Unpopular 2021 NFL Draft Thoughts
Why I could see two of the top five quarterbacks falling out of the top-16
First Round Thoughts
The Quarterbacks situation that nobody is talking about
Early in the draft process, before it was cool to do so, I was predicting that the first four picks would be quarterbacks and that five would go in the top-ten. Now everyone is doing it. Well, now that we’ve gained more information, I will now be one of the first people to tell you that the fourth pick won’t be a quarterback. Oh sure, a lot of people are mocking Kyle Pitts to the Falcons or whatever, but I’ll take it a step further. Almost everyone is saying that at least four, and probably five, quarterbacks will go in the top-ten.
I’ll be the one of the first to say that only three are going in the top-ten: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Mac Jones. Justin Fields and Trey Lance as the “green room slides” would be the story of the 2021 NFL Draft, if it happens. And I don’t just base my theories on my own opinions of teams or prospects, but also using basic deduction. So why do I see those as potential slides?
Falcons at 4 - Two seasons ago, the Falcons blog Falcoholic expected to get four more seasons out of Matt Ryan, at least. What’s changed since then? Unless Ryan wants to leave Atlanta or the NFL, he’s the quarterback for the next 2-3 years. So then why does a team like the Falcons hire Arthur Smith to be the next head coach if not to make Matt Ryan as good as possible in that time? You don’t do it to waste your best chance at another Julio Jones. There are only two players in the draft who look like they could be that good: Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts. If Atlanta trades down with anyone, they’ll lose out on both. The Falcons are picking the top non-quarterback in the draft. There is no team giving up three first round picks for the fourth-best quarterback. Nobody is trading up here. There’s also no reason to trade over the Bengals and Dolphins for a quarterback, and it’s reasonable to assume the same for the Lions and Panthers. Why would anybody trade up to four?
Bengals at 5 - There’s no reason to trade up to five unless a team covets Chase or Pitts. Maybe the Dolphins are very confident that Cincinnati is picking Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater.
Dolphins at 6 - I must admit, how wild would it be if Miami traded down from three to 12 and 12 to six and picked Justin Fields, essentially just adding a future first rounder in the process? It’s so “the internet would go crazy” that it might just happen. But I think the Dolphins are going to act 100-percent committed to Tua this year.
Lions at 7 - They restructured Jared Goff’s contract to the point of it being improbable to release him prior to 2023. I mean, they’ll probably bench Goff next season for the QB they take in the third round, and release him in 2022 anyway, but I think Detroit’s got their eyes set on the next QB class. Why in the world would a team draft a quarterback prior to a season in which they’re likely looking at a record that nets them a top-three pick? That doesn’t make sense to me. Dan Campbell’s going to want the toughest player in the draft. He’s going to want the player who makes fans hate him the most, not a player who will endear him to anyone. He’ll probably ask for Brad Holmes to draft Jack Del Rio’s kid or something. If he even has a kid. The Lions want to pick a QB next year, not this year.
Panthers at 8 - They’re just joking about still thinking about drafting a QB after trading for Sam Darnold. Believe it or not, Carolina is going with Sam Darnold next season. That’s it.
Broncos at 9 - Vic Fangio is the closest coach to the hot seat in the NFL. If the Broncos draft a quarterback instead of a player who can help the team next year, that’s essentially just firing the 63-year-old. Denver wanted Matthew Stafford or Deshaun Watson. They aren’t settling for a rookie who didn’t transcend enough to make it out of the top-two. I think the Broncos want “elite or bust” and it looks like they’re going to get stuck with Jimmy Garbustollo.
Cowboys at 10 - They aren’t taking a QB and nobody needs to trade over the Giants for one.
Giants at 11 - If Fields or Lance do make it this far, people will start comparing Daniel Jones to the Zodiac killer. But Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman are the last two people in the world who I expect to want to spend first round picks on quarterbacks, especially when Najee Harris is still on the board!
Eagles at 12 - Funny suggestion, but the Eagles really are going with Jalen Hurts and trading down from six to 12 was an endorsement of him.
