B/R Staff's Bold Predictions for 2021 NFL Draft
The NFL draft will be held from April 29 to May 1 in Cleveland, and it promises to be unlike any we've previously seen.
Quite simply, the uncertainty found within a typical year has been magnified 100x.
"This year's unprecedented. I'm worried about all the things we don't know," an NFL coach told NBC Sports' Peter King. "We don't really know the prospects, personally or medically, the way we should."
No NFL Scouting Combine. No visits to team facilities. No uniform way to collect workout and medical data.
Each of these obstacles makes the event more unpredictable.
At this point, two guarantees exist: The Jacksonville Jaguars will select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with this year's No. 1 overall pick, and quarterbacks will come off the board with the first, second and third selections, though no one knows the exact order.
From there, anything can happen.
Teams are more likely to pass on certain individuals depending on medical or character concerns. Plenty of trades should occur as teams either A) target a specific talent it is fully sold on or B) obtain future assets during a more settled scouting process.
Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport—banded together to project what will be some of the craziest moments of the 2021 draft.
Most Surprising Pick of the First Round
Brad Gagnon: Caleb Farley to the Packers with the 29th overall pick
There's a lot to like about Alabama's Patrick Surtain II, South Carolina's Jaycee Horn and Northwestern's Greg Newsome II, and there's reason to be concerned about Farley's back injury and his lack of recent tape.
As a result, I think Farley slides to the bottom portion of Round 1 and is snapped up by a Packers team in need of support for Jaire Alexander at that position.
Brent Sobleski: 49ers don't select Mac Jones or Justin Fields
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan are probably cackling over everyone's attempts at deciphering exactly which quarterback will be their selection with the third overall pick.
Jones has been the favorite since San Francisco acquired the pick from the Miami Dolphins. Fields remained in the conversation after two mesmerizing pro-day workouts. Maybe, just maybe, the 49ers actually prefer someone else.
North Dakota State's Trey Lance has become somewhat of a forgotten man even though his upside and natural ability are as great as anyone's in this class. Lance, 20, is both a perfect fit for San Francisco's current situation with Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster and Shanahan's offensive scheme.
Lance's combination of a cannon for an arm coupled with top-notch athleticism will expand San Francisco's offensive system and make it lethal once he's comfortable taking over the unit.
Gary Davenport: Mac Jones over Justin Fields and Trey Lance
I don't know how "surprising" this really is given that multiple reports are circulating that the 49ers really are going to take Mac Jones over Justin Fields and Trey Lance, but there are a few synonyms for surprising that work here.
It's flabbergasting that the Niners would pass on the higher ceiling and superior athleticism possessed by Fields and Lance. It's astonishing that San Francisco traded three first-rounders for the rights to draft the second coming of Kirk Cousins because he's perceived as a better scheme fit.
It's also a staggeringly bad idea.
Biggest Draft-Day Trade
Brad Gagnon: Bears acquire No. 11 pick from Giants for No. 20 and No. 52 overall picks
I'm starting to believe the 49ers will come to their senses and take Justin Fields, which could lead to a mini slide for Mac Jones.
Trey Lance has so much more upside that I think he's more likely to land in Detroit or Denver. And if Jones drops out of the Top 10, I can see the desperate Bears making the leap ahead of Philadelphia, Minnesota, New England and Washington.
Brent Sobleski: Patriots move into Top 10 to claim their quarterback
A theme has started. This year's class is built around the top five quarterback prospects. Yet, there are far more teams in need of quarterbacks, with the New England Patriots among them.
Traditionally, the Patriots are one of the teams always trying to trade down. Well, New England was also one of the franchises that never made a big splash in free agency. Everyone saw exactly what they did when the new league year started, so don't count out Belichick and Co. going against the grain when an opportunity presents itself.
The Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers' seventh and eighth overall picks are ideal spots to target since they sit directly in front of the Denver Broncos. New England should swing a deal and draft Fields or Jones or whichever of the top talents slides slightly.
Gary Davenport: Broncos trade up to No. 5 overall
It's no secret that the Broncos need help at quarterback. And given the run on signal-callers we should see Thursday night, there's a real possibility that none of the top-five prospects at the position will make it to Denver at No. 9.
After the Atlanta Falcons take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall, Broncos general manager George Paton will pounce, sending the ninth pick and a first in 2022 to Cincinnati. The Bengals can still get a top-three tackle at No. 9 and add an extra pick next year, while the Broncos will get the QB they so badly need in Fields.
Biggest Steal of the Draft
Brad Gagnon: Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore
I'm not sure why we aren't talking about this guy as a potential top-10 pick. The National Championship Defensive MVP recorded eight sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles as a sophomore in the SEC last year.
Barmore should be able to make a difference as an aggressive interior defender from the get-go, so somebody will be delighted to land him in the bottom portion of Round 1.
Brent Sobleski: Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore
Usually, the top drafted wide receiver doesn't turn into the top receiving threat as a rookie. The previous statement isn't a knock on LSU's Ja'Marr Chase. It's a testament to the depth usually seen at the position.
