case in 2021. Kevin Stefanski has found a winning recipe in Cleveland in a run-centric offense fueled by a deadly running back duo and a strong offensive line. The only problem is that kind of offense has to be paired with an elite defense. 

    That's something the Browns simply don't have right now. They have an elite talent on the defensive line in Myles Garrett. They have another one in the secondary in Denzel Ward. The only level of the defense that doesn't have a foundational piece is the linebacking corps. 

    That would change if the Browns are able to land Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The Notre Dame product offers the positional versatility that has become increasingly important as defenses continue to heavily employ sub-packages. 

    Owusu-Koramoah is a three-down linebacker who has played snaps in the slot, in the box and on the defensive line for the Irish. He would bring something to the defense that is missing with the likes of Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and B.J. Goodson. 

    Given his skill set, it'll be dicey whether the Browns will be in a position to draft him, but off-ball linebackers have a tendency to slide come draft day. Cleveland should be the limit for how long Owusu-Koramoah can last on the board.

Dallas Cowboys: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Current top pick: Fourth

    The Cowboys have been an unmitigated disaster this season, but the silver lining is they could be picking much higher in the 2021 draft than anticipated. 

    Anything that could go wrong for the Cowboys this season has, and as long as they are healthy next season, they should be one of the most improved teams. That being said, the Cowboys will benefit from the opportunity to add a blue-chip defensive piece. 

    The offense is loaded with weapons for the foreseeable future, and Dak Prescott's return from injury should reignite the unit. The offensive line could use some reinforcements and Penei Sewell would be a great fit, but Dallas isn't likely to be choosing that high. 

    Instead, the club would love to have Patrick Surtain II, who could pair with former Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs to form one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. 

    Before getting forced out of the lineup with a foot injury, Diggs had one of the best games by a rookie this season with two interceptions and four passes defended against the Eagles.  

    Surtain has the ability to make a similar impact. Playing at Alabama, he has faced some of the best receivers in college football and was PFF's highest-graded Power Five defender going into Week 12. That would be a big addition for a defense that is 30th in passer rating allowed.

Denver Broncos: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 12th

    The Broncos have recently utilized the draft to make a heavy investment in the offense. They've used all of their first- and second-round picks the last two years on the offensive side of the ball. 

    It's brought them a young core of Drew Lock, Dalton Risner, Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. In 2021, it should be the defense's turn to get some highly sought-after prospects. 

    Jaycee Horn, who is the son of former Saints wide receiver Joe Horn, has an NFL pedigree and the length teams covet at corner at 6'1" and 200 pounds.

    He's been good at the catch point when targeted and amassed 23 pass breakups over three seasons at South Carolina. He had two interceptions for the Gamecocks this season before opting out after seven games. 

    Horn has seen some of the best receivers in college football in the SEC and more than held his own. A.J. Bouye has been a bit of a disappointment in Denver thus far, and Bryce Callahan is the only corner who has really excelled this season.

Detroit Lions: WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Current top pick: Ninth

    The Lions receiver room is an ambiguous collection for 2021. Quintez Cephus and Geronimo Allison are the only players under contract for next season. Kenny Golladay could be re-signed, but that still isn't much of a threat to opposing secondaries. 

    Golladay needs a running mate on the perimeter, and Rashod Bateman checks all the boxes. 

    The Minnesota receiver is among the bigger receiving prospects who could garner first-round consideration. At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he offers the strength necessary to win 50/50 balls. He isn't likely to run a blazing-fast 40-time, but he has enough functional speed to be a deep threat and the route-running to win all over the field. 

    Bateman was ultra-productive at Minnesota, having averaged 20.3 yards per catch with 11 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. He was in line to put up major numbers with 2020 fifth-round draft pick Tyler Johnson out of the picture before he opted out of the rest of his junior season.

Green Bay Packers: EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas

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    Austin Gay/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 29th

    Wide receiver appears to be a perpetual need the Packers insist on ignoring, so while a receiver like Rondale Moore would be a great selection, it just doesn't seem like Green Bay is too concerned with upgrading the position. 

    Instead, it might make sense that they would want to bolster the pass rush. Outside of Za'Darius Smith (nine sacks), Green Bay doesn't have anyone who excels at pursuing the quarterback. With 2.5 sacks, Rashan Gary is tied for second on the team with Preston Smith, who lines up opposite the other Smith and has been a disappointment in that department. 

