2021 NFL Mock Draft

NFL Draft Treats Every Team Should be Thankful For

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By Daniel Kitchen November 26, 2020 0 Comment
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It’s Thanksgiving, a day we should all take some time to look around and be truly grateful and happy for what we have in our lives, especially in a year like 2020. One of the things we should be grateful for is that, despite the pandemic, we have an ongoing NFL season to enjoy—something that was no guarantee back when the NFL Draft was being held April.

The next NFL Draft is fast approaching, and it’ll be April 29 before we all know it. Even almost five months (exactly) away from that opening pick, every NFL team already has something to be thankful for in relation to the best event in professional sports.

Arizona Cardinals: Mid-first defensive prospects

Kliff Kingsbury has got himself an offense! Arizona is one of the most fun teams to watch with the ball in the NFL, and really only needs upgrades at RB and TE to bolster an elite attack.

An RB can come on Day 2 in the NFL Draft, and unless you want to splurge on Kyle Pitts from Florida (who may not make it to their spot in the mid/late first), a TE won’t be good value in Round 1.

What will be good value are a host of defensive upgrades for a Cardinal group that’s league average this season. Arizona is already winning with an average defense; with an improved group, they’re a Super Bowl frontrunner.

Every level could use a first-round player, with an aging secondary, underwhelming LB corps, and DL that lacks support for star EDGE Chandler Jones.

If Arizona sticks in the low 20s, they can catch a sliding fringe Top 10 prospect, or take an EDGE like Joseph Ossai, ILB like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, or CB like Jaycee Horn. Arizona is assured of getting an impact player to assist the defense. If it’s the route the team wants to go, there is no shortage of options.

Atlanta Falcons: A Top 10 pick

Atlanta won’t need to find creative new ways to blow games the rest of the season. With by far the toughest remaining schedule (Tampa twice, KC, New Orleans, and Vegas? Oh boy.) in the league, they’ll lose plenty without needing flair, dramatics, or touchdown passes with 0:00 on the clock.

It won’t get any happier when a team that’s $25 million over the cap has to navigate an offseason where key DBs Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal need signed, on top of retaining Alex Mack at center and Todd Gurley at RB, or finding replacements for both.

Oh, and deciding whether to make one final run at the Lombardi with Matt Ryan, or blow it up and start a multi-year rebuild.

There are the headaches. But here’s the Ibuprofen: The games Atlanta drops the last six weeks will lock them into a Top 10 pick. Even if it’s 10th overall, that’s still one of the best few players in the NFL Draft, and with QB-happy teams ahead of them, the best players at main (edge rusher) and minor (CB) positions of need will largely make it to their time on the clock.
And if it’s much higher, well, I suppose we’ll all see whether they want to run under Ryan or hit the reset button.

Baltimore Ravens: Eric DeCosta

Right now, Baltimore is outside looking in at the playoffs and picking 18th in the first round, but will likely climb higher.
GM Eric DeCosta, though, has proven that he can find value no matter where the team drafts. He took Marquise Brown 25th and then Patrick Queen 28th in 2019 and 2020, letting the NFL Draft fall to him.

That strategy continued Days 2 and 3 in 2020, and he got tremendous value taking players like J.K. Dobbins (49th), Tyre Phillips (106th), and James Proche (201st), among others. Before that, it was Jaylon Ferguson (85th) and Justice Hill (113rd) in 2019.

You can trust DeCosta and the Ravens front office to deliver, picking mid-10s or 32nd overall each round.

Buffalo Bills: Defensive NFL Draft upgrades

The Buffalo Bills are a good football team again, they have a true face of the franchise in Josh Allen, and the NFL is better for it.

The 2022 offseason will be the big one for the Bills’ Mafia, when it will be time to give Allen the biggest contract in team history, LB Tremaine Edmunds a very sizable deal, and make decisions on starters John Brown and Jerry Hughes (all with limited cap space).

