There have already been multiple significant trades prior to the 2021 NFL Draft, but there are five teams in particular who stand out as candidates to make splashy draft-day maneuvers to spice up the first round.
With an early run on quarterbacks expected to push quality players at other key positions down the board, there could well be a flurry of deals made in the heat of the moment — and plenty others that don’t come to fruition but are fun to ponder about.
Let’s take a look at the five teams who should be doing all they can to go all-in on this draft, sacrifice perhaps a future asset or two, and go get someone who can really help them this coming season and ultimately better their respective futures.
New England Patriots, Denver Broncos find new QBs
It seems all but certain that Jacksonville will take Trevor Lawrence, and that the New York Jets will select Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall. From there, it’s anyone’s guess, but all signs point to San Francisco landing Mac Jones.
That means the likes of Justin Fields and Trey Lance will still be on the board. Fields could be in a Justin Herbert type of situation where he slides further than he should, only to blow people away and prove many doubters wrong in short order upon arriving in the NFL. Meanwhile, Lance’s insane upside is well worth the longer-term investment.
The Atlanta Falcons are rumored to be open to trading the fourth pick, so one of these teams should jump all over that. After them, the Cincinnati Bengals — despite their obvious chance to revolutionize the draft — and the Detroit Lions are prime candidates to trade back. Detroit seems more likely to do so amid a full-blown rebuild.
Cam Newton is probably a serviceable option for New England in 2021, especially with much better skill players around him and a full season of experience in the Patriots’ system. However, Newton does not appear to be the long-term successor to Tom Brady. Fields and Lance are similar in style to Newton and would be ideal fits to sit behind him and learn the Pats’ complex offense.
As for Denver, head coach Vic Fangio is old-school and is an excellent defensive mind. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur runs a West Coast system and doesn’t feel like a great fit with Drew Lock. Someone like Lance makes a lot of sense, but the Broncos don’t have to go as far to get Atlanta’s pick.
Don’t be surprised to see the Falcons acquire Lock as Matt Ryan‘s heir apparent. In any event, to compete in the AFC West, Denver needs to upgrade from Lock right now. The same goes for New England in a quickly-improving AFC East in which Buffalo is now the favorite to reign supreme for the years to come.
Jacksonville Jaguars get four picks in top 33
- Jaguars trade 45th, 131st, 171st pick and 2022 second-rounder to New Orleans Saints for 28th pick in first round.
Because Jacksonville is picking atop the second, fourth and fifth rounds, it can afford to part with those selections to pull off a trade with the New Orleans Saints and sneak back into the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The more quality young players the Jags can acquire on rookie contracts while Lawrence plays under a cheaper deal, the better off they’ll be. Instead of hoping to hit on multiple fourth- and fifth-round picks, it’s logical for Jacksonville to attack the draft even after the celebration about drafting the once-in-a-generation QB is dying down.
Imagine if the Jaguars walk away with three more instant-impact to supplement Lawrence with the 25th, 28th and 33rd picks. Even hitting on two out of three would be great for Jacksonville’s bid to contend in the AFC South.
Before you laugh at that notion, consider: The Houston Texans are in shambles, the Tennessee Titans lost their genius offensive coordinator and don’t have a pass rush, and the Indianapolis Colts are banking on Carson Wentz resurrecting his career immediately amid playoff expectations.
There’s little need to waste Lawrence’s maiden pro campaign building up morale. Urban Meyer wins everywhere he goes right away. Why should the mentality be any different here? The 2021 NFL Draft could wind up defining the Meyer era in the best way. Getting three first-round picks means another young player on a fifth-year option, which will be a big positive, provided the Jaguars evaluate their draft targets properly.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers add blue-chip rookie to Super Bowl roster
There’s no way Tampa Bay is going to find Tom Brady’s eventual replacement early in the draft. A developmental QB comes probably on late Day 2 or early Day 3.
Since the Bucs managed to somehow keep all 22 of their starters from Super Bowl LV on the team for 2021, they can afford to be aggressive in the first round. Whether another team would agree to trade with them remains to be seen, but Tampa Bay is in a position to make offers that can nary be refused.
For instance, if the Patriots trade out of the 15th pick with Detroit, given the state of the Lions, they’d have to listen if the Buccaneers offered the Nos. 32 and 64 picks along with a first-rounder in 2022. In that scenario, Detroit would have three first-rounders next year and tons of wiggle room to potentially upgrade from Jared Goff at QB.
That’s just one hypothetical to think about. Jason Licht was creative enough to keep his championship-winning team intact. It’d barely be a surprise if he makes some kind of crazy move in the NFL Draft for, say, an all-around defensive playmaker like Zaven Collins, a high-ceiling pass-rusher like Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari or the consensus best safety prospect in TCU’s Trevon Moehrig.
Tennessee Titans find a legitimate pass-rusher
Maybe Ojulari is Tennessee’s pick at No. 22, but this isn’t the best class of edge defenders, and the Titans need to make sure they address their clear Achilles heel heading into the 2021 campaign.
As was touched on before, previous offensive play-caller Arthur Smith is out. Counting on Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to win shootouts every week is not a sustainable strategy. General manager Jon Robinson hasn’t done a good enough job addressing the pass rush. It’s time to change that.
Now, what will make a move up ultimately successful is Tennessee committing to someone who fits its system the best, but has the type of talent to thrive in any situation. With a defense-oriented head coach in Mike Vrabel, there’s no reason the Titans can’t find a top pass-rusher to contribute in 2021 during the NFL Draft’s first day.
The prime candidates should be Ojulari and Miami’s Jaelan Phillips. Signing Bud Dupree probably won’t be enough, and as it is, he’s coming off a torn ACL. A rookie spark plug is necessary, and Ojulari and Phillips stand out as the best specialists who’d best fit Tennessee’s preferred 3-4 defensive alignment.