Most Ideal Landing Spots for 2021 NFL Draft's Top Prospects

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2021

Most Ideal Landing Spots for 2021 NFL Draft’s Top Prospects

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    There is plenty we know about the 2021 NFL draft and plenty that has yet to be discovered. We know the Jacksonville Jaguars have secured the No. 1 overall pick. We know that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is the most highly touted prospect in this draft. However, with the bulk of the draft order still unsettled and with several prospects—including Lawrence—yet to officially declare, there's plenty we just don't know.

    This is the point in the predraft process where guesswork and, of course, mock drafts, reign supreme. It's easier to explore which prospects would best fit NFL teams than to predict which will actually partner up on draft day.

    This is largely the driving force behind a mock draft, though most analysts will incorporate a level of realism rather than drawing up a mythical wish list.

    Which prospects can best help franchises picking at the top? The answer to that question generally provides a good starting point to a mock draft. That's not what we're going to dive into here, though. Instead, we're going to examine some of the most notable 2021 draft prospects and the teams that would be ideal landing spots for them.

    We'll still work in the realm of the reasonable here, so the 14-1 Kansas City Chiefs aren't going to be listed for a potential top-three prospect. We will consider realistic trades a possibility, though, so while the draft order will be considered, we'll also focus on factors like supporting talent, expected opportunity and franchise/coaching stability where applicable.

    We'll look specifically at the top eight players on the big board of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Prospects are listed in alphabetical order. To keep things interesting, we'll be limiting teams to one prospect each.

NFL Draft Order, Round 1

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1-14

    2. New York Jets, 2-13

    3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston, 4-11)

    4. Atlanta Falcons, 4-11

    5. Cincinnati Bengals, 4-10-1

    6. Philadelphia Eagles, 4-10-1

    7. Detroit Lions, 5-10

    8. New York Giants, 5-10

    9. Carolina Panthers, 5-10

    10. Denver Broncos, 5-10

    11. Dallas Cowboys, 6-9

    12. Los Angeles Chargers, 6-9

    13. Minnesota Vikings, 6-9

    14. New England Patriots, 6-9

    15. San Francisco 49ers, 6-9

    16. Las Vegas Raiders, 7-8

    17. Arizona Cardinals, 8-7

    18. Indianapolis Colts, 10-5

    19. Washington Football Team, 6-9

    20. Chicago Bears, 8-7

    21. Jacksonville Jaguars (from L.A. Rams, 9-6)

    22. Cleveland Browns, 10-5

    23. Miami Dolphins, 10-5

    24. Baltimore Ravens, 10-5

    25. Tennessee Titans, 10-5

    26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 10-5

    27. New York Jets (from Seattle, 11-4)

    28. Pittsburgh Steelers, 12-3

    29. New Orleans Saints, 11-4

    30. Buffalo Bills, 12-3

    31. Green Bay Packers, 12-3

    32. Kansas City Chiefs, 14-1

    *From Tankathon

Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Cincinnati Bengals

    When we last saw LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase, he was helping the Tigers complete an undefeated season and win the national title. He then opted out of the 2020 season, allowing Alabama pass-catcher and Heisman hopeful DeVonta Smith to emerge as the likely first receiver taken in the 2021 draft.

    However, it's impossible to ignore what Chase accomplished with quarterback Joe Burrow during the 2019 season. He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, and a reunion with Burrow could be ideal.

    It's been a year since Chase played competitively, but he and Burrow have preexisting chemistry. With the two back together, Chase could potentially have the sort of rookie season we've seen from former teammate Justin Jefferson in 2020.

    Cincinnati should also have a good shot at landing Chase, as it currently holds the No. 5 draft slot.

    To be clear, wide receiver is not the biggest need for the Bengals, who have Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd headlining the position group. However, you can make the case that Chase would be the best player available at No. 5 and a generational talent too good to overlook.

