NFL Teams Most Likely to Trade Up in the 2021 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2021

NFL Teams Most Likely to Trade Up in the 2021 NFL Draft

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft is three weeks away, but teams are already making moves in the first round. The San Francisco 49ers traded up to No. 3, while the Miami Dolphins went from No. 3 to No. 12 and back up to No. 6.

    Predraft trades aren't unheard of. The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles moved up ahead of the 2016 draft, while the New York Jets did the same in 2018.

    More trades could be on the horizon, as both the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions are open to moving down, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated. Movement is also likely to occur during the draft.

    The question is this: While some teams are open to trading down, which are most likely to trade up? That's what we tried to determine.

    Based on factors including relevant buzz and teams' recent histories, needs and draft positions, these clubs are ones to watch when it comes to trading up.

    Teams were listed according to their draft position in Round 1.

Denver Broncos

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    Broncos president John Elway
    Broncos president John ElwayAssociated Press

    Current Pick: No. 9

    The Denver Broncos could be interested in trading up to Atlanta's No. 4 spot. The first three selections are almost sure to be quarterbacks, and if the Broncos fall in love with one of the remaining signal-callers, they may have to trade up before another team does.

    A lot will depend on who is available—or who Denver believes will be available—with that No. 4 selection. Much will also hinge on how the Broncos view incumbent quarterback Drew Lock. According to ESPN's Todd McShay, the Broncos may give Lock more time.

    "Denver at nine is interesting," McShay told reporters (h/t Luke Patterson of Mile High Huddle). "I don't know that they've given up on Drew Lock. I think if they continue to put people around him and support him better, he can have a really successful career."

    The problem is Lock has done little to prove he's more than an average starter. In 13 games last season, he threw for 2,933 yards with 16 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.4. Denver doesn't have high-end alternatives either with Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel to back up Lock.

    If the Broncos believe they can upgrade the position by drafting, say, Ohio State's Justin Fields or North Dakota State's Trey Lance, they could initiate a trade to make it happen.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Chargers GM Tom Telesco
    Chargers GM Tom TelescoMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Current Pick: No. 13

    The Los Angeles Chargers appear to have their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert. While it's never wise to map out a player's future career based on one season—Baker Mayfield wowed as a rookie too before regressing in Year 2—Herbert was phenomenal in his first pro season.

    The Oregon product passed for 4,336 yards and a rookie-record 31 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 234 yards and five more scores.

    Los Angeles won't move up for a quarterback, but it may trade up to help protect the one it has. Herbert was sacked 32 times last season, and the Chargers don't have a strong starter at left tackle. Trey Pipkins would probably man the spot if the season started today, and he was responsible for three penalties and five sacks in 571 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Trading up to secure one of the top offensive tackles in this draft class would make a lot of sense for Los Angeles. Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater are widely viewed as blue-chip prospects, and one of them could be off the board quickly.

    The Cincinnati Bengals should be in the market for a tackle at No. 5, and the Philadelphia Eagles could consider one at No. 12.

    Even if the Bengals don't take a tackle, the Chargers could be inclined to jump Philadelphia to secure Herbert's blindside protector.

New England Patriots

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    Patriots coach Bill Belichick
    Patriots coach Bill BelichickDoug Murray/Associated Press

    Current Pick: No. 15

    The New England Patriots re-signed quarterback Cam Newton this offseason and will likely hand him the starting role. However, the 31-year-old probably isn't in New England's long-term plans, and the Patriots may draft their quarterback of the future this month.

    According to Jim McBride of the Boston Globe, the Patriots have done their homework on Texas A&M's Kellen Mond.

    "Mond met with Patriots officials at the Senior Bowl and has kept in touch with the club throughout the offseason, exchanging the occasional text with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels," McBride wrote.

    If Mond is New England's preferred target, it may be able to land him at No. 15. However, there's no guarantee an early run at the quarterback position won't precipitate a trade or that Mond is indeed the prospect New England covets.

    Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a history of digging in to quarterback prospects he might not select. The Patriots explored Baker Mayfield—who was selected No. 1 overall in 2018—enough that the quarterback was "convinced" New England would trade up for him.

    If the Patriots are instead eying a prospect such as Justin Fields or Trey Lance, they could move up to get him.

