Fact or Fiction: Updating the Latest Buzz Around 2021 Draft-Day Rumors

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2021

Fact or Fiction: Updating the Latest Buzz Around 2021 Draft-Day Rumors

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    Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields
    Ohio State quarterback Justin FieldsJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    Only hours remain before NFL draft rumor season gives way to the real thing. 

    For an NFL offseason junkie, it doesn't get much better than pre-draft season. Firing up various mock draft machines, poring through senior day reports and clicking through YouTube highlights is just part of the experience for the eternally hopeful NFL fan. 

    Then there's the complicated art of evaluating NFL draft rumors. In the weeks and days leading up to the draft, reporters fill the pages with the latest snippets they've caught from anonymous sources and those in the know. 

    Not everything can be taken wholesale, though. There's a distinct advantage for teams to leak information that isn't entirely accurate. There's nothing to gain by actually giving out accurate information to the media. 

    Still, there's always some truth in the rumor mill. Sometimes when there's smoke, there's fire. Other times someone is just blowing smoke. 

    Let's take a look at some of the latest buzz and attempt to separate the fact from fiction. 

B/R's 2021 NFL Scouting Department Big Board

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    Bleacher Report NFL Scouting Department

Fact: The San Francisco 49ers Will Take Mac Jones

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    Alabama quarterback Mac Jones
    Alabama quarterback Mac JonesRusty Costanza/Associated Press

    Kyle Shanahan was ultimately hired by the San Francisco 49ers as the head coach for his ability to engineer an effective and dynamic offense. So if Mac Jones is truly who he likes out of this draft class, that will ultimately be the pick. 

    Ever since the Niners shipped off three first-round picks to move from No. 12 to No. 3 there's been buzz about which quarterback the team is eyeing. The latest from ESPN's Todd McShay could shed some light on their thoughts. 

    "I'm told that many in the 49ers' personnel department have pushed for North Dakota State QB Trey Lance but that coach Kyle Shanahan wants to draft Alabama's Mac Jones," McShay writes. 

    The idea that a coach would think Jones is worthy of the third selection lines up with thoughts from other coaches around the league. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic talked to NFL position coaches about some of the top prospects in the draft and two quarterback coaches were high on Jones. 

    One coach said he thinks "he is the best thrower of the football by a lot." Another coach noted that if he had to win right now "he's the most advanced quarterback of any of them."

    It makes sense that the scouting department favors Lance over Jones. His athleticism and big arm are the kind of tools they are paid to identify. They don't have to coach him and draw out his massive potential, though. 

    That's Shanahan's job and ultimately, he'll win out and get the guy he wants even if the public and the media might not agree with it. 

Fiction: New England Patriots Trading Up for Justin Fields

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    Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields
    Ohio State quarterback Justin FieldsChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    This one would be fun. The idea of Justin Fields getting passed over for the likes of Mac Jones and Trey Lance only for Bill Belichick to come swooping in to take the Ohio State passer and make him the next face of the Patriots franchise is a great story. 

    Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported that several teams have called about trading into the top 10, including the Patriots who are looking to move up to get Justin Fields. 

    But the logistics make this one seem like something the Patriots won't do. 

    With the 49ers move up from No. 12 to No. 3, the price has been set to trade up in the draft and the cost is exorbitant. San Francisco gave up its 2021, 2022 and 2023 first-round picks to ensure they had their choice of quarterback after Trevor Lawrence and presumably Zach Wilson are taken Nos. 1 and 2. 

    If the 49ers really do pass on Fields in favor of Jones or Lance, the trade market for top 10 picks could heat up pretty quickly. 

    Pelissero also reported the Philadelphia Eagles could be looking to get back into the top 10 after trading back to No. 12 and they have ammo. He also mentioned the Vikings as another team who would be interested if the right tackle prospect slides into range. 

    To recap, there are already two potential teams the Patriots could be bidding against and both hold first-round picks that are better than New England's. 

