Buying or Selling the Latest 2021 NFL Draft Buzz, Rumors

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2021

Buying or Selling the Latest 2021 NFL Draft Buzz, Rumors

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    We're a little over two months away from the 2021 NFL draft, and reporters have already dropped clues about how teams may approach the selection process. Analysts project a high demand for quarterbacks within the top 20.

    Of course, team needs will change after free agency, but in some cases, veterans will only serve as placeholders on one- or two-year deals, which means rookies at the same position could have a chance to win battles for starting roles.

    Quarterback buzz has dominated the news cycle this offseason, and that probably won't change in the coming months. Although most expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to select Trevor Lawrence of Clemson with the No. 1 overall pick, Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones will move up and down mock draft boards until April 29.

    Aside from the quarterback chatter, the wide receiver group has stirred up discussion as to who belongs in the top three spots at the position. One report suggests we could see a top wideout reunite with a former teammate, which may cause trouble for defenses across the league.

    Let's go through the latest draft buzz and a few rumors as information trickles in about team needs and areas of emphasis. We'll finish each discussion with a buy or sell verdict.

North Dakota State's Trey Lance Won't Be Available at No. 19

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    North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance
    North Dakota State quarterback Trey LanceBruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Trey Lance only started one full season at North Dakota State, but he may have done enough to solidify a top-20 spot in the draft.

    In 2019, Lance threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns without an interception. He also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 scores. North Dakota State only played one game for the 2020 campaign. In that contest, against Central Arkansas, the athletic signal-caller completed 15 of 30 pass attempts for 149 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

    Despite Lance's limited collegiate resume, The MMQB's Albert Breer expects him to come off the board before the 19th overall pick.

    "I'm also relatively certain that, picking 19th, Washington won't get Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or Trey Lance without trading up," Breer wrote in a mailbag response.

    That's a significant projection because it suggests we'll see four quarterbacks selected within the top 20. With that number, the 2021 class could mirror the 2018 group in which four signal-callers went top-10.

    With all the quarterback trade chatter early this offseason, teams with lingering question marks at the position will likely make aggressive moves during the draft as well.

    Verdict: Buy

Will the Dallas Cowboys Consider a QB at No. 10?

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott
    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak PrescottRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys can shake up the draft if their negotiations with quarterback Dak Prescott stall or hit an impasse before April.

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, the Cowboys will attempt to sign Prescott to a long-term deal, but he could go through the offseason with the franchise tag again.

    David Helman and Rob Phillips of the Cowboys' official website had some interesting thoughts about the possibility that Dallas selects a quarterback early in the draft.

    "If they can't get Dak signed long-term by April, they need to be thinking about using a first-round pick on a quarterback," Helman wrote.

    Helman sees a soft deadline to wrap up contract negotiations before the Cowboys should consider rookie options. If the front office selects a signal-caller on Day 1, Prescott would become the subject of trade speculation. 

    Phillips has a different perspective and doesn't think the Cowboys would feel inclined to draft a quarterback even if Prescott isn't locked into a multiyear deal by April.

    "If the Cowboys truly believe they can still get a long-term deal done, even if it's not by the draft, then I doubt they'll feel major pressure to draft a quarterback this year, especially with all their other roster needs," Phillips wrote.

    With the 10th overall pick, the Cowboys can change the complexion of the draft if they choose a quarterback. North Dakota State's Trey Lance could be available in that spot.

    The Cowboys seem committed to Prescott, which makes a first- or early-round investment in a quarterback highly unlikely. Although this seems like an easy sell in February, things can change within two months.

    Verdict: Sell

Teams Willing to Trade Up for QB Mac Jones?

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    Alabama quarterback Mac Jones
    Alabama quarterback Mac JonesMatthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Coming off a successful title run, Mac Jones went to Mobile, Alabama, for Senior Bowl week at the end of January. He met with multiple teams, including the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread.

    Before Jones rolled his left ankle, which kept him out of the Senior Bowl game, he showcased his arm talent and likely boosted his draft stock, per Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports.

    "Jones threw with pinpoint accuracy and fantastic anticipation to receivers he didn't have any established rapport," Trapasso wrote. "A strong week of passing at the Senior Bowl always bodes very well for a quarterback's stock because coaches love to see one thrive in a difficult environment."

