32 Rumors and Notes for the 2021 NFL Draft

With less than 10 days to go, Matt Miller takes you through all the latest buzz around the league.

1. The first two picks are set. No surprise here, as Trevor Lawrence is already making donations to Jacksonville-area charities. And as if there was any drama surrounding who the Jets would select at No. 2 overall, there’s a reason there is zero talk about the San Francisco 49ers decision including Zach Wilson when they come up at No. 3 overall. So, the draft will start Thursday night with John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan on the clock.

2. Speaking of the 49ers, while there is a perception that this front office doesn’t leak it’s pick, they do. As ESPN’s Dan Graziano pointed out on Monday, the 49ers’ first-round selection has been known prior to the draft every year since Lynch took the job. The 49ers may tell fans that they don’t leak the picks, but Graziano’s point is very valid.

3. The first three picks of Round 1 will be quarterbacks. The Atlanta Falcons could make it four—I’ve heard that owner Arthur Blank is very intrigued by Trey Lance—but the most solid information right now still points to tight end Kyle Pitts of Florida being the selection.

4. The Cincinnati Bengals do love Ja’Marr Chase and he could very well be the selection at No. 5 overall. Conventional wisdom points to Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater, but Chase could pull at the heart strings of the franchise (and the franchise quarterback).

5. Two trade out candidates to watch: The Miami Dolphins (No. 6 overall) and Detroit Lions (No. 7 overall). Miami moved back to the sixth selection, I’m told, because they believed the Bengals would select an offensive lineman. That would leave them with one of the top two pass-catchers. If the Falcons select Pitts and the Bengals select Chase, the Dolphins could move out.

The same goes for Detroit; a team with so many needs that every position is on the table which actually sets up well if a quarterback-needy team wants to move up ahead of the Denver Broncos (No. 9 overall).

6. For someone to trade down, another team has to trade up. Two teams that have a need at quarterback and the draft capital to move up are the Broncos and New England Patriots (No. 15 overall). The biggest question will be if those franchises like their incumbent quarterbacks without a young challenger/successor behind them?

7. “Character concerns” is a blanket statement scouts and analysts use too often. And regarding two prospects this year—Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Alabama’s Christian Barmore—I’m told that it’s too strong of a statement for either prospect. Sewell is 20 years old and the concern from teams is that he might be immature and struggle to acclimate outside of the bubble at Oregon. Barmore, another young prospect, has been hard to coach and isn’t very reliable or responsible, according to team scouts. That is, by definition, character-related but when that term is also used to describe prospects with arrest records, we (and I put myself at the front of this list) need to do a better job explaining the “concerns”.

8. Speaking of “character concerns”, I’m asked often about Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. Teams I’ve spoken to chalk up Parsons’ incidents at high school—he yelled loudly while following resource officers in a crowded cafeteria and sparked unrest among the students which resulted in three days out of school suspension—and at Penn State to immature hi-jinx and not something more. At Penn State, Parsons was linked to a hazing scandal that resulted in a lawsuit by a former teammate. Parsons was never charged with a crime nor was he part of the lawsuit. His name was, however, linked to the hazing of former defensive back Isaiah Humphries. Sources I’ve spoken to say that Parsons was part of immature pranks, but not part of any larger sexual assault or abuse that Humphries alleged took place in his lawsuit against former teammate Damion Barber.

9. Where will Caleb Farley land in the 2021 draft after a second back procedure? Teams I’ve spoken with say Farley will return to the field but that the timeline for his return is unknown currently. One source said he would expect a small slip for Farley, but not a plummet to Round 2. I expect to hear his name called in the 20s of the first round.

10. The New York Giants want an edge-rusher, but there isn’t one of value on the board at No. 11 overall. So what happens? A trade down the board could help, but general manager Dave Gettleman isn’t known for doing that. With that knowledge, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the Giants select an edge-rusher like Kwity Paye who is ranked in the high-teens or low-twenties for most teams at No. 11.