    Joseph Ossai would bring a dynamic element to the front seven in Lambeau. He has played both as an off-ball linebacker and edge-defender in Texas' scheme over the past two seasons, and the common thread in his play is he simply makes plays wherever he is lined up. 

    At 6'4", 253 pounds, Ossai has put on the necessary bulk to hold up against the run while maintaining his explosiveness and bend off the edge. He has shown the ability to take over games the way you'd like to see a top pass-rushing prospect do against inferior competition. 

    He had 12 tackles (including six tackles for loss), three sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble against Oklahoma State this season.

Houston Texans: CB/S Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina

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    Bruce Newman/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 73rd

    The Bill O'Brien philosophy of trading future draft picks for instant solutions will cost the Texans come the 2021 draft. As it stands, they aren't going to be on the clock in April until the third round, where it will be much more difficult to find an instant-impact rookie. 

    When they get to their first selection, they really have to maximize their value, which is why targeting Israel Mukuamu would make a lot of sense. 

    Mukuamu was a cornerback at South Carolina, but at 6'4", 205 pounds, he has an unconventional build for the position. If he can prove to have the short-area quickness to play cornerback, then great, but if he doesn't, he profiles as a player who could transition to safety seamlessly. 

    He had a breakout performance against Georgia last season in which he picked off Jake Fromm three times. Like teammate Jaycee Horn, Mukuamu has also opted out of the remainder of the Gamecocks' season, but the Texans should have enough film to feel confident he could be a project at cornerback and will be able to slide in at safety if that doesn't work out. 

    The Texans could use the help at either position. Phillip Gaines and Vernon Hargreaves III are the two starting corners right now and Hargreaves III is ranked 116th of 125 corners graded by PFF. Gaines isn't much better at 68th. 

    Justin Reid and Eric Murray are the only safeties who are under contract for 2021. The secondary as a whole is 26th in net yards allowed per pass attempt this season. 

Indianapolis Colts: OT Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 23rd

    Left tackle Anthony Castonzo will be 33 next season, can be cut with no cap penalty and suffered a knee injury in Week 12. The quarterback situation is murky with Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett both set to become free agents after the season, but whoever is under center next season is going to need protection. 

    The Colts don't have to go very far to find a prospect who can help. They just have to make the two-and-a-half-hour drive up to South Bend to watch Liam Eichenberg do his thing. The 6'6", 302-pound tackle would be the latest Notre Dame offensive lineman to make the jump to the league. 

    The last time the Colts took a Notre Dame offensive lineman, it worked out pretty well for them; Quenton Nelson is the heart of the O-line. While Eichenberg might not have that kind of upside, he projects as a reliable tackle. 

    Executive Director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy is a believer in Eichenberg's potential. He recently projected him to be a "high-end starter for a decade-plus at the next level."

    The Colts would take that from their first pick in the 2021 draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current top pick: Second

    The Jaguars haven't selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft since Blake Bortles in 2014. With another season of futility winding down, it's time to take on the risk of a first-round signal-caller again. Gardner Minshew II is clearly not the answer, and the Jags need a shot in the arm. 

    There's a little bit more to Justin Fields' resume than there was the former UCF star nearly seven years ago. Fields has been one of the nation's most efficient quarterbacks in his time at Ohio State. A rough outing against Indiana aside, he has taken care of the ball and demonstrated the accuracy and arm strength to make all the throws he needs to make. 

    Unlike Dwayne Haskins Jr., who has struggled to translate his game to the NFL, Fields has had a lot more put on his shoulders in this iteration of the Buckeyes offense and fully embraced it. Mike Renner of PFF noted that only 51.4 percent of Haskins' yards came through the air at Ohio State, while Fields was at 71.9 percent for his career through three weeks this season. 

    Fields is a bona fide star who would automatically give this offense some teeth. The Jaguars have built a strong cache of offensive weapons in DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr., James Robinson and Keelan Cole Sr. 

    With a strong batch of quarterbacks in the incoming class, the Jaguars are in a better position than everyone but the Jets to land the future face of the franchise. Trevor Lawrence might not be available when the Jags are on the clock, but Fields is far from a consolation prize.

Kansas City Chiefs: LB Dylan Moses, Alabama

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 30th

    As long as Patrick Mahomes is taking snaps for the Chiefs, they will have one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Chiefs have invested a lot in making sure the quarterback is well-protected and has plenty of weapons, but he's getting paid massively to make this offense go. 

