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Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Winning the NFL draft isn’t nearly as important as winning on the field. Over the long term, a team’s draft success is often defined more by the mistakes it avoided rather than the home runs it hit.
Addressing a position of need or accumulating additional draft capital is nice, but passing on an All-Pro talent or wasting picks on players who don’t contribute can be devastating. Drafting a poor fit or ignoring a glaring need can be just as bad.
Whether it’s targeting the wrong positions, ignoring current or future needs, dismissing favorable trades, or making bad ones, teams are going to make mistakes in the 2021 NFL draft. Here, we’ll examine the biggest potential mistake that each franchise must avoid over draft weekend.
We’ll consider current team needs and roster makeup as well, though these factors will likely change after free agency officially gets underway on March 17.
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Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-KoramoahMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press
When the Arizona Cardinals are on the clock with the 16th overall pick, they should take the best player available. Reaching to fill a need is how a team ends up with N’Keal Harry or Billy Price in Round 1.
However, it would be a mistake for the Cardinals to ignore their run defense early in the draft.
The Cardinals ranked 22nd against the run and 25th in yards per attempt allowed last season. Opponents’ ability to consistently run the ball was arguably Arizona’s biggest defensive liability.
While the Cardinals added linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the first round of last year’s draft, that shouldn’t preclude them from targeting another run-stuffing linebacker at No. 16.
If Arizona can land a premier prospect like Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons or Notre Dame defender Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in Round 1, it should pull the trigger. If a run defender doesn’t make sense from a value standpoint at No. 16, then the Cardinals should make it a major priority on Day 2.
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Falcons QB Matt RyanKevin Sabitus/Associated Press
The Atlanta Falcons have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback in Matt Ryan. They’re likely to have him on the roster at the start of the 2021 season, too.
While Ryan could be a potential trade chip, the $50 million in dead money remaining on his contract makes a trade unrealistic. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Ryan and veteran wideout Julio Jones are widely expected to remain with the Falcons for at least another year.
However, Ryan is 35 years old and no longer seems to be the Falcons’ long-term answer under center. His dead-money hit will drop to $26.5 million next offseason and $8.6 million in 2023.
If Atlanta doesn’t believe that Ryan can play at a high level into his late 30s, now would be the perfect time to put together a succession plan. That means the Falcons can’t discount the idea of drafting a quarterback with the fourth overall pick.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence should be out of the picture by then, but high-end prospects like Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson could be on the table.
Since the Falcons aren’t likely to leap back into title contention in 2021, they need to seriously consider planning for the future at quarterback.
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Ravens WR Marquise BrownBrett Carlsen/Associated Press
Teams may feel inclined to shy away from a particular position because it recently used a high draft pick on a player at that spot. Throwing multiple first-round picks at the same position could be viewed as admitting one of the earlier selections was a mistake.
However, failing to adequately address a need would be an even bigger mistake. As such, the Baltimore Ravens cannot bypass a legitimate No. 1 receiver prospect just because they used a first-round pick on Marquise Brown two years ago.
Brown has been a fine complementary piece for the Ravens, and his game-breaking speed adds a lot to the passing attack. However, the 5’9″, 180-pound Brown isn’t the No. 1 perimeter target that quarterback Lamar Jackson has been lacking.
There’s no guarantee that such a prospect will be sitting on the board when Baltimore is on the clock at No. 27. However, if a pass-catcher like Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman happens to be there, the Ravens must be willing to pull the trigger.
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Alabama RB Najee HarrisRusty Costanza/Associated Press
The Buffalo Bills have an explosive passing offense led by quarterback Josh Allen and wideout Stefon Diggs. However, their backfield tandem of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss is merely serviceable.
Buffalo ranked only 26th in rushing yards per attempt this past season. That was with Allen averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 102 totes as well.
To field a more balanced offensive attack in 2021, the Bills should target an elite running back prospect early in the draft. The fact that they took Singletary and Moss in consecutive drafts shouldn’t stop them from targeting a prospect like Alabama’s Najee Harris at the bottom of Round 1.