    Adding Chase would be good for Burrow's continued development, and it would be great for the wide receiver himself.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Carolina Panthers

    Last offseason, there may have been a debate over whether Lawrence or Ohio State's Justin Fields should be the first quarterback taken in the 2021 draft. That debate isn't going to happen in the coming months, as Lawrence has cemented his place as the top prospect in the draft.

    Fields, meanwhile, has been good but not great during an odd and pandemic-shortened Buckeyes season. He has thrown for 1,521 yards, rushed for 274 and produced 20 total touchdowns with five interceptions in six games. He also remains—for the time being, anyway—the No. 2 quarterback prospect.

    "I said I wanted to see Fields improve as a decision-maker in the pocket and on off-platform throws, and we've seen him take a step forward in both," Kiper wrote. "He has superstar potential and is right behind Lawrence on my quarterback board."

    Is Fields a finished product? Probably not, and this is part of the reason why the Carolina Panthers would be perfect for him. They have quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under contract for two more seasons and could afford to develop Fields during his rookie season.

    Having two bright offensive minds in Matt Rhule and Joe Brady overseeing that development could be huge for the former Georgia transfer.

    Fields would also be surrounded by a stellar cast of pass-catchers, which includes D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel (if he re-signs in free agency) and a hopefully healthy Christian McCaffrey.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars

    Look, we said that we're going to stay within the realm of possibility here. If Lawrence indeed declares for the 2021 draft, he's going to the Jaguars. He's simply too good of a prospect to consider trading away and is the sort of quarterback who could change the fortunes of a franchise.

    "I've honestly never seen anything like him," one unnamed NFL quarterbacks coach told Matt Miller. "You've seen guys with a bigger arm, and you've seen guys who are faster, but I've never seen a prospect who has every trait you need and has them at a high level."

    Still, this doesn't mean Jacksonville is a bad landing spot for the College Football Playoff-bound signal-caller. The Jaguars will be an attractive landing spot for the top head coaching candidates—assuming that Doug Marrone is relieved at season's end—and they are not devoid of offensive talent.

    With players like DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and rookie phenom James Robinson at his disposal, Lawrence could thrive early as Justin Herbert has done with the Los Angeles Chargers this season.

    Jacksonville is also slated to have the most cap space in the NFL in 2021, meaning the Jaguars can further strengthen Lawrence's supporting cast. Plus, it's unlikely that Lawrence will complain about starting his NFL career in sunny, income-tax-free Florida.

Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

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    Barry Reeger/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons

    Like Chase, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 season. Also like Chase, he's still likely to be one of the first players off the board next spring. He racked up 109 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks and five passes defended during the 2019 season and is one of the most dynamic defenders in this draft class.

    "Parsons is enticing because of his versatility. He played as an edge rusher at Harrisburg (Pa.) High School before transitioning into a role as an inside linebacker at Penn State, where he was a disruptive force as both a run stopper and as a blitzing pass rusher," The Athletic's Nick Kosmider wrote.

    The Atlanta Falcons would be a terrific landing spot for Parsons, as he would immediately become one of the faces of their defense. And while the Falcons unit hasn't been great overall this season—it ranks just 28th in total defense—it is not devoid of talent.

    Parsons would quickly become the headliner of Atlanta's linebacker corps, and he would be sandwiched by quality players like defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, safety Keanu Neal—assuming he re-signs in free agency—rookie corner A.J. Terrell and fellow linebacker Deion Jones.

    Depending on who Atlanta hires as its next head coach, Parsons may also be given the opportunity to return to his pass-rushing roots. Meanwhile, the Falcons are loaded with offensive talents like Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and Hayden Hurst. If Parson can help provide even a marginal defensive boost, Atlanta could be right back in the NFC South mix.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys

    The tight end position isn't traditionally targeted at the top of Round 1, though the Detroit Lions did take T.J. Hockenson eighth overall in 2019. Florida's Kyle Pitts could follow in Hockenson's footsteps as a potential top-10 selection, as he is one of the most dynamic pass-catchers we've seen this season.

    In just eight games in 2020, Pitts has caught 43 passes for 770 yards and an impressive 12 touchdowns.

