Monday Morning Draft is back! This is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.
By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.
Race for the No. 1 Pick:
New York Jets:
The Jets lost to the Dolphins, and Jacksonville is the only serious threat to snatch the No. 1 pick away. The 0-11 Jets are the worst team in the NFL, and the roster has a ton of holes in it. The locker room looks like it has quit on head coach Adam Gase, and that could lead to New York going 0-16 with the lone bright spot being the No.1 overall-pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. If the Jets land the top pick, they should take Trevor Lawrence and look to trade Sam Darnold for draft picks to help build around Lawrence.
Jacksonville almost upset the Browns, which would have been terrible for draft positioning, but fortunately for Jacksonville lost to Cleveland. The Jaguars remain on the heels of the Jets for the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Jaguars would never be among the elite teams in the AFC as long as Dave Caldwell was their general manager, and he was fired after their loss to the Browns. Thanks to Caldwell’s terrible drafting, the Jaguars are in rebuilding mode. Caldwell blew top-five picks on Luke Joeckel (2013), Blake Bortles (2014) and Dante Fowler (2015). Joeckel and Bortles were so bad, they were both out of the NFL at one point this year – Bortles pops up as a backup from time to time.
Jacksonville is paying the price for those blown picks right now, and to make matters worse, the Jaguars passed on Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson because they made the mistake of drafting Bortles and sticking with him. Caldwell’s terrible drafting gave proof how he is one of the worst general managers in the NFL and how one draft mistake leads to another. The Jaguars were wise to fire Caldwell and should have done it months ago. Now at least Jacksonville has a shot to get its choice of general manger, but the franchise will have move quickly because the Texans, Falcons and Lions have varying degrees of a head start on the process.
There are some excellent general manager candidates available, including former Texans general manager Rick Smith. Smith had a 10-year stretch in which he did not have a first-round pick go bust while landing J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, Duane Brown, Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus, and more good picks. Other good general manager candidates include:
Let’s Play Matchmaker:
This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.
New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
New England spent some mid-round picks on tight ends last April, but the team has almost zero production out of the tight end position this year. Along with upgrading their receivers, adding a playmaking tight end would make sense for the Patriots. They need to get some safer passes for Cam Newton, assuming he returns in 2021, and Newton utilized Greg Olsen well during their years in Carolina. Because of the 2021 NFL Draft’s depth at receiver, the Patriots could take a weapon like Pitts in the first round and then add receiver help on Day 2.
There is no doubt that Pitts (6-6, 246) is worthy of a top-16 pick next April. He has dynamic mismatch receiving potential for the NFL. With his speed, route-running, size and athleticism, Pitts is nearly impossible to run with and keep from separating. A tight end who has the speed and agility to generate separation from defensive backs is a rare sight, but Pitts is that kind of impressive prospect. Pitts has 29 receptions for 513 yards and 11 touchdowns so far in 2020. In 2019, Pitts had 54 catches for 649 yards and five scores.
Pitts is a better prospect than other recent first-rounders at his position, including T.J. Hockenson and O.J. Howard. Teams are going to have a hard time passing on such a dynamic receiving weapon like Pitts in the 2021 NFL Draft.
New York Giants: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Giants got enough out of Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram to barely beat a Cincinnati squad playing without its starting quarterback, Joe Burrow. Daniel Jones was injured, but the lack of receiving talent has been a painful weakness for New York all year. The Giants badly need to find Jones a No. 1 receiver this offseason. With a receiver like Chase to combine with Engram and Saquon Barkley, the Giants offense could be massively more dangerous in 2021.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Chase was the best receiver in college football in 2019, dominating the SEC in prolific fashion. The sophomore averaged 21.2 yards per reception with 84 catches for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Chase showed off game-breaking speed with quality route-running and yards-after-the-catch ability. Team sources have told me that Chase could be a better version of Amari Cooper in the NFL. He would be an excellent first-round pick for the Giants if they are picking high enough to land him.
Miami Dolphins: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
The Dolphins have rotated their backs throughout the 2020 season, using Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Jordan Howard, Matt Breida and DeAndre Washington. Miami could use a more consistent and stable playmaker in the backfield, and an explosive receiving back who is dangerous on check-down passes would be a great asset for Tua Tagovailoa.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Etienne has really improved as a senior, getting stronger to run through tackles and pick up more yards after contact. Etienne has shown also improved receiving ability this fall, running better routes and demonstrating improved hands.
Etienne is a proven commodity for the NFL given what he did as a sophomore and junior in normal non-COVID-19 impacted seasons. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry in 2019 for 1,614 yards with 18 touchdowns. He also made 37 receptions for 432 yards and four touchdowns that season. Etienne averaged 8.1 yards per carry in 2018 for 1,658 yards with 24 touchdowns.
Etienne would be a great addition to the Miami offense and really upgrade the potency of their offense.