Yes, teams can find quality running backs later in the draft—2020 rookie sensation James Robinson wasn’t even drafted—but Buffalo shouldn’t be willing to gamble on yet another middle-round selection.
If the Bills can pair a premier ball-carrier with Allen, they could be virtually unstoppable offensively.
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BYU quarterback Zach WilsonGeorge Frey/Associated Press
The Carolina Panthers appear unsold on Teddy Bridgewater as their long-term answer at quarterback. They tried to trade for Matthew Stafford before the Detroit Lions shipped him to the Los Angeles Rams, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and owner David Tepper is eager to find his franchise signal-caller.
“If you have better coaches, better GMs, some advantages with facilities, advantages with the training, management process, whatever those, whatever it is, you know, analytics, whatever that is to give you an edge, that’s what you need,” Tepper said during an episode of Amazon’s All or Nothing (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk). “And you need a good quarterback.”
Carolina might not find that “good quarterback” if it waits until the No. 8 overall pick.
An early run at the position could leave the Panthers looking at leftovers. Instead, they should be willing to move up in the draft for a quarterback they love.
Whether that’s Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance or Mac Jones, Carolina must be willing to go all-in to get its guy. Picking between whichever quarterbacks fall to them is how teams end up with players like Christian Ponder and Jake Locker in Round 1.
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Bears QB Mitchell TrubiskyBrett Duke/Associated Press
The Chicago Bears should be looking to move on from mediocre signal-caller Mitchell Trubisky this offseason. However, they’re projected to be over the salary cap, so they may need to wait until draft weekend to do so.
According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., five quarterbacks should justify a Round 1 selection this year.
“Quarterback? This year it’s five firsts and maybe Kyle Trask in the second round and lot of just guys,” Kiper said, per ESPN’s Jeff Legwold.
If those five guys are off the board, the Bears should consider trading back or targeting the position in Round 2. Alternatively, trading up in Round 1 could be an option, although they better be sure of the prospect they’re trading up to target.
After all, trading up to take Trubisky instead of Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes is what got the Bears in this sticky quarterback situation in the first place.
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Oregon OT Penei SewellJohn Bazemore/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals appear to have found their franchise quarterback in 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. Unfortunately, the Bengals couldn’t protect Burrow, who was sacked 32 times in 10 games before he landed on injured reserve with a serious knee injury.
While the Bengals may be tempted to grab a pass-catcher like LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 5 overall, solidifying the offensive line must be their primary goal in Round 1.
Adding a pass-catcher could help aid Burrow’s development, but that won’t happen if he can’t stay healthy. The Bengals used a first-rounder on Jonah Williams two years ago, but he remains a relative unknown, having played only 10 games in two seasons.
Prospects like Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater must be at the top of Cincinnati’s draft board. If they aren’t, the Bengals could be making a fatal team-building mistake.
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Browns QB Baker MayfieldReed Hoffmann/Associated Press
The Cleveland Browns spent the 2020 offseason building around quarterback Baker Mayfield. They brought in an offensive head coach in Kevin Stefanski, signed tight end Austin Hooper and added offensive tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr.
The result was an offense that ranked 14th in scoring, a career year for Mayfield and the franchise’s first playoff win since before it left for Baltimore. With star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. expected to return from a torn ACL in 2021, Cleveland has its main offensive pieces in place.
Anything short of a defense-focused draft would be a mistake for the Browns. They ranked 21st in points allowed and 22nd in passing yards allowed. A lackluster defense proved to be their downfall against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
Cleveland needs to target defenders early and often in this year’s draft, especially those who can bolster the pass defense.
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Penn State LB Micah ParsonsBarry Reeger/Associated Press
In last year’s draft, the Dallas Cowboys chose to go with a luxury pick in Round 1. Despite already having a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, the Cowboys pulled the trigger on Oklahoma wideout CeeDee Lamb.
This may have been a mistake in the short term. While Lamb was fantastic—he finished second among rookie wideouts with 935 receiving yards—the Dallas defense was far from it, which led to a 1-3 start before Dak Prescott was lost for the season.
The Cowboys ranked 28th in points allowed, 31st in rushing yards allowed and 27th in passing touchdowns allowed.
If they are able to re-sign Prescott, they have to focus on defense with the 10th overall pick.
Whether they take a versatile linebacker such as Micah Parsons or a premier cornerback like Patrick Surtain II, selecting anything other than an elite defensive prospect at No. 10 would be a mistake.
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Broncos QB Drew LockJack Dempsey/Associated Press
According to Denver7’s Troy Renck, the Denver Broncos will pursue a trade for Deshaun Watson if the Houston Texans “decide to trade him.” However, the Texans “continue to tell any team that calls” that they don’t plan to trade Watson, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Even if the Broncos can’t acquire Watson, they shouldn’t be in a Drew-Lock-or-bust mindset. While Denver was sold on Lock as its starter heading into 2020, he has done little to establish himself as a franchise quarterback.
Lock has started 18 games over two seasons in Denver and has produced a middling 79.1 passer rating. The Broncos own the ninth pick in the draft, which should put them in position to take another signal-caller or trade up for one.
If the Broncos believe they can find a better quarterback than Lock with that pick, they need to do so and turn the page on the Missouri product.
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New Lions QB Jared GoffMatt Ludtke/Associated Press
Had the Detroit Lions not received quarterback Jared Goff in the Matthew Stafford trade, they would be a prime candidate for a quarterback at No. 7. However, all indications are that Detroit doesn’t consider the Cal product as just a trade throw-in.
“My guess is that they’re not in the market this year,” CBS and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said with regard to the Lions seeking out another quarterback, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Detroit should give Goff at least this season to show whether he can be a long-term answer under center. So if a top quarterback prospect is still sitting there at No. 7, the Lions should be prepared to make a trade.
Multiple teams should be willing to move up for a quarterback, and the Lions aren’t only one or two players away from title contention. New head coach Dan Campbell and new general manager Brad Homes are likely facing a long-term rebuild in Detroit. Amassing draft capital should be a key part of the big-picture plan.
Detroit will have to turn those extra picks into productive players at some point, but it would be foolish to ignore a profitable trade here.
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Packers QB Aaron RodgersJeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
The Green Bay Packers have the reigning league MVP in quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is under contract through 2023. However, they also drafted his potential successor last year when they traded up to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love.
In short, the Packers could be looking at a limited window with their future Hall of Fame signal-caller.
It’s imperative that Green Bay maximizes its remaining time with Rodgers by targeting players who can immediately contribute. The Packers took the opposite approach last year, using their first two picks on Love and running back AJ Dillon.
Dillon was largely stuck behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams last year and played only 97 offensive snaps, although he spent a chunk of the season on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
While many franchises should be drafting for the long term, the Packers aren’t one of them. Their Super Bowl window is wide open, but it’s likely to close whenever Rodgers makes his way off the roster.
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Texans QB Deshaun WatsonAssociated Press
The Texans have one of the NFL’s few elite quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson. Unfortunately, he no longer wants to play in Houston, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
That has led to plenty of trade speculation, but Houston isn’t even responding to trade offers at this point.
“At least two teams have given offers to Houston and gotten zero feedback,” NBC Sports’ Peter King wrote. “Like, no reaction, no ‘We’ll get back to you.’ Nothing.”
While the threat of a holdout could prompt the Texans to change their stance, they’re under no obligation to trade their best player. Although Watson had no control over where he was drafted, he did decide to commit to Houston when he signed a four-year, $156 million extension last offseason.
There are few scenarios in which trading away Watson wouldn’t be a massive mistake. The rare exception would be something like the draft rights to Trevor Lawrence and a handful of first-round picks.
The Texans cannot get baited into making an unfavorable deal just because they’re forced to sit on the sidelines in Rounds 1 and 2 thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade. Giving up Watson for anything less than an unprecedented package would be a disaster.
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New Colts QB Carson WentzRoger Steinman/Associated Press
While the Texans may not pull the trigger on a Deshaun Watson trade, the Philadelphia Eagles did make the leap on a Carson Wentz deal. They agreed to send him to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional second-rounder that could become a first.
The deal reunites Wentz with Colts head coach Frank Reich, who previously served as Wentz’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. While the pairing may reignite Wentz’s career, the Colts cannot head into the draft assuming Wentz is their long-term answer under center.