Chargers at 13 - We know that LA isn’t taking a quarterback. Not unless it’s like a situation where Justin Herbert needs to get his energy sources from other people like in Hellraiser. But I could also identify this as maybe the first spot in the draft where a team would consider trading up and a team would consider trading down. There could be a couple of trades made in the top-12, yes, but I still don’t think it’s for a quarterback. That trade already happened. However, LA GM Tom Telesco has rarely ever made draft pick trades. He did trade back into the first round for Kenneth Murray last year, but that was his first draft trade, of any kind, since 2015. That being said, the Chargers are doing things a little different lately and I think LA could still move down and get a great prospect. They’re in a strong position right now. What teams would trade up?
Here’s where it’s important to note that part of the reason I see Fields and/or Lance sliding is that the teams that likely want them the most right now aren’t picking in the top-12: the Patriots, Football Team, Bears, and Saints are the only teams with really obvious needs with strong desires to add a quarterback but only getting consolation prizes thus far.
That’s why the 49ers gave up two future first round picks to move up for any of the top-three quarterbacks: they weren’t interested in settling for Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, or whichever-quarterbacks-they-don’t-pick-this-year. It’s the reason the Rams gave up two future first round picks for Matthew Stafford. The value on those two trades being so high indicates that there’s a perception around the league that immediate quarterback options are scarce after the top-three. It indicates that in NFL circles, there are only three quarterbacks in the draft who are ready to start in 2021.
Quarterbacks who aren’t ready to start in year one do not typically get drafted outside of the top-eight.
With some exceptions, quarterbacks drafted in the top-eight have almost always been expected to become their team’s starter immediately.
Dating back to 2008, 20 of 23 quarterbacks selected in the top-eight started at least 10 games for their team as a rookie. The only exceptions being Tua Tagovailoa (started nine, played in 10, and Tua would’ve started earlier if not for his injuries), Jared Goff in 2016 (it is possible that they just didn’t want Goff to play for Jeff Fisher) and Jake Locker in 2011. Of course, a few examples were pushed into starting roles early because of an injury to a starter but they were still drafted with the hope that they’d blow everyone away in camp like a franchise QB should.
Now between picks 9 and 32, only seven of 15 examples started at least 10 games as a rookie: Josh Rosen, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, E.J. Manuel, Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater, and Brandon Weeden.
Do with that list of quarterbacks what you will. That’s what the teams should expect if they start a rookie who slides out of the top-ten.
The players who didn’t start right away, well that list doesn’t get much better but it’s got a few reasons for hope to the Bears and Football Team: Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Dwayne Haskins, Josh Freeman, Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Tim Tebow, Paxton Lynch, Jordan Love, and Lamar Jackson.
A general manager and all those involved with this process for each team must be asking themselves, “If we pick a quarterback, realistically, what are our odds for getting a star?” And the good GMs should know that if they’re dealing up to 13 for a quarterback, maybe the odds are one-in-five.
A good general manager should know that picking a quarterback in the first round, outside of the top-eight, who winds up as a real all-pro candidate is 20-percent. That’s fact. As fact as is important to me, at least.
Now, as I predicted would happen back in 2017, teams traded up for both Mahomes and Watson in the draft that year. The league’s pulse on Mahomes and Watson was off-beat and incorrect and so sometimes that NFL does get it wrong. I can’t say that they would be getting it right or wrong if Fields or Lance make it outside of the top-12 picks, but I think it’s logical to assume that they could based on all the reasons I outlined above.
Vikings at 14 - It’s an interesting spot for Trey Lance, actually. I could see teams wanting him to take a year behind a starter after spending almost all of 2020 out of football and never facing D-I competition. So any team that has an entrenched starter like Kirk Cousins, well it’s the exact same fit as Love-to-the-Packers last year. I could see Fields being the fifth quarterback off of the board. But I also did a mock recently where I had Washington trading up to 13 for Fields.
This may also be where a team wants to trade up and over the Patriots, if they think New England wants to draft a quarterback. I don’t know that I actually believe that though.
Patriots at 15 - I think their desire for Jimmy Garoppolo is real. They liked him once. They spent a bunch of money in free agency because they want to improve immediately. And they could improve immediately. But I think Bill Belichick wants to make up for the N’Keal Harry pick and find a weapon early in the draft this time, and Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith could help them next season.
