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Barry Reeger/Associated Press
Throw out everything you think you know about talent evaluation during a typical NFL draft cycle because the 2021 event will be unlike any other. Projecting where certain prospects should land and how they translate to the pros will be more difficult than ever.
Everyone knows it, too.
“My best guess? Whoever does well in the 2021 draft will have gotten lucky,” an AFC executive told Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor when the collegiate season still teetered on the brink of collapse. “And whoever doesn’t do well will have been unlucky, unless [their] picks fail because of character.”
Prospects opted out without playing another down. Others left their teams midseason. The season hasn’t gone exactly as planned with COVID-19 outbreaks, postponements and cancellations littering the weekly schedule.
Normally, scouts would be coming off the road in early December and NFL front offices would put together their tentative draft boards based on initial reports.
But college football still has multiple weeks left to play thanks to delayed starts in a handful of conferences.
As such, on-field evaluations continue, with Bleacher Report’s mock draft serving as a marker for where things currently stand with a month remaining in the regular seasons at both the professional and amateur levels (order determined by Tankathon).
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Ken Ruinard/Associated Press
After last season, there was an argument that Trevor Lawrence had competition as the top overall quarterback prospect for the 2021 NFL draft. After all, Justin Fields played better during the ’19 campaign.
Those lingering doubts no longer exist as Lawrence continues to put together an exceptional junior campaign with a 19-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The interception number is important because Lawrence’s decision-making was rightly called into question last season.
Since Oct. 19 of last year when Lawrence threw two picks in a blowout victory against the Louisville Cardinals, the Clemson quarterback’s stats are as follows: 15 games, a 69.2 completion percentage, 4,367 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and those two interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence’s 73.7 true accuracy percentage is higher than Joe Burrow’s from last season.
For the Jets, the decision is simple. The team has yet to win a game. A new head coach is likely on the way. Most importantly, Lawrence is a superior prospect compared to Sam Darnold when the ’18 third overall draft pick came into the league.
This decision is no different than when the Arizona Cardinals jump-started their franchise by not adhering to the sunk-cost fallacy with Josh Rosen, selecting Kyler Murray No. 1 overall the following year.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Justin Fields experienced a hiccup against the Indiana Hoosiers in what’s been a near-flawless run as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. His three-interception performance equaled all of the interceptions he previously threw throughout his collegiate career.
Normally, the efficiency in which Fields operates is what makes him so enticing as a top quarterback prospect.
“[He] does everything well and is very consistent. Nice, calm, poised demeanor,” an NFC executive told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “In my book, that gap between him and Lawrence isn’t as big as some think.”
Questions about top-end arm talent and processing in Ohio State’s system will be raised, but Fields executes at a high level in what he’s asked to do with the type of athleticism to create outside of structure.
The Jacksonville Jaguars desperately need a franchise building block after swings-and-misses with Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles and, most recently, Gardner Minshew II. The team has a nice set of skill-position pieces in running back James Robinson and wide receivers DJ Chark Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr. The Jags simply need the right triggerman.
With four selections in the first two rounds, Jacksonville can quickly build around Fields.
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Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t mean a player’s stock will take a major hit because he opted out this season. Oregon’s Penei Sewell is a perfect example.
While other tackles have impressed this season and worked their way into first-round consideration (more on them later), the reigning Outland Trophy winner proved himself a dominant force during his two seasons with the Ducks.
“It’s the way he plays the game, man,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal told The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman after Sewell chose not to play. “The way he is physical. The way he is relentless. The way he chases defenders, chases the ball and gets down the field, is involved in getting the team emotionally charged up and fired up before games. … I’ll tell you, he made his impact everlasting.”
The Cincinnati Bengals desperately need a franchise-changer along their offensive front. The organization failed this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, by not properly building the offensive line. Sewell’s inclusion would be a massive step in the right direction.
Let the incoming prospect take over blindside duties while Jonah Williams bumps over to right tackle, where he started for two seasons at Alabama before moving to the left side.
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Vasha Hunt/Associated Press
How the Dallas Cowboys handle Dak Prescott’s upcoming free agency will almost certainly determine which direction they take with their first-round pick.