In 2021, though, they have an offseason to bolster the roster and begin planning for the future money they’ll spend. With multiple CBs and rushers needing new deals in 2021 and 2022 (and a pre-existing weakness at LB), Buffalo can both upgrade and reduce costs by drafting defense Days 1 and 2.

CBs like Shaun Wade and Tyson Campbell, LBs like Chazz Surratt, and EDGEs like Carlos Basham Jr. and Azeez Olujari can all slide to Buffalo in the 20s, and players I believe have first-round upside (Paulson Adebo, Jabril Cox, Patrick Jones II, at those three positions) can drop to the late second depending on the flow of the NFL Draft.

Buffalo can take this spring to help itself both on the field and in the finances, before spending big money next offseason.

Carolina Panthers: HC Matt Rhule & OC Joe Brady

Count me as a believer in what the new HC and OC of the Panthers are doing to rebuild this team. The offense has looked great, the passing game has been a very bright spot with the addition of Robby Anderson, and if Christian McCaffrey hadn’t been hurt, this team could easily be in playoff position.

That offensive performance has been a boon to the team, and the two men running it have shortened the list of team needs for the Panthers as a result. That holds true especially if the team uses its $20 million in cap room to resign OL starters and WR weapon Curtis Samuel.

Now, instead of needing to invest premium picks there this April, Carolina can focus on its defense in the early rounds of the NFL Draft, and spend additional time scouting and going in-depth on positions like CB instead of diverting attention across several areas on both sides of the ball.

Chicago Bears: Back-up plans

Quarterback is unquestionably the team’s top need long-term. The Mitch Trubisky experiment has failed, and Nick Foles is a bridge solution to whomever the next top prospect is for the team.

Ideally, Chicago lands a QB in this year’s first round without a trade up. Currently selecting 16th and with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NFL, that pick is unlikely to improve. Buried behind several QB-needy teams, the likes of Zach Wilson and Trey Lance won’t fall that far.

Foles gives the team a back-up plan there, with the aim to develop a Day 2 pick from this class or make a run at a QB in the 2022 NFL Draft.

If the team misses on a QB, the 2021 class has a tailor-made back-up plan for what to do with that first-round pick. Chicago’s offensive line, as is tradition, is poor and inhabited mostly by cast-offs and back-up caliber players.
There is no shortage of first-round O-Linemen in this NFL Draft, and most stand to be on the board when the Bears pick.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Jets and Jaguars

Sunday’s injury to Joe Burrow is a devastating blow to the entire league. The rookie was proving to be someone the NFL can market around, and just a truly fun player to watch.

Every football fan should hope that Burrow is ready to go Week 1 next fall. The injury, though, highlights just how pitiful the O-Line is that Cincinnati entrusted to protect its future.

Without Burrow, it seems improbable the Bengals win enough to move back from their current 3rd overall selection. Cincy can then thank the New York Jets and Jacksonville, the two teams above them, because that locks them in to the draft’s best lineman, Penei Sewell.

The Jets will take Trevor Lawrence first overall, barring a spectacular surprise over the coming months. Jacksonville, if they stick at two, will find it hard to pass on Ohio State’s Justin Fields. That leaves the Bengals at three to take Sewell, a franchise LT who will be Burrow’s best friend for years to come.

Cleveland Browns: Their offensive line

With the signing of Jack Conklin, selection of Jedrick Wills Jr., and development of guard Wyatt Teller, Cleveland’s last offensive hole disappeared.

That problem entering the 2020 offseason was the O-Line, a group that had hampered an offense featuring the league’s best RB tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Pro Bowl WRs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., and a developing QB in Baker Mayfield.

Now, the Cleveland line is one of the best in the NFL. With its success, the Browns can focus all important resources on the defense this offseason, because the offense has no needs beyond depth (you could argue a starting WR, only if the team commits to dealing OBJ), and no starters hitting free agency after this season.

With an extra third-round pick, the Browns can fill the holes that exist at every level of the defense and go best player available on that side of the ball through April’s early rounds. The O-Line’s play and the boost it has given to the entire offense is a big reason why that is possible.