    ESPN's Todd McShay believes an early run at quarterbacks within the top 10 will influence a team to trade up for Jones (h/t Brad Crawford of 247Sports).

    "Mac Jones is going to benefit from the fact that these four quarterbacks are going to come off the board quick," McShay said on ESPN's Get Up. "It's probably going to be because of trades going up."

    Jones isn't as mobile as Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or Trey Lance, but he flashed an accurate arm this past season, completing 77.4 percent of his passes on a championship squad.

    In Mobile, away from a talented wide receiver corps that featured 2020 Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and a potential top-20 pick in Jaylen Waddle, Jones still looked impressive, so a team may take a leap of faith in a trade-up move to acquire him.

    Verdict: Buy

Some Teams Rank Rondale Moore Higher Than Jaylen Waddle

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    Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore
    Purdue wide receiver Rondale MooreMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Most mock drafts list LSU's Ja'Marr Chase along with Alabama wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle as the top three receivers selected in April.

    Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline has intel that breaks up the thought of a consensus big three at the position.

    "It's pretty much Chase then Smith," Pauline wrote. "However, a lot of teams like Rondale Moore of Purdue ahead of Waddle and justifiably so. He (Moore) is more of a natural receiver compared to Waddle."

    Both Waddle and Moore had abbreviated 2020 seasons.

    In October, Waddle fractured his ankle, though he did return for the College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State, catching three passes for 34 yards. In his first four games, he recorded 557 yards and four touchdowns.

    Initially, Moore opted out of the 2020 campaign, but he changed his mind in September. However, a lower-body injury kept him out of action for most of the fall. The Purdue product recorded 35 receptions for 270 yards in three games.

    Averaging 18.9 yards per reception as a collegian, Waddle earned the big-play receiver label, whereas Moore averaged 10.8 yards per catch.

    On the flip side, Moore has been a high-volume receiver. He hauled in 114 passes as a true freshman while Waddle had 106 catches through three terms.

    Moore's injury history could hurt him. In 2019, he only played four games because of a hamstring issue. Waddle has a bigger body of work at a more prestigious program, which will probably propel him over Moore in the final draft order.

    Verdict: Sell

Would the Bengals Draft WR Ja'Marr Chase If They Address OL in Free Agency?

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    LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase
    LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr ChaseJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    This is an intriguing scenario because of a potential reunion between quarterback Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase. They meshed well during LSU's 2019 undefeated season. Burrow won the Heisman Trophy, and Chase posted eye-popping numbers, hauling in 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.

    If the Cincinnati Bengals address their needs across the offensive line during free agency, ESPN's Ben Baby sees Chase as a reasonable draft fit at No. 5 overall.

    "If the needs on the offensive line are filled, Cincinnati can look at getting Burrow a big weapon in the passing game such as Ja'Marr Chase," Baby wrote. "Remember, Chase played at LSU with Burrow. He's the logical move if free agency and the draft board fall this way."

    The Bengals have glaring issues on defense that should take precedence over a top-flight wideout. Cincinnati ranked 22nd in points allowed with a run defense that gave up the fourth-most yards in 2020. The unit could lose defensive end Carl Lawson in free agency. At 32 years old, Geno Atkins hit a sharp decline, logging one tackle and zero sacks through eight games in an injury-riddled season.

    The Bengals don't have a strong need at wideout with Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins under team control through the 2023 term, per Spotrac. The latter led the club in receiving yards (908) and touchdowns (six) this past season.

    However, wideout A.J. Green, who turns 33 years old in July, experienced a rough campaign, recording 47 receptions on a 45.2 percent catch rate for 523 yards and two touchdowns. He even struggled with Burrow healthy through the first 11 weeks.

    If the Bengals sign a veteran offensive lineman, they could upgrade their three-wide receiver sets for an explosive aerial attack, featuring a new quarterback-receiver tandem that should provide immediate sparks because of history.

    Verdict: Buy

Cleveland Browns Eyeing Wide Receivers in the Draft

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    Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
    Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    In 2020, the Cleveland Browns established their offensive identity with a run-heavy attack that ranked fourth in carries. Quarterback Baker Mayfield had a solid campaign, throwing for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but the club listed 28th in pass attempts.