Or they could draft a quarterback, I don’t know, this is such odd and unfamiliar territory for Belichick. But trading up for a QB seems far too out of character for a team that paid Tom Brady $5.50 per hour.
Cardinals at 16 - Hypothetically, if one or two quarterbacks remained on the board at this point, it could be the spot where the Saints or Steelers start thinking, “Hell, we’re close enough now, maybe we make a move.” New Orleans tends to want to do interesting things on the first day of the draft and they seem willing to give up a 2022 first rounder to move up for the right player. But you also gotta think that Arizona’s losing a large chunk of realty to move down 8-12 spots and they want to get better immediately, not build for the future. This is still a spot in the draft where they can choose almost any of the receivers, but moving down too far could mean missing out on the next Justin Jefferson.
Raiders at 17 - Good spot for Lance. He’d get to be the number three quarterback and really not have to stress this year. But we have to come to terms with the fact that against all odds, Jon Gruden is the most boring drafter in existence.
Dolphins at 18 - Not for Miami, maybe for a team trading over Washington or Chicago.
Football Team at 19 -
Bears at 20 -
As unpopular as it is, I see Justin Fields as more of a mid-first round pick, though I don’t know that I see him making it to the 20s. It seems to me that with teams having already made certain moves in the draft and at quarterback, the league might only think there are three top-eight quarterbacks. So all Fields has to do, really, is make it past the Broncos. And then he could be available at a low enough spot in the draft for one of the QB-needy teams to consider moving up for him. Washington and Chicago are those most obvious QB-needy teams and so maybe one of them does make a trade for Fields.
For me, I would take Lance over Fields, but again I think Lance is best fit for any team that doesn’t need him this year. And Fields is a best fit for any team that does, though I do worry for a player’s development when it seems like a trade is happening to fill a positional need rather than as a fit for that particular quarterback’s strengths.
In that sense, I think that Ron Rivera trading up for Fields, running the ball a ton more next season, and once again putting Ryan Fitzpatrick in an inevitable meltdown controversy situation makes a ton of sense. But I also think that Rivera’s A-OK with Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke. Washington has shown absolutely no interest in addressing their quarterback situation this year, as evidenced by signing Fitzpatrick.
But the Bears can no longer avoid doing something. Don’t tease us for this long and not deliver, Chicago.
The Bears hold the 20th pick and seem much more likely to make a move up. They have Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, which means that Foles will be released or traded this year. Chicago may just be holding out until a team finally realizes that they’re desperate enough for Nick Foles. Some people are asking if Chicago should trade all the way up to four, but as I’ve said, that doesn’t make sense to me. Then again, the Bears traded up one spot for Mitchell Trubisky four years ago.
You just have to wonder if Chicago, once again, is bidding against themselves.
A team might be able to squeeze a 2022 first and this year’s second out of the Bears, convincing them that if Mac Jones is worth two firsts and a third, surely Fields is worth a first and a second. But is there any other team making an offer? Maybe they’d just accept the standard 2022 first rounder.
Meanwhile, I think I prefer Trey Lance to Fields, and I could see why people would have long-term optimism for Lance that exceeds the ceiling of every other quarterback in the draft. But given his lack of experience and playing time against Division-I competition, Lance might end up available in the late first round. Sitting behind Ben Roethlisberger for a year, or Jameis Winston, or Tom Brady, makes more sense to me than expecting Lance to help the 49ers in 2021.
I know it might seem like John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are “safe” but they’ve posted a losing record in three of four years and this is their third shot at a top-three pick. If Jim Harbaugh got fired after one 8-8 season, then I can’t say that Shanahan or Lynch is safe. So they didn’t trade up for a player who would take time to develop. It just makes too much sense that they did it for the player who fits everything Shanahan is said to want in a quarterback.
And his worst trait, somehow, is that he’s too much like Tom Brady as a prospect.
So that’s how I could see Fields going in the middle of the first round and Lance in the twenties. A team could also trade back into the first round for Lance or Davis Mills, who could also be a fit for the Bucs at 32. Tampa Bay would also be a sneaky choice to trade all the way up into the teens for Fields or Lance. They’ve got a championship roster already and championship confidence that “future first round picks” will be in the 29-32 range. So why not give up pick 32 this year and pick 32 next year for pick 18 this year and take a chance on Lance?