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.
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Race for the No. 1 Pick:
New York Jets:
The Jets almost knocked off the Raiders, which would have been a disaster. The Jets were up 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, but with just seconds left in the game, Derek Carr dropped in a 46-yard touchdown pass to Henry Ruggs to get Las Vegas the win and keep New York’s draft positioning secure.
Jacksonville is the only serious threat to snatch the No. 1 pick away from the Jets. The 0-12 Jets are the worst team in the NFL with a roster that has a ton of holes in it. With four tough opponents remaining, New York looks likely to go 0-16. The locker room looks like it has quit on head coach Adam Gase and that could lead to New York going winless, 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 away Sam Darnold for draft picks to help build around Lawrence.
A week ago, Jacksonville almost upset the Browns, and this week, they took the Vikings late into overtime before falling in Minnesota. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they lost to Minnesota and Cleveland. The Jaguars remain on the heels of the Jets for the No. 1 pick, but New York has a tough remaining schedule, so it would be surprising if the Jets don’t go 0-16.
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 the Jaguars have a shot to get their choice of general manger, but they will have move quickly with the Texans, Falcons and Lions having 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.
Green Bay Packers: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU
The Packers cruised over the hapless Eagles, with Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jone and Davante Adams proving to be too much for Philadelphia to overcome. While those players were dominant, once again Green Bay’s lack of a second receiver was noticeable. Aside from Adams, no other Packer had four receptions or more than 50 yards through the air. Green Bay has to get a more consistent No. 2 receiver for Rodgers in 2021.
Marshall collected 48 receptions for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020 before opting out of LSU’s final two games – against Alabama and Florida. Team sources have been impressed with Marshall, who showed off his size, speed, and big-play ability in 2020. He flashed in 2019, recording 46 receptions for 671 yards and three touchdowns. Marshall clearly was capable of producing more, but LSU featured Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. Marshall (6-3, 200) looks like a first- or second-round talent for the 2021 NFL Draft given his size, speed, route-running and versatility. He would be a great fit for the Packers at the end of the first round.
New York Giants: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Giants got enough out of Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris to pull off a shocking upset in Seattle. New York’s defense was phenomenal, dominating the Seahawks’ offensive line to hold Russell Wilson’s offense to only 10 points. All year, New York’s receiving corps has been a weakness, and on Sunday, Evan Engram led the Giants with only four receptions for 32 yards. Clearly, they need a complete overhaul at wide receiver. Beating the Seahawks essentially clinched the Giants a draft position too low for Ja’Marr Chase, but they could still end up in position to land Devonta Smith.
Smith has 80 catches for 1,305 yards with 15 touchdowns this season and has been dominating the SEC on a weekly basis. For the NFL, Smith is dynamic receiver who could be a deadly weapon and has No. 1 potential. He has the speed to get vertical, is superb after the catch with moves in the open field, runs fabulous routes to create separation, is very sudden in and out of his breaks, high points the ball well, and has excellent hands. If Smith were not so thinly built, he would be a top-10 pick, but even with his lean frame, he looks like a first-round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft and could get top-20 consideration. If the Giants hold onto a pick in the late teens, Smith could be a great fit for them.
Los Angeles Rams: Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame
The Rams were able to get a much-needed road win over Arizona, bouncing back from an ugly Week 12 loss to the 49ers. Jared Goff is a limited NFL quarterback who can be a good player when everything is right around him, but Goff struggles when he has to put the team on his back. Hence, Los Angeles has to build up his supporting cast and should look to improve his blocking.
Eichenberg has played well for Notre Dame in 2020. Multiple evaluators said they graded Eichenberg as a late second- or early third-round pick. They feel the 6-foot-6, 305-pounder is a solid football player, but not especially dominant or overwhelmingly strong, quick, or athletic. He is a dependable player who could be a safe pick for the Rams in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Andrew Whitworth is aging and coming off a serious injury. He has flirted with retirement in recent years, so at some point soon Los Angeles will need a replacement. Eichenberg could be a good understudy.
Cleveland Browns: Rashad Weaver, DE, Pittsburgh
The Browns jumped out to a huge lead before Tennessee came storming back to make it a close win for Cleveland. The Titans’ fumbles played a big role in their loss, and it has been clear this season that the Browns could use more long-term defensive line talent to go with Myles Garrett. Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson have their contracts expiring over the next couple of offseasons, so adding cheap young early-round talent to go with Garrett would make a lot of sense.
Cleveland may not have a lot of good options late in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but Weaver could get some consideration. He is flashing his pre-injury form this season and showing the ability to get after the quarterback. Weaver has 34 tackles with 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes defended thus far in 2020. He had a strong 2018 season to get on the radar for NFL advance scouts, but his redshirt junior year – 2019 – ended before it started with a season-ending injury suffered in training camp. In 2018, he had 47 tackles with 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes broken up.