As of now, everyone should assume Prescott will still be on the squad either signed to a new contract extension or playing under a second straight franchise tag.
Once that’s resolved, the Cowboys can turn to their other pressing need: the defense. Dallas ranks dead last in points allowed per game and 10th-worst in yards allowed per game.
To be fair, the run defense is far worse than the secondary, but both levels desperately need help. Cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, who started a combined 14 games this season, are pending free agents.
In Patrick Surtain II’s case, the legacy prospect is college football’s best corner, as graded by Pro Football Focus. The 6’2″, 202-pound defensive back could reunite with former Alabama Crimson Tide teammate Trevon Diggs and reshape the Cowboys’ cornerback rotation.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Chargers have their franchise quarterback. They also have one of the game’s best defenders in Joey Bosa. This selection comes down to protecting one or the other depending on the availability of certain prospects.
Since there may not be another offensive tackle prospect worthy of top-five consideration once Oregon’s Penei Sewell is off the board, the Chargers can concentrate on finding Bosa a new running mate with the top available edge prospect.
Before going any further, Melvin Ingram III’s status must be noted. Ingram turns 32 next year and is a pending free agent. Los Angeles could get younger and cheaper at the position by moving on from the nine-year veteran.
Michigan’s Kwity Paye has been a wrecking ball along Michigan’s defensive front. The Wolverines have 99 problems, but Paye isn’t one of them. The 6’4″, 272-pound defensive end relentlessly dogs quarterback and ball-carriers. According to Pro Football Focus, he holds a 19 percent quarterback pressure rate this season, which ranks among the nation’s best. His pass-rushing win rate exceeds 25 percent, per NFL Network’s Ben Fennell.
Bosa and Paye are from opposite sides of a well-established rivalry, but they’d be a perfect pair working together.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
A silver lining could emerge in the Philadelphia Eagles’ horrible, no good, very bad season.
The team’s offense has struggled at every level, but wide receiver, in particular, has been disastrous. Yes, the organization invested a first-round pick in Jalen Reagor seven months ago, but general manager Howie Roseman shouldn’t stop there.
Currently, Greg Ward’s 41 receptions and Travis Fulgham’s 467 yards lead the squad. Neither of those numbers ranks among the top 45 receivers in the league.
Quarterback Carson Wentz isn’t right. A healthy offensive line (hopefully) next season and an infusion of better weapons could drastically help the fading star.
In this scenario, the Eagles are positioned to draft the class’ top wide receiver prospect, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase.
How good is Chase? The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner leads major college football with 14 touchdowns of 20-plus yards since the start of the 2019 campaign despite not playing a single down this season, per Pro Football Focus.
A quartet of Chase, Reagor, Fulgham and Ward could do some damage.
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Jeff Swinger/Associated Press
Teddy Bridgewater has been fine as the Carolina Panthers’ starting quarterback. In fact, he’s been better than average with a 70.2 completion percentage (third overall), 2,819 passing yards (12th), 7.7 yards per attempt (10th), a 71.1 quarterback ranking (10th) and 96.3 quarterback rating (13th).
Even so, the Panthers can’t let any opportunity to obtain a superior quarterback prospect slip through their grasp. What’s Bridgewater’s ceiling, and can he elevate those around him to a higher standard? Those two aspects of his evaluation are far more dubious.
Carolina should hedge its bet by investing in BYU’s Zach Wilson, who has been the fastest-rising prospect in next year’s class.
“Most intriguing of them all,” an NFC executive told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “Confident passer whose ball jumps off of his hand.”
Wilson has been exceptional during his junior campaign with a 74.3 completion percentage and a 26-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. While those numbers are exciting, his ability to work off-platform and outside of structure makes him dynamic.
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Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
Clearly, the Washington Football Team is no longer invested in Dwayne Haskins Jr. as the franchise’s future.
As such, Washington must accomplish two goals next offseason: The squad should trade Haskins and find an alternative to develop behind a veteran starter.
Alex Smith remains under contract through the 2022 campaign, and the surefire NFL Comeback Player of the Year could very well be the bridge to Washington’s next quarterback, especially if the board breaks as it has in this scenario.
