The days leading up to the draft are fueled by coffee, anxiety, adrenaline and determination. You over-analyze every phone call or text. You wonder why some people aren’t getting back to you and why some won’t leave you alone. Everyone in the NFL is looking for information. And this year, it’s the teams that are looking as hard as the reporters as we all try to fill in the gaps of an incomplete process.
In my final 2021 Scouting Notebook, I’ll let you know the information that’s being passed around and what the general buzz is around the NFL just two days before the first round kicks off.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Nos. 1 and 25 overall)
There will be no surprise at No. 1 overall. That pick is Trevor Lawrence. With their other first-round selection, I continue to hear that Jacksonville will focus on the offensive side of the ball. That’s likely starting with a tight end (Pat Freiermuth) at either No. 25 or No. 33 overall and then an offensive lineman with the other early selection. One source said Jacksonville’s draft will be very heavy on offensive players.
New York Jets (Nos. 2 and 23 overall)
The Jets won’t make any surprise selections at No. 2 overall. That will be Zach Wilson. With pick No. 23 overall there are many who believe the team should go offensive line, but I’ve heard defense is much more likely for them. One source did throw out the idea that a running back could be selected with one of their early picks—either No. 23 or No. 34—but there is skepticism that general manager Joe Douglas would value a running back this early.
San Francisco 49ers (No. 3 overall)
What we’ve been saying here for a month is expected to happen on Thursday night when the San Francisco 49ers select Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at No. 3 overall. One source outside the organization who has worked with Kyle Shanahan in the past explained it to me this way: “The 49ers need to win soon. Jones gives them the best chance to do that instead of waiting on Justin Fields or Trey Lance to be developed in his system which is notably hard on young quarterbacks.”
In Rounds 2-7, the 49ers have to address needs at cornerback and edge-rusher but one thing to keep in mind is their previous attempts to add a second tight end. That move wouldn’t shock me in Rounds 2 or 3.
Atlanta Falcons (No. 4 overall)
The pivot-point in the first round is right here. My belief 48 hours out from the draft is that Atlanta most likely selects Florida offensive weapon Kyle Pitts here after listening to trade offers. Especially if the team does move wide receiver Julio Jones this weekend—which I think is a good possibility—then Pitts makes the most sense as they attempt to keep a functional offense around quarterback Matt Ryan.
Cincinnati Bengals (No. 5 overall)
A month ago I would have put it in ink that this would be Penei Sewell, but over the last few weeks information has come in that they do like wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. I happen to think Sewell will be the pick based on conversations with those around the league but it wouldn’t be a shock if it’s Chase. I know that might sound like hedging, but the latest intel I can gather says they really like both players.
Miami Dolphins (Nos. 6 and 18 overall)
At No. 6 overall the Dolphins are expected to select the best available pass-catcher, which is likely to be LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. With their second first-rounder, look for Miami to plug holes on defense in the front seven. The Dolphins come back on the clock at No. 36 overall in Round 2 and could look at running backs and interior offensive linemen.
Detroit Lions (No. 7 overall)
A team that is mentioned very often as a trade-out partner, the Lions have many needs that don’t match the value of the 2021 draft class. Staying put and selecting an offensive lineman (Rashawn Slater) could happen here. Of course, wide receivers Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) are in play here as the Lions have the league’s worst depth at the position headed into the draft. If wide receiver isn’t selected in Round 1, it will be an early priority.
Carolina Panthers (No. 8 overall)
Of the teams drafting in the top 10, the Panthers should be considered the most likely to trade back. Part of this is the way the board matches the team’s needs and their trade for Sam Darnold but it’s also because teams needing a quarterback must get in front of the Denver Broncos at No. 9 overall. Post-trade back, the Panthers could target a cornerback. Jaycee Horn’s name has been linked here.
Denver Broncos (No. 9 overall)
Most signs point to a quarterback here, but let’s talk about what happens if the pick is not a passer. I’ve heard that linebacker is a big target for them. This could be the landing spot for Penn State’s Micah Parsons. I don’t expect Denver to be a flashy team this draft process with a new, first-time general manager in George Paton.