Weaver has good size to go with speed and athleticism. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder could be a nice complement to Myles Garrett.
Indianapolis Colts: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The Colts got a road win in Houston even though Deshaun Watson put up a lot of yardage through the air to Keke Coutee and Chad Hansen. It could have been worse for Indianapolis had Will Fuller not been suspended and of course if Bill O’Brien hadn’t been foolish enough to trade away DeAndre Hopkins. The Colts could use more cornerback talent to go with their tough front seven. DeForest Buckner and Justin Houston were phenomenal against the Texans, combining for five sacks, but the Colts could use more coverage talent on the back end.
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Farley has an excellent skill set with size, speed and athleticism. After starting out at wide receiver for the Hokies, Farley missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL. He had a bad year 2018, but was excellent in 2019, recording four interceptions with 12 passes broken up and 20 tackles. It was impressive that Farley played that well considering he had a serious back injury for a lot of the season. Farley decided to sit out the 2020 season because of the pandemic, so he will enter the 2021 NFL Draft having been a 1-year wonder and flagged with durability issues. His physical tools, however, could be enough to lead to him being selected during the opening night of the 2021 NFL Draft. He has a lot of upside and could blossom under the astute Colts coaching staff.
Detroit Lions: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Lions beat the Bears in a shootout, with Matthew Stafford leading Detroit to 34 points, and I still can’t understand how the Lions managed to be shut out by Carolina a few weeks ago. Chicago’s struggling offense produced 30 points on the Detroit defense, which has been a disappointment all year. Linebacker has been issue for the Lions for years, and they need to resolve that given the running games in their division with Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones.
Parsons collected 109 tackles with five sacks, four forced fumbles and five passes defended in 2019. He was always around the ball and produced some splash plays for Penn State. Parsons broke into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2018 and showed that he has lot of upside to develop into an intriguing player. On the year, he totaled 83 tackles with five for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Parsons (6-3, 245) has good size, speed and quality instincts. Prior to the Big Ten canceling and then restarting its season, Parsons decided not to play in 2020. Team sources say that while Parsons is not a criminal, he is being dinged over lesser character in their reports. Parsons could be a plug-and-play upgrade for Detroit.
Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The Raiders were going to take Quinnen Williams in the 2019 NFL Draft if the Jets had passed on him with the third-overall pick, but they didn’t get the option. Perhaps Las Vegas can add an interior pass rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft. Sam Darnold almost beat the Raiders using his arm and legs to put the Jets up 28-24 late in the fourth quarter before a touchdown bomb to Henry Ruggs saved the Raiders’ playoff hopes. Clelin Ferrell had a nice game, and Maxx Crosby has been a good player for Las Vegas, but the team could use an interior rusher to go with them. If the Raiders can land Barmore in the first round, he would be a nice addition to their defense.
Barmore has 19 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes batted in 2020. He has been a dangerous interior pass rusher, putting consistent heat on the quarterback. Barmore’s run defense, however, needs work for the NFL.
Barmore flashed ability as part of Alabama’s rotation in 2019, recording 26 tackles and two sacks. It was only his redshirt freshman season, so he could develop and become more well-rounded as he gains experience. Some team sources are high on him, while others want to see him become a more well-rounded player and a better run defender before they project him to be a high first-rounder. Hence, he might end up being more of a mid first-round pick. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Barmore has good size with length at the point of attack to go along with quickness and athleticism, so if he works out well he could rise.
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.
New Orleans Saints:
Entering the 2020 season, the Saints were my prediction to win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl in Tampa. The strength and depth of New Orleans roster was apparent to me, and that has been proven true this season, as the Saints have been the most consistent team in the NFC. Assuming New Orleans has good quarterback play in 2021 with Drew Brees or Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston, the team has a strong roster that could lead to another Lombardi Trophy this year or in the years to come.
In my latest mock 2021 NFL Draft, I have the Saints taking Georgia safety Richard LeCounte, which would make sense for them. New Orleans brought back veteran Malcolm Jenkins after his run in Philadelphia, but Jenkins is aging and declining. He’s been picked on at times this season, so adding a young talent to replace him would make sense. LeCounte is a versatile safety who has been very good in coverage this year. He could be a solid pick for New Orleans late in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Other safety first-round prospects to consider include Pittsburgh’s Paris Ford, Oregon’s Jevon Holland and Syracuse’s Andre Cisco. All three of them could go ahead of LeCounte because they are better players, however all three of them have flaws that could cause them to slide in the first round. Team sources have size concerns with Ford and Holland, which could cause them to go lower. Cisco suffered a season-ending injury months ago, and Syracuse has been evasive about the nature of the injury, so the medical concerns could cause him to fall. Cisco or Ford would be great fits to replace Jenkins as a strong safety who can cover.