Trey Lance is arguably the fourth-best quarterback prospect in the upcoming class, but his potential is enormous. He simply hasn’t played a lot and won’t turn 21 until after being drafted.
“Everything about him is positive: talented and physical runner,” an AFC executive told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. “The question is, how soon does this guy have to play? An ideal spot for him would be somewhere where he can learn for a year.”
Washington may be the ideal landing spot for Lance, who is a dual-threat weapon. Head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s previous experience working with Cam Newton would help the transition.
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Barry Reeger/Associated Press
The Detroit Lions organization has plenty to figure out between now and April. After firing general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, the franchise could go in myriad directions.
At this juncture, it’s best to assume the Lions will target an elite talent worthy of a top-10 consideration instead of trying to fill a specific position.
Penn State’s Micah Parsons, who opted out this season, may be the best all-around defensive prospect in the draft class.
The linebacker is an outstanding athlete with a nose for the football and enormous growth potential, specifically in coverage, after converting from defensive end during his freshman campaign. Most off-ball linebackers aren’t natural pass-rushers. Parsons is. According to Pro Football Focus, he led all Power Five linebackers in pass-rush grade the previous two seasons.
For a team like Detroit that has struggled immensely to generate pressure over the last few seasons, Parsons would give the defense a tremendous boost.
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Stew Milne/Associated Press
While the Atlanta Falcons defense is playing better under interim head coach Raheem Morris, it is still 31st overall against the pass.
Atlanta is already youthful at cornerback. The organization spent this year’s 16th overall pick on A.J. Terrell, who’s had his ups and downs as a rookie but has played relatively well compared to his classmates. Kendall Sheffield’s performance opposite Terrell is the real problem. On top of that, veteran Darqueze Dennard is a free agent after this season.
In a pass-first league, a team needs multiple reliable cover corners, so another first-round investment seems logical.
Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley is a difficult evaluation due to previous knee injuries and opting out this season, but his physical tools are undeniable. The 6’2″, 207-pound defensive back is big and physical at the line of scrimmage and thrives in press coverage. His combination of size, length, speed and outstanding play during the 2019 campaign will make him one of the draft’s most sought-after prospects.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
The Miami Dolphins are sitting pretty in that they’re ahead of schedule in their rebuilding process, in the thick of the playoff race and have two 2021 first-round picks.
Head coach Brian Flores spent 11 seasons on Bill Belichick’s staff. He knows the value of a dynamic, game-changing tight end. Flores also knows how effective an offense can be with a pair of mismatches at the position.
With Mike Gesicki, who is second on the squad with 30 receptions for 449 yards, still under contract for another season, the Dolphins don’t need a tight end. But general manager Chris Grier shouldn’t overlook a difference-maker.
Kyle Pitts is impossible to cover at the collegiate level. The 6’6″ target can be used in a variety of ways. He plays in-line, works the slot and can even contribute outside the numbers. The Florida tight end leads all collegiate tight ends with 11 touchdown receptions.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
As the game evolves, position designations start to look different. Linebacker is the most obvious example.
Today’s second-line defenders aren’t 250-plus-pound downhill thumpers anymore. They need to be athletic and versatile or be exploited in the passing game. As such, today’s modern linebacker may look more like an overstuffed safety.
Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is the total package. At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, he doesn’t necessarily look the part. But the fluidity JOK shows running from sideline to sideline and dropping in coverage makes him a true three-down linebacker. He is not out of place covering tight ends or even slot receivers, with the type of ball skills most linebackers don’t possess.
The Denver Broncos signed veteran Mark Barron to serve in a similar role, but he’s been on injured reserve most of the season with a tweaked hamstring. Besides, the 31-year-old isn’t under contract after this season.
Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell are reliable defenders, but they’re limited. Owusu-Koramoah isn’t.
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Butch Dill/Associated Press
Quarterback. Quarterback. Quarterback. The entire Chicago Bears offseason will be built around how the franchise addresses the game’s most important decision.
But general manager Ryan Pace or whoever calls the shots during next year’s draft can’t force the situation. The Bears can’t conjure up a top-end quarterback prospect if one is not available, which is the case here.
Instead, the front office should set about building the best possible cockpit for whoever takes snaps next season, and a top-two wide receiver prospect is a good starting point.
Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle is exactly the type of receiver every offense needs. His combination of speed, route running, ability to separate and dynamism working in space make him a walking chunk play waiting to happen. Basically, defensive backs can’t cover Waddle when he’s healthy, though he’s still recovering from an ankle injury.
With Allen Robinson II likely to test free-agent waters, Chicago will need another wide receiver to propel its passing game.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Miami’s Gregory Rousseau is among the handful of top prospects who opted out prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. While his decision hasn’t hurt his draft status, how he’s perceived is a little different today than a few months ago.
First, Rousseau, who many pegged as the top defender in preseason rankings, has some concerns about his game. The 6’7″, 265-pound defensive end is far from a polished prospect. Tape studies show a player who tends to play high and possibly lacks the flexibility to consistently turn the corner against NFL-level offensive tackles.
Second, the early entrant only has one year of production. Granted, he racked up 15.5 sacks during that season, which is what makes him so intriguing.
Finally, Michigan’s Kwity Paye has played so well that he could easily overtake Rousseau as the class’ top edge-rusher (as he did in this mock draft).
Still, Rousseau‘s growth potential is enormous. The Minnesota Vikings need a running mate opposite Danielle Hunter and should happily select another uber-talented developmental project.
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Michael Woods/Associated Press
The New England Patriots must reestablish some sort of identity. The same organization that spent the previous 20 years competing for Super Bowls finds itself in NFL limbo as a mediocre squad with concern areas riddled throughout the roster.
A returning Cam Newton would certainly clarify matters, but that’s yet to be determined. Defensively, many decisions must be made as well with Jason McCourty, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, John Simon and Deatrich Wise Jr. set to enter free agency.
If a quarterback isn’t the most pressing need, the Patriots can turn their attention to a premium position on the other side of the ball.
Chase Winovich continues to develop as an outstanding edge defender. The Patriots can build their new approach around consistently pressuring opposing quarterbacks by drafting Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari.
The 240-pound hybrid defender is lightning quick off the edge with excellent hand technique despite being a redshirt sophomore. His 5.5 sacks, 24 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles lead the Bulldogs.
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Bruce Newman/Associated Press
A secondary overhaul is inevitable for the San Francisco 49ers.
Cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jamar Taylor and Dontae Johnson aren’t under contract after this season. San Francisco will be left with…*checks notes*…Emmanuel Moseley (an exclusive-rights free agent) and current practice-squad options Tim Harris and Parnell Motley in the cornerback room.
Maybe, just maybe, cornerback will be San Francisco’s primary focus next offseason.
South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn brings a level of competitiveness and physicality that would be welcome in San Francisco’s Seahawks-inspired defensive scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, no SEC cornerback allowed a lower completion percentage in coverage than Horn before he opted out of the season.
Plus, the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn brings flexibility to any scheme. He can play nickel or outside the numbers. San Francisco will need a corner who can do it all.
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Eric Gay/Associated Press
It’s unfair to call last year’s fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell a bust, but he needs to contribute more in one specific area: getting to opposing quarterbacks. As a result, the Las Vegas Raiders should continue to look for edge-rushing help.
In fact, the front office signed Takkarist McKinley and Vic Beasley less than two weeks ago to bolster their pass rush. As of now, the Raiders rank next-to-last with 12 sacks. Maxx Crosby is the only player on the Las Vegas defense with more than 1.5 sacks.
Texas’ Joseph Ossai lives in the backfield. His three forced fumbles and 14 tackles for loss lead the team. The 6’4″, 253-pound junior is excellent against the run, fluidly rushes the passer and relentlessly pursues the ball.
The Raiders are very much in the playoff hunt. But general manager Mike Mayock understands his roster’s limitations. Expect him to attack the team’s pass rush, or lack thereof, again next offseason.
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L.G. Patterson/Associated Press
Last season, the Baltimore Ravens featured a record-setting run game with quarterback Lamar Jackson orchestrating everything. The team ranked among the top five again this year entering Wednesday, yet the complementary passing game hasn’t progressed as expected.
Baltimore entered Week 12 dead last with 1,834 passing yards. Marquise Brown doesn’t rank in the top 60 in receptions (32) or yards (431).