Atlanta Falcons: Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami
The Falcons dominated the Raiders, with the young Atlanta secondary looking much better against Las Vegas thanks in large part to a pass rush that forced a lot of mistakes out of Derek Carr. Atlanta strip-sacked Carr twice and produced a pick-six off of an errant pass. Adding an elite rusher to go across from Dante Fowler and next to Grady Jarrett would be a great addition for Atlanta in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Rousseau (6-6, 260) was one of the best edge defenders in college football during his redshirt freshman season. For his breakout 2019, he notched 15.5 sacks with two forced fumbles and 54 tackles. Rousseau has an excellent skill set with upside to improve, but his development could be slowed down by his decision to opt out of the 2020 season. There is no substitute for experience and a year of refining pass-rushing moves, getting off blocks, and improving technique. Thus, Rousseau will enter the NFL as a 1-year wonder who could require more developmental time.
Rousseau might still be a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he will be more raw and underdeveloped compared to other recent high first-round defensive ends like Jadeveon Clowney, Myles Garret, Bradley Chubb and the Bosa brothers. Taking Rousseau in the first round would give the Falcons a tone setter for many years to come and help defend against the passing attacks of the NFC South.
Minnesota Vikings: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
Minnesota pulled out a late fourth-quarter win despite having been outplayed by Carolina for a lot of the game. The Vikings’ interior offensive line struggled allowing a strip-sack and not being able to establish a consistent running game against thr Panthers’ vulnerable defense. Poor blocking almost cost Minnesota the game, with Jeremy Chinn scoring two defensive touchdowns. The Vikings need to continue to upgrade their blocking, and Davis could be a good fit in the second round.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Davis is a road-grading run blocker who Dalvin Cook would love to run behind. Davis packs a punch at the point of attack with the ability to knock defenders off the ball. As a pro, Davis is going to need to improve his pass protection and ability to handle speed rushers, but he has the skill set to be well-rounded thanks to his quickness and agility to block on the inside. His issues in pass protection might cause Davis to be a second-round pick, but he could be a nice value in the opening frame of Friday night.
Houston Texans: Zaven Collins, OLB, Tulsa
The Texans rolled over the pathetic Lions, as Deshaun Watson and Will Fuller were too much for the undermanned Detroit defense. It took Houston putting up points to get the win though, as the Lions’ offense was able to score 25 points just four days after getting shut out by a bad Carolina defense. Houston has a lot of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, and that patchkjob will be difficult to do without first- and second-round picks.
Collins has produced a lot of huge plays for Tulsa this year. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder is a dangerous edge pass rusher who also has the speed and athleticism to drop into coverage. In 2019, he had 97 tackles with two sacks. He had 85 stops and 1.5 sacks in 2018, so Collins is showing big improvement in 2020, recording four sacks, four interceptions, two passes broken up, two forced fumbles and 49 tackles so far.
Collins is bigm, quick, and versatile athlete who displays some ability to drop into coverage. However, team sources feel that Collins does not play physically enough and has average instincts, which could cause him to slide well into Day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Collins could be a target for the Texans in the third round.
Washington Redskins: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Washington rolled the Cowboys thanks to Antonio Gibson running for three touchdowns in Dallas. Once again, the Redskins’ passing attack struggled, as their quarterback play has been underwhelming all year and their receivers have struggled aside from Terry McLaurin. In the 2021 NFL Draft, it would not be surprising to see the Redskins take a quarterback for Ron Rivera and Scott Turner to build around.
With their recent wins and the losing streaks of the Jaguars and Jets, Washington will miss out on Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. But the organization could hope to still have a shot at Lance. In his one full season as a starting quarterback, Lance completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards with 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. The 6-foot-3, 221 pounder is a dangerous running threat as he is a physical runner with speed to be a playmaking rushing threat. Given that Lance is making a huge jump in competition and was only a 1-year wonder at North Dakota State, he will need some developmental time, but he could sit behind Alex Smith for a year or two and then take over as the Redskins’ quarterback.
Team Draft Report:
In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2020 NFL Draft.
San Francisco 49ers:
It isn’t surprising that the 49ers are having a down 2020 season. With the exception of the Tom Brady’s Patriots teams, the track record in NFL history for the teams that lost the Super Bowl is having a rough year afterward, and San Francisco hasn’t dodged that fate. Last summer, I had the 49ers not making the playoffs, and while that angered a lot of 49ers fans, it was predictable. Adding in the injuries that San Francisco suffered, the team had no chance to duplicate its 2019 success. The 49ers, however, are definitely capable of bouncing back in 2021.
In my latest mock 2021 NFL Draft I have the 49ers taking Syracuse safety Andre Cisco, who would be a plug-and-play upgrade for San Francisco. Safety has been a weakness for years, and Cisco is a dangerous ballhawk with the ability to play strong safety or free safety. Cisco and Jimmy Ward could form a nice tandem for the 49ers. Other safety first-round safety prospects to consider include Pittsburgh’s Paris Ford, Oregon’s Jevon Holland and Georgia’s Richard LeCounte.