Dallas Cowboys: Dak’s start to the season

There was a time not long ago where QB Dak Prescott was no certainty to remain in Dallas, and where the conundrum of whether to pony up to keep the franchise QB was the right call.

Truthfully, that still remains a possibility.

The possibility has shrunk considerably, and Dak’s play through five weeks before suffering a severe ankle injury is in large part responsible for clearing the fog on a decision.

Prior to his season ending, Prescott was on a ridiculous pace. He had 1,856 yards through 4.5 games. That is 5,939 yards over a full 16-game season, and Prescott was doing it while earning a career-best 68% completion percentage across 151-222 passing.

That is franchise QB performance right there, and the response from fans and teammates when he was injured shows that lots of people want Dak to return and step back into being “The Guy” in Dallas.

The play of the replacement QBs has helped make that case. Yes, Andy Dalton has been hurt. But the performance of he, Garrett Gilbert, and Ben DiNucci has been… well, let’s just say people REALLY understand now just how much better a team Dallas is when it’s Dak taking the snaps.

Dallas should pay Dak, and it’s likely they will on either a long-term deal or second franchise tag. Either way, that takes away the struggle of deciding whether to keep the QB or draft one with an early pick. Now, Dallas can use its current Top 5 selection to nab one of the best players in the NFL Draft, like Penn State’s Micah Parsons to make an incredible LB room with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.

Denver Broncos: Offense-needy teams drafting ahead of them

John Elway gave Drew Lock plenty of toys to play with last April — Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Albert Okwuegbunam is an exciting haul and a nightmare for secondaries without plenty of speed to stick in coverage.

If Lock can not thrive in the offense that the team has put around him and with a quality offensive line and RB tandem in Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay, he is not the player Elway thought he was drafting in 2019’s second round. While that situation plays out, Elway can spend the entire 2021 NFL Draft build-up focused on his defense, after mostly ignoring it last draft.

The team has $29 million in room to bring back starters like Justin Simmons and Von Miller. Even with them returning, help will be needed for a thin front seven and to replace aging CB A.J. Bouye.

Denver is selecting in the mid-10s right now. Ahead of them are six teams (New York Jets, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Washington, Miami, and New England) whose first-round pick is very likely to be on offense. The other eight all have offensive needs and aren’t ruled out from drafting offense, either.

The more offensive players drafted, the better the defensive players falling will be. Micah Parsons or Patrick Surtain II is asking for a miracle, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that CB Caleb Farley or EDGE Kwity Paye could slide to the Broncos’ range.

Detroit Lions: A tough final six weeks

The Lions are a ship without a direction. HC Matt Patricia is a longshot to keep his job, and the base of young talent rostered isn’t the most impressive. That base gets much worse if star WR Kenny Golladay leaves as a free agent.

With no realistic case to contend for a playoff spot, Detroit should be losing games and getting its pick as early in the first as possible. They need the type of impact players that populate the Top 10 annually, to build a team around and develop a true identity under a new coach, and the risk of not getting one is much higher picking from 11-18 than if they were to finish the year with only 4-5 wins.

The rest of the slate can help them drop down the standings and rise up the NFL Draft board. Green Bay, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee should all hand the Lions L’s, and Chicago, Minnesota, and Houston are more than capable, if not favored, of doing the same.

It’s painful for those fans. Those losses must be endured if your team is ever to escape the morass of perpetual averageness.

Green Bay Packers: An NFL Draft do-over

It is almost like the Packers want Aaron Rodgers to force his way out of town. In a historically talented 2020 WR class and with a clear and obvious top need at the position, the team TRADED UP to draft…

A QB to replace Rodgers. Yikes.

Rodgers is not short of ego or talent, and his current spite season is one for the ages. While he is playing at this level, it is foolish of Green Bay not to get him some targets to pair with Davante Adams.