The Ravens need more through the air. Some will naturally occur if Jackson improves, specifically throwing outside the numbers or down the field. Another reliable option, outside of tight end Mark Andrews, wouldn’t hurt.
DeVonta Smith has been overlooked at Alabama due to the amount of wide receiver talent the Crimson Tide have featured over the last few seasons. Even so, Smith will lead the team in receiving yards against this season, because he’s a nuanced route-runner with deceptive speed (after playing with the likes of Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle). His 1,074 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions rank third and tied for first in the nation, respectively.
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Michael Woods/Associated Press
Step by step, general manager Dave Gettleman has built up the New York Giants offense. Everyone can argue if he took the correct steps, but he has top-10 picks invested in the quarterback, running back and left tackle positions.
For this young core to succeed, wide receiver help is needed. Darius Slayton has been a nice surprise as a fifth-round pick. However, Golden Tate’s future with the squad remains up in the air after he was a potential trade candidate at the deadline.
LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. is a perfect outside receiver for today’s game. The 6’3″, 200-pound target has the size and length to overwhelm cornerbacks. He’s a legitimate deep threat thanks to outstanding body control and ball skills. The junior entrant is particularly skilled in the red zone, where he leads major college football with 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons, per NFL Network’s Ben Fennell.
With Slayton and Marshall outside the numbers and Sterling Shepard working the middle of the field, the Giants passing game could take off for Jones and Co.
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Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
The Arizona Cardinals will likely feature a reworked offensive line next season. Both of the current starters on the right side—Kelvin Beachum and J.R. Sweezy—are pending free agents. Plus, left guard Justin Pugh, who turns 31 next year, has a hefty price tag with an $11.25 million salary-cap hit in 2021.
Third-round rookie Josh Jones hasn’t played much this season, but he could take over at right tackle next year. Or he might not develop, thus making the offensive line more of a priority.
Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater could very well be drafted higher based on his skill set, but he won’t be for everyone because of supposed physical limitations. Certain organizations will balk at his size (6’3″ and 305 pounds) and length for an offensive tackle. Some will surely pigeonhole him as a guard, and he could be great inside thanks to the explosiveness of his blocks and nimble feet for a pass protector.
Slater’s position flexibility fits nicely for Arizona, where he can start at right tackle—where he started 26 straight games before bumping over to the left side—or slide inside to replace a veteran.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Things aren’t going as well in Tampa as the Buccaneers organization hoped when it put together an offseason for the ages. Even so, Tom Brady and Co. remain positioned for a playoff run. Recent struggles have highlighted a couple of potential problem areas, though.
The Kansas City Chiefs torched the Buccaneers secondary during Sunday’s encounter. There’s only one Patrick Mahomes and one Tyreek Hill, but the unit as a whole ranks 28th overall.
Tampa Bay has some young and talented pieces at cornerback in Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. General manager Jason Licht can build upon this core by adding another top talent, particularly a prospect capable of handling the slot since Murphy-Bunting has been exposed in the role.
Shaun Wade entered this year’s draft cycle as a potential top-10 option coming out of Ohio State’s cornerback factory. His slight tumble is due to the fact his transition from nickel to outside corner hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected. But that’s OK because the Buccaneers can immediately place him over the slot and let him grow.
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Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
A surplus of draft assets, especially in the early rounds, makes the Miami Dolphins unpredictable. Earlier this year, Miami added five prospects from the 2020 draft’s first two rounds. Next year, the Dolphins own four more picks in the opening two frames.
Which gives them a lot of flexibility. With its first pick in this scenario, Miami chose the top-rated player available at the time in Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
It’s time to look at the other side of the ball, particularly linebacker. Elandon Roberts hasn’t performed well next to Jerome Baker. Roberts is a physical, downhill plugger, but he struggles mightily in coverage. Besides, he’s a free agent after this season.
Tulsa’s Zaven Collins falls on the opposite side of the spectrum from Roberts. His tracking speed is something to see. Collins often looks like he’s slow-playing his responsibilities and then hits the turbo button to make a play. His range as a run and pass defender makes him an ideal upgrade.