Cornerback is also a position at which New Orleans could use an infusion of some youth. Janoris Jenkins is aging, and the Saints could consider a long-term option to pair with star corner Marshon Lattimore. Cornerback options to consider in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft 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 is inconsistent and gives up some big plays. Farley has the best skill set of the group in terms of 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. Hence, the value might be better for the Saints at safety in Round 1. A good plan for them could be to take a safety first and then perhaps move up from their second-round pick for a cornerback who slides.
A huge decision for the Saints will be what to do at quarterback. If they don’t believe that Hill or Winston can be the long-term starter, they could consider taking a quarterback late in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Saints loved Pat Mahomes coming out of Texas Tech, and they were prepared to take him, according to sources with New Orleans, so they definitely are open to drafting Brees’ heir apparent in the first round. Late in Round 1, the Saints could consider BYU’s Zach Wilson or Florida’s Kyle Trask. Both of them won’t make it to the franchise’s second-round pick. Trask’s lack of mobility could be a turn off for the New Orleans brass though, while Wilson might be a good scheme fit. The Saints also could consider trying to do a big trade up for North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, provided Lance slides. That being said, it would not surprise me if Sean Payton decides to go with Hill or Winston as the replacement for Brees in 2021 or 2022.
The NFC South is a tough division with a lot of good opponents, so the Saints have to continue to nail draft picks to maintain their lead over the division rivals. The Falcons, Bucs and Panthers all feature dangerous passing attacks, so continuing to add talent to the secondary would make sense for New Orleans to remain a Super Bowl contender in 2021.
Arthur Blank made a wide decision in firing general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who had led some poor drafts in recent years that have cost Atlanta years to compete for a Super Bowl with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in their prime. Dimitroff spent first-round picks on edge rushers Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley, which led to the Falcons having an undersized and finesse defensive line. Check the list above for good general manager candidates for Atlanta.
Interim head coach Raheem Morris has done a great job and is worthy of a head coaching opportunity. The Falcons players clearly play hard for Morris and want him to stay on, but that decision will be up to the new general manager. Regardless of who are the general manager and head coach in 2021, the Falcons have to upgrade their defense in a hurry to get back into Super Bowl contention while they still have Ryan and Jones capable of leading their offense.
In my latest mock 2021 NFL Draft, I have the Falcons taking Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, and he would be a great fit across from Dante Fowler. Paye is big, fast, athletic, and has shown an improved repertoire of pass-rushing moves in 2020. Aside from his versatile size, Paye has the ability to slide to the inside and rush from defensive tackle in the sub package. Other good options to consider at defensive end would include Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham. All three players would add a larger end who would help Atlanta defend the run and get after the quarterback. Paye, Rousseau and Basham are all bigger, stronger and tougher than the ends that Dimitroff acquired for Atlanta.
If the Falcons were to trade down in the first round, some defensive ends they could consider in the mid- to late portion of Round 1 could include Pittsburgh’s Rashad Weaver, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo. Once again, those three are all bigger, tougher and more physical than Atlanta’s edge defenders. The Falcons could really help their young secondary by improving their pass rush.
Defensive tackle could get consideration too. Grady Jarrett is still playing well, but Atlanta could consider adding more talent to go next to him. Alabama’s Christian Barmore is a dangerous interior pass rusher, but he needs to improve his run defense for the NFL. Barmore and USC’s Jay Tufele might make more sense as options if the Falcons were to trade down.
Aside from the defensive line, they could use more talent in the secondary, especially at cornerback, even though they used their most recent first-round pick on Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell. In the passing-driven NFC South with the receiving weapons at Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Carolina, the Falcons can never have enough cornerback talent. Taking a cornerback like South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley or Ohio State’s Shaun Wade could give Atlanta a solid trio, assuming Terrell and Isaiah Oliver pan out.
Offensively, the Falcons could use a long-term answer at running back. Todd Gurley and Brian Hill are entering free agency after this season. If Gurley isn’t brought back, taking a running back in the second round would make a lot of sense for Atlanta. Alabama’s Najee Harris could be a nice three-down starter who adds some physicality to the Falcons’ rushing attack. Memphis’ Kenny Gainwell is a dynamic speed demon who is a dangerous weapon in the passing game along with being a threat to break off a long run on any touch. Either Harris or Gainwell would be a great addition to the Atlanta offense. It might make sense to try to sign Gurley to an affordable 1-year contract and draft another back so the Falcons have depth in case of injury and a tandem to keep fresh rushers attacking defenses.
With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones still effective players, the Falcons have a narrowing window to compete for a Super Bowl with these franchise greats. Atlanta has to upgrade its defense in a hurry, but if the organization does decent job of that, the team could be back in the playoffs next season. All of the Falcons’ hopes land with Blank making the right decision and hiring a good general manger.
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