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Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: What I'm Hearing About 2021 NFL Draft's Top 10

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterDecember 4, 2020

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence passes against LSU during the first half of a NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in New Orleans. Georgia Tech will play at home against the nation's top-ranked team for the first time in 40 years when No. 1 Clemson, let by the high-profile tandem of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, puts its perfect record on the line on Saturday, Oct. 17. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Keeping up with the NFL draft order over the last few weeks has been a chore.

The New York Giants win a game and move from the No. 5 overall pick all the way down to No. 19. The Philadelphia Eagles lose a game and go from No. 19 to No. 6 overall. And it seems like the New York Jets (0-11) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10) are competing to have the most losses and the chance to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick.

In talking to NFL scouts, agents and executives over the last week, it's becoming clear that while teams aren't trying to lose, some are definitely OK with losing. We've already seen a few general managers and head coaches fired because of unmet expectations.

In today's lede, we're taking a deep dive into the top 10 picks (as of now) and what I'm hearing and thinking for each spot. We'll still get into the top rumors and news around the league in The Scout's Report, but first, let's focus on the teams vying for the No. 1 overall pick.

         

1. New York Jets

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The Jets hired general manager Joe Douglas following the 2019 NFL draft, and he isn't going anywhere. The same can't be said for head coach Adam Gase, who should be fired as soon as he's secured the worst record in the league for the Douglas and Co. It's possible that ownership will require Douglas to keep Gase—a coach he inherited—but New York would be better off moving on from the enigmatic head coach.

If the Jets wind up with the No. 1 overall pick, they have to select quarterback Trevor Lawrence. While there have been rumors coming out of Florham Park about how they haven't given up on 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold, that's what a team has to say when it wants to trade a player. 

It serves no purpose for the Jets to publicly or privately doubt Darnold because that would affect his trade value. Instead, they'll play him as much as they can and hope he flashes enough to drive his value up.

Make no mistake: If the Jets have the No. 1 pick, they will select Lawrence.

        

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have already fired general manager Dave Caldwell, and head coach Doug Marrone soon could be on the chopping block, too. This looks like a complete rebuild on the front office side, but the roster in Jacksonville isn't that bad. Finding the right quarterback is key, but whether they're selecting at No. 1 or No. 2 overall, the Jags will have options.

The Jaguars would love to see the Jets win a game so they fall into the running for Lawrence, but Ohio State's Justin Fields is more than a consolation prize. He's a talented, top-tier quarterback who has the athleticism and accuracy to thrive in a wide-open offense.

The new general manager has to put his fingerprint on the offensive depth chart with No. 1 wideout DJ Chark Jr. set to hit free agency after the 2021 season and the offensive line needing upgrades, but the Jacksonville job shouldn't be seen as a four- or five-year rebuild. This is a young roster with building blocks in the front seven on defense that could soon produce a winning record if the new GM hits on his picks.

That starts with the quarterback, where the expectation should be that Lawrence or Fields will be starting next year.

        

3. Cincinnati Bengals

For now, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor remains employed and the structure of the front office is still intact. Whoever is around in late April to make the selection at No. 3 overall has an easy choice to make with Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell the best bet to come in and protect Joe Burrow.

Al Drago/Associated Press

According to folks around the league, the Bengals know they have to build a better offensive line to protect their star quarterback. I've also heard that some in the Cincinnati front office have questioned Taylor's offensive strategy. They think he left Burrow in a dangerous position as he was asked to hold the ball in the pocket too long behind a bad offensive line instead of adjusting his scheme to get the ball out faster.

Taylor could ultimately be the fall guy for Burrow's injury, especially since the team was won only four of his 27 games as a head coach.

       

4. Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones doesn't seem poised to fire first-year head coach Mike McCarthy and have to pay out his contract, but we can't entirely rule out the possibility. The Cowboys sitting at 3-8 has to be one of the biggest surprises of the season, and if Jones gets upset down the stretch, we could see movement here.

The smart money is on Jones and McCarthy writing off this year to injuries and moving forward with a roster that's still strong. With quarterback Dak Prescott likely returning with a new contract or another year under the franchise tag, plus the No. 4 overall pick, this could be a quick turnaround.

As one scout told me: "Dallas ain't going to be picking that high again for a while. They better take advantage of it." This is the conventional wisdom around the league, as an injury-depleted roster has led to a much worse record than the Cowboys should have.

At pick No. 4, the Cowboys would have choices. They could reach slightly for the best offensive lineman available given the injuries to Tyron Smith and the retirement of Travis Frederick. They could also look at the board full of defensive players and look to bolster the secondary (Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II from Alabama) or pass rush (Miami edge-rusher Gregory Rousseau). They'll have plenty of options, including a chance to trade this pick to a team that needs to come up for a quarterback.

Moving from No. 4 to No. 9 overall wouldn't cost the Cowboys a ton in draft value because they don't need a quarterback, but it could net them precious draft picks that they could use to bolster the roster.

          

5. Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers aren't winning as much this season as they'd like, but there is a strong foundation in place with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert appearing to be the long-term solution at the position. General manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn now have to build a team around Herbert and find a way to keep the players they land in the draft healthy.

At No. 5 overall, the Chargers may be in position to draft the No. 2 offensive tackle off the board—which might be Texas' Sam Cosmi or Northwestern's Rashawn Slater—and immediately improve an offensive line that could use upgrades on the edges.

Another option could be drafting a young wide receiver to pair with Herbert and Keenan Allen, as the oft-injured Mike Williams is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season. Wide receiver isn't a huge need on paper, but looking at what the Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos have invested at the position, it would make sense for the Chargers to load up around Herbert.

The secondary could use upgrades, but this feels too early for a Patrick Surtain II or Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech). And while Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons might be intriguing at this spot, the Chargers would be making a luxury pick with that selection. This feels like an offensive tackle, wide receiver or bust.

          

6. Philadelphia Eagles

A season that started with NFC East title hopes and perhaps a long-shot chance at a Super Bowl has turned into a debacle.

Doubt has crept in about the viability of Carson Wentz as the Eagles' long-term answer at quarterback. With Wentz leading the NFL in turnovers and the offense regressing, the Eagles' direction in the 2021 offseason will largely be determined by their faith in him as the answer, or if they turn to 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts to see what they have there.

At some point, the Eagles have to see what they have in Hurts. You don't select a quarterback in the second round for an offensive package here and there—or you shouldn't, at least. With Wentz struggling, the Eagles should audition Hurts for the future before the season ends.

Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

The biggest rumor in Philadelphia is that Wentz has fallen victim to the pressure of another quarterback. First it was Nick Foles, now it's Hurts. Fighting through that adversity hasn't worked for him; in fact, it's done the opposite and has driven him to his worst season yet.

Addressing the offensive line and adding a wide receiver will be keys this offseason—even with left tackle Andre Dillard returning next year and 2020 first-round receiver Jalen Reagor still having potential—but it won't matter if the Eagles can't get it right at quarterback.

It's unlikely they would select a quarterback at No. 6 overall, but it's gotten to the point where it might be a possibility.

         

7. Carolina Panthers

First-year head coach Matt Rhule has done a masterful job rallying the Carolina Panthers with star running back Christian McCaffrey sidelined for most of the season. They have a solid collection of offensive weapons and a bright, young defense with key building blocks (Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn) already standing out.

At No. 7 overall, the Panthers wouldn't forced to make any moves. Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady—if he doesn't get hired as a head coach somewhere—can assess the available quarterbacks and select one without the pressure to play him immediately thanks to veteran Teddy Bridgewater. They can also look to upgrade the offensive line or perhaps take the first cornerback off the board here. They'll have numerous options, and none of them are bad.

Owning a top-10 pick and not having a glaring need is an ideal place to be, and that's where the Panthers should be heading into the 2021 offseason. "Best player available" gets thrown around too much by front-office types, but it should absolutely apply to the Panthers' offseason plan.

           

8. Washington Football Team

It's quarterback or bust for the Washington Football Team this offseason. Team owner Dan Snyder has trusted head coach Ron Rivera and vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith to tab the next franchise passer whom they can build a fun, young roster around.

There already will have been a small run on quarterbacks by No. 8 overall, which is why fans of the Football Team should be hoping for more losses if the playoffs are out of reach. The worst thing for Washington would be winning 2-3 more games and missing the playoffs while also falling out of reach of the top quarterbacks.

