Fact or Fiction: Making Sense of Latest Buzz from 2021 NFL Draft's Lying Season
Truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction when it comes to the NFL draft.
The New York Jets drafting a quarterback No. 2 overall just three years after taking Sam Darnold No. 3 overall? Yep, it's poised to happen because the Jets have already traded the aforementioned Darnold.
Of course, not every potential selection is so easy to predict—and to be fair, we don't know exactly which quarterback the Jets will take. Things are made all the more difficult by the fact that NFL teams rarely spew the truth in the weeks leading up to selection weekend.
Here, we'll attempt to cut through the smoke surrounding the latest predraft rumors, examining some of the latest buzz and sorting the gossip into "fact" or "fiction" breakdowns.
Falcons Getting Calls About the No. 4 Pick
The San Francisco 49ers have already traded up into the No. 3 slot, virtually guaranteeing that the first three selections will be quarterbacks—it wouldn't make sense for San Francisco to move up for any other position. The Atlanta Falcons could make it four quarterbacks in a row by either taking one at No. 4 or by dealing the selection.
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Falcons have "received calls" about the No. 4 pick already.
There's little reason to believe this isn't the case. At least two of the top five quarterback prospects should still be on the board at No. 4. If a team falls in love with, say, North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Alabama's Mac Jones and they're there, it could be quick to pull the trigger.
Of course, we may not see a team actually pull the trigger on a trade until it knows which quarterbacks are still available at No. 4. That is, unless a team truly believes there are at least four legitimate franchise signal-callers in this class.
Most of the League Believes San Francisco Will Take Mac Jones at No. 3
One reason why a team may trade up to No. 4 ahead of the draft is the belief around the league that San Francisco has its eye on Mac Jones.
"I would say 98 percent of the league believe the 49ers are taking Mac Jones," Michael Lombardi said on The Sports Betting Network's The Lombardi Line.
While the 49ers may indeed be interested in Jones and many around the league probably do believe Jones will be the pick, it's hard to buy the idea that it's the consensus. There are plenty of reasons to believe San Francisco is eying Trey Lance, Ohio State's Justin Fields or hasn't even made a decision yet.
"I am continuing to find myself among those skeptics," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora wrote. "Skeptics who have evaluated this quarterback class and who find themselves shaking their heads at all of the Fields slander popping up all over the place. Skeptics who just aren't buying that Jones, for as well he played this season at Alabama, is a superior prospect worthy of being the third overall selection."
If the league were so sure that San Francisco is taking Jones, a team in love with Fields or Lance likely would have already made its move to get to No. 4.
Lions Hoping to Trade Down from No. 7
If one of the top five quarterbacks is still on the board at No. 7, the Detroit Lions could become a popular target on draft night.
One NFL executive told The Athletic's Ben Standig that Detroit is looking to move down from No. 7.
"While [Ja'Marr] Chase, [Jaylen] Waddle or [Penei] Sewell would help immediately, Detroit could take advantage of teams aching for a quarterback, wide receiver or Sewell, who could also benefit the Lions," Standig wrote. "New GM Brad Holmes acquired Goff from his old team for the purpose of giving the No. 1 pick in 2016 a new starting opportunity."
This feels like nothing but fact. The Lions are already leaning into the rebuilding process, having traded Matthew Stafford for a pair of first-round draft picks, a third-rounder and Jared Goff.
While selecting an instant-impact player like Chase or Waddle would certainly make sense, if Detroit can add to its growing cache of draft ammunition, it will probably do so.
Bears Looking to Trade Up for a Quarterback
The Lions probably won't want to trade with the NFC North-rival Chicago Bears. However, Chicago could still be looking to move up for a quarterback.
According to John Clayton of 104.3 The Fan, the Bears are hoping to land one of the top five quarterback prospects by trading up.
"Add Chicago to the number of teams trying to trade up for one of the five first-round quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL draft," Clayton wrote. "Andy Dalton is the Bears starter. Nick Foles is still on their roster, but Chicago is looking to get their quarterback of the future."
