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The entire 2021 NFL draft landscape has shifted.
With the New York Jets’ first victory of the season on Sunday, the first overall pick currently belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In order for that to stick, the Jaguars must match the 2001 Carolina Panthers’ achievement: win their opener and then drop 15 straight games.
Maybe firing Gregg Williams was a bad call after all? Various prediction models now put the Jaguars’ odds of landing the first pick at greater than 70 percent and possibly north of 90 percent.
Sorry, Jets fans, we know that potentially missing out on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence stings. But gallows humor might get you through the day.
What will get the Jets through the offseason? Don’t be shocked if their narrative shifts if the current draft order holds.
The Jets have options, including:
Drafting Ohio State QB Justin Fields at No. 2 overall.
Drafting BYU’s Zach Wilson at No. 2.
Keeping Sam Darnold and taking the best non-QB available.
Keeping Darnold and trading No. 2 for a windfall.
Landing a veteran QB and trading No. 2 (and possibly Darnold, too).
Is building around Darnold an option? It shouldn’t be cast aside as a possibility.
The timing of Darnold’s best game of the season on Sunday helps keep that option afloat, and there’s the reminder that he doesn’t turn 24 until June. He carries a salary-cap number south of $10 million for 2021, and the Jets could see how things play out this coming offseason before deciding on whether to pick up his fifth-year option for May.
Is this general manager Joe Douglas’ dream scenario? Maybe not on the surface.
The Jets will be flush with cap space in a year when many other teams will be strapped for financial flexibility. They could land a primo wide receiver (Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster are possibilities), beef up their offensive line more (Joe Thuney?), re-sign Marcus Maye and Brian Poole (and anyone else they want to keep), and add more layers to their defense.
And if a trade down from No. 2 is on the table, the Jets would be adding picks to a war chest that current includes all of their picks in Rounds 1-6 (the first or second pick in every round), plus picks they acquired from the Seattle Seahawks (first-, third- and seventh-rounders) and New York Giants (a fifth-rounder).
They currently own six of the first 96 overall selections, with the potential to add more and even start stockpiling for 2022.
No, Jets fans aren’t likely thrilled with this rose-colored projection but it’s a spot that many other teams perpetually stuck in the middle class might be jealous of.
If they stay at No. 2, the Fields-Wilson debate would dominate the offseason chatter. Fields’ shaky play Saturday re-raised questions about his evaluation, and Wilson could surpass him in the Jets’ eyes. (Some teams already view Wilson as a greater prospect.)
In recent years, the No. 2 overall picks have not surpassed the players who were taken ahead of them, although we certainly might be revisiting Kyler Murray vs. Nick Bosa and Joe Burrow vs. Chase Young in a few years.
Lawrence is considered in his own tier in this class. Comparing this to the Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III draft is unfair because of Griffin’s bad injury luck, but it gives you an idea of the potential gap between Lawrence and any other QB in this class.
So, no, the Jets can’t say they improved their footing by dropping down a slot for now. But there’s at least a pathway out of the darkness if Douglas hires the right coach, makes the correct QB decision and maximizes his draft capital.
It’s not a terrible place to be, even if it’s not the dream scenario.
Now onto the rest of the winners and losers from around the draft world ...
If they end up with No. 1, they’d get Lawrence.
And having the pick to get Lawrence instantly makes the Jaguars’ GM job even more attractive. The new general manager can pick his new head coach, draft a potential generational talent at QB, be flush with cap space (even more so than the Jets, with more players under contract for next year), have zero free agents whom they are unquestionably tethered to, and own a treasure trove of picks after No. 1.
Jacksonville has multiple selections in Round 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7. That means six picks current in the top 97 overall selections.
Plus, there’s a young group of talent around which to build. The Jags drafted 12 players in April, and almost all of them contributed in some fashion this season. They also found a gem in undrafted RB James Robinson.
Lawrence could be throwing to D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson. The o-line has some young parts worth salvaging. The defense has Myles Jack, Josh Allen, C.J. Henderson, Joe Schobert, Taven Bryan, Sidney Jones, K’Lavon Chaisson, Davon Hamilton, Doug Costin and others.
The Jaguars failed when they missed on their Super Bowl window four years ago. Now they’re potentially set up for a thrilling run if everything falls into place.
Alabama Mac Jones and Florida QB Kyle Trask
In an entertaining shootout in the SEC title game, both quarterbacks fared well.
Jones completed 33 of 43 passes (76.7 percent) for 418 yards, five TDs and one pick. His one interception was in the hands of tight end Miller Forrestall before being ripped out by Florida’s Trey Dean for a pick. Could the throw have been better? Yes, but it was a minor mar in an otherwise strong performance.