    In Peter King's latest Football Morning in America, he noted that Jimmy Garoppolo could be "more available" than he's been before. Staying put at the 15th pick and using their 46th pick or a 2022 second-rounder to get a quarterback Belichick is familiar with seems like a move that makes more sense for a 69-year-old head coach who wants to compete now. 

Fact: Jimmy Garoppolo Will Be Traded by the San Francisco 49ers

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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy GaroppoloScott Eklund/Associated Press

    At this point it's no secret that Jimmy Garoppolo's time in San Francisco appears to be running out. The 49ers didn't trade all the way up to No. 3 to take anything other than a quarterback, which means the one they are set to pay $26.4 million next season isn't likely to be of much use to them. 

    It comes as no surprise then that Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports has reported there is a "very strong expectation" among NFL general managers the Niners will be looking to ship their quarterback before or during the draft. 

    As La Canfora notes, the timing might not be great. There are five quarterbacks expected to go in the first round and many teams are going to have their quarterback of the future when Thursday night's proceedings are finished. 

    But there's going to be more than one team who is going to miss out on those five guys. They'll be left talking themselves into Davis Mills or giving the Niners a call. 

    San Francisco's trade up to No. 3 has taken some of their leverage. As King noted, the team could be lowering their asking price now they've tipped their hand they don't view him as the future. 

    That means a team like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers or Chicago Bears who could use a young quarterback but don't have the draft capital to get one could be in the running. Garoppolo's deal is light on guaranteed money so it is prime for being extended and restructured, giving him a smaller cap hit for added years of security. 

Fiction: Julio Jones Gets Traded on Draft Night

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    Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones
    Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio JonesDanny Karnik/Associated Press

    The draft starts to get interesting with the 49ers at No. 3 but the Atlanta Falcons might be just as interesting. In addition to owning the No. 4 pick, one of their biggest stars, Julio Jones, is rumored to be available.

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported on Monday the Falcons have received calls about their star wide receiver. 

    Echoing that report was word from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, who wrote a Jones trade wouldn't surprise him but the Falcons would want a first-round pick or some equivalent. 

    This trade may eventually happen but if it does it won't be until the draft is over. As Rapoport noted, the Falcons would rather make a Jones trade happen after June 1 so they can spread his dead cap charges out over two years. 

    The financial side is the only reason the Falcons should be looking to deal the receiver anyway. He was PFF's eighth-graded receiver last season in his age-31 season. He may be on the decline but he's still playing at a high level. 

    The Falcons may ultimately find a trade partner and get the much-needed cap relief, but it isn't going to happen on draft night. They can't finalize the deal for another month so they'd be looking to add picks in the 2022 draft and teams are going to be a tad busy to managing this year's draft to make a deal involving Jones Thursday night. 

Fiction: The Dolphins Prefer Jaylen Waddle to Ja'Marr Chase

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    Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle
    Alabama wide receiver Jaylen WaddleButch Dill/Associated Press

    This one seems more like a case of hedging than it does an actual look at the Dolphins' big board. 

    Just two days out from the draft Mike Florio dropped this little nugget in Pro Football Talk's mock draft in which the Dolphins took Ja'Marr Chase:

    "I’ve heard for weeks that the Dolphins would take Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle over Chase, if both are available at No. 6."

    At most, it could be a case of the Dolphins liking Waddle enough to take him if the Atlanta Falcons take Kyle Pitts and the Bengals follow it up by taking Chase. Then the Dolphins can point back to that rumor and claim Waddle was their guy all along. 

    However, it's hard to come up with a way in which the Dolphins actually like Waddle more than Chase. Playing in the same conference the production isn't even close. Waddle's career numbers over three seasons at Alabama (106 catches, 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns) are comparable to Chase's numbers from his 2019 season (84 catches, 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns). 

    You could potentially point to Chase's opt-out in 2020 as a reason but Waddle only played in six games last season after suffering an ankle injury. The Dolphins already carry plenty of injury risk at the position with Will Fuller V, Preston Williams and DeVante Parker. 

    The Dolphins may wind up drafting Waddle but it won't be because they think he's better than Chase. 

