Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Team-by-Team NFL Draft Rumors
With less than two weeks before the NFL Draft, we dive in to all the latest rumors.
The 2021 NFL draft kicks off April 29 from Cleveland, Ohio. We know who the first selection will be and have for some time as the Jacksonville Jaguars plan to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
But what happens next?
Jacksonville, like the New York Jets selecting immediately after them at No. 2 overall, has multiple Round 1 picks. So the night isn’t over after Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke make the call to select the top prospect. The same for the Jets’ regime of Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh when they select quarterback Zach Wilson from BYU.
Over the last several weeks I’ve embarked on a quest to collect as much information from NFL sources—scouts, coaches, general managers, former executives, fellow reporters and agents—to collect here in a very handy team-by-team look at the latest intel.
And that’s where we start today’s Scouting Notebook.
Jacksonville — Again, we know the first overall pick will be Trevor Lawrence. But what about pick No. 25? I’ve heard from multiple sources that Jacksonville is determined to upgrade at the tight end position. Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth is in play here. Safety is definitely another area of concern, but don’t be surprised to see Urban Meyer secure his tight end at No. 25 overall.
NY Jets — Zach Wilson will be the choice at No. 2 overall, but the Jets also have pick No. 23 in Round 1. A source close to the team told me they’re all about adding “good people first”, so that will factor heavily into the evaluation. A pick on defense—most likely a cornerback—is the expectation from those around the league.
San Francisco — Contrary to what 49ers’ fans want to believe, everything you hear from around the NFL right now points to Mac Jones being the selection. The Alabama quarterback is being predicted to the 49ers in mocks drafts by Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, Daniel Jeremiah, and myself. It’s hard to get anyone in this industry to agree on things, but this points to a consensus in what analysts and insiders are hearing. I will add one thing I mentioned last week on NFL Live, and that’s general manager John Lynch is rumored to like Trey Lance. But this won’t be Lynch’s decision. It’s up to head coach Kyle Shanahan and those close to him and the 49ers’ situation believe it’ll be Jones.
Atlanta — The intel on Atlanta is tough right now. There’s definitely a growing sentiment that they like North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, but if owner Arthur Blank wants to build around quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones the front office has to acquiesce. That could mean Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is off the board at No. 4 overall. The No. 4 overall selection shouldn’t be ruled out as a potential trade-up destination for teams in the quarterback market.
Cincinnati — I’ve gone back and forth on if Cincinnati will go offensive tackle or wide receiver at No. 5 overall. The intel from around the league points to it being wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) in this spot. Joe Burrow has a say in personnel matters in Cincinnati and was directly involved in bringing free agent offensive tackle Riley Reiff to town. He’s also rumored to be advocating for Chase at No. 5 overall. If the Bengals do go wide receiver here, the good news is that the offensive line depth in this class is very impressive. They could walk out of Round 2 with Chase and Samuel Cosmi (Texas) on roster.
Miami — The expectation is that Miami will draft the best pass-catcher on the board or trade out of the pick to a quarterback-needy team, but one thing I heard early this week has made me think they could go another direction. Head coach Brian Flores is rumored to love Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. No. 6 overall may seem early for him based on some mock drafts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins went linebacker either here or after a trade back. They also have pick No. 18 overall in the first round and the word around the league is that defense will be the priority there if a pass-catcher is selected first.
Detroit — The Lions’ new regime has been very quiet, but one source pointed that this is an old-school team that is as likely to trade back and make a safer selection like a linebacker or offensive lineman than reach for a need. Micah Parsons (Penn State) could be the pick here if that’s the strategy.
Carolina — The Panthers likely start the offensive tackle run in this draft, based on conversations with those around the league. First-time general manager Scott Fitterer is from the old Scot McCloughan scouting tree and will want his first pick to be a solid, safe hit instead of swinging hard for a home run.
Denver — A trade up the board for a quarterback is very much in play, based on conversations. The Broncos have sent representatives to every top quarterback pro day and have few other needs after an eventful free agency period.