    What is going to determine just how dynastic the Mahomes era in Kansas City can become is the kind of defense they can field to support him. 

    With a ton of money already tied up in this team, drafting is going to be key. That means draft picks for luxury offensive weapons like the Clyde Edwards-Helaire pick last season should be rare. 

    Instead, they need to focus on adding young talent to the defense. Players like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson have served admirably in their linebacker roles, but bringing in another talented prospect to pair with Willie Gay in the linebacker corps would go a long way toward making sure the defense can get stops in the playoffs. 

    Injury concerns are likely to cause a decline in Dylan Moses' draft stock. He missed the entirety of the 2019 season with a torn ACL and hasn't quite looked the same in 2020. But this is still a 6'3", 240-pound linebacker who was starting for Alabama as a freshman. 

    He's played all over the field in his time at Alabama. Whether as the Will, Sam or Mike, he's a tremendous athlete who can make plays in space. The Chiefs would be able to find a spot for him, and the gamble of taking him in the first round would pay off.

Las Vegas Raiders: OG Wyatt Davis, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 17th

    The Raiders have made a lot of strides under Jon Gruden. They've established they can win with Derek Carr at quarterback, and Josh Jacobs gives them a dynamic option in the run game. 

    They still have some holes to patch up on the offensive line, though. Particularly, both guard spots could use upgrades. Richie Incognito is out for the season, and at 37 years old, it's unclear whether he'll even be back. Gabe Jackson is approaching 30 and hasn't played at an elite level. 

    The Raiders could be in a perfect position to snag the best interior offensive lineman in the draft in Wyatt Davis. 

    The 6'4", 315-pounder has incredible quickness off the line of scrimmage, good hand usage and the attitude to finish blocks. He'll have no problems adjusting to any scheme he gets drafted into but excels at zone blocking. 

    He's the grandson of Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis, so he has an NFL pedigree. He's as pro-ready an offensive lineman as there is in the draft and an immediate upgrade for the Raiders in an area of real need.

Los Angeles Chargers: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Current top pick: Fifth

    The Chargers offense is in good hands with Justin Herbert. The rookie quarterback has given the franchise hope of a bright future on offense, and he has plenty of weapons to make things work in Los Angeles. 

    What the team has to do now is give him a defense that can hold on to a lead. 

    That includes bolstering a pass rush that is 17th in the league in pressure percentage and could be losing 31-year-old Melvin Ingram in free agency. The Chargers already have one dominant pass-rusher in Joey Bosa, while Jerry Tillery is showing signs of being special on the inside.

    Adding another dominant young talent up front would give the Chargers one of the best young pass rushes in the league. That's not a bad thing to have when competing in the same division as Patrick Mahomes.

    Gregory Rousseau is as good as it gets when it comes to edge-rushing prospects in this class. The 6'7", 265-pound defensive end still has plenty of room to grow in his game. He opted out of the 2020 season, so he only played his redshirt freshman season at Miami. He tallied 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 2019 while basically just using his athletic tools. 

    That's a player who can be molded into a generational pass-rusher with more coaching. Now imagine teams having to decide whether to slide the protection to Bosa or Rousseau coming off the edge, and it's easy to see why this makes a lot of sense for the Chargers.

Los Angeles Rams: OT Walker Little, Stanford

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 57th

    The Rams—like the Texans—are drained of their draft capital going into the 2021 event. They won't have their first-round choice and won't make a selection until the mid-to-late second round. 

    That precludes them from taking some of the top offensive linemen in the class, but Walker Little would make a lot of sense. The team had to turn to veteran Andrew Whitworth at left tackle again before a knee injury sidelined him. 

    Joseph Noteboom is stepping in at the position now, but that's a fix-a-flat solution. It can't be the long-term answer. 

    There's a lot to like about Little as a second-round selection. His pass protection has some flaws mechanically, but he was a higher-rated high school prospect than Jedrick Wills Jr., Andrew Thomas and Tristan Wirfs—all first-rounders from the 2020 class. 

    He's violent with his hands and has the size you want in a left tackle at 6'7" and 309 pounds. With the right coaching, he may be able to shore up his technique and become a viable starting blindside protector. That's big value with the Rams' first pick.

Miami Dolphins: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 11th

    The Dolphins have handled the Tua Tagovailoa situation questionably this season, but they have to give him the opportunity to become the franchise quarterback. They can help that process along by taking a familiar face for the former Alabama signal-caller. 

    Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle wreaked havoc on SEC defenses in 2019. Now, they can reunite in the league. 

    The Dolphins have solid receiving options in DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki, but Waddle would add a deep-threat element to the receiving corps that it's currently missing. 

    Whether it's his ability to create yards after the catch or burn secondaries deep, Waddle is a playmaker, plain and simple. The Dolphins have two first-round picks and two second-rounders, so targeting other needs like running back should be easy. 

    The Dolphins' top priority should be bringing another dimension to the offense, and Waddle does just that.

Minnesota Vikings: QB Zach Wilson, BYU

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    Jeff Swinger/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 14th

    Kirk Cousins and the Vikings got off to a bad start in 2020, but they've rallied the troops to go 5-1 over their last six games with the quarterback posting a passer rating over 100 in all but one of those contests. 

    That shouldn't detract from the fact that the Vikings will need to find a replacement sooner rather than later for the 32-year-old Cousins. He has one more year left on his contract before the Vikings have to choose between paying him $45 million or taking a $10 million dead cap charge. 

    Either way, it would be wise for the Vikings to find Cousins' heir apparent soon. Given the poor start to the season, this may be their best chance to do it in the draft.

    No one has done more for their draft stock in 2020 than Zach Wilson. At the beginning of the season, it wasn't clear whether Wilson was even going to be the starting quarterback at BYU. Fast-forward to November, and he was the top-graded quarterback at PFF prior to Week 13 and continually making a case to be a top-10 pick. 

    The Vikings are second in intended air yards per pass attempt. Wilson is the most accurate deep-ball passer in college football. The draft's fastest riser would give them a seamless fit in transitioning out of the Cousins era in Minnesota.

New England Patriots: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 15th

    Bill Belichick is 68 years old. An argument can be made that the Patriots should be looking to take a quarterback given the way the Cam Newton experiment has gone this season, but it doesn't make sense to try to break in a rookie at the most important position given Belichick's age. 

    Instead, the Pats should be looking to surround whoever is playing quarterback with some weapons to have success. 

    The Belichick offense was at its best when Rob Gronkowski gave them a serious chess piece to utilize in the passing game. Kyle Pitts can have the same effect in New England. 

    Taking positional value out of the equation, no one is better at what they do than Pitts at Florida. He is fourth in receiving touchdowns (11) in college football this season despite playing just seven games. Pitts isn't a George Kittle-level blocker, but he is a jack-of-all-trades receiver who can line up anywhere in the formation. 

    That's the kind of thing that Belichick loves to utilize and would give the Pats some much-needed pop in their offensive arsenal.

New Orleans Saints: WR Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 31st

    The Saints offense goes as Alvin Kamara goes at this point. The 25-year-old running back is the team's leading rusher and receiver, which is fine right now but isn't a sustainable model. 

    Michael Thomas' injury early in the season and subsequent lack of production since have exposed the Saints' lack of depth at receiver. Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith have been solid filling in as the top options at receiver, but neither strikes fear into a defense. 

    As the Saints transition from the Drew Brees era, they will no longer be able to rely on the quarterback making something out of nothing with the receiving corps. They need to make legitimate investments in difference-makers. 

    They don't have to look very far to find LSU's Terrace Marshall Jr. The 6'3", 200-pound Marshall was the last man standing from the historic LSU receiving corps last season. He had 13 touchdowns with Joe Burrow throwing the ball to him as a sophomore. 

    With Burrow gone and Ja'Marr Chase opting out, Marshall proved he wasn't just a product of the system and talent around him. He had 10 more touchdowns and 731 yards on 48 catches before opting out of the season himself after seven games. 

    There's a bit of Thomas in Marshall's game. He won't blow you away with his athleticism, but he has a great feel for the game and almost always wins at the catch point.

New York Giants: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 19th

    The Giants, or whoever wins the NFC East, will throw a wrench in this exercise. With their win over the Bengals, they jumped from sixth to 19th in the current draft order. Essentially, whoever comes out of the league's worst division is going from a top-10 pick to 19th. 

    That could be huge, as it could be the difference between getting a blue-chip prospect like Micah Parsons and a good-not-great prospect in the middle of the round. With the Giants win over the Seahawks it's looking more and more likely they will be that playoff team. 

    The Giants passed on a potentially generational defender in linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the last draft. They could get a mulligan with Parsons. 