At this spot in the first round, Washington would have no realistic chance at Lawrence, and Fields would be a long shot as well. It would instead be in the territory for Trey Lance (North Dakota State), Zach Wilson (BYU), Mac Jones (Alabama) or Kyle Trask (Florida). It'll be up to Rivera and his offensive staff to determine what type of quarterback they want. Do they want a mobile playmaker like Lance or Wilson, or do they envision a downfield passing attack that Jones or Trask bring to the table?

All four quarterbacks have their advantages, but determining the scheme fit with Scott Turner's offense will be the most important decision the franchise makes this offseason.

          

9. Detroit Lions

The general manager (Bob Quinn) and head coach (Matt Patricia) are out. The quarterback (Matthew Stafford) is 32 years old and coming off a back injury. Oh, and the team's best offensive weapon (wideout Kenny Golladay) will be a free agent this offseason.

The Detroit job is the least desirable of those available so far. Quinn and Patricia gutted the roster, Stafford is highly paid and in decline, and the offensive line and secondary need to be rebuilt. And that's if you can convince Golladay to return.

The Lions must hit on their draft picks to turn this around, which is why their next GM hire is far more important than the next head coach. Ownership should hire a GM and let that person pick the head coach, not the other way around.

With the No. 9 overall selection, everything is on the table. The Lions have to consider a young quarterback if the decision-makers believe he's a potential franchise player. The same goes for every other position on the roster. The Lions can't afford to get cute and draft a tight end in the top 10 this year. The new general manager has to attack this much like Mike Mayock did when he took over the Las Vegas Raiders ahead of the 2019 season: add as many high-production, high-character, winning players as possible.

That worked for Mayock and Jon Gruden even though they kept Derek Carr at quarterback. The Lions could potentially hold on to Stafford for the remainder of his contract (he's signed through 2022) and focus on building the roster around him.

That's the move I would make while eyeing premium positions like the offensive line and cornerback as potential targets at No. 9 overall.

          

10. Atlanta Falcons

General manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn were the season's first firings, as a talented roster failed to live up to expectations early in the year. That's what the new GM and head coach will inherit: a talented roster that needs some work, as previous draft picks and free agents didn't pan out.

The first decision will be on quarterback Matt Ryan. The 35-year-old is still playing well, but he isn't the long-term answer anymore. If the Falcons like a quarterback at No. 10 overall, they have to jump on the chance to draft Ryan's replacement while he's still on the roster.

Brett Duke/Associated Press

From a scheme-fit perspective, it's impossible to predict what the new head coach will want to do offensively, but Florida's Kyle Trask has a similar skill set to Ryan's. He's big in the pocket but shows enough mobility to escape and extend plays, and he thrives in the underneath and intermediate passing game with accuracy and timing.

If a West Coast offense disciple comes to Atlanta, Trask is a definite option. The other best fit, especially if Eric Bieniemy gets the job and brings the Kansas City Chiefs' offense with him, is BYU's Zach Wilson.

Wilson has wowed this year with his mobility, playmaking and love for taking the deep shot while trusting his receivers to make plays. With the Falcons' receiving corps, Wilson could have a huge early impact thanks to his arm talent and athleticism.

             

The Big Board

1. QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
2. OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
3. QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
4. LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
5. WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
6. QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
7. CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
8. WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
9. WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
10. Edge Joseph Ossai, Texas
11. OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
12. OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
13. QB Zach Wilson, BYU
14. Edge Gregory Rousseau, Miami
15. DL Jordan Davis, Georgia
16. CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
17. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
18. TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
19. WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
20. CB Derion Kendrick, Clemson
21. OG Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
22. QB Kyle Trask, Florida
23. QB Mac Jones, Alabama
24. S Jevon Holland, Oregon
25. Edge Kwity Paye, Michigan
26. OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
27. OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
28. WR Chris Olave, Ohio State
29. TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
30. OG Trey Smith, Tennessee
31. OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
32. OT Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame


Parting Shots


7. Stock Up: Edge Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

During a chat with an area scout this week, he asked where I had Cincinnati edge-rusher Myjai Sanders ranked. I scrolled way too far down my rankings and didn't see him! Panic crept in before I realized I hadn't moved him from a junior to a likely-to-declare player on my list.