Fortunately, the Packers have a second chance. The 2021 WR class looks quite stocked with WR1/2 talent, and the position is again the team’s biggest need. Even picking late 20s and with a run on WRs ahead of them, the Packers should have several players on the board who are definite upgrades at WR2.

Don’t drop the pass again, Green Bay. Finally get your QB some help.

Houston Texans: A new era

I wanted to avoid putting Bill O’Brien’s name in the header, because it’ll appear again later on (and because Rick Smith deserves some blame, too). But the damage done to this roster is incredible.

Like, “tsunami vs. a sand castle” incredible.

Only five draft picks made last year with no first-rounder. No selection until the third round this year. Superstars traded away for Monopoly money that has had minimal impact on-field, and one of your only high-value players left, WR Will Fuller, about to hit the market after a breakout season and with you $9 million over the cap.

Repairing the damage done and navigating this offseason is a challenge and a half for whomever is hired as the next GM. It’s not a one-year rebuild, and will take the first couple seasons of QB Deshaun Watson’s long-term contract to get the team to be a true contender again given cap difficulties and lack of tradeable assets and NFL Draft capital.

Houston fans can rejoice, though, that a new era will begin after Week 17 with the hiring of the next GM and head coach.

Indianapolis Colts: Cap space

More specifically, $75 million of it heading into the 2021 offseason, third-most in football. For a team that is already 7-3, that’s a huge stock of fun money to try and buy your way to the NFL’s elite.

After a productive NFL Draft last year, the Colts still have some needs, but that cap room will allow them to not only resign many of their key free agents (including QBs Phillip Rivers or Jacoby Brissett and WR T.Y. Hilton), but make a run at filling some needs via the open market instead of exclusively looking to the draft.

Rather than hoping a franchise-caliber OT falls to the last 10 picks of the first round, or some front seven depth is hanging around near the back of Round 2, Indy has the money to be serious players for the top OL on the market and contributors at other positions, eliminating much of the pressure of drafting somebody who has to immediately start on a contender.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Rock bottom

Remember in 2018 when Jacksonville was up by 10 and one quarter from making the Super Bowl? Well, it’s been a depressing nosedive since, with only 12 total players from that team still in Jacksonville.

Multiple ugly exits from the team further piled on the fall from grace. But at 1-9 this season, it’s likely that rock bottom has mercifully arrived.

That is a positive for Jaguar fans. It’s been an embarrassing few seasons, but with players like James Robinson, Jawaan Taylor, Josh Allen, and D.J. Chark emerging alongside vets like Brandon Linder and Myles Jack, there is a buildable core there.

The benefit of rock bottom is that Jacksonville is in control of its own destiny to pick from the entire QB class sans Trevor Lawrence this coming NFL Draft. From there, the rebuild can really begin to take shape.

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes

I mean, yeah. Sometimes it really is that simple.

With how talented Mahomes is and with the skill players that already exist on KC’s roster, the Chiefs can easily win 12+ games and be a Super Bowl frontrunner without elite guys at several spots, and with a defense that is literally league average (15th) in yards allowed this season.

So long as Mahomes is taking snaps, playing at his inhuman level, and keeping the Chiefs an elite team, Kansas City is free of the pressure of forcing picks and needing players to excel as rookies for the team to be successful.

They can just let the NFL Draft come to them, and take the best player available each time up. No overpays to trade up for a specific position, no restrictions from taking a high-upside project who needs time to develop. Just pure, BPA bliss.

Las Vegas Raiders: Fourteen Round 1-4 picks the last two seasons

I can’t claim to understand Mike Mayock’s logic of making picks like Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall, or Damon Arnette 19th. Nor can I say that of the 14 picks he and Jon Gruden have made in Rounds 1-4 the last two NFL Drafts, many have produced like impact players.

What I can say is that after accumulating and spending that kind of capital — including five first round picks — in 2019 and 2020, it is too soon to be writing the experiment off and attempting to replace the majority of those selections. Especially when they have helped contribute to some degree to the Raiders being in playoff position right now.