    While the Dallas Cowboys, who are currently slated to pick just outside the top 10, should focus on fixing their sagging defense, they could also provide Pitts with an ideal NFL home.

    Presumably, the Cowboys will re-sign quarterback Dak Prescott in the offseason. They have a strong running back duo in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard and an impressive trio of wide receivers in CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. While Dalton Schultz is a good tight end in coordinator Kellen Moore's offense, he isn't good enough to keep Pitts off the field.

    In Dallas, Pitts would get plenty of one-on-one opportunities as a receiver and could be one of the most statistically impressive rookies of the 2021 season.

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Los Angeles Chargers

    It's highly unlikely that Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell will fall outside of the top 10. However, if the Los Angeles Chargers can trade up a few spots—they currently own the 12th pick in the draft—they might have a shot at snagging him.

    This would be an ideal situation for Sewell, who, like many others, opted out of the 2020 season. When he was last on the field, he was blocking for quarterback Justin Herbert. As you're probably well aware, Herbert is now starring for the Chargers and just set a new rookie touchdown record.

    However, this potential fit is about more than just playing with a familiar face. The Chargers traded away left tackle Russell Okung last offseason, so they could immediately give Sewell an opportunity to start. Okung was traded for Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner, who, along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga, would give the rookie plenty of support along the line.

    In addition to having strong teammates along the line, Sewell could benefit from the presence of pass-catchers like Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler and Hunter Henry (if the tight end is retained in free agency).

    Herbert has the weapons needed to get the ball out quickly, meaning that Sewell shouldn't be on an island for extended periods as he adapts to NFL pass-rushers.

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins

    Thanks to the Houston Texans' 2020 struggles, the Miami Dolphins are currently in possession of the third overall pick in the draft. Should the Dolphins choose to use that selection on Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith, the incoming rookie should be pleased.

    The jury is still out on rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as a pro, but the two Crimson Tide products had a lot of chemistry together in college. While Smith would likely help Tagovailoa develop as an NFL signal-caller, he would also benefit from being Miami's new go-to target.

    A starting opportunity and a familiar face aren't the only things that would benefit Smith in Miami, though. The presence of pass-catchers like DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Preston Williams (if healthy) would afford the rookie numerous one-on-one opportunities on the outside.

    In coordinator Chan Gailey's offense, this could lead to some serious statistical production for Smith in his first year.

    Additionally, the Dolphins are a team on the rise. They're on the cusp of the postseason now and appear to have their long-term head coach in Brian Flores.

    Joining a former teammate while being "the guy" for a contender in South Florida? What more could a top prospect hope for?

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Ideal Landing Spot: Detroit Lions

    While Jaylen Waddle may only be the third receiver off the board in the spring, he's still going to be a high draft pick. Some team is going to pull the trigger on the Alabama speedster early, just as the Las Vegas Raiders did with Henry Ruggs III last April.

    Waddle has 557 receiving yards and four touchdowns on just 25 receptions this season.

    The Lions may not be that team, as they have bigger needs on the defensive side of the ball. However, Detroit could be a terrific home for Waddle—assuming, of course, that the Lions hire a competent head coach and retain quarterback Matthew Stafford.

    Stafford has one of the best arms in the NFL and could fully optimize Waddle's home run-hitting ability. He may also be without a No. 1 receiver if Kenny Golladay departs in free agency. If Golladay stays, though, it could actually benefit Waddle.

    With Golladay across from him on the outside and Hockenson at tight end, Waddle should see a fair amount of one-on-one coverage. If opposing defenses don't regularly keep a safety deep, that could result in a lot of long connections between Stafford and Waddle.

    Detroit should also have a relatively balanced offense with D'Andre Swift coming into his own as a running back, which should further prevent defenses from taking away the long ball.

    Catching passes from the cannon-armed Stafford would be a sweet way for Waddle to begin his NFL career, even if wide receiver is far from Detroit's greatest need.

        

    Contract and cap information via Spotrac.

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