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Matt Gentry/Associated Press
Rookie third-stringer Jacob Eason is the only quarterback on the Indianapolis Colts roster under contract after this season.
Obviously, the position must be addressed. However, the solution doesn’t need to come via the draft since the Colts likely aren’t in a position to select an elite prospect. They could take other routes to address the position like re-signing Philip Rivers, going after a free agent like Jameis Winston or possibly trading for Sam Darnold or Dwayne Haskins Jr.
Whatever the case, the Colts should also prepare for life without left tackle Anthony Castonzo. The 32-year-old blindside protector said that he considered the possibility of retirement this past offseason. Currently, he’s signed through next season.
The Colts can’t get caught off guard if he decides to retire this coming offseason.
Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw has improved his stock as much as any prospect across the country. The 6’5″, 314-pound left tackle is an easy mover, but he plays with a certain level of aggressiveness. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the nation’s second-highest-graded offensive tackle.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
An 8-3 start to the season with a realistic shot at making the postseason for the first time since 2002 should have Cleveland Browns fans ecstatic. While the Browns are a great feel-good story, their defense is seriously flawed.
Aside from NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward, the unit lacks starting-caliber talent at all three levels. The secondary has been hit particularly hard this season by injuries.
Greedy Williams has yet to play a down thanks to a shoulder ailment. Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson, meanwhile, are free agents after this season. A cornerback opposite Ward is a must-have next offseason.
Clemson’s Derion Kendrick fits general manager Andrew Berry’s preferred profile. The cornerback prospect is an underclassman—he won’t turn 21 until August—with outstanding upside at a premium position. The wide receiver convert is excellent in press coverage, and his ball skills will translate.
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Brody Schmidt/Associated Press
As soon as any franchise invests a top-10 selection in the quarterback position, as the Jacksonville Jaguars did earlier in this mock draft, its attention should turn toward building a strong offensive front so that fresh-faced signal-caller doesn’t become shellshocked early in his career.
Joe Burrow’s fate should be a warning for every other organization.
Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins would step in immediately at left tackle and replace Cam Robinson, who is in the final year of his rookie deal.
Unlike Robinson, Jenkins is a consistent and smooth pass protector. Despite flip-flopping between right and left tackle, the redshirt senior didn’t allow a single sack during his last two seasons, per PFF, before opting out this fall. The 6’6″, 320-pound tackle also shows a level of viciousness with his willingness to finish blocks.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
The New York Jets’ checklist for respectability is obvious.
A franchise quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick? Check.
A weapon to help the newly acquired elite talent behind center? Check.
Normally, an investment in the offensive line would trump all other options because protecting a rookie quarterback is more important than finding a new wide receiver. However, the Jets spent lavishly this past offseason on their offensive front. It still needs work, but the need isn’t as glaring.
Rashod Bateman would give the Jets a potential No. 1 option outside the numbers. Jamison Crowder is great, but he’s a volume receiver working out of the slot. Denzel Mims is a decent option on the outside, but New York doesn’t have much else in the receiver corps.
Bateman provides two qualities the Jets sorely lack. He’s a contested-catch standout and creator with the ball in his hands. With Lawrence pulling the trigger in this scenario, Bateman would have a chance to make an immediate impact.
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Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press
Sometimes, a match makes too much sense not to happen. Asante Samuel Jr. to the Tennessee Titans is one such example.
The Titans won’t be settled in the secondary next offseason since Desmond King and Tye Smith will both be free agents and Malcolm Butler could be a salary-cap casualty at $14.2 million (with $10.2 million in potential savings). Adoree’ Jackson and Kristian Fulton have plenty of potential, but the Titans should seek to further bolster their secondary, especially if a quality prospect is available at No. 27.
Like his father, who was an 11-year NFL veteran and won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, Samuel feels the ball is his when it’s in the air. This season, the Florida State product has allowed only one touchdown while snagging three interceptions, per Pro Football Focus. He also brings enough flexibility to play outside corner or nickel.
Samuel’s father played alongside current Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel for five seasons as part of the original Patriots dynasty. Vrabel would know exactly what he’s getting with this particular prospect.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
During the 2019 offseason, the Buffalo Bills prioritized offensive line improvements to protect their investment in quarterback Josh Allen. They signed Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano, Spencer Long, Quinton Spain, Ty Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle, and they selected Cody Ford in the second round of the 2019 draft.