With members of those classes dotting most positions on the depth chart and building blocks occupying others, Las Vegas is able to largely play best player available this coming draft, and catch any players who might be falling down the board, or take gambles (as the Raiders have been known to do) on top talents who have something deflating their stock.

It has netted them talented players in the past, and the size of the last two draft classes enables Vegas to take another go at it this spring.

Los Angeles Chargers: Elite draft options

L.A. is criminally underrated, and it’s seemed like my entire life, that’s been the case. Despite a 5-11 record in 2019 and a current 3-7 mark, consider that every single loss this season has been by eight or fewer points, and all but two losses in 2019 were by a touchdown or less.

That’s a comical amount of close games and bad breaks in a two-year span, and to me indicates that not only is L.A. NOT a bad team, but that they are a legitimate playoff roster in 2021.

A big way to help prove me right is adding an elite player through the NFL Draft. Currently picking sixth and with the sixth-toughest remaining schedule, they figure to remain in that range.

There, the board is theirs. Stud edge rusher in Gregory Rousseau? Shutdown corner in Caleb Farley or Patrick Surtain II? Or perhaps your pick of the WR class or a selection of tackles not named Penei Sewell.

L.A. can target whatever it believes its biggest need is, and fill it with an instant impact player, in the first and second rounds.

It’s a tremendous opportunity for a team far better than its record, and a pivotal moment that can be where the franchise opens a lengthy window of contending.

Los Angeles Rams: A return to contention

It is a good thing the Rams are one of the top NFC teams and close to locking in a playoff spot this season. Because with the team’s financial state, NFL Draft history, and 2021 draft prospects, things are going to get messy.

LA has been all-in on winning for years now, signing big name players to big-time deals and trading draft picks to add to the roster. Despite having six currently-listed starters eligible for free agency, the team is $20 million over the cap and very top-heavy, with three players making $22.5 million or more and another three between $11-14.5 million.

The draft has been a non-factor for the team. It hasn’t made a first-round pick since 2016, a streak that will continue in 2021.

The last Pro Bowler the team drafted also came in 2016, and of the players drafted from 2018-2020, only four have become full-time starters for the organization.

Missing not just a first-rounder but a fourth and fifth as well for this upcoming class, the Rams aren’t a team to watch in April, and their track record doesn’t warrant excitement that they’ll make the best use of limited picks. They’re a team to watch as Super Bowl or bust. Thankfully, the all-in strategy has them contending and in strong shape this season.

Miami Dolphins: Bill O’Brien

Miami is no longer in a rebuild. They’re a playoff-caliber football team and have one of the brightest futures in the league.
Yet somehow, with a 6-4 record, they still have a Top 10 pick with which to select, and a pick just as high in the second round. That is why they should be very thankful for ex-Texans’ HC/GM Bill O’Brien.

The pick came from a trade that sent star OT Laremy Tunsil to Houston, and netted Miami 2020 and 2021 first-rounders, and a 2021 second rounder. FAR from the worst trade O’Brien ruined the Texans with, but still an overpay. The Texans struggling this season has only made it better for the Dolphins.

Now, Miami can add three more excellent players to a team that had six picks on Days 1 and 2 this past April. Currently, the Texans’ pick is 8th, high enough to take the best of the best: WRs Ja’Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle, DE Gregory Rousseau, even Micah Persons if they’re so inclined and he slides.

Add that to Miami’s pick (17th at the moment) and then two second-rounders, and it’s an embarrassment of riches for a Miami team that already looks like a very successful rebuild done right.

Houston could always stay on a hot streak and push the pick back, to where some of those players are off the board. But an extra first and second-round pick is still a luxury to augment the team’s rebuild, and for that, Miami must thank Bill O’Brien.

Minnesota Vikings: The 2021 OL class

In what has been a persistent offensive issue for the team, Minnesota will enter yet another offseason in need of substantial help along the offensive line. A recent winning streak has pushed Minnesota from Top 5 contention to the middle of the field, and the team’s roster looks good enough to win a few more this season.

