In the same amount of time it would take you to watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix, the top-third of the first round of the 2021 NFL draft was shaken up like we have never seen before.
Between 1:00 and 1:30 EST on Friday, there were three trades within the top 12 picks of this years NFL draft.
The first domino fell when the San Francisco 49ers gave up pick #12, a 2022 + 2023 first-rounder and a 2022 third-rounder to the Miami Dolphins to get up to pick #3. No more than 30 minutes later, the Dolphins threw pick #12 and a 2022 first rounder at the Philadelphia Eagles to get back to pick #6.
While there is a lot of speculation as to why these teams performed these trades, the truth is no one really knows what is going to happen.
With that being said, there are certainly some rather large takeaways coming as a result of these trades. I am going to attempt to break them down for you.
QB’s go 1, 2, and 3 in the 2021 Draft
- The 49ers more than likely offered their trade package with three first-rounders and one third-rounder to the Jaguars for pick #1 and then went down the line. That would imply that the first overall pick is untouchable and the Jags are taking Trevor Lawrence, as Urban Meyer has made all too clear.
- In the same light, the Jets denied quite a haul from the 49ers to stand put at pick #2. If they planned on keeping Sam Darnold for this year they likely would’ve taken that package and not thought twice about it. For my money the draft starts at pick #3 after Lawrence goes to the Jags and Zach Wilson heads to the Jets. I would also expect a QB-needy team like Washington, Chicago or Denver to look to trade for Darnold sometime in the near future.
- The 49ers clearly wouldn’t have mortgaged their immediate future for anything other than a QB. Them saying Jimmy Garoppolo is their starter for 2021 does not by any means rule out a QB. We have seen teams like the Chiefs move up for a first-round QB while having a solid starter already in place (Alex Smith / Patrick Mahomes in 2017). Not to mention if they planned on trading Garoppolo this year, saying he is on the trading block only drives his asking price down. If you want someone to overpay for something, you start by telling them it is not for sale, simple economics.
Alabama QB Mac Jones at pick #3 is a real possibility
- While I never would have suspected Jones to be the guy Kyle Shanahan would trade three first-rounders for (especially with guys like Lance and Fields likely still available), it has some serious legs to it. Shanahan and GM John Lynch are heading down to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday to be present for Alabama’s pro day, which is significant because Just Fields’ pro day is taking place on the same day. If the two biggest decision makers (especially for a QB) are traveling together to view a pro-day, I promise you it’s not for no reason.
- A lot of people think them going could be a smoke-screen to throw off people picking behind them, but what would the point of that be? They made it pretty obvious they’re going QB-hunting after trading for the third pick and to my estimation the first two picks are untouchable at the moment. In a year where scouts know less about prospects than ever before, I don’t see a reason for the 49ers brass to waste their time throwing off teams behind them that have (relatively) no chance to jump ahead of them in the first place.
- NFL Analyst Chris Simms was the first to make it very clear that he believes Mac Jones is the 49ers guy at pick #3. While Simms has his fair share of outlandish takes, he has been pretty spot on with ranking QBs over the past few years. For reference, here are his credentials:
- 2020: Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, Tua Tagovailoa
- 2019: Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, Dwayne Haskins, Ryan Finley, Jarrett Stidham, Daniel Jones
- 2018: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen
- 2017: Didn’t make an official list but was quoted calling Patrick Mahomes, “The 2017 NFL Draft’s most special talent.”