That error has been fixed, and Sanders is now ranked as a top-40 player.

An electric athlete off the edge, Sanders has transformed himself from a 215-pound recruit to a 6'4", 258-pound bull of a pass-rusher with the quickness, length and power that scouts fall in love with.

In a group that features a lot of production and a lot of talent, Sanders has the goods to make noise in the edge-rusher group.

      

6. Stock Down: Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, Baltimore Ravens

Once thought to be a shoe-in as a head coaching candidate this coming offseason, Roman's stock has dropped with the struggles of the Baltimore Ravens offense in 2020.

What was once seen as his greatest strength—developing an offense around MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson while helping him improve his game—has been exposed as NFL defensive coordinators had more time to study the tape and deploy plans to slow that offense down.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Roman could still get looks, but he's well behind others like Eric Bieniemy (Kansas City), Arthur Smith (Tennessee) and maybe even Joe Brady (Carolina) on the list of offensive coordinators who should be in the running for head coach gigs.

        

5. Sleeper of the Week: OT D'Ante Smith, East Carolina

It might not be fair to call D'Ante Smith a sleeper—he's a Senior Bowl player and is ranked inside my top 50 prospects—but he isn't getting enough talk. That's likely to change once the predraft process heats up.

A former tight end, Smith is an athletic marvel who one scout told me will "own" the combine. The biggest questions will be his height and length (he's listed at 6'4") and an undisclosed injury that caused Smith to miss the remainder of the season. This could be an opt-out situation after a minor injury, but it's something that will have to be checked.

If all is clear on the injury front, Smith could shoot up draft boards in a hurry this spring.

           

4. Player of the Week: RB Jaret Patterson, Buffalo

When you rush for 409 yards and eight touchdowns in one game, you get an award.

Jaret Patterson is one of the best running backs in the nation and a legitimate NFL draft prospect. His play throughout November served as a big reminder to NFL scouts that he isn't to be forgotten in a year that's made school visits and in-person scouting harder.

The good news is that when you rush for 710 yards in your last two games, people are going to notice you no matter where you play.

         

3. Check out the Big Board above and count the offensive linemen ranked in the top 32 overall. Actually, let me save you the scroll. Of the top 32 players ranked, nine are offensive linemen.

That's wild!

When I started in this industry, coaches and scouts at the NFL level complained that watered-down offensive line play in college was leading to few real prospects at the tackle positions. It was considered a serious threat to the NFL and future of line play, but here we are in 2020 with nine offensive linemen ranked in the top 32.

If you extend this to my top 50 players, there would be 14 linemen ranked.

It's a good year to build an offensive line.

       

2. Game of the Week: Clemson at Virginia Tech 

It won't have the same feeling without a packed house in Blacksburg, but this is still a big test for Clemson and offensive draft prospects Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Jackson Carman. The same goes for potential first-rounder Christian Darrisaw at left tackle for the Hokies.

The actual game might not be that competitive as Clemson looks to stay in the College Football Playoff race, but scouts will be going back to watch it multiple times over the course of the predraft process.

        

1. Twitter Q&A

Multiple users on Twitter this week asked how opt-outs would hurt a player's draft stock.

I asked around to multiple area scouts but also looked at my own rankings. The answer is that while there is no one rule for all players, most aren't being affected by opting out.

Let's take Micah Parsons for an example. He isn't being passed by any linebackers on my rankings after deciding to opt out, because his 2019 film was good enough to keep him at LB1. The same goes for Ja'Marr Chase at wide receiver. Even though DeVonta Smith is playing at an amazing level this year, Chase's tape from 2019 keeps him above Smith and other receivers who are playing well.

Trey Lance is perhaps the most polarizing player when it comes to draft stock and opting out.

North Dakota State played only one game this year because of COVID-19, and Lance didn't exactly light it up. Will that hurt his stock? I don't think so, because what teams loved about Lance to begin with was his athleticism and traits. However, there could always be a general manager or head coach who looks at what Zach Wilson or Mac Jones did this year while playing a full season and wants the hot hand at quarterback.

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