11. The Titans have a long list of needs after they had to make difficult salary cap moves this off-season, but I’m told the interior defensive line is a priority for them. The only issue is that this interior defensive line class is the weakest I’ve ever evaluated. Barmore, Levi Onwuzurike (Washington) and Daviyon Nixon are the consensus top three ranked players. Keep this in mind if the Titans bypass needs at cornerback, wide receiver or right tackle in Round 1.

12. Speaking of a weak defensive line class, one NFL pro personnel director text me after the Las Vegas Raiders released tackle Maurice Hurst to say: “In a historically bad DL class, why would you cut Maurice Hurst?”.

Needless to say, the Raiders’ front office is not highly respected by many others around the league.

13. We know the 2021 quarterback class is full of talent, but a general post-draft practice is to look at situations and make a prediction as to which quarterback will have the most success early on. I’ve asked a handful of NFL evaluators to predict which one, based on pre-draft reports, will be the best.

“The best QB from this class will be the one San Francisco drafts. And I don’t care which one they pick, he’ll be the best one given that staff and supporting cast.”

It’s hard to argue against a situation that features Kyle Shanahan coaching, pass-catching weapons galore (George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk), a solid offensive line and a pretty good defense.

14. Kellen Mond won’t slip out of Round 2. The former Texas A&M quarterback started for four years in the SEC and has the combination of arm strength and mobility that will get him drafted earlier than most expected when the season ended. He can thank a very good Senior Bowl week and the needs across the league at quarterback for his rise.

15. No quarterback has seen his stock—media perceptions vs. where he’s ranked for NFL teams—rise more than Stanford’s Davis Mills. His raw talent is some of my favorite in this class. He’s very raw after just 13 games in college due to injury and a Covid-shortened schedule, but his arm strength and field vision are starter material. When Mills declared for the draft it seemed like he might be a Day 3 selection, but more and more I think he’s a top 50 choice.

16. The smoke connecting Najee Harris to the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t just smoke, according to multiple NFL sources. The Steelers are committed to fixing their run game this off-season and haven’t made moves to do that yet. A running back in Round 1 and an interior offensive lineman in Round 2 makes a lot of sense for them.

17. The Arizona Cardinals have been mentioned by league sources as a team that could trade up in Round 1, but more and more I’m hearing that they really like the cornerbacks in this class. If Jaycee Horn is available at No. 16 overall, I believe he would be the pick.

18. The Dallas Cowboys have a big decision to make at No. 10 overall, with many analysts believing they have to draft a defender to help a miserable unit from last season. While I agree, don’t rule out offensive tackle. Speaking to a well-respected offensive line coach this week, he said there were rumors that Dallas is very concerned about the long-term ability of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins due to injury. If Rashawn Slater is available at No. 10, he would be a dream scheme fit should they go that route.

19. The cornerback position could see quite the run in Round 1. We know Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) and Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) will go, but also put Caleb Farley, Greg Newsome II (Northwestern) and maybe a Tyson Campbell (Georgia) or Asante Samuel, Jr. (FSU) in there too. Five cornerbacks is the feel for how many we’ll see come off the board Thursday.

20. Who will the first edge-rusher drafted be? There is no consensus on this. Some teams like Kwity Paye (Michigan) while others prefer Miami’s Jaelan Phillips. But there is no one true EDGE1 this year. Notably, there is also no consensus on how the order shakes out behind that. I’ve spoken with teams who have a second-round grade (which can mean a late first round selection) on Duke’s Chris Rumph II while others have him in Round 4 due to scheme preferences. The same goes for Houston’s Payton Turner. Expect some surprises in the edge group.

21. The defensive tackle class gets criticized a lot this year but the interior offensive line group is also taking a hit from NFL teams. To that point, don’t expect a center drafted in the first round this year. Landon Dickerson (Alabama) is good and would have been a top 32 selection before he tore his ACL. In a normal year that might not matter, but without private visits this year teams are leery of injured players. Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey and Wisconsin-Whitewater standout Quinn Meinerz should be Round 2 selections.