Dallas Cowboys (No. 10 overall)
Two things you hear about Dallas: 1) They would select an offensive lineman here if one falls to them and 2) They understand how bad their defense is. Patrick Surtain II is a popular selection here in mock drafts and he is the favorite to be the selection but don’t rule out Rashawn Slater to Dallas as a future left tackle.
New York Giants (No. 11 overall)
Could the Giants finally trade down in Round 1? Yes, they could, but there is a big belief that general manager Dave Gettleman will hold tight and draft the edge-defender he values instead of trading back and risking losing out on them. If I had to bet on it, Michigan’s Kwity Paye would be the pick here.
Philadelphia Eagles (No. 12 overall)
One of the more intriguing teams in this draft class after the trade back from No. 6 overall a month ago. The Eagles have needs across the board but the smart money is on a wide receiver if one of the Big 3 are available. I would think they value Devonta Smith over Jaylen Waddle if both are on the board somehow.
Los Angeles Chargers (No. 13 overall)
The rumors that the Chargers like left tackle Trey Pipkins are true—and something I reported back in January. Everything points to the Chargers getting Bradon Staley a man corner at this spot. Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II are both excellent fits if they’re on the board.
Minnesota Vikings (No. 14 overall)
You might be thinking left tackle here and while that’s definitely a consideration, everything I’ve heard points to edge-rusher being the team’s priority if the right player is on the board. Outside of Round 1, there’s talk that Minnesota will value adding another receiver in the early-to-middle rounds.
New England Patriots (No. 15 overall)
The talk that New England wants to trade up for a quarterback is definitely out there. There’s a reason that information is being shared as I’ve been told they do like Justin Fields a lot. That being said...New England has tricked us all in the past with rumors like this. Will this be the year they finally move up for a quarterback? I think it is.
Arizona Cardinals (No. 16 overall)
Many in league circles believe the Cardinals are interested in trading up to land one of the Big 3 receivers in this class. If they can’t make that happen, I’ve had sources point to a running back here (Najee Harris) and a cornerback if Caleb Farley’s medicals are cleared by the team.
Las Vegas Raiders (No. 17 overall)
Yes, they poked around the quarterbacks as they always do, but they aren’t expected to make a wild move to select one this year. Instead, look at the middle of the field on defense being a priority for this team. Safety Trevon Moehrig and linebacker/safety Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah are expected to be targets.
Washington Football Team (No. 19 overall)
There is definitely chatter about Washington moving up to select a quarterback, but I don’t see that happening. Instead, like Las Vegas, the middle of the field is seen as a big area of need on defense. Linebacker Jamin Davis or safety Moehrig are potential targets.
Chicago Bears (No. 20 overall)
A hard team to peg because they’re in a rough situation in terms of need and value. The offensive line is the most likely selection based on what I’ve heard. Christian Darrisaw or Alijah Vera-Tucker make sense from a value standpoint.
Indianapolis Colts (No. 21 overall)
A trade back wouldn’t surprise anyone around the NFL given Chris Ballard’s philosophy on draft weekend. If the Colts keep the pick, I’ve heard they love Miami’s Jaelan Phillips. The only question will be how the team views his medical history (concussions). Edge-rusher and left tackle are the predominant needs with the left tackle class being deeper into Round 2 than edge-rusher.
Tennessee Titans (No. 22 overall)
It really seemed like defensive tackle would be the selection for Tennessee but that talk is cooling. Wide receiver could be a Round 1 target if the right player is on the board. I don’t see right tackle being a Round 1 priority despite the Isaiah Wilson saga.
Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 24 overall)
All signs point to a running back here. If Najee Harris is off the board, I do think Javonte Williams (North Carolina) would be the pick over Travis Etienne (Clemson) based on scheme fit. The interior offensive line is expected to be a major priority outside of Round 1.
Cleveland Browns (No. 26 overall)
A team with few on-paper needs, the Browns could go BPA in Round 1 but I do expect that pick to be on defense and most likely in the front seven. Even after signing edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney in free agency, they could still look hard at a pass-rusher here.