    Parsons is the prototypical next-generation defensive weapon. He can obviously man the middle of the defense as a traditional Mike 'backer, but he can also provide some pass rush and doesn't get lost in coverage. He's a sideline-to-sideline player whose positional versatility will allow a defensive coordinator to have some fun. 

    He'd bring a different dimension to the Giants defense, where Blake Martinez has worked out as a free-agent acquisition but the linebacker corps still needs help.

    The defense has given up 20 points or less in each of its games during the four game win streak. Joe Judge could continue to build a dominant defense if they are surpassed in the standings. If not, an edge rusher could be in play in the middle of the round. 

New York Jets: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Current top pick: First

    It's time to clean house in New York.

    The Adam Gase era hasn't brought many positives, and Sam Darnold wasn't up to the herculean task of bringing the Jets back to life. However, going winless and getting Trevor Lawrence could at least kick off a new era of football for the franchise. 

    That's because there are few prospects in the history of the NFL draft who have Lawrence's track record. He's been in the brightest spotlight in college football since his freshman year and has rarely failed to deliver. 

    If an NFL scout could build a prospect's profile, you'd come up with something similar to Lawrence. He's 6'6" and 220 pounds with the mobility he'll need to manage NFL pockets and buy time to throw. He has the arm to make every throw and has shown the ability to put the ball on the money against pressure and on the run. 

    Simply put, Lawrence is a complete quarterback prospect with few holes in his resume. There's a whole batch of possible first-round quarterbacks in this draft. You'd be hard-pressed to find a team that wouldn't have Lawrence at No. 1.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 6th

    Quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles are having a rough season, but Wentz's contract has him locked in as the starter in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. All Philly can do at this point is surround him with weapons and hope he returns to his 2017 form. 

    The Eagles haven't had much luck on that front. Alshon Jeffery has been injured for much of the last two seasons, first-round pick Jalen Reagor missed time with a thumb injury, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside just hasn't panned out. 

    Landing Ja'Marr Chase would be the antidote for all of the Eagles' struggles at the position. Chase's 2019 season was one of the most mind-boggling in college football history. He had 84 catches, 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns as the biggest playmaker on the most efficient and explosive offense in college football history. 

    Chase wins all over the field. He has the speed to stretch defenses vertically, the physicality to beat press-man coverage and the strength to win 50-50 balls. Chase can be just what the doctor ordered for the Eagles' ailing passing game. 

    If the Eagles happen to be the team that somehow "wins" the NFC East, their focus may shift to the offensive line. But with a top-10 pick, there isn't one who would help the team more than Chase outside of Penei Sewell.

Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 32nd

    Eric Ebron has taken to Pittsburgh well as the team's top option at tight end, but he's on a two-year deal that has an out after this season. Even if Pittsburgh decides to roll with him for another season, he isn't the long-term answer at the position. 

    While Kyle Pitts is the best receiving tight end in the class, Pat Freiermuth is the most well-rounded. Pittsburgh brass should love his ability and willingness to block in the run game, while he has demonstrated excellent ability as a receiver at 6'5" and 258 pounds.

    The Steelers will be fortunate if he falls to them on draft day. But positional value and the fact that Freiermuth suffered a season-ending injury in November that required surgery may be enough to let him slide to Pittsburgh. 

    Ben Roethlisberger isn't getting any younger, and the Steelers already boast one of the league's best defenses. Freiermuth would give them a high-impact rookie with the potential to be a top-10 tight end within the first few years of his career.

San Francisco 49ers: QB Kyle Trask, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 16th

    The Jimmy Garoppolo era in San Francisco should be coming to an end. His year-to-year contract is enough evidence the organization isn't fully committed to him, and given his play this season before an ankle injury sidelined him, it probably shouldn't be. 

    Garoppolo has been out since leaving midway through Week 8 and also missed two games before that. However, he's thrown just seven touchdowns to five interceptions when he's been in the lineup, and Kyle Shanahan needs more from his quarterback. 

    The Niners are too good to be in the top-10 conversation when it comes to quarterbacks, but Kyle Trask should be available when it's their turn on the clock. Trask has shown tremendous growth in his second season as the Gators' full-time starting quarterback. 

    At 6'5" and 240 pounds, there are no questions whether Trask's body will hold up against the rigors of being an NFL quarterback. He's completing 71.4 percent of his passes while showcasing the arm strength to make all the throws that he'd be asked to within Shanahan's offense.