Dallas — Yes, Jerry Jones is “infatuated” with Kyle Pitts but the more likely move is the first cornerback comes off the board here. The Cowboys have also been rumored to like Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, but this is too rich for him. If one of the top tackles (Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater) fell to this spot, I do think Dallas considers it.
NY Giants — Wide receiver is where everyone around the NFL believes the Giants go in Round 1. Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle is a very popular selection for them. I would just throw out there that a pass-rusher might not seem like a great value here, but it is a need and the depth at the position is not great.
Philadelphia — The Eagles moved back from No. 6 overall and have to think they’ll be in play for a top wide receiver or offensive tackle still. That could be proven wrong on draft night, but sources around the league point that direction for them at this spot.
LA Chargers — The Chargers have a new head coach which could affect the philosophy on draft weekend, but the expectation should be a left tackle to protect Justin Herbert. The team will look to improve at cornerback, add another receiver and look at the edge-rushers in subsequent rounds.
Minnesota — All signs point to an offensive tackle here if a player were to slip. Definitely keep an eye on the pass-rushers though with Danielle Hunter reportedly unhappy with his contract. One source told me the run on pass-rushers could start here.
New England — A trade up for a quarterback is very likely, based on what those around the league are hearing and the dots that are being connected. Remember, Bill Belichick has a close tie to the Ohio State program and will attend the second pro day for quarterback Justin Fields. It’s maybe too convenient to connect the two, but if the Patriots can move up for him I do think they would pull the trigger.
Arizona — Speaking of teams trading up, there is a lot of smoke that the Arizona Cardinals could do just that. The expectation around the league is that Arizona would move up for one of the top offensive linemen in the class should they start to fall. I would also keep an eye on cornerback.
Las Vegas — This pick should be centered around the middle of the defense. Notre Dame’s versatile defender Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fits the bill for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock as a high-level producer and leader from a major college program.
Washington — Early this week there were conversations around the league that Washington may be trying to move up for a quarterback. That got quiet but it’s something to keep in the back of your mind on draft night. If Washington stays at pick No. 19 overall, an offensive tackle is a perfect fit.
Chicago — The Bears are unlikely to be able to move up from No. 20 overall into the land of quarterbacks. I’ve been pounding the table for the team to address the offensive line, particularly tackle, for quite some time. I think a tackle who falls down the board is the most likely pick. Cornerback Caleb Farley could also land here.
Indianapolis — Chris Ballard loves his draft picks, but the Colts have just six selections this year and will likely miss out on a first-rounder in 2022 due to the Carson Wentz trade. Expect this to be a left tackle to replace retired Anthony Castonzo or a wide receiver to add depth to that room.
Tennessee — The expectation is that Mike Vrabel and Jon Robinson will value defense early in this draft despite needs at right tackle, wide receiver and tight end. The Titans have nine selections, though, so a move to bolster the interior pass-rush in Round 1 shouldn’t be a surprise if Christian Barmore or Levi Onwuzurike are available.
Pittsburgh — It might be too easy to pencil in Najee Harris here, but the Steelers are very unhappy with the run game and will address it early. Offensive tackle might seem like the bigger need, but I’ve been told they’re happy with the group they have there and could look to the interior in the middle rounds.
Cleveland — The Browns have a lot of linebackers, but I was told this week they don’t love the group. Kentucky’s Jamin Davis or Tulsa’s Zaven Collins are in play here, per sources.
Baltimore — This will be a wide receiver, from what I’ve gathered. LSU’s Terrace Marshall, Jr. or Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman would give quarterback Lamar Jackson the big target he needs. Both are a solid value in this spot.
New Orleans — The smoke around Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is legit, but it sounds like he would be more of a Round 2 consideration. A source close to the team told me that a front seven defender is more likely here with the team not happy to date with the performance of former first-rounder Marcus Davenport.
Green Bay — A wide receiver to keep Aaron Rodgers happy or an offensive lineman to build for the future? Those are the likely considerations at pick No. 29 overall. Drafting a receiver goes against the philosophy of the front office, but it is the pick I believe they’ll ultimately make.