Those wins won’t cost the Vikes a starting lineman. The 2021 class has tackles who could go throughout the first round (I count eight at this current moment), and the class is deep enough that there should still be options for one of the team’s third-round picks.

Even if Minnesota elects to go pass rusher in the first, that depth should allow them to ID starting candidates in the third round, and a double-up is on the table by going OL in the first, and packaging some of the seven Round 3-5 picks together to get into the second round.

New England Patriots: Zac Wilson, Kyle Trask, Mac Jones, PTBNL

That last one stands for “Prospects to be named later,” because there’s still time for some more college QBs to declare or work their way into first-round conversation.

New England needs a franchise QB. Cam Newton is an answer only for so long, and Jarrett Stidham is still a longer shot at earning the role. New England is also talented enough that, instead of being in the Top 5, Bill Belichick has gotten this team to 4-6.

Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance should all be gone by then. Depending on where the Patriots slot, though, prospects like Wilson, Trask, and Jones can still give the team options for the next signal-caller.

Wilson seems solidified as a first-rounder right now, while Trask and Jones have some more steps to take to get there.
Getting himself a QB in the mold of Tom Brady to establish a new era and continue the Patriot Way is something Belichick has to do, and having a rare early pick in each round is a great chance to do it.

Wilson (who I think is an excellent fit for Belichick and New England) adds another first-round QB to the pot alongside the draft’s preseason top three.

Even if they don’t get to the Top 32, Trask, Jones, and any other risers give Belichick more to get to know and select from, and increase the odds the pick is made.

New Orleans Saints: Dependable drafting

The Saints are currently, according to overthecap.com, $93 million over the cap next season. That’s not a small amount that can be solved with some restructured contracts. It’s a Madden NFL franchise gone rogue.

It will be a painful process watching stars retire, leave, or get traded to get cap compliant next season, with the cap expected to drop. With little money to spend on free agents, the Saints will have to rely on the NFL Draft to restock their roster.
Fortunately, few teams draft better, particularly in the early rounds.

New Orleans’ last first-round picks have been Cesar Ruiz, Marcus Davenport, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Sheldon Rankins, Andrus Peat, Stephone Anthony, and Brandin Cooks.

Every single one of those players except Davenport and Anthony have become at the least long-term, dependable starters, even Ruiz as a rookie. Lattimore and Ramczyk are among the best at their positions.

Throw in the six second-round picks made during that time, and you get another four dependable starters, including an All-Pro in Michael Thomas and Erik McCoy, who is on his way to annual Pro Bowl status.

New Orleans is going to lose some star power this offseason and next, including some of those aforementioned players. They’ve proven, though, that so long as they hold on to their early draft picks (as they have for 2021), they can replace star power with star power on a consistent basis.

New York Giants: Meaningful games

My first writing had this just listed as “Draft Options”, an admittedly back-handed thing for the Giants to be thankful for. The only reason they have options no matter how the first round ahead of them unfolds is because their list of needs is one of the longest in the NFL.

Thinking through it, though, I altered it to meaningful games because, somehow, every game New York has left is incredibly important for them.

The Giants are a half-game out of first in the NFC East, in one of the most pathetic divisions the league has ever seen. They may have a 3-7 record, but every game is a big one with playoff implications.

With needs at WR, OL, EDGE, ILB, and even CB, New York was never going to fill them all in one NFL Draft. Having these final six games carry such importance will let New York examine its roster, and see which players at those spots are rising to the occasion in big games, and which need replaced first.

That gives the Giants six weeks to see if a player (or multiple) step up and reveal themselves to be worth a chance to start in 2021. Any who do can shorten the list of positions New York has to focus on this draft.

New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence hasn’t announced he’s returning to Clemson yet

There is a silver lining to going winless through 11 weeks and finishing a possible 0-16 overall. That lining is you’re first in line to select a generational QB talent to save your franchise, if one’s available.