Cornerback is also a position that San Francisco needs to upgrade. Richard Sherman is aging and has dealt with injuries. Adding a future No. 1 corner is important objective for San Francisco. Cornerback options to consider in the first round include South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley and Ohio State’s Shaun Wade. Horn could be the best cover corner, although he may not have an elite combination of speed and athleticism. Surtain is a big corner who can struggle with twitchy and fast receivers, while Wade has a good skill set, but he is inconsistent and gives up big plays too often. Farley has the best skill set of the group with size, speed and athleticism, but he has dealt with a lot of injuries, had an ugly 2018 season, and skipped 2020. He enters the 2021 NFL Draft as a 1-year wonder from 2019. In short, the value might be better for the 49ers at safety. A good plan could be to take a safety first and then perhaps move up from Round 2 to take a cornerback who slides.
Offensively, the 49ers could consider drafting a quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled since late in the 2019 season, and San Francisco flirted with making a run at Tom Brady in the offseason. The 49ers’ first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft probably won’t be high enough for one of the top quarterbacks, and given that they have a roster that is ready to win now, it might make more sense to consider veteran options. Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford or Philip Rivers might make more sense as a potential replacement given where San Francisco is picking. However, Garoppolo will probably get another season as the starter before the organization decides whether to move on from him.
The NFC West is a tough division with a lot of good opponents, so the 49ers have to nail the 2021 NFL Draft to compete with their division rivals. San Francisco cannot afford to make more busted picks like Solomon Thomas. General manager John Lynch has to rebuild the secondary for the 2021 season, and that is the most pressing need to address to help the 49ers return to being Super Bowl contenders next season.
The Cowboys’ year really came to an end when Dak Prescott suffered his season-ending injury. Even if Prescott had stayed healthy, however, they had a ceiling for how good they could possibly be because their defense is not capable of helping the team compete for a Super Bowl right. If Prescott were healthy, they could have made the playoffs, but their defense would have let them down against top NFC teams like the Saints, Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Buccaneers. The offenses of all of those teams would have been too much for the Dallas defense, and winning a shootout every week is not recipe to getting to the Super Bowl. Thus, improving the defense should clearly be the top priority of the offseason.
In my latest mock 2021 NFL Draft, I have the Cowboys taking Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau. He’s the best defensive prospect available, and I believe that is what Dallas will most likely draft next April. The Cowboys could use an edge rusher to go across from Demarcus Lawrence as Aldon Smith is aging and Randy Gregory can’t be relied on. It might be preferable to take a defensive tackle, but the top prospects, such as Alabama’s Christian Barmore and USC’s Jay Tufele, don’t look worthy of going in the top five.
The best plan for the Cowboys might be to lose out and hope to be picking high enough for a top quarterback prospect and try to leverage out of that slot into a trade down to land extra picks on Day 2 or first-rounders in 2022 and/or 2023. That would allow Dallas to load up on picks to really build up the talent on defense.
If the Cowboys were to move down, taking a defensive lineman would still make sense. They could look at Barmore or Tufele then. There also could be other first-round defensive ends to consider like Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham, Pittsburgh’s Rashad Weaver, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Michigan’s Kwity Paye, depending on where Dallas is picking.
Aside from the defensive line, the organization could use more talent in the secondary, especially at safety. In the middle to late portion of the first round, there could be some quality safety prospects, like Syracuse’s Andre Cisco, Pittsburgh’s Paris Ford, Oregon’s Jevon Holland and Georgia’s Richard LeCounte. Cornerback is also a position that could be upgraded. Cornerback options to consider in the first round include South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and Ohio State’s Shaun Wade.
If Dallas moves down in the first round, I think a good plan could be to take a defensive tackle like Barmore or a defensive end like Carlos Basham. Then depending on how the safeties come off the board, the Cowboys could trade back into the first round from their second-round pick to get defensive line and safety plug-and-play upgrades for their defense. With their linebackers, young corners, and Lawrence, adding a good defensive lineman and safety could really help their defense make big strides in 2021.
Offensively, Dallas is pretty much loaded for the long term with its wide receivers, Ezekiel Elliott, and Prescott. The one position that the team should maybe consider addressing in the first round would be an offensive tackle. Tyron Smith is aging and has dealt with injuries. If the Cowboys don’t trade down, Oregon’s Penei Sewell would have to receive serious consideration as their long-term franchise left tackle to protect Prescott. It would be a difficult decision as it would be a tough pill to swallow to neglect the defense again, but it also will be difficult to pass on an elite tackle like Sewell. Considering the overall needs of the roster though, trading down to build a talented young core on defense would be the best plan for the future.
Even though this is a rough year for the Cowboys, they are not that far away from contending in the NFC. Defenses can be built quickly via a couple of good drafts and free agency sessions. The pressure is on Jerry Jones to draft well on defense in order for Dallas to become a Super Bowl contender again.
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