    On the roster, the Browns have two star wide receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., the latter of whom is recovering from a torn ACL. The Athletic's Zac Jackson believes the front office will re-sign Rashard Higgins and that fellow wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones has a place in the team's future.

    "It would be a surprise if Higgins doesn't return," Jackson wrote. "Peoples-Jones had a strong rookie season and is very much in the team's plans. Whether he's done enough to make Higgins or [KhaDarel] Hodge expendable is unlikely but remains to be seen." 

    In a response to a mailbag question about position strengths in the draft, Andrew Gribble of the Browns' official website thinks the club would have interest in prospects at wide receiver.

    "As far as positions that matter just a little bit more to Cleveland, it's another good year for wide receivers," Gribble wrote. "CBSSports.com has 15 wide receivers, led by Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, in its top 100 overall players." 

    Gribble's draft nugget is intriguing as trade chatter swirls around Beckham courtesy of ESPN's Jeff Darlington.

    Even if the Browns move Beckham, the front office could re-sign Higgins, who can slide into a starting role with Peoples-Jones and tight end Austin Hooper to soak up more targets.

    Cleveland needs a defensive end to play opposite Myles Garrett, a slot cornerback and a high-end linebacker, which pushes wideout down the list of the priorities. If Beckham remains on the roster, the Browns can bypass the wide receiver position in April.

    Verdict: Sell

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers Use Multiple Picks on Offensive Linemen?

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    Former Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey
    Former Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice PounceyMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    This offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers could lose multiple offensive linemen. Center Maurkice Pouncey announced his retirement through former teammate Ramon Foster. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and versatile offensive lineman Matt Feiler will become free agents in March.

    In 2020, rookie fourth-rounder Kevin Dotson played 358 offensive snaps at both guard spots. He could move into a starting position after a solid showing in limited action.

    Still, Pittsburgh needs a steady starter at the pivot and someone to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side if general manager Kevin Colbert allows Villanueva to walk.

    According to The Athletic's Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh doesn't view J.C. Hassenauer as Pouncey's successor.

    "Some people believe J.C. Hassenauer can handle the job at center, but let's say they see him more as a backup at guard and center," Bouchette wrote.

    Bouchette believes the Steelers will consider double-dipping in the pool of offensive linemen to retool their manpower in the trenches.

    "I could see them spending multiple picks on linemen," he wrote.

    With center already a major need and Villanueva set to turn 33 years old in September, Colbert could address the front line with two of his first three picks.

    The Steelers are $30.6 million over the salary-cap limit, so they may not be able to sign quality veteran offensive linemen in free agency.

    Verdict: Buy

Las Vegas Raiders Targeting an Edge-Rusher in 1st Round?

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    Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell
    Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Clelin FerrellJim Mone/Associated Press

    The Las Raiders hired defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to fix a unit that struggled through three seasons under Paul Guenther. Expect the club to infuse the roster with players who fit the new play-caller's scheme.

    Atop the priority list, the Raiders have to fill glaring voids at defensive tackle and safety.

    On the interior of the defensive line, the Raiders could lose Johnathan Hankins and Maliek Collins. The latter underwhelmed in his first year with the team, logging 15 tackles and one quarterback hit.

    Safety Johnathan Abram is best suited to play near the line of scrimmage. Going into his age-31 term, Erik Harris will become a free agent. Quarterbacks recorded a 124.1 passer rating when they targeted him in 2020.

    Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group believes the Raiders will attempt to bolster the pass rush in the first round.

    "My guess is the first-round pick will be an edge-rusher," he wrote in a mailbag response.

    Although the Raiders haven't fielded a respectable pass rush since they traded edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears in 2018, Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell still have room to grow in starting roles under Bradley.

    Ferrell hasn't developed into a consistent pass-rusher yet, logging 6.5 sacks and 36 quarterback pressures through 26 games. On the positive side, Crosby has shown promise in that area, recording 17 sacks in two full seasons.

    In past drafts, the Raiders have addressed their biggest needs first. As Day 1 picks, Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs, Abram, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette all filled major voids.

    Even though Vegas needs help on the edge, a penetrating defensive tackle such as Alabama's Christian Barmore seems like the most logical choice. TCU safety Trevon Moehrig could land on the team's radar at No. 17 as well.

    Verdict: Sell

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