This year is no different. The wide receiver class is loaded, particularly with devastating slot options, and Elijah Moore is the best of the bunch.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Moore led all wide receivers with 1,738 yards from the slot, per Pro Football Focus. He also caught 97 percent of catchable passes last season. He finished fourth with 505 yards after the catch and 20 forced missed tackles. His contested catch rate percentage ranked third.
Yeah, Moore is 5'9" and 178 pounds. So what? Put him in the slot and let the man go to work.
Gary Davenport: Micah Parsons anywhere outside the Top 10
Yes, off-ball linebackers don't carry the sort of perceived draft-day value as their counterparts at cornerback and edge-rusher, but Penn State's Micah Parsons is a difference-maker. He's a force against the run, has the sideline-to-sideline range NFL teams covet in linebackers and has the pass-rush chops to be a problem when blitzing from the "A" gap.
When we look back at the class of 2021 in a few years, it's going to be Parsons who will be viewed as not only the biggest value of Round 1 but also the best defensive player overall from this draft.
Hottest Draft Take
Brad Gagnon: Oregon OT Penei Sewell will be the best player from the incoming class
Sewell is at least right there with Trevor Lawrence and Kyle Pitts. I'm not confident in any of the other first-round quarterbacks, and wide receivers are always so unpredictable. But Sewell looks a lot like a sure thing.
That also makes the offensive tackle a likely steal in my eyes because I'm not sure he'll be a top-five pick. Everybody has quarterback fever, and because the Falcons and Bengals already have good tackles, not because the dominant, athletic and technically sound Sewell isn't worthy.
In a lot of other drafts, he'd be in the conversation for the top pick.
Brent Sobleski: Bengals selecting any position other than OT with the fifth pick will be a massive blunder
Ja'Marr Chase is clearly WR1 in his class. The season he put together in 2019 was every bit as impressive as DeVonta Smith's Heisman Trophy campaign. He has all the traits teams look for in a top wide receiver prospect.
Kyle Pitts is a mismatch machine. He's the best tight prospect of the last 40 years (at least). It's not even fair to call him a tight end. Pitts is an elite offensive weapon.
Either could be on the board, and the Bengals should pass.
If a picture is really worth 1,000 words, the image of Joe Burrow's left knee screams "offensive lineman" over and over again. Sewell is every bit as talented as those mentioned, and he will immediately make the Bengals offense better, whether he plays right or left tackle.
Offensive weapons are awesome, but they don't mean much when the quarterback is constantly harassed and slammed to the ground.
Gary Davenport: Justin Fields will be the best QB from the 2021 class
Over the past month, Fields has been dissected more than a frog in a biology class. He can't read defenses. His work ethic is questionable. He hates puppies.
It's all nonsense.
We're talking about a player who completed 68.4 percent of his passes at Ohio State with seven times as many touchdowns as interceptions who torched Clemson for half a dozen scores after absorbing a brutal shot to the ribs (he missed a whole play).
There's a bigger gap between Fields and Wilson/Lance/Jones than there is between Fields and Trevor Lawrence. And while Lawrence is being banished to the fifth circle of NFL hell that is Jacksonville, Fields is going to land on a team with better pieces around him.
When the inevitable 2021 re-draft takes place in a couple of years, it's Fields who will be slotted to the Jaguars.
Brad Gagnon: the Jets are messing with everyone
It's always seemed a bit odd to me that they're reportedly set on Zach Wilson, who could easily be a one-season wonder and didn't exactly face top-notch competition at BYU.
Justin Fields makes so much sense in the No. 2 spot and is the safer pick. I think it's still possible they shock the world and pick Fields.
Brent Sobleski: Micah Parsons will fall out of the first round
Talent is one thing. Being able to trust a talented individual is another.
Parsons is easily one of the most naturally gifted prospects in this year's class. Linebackers shouldn't be able to run as well as he does. He's a downhill destroyer. But he also has a lengthy list of off-field red flags each team must assess and decide whether he's worth the potential headache.
His history isn't pretty and includes "inciting a riot" in high school, sexual hazing accusations at Penn State and fighting with a teammate.
Character matters more to certain teams than others. More often than not, someone is willing to take a chance on an elite talent. But it's a sliding scale based on the potential investment. Maybe a first-round pick is too rich for teams that would still consider drafting Parsons.
Gary Davenport: Kyle Trask will be drafted inside the Top 20
Stop laughing—especially if you are a fan of the Bears.
It's hardly outside the realm of reason that a second-, third- or fourth-tier quarterback could be drafted in the second half of Round 1 by a team hard up for help at the position. In just the past decade we've seen the likes of Paxton Lynch and Brandon Weeden drafted in Round 1.
Seriously. They were.
All it takes is a team so desperate for help at the game's most important position that they convince themselves that it isn't really a reach to grab a signal-caller who just needs to be coached up some more. Plus, if you take him in Round 1, you get a fifth option year.
What could go wrong?
Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace know that the ice under their feet isn't exactly thick. They hopefully know that Andy Dalton is not the frostiest of solutions under center in Chicago. They should know that Kyle Trask is a decent (albeit limited) low-ceiling pocket quarterback who looks more like a longtime backup than an NFL starter.
The Bears' brain trust will go two for three, draft Trask at No. 20, and sports talk radio in the Windy City Friday morning will be six hours of unintelligible screaming and bleeps.