Trask threw a few balls up for grabs (six passes defended), took five sacks and fumbled twice. But he threw some gorgeous passes, accounted for four TDs (three passing, one rushing) and became the first QB to throw for more than 400 yards, three or more TDs and zero interceptions against the Crimson Tide since Deshaun Watson in the 2016 national title game.
Trask also took a beating behind the Gators’ patchwork offensive line. That toughness will earn him some more NFL respect.
Neither Trask nor Jones will fit the mold of the dual-threat QB that’s all the rage in the league. But each brings some uncanny accuracy, touch and competitiveness to the table and will be fascinating evaluations.
BYU QB Zach Wilson
Wilson didn’t even play this weekend. By virtue of Justin Fields’ struggles against Northwestern, the conversation of who the second-best quarterback is in this class appears as open as it has been.
BYU is slated to face UCF in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl this week. The Knights won’t be the top-shelf defense scouts would love to see Wilson face, ranking 91st in pass efficiency allowed. In UCF’s last game, South Florida QB Jordan McCloud threw for 404 yards — more than he had in the previous three games combined — and four TDs, both career highs.
Wilson could gain momentum by adding another huge game to his resume, and the Jets’ debate at No. 2 overall could be something.
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
Ridder could use another year of development in college. It’s a fairly top-heavy 2021 NFL draft QB pool, and Ridder could enter next season as one of the three or four prospects for the 2022 draft.
But another is that Ridder is intriguing enough — and has made enough progress — that he could come out this year, depending what happens in the Peach Bowl against a good Georgia defense loaded with NFL talent.
Ridder played a solid game against a Tulsa defense that has multiple NFL prospects. He completed 19 of 29 passes (65.5 percent) for 269 yards, one TD and no picks; he also ran 16 times for 83 yards and the game-winning score to lead the Bearcats to the CAA title.
He has improved his accuracy, had fewer turnover-worthy plays and been more effective attacking downfield. Ridder might be a project, but he’s viewed as a potential NFL starter.
Florida TE Kyle Pitts and WR Kadarius Toney
Both were special against Alabama. Pitts caught seven passes for 129 yards and a 22-yard TD that gave the Gators life late. Toney continued his brilliant season with eight catches for 153 yards and a 51-yard TD, along with two rushes for 15 yards and some impact returns in the kicking game.
Nick Saban was asked in his postgame interview by CBS about Trask’s play, and the Alabama coach started out by stating the obvious: “I just think 84 [Pitts] and 1 [Toney], those two guys we couldn’t guard. It [caused] a lot of problems.”
NFL people feel the same way. It’s why we placed both of them in Round 1 of our recent mock draft.
Ohio State RB Trey Sermon
Sermon has tattoos on each of his biceps — one says "Trust,” and the other reads “God.” The Oklahoma transfer’s faith had to be tested this season as he took somewhat of a backseat to incumbent Master Teague II in the Buckeyes’ run game most of this season.
On Saturday against Northwestern, Sermon took over for an injured Teague and turned in his showcase performance at OSU — one that gave his draft stock a jolt of energy.
Sermon ran 29 times for 331 yards (including 15 first-down rushes and nine runs of 10 yards or longer) with three TDs. On a day when Justin Fields struggled and the Buckeyes were down 22 players (including talented WRs Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba), Sermon was the breadwinner.
He almost doubled his season rushing total in the game and surpassed his personal career high by 125 yards. Even when the Wildcats stacked the box more, Sermon found ways to bounce off tackle attempts (196 yards after contact) and seemingly required multiple players to bring him down almost every time.
Sermon’s performance harkens a handful of scouting evaluators’ beliefs that he, not Alabama’s Najee Harris or even Clemson’s Travis Etienne, was the most talented back in college football in the 2019 season, even if that wasn’t the consensus.
A Day 2 landing spot isn’t out of the question, especially if the 5-11, 216-pound back can have a strong Senior Bowl showing and turn in good scouting combine workouts.
Expect Sermon to be the lead back in the Buckeyes’ matchup in the CFB playoffs with Clemson.
Oklahoma RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Speaking of Oklahoma, Sermon’s former teammate has helped his draft cause as well. Stevenson’s season was delayed with what was reported to be a drug-related suspension that dated back to last season’s semifinals game against LSU, and it stretched until the fifth game of this season.