Buffalo — A playmaker on either side of the ball is the rumor coming out of Buffalo. They’ll play the board and let talented athletes slip to them as always, but a speedy cornerback, yards-after-catch wide receiver or three-down running back would all get a lot of consideration here. That could easily be the first three picks for Buffalo.
Kansas City — Last year, a source in Kansas City told me their priority would always be “protecting Patrick and supporting Patrick”. They did the latter in the 2020 1st round with running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They’ll do the former in Round 1 this year. Barring a shocking value being available at No. 31 overall, expect the Chiefs’ pick to be an offensive tackle in Round 1.
Tampa Bay — A team with few on-paper needs can be tough to predict for, which is why intel from league sources is so valuable. A defensive lineman makes a lot of sense in Round 1 but I’ve heard a trade out of this spot will be considered as Tampa likes the value of the defensive tackle class into Round 2.
Houston — With no selections in the first two rounds it’s nearly impossible to peg what Houston will do. At pick No. 67 overall, think pass-rush or wide receiver based on conversations I’ve had with those around the league about their areas of need.
Seattle — “Will they bend to the pressure to get (Russell) Wilson what he wants or build the team?” is how one source put it. The belief from those around the league is that Seattle could go right tackle at pick No. 56 overall but that beefing up the front seven—especially the pass-rush—is the more likely selection here.
LA Rams — The Rams have significant needs at linebacker and offensive tackle. I’ve been told the team believes the offensive tackle depth will be gone by pick No. 57 overall but they aren’t in a position to move up. Linebacker—especially a coverage ‘backer— is very likely here.
The Scout’s Report
— Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley underwent additional examinations at the NFL’s medical combine last weekend and declared himself ready to go for the start of the season. That, I’m told, might be an exaggeration. One source I spoke with who reviewed Farley’s medical records said his timeline wasn’t set in stone yet. Farley should play this year, but it might not be Week 1 based on medical professionals. That could cause the slip to late Round 1 we’re expecting.
—Quarterbacks Justin Fields and Trey Lance will hold second pro day workouts in the coming week as they hope to boost their stock and status in the days before the NFL Draft.
Will this help? Maybe. NFL general managers and head coaches are human beings prone to bias just like the rest of us, but the horse is in the barn at this point for most top evaluations like those at quarterback.
Can Fields do anything to change the mind of Kyle Shanahan tomorrow? Can Lance? That would be very surprising given the team must have identified their preferred quarterback when they moved up from No. 12 overall to the third pick.
Could things change? Absolutely. But it’s a very big long shot.
—Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney is one of my favorites at the position in this class, but conversations with multiple teams leads me to believe there is a good chance he falls out of Round 1 on draft night.
—One riser at the receiver position to remember: North Carolina’s Dyami Brown. One scout I spoke with this week said they have a grade on him very similar to Deebo Samuel, who was the No. 36 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
—The pass-rusher group has very little consensus this year, but two names to keep an eye on: Buffalo’s Malcolm Koonce and Duke’s Chris Rumph II. Both are smaller, speed-rusher types who I believe teams are higher on than most realize. Round 2 for each player isn’t out of the question.
—There are a lot of fans of cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr. but conversations around the league lead me to think he’s probably a mid-Round 2 selection. It does only take one team to change that, but the hype on him might be a little high.
—If you read this column weekly you know I love Auburn wide receiver Anthony Schwartz. His deep speed is intense! He’s expected to be a top 64 selection according to teams I’ve spoken to.
—South Carolina linebacker Ernest Jones made a massive jump up my board this week after further evaluating thanks to an astute area scout who saw how low he was on my previous board. His athleticism at 6’1”, 230 lbs is eye-opening. He’s carrying a late Round 2 - early Round 3 grade.
—A player I’m asked about often is Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. I polled NFL teams about him recently and could not find one club that has a Round 1 or Round 2 grade on him.
—If you’re eye-balling a big cornerback in this class, NFL teams love Minnesota’s Benjamin St-Juste. He’s 6’3”-plus and has a fiery play style.
What’s coming between now and the NFL draft?
*More scouting reports, which you can find in the archives.
*Top 300 Big Board
*7-round mock draft
*Prop bets breakdown
*More rumors and news as they happen!