Baltimore Ravens (Nos. 27 and 31 overall)
With two picks in Round 1 the Ravens can be very aggressive. Would it be crazy to send one of them to the Chicago Bears for Allen Robinson? Outside of that, the talk is of Baltimore trying to acquire a big wideout and then addressing the edge-rusher and linebacker position later in the draft.
New Orleans Saints (No. 28 overall)
A quarterback of the future pick is expected but likely in Round 2 or with a small trade up from pick No. 60 overall. In the first round, keep an eye on the cornerback position. Marshon Lattimore is one of the league’s best, but adding talent to the position group is a priority. The same goes for wide receiver.
Green Bay Packers (No. 29 overall)
As much as they have avoided a wide receiver in the first round in the past, one source said he expects that to be the selection this year. “They’re all-in on keeping Aaron Rodgers happy so I bet they go wide receiver,” he said. Linebacker and center are also notable needs.
Buffalo Bills (No. 30 overall)
I still believe that playmaker is the Bills’ priority on either side of the ball. I’d expect a cornerback or pass-rusher here depending on how the board shakes out. And while many point to a running back coming to the team, I don’t think that will be the case unless it’s a surprise faller in Round 1.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 32 overall)
A quarterback of the future pick here wouldn’t be a shock if Bruce Arians likes one of the remaining passers, but the more likely selection would be bolstering the defensive line talent as this team is loaded up for another Super Bowl run.
Houston Texans (No. 67 overall)
It’s impossible to peg any players when the team’s first selection is at No. 67 overall, but one source added this note on the Texans: “How much do you want to bet they avoid certain draft picks tied to certain agents after all the bad blood they’ve caused with star players?” Definitely an interesting angle to think about.
Seattle Seahawks (No. 56 overall)
With only three selections in the entire draft, the Seahawks won’t be busy with their current collection of picks. However, the expectation is that Seattle will be very active in collecting mid-round picks this year.
Los Angeles Rams (No. 57 overall)
The offensive line and linebacker positions are expected to be targets when the Rams come onto the clock. “They think they can win now,” one source said, “so expect more developmental type picks.”
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 58 overall)
After trading for Orlando Brown, Jr. the Chiefs have no picks in Round 1 but two selections in Round 2. What’s their plan? “To have good players fall to us,” is how one source put it. The Chiefs have needs at wide receiver, center and all over the defense that can be addressed. Using the two second-rounders on a receiver and edge-rusher would be a smart move.
Players Moving Up:
—Elijah Moore, Ole Miss: Moore has been in my first-round for a while but don’t be surprised if he’s the No. 4 wide receiver drafted.
—Tyson Campbell, Georgia: Big cornerbacks who run like Campbell tend to be drafted earlier than later. With a run on cornerbacks in the early teens and then injury questions for Caleb Farley and Greg Newsome II, Campbell could be the player who benefits.
—Najee Harris, Alabama: There is a ton of chatter that Harris will be a top 20 draft selection and I could see teams like the Arizona Cardinals making him their selection and the featured back in the offense to help Kyler Murray’s development.
Players Moving Down:
—Christian Barmore, Alabama: The poor pro day workout didn’t help, but the word is spreading that immaturity and “tough to coach” is Barmore’s reputation. He’s probably still a first-round pick, but his stock has taken a hit.
—Azeez Ojulari, Georgia: One team I spoke to had Ojulari red-flagged due to medical (knee) and wouldn’t consider him in the first three rounds of the draft. It only takes one team to select him, but Ojulari could go later than expected.
—Terrace Marshall, LSU: Like Ojulari, Marshall also was red-flagged for injury by multiple teams. A fringe late first-rounder in the lead up to the draft, Marshall likely slips.
I don't really expect Matt to answer this week, but why isn't a swap of picks between Denver and Detroit being talked about? They aren't in the same conference, so that common bugaboo isn't on the table, and for all the talk of people having to get ahead of Denver with Carolina if they want a QB, can't Denver slam the door on that talk, and Detroit still be in play for who they wanted at 7 anyway? And if they add a 2nd or a 3rd, or a 3rd and a 5th, they can address more spots of need, and Denver doesn't care because if you get the QB you want, nothing else matters. Seems like everyone would get what they want.