    We can assume three quarterbacks will be off the board by No. 4, and even if New England doesn't acquire Atlanta's spot, a fourth signal-caller could be gone by No. 5 if another team makes that move.

    What New England cannot afford to do is put off drafting its quarterback of the future until next year. The 2022 quarterback class isn't particularly impressive, so if the Patriots are going to secure a new franchise quarterback via the draft, now is the time to make their move.

Chicago Bears

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    Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace
    Matt Nagy and Ryan PaceNam Huh/Associated Press

    Current Pick: No. 20

    The Chicago Bears are in a position similar to the Patriots. They have a patchwork quarterback in place in Andy Dalton but no long-term solution at the game's most important position. They reportedly tried and failed to acquire Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson—though they could revisit the idea before the draft.

    "I'm told that the Bears still are paying attention to Russell Wilson and have not abandoned hopes that they could eventually trade for Russell Wilson," ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Get Up in March. "And I think everybody needs to stay tuned to the Russell Wilson situation up to and during the NFL draft."

    If Chicago cannot secure Wilson, it could consider making a move to land one of this year's top prospects. While trading from No. 20 to No. 4 might be a stretch, the Bears may have to leap teams such as New England to land one of the top five signal-callers in this class.

    Bleacher Report's NFL scouting department has four quarterbacks—Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson—ranked in the top 10 of its latest big board. Alabama's Mac Jones ranks 41st, and then there's a big drop to Kyle Trask at No. 127.

    If the Bears view this year's quarterback crop similarly, they may have to trade up to land a quarterback they view as a viable starter.

    With a trade for Khalil Mack and a proposed trade for Wilson on his resume, general manager Ryan Pace has shown he isn't afraid to make an aggressive move. No one should be shocked if he makes another in Round 1.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Steelers GM Kevin Colbert
    Steelers GM Kevin ColbertCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Current Pick: No. 24

    Like the Patriots and the Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to secure their quarterback of the future. The Steelers reworked the contract of Ben Roethlisberger and will bring him back for the 2021 season. However, Big Ben's future beyond 2021 is in question.

    While Pittsburgh added Dwayne Haskins Jr. in the offseason, the former Ohio State standout and 2019 first-round pick failed to establish himself as a reliable starter for the Washington Football Team. There's no guarantee he can be a viable successor.

    A trade up from No. 24 for a quarterback could be on the table. However, this isn't the only reason Pittsburgh made the list.

    The Steelers have a playoff-caliber roster with a couple of notable holes. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired in the offseason, and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva remains unsigned. Pittsburgh could look to address its offensive line and trade up to do so.

    General manager Kevin Colbert has been aggressive with draft-day trades. In 2013, he traded into the fourth round to grab safety Shamarko Thomas, surrendering a 2014 third-round pick. Two years ago, he moved from No. 20 to No. 10 to secure linebacker Devin Bush.

    If the Steelers really want a player—be it a quarterback, lineman or someone at another position—they won't be afraid to make a trade to get him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Buccaneers GM Jason Licht
    Buccaneers GM Jason LichtCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Current Pick: No. 32

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made this list for a different reason. They don't have a pressing need at quarterback with Tom Brady signed through 2022. They don't have any holes on their championship-caliber roster either. All 22 offensive and defensive starters from last year's Super Bowl team will be back.

    While the Bucs can afford to take a best-player-available approach with the 32nd pick, they could also be inclined to move up for a prospect they believe can help them win now.

    Tampa Bay took this approach last year when it traded up one spot to secure Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs. With the No. 32 pick this year, it may need to move more than one draft slot to land a prospect it covets.

    Parting with later-draft picks or future selections shouldn't be a huge issue for the Buccaneers. They're looking at a two-year Super Bowl window with Brady and are not likely to keep many late picks on the roster, even as depth and developmental players.

    If, for example, the Buccaneers can give up a future third-round pick and a fourth-rounder this year to move up and grab a guy who can contribute immediately, they probably won't hesitate.

    The roster is both talent-rich and deep, which gives them flexibility at the bottom of Round 1. No one should be surprised if Tampa Bay uses that flexibility to trade up and get the guy it wants on the draft's opening night.