22. Just like injured players will fall, so too will “red flag” players. Most players with an injury or character question mark are being backed away from by teams I’ve spoken with. As happens every year—and not always just in Round 1—we’ll see a popular name or two drop. This draft cycle, the expectation is that players with uncertain medicals or character reports will suffer.

23. The Jaguars will select Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall. That’s set in stone. It’s also starting to sound like tight end Pat Freirmuth is becoming a lock to the team with either pick No. 25 or No. 33 overall. Their love for him has not been well concealed.

24. The Chargers might be praying an offensive tackle falls, but I’ve been told that the team’s move to a man scheme under new head coach Brandon Staley will have them looking hard at the cornerback class early in this draft. If Rashawn Slater and Penei Sewell are both off the board at No. 13 overall, a cornerback like Jaycee Horn would be an excellent scheme fit.

25. The Colts have two clearly identified needs at offensive tackle and edge-rusher; which leads many to think they’ll come off the board in that order. One thing I’ve heard plenty of this week is that due to positional depth, the Colts could flip the order and take an edge-rusher in the first round and a left tackle prospect in Round 2. Two names get mentioned a lot here: Azeez Ojulari (EDGE, Georgia) and Samuel Cosmi (OT, Texas).

26. For weeks (maybe months) it has seemed like Washington would be on the outside looking in at the quarterbacks in this class, but lately there has been a growing buzz that they could try to push up the board if a quarterback slipped out of the top 10. Moving up from No. 19 overall to the No. 8 spot might not be as costly if they like a falling quarterback. If they can’t get inside the top 10 for a quarterback, I’ve heard their fallback plan is at safety where Trevon Moehrig has fans in the building.

27. How many quarterbacks will be selected in the top 64? If you’re betting and can find odds on 7.5 as the over/under, take the over. There will be eight quarterbacks selected in the first two rounds. If you can find odds on who QB6 will be, I’d throw money down on Stanford’s Davis Mills.

28. The 2021 offensive tackle class is a good one, but teams are very concerned about the lack of left tackles. Slater and Sewell can play there, but after that most of the highly ranked tackles are seen as playing on the right side (Christian Darrisaw, Teven Jenkins, Dillon Radunz) or guard (Alijah Vera-Tucker, Samuel Cosmi). So while teams in the back-half of Round 1 have big needs at left tackle, there might not be one of value available.

29. The Seattle Seahawks have just three selections in the entire class, so it stands to reason they would try to trade out and acquire more picks. To that point, I’ve heard they’re actually trying to accumulate more picks for 2022 when there will be a more stable pre-draft environment.

30. The 2022 class is seen as more talented than 2021 but it will also be much deeper and more stable in terms of how teams are able to evaluate players both on and off the field.

The 2021 class is being affected by players returning to school for their senior (and extra year of eligibility being offered) but also by the shortened seasons for many schools and the complete lack of seasons for some players.

So the belief is that next year will be MUCH deeper, more talented and easier to evaluate.

31. Speaking of 2022, I already have 14 quarterbacks on my watchlist. So if your team doesn’t get a quarterback in 2021 or you have a team that has their quarterback fall apart in 2021, you can keep an eye on next year’s season of quarterback play.

Here’s that list:

Jayden Daniels, Arizona State (6'3", 185)
Phil Jurkovec, Boston College (6'5", 226)
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (6'4", 215)
Emory Jones, Florida (6'2", 210)
JT Daniels, Georgia (6'3", 210)
Brock Purdy, Iowa State (6'1", 212)
Malik Willis, Liberty (6'1", 215)
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota (6'2", 215)
Carson Strong, Nevada (6'4", 215)
Sam Howell, North Carolina (6'1", 225)
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (6'1", 210)
Matt Corral, Ole Miss (6'1", 205)
Tyler Shough, Texas Tech (6'5", 220)
Kedon Slovis, USC (6'3", 215)

32. It’s really, really early…but the top overall player on my board for 2022 will be Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. A monster rusher with both speed and power to his game, Thibodeaux was a beast to end the 2019 season and doubled-down with a great 2020 season.

It looks like a great year for quarterbacks (depth), running backs and wide receivers (again), and looks to have a rebound with a very good defensive line group.