- At the time, those takes seemed very polarizing and went against media consensus. Lamar was the fifth QB off the board in 2018, Herbert was the third QB off the board in 2020 and Patrick Mahomes was the third QB off the board in 2017. It’s probably too early for last years QBs to be proven right or wrong, but it would appear he hit the nail on the head with Herbert over Tua. Simms rankings for 2021 are as follows:
- Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Kellen Mond, Trey Lance, Justin Fields
- Now, why is one analysts word so important? For starters, Simms was an NFL QB himself, his father was an NFL QB (Phil Simms) and he has worked in NFL scouting departments. Whether or not you like him, he knows how things work 100 times better than anyone else does. To add to that, Simms is very close with Kyle Shanahan. The former University of Texas teammates even have tattoos of each others initials on each of their ankles. While that doesn’t mean they HAVE to have the QBs ranked the same, I would be shocked if they haven’t at least had conversations about it. Simms said after last years draft that he knew how much Shanahan loved their first-round pick, Brandon Aiyuk, before he was eventually selected. They clearly are still in touch about the draft cycle, and if Simms has Lance and Fields ranked very low and Mac Jones very high, you have to think they share some of the same thoughts on this class. All of that combined with Shanahan and Lynch opting to attend Jones’ pro day over Fields’ make me think that Jones is a real possibility for them.
- Since Simms has said that, a couple of other extremely trusted analysts like Daniel Jeremiah, Peter King and Chris Mortensen have also endorsed the notion of Mac Jones to San Francisco. Add in former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum being quoted as saying, “I don’t see [Mac] Jones getting past Carolina at 8.” It would appear that the league is higher on Jones than media consensus. All of these guys are tapped in to front offices all around the league and wouldn’t be saying stuff if they hadn’t heard about it from someone they trust. So, either the 49ers are pulling off the biggest smokescreen ever (for relatively no reason) or Jones is actually their guy.
The Dolphins and Eagles are building around their QBs for 2021
- Kind of stating the obvious here, but if the Dolphins had any plans to take a QB to compete with last years fifth overall selection (Tua) they would’ve probably stayed at pick #3. They could still grab one at #6, sure, but it would appear they pulled off their trade maneuvers to secure themselves one of the top-four pass catchers (Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith) to give Tua some help on the outside.
- For the Eagles, they more than likely took themselves out of the QB sweepstakes for this year trading back to pick 12. With Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie publicly stating that he wants Head Coach Nick Sirianni and GM Howie Roseman to build around Jalen Hurts this year and the trade back, that looks like exactly what they are going to do. They can still get a pass-catcher at #12 but that salary cap-ridden team has needs that extend FAR beyond wide receiver. They can sit pretty at #12 and take best player available even if all the pass-catchers they wanted are off the board. In addition, they added an extra first round pick next year to give them some ammunition to trade up for a QB if the Hurts experiment fails.
More teams may trade back this year than people think
- In a year where there is even more uncertainty in the draft than ever before given COVID protocols and opt-outs combined with the fact that there was no NFL Combine and scouts haven’t been able to meet face-to-face with all of these guys, it wouldn’t surprise me for teams to just trade back and add ammo for next years draft.
- I have to believe that after the Dolphins were offered the haul from the 49ers they called teams ahead of them (Broncos and Panthers) who are also potentially interested in drafting a QB to see if they could match the offer. Why? Well, if all three of those teams offered you the same haul (three first rounders and a third rounder) you would be stupid to not take the offer from the team that you think will have the higher picks during that time span. The 49ers are 14 months removed from a Super Bowl appearance and will return a lot of their key guys next year from injury. Carolina and Denver are definitely teams on the rise, but for my money, a healthy 49ers team won’t be picking until the mid-to-late 20’s in 2022 and 2023.
- With that being said, the Panthers and Broncos could easily still be in the market for a QB in the draft, but aren’t willing to give up future assets to get one. That means they either don’t trust they have enough information to make a franchise-altering decision, or they just want to see how the board shakes out and take what they can get.
- Alluding to what I said earlier, the draft is already a crapshoot as it is and with COVID restricting their ability to gain as much information as possible to rank these guys it would not surprise me one bit to see teams pass on selecting guys at the top of the draft and moving back to get more picks for next year when things are (hopefully) normal again. Teams like CAR, DEN, NE, WAS and CHI who may have a need at QB for the long term but already have plans in place for 2021 may opt for the safer option of sitting pretty at their picks and working from there.