The Jacksonville Jaguars have somewhat miraculously won the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, and the New York Jets are locked into the No. 2 spot in the 2021 NFL Draft. Will they pick Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, or keep Sam Darnold? After the top 2, things are fascinating for clubs like the Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.
While things will change with the draft order after Week 17, let's run through scenarios and priorities for each of the teams set now to pick in the top 5. These are all clubs at varying stages of the rebuilding process, and with three high-end quarterback prospects available along with super-touted offensive tackle Penei Sewell, there are plenty of possibilities for the first few picks of Round 1.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Take Trevor Lawrence
- Trade pick for haul
Jaguars fans should be absolutely elated with what's transpired over the last two weeks. No anxiety in Week 17? Amazing. I know, you know, the entire football-watching world knows -- Jacksonville's taking Lawrence with the first overall pick. And although it's a foregone conclusion this far out, because the draft is still months away, let's just at least entertain the idea of a trade back -- calm down, Duval, this is just to leave no stone unturned.
In 2016, the Titans traded the No. 1 overall pick along with fourth and sixth-round selections to the Rams for their first, two seconds, a third and Los Angeles' first and third-round picks in the 2017 draft. That's a haul that would make Kim Kardashian's kids jealous on Christmas morning. Remember though, the Rams moved all the way up from No. 15 overall, but the value of a pick allowing the ability to acquire Lawrence will be viewed as highly as any in recent memory.
Never mind that trading out of No. 1 would be actively deciding not to take the most prized quarterback prospect in at least 10 years. The Jaguars are already well-positioned in the draft capital market with multiple Round 1 picks, two second-round and two fourth-round selections in the 2021 draft. They don't need the extra picks. But, man, that sure would be an embarrassment of riches for a new GM in Jacksonville. More enticing than that -- Lawrence in that Jaguars helmet.
2. New York Jets
- Take Zach Wilson or Justin Fields
- Take Penei Sewell
- Trade back
Selecting a quarterback to replace Sam Darnold -- who's mostly been a disappointment in bad situations and was picked by a previous regime -- is the most likely and, frankly, the most logical decision for the Jets on draft night 2021. Now, whether they pick Wilson or Fields will be debated from now until said draft night, and likely half of the Jets fan base will be bummed when the selection is turned in to the commissioner.
For as good as Sewell is at left tackle, the quarterback spot is so much more valuable. However, if, for some reason, GM Joe Douglas views Darnold as a not-yet-24-year-old passer with a bright future if a sound team is built around him, then Sewell comes into play. If I were Douglas, I'd move on from Darnold. But if the No. 3 overall pick in the famed 2018 draft is going to get another crack at it for Gang Green in 2021, then Sewell is the pick that needs to be made. He's that good of an offensive tackle, and he'll only be 21 in October.
Similar to the Jaguars situation, there's really no need for New York to move back. The Jets have two firsts, a pair of thirds, and a bunch of extra conditional Day 3 selections. But if they venture down option 1 -- trying to find a replacement for Darnold -- but don't adore Wilson nor Fields or fall in love with one and are (somehow) positive another team is enthralled with the other, they could slide back. It'd be super risky. But here's what the 49ers got for moving back one pick in the infamous Mitchell Trubisky trade in 2017 -- a first, third, fourth, and Chicago's 2018 third.
3. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans)
- Draft Penei Sewell
- Draft Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, or Devonta Smith
- Draft Rashawn Slater
Like membership to the jelly of the month club, making a trade with Bill O'Brien is the gift that keeps on giving the whole year. The 10-5 Dolphins currently hold a top 3 selection thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade of August 2019.
Anyone who's watched the Dolphins this year has seen their offensive line as the team's clear weakness. The only problem -- Miami picked left tackle Austin Jackson in the first round in 2020, and he's only 21. However, Sewell is a prospect on which you can't pass if you're a franchise with a young quarterback and a porous offensive line. Get five talented blockers on the roster first, then figure out where they'll play.
If Miami isn't ready to move Jackson to right tackle just yet, then a receiver for Tua Tagovailoa would be sensible. DeVante Parker has become a quality No. 1, but Jakeem Grant isn't exactly a volume No. 2, and depth targets Mack Hollins and Isaiah Ford are free agents at season's end. Based on the abundant supply of dynamic wideouts in the 2021 class, even taking a supreme receiver prospect like Chase, Waddle or Smith this early would probably not represent the best value. Slater is the ultimate dark horse because he's a super-clean tackle prospect who could play guard but decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Yet quietly, there's chatter around the league that he's close to Sewell in terms of his blocking capabilities.
4. Atlanta Falcons
- Trade back
- Draft best player available
- Draft top EDGE prospect
- Draft Micah Parsons
The Falcons are 2-7 in one-score games this season, which indicates two things -- they aren't as bad as their 4-11 record, and they're bound to be better in those close outings in 2021. But the roster is in a state of flux.
Matt Ryan is entering his late 30s, however he's not going anywhere because of the gargantuan contract he signed years ago. Julio Jones turns 32 in February and has struggled through a myriad of injuries in 2020. There's no semblance of a pass rush outside of interior disruptor Grady Jarrett. A.J. Terrell, the cornerback picked in Round 1 in April, has fared well in his rookie campaign, but the rest of the secondary could be upgraded. Longtime stud center Alex Mack is a free agent, and the rest of the offensive line is a tick above average at its very best.
That laundry list of problems is why the Falcons are in prime position as a franchise to trade back. They'll likely be staring Sewell right in the face if they wind up picking at No. 3 overall. But even a Hall of Fame left tackle -- if that's what Sewell ultimately becomes -- isn't going to turn around an organization. While it was for a quarterback -- Darnold -- the Colts received three second-round picks from the Jets when Indianapolis traded out of No. 3 overall in the 2018 draft. That type of injection of draft capital can boost the rebuilding efforts for Atlanta. Also, the Falcons only have six picks -- one in each of the first six rounds -- in the 2021 draft.
Now, if the Falcons absolutely want to take someone where they're set to pick -- an edge rusher like Michigan's Kwity Paye or just take the prospect they believe is the best available player -- maybe Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons? The holes to fill are bountiful.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
- Draft Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater
- Draft Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, or Devonta Smith
- Draft a top EDGE prospect
- Draft Kyle Pitts
More crucial than anything else for the Bengals is the heightened protection around Joe Burrow. The No. 1 overall pick in April was having an impressive rookie year until what seemed like what was inevitable actually happened. He'll be returning from a major knee surgery in 2021, and Cincinnati's offensive line has been atrocious all season. If Sewell somehow were to fall to this juncture -- which may seem crazy but isn't out of the question given the quarterback-needy teams ahead of them -- the Bengals call in the pick immediately.
Slater would be a useful selection too, given his versatility, and there's a chance Cincinnati will like him given his stylistic similarities to 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams.
With A.J. Green and John Ross almost assured to be playing elsewhere next season, the Bengals could continue to build out the receiver group for Burrow. Whoever's left of Chase, Waddle or Smith would form a dynamic triumvirate with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. The Bengals also need an alpha edge presence, particularly if they don't re-sign the underrated Carl Lawson.
Intriguingly, this is where Florida phenom tight end Kyle Pitts comes into play. For a team that could use more weaponry for their young quarterback, Pitts would be a valuable matchup nightmare, and after his combine performance, I expect there to be top 5 buzz for the ultra-productive pass catcher.