Since Stevenson made his debut on Halloween against Texas Tech, he has easily been the Sooners’ most impressive back. He looks like a juiced-up, twitchier version of the Ravens’ Gus Edwards or the Jaguars’ James Robinson, running decisively with power and burst in what looks like a linebacker’s frame.
And to Stevenson’s credit, he has been far more effective in the passing game this season, both as a receiver and a blocker. That boosts his stock in a league that places a high value in that department for backs.
Stevenson likely must wait to hear his name called, perhaps even until Day 3 of the draft. But we’re fans of the former junior college star who is heating up at the right time.
Alabama C-OG Landon Dickerson
In theory, Dickerson should be in the “Losers” category following a knee injury he suffered in the game.
There’s ligament damage after another player fell into him, and Dickerson’s long-term status is unknown. All that’s known definitively is that Dickerson’s season is now over. We had him going late in Round 1 prior to the injury, so this situation bears watching.
However, any general manager seeing the response by Dickerson’s teammates after the injury should show how immense their respect is for him. Don’t overlook this element in his scouting projection.
What do you think Landon Dickerson’s teammates feel about him? Ultimate sign of respect from his guys. pic.twitter.com/vnKlB9ZzTs
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 20, 2020
Remember when Mississippi State defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons suffered a torn ACL while training for the draft in February? Simmons still went mid-Round 1, and the Tennessee Titans were rewarded for their patience in his return, landing a top-10 talent at No. 19 overall.
Dickerson might end up the same kind of windfall for the team that drafts him, and his rehab schedule will begin a full two months earlier in the draft cycle than Simmons’ did.
Ohio State OT Thayer Munford
There’s nothing sexy about Munford, but he’s just so big and so solid that he has grown on us over the past year-plus.
His mass is his biggest selling point, at a long 6-foot-5 ½, with nearly 36-inch arms and 10-inch hands. His frame is well sculpted at around 315 pounds. And Munford seems to have progressed nicely, albeit gradually.
Munford’s nastiness showed up time and time again in paving the way for Trey Sermon’s huge ground game. One scout we spoke with mentioned Munford needing to use his length more to his advantage, but it didn’t look like an issue on this day against a good Northwestern front.
Munford projects in the Day 3 range, but he has had a nice season.
Florida OT Stone Forsythe
The 6-7, 324-pound Forsythe quietly has been one of the more solid pass blockers in the SEC this season. The son of a former NFL and NFL Europe offensive lineman, Forsythe entered this season earning mostly priority free-agent grades.
This season, he has shown some light feet on the edge and did a great job mirroring Alabama’s pass blockers on a grueling 51 dropbacks. The Crimson Tide might not quite have the devastating front they’ve had in recent years, but this wasn’t Alabama A&M either.
Mid-game, Forsythe had to kick over to right tackle when starter Jean Delance was benched. Immediately after Forsythe moved over, his replacement nearly got Trask killed on a sack. Forsythe didn’t allow a sack (or a significant pressure) all night.
Forsythe struggles with power at times and might end up a late pick because of it. But that turf sprouts a fascinating surprise or two per year. Rounds 6 and 7 have given us the likes of Jordan Mailata, Michael Onwenu and Sam Tevi in recent years, plus all the undrafted blockers out there.
Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders
Pass rushers need to be closers. First-half sacks are good. Third-quarter sacks are great. Fourth-quarter sacks are best.
Sanders might have been quiet earlier against Tulsa, but he made noise in the second half. With the Bearcats leading, 24-17, midway through the third quarter, Sanders tipped a pass, forcing an incompletion, and then ripped off a pretty inside move for a sack two plays later. One play after that, Tulsa QB Zach Smith was picked.
Then in the fourth quarter, Sanders threw down Smith for his second sack of the game — and nearly a safety — to force a punt from deep in Tulsa’s zone. Those two sacks finished off a plucky Golden Hurricane squad and helped Cincinnati finish off an unbeaten conference run.
Sanders has been the MVP for one of the best defenses in the country. It’s a deep draft class for edge rushers, and yet the 6-5, 258-pound Sanders has put himself squarely in the second wave of talent at the position. He has a very decent shot to crack the top 50 picks if he declares, and outstanding workouts could even put him in late first-round consideration.
Ohio State EDGE Tyreke Smith
The stat line says Smith made zero tackles, zero sacks and zero turnovers forced. The tape showed Smith time and time again crashing in on the backfield. We counted at least six pressures or QB hits by Smith as the Buckeyes got after Northwestern’s Peyton Ramsey.
The 6-foot-4, 267-pound end let a tackle attempt slip through his arms and was flagged for a late hit on Ramsey, but it looked like he was trying to hold up and panicked while grabbing him.