Wentz led the league in interceptions this past season despite starting only 12 games. If the Colts have the opportunity to draft a developmental quarterback prospect in the first two days of the draft, they have to be prepared to do so.
That doesn’t mean the Colts need to target a signal-caller with the 21st overall pick, or even in Round 2. But if a quarterback they like is sitting on the board at one of those spots, they can’t pass on him because they already have Wentz.
Otherwise, the Colts could be without a viable starter and a first-round pick next year if Wentz doesn’t resuscitate his career.
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Clemson QB Trevor LawrenceGerald Herbert/Associated Press
The Jacksonville Jaguars shouldn’t turn down an unprecedented trade package for the No. 1 pick, and they shouldn’t take Trevor Lawrence if they become convinced that another quarterback prospect is superior.
But if they remain sold on Lawrence, they should laugh away anything short of multiple first-round selections and a proven, young franchise quarterback.
Lawrence is about as close to a can’t-miss quarterback prospect as we’ve seen since Andrew Luck. There might be questions about him during the predraft process, but there were questions about Joe Burrow last offseason, too.
While Justin Herbert perhaps had the better rookie season, the Bengals still have their franchise quarterback in Burrow. There’s no telling how Herbert might have fared with Cincinnati’s roster, while Burrow was on pace for an incredible rookie season before his injury.
That’s where Jacksonville wants to be next offseason—knowing its franchise quarterback is firmly in place. Trading down and hoping to land Zach Wilson or Trey Lance would invite potential disaster, as would trading for a package that doesn’t include a Deshaun Watson-level veteran.
As long as Lawrence is at the top of Jacksonville’s draft board, he needs to be the pick at No. 1 overall.
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Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-HelaireMark Humphrey/Associated Press
In last year’s draft, the Kansas City Chiefs made a luxury pick by taking LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the last pick in Round 1. While Edwards-Helaire did help bring some balance to the offense, he wasn’t enough to help Kansas City repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Instead, the Chiefs were foiled by a defense that couldn’t contain Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That should cause them to focus on defense early in the draft.
It would make sense for the Chiefs to add offensive line depth as well following season-ending injuries to tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. But drafting skill-position players early shouldn’t be on the table.
Even if Sammy Watkins departs in free agency, Kansas City’s offense will be loaded with the likes of Edwards-Helaire, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes.
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Raiders Edge Clein FerrellSteven Senne/Associated Press
Pass-rusher Clelin Ferrell has largely been an NFL disappointment. The Las Vegas Raiders spent the No. 4 overall pick on him in 2019, but he has only 6.5 sacks in two seasons.
While the Raiders aren’t likely to publicize their remorse about taking Ferrell that highly, they cannot let pride stand in the way of drafting another pass-rusher early.
Las Vegas finished with only 21 sacks this past season, the fourth-lowest total leaguewide. That won’t get it done against dynamic quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the AFC West.
If a pass-rusher like Michigan’s Kwity Page is available when the Raiders are on the clock at No. 17, they have to be willing to pull the trigger. If an edge-defender doesn’t make sense at that spot, they need to consider one early on Day 2.
The Raiders can’t reach for a pass-rusher because they need one—that’s how they ended up with Ferrell. However, bolstering the pass rush is a significant need that Las Vegas must address early.
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Chargers QB Justin HerbertJeff Bottari/Associated Press
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert set a new NFL rookie record by throwing 31 touchdowns in his 15 starts. To keep him upright moving forward, they’ll have to bolster their offensive line.
Herbert got sacked 32 times during his debut campaign, which put him in a tie with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for the ninth-most sacks leaguewide.
It would be a mistake for the Chargers not to address their offensive line early in this year’s draft. If a prospect like Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater is available at No. 13 overall, L.A. should take the plunge.
Veteran tackle Bryan Bulaga was fine last season—he allowed only two sacks, according to Pro Football Focus—but the Chargers need someone to protect Herbert’s blind side for the long term.
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Rams OT Andrew WhitworthStephen Brashear/Associated Press
The Rams will be going all-in with Matthew Stafford for the next few seasons. For that strategy to work, they’ll have to keep him healthy and on the field.