Long, Spain and Waddle are no longer with the team, so the Bills could once again use more help along their offensive interior.
Feliciano, Nsekhe and Brian Winters, who signed with Buffalo this offseason, are all free agents in 2021. A healthy Ford will help matters, but he may move back to right tackle since Daryl Williams isn’t signed beyond this season, either.
That should make USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker particularly enticing to the Bills, since he’s simultaneously a top guard and tackle prospect. USC’s reigning Offensive Lineman of the Year started 13 games at left guard before bumping out to left tackle this fall. He made the transition look easy.
Buffalo would have plenty of front-five options with Vera-Tucker in the fold.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
The Green Bay Packers can’t possibly go another offseason without addressing wide receiver, can they?
After forsaking the position this year, general manager Brian Gutekunst can’t make the same mistake twice. The Packers have a small window to capitalize on Aaron Rodgers’ remaining MVP-caliber years. He’s been great this season, but the goal should be to bolster his supporting cast to make life easier on him.
Davante Adams is clearly great, and Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling still have growth potential. But the Packers don’t have anyone quite like Purdue’s Rondale Moore on the roster.
When healthy, Moore is lightning in a bottle. In his two games this season, the 5’9″, 180-pound target caught 22 passes for 192 yards and carried the ball five times for 25 yards and a score.
Moore isn’t only a wide receiver; he’s an offensive weapon. A creative play-caller can use him in a variety of manners to exploit defensive weaknesses.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
One specific position in the Kansas City Chiefs’ explosive offense has been suspect since quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the reins.
Cameron Erving, Jeff Allen, Andrew Wylie, Stefen Wisniewski, Kelechie Osemele and Nick Allegretti have all started games at left guard since the onset of the 2018 campaign.
Finding a long-term solution would be nice.
Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis is the class’ best pure interior prospect. He isn’t a powerhouse people-mover like Quenton Nelson or an outstanding athlete in space like Cesar Ruiz. But the 6’4″, 315-pound son of Duane Davis, who many know better as The Program‘s Alvin Mack, is consistently good in all phases.
The younger Davis drives through his blocks as a run defender, plays with a good base, shows enough movement skills to reach second-level assignments, and recognizes stunts and pressure packages.
While this wouldn’t be a sexy selection, an opportunity to secure the offensive interior for Mahomes to consistently step up in the pocket would make Kansas City even more dangerous.
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L.G. Patterson/Associated Press
The New Orleans Saints have been trying to improve at linebacker all year.
In the third round of April’s draft, the Saints traded up to select Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun. They also signed Nigel Bradham at the end of July, but he wasn’t healthy enough to contribute, so they cut him before the regular season began.
General manager Mickey Loomis acquired Kwon Alexander a day before the NFL trade deadline, but he carries a $13.4 million salary-cap hit next season and the Saints are going to be in salary-cap hell. Instead of throwing more money at the position or relying on short-term Band-Aids, the Saints should invest in the defense’s second line.
Missouri’s Nick Bolton is an ideal chase linebacker thanks to his recognition, playing through traffic and finishing through the ball-carrier. Over his last 19 games, he’s amassed 179 total tackles and 11 defended passes.
Bolton can learn and play alongside Demario Davis before eventually replacing the All-Pro.
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An undefeated team doesn’t have too many major areas of concern. The Pittsburgh Steelers could look at a few specific positions to improve upon, such as a long-term replacement for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, or general manager Kevin Colbert can continue to build on what’s already in place.
Like the Kansas City Chiefs a year ago, the Steelers can stand pat and snag the running back of their choice to improve upon the league’s 30th-ranked ground game.
James Conner will be a free agent after this season. Besides, he isn’t the answer at the position. Meanwhile, Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. are averaging a combined 3.4 yards per carry this season.
Some will argue in favor of Clemson’s Travis Etienne as the RB1 of this class. But in this specific case, Alabama’s Najee Harris feels more like a Steelers running back and has far less wear on the tires.
The 230-pound back displays excellent vision to find cutback lanes and currently ranks second among SEC running backs with 451 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus.