Andrew Dawson, Staff Writer |
The 2021 NFL Draft will take place Apr. 29 to May 1, getting back to normal after last year’s virtual event. This year’s draft will be an in-person event held in Cleveland, Ohio. The NFL also announced it will be having a select number of rookie prospects in attendance for the draft with the remaining prospects participating remotely. While this year’s draft may still be unconventional, the NFL is taking every precaution necessary to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlike last year, teams will once again be able to meet with rookie prospects before making their selections. Some of the top prospects include Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Kyle Pitts, Justin Fields and Najee Harris. The Jacksonville Jaguars have the first overall pick in the 2021 draft after having the worst record in the league last season, 1-15. The Jaguars are looking to draft a franchise-caliber quarterback and it looks like they will be selecting Trevor Lawrence from Clemson. Lawrence has been one of the highest ranked players to enter the draft in recent history, largely because of his 34-1 college record. He also won a National Championship back in 2018, becoming the second freshman quarterback to win a National Championship in college football history.
Other notable teams that are searching for a quarterback are the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. The Jets and 49ers will have the opportunity to select higher ranked quarterback prospects because they hold the second and third overall picks in the draft. After trading Sam Darnold, the Jets look to be in the market for a new quarterback. The Jets seem to be interested in Zach Wilson because almost all mock drafts have the Jets taking Wilson. However, they may decide to draft Justin Fields because of his arm strength and his ability to escape the pocket.
The 49ers have the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft after trading three first round picks to the Miami Dolphins. This trade came as a shock to many of their fans because the 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo as their starting quarterback. Garoppolo helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl back in 2018, but they couldn’t defeat the Kansas City Chiefs to be crowned champions. While the 49ers can use this pick to select a non-quarterback player, it’s very unlikely. Teams don’t trade three future first round picks to move up nine spots in the draft to not select a quarterback. The 49ers may decide to draft Mac Jones from Alabama. Jones had an impressive college career, winning a National Championship in the 2020 season.
The 2021 NFL Draft features two great running back prospects, Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, but they are projected to be taken later in the first round. According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, the Pittsburgh Steelers may be the first team to select a running back. The Steelers finished the 2020-2021 NFL Season with a 12-4 record but lost in the Wild Card round against the Cleveland Browns. One of the reasons the Steelers lost that game was because of their inability to run the football. The Steelers had the worst-ranked rushing attack (32nd) last season but still managed to win the AFC North because of their unique short passing play calls and their defensive pass rush. The Steelers hope that fixing their rushing game will help them compete for the playoffs in the upcoming season. The Steelers may end up picking Najee Harris from Alabama. Harris is a physical running back who recorded 30 scrimmage touchdowns and 1,891 scrimmage yards in the 2020 season.
The draft is important because it has the ability to push teams to the next level. A great example of this is when the Los Angeles Chargers drafted Justin Herbert last season, finding their next franchise quarterback to replace Philip Rivers or when the Minnesota Vikings drafted star wide receiver, Justin Jefferson. Overall, the 2021 season is shaping up to be a great year as teams and fans prepare for the draft.