Fortunately for the Jets, the year they imploded completely is the year Trevor Lawrence is finally draft-eligible. All the team has to do is continue its current trajectory a few more weeks, and the No. 1 pick is theirs.

The only thing that derails this N.Y. fantasy is if Lawrence sees where he is headed, and elects to return to Clemson for his senior year. With what just happened to Sam Darnold in N.Y. and Adam Gase somehow still coaching the team, I wouldn’t 100% rule out Lawrence re-rolling a year for a better team. But he hasn’t yet (and probably won’t), and the Jets can keep dreaming of late April.

Philadelphia Eagles: Strength of schedule

At 3-6-1, the Philadelphia Eagles should be perusing the top tier of the NFL Draft for an elite playmaker to join the roster. Instead, because of the caliber of the NFC East, Philly is currently division champs and in the playoffs, and consequently selecting at least 10 picks higher than the other three-win teams in the league.

That’s a pretty steep price for whoever wins the division to have to pay, especially given the roughly 0% chance they have of winning more than one playoff game.

Thanks to their remaining strength of schedule, the Eagles can likely pass the “honor” of hosting a playoff game to one of the other divisional teams, all of whom are 3-7 this season.

The Eagles have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule, facing the likes of New Orleans, Green Bay, and Arizona. That is above the New York Giants in 11th, Washington in 15th, and Dallas in 31st.

The Cowboys, in particular, have a cakewalk the rest of the way, facing the Bengals and 49ers in addition to one game against each divisional opponent.

You can’t count on any of these teams winning specific games, and in a vacuum, Philadelphia should be the best of the four. Even if each is better off with the higher draft pick, every team will fight for the chance to be in the playoffs, whether they’re 10-6 or 6-10.

The Eagles have easily the toughest remaining slate among them. Missing the playoffs might sting considering they have a legitimate chance of hosting that first game. In draft terms though, picking at least 10 spots higher is nothing but positive.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Planning ahead

The Steelers are certainly making the most of this season, before being $19 million over the cap costs them some stars and fan favorites this offseason.

One of the smartest franchises in the NFL, GM Kevin Colbert obviously saw this coming, because his 2020 NFL Draft selections mirror positions players are likeliest to leave. Second-round stud Chase Claypool can replace Juju Smith-Schuster if Juju leaves as a free agent, third-rounder Alex Highsmith has been an understudy to the franchise tagged Bud Dupree, Anthony McFarland Jr. has been part of a platoon behind RB James Conner, and Kevin Dotson has already taken a starting role on an O-Line that could lose Alejandro Villanueva and/or Matt Feiler.

Rather than being hamstrung trying to replace all those stars and key contributors this offseason, Pittsburgh has had players learning from them all year long. Now, the Steelers can operate their draft as they normally do: Best player available, and allow Colbert to do his usual stellar job of identifying at least a couple players in each class that can become long-term contributors.

San Francisco 49ers: Injury silver linings

Not the injuries themselves, of course. This may be the most snake bitten team of recent NFL history, and a season with Super Bowl aspirations has been more than derailed by nearly every start player rostered being added to the injury report or just flat-out going on IR for the year.

It’s a sunk season for the defending NFC champs. Once you process that fact, there are a couple consolation prize silver linings that can be gleaned from the situation.

The first is, San Francisco has had a chance to see almost literally every single player take the field for significant snaps this season. They’ve been able to see, in actual competition and not just in practice, who has what it takes to contribute to the team they want to build, and who needs let go.

With 40 (not a typo) players listed by spotrac.com as free agents this offseason, having that kind of empirical evidence to sort through to decide which players proved they belong and which didn’t is an invaluable resource, and a list of positions to target in the NFL Draft can be made accordingly.

The other silver lining is that, if they so choose, they have a potential out to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo by cut or trade without eating much dead money, and can let Kyle Shanahan select his next QB.
Shanahan can try to bring in an established name like his former QB Matt Ryan, but the 49ers’ position and tough remaining schedule put them in range to draft one.