All in all, it was the kind of game the Buckeyes — and scouts — have wanted to see from Smith, who was semi-anointed the next generation of OSU pass rush royalty. It hasn’t happened yet, but Saturday was a taste of his tantalizing talent.
Last season, Smith had a litany of strange injury situations, really clouding his projection entering this season, even if everyone knew how much talent he possessed. Will he come out or return to school? We don’t yet know, but performances such as this one will make it a trickier call.
Smith has only one sack this season, but that belies his true impact and ability. The past two games (also against Michigan State), he has looked very good.
Ohio State QB Justin Fields
We’re not going to go overboard on Fields’ performance in the Big Ten title game, in which he completed 12 of 27 passes (44.4 percent) for 114 yards, no TDs and two INTs, and had limited effectiveness on the ground (12 rushes, 35 yards).
Fields was playing without two big weapons in leading receiver Chris Olave and talented freshman slot WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. And Fields suffered a thumb injury early in the fourth quarter. He attempted one more pass after that point before telling the coaches he couldn’t throw without pain. Those factors can’t be dismissed.
But once more in this game, Fields’ biggest concerns as an NFL prospect came to roost.
Speeding up his clock is a must for him. On plays where there’s not a quick, predetermined throw, Fields tends to process too slowly and can lack decisiveness. He also glued his eyes to Garrett Wilson on many of his pocket reads despite Wilson being bracketed in the game.
Even if his receivers struggled to separate, Fields must be smarter with how he attacks defenses. It showed up in this game, against Indiana earlier in the season and versus Clemson in the national semifinal a year ago.
Fields will get the chance to make amends in the semifinal rematch against the Tigers, as the thumb is expected to be OK. Can he be more decisive and make more efficient reads? Scouts want to know.
Iowa State QB Brock Purdy
Just a tough day at the office, even with a few highlights, for Purdy and the Cyclones. They fell behind 17-0 before making a game of it but ultimately fell to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
Unfortunately for Purdy, his mistakes were costly ones.
His third interception of the game, down only six points, was a terrible third-down throw up for grabs in the end zone. We’ll at least place some blame on the coaching staff for appearing to not get in the play call in a timely fashion while players were running on and off the field.
Purdy’s first two picks were bad decisions that he likely must own. You could argue that his play had a direct result on the loss.
It’s too bad because Purdy had seemingly turned things around after a slow start to the season and was playing some of his best football. But time and time again, he shows he’s capable of crippling plays that end up haunting his team.
Our advice to Purdy would be to return to school, but Matt Campbell’s status being unclear — with some NFL teams possibly calling — could affect the QB’s decision.
USC WR Tyler Vaughns
Vaughns is another player who was ascending prior to Friday. He was held to two catches (on seven targets) for 24 yards by Oregon cornerbacks Mykael Wright and Deommodore Lenoir in the Pac-12 title game.
All three of Kedon Slovis’ interceptions came when targeting Vaughns, although we’ll give Vaughns a pass on all of them; they were either bad decisions or poor throws. Vaughns made his two grabs to move the chains late on a have-to-have it drive with less than five minutes remaining.
All in all, it was a frustrating day for one of the Trojans’ all-time receiving leaders as he took a backseat to Drake London, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Bru McCoy in the passing game and his team fell to the Ducks.
Marshall OT Josh Ball
Ball has fascinated NFL evaluators with his length and athleticism, overcoming some character worries that cropped up in his time at Florida State. Butt Ball had a rough game in the Conference USA championship loss to UAB, allowing multiple pass-rush pressures and being ejected from the game for back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties after it appeared he made contact with an official with the Thundering Herd down nine points with four minutes remaining.
Ball already faces a lot of questions as a prospect, as talented as he is, so this game didn’t help his cause.
Tulsa CB Allie Green IV
Green was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back.
But the 6-foot-1, 206-pound corner hasn’t had a season that is commensurate with that nomination — and he had a tough outing in Saturday’s loss to Cincinnati.
Green was penalty-free, which is good considering he was flagged nine times in seven games coming in. He got beat more than once in coverage by WR Alec Pierce, including twice on big plays in zone coverage in the first half.
Then on Cincinnati’s TD drive midway through the third quarter, Green whiffed on a tackle attempt on a Desmond Ridder scramble and then dove at the legs of Ridder’s blocker on his TD keeper instead of trying to fight through it to make a play on the QB.
Green’s physical traits are intriguing, and the NFL drools over long man corners. But his so-so season was capped by a less-than-stellar effort in the title game loss.
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