Seattle Seahawks: OT Jackson Carman, Clemson

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 60th

    The Jamal Adams trade leaves the Seattle Seahawks with no first-round pick in 2021, but there will still be an opportunity for the Seahawks to acquire talent in the second round. 

    For instance, they can take a step toward securing the future of their offensive line with Jackson Carman. The Seahawks are actually getting solid play out of their current trio of tackles with Duane Brown manning the left side, Brandon Shell on the right and Cedric Ogbuehi playing the role of swing tackle, but Brown is 35 years old and neither Shell nor Ogbuehi has a long track record of playing well. 

    Carman isn't the kind of athlete that will go early in the selection process. There's a reason you won't find him in first-round mock drafts. But he's a hulking mauler in the run game at 6'5" and 345 pounds who can still develop his technique as a pass-blocker. 

    Carman was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school who is only 20 years old. There's still time for him to blossom. He could easily slide in to play guard for the Seahawks right away while he adjusts to NFL speed and eventually move back out to tackle.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 21st

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers found a franchise left tackle in Tristan Wirfs in the 2020 draft. They would get a worthy bookend by targeting Alex Leatherwood with their first-round pick in 2021. 

    Regardless of how long Tom Brady sticks around in Tampa, as long as the Bucs have Bruce Arians as a coach, pass protection will be at a premium. Arians loves to attack defenses vertically, and that means having a line that can protect long enough for him to do that. 

    Wirfs is holding down the right tackle position but finding an upgrade for Donovan Smith would be beneficial. He can be cut at the end of the season to avoid his $14.25 million cap hit without any dead cap. He has committed nine penalties and given up five sacks this season. 

    Leatherwood is a high-floor prospect who fits in with Tampa's win-now mindset. At 6'6" and 312 pounds, he has the length and quickness you'd like to see from a tackle, but he's more than just a nimble technician. He brings a nastiness and aggressiveness to the run game as well. 

    Even if he doesn't pan out as a legitimate tackle, he's shown he could be an All-Pro-caliber guard in his time at Alabama playing the position. He's made appearances all over the line in Tuscaloosa and would be a plug-and-play option in 2021.

Tennessee Titans: EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn State

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 27th

    Jadeveon Clowney has not offered a solution to the Titans' pass-rushing problems. To this point in the season, he still has yet to register a sack and the team has just 14 sacks total. 

    Harold Landry is the team's most productive pass-rusher with 4.5 sacks, followed by Jeffery Simmons (three) on the interior. Few playoff-caliber teams have a glaring need as big as the Titans' need for an edge-rusher. 

    That's where Jayson Oweh comes in. Oweh is an athletic wunderkind who makes up for a relative lack of experience with a blend of size and athleticism that could have teams looking to take him much earlier than the Titans will pick. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported that Penn State's testing numbers for their stud pass-rusher included a 4.33 40-yard dash at 6'5" and 257 pounds. 

    That may seem like some hyperbolic fodder from the university, but if he runs anywhere remotely close to that, he'll be one of the biggest winners at the combine. If the Titans are fortunate enough that he does fall—he only has seven career sacks—they should be in a rush to get the pick in. 

    Oweh is just scratching the surface of his immense potential, and the Titans could address a huge need by unleashing that potential on opposing passers.

Washington Football Team: QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Current top pick: 8th

    Given Ron Rivera's decision to play 36-year-old Alex Smith over Dwayne Haskins Jr., it's fair to say the Washington Football Team won't be relying on the former Ohio State quarterback in the future. 

    Haskins was drafted before Rivera got to Washington, so it's not surprising he doesn't have much allegiance to him. Instead, Rivera will likely take advantage of the opportunity to pick this early and choose his own quarterback. 

    Rivera's track record with Cam Newton could lend credence to the idea that Trey Lance would be a good pairing. 

    Lance could follow the same path as Josh Allen and Cam Newton to being a franchise NFL quarterback. He's a bigger-bodied quarterback (6'4", 226 lbs) who is not just a big-armed passer but a legitimate running threat (1,100 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman) who kept turnovers to a minimum (one interception in 19 career games). 

    Yes, there are questions about his level of competition and concerns about sample size given he played just one game in 2020, but quarterbacks have made the leap from the FCS to the NFL before. Lance has the physical tools he needs to thrive in today's NFL.


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