This one feels like fact. Dalton isn't the long-term answer. Neither is Foles. The Bears tried aggressively to land Russell Wilson in a trade to no avail.
According to La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Bears offered three first-round picks along with a choice of players from a group that included Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack for Wilson. If Chicago were that intent on landing Wilson and believes there are five legitimate franchise quarterbacks in this draft, odds are it will aggressively try to land one of them, too.
Kadarius Toney Could Be Top-15 Pick
Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith appear to be the three wide receivers in the mix to be first off the board in Round 1. Could Florida's Kadarius Toney also enter the equation? According to NFL Network's Peter Schrager, Tony could indeed come off the board before Smith.
"Kadarius Toney, I think that guy might go top-15. I think he might even go before [Devonta] Smith," Schrager said on the 2 for 1 Drafts podcast (h/t Adam Hermann of NBC Sports Philadelphia). "I mean, the stuff you're hearing about him out of Florida, he's so tough after the tackle, and you can use him in that Deebo Samuel way."
While it's impossible to say that Toney won't go in the top 15, it feels unlikely. Toney has game-breaking quickness but carries plenty of question marks.
Toney was hampered by injuries before 2020, lacks polish and has only one year of high-level production on his resume. We also have to consider the reality that five of the first 15 selections could be quarterbacks.
Would a team really be willing to make such a boom-or-bust prospect one of the top 10 non-quarterbacks taken in the draft? It's always possible, but I don't see it.
At Least One Team Shying Away from Players Who Opted out in 2021
Another rumor coming from Standig involves an unnamed team and its disinterest in players who opted out of the 2020 pandemic season:
"One organization picking in the top 10 is shying away from drafting players who opted out of playing last season, according to one person familiar with the team's thinking. A senior executive for another team said he has no definitive stance on players who opted out but has seen some of those players arrive for their pro days out of shape."
This one feels like a fact. Some prospects aren't going to be in football shape after taking a year off, while others only provided limited game tape before the 2020 season.
It's certainly not unrealistic for a team to be more comfortable only targeting players who were on the field this past season. That could mean passing on an elite prospect like Ja'Marr Chase or Penei Sewell, but a team isn't going to invest a top-10 pick in a player it has serious concerns about.
Dolphins Considering Najee Harris at No. 18
After trading down and then back up, the Miami Dolphins own the sixth overall pick in the draft. They also own the 18th selection. With that second first-rounder, some believe Miami could take a running back.
"The Dolphins picks a year ago left some scratching their heads. So while I think taking RB Najee Harris at No. 18 seems a little rich, I hear a strong buzz about him being very much in contention for that selection," La Canfora wrote.
Miami probably does want to add a running back in the draft, as the current committee backfield of Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed isn't overly impressive. In that regard, considering Harris makes sense, but it feels unlikely that the Dolphins would pull the trigger at No. 18. Harris is a fine running back prospect, but the middle of Round 1 is high for the position—especially if five of the first 17 picks are quarterbacks.
Adding a premier pass-catcher, pass-rusher or defensive back would represent better value with the 18th selection. Players at those positions tend to have much longer NFL lifespans than running backs.
The Dolphins may simply be feigning interest in Harris in hopes that a team looking to land him will trade up. Alternatively, the Dolphins could be looking to move down to grab Harris at the bottom of the first round.
Eagles Looking to Get Back into the Top 10
According to Standig, the Philadelphia Eagles are interested in moving back into the top 10.
"As for the trade market, the Eagles are exploring a move into the top 10 despite having just dropped from No. 6 to No. 12. Having acquired a first-round pick in 2022 from the Dolphins, the Eagles could move up and still net more assets," Standig wrote.
While it may sound strange to see the Eagles move down from No. 6 and then back up to, say, No. 7 or No. 8, it'll be all about the price. Philadelphia netted an extra first-rounder by trading down, so theoretically, it would come out ahead by offering anything less than a first-rounder to go back up.
Philadelphia would also gain the added advantage of jumping ahead of the NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
Whether the Eagles can get back into the top 10 without surrendering an additional first-round pick is another story. However, it's entirely believable that the Eagles are trying to make it happen.