Ignoring the offensive line—specifically, the left tackle spot—would thus be a major misstep.
The Rams currently have Andrew Whitworth under contract through 2022. However, keeping him won’t be as simple as signing his paychecks.
“There’s variables to be discussed,” general manager Les Snead said, per Rams staff writer Les Snead.
Whitworth is scheduled to make nearly $11.7 million in 2021, while the Rams are projected to be more than $26 million over the cap. The 39-year-old is also entering the final stages of his career.
Even if Los Angeles does bring back Whitworth this season, it needs to prepare for life without the four-time Pro Bowler. Ignoring the position in the draft could quickly derail any potential run with Stafford.
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Ohio State QB Justin FieldsLynne Sladky/Associated Press
Though the Miami Dolphins used the No. 5 overall pick on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa last year, they may still consider a quarterback in the first round this year. A lot will have to do with how they feel about Tagovailoa’s potential and their evaluation of this year’s quarterback class.
The Dolphins have the third overall pick in the draft thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade, which should be a prime spot to select a signal-caller. However, Miami shouldn’t stand firm on picking at No. 3—for a quarterback or any other prospect—if another team offers an enticing trade package.
Tagovailoa provides Miami with flexibility. There’s no guarantee that any rookie will be a better pro than him, and the Dolphins should be prepared to jump on a package of picks and/or players if a quarterback-needy team comes calling.
Adding an extra premier player or two via a trade could help the 10-win Dolphins become a long-term contender in the AFC. And since Miami has its own first-round pick at No. 18, flipping the No. 3 overall pick wouldn’t be a tremendous risk. Even with a deal, the Dolphins are likely to make multiple picks in Round 1.
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South Carolina CB Jaycee HornMark Humphrey/Associated Press
The Minnesota Vikings used the No. 31 overall pick on cornerback Jeff Gladney last year and spent the No. 30 overall pick on cornerback Mike Hughes in 2018. That shouldn’t prevent them from again targeting the secondary early this year, though.
The Vikings ranked a dismal 30th in net yards per passing attempt allowed in 2020. They also may lose safety Anthony Harris—who they franchise-tagged last offseason—in free agency.
Drafting a cornerback prospect like Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn would make a ton of sense at No. 14. If the Vikings aren’t willing to consider a cornerback that high, they could target a safety like TCU’s Trevor Moehrig, trade back and select a defensive back or prioritize the secondary on Day 2.
Regardless of what the Vikings decide to do, they won’t become contenders in the NFC without improving their lackluster pass defense. With Minnesota projected to be nearly $6 million over the cap, that will have to happen in the draft.
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Alabama QB Mac JonesMatthew Hinton/Associated Press
It’s time for the New England Patriots to finally draft Tom Brady’s successor.
Brady is long gone—and off winning Super Bowls in Tampa—while New England’s 2020 stopgap plan of Cam Newton didn’t quite pan out. The Patriots also don’t appear sold on 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham, who couldn’t get a starting opportunity even as Newton struggled.
The Patriots shouldn’t reach for a quarterback they aren’t in love with at No. 15, but they also can’t afford to spend another season spinning their tires under center. Even if they take a chance on Jameis Winston or Tyrod Taylor in free agency, they need to draft a player with strong long-term potential.
If a prospect like Alabama’s Mac Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is sitting there at No. 15—or within reasonable trade range—New England must be prepared to pounce.
Bill Belichick has proved his ability to reload the Patriots roster year after year. The one position he has never had to reload—during the Brady era, at least—was quarterback.
If New England finds a long-term answer at the position, it should return to being a perennial contender. If it doesn’t, it may be looking at more lost seasons like the one it had in 2020.
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Saints QB Drew BreesButch Dill/Associated Press
It seems to be a matter of time until New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees announces his retirement.
“The anticipation here is that Brees will retire,” ESPN’s Jeff Darlington said on SportsCenter (h/t Matt Howe of 247Sports). “Sean Payton told people, several people, a couple weeks ago that he expected Brees to clarify his retirement within the coming weeks.”