It was a nightmare season for San Fran, but if Shanahan falls in love with and nabs a franchise QB with the pick those injuries earned, that’s a heck of a silver lining.

Seattle Seahawks: Depth of the OL class

This is similar to what the Vikings have to be thankful for. But in Seattle’s case, the top-tier talent isn’t what matters in this draft, it is the OL depth in the class that is making all the difference.

The Seahawks have big needs at both O-Line and CB. Despite outplaying preseason expectations, the line isn’t there yet, evidenced by last week’s rough “Damien Lewis as a center” experiment.

Missing a first and third-round pick and choosing late in the second (and with no first next year), Seattle can’t afford to miss on its only pick before Day 3. The chances of doing so on a CB, who would need to handle a bigger role immediately, are high.
But a Walker Little type — a player who had tangible first-round buzz at some point in his collegiate career, but has fallen to Day 2 — will last in a deep class, and give Seattle a high ceiling ROI that could handle a large role after a few weeks.
That is the exact type of target a team in the Seahawks’ position needs to have, and the OL depth makes it possible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tremendous team building

The job Jason Licht has done building this team is one to be lauded.

He has hit on multiple impact players each of the last four NFL Drafts, made shrewd moves on the open market (it’s more than just Tom Brady he’s brought in), and as a result Tampa Bay has one of the smallest lists of team needs in the NFL, along with $30 million in cap space to trim down an extensive list of pending free agents.

Only one spot on the roster stands out as an obvious weakness, and that is the defensive line. An injury to Vita Vea is a big factor in that. Truthfully, the need isn’t even so great that TB has to focus on that area exclusively. They could just let Vea return, draft and spend elsewhere, and the team would still be one of the NFC’s best.

With few needs, Tampa can draft whomever they like most, regardless of position, this offseason. That freedom will let them pick anybody, instead of passing on a superior talent because they can’t survive without position X or Y.

The stacked lineup and Licht’s team building are to thank for that.

Tennessee Titans: Depth of the WR class

I’m a big fan of Corey Davis’ potential, and he is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season and a decent pay day with his fifth-year option declined.

With less than $9 million in cap room next offseason and plenty of FAs to sign, Tennessee may have to let that deal come from somewhere else. In the middle of the postseason field and a quality contender, the Titans won’t have a high pick to replace Davis, either.

With the depth of the 2021 WR class, they won’t need one to give Ryan Tannehill a second dependable option. Like 2020, this year’s group is one of the most well-stocked in decades.

It won’t be the elite guys, currently LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase or Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, falling to the late first. But this class could easily have double-digit WRs getting first-round buzz through the Combine, and some will be there when the Titans pick.

Washington Football Team: 2019 and 2020 first-round QBs

Humorously, there is one major exception to that group Washington should be thankful for: Its own 2019 first-round QB, Dwayne Haskins Jr.

It took Washington less than two years to punt on its 15th overall pick from that season and signal it’s all-in on finding a new franchise QB. The team is in the thick of a six-team group with 3-7 records this season, with only three teams doing worse.
That’s a crowded group of teams fighting for top draft picks, not an ideal situation when you need a QB. Washington, though, is actually set up quite nicely to nab the last of the top three prospects that currently exist.

With New York and Jacksonville likely taking two of the three names out of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance if they stay Nos. 1 and 2, that leaves one left. Of the seven teams that have two or three wins this season, four — Cincinnati, Miami, the N.Y. Giants and L.A. Chargers — invested a top-six pick in 2019 or 2020 on a QB, and aren’t favored to do so again this offseason.

The remaining two are Dallas, who has Dak Prescott, and Atlanta, who has Matt Ryan. The Falcons could move on, but that is only one team Washington has to do worse than to secure a chance at a top QB this draft.

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Here to discuss and examine all things NFL Draft. Occasionally sarcastic. Life is better with more scrambling QBs.


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