Fact: The Detroit Lions Will Trade out of the No. 7 Pick

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    Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff
    Detroit Lions quarterback Jared GoffMatt Ludtke/Associated Press

    New general manager Brad Holmes is inheriting a roster in Detroit that has several glaring holes. He's already swung a deal that gives him multiple first-round picks by sending Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles in return for Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder.

    It won't be surprising if he adds more picks to the Lions' war chest by trading out of the No. 7 spot. 

    Nick Baumgardner and Chris Burke of The Athletic reported that multiple sources in the organization have said the Lions have "made it known" they would like to deal back from the seventh pick. 

    When you start to play out the hypotheticals, the Lions are in a really good position to find a trade partner. Assuming three quarterbacks go first and the possibility that another one goes fourth, the Lions could be on the clock at seven with one or both of Justin Fields and Trey Lance still on the board. 

    That could be late enough in the top 10 a team like Denver (whose draft plans won't be impacted by Teddy Bridgewater, per ESPN's Adam Schefter), Carolina or even New England (even though it would blow up one prediction on this list) could all be interested in putting together a package of picks to move up.

    Baumgardner and Burke also bring up the possibility of teams trading up for offensive tackle Penei Sewell. He's widely regarded as the top lineman in the draft and if the first six teams all take passers and pass-catcher the Lions could get enticing offers from a team like the Los Angeles Chargers. 

    Daniel Popper of The Athletic has noted it's a possibility the Chargers would move up to take Justin Herbert's old teammate. 

Fiction: The Buffalo Bills Will Trade Up for Travis Etienne

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    Clemson running back Travis Etienne
    Clemson running back Travis EtienneAssociated Press

    Coming off a 13-3 season with an AFC Championship Game appearance in 2020, the Buffalo Bills should be in win-now mode. So it makes some sense they are being linked with an aggressive move in the first round. 

    Speaking on the Ryen Russillo Podcast, ESPN's Todd McShay noted the Bills could be looking to get in front of their perceived competition for Clemson running back Travis Etienne. 

    “Travis Etienne is the hottest running back in this class right now in terms of where his draft stock is going to be," the analyst said (h/t Ryan Talbot of Syracuse.com) I’m told that Buffalo at 30 is talking to teams ahead of the Jets at 23 and Jacksonville at 25 and going ahead of Pittsburgh as well trying to get in position to get Etienne."

    Going from No. 30 to as early as No. 22 would be a costly move. First-round running backs are already controversial as it is from a value standpoint. Using even more draft capital to trade up for a back would be even more controversial. 

    Add in the pair of third-round picks the Bills still have in their backfield right now in Zack Moss and Devin Singletary and this move would be a downright head-scratcher. 

    Etienne is good, but he's the 65th overall player on the Bleacher Report big board and the fourth running back. Even if you disagree with that valuation, trading up to take a running back just isn't ideal when they could find production later on in the draft. 

Fact: Caleb Farley Will Fall out of the First Round

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    Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley
    Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb FarleyLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Every year, at least one player who was widely considered a first-rounder falls for one reason or another. Oftentimes that reason has to do with injury risk. 

    Last year, Trevon Diggs and Kristian Fulton were two corners that were taken later than expected in part due to injury concerns. In a position that relies so much on athleticism, it's especially risky to take on someone with lingering medical issues. 

    That's why it isn't surprising there are rumblings that Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley—widely considered one of the top corners in the draft—could be waiting longer than expected to hear his name called on Thursday. 

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported there are concerns among teams about the medical evaluation on Farley. He underwent his second back surgery and although he could be healed in time for camp teams are concerned. 

    Farley doesn't just have back issues. He also suffered a torn ACL in 2017 and opted out of the 2020 season leaving a lot of unknowns for the 6'2" 197-pound defensive back. 

    Of course, Farley's agent Drew Rosenhaus put out a statement through Tom Pelissero and Rapoport that through his conversation with teams, Farley will be taken inside of the first 20 picks. 

    Any time an agent is preemptively reassuring the public his client will be a top 20 pick, there just may be truth to the rumors of a draft-day slide. 

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