If Brees does retire, the Saints will be left with Taysom Hill and a lot of questions at the quarterback position. They’ll also face a projected salary-cap deficit of more than $65 million.
In other words, a significant rebuild is likely on the horizon for New Orleans.
The Saints would be wise to approach the 2021 draft as if they are rebuilding. Players who possess long-term potential and/or address future positions of need should take precedence over luxury picks or immediate contributors. And yes, the Saints should consider drafting a quarterback.
While the Saints may view the playoffs as a 2021 possibility, they cannot afford to take a win-now approach to the draft. Their last shot at a Super Bowl for the foreseeable future ended last year.
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Giants QB Daniel JonesAdam Hunger/Associated Press
To get the most out of young quarterback Daniel Jones, the New York Giants need to acquire a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
New York has lacked a true No. 1 target since trading away Odell Beckham Jr. two years ago, and it remains a major offensive need. Darius Slayton led the Giants with only 751 receiving yards in 2020.
Chasing a No. 1 receiver in free agency isn’t a viable option since New York is projected to have less than $8 million in salary-cap space. Luckily, the Giants own the 11th pick in a receiver-rich draft.
It would make sense to target a wideout like Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith of Alabama with that pick. If they don’t pull the trigger on a pass-catcher at that spot, they should prioritize the position on Day 2.
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North Dakota State QB Trey LanceBruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
Before deciding whether to replace quarterback Sam Darnold this offseason, the New York Jets want to do their due diligence on this year’s prospect crop.
“Part of the process for the Jets is going to be assessing the quarterbacks that’ll be available with the second pick, and comparing them to Darnold, and seeing them throw is part of that equation,” Albert Breer of The MMQB wrote.
If the Jets are sold on a prospect like Trey Lance or Zach Wilson being better than Darnold, it will make sense for them to take a quarterback at No. 2 overall. But if they have any questions about the gap in potential, dismissing trade offers for the pick would be a mistake.
The proposed package would have to be significant, but the Jets aren’t just a quarterback away from contention. Darnold plus two or three first-round picks could be far more valuable to the franchise than an unproven rookie prospect.
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LSU WR Ja’Marr ChaseJohn Bazemore/Associated Press
The Eagles have moved on from Carson Wentz and will presumably turn their offense over to quarterback Jalen Hurts. New head coach Nick Sirianni and general manager Howie Roseman thus must focus on building around Hurts this offseason.
Since the Eagles are projected to be more than $37 million over the cap, they’ll have to do so through the draft. Part of the process must involve upgrading the receiving talent around Hurts.
While the Eagles did use a first-round pick on wideout Jalen Reagor last year, he caught only 31 passes for 396 yards and one touchdown in 11 games. His presence shouldn’t prevent the Eagles from again targeting the receiver position early.
While targeting a wideout like Ja’Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle could make sense at No. 6, few would fault the Eagles for taking Florida tight end Kyle Pitts or an elite tackle prospect with that pick. But if Philadelphia doesn’t take a wideout in Round 1, it needs to prioritize that position on Day 2.
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Steelers QB Ben RoethlisbergerDon Wright/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers are facing a looming and likely significant rebuild. It all starts at quarterback, where the team has not committed to aging veteran Ben Roethlisberger.
“He reiterated that to us that he wants to continue to play, and we told him quite frankly we have to look at this current situation,” general manager Kevin Colbert said, per Brooke Pryor of ESPN. “… With Ben’s current cap number, some adjustment will have to be made.”
Even if Big Ben is back for 2021, the Steelers roster won’t look the same. Pittsburgh is projected to be more than $6 million over the salary cap and has several notable contributors scheduled to reach free agency.
Tackle Alejandro Villanueva, pass-rusher Bud Dupree, wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, running back James Conner, backup quarterback Josh Dobbs and linebacker Avery Williamson could all leave the team this offseason, while center Maurkice Pouncey has already announced his retirement.
The harsh reality is that the Steelers’ Super Bowl window has closed, and it would behoove them to draft accordingly. This means considering quarterbacks with the 24th pick and avoiding prospects who may fill immediate holes but not bigger long-term needs.
