NFL Teams Best Positioned to Maneuver Up or Down in the 2021 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2021

NFL Teams Best Positioned to Maneuver Up or Down in the 2021 NFL Draft

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    JASON DECROW/Associated Press

    The order for the 2021 NFL draft isn't quite set, but it's close and relatively defined at the top. Only four teams remain alive for Super Bowl LV, and it's highly unlikely that the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Green Bay Packers are making their way into the top 10.

    Of course, while the picture at the top of the draft is clear, that doesn't mean it won't change. Predraft and draft-day trades are common, and we're likely to see several of them during this year's selection process.

    Which teams should fans keep an eye on as potential draft-day movers? That's what we're going to examine here. We'll look at five teams in prime position to maneuver up and/or down in the first round based on factors like trade capital, roster construction and draft positioning.

    First, though, let's take a look at the current draft order. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

NFL Draft Order Entering Conference Championship Weekend

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    1. Jacksonville Jaguars

    2. New York Jets

    3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans)

    4. Atlanta Falcons

    5. Cincinnati Bengals

    6. Philadelphia Eagles

    7. Detroit Lions

    8. Carolina Panthers

    9. Denver Broncos

    10. Dallas Cowboys

    11. New York Giants

    12. San Francisco 49ers

    13. Los Angeles Chargers

    14. Minnesota Vikings

    15. New England Patriots

    16. Arizona Cardinals

    17. Las Vegas Raiders

    18. Miami Dolphins

    19. Washington Football Team

    20. Chicago Bears

    21. Indianapolis Colts

    22. Tennessee Titans

    23. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)

    24. Pittsburgh Steelers

    25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)

    26. Cleveland Browns

    27. Baltimore Ravens

    28. New Orleans Saints

    29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    30. Buffalo Bills

    31. Green Bay Packers

    32. Kansas City Chiefs

    *from Tankathon

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Joe Burrow
    Joe BurrowAl Drago/Associated Press

    To be clear, if an elite offensive line prospect like Oregon's Penei Sewell or Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw is sitting there at No. 5, the Cincinnati Bengals should probably stay put and pull the trigger. If, however, Cincinnati wants to move down and accumulate extra draft capital, it is in a great position to do so.

    Quarterback and wide receiver are two positions that are likely to be heavily targeted at the top of the draft. The Bengals are set at the first position with 2020 first overall selection Joe Burrow, and wideout is far from the team's biggest need.

    While A.J. Green may depart in free agency this offseason, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins give Burrow two premium targets on the perimeter. The quarterback is rehabbing from a torn ACL and MCL but is expected to be ready for the 2021 regular season.

    "That's been the goal for me from the beginning," Burrow told reporters. "They say it's a nine- to 12-month recovery, and the first game is exactly nine months from my injury."

    Cincinnati can easily justify trading back with a player like Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields or Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith sitting on the board if it means acquiring an extra Day 2 asset. That could be the prudent move if the Bengals aren't in love with a specific prospect at No. 5, as it's going to take several players to fix a roster that ranked 29th in total offense and 26th in total defense this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Trevor Lawrence
    Trevor LawrenceGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars could make this list based solely on their possession of the No. 1 pick. That selection will most likely be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and there should be no shortage of teams interested in acquiring him.

    However, that's not the only reason they're included here—and, presumably, Jacksonville won't move the No. 1 pick.

    Jacksonville also possesses the 25th overall pick after trading Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. Additionally, the Jaguars own two second-round selections and a third-rounder. If the Jags want to move up from 25 or back into Round 1 from 33rd overall, they have the draft capital to make it happen.

    On Thursday, the Jaguars officially announced they had hired Trent Baalke as their general manager. It'll be interesting to see how he and new head coach Urban Meyer approach this draft.

    Securing a new franchise quarterback should be the first goal, but Jacksonville is not one player away from contention. Trading down to acquire more picks or trading up to land specific prospects are both approaches that the Jaguars will have the flexibility to execute in the draft.

Miami Dolphins

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    Tua Tagovailoa
    Tua TagovailoaJohn Munson/Associated Press

    How much maneuverability the Miami Dolphins possess in Round 1 will hinge on the team's view of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Publicly, the Dolphins are supporting the 2020 No. 5 overall selection.

    "Tua, we're very happy with. He's our starting quarterback," general manager Chris Grier said, per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe.

    If the Dolphins aren't sold on Tagovailoa, however, they'll at least have to consider quarterback options at No. 3—a selection Miami owns thanks to their trade of Laremy Tunsil to the Houston Texans. If Miami believes in Tagovailoa and isn't in love with a prospect like Sewell, Smith or LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase, then trading the third pick to a quarterback-needy team will be a realistic option.

    And that's not the only option Miami will have in Round 1. The Dolphins also own their selection at No. 18, a pair of second-round picks and a third-rounder.

    Miami has a relatively solid roster, especially on the defensive side. Therefore, if it's considering moving up from No. 18 to secure, say, Mississippi receiver Elijah Moore, it has the assets to do so. The Dolphins could also trade down to add more draft capital while knowing they have three Day 2 selections on the horizon.

    Things will begin with the third overall selection, though, and whether the Dolphins are willing to pass on a signal-caller and continue rolling with Tagovailoa.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Kirk Cousins
    Kirk CousinsAl Goldis/Associated Press

    Unlike the other four teams on this list, the Minnesota Vikings don't possess a top-five selection. However, they do own the 14th overall pick, two third-rounders and three fourth-round selections. This should give the Vikings the flexibility to move up or down by at least a few slots in Round 1.

    Minnesota could be a team to watch on draft day if there is an early run on quarterbacks, too. The Vikings have Kirk Cousins under contract for two more seasons, but they could realistically move on from him after 2021.

    While Cousins has $41 million in dead cap remaining on his contract, only $10 million of that will be left next offseason.

    If the Vikings believe that a prospect like Fields, Florida's Kyle Trask or North Dakota State's Trey Lance can be an eventual upgrade over Cousins, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them go up and get him.

    Moving into the top five—by making a deal with a team like Cincinnati or Miami—would likely require including future draft picks, but Minnesota has a bevy of mid-round selections with which to get the conversation started.

    And if the Vikings want to trade down, they're right in the middle of Round 1, where a sliding prospect could cause another team to bite. That, along with Minnesota's collection of later picks, could then allow the Vikings to get back into Round 2—their second-round pick was sent to Jacksonville for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

New York Jets

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    Sam Darnold
    Sam DarnoldCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    As is the case for Miami, the New York Jets' Round 1 options will hinge on how the franchise views the future of quarterback Sam Darnold. If New York believes Darnold can flourish in a post-Adam Gase era, then its No. 2 selection could become one of the most tradable assets in the entire draft.

    Presumably, Lawrence will go No. 1 overall. If so, prospects like Fields, Trask and Lance will become prime trade targets for quarterback-needy teams over the next several selections. If New York doesn't believe that any of them are superior to Darnold, it could potentially get a massive haul for the second overall pick.

    Of course, New York's trade options don't end there. The Jets also possess the 23rd overall pick after trading Jalen Ramsey to the Seattle Seahawks. In addition, they have the 34th overall pick and two third-round selections.

    The Jets have enough draft capital to move up from No. 23 or back into the first round from No. 34. They also have enough holes on the roster to justify trading up to secure a specific prospect or moving down and acquire additional picks.

    Perhaps no team is better equipped to move up and down the board in Round 1, though for New York, the process starts with evaluating Darnold's future.