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49ers QB Jimmy GaroppoloAssociated Press
Like many teams, the San Francisco 49ers would be wise to consider a quarterback in Round 1. However, their situation is different than those of teams without an established starter or with an aging one.
The 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo, who helped take them to a Super Bowl two years ago. However, Garoppolo has also struggled to stay healthy in two of his three seasons as a full-time starter, and he has never thrown for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns in a single season.
If the 49ers were completely sold on Garoppolo, they wouldn’t have kicked the tires on a Matthew Stafford trade this offseason—which Albert Breer of the MMQB reported they did.
San Francisco doesn’t need to force the issue and trade up for a quarterback in April. However, it shouldn’t dismiss the idea of taking one if the right prospect is available at No. 12 or within a reasonable trade range.
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Seahawks QB Russell WilsonLynne Sladky/Associated Press
It’s no secret that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wison is unhappy with how many times he’s been sacked over the past few seasons.
“I’m hearing Russell Wilson‘s camp has grown increasingly frustrated by the Seahawks’ inability to protect the eight-time Pro Bowler,” CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweeted earlier this month. “He has been sacked 394 times in nine seasons. This situation warrants serious monitoring.”
The Seahawks need to immediately remedy this situation. While they don’t have a first-round pick due to their trade for Jamal Adams, they may be able to land an O-line prospect like Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis or Stanford’s Walker Little in Round 2.
Passing on a lineman early would be a major mistake for the Seahawks, both as it pertains to Wilson’s protection and his relationship with the front office.
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North Dakota State OT Dillon RadunzRusty Costanza/Associated Press
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the reigning Super Bowl champions and don’t have many glaring weaknesses on their roster. Tampa is also projected to have more than $28 million in salary-cap space to address potential departures in free agency.
To some degree, Tampa should be able to take the best player available with its early selections. However, if one of those early picks isn’t an offensive tackle, that could be a mistake.
Tom Brady was only sacked 21 times in 2020, but left tackle Donovan Smith was responsible for six of them along with 11 penalties, according to Pro Football Focus. Keeping Brady upright through 2021 has to be a top priority, and if the Bucs can find an upgrade over Smith, they should.
One prospect to keep an eye on for Tampa is rising small-school tackle Dillon Radunz. The North Dakota State product drew positive reviews from the Senior Bowl—Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner labeled him a winner of one-on-one drills—and he checks the physical boxes at 6’6″ and 298 pounds.
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Washington Edge Joe TryonDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Tennessee Titans tried to address their pass rush in free agency last offseason by signing Jadeveon Clowney. However, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick appeared in only eight games and failed to register a sack, which was only part of the team’s pass-rushing problems.
The Tennessee defense produced only 19 sacks last season, the third-lowest mark leaguewide. 2018 second-round pick Harold Landry led the defense with only 5.5 sacks.
To get past teams like the Chiefs and the Bills in the AFC, the Titans need to do a better job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Passing on a pass-rusher early in the draft would be a monumental mistake.
While Tennessee isn’t in an ideal draft range for the top pass-rushers at No. 22, quality prospects like Washington’s Joe Tryon and Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins could be available. The Titans could regret passing on one of them to target a different position if they make it back to the playoffs in 2021.
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Florida QB Kyle TraskMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press
Although a team shouldn’t reach on a quarterback, the Washington Football Team could be making a massive mistake by not addressing the position early—either with the 19th overall pick or in Round 2.
Washington recently signed Taylor Heinicke to a two-year extension, and it may have Alex Smith back in 2021. However, Smith’s future remains uncertain at best, and Heinicke—who has only two NFL starts under his belt—may not be a long-term answer.
While an early run at the position may leave the Football Team with no viable first-round options, prospects like Florida’s Kyle Trask and Texas A&M’s Kyle Mond could be fine developmental players for the not-too-distant future.
It would behoove Washington to target a signal-caller early, even if it requires a trade up in Round 1. Whiffing on Dwayne Haskins two years ago shouldn’t deter the WFT from trying to find another answer under center.
The Football Team has the foundation to be a long-term contender in the NFC East. However, it needs a steady signal-caller to lead it moving forward.