The draft is almost here, and soon we’ll have real answers to all of these questions. In the meantime, here’s a look at how things could play out next week.
Lots of draft questions this week, obviously. Let’s dive in …
From Frank Davis (@Frankied35): For the love of God, it can’t be Mac at 3!? Would be the biggest reach/most arrogant pick in NFL history … please give me hope that it isn’t.
Frank, I think he could be the 49ers’ pick. And trust me, through my calls over the last week, some of the reaction I’ve gotten is similar to yours. “I don’t think there’s any way in hell they’re taking Mac Jones,” said one exec. “He’s not good enough.” And that, to me, sort of illustrates the beauty of all this. There’s no right or wrong way to look at a quarterback. Every team has its own way of doing it that reflects what it values in the position.
And yes, stylistically, Jones does match up with some of what Kyle Shanahan’s succeeded with at the position in the past. Jones’s rep for having a great head for the game isn’t playing off old stereotypes—it’s who he is. In the MMQB column, we gave you the story of a team that did an install with him a couple of months ago. The other day, they asked him if he remembered the first play they put in front of him.
Jones spit the whole thing back out at them. Remember, this is after two months chock full of Zoom meetings with teams, media appearances, training, etc. I can tell you the team was floored, and it’s not like they didn’t know he was smart to begin with.
Now, we can argue until we’re blue in the face about how much having that kind of mind for the game and recall matters. But you can’t argue it doesn’t matter. It does. And Jones being football brilliant is going to matter as the Niners continue to work out the quarterback decision and approach next Thursday’s finish line.
But other things will matter, too, and that was the whole point of the Niners’ getting the trade done a month early—it’s allowed them to complete the picture on three guys they believe are worthy of the pick. Which takes us to where my conversation with the above executive wound up going next. “The Shanahan offense has worked with a multitude of types of quarterbacks,” he said. “But it really flourished when it had a big athlete with a big arm like John Elway running it. I just think you’re moving up for the special athlete.”
We’ll know soon enough whom the Niners moved up for.
From Taylor Hemness (@taylorhemness): Who trades with Atlanta at No. 4?
Taylor, I’m starting to think the Falcons are settling in on the idea of staying at No. 4. I’ve heard the asking price to go up there is high, and that tells me that Atlanta really values what will be able available at the pick. And if I had to guess, I’d say the Falcons are weighing the totality of taking a quarterback fourth—along with which quarterbacks would be worth taking at No. 4—against just sticking and taking a rare tight end prospect in Kyle Pitts.
To me, that decision is really about timelines. Taking Pitts, for GM Terry Fontenot, means doubling down on the existing core—and, contrary to popular opinion, doing that wouldn’t be that illogical. They’d be injecting Pitts into an offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and a line with three former first-round picks on it. The defense still needs work, of course, in building around Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones. But with some development from existing young guys like A.J. Terrell and a good draft, they could get competitive there, too.
I think it’s enough for Arthur Smith to have his team contending for the playoffs in Year 1. The Falcons won’t win a championship but could take a step and build momentum going into 2022 and just put off the QB question for another couple of years. Ryan is still only 35, which isn’t exactly ancient for a quarterback these days.
Conversely, if the Falcons take a quarterback, they’d probably be looking at turning the page on the current core in time. There’d be $40.525 million in dead money to manage for moving Ryan after 2021. And by next March, when the 2022 league year starts, Jones will be 33 and tackle Jake Matthews will be 30, and those two would have more than $30 million in dead money between them if Atlanta decided to make calls on their futures at that point. So they’d necessarily be looking at, potentially, a two-year teardown as they plan around the new guy.
Put it together, and the convenient thing here would be to stay the course behind Ryan & Co. But, of course, this is a very QB-rich year, and so if there’s a guy the Falcons view as truly special at the position … it would be pretty tough to pass on that.
From Dog faceOrange heart (@WhereMyDawgz): Other than Farley and Parsons that could potentially slip, who else can you see fall?
To be clear here, Caleb Farley’s issues are health-related (back surgery), and Micah Parsons’s go back to his makeup/character. Both are freak athletes. Both are capable of being top-shelf pros at their position (Farley a cornerback, Parsons a linebacker). Farley needs a little luck. Parsons needs a little maturity. I know their blemishes aren’t disqualifying for some teams, so we’ll see who takes the plunge. If either reaches the back half of the first round, the value there could be sky-high.
Some others that have slid a little …
• Michigan OT Jalen Mayfield was banged up this year, playing just two games last fall, and didn’t work out well at his pro day. At this point, I’d be surprised if he goes the first round.
• I don’t think Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman is falling so much as some of the speedy slot receivers (Ole Miss’s Elijah Moore, Florida’s Kadarius Toney) have passed him. Part of that, too, is just the NFL trending toward players like that (call it the Tyreek Hill Effect).
• Oklahoma State OL Teven Jenkins and RB Chuba Hubbard are two others who’ve slid. There are concerns over Jenkins’s injury history (back) and makeup, and Hubbard’s a back whose calling card, lacking elusiveness, was speed, and he only ran in the 4.5s.
• Miami DE Greg Rousseau is another opt-out who could have used a great spring and has just been so-so in the run-up to the draft.
From Oli (@4KOli): Broncos trading up for a QB? Likely or not?
Oli, at this point, new Broncos GM George Paton and members of the coaching staff have seen all the first-round quarterbacks live, and Denver’s at least sniffed around on a trade up (while also looking at a trade down). The Broncos, you’ll remember, were also in the mix for Matthew Stafford and had been linked to Deshaun Watson earlier in the offseason.
Add that up, and I’d say once you get past the top three—the Jaguars, Jets and Niners—the Broncos are right there with the Panthers as the teams that have been most active on the quarterback market this offseason. And obviously, that means that Drew Lock is no longer on scholarship in Denver and seems likely to have some competition for his job once we get to the summer.
Because they’re picking ninth, a lot is out of the Broncos’ control. It’s possible a deal with Atlanta is too pricey and the right quarterback doesn’t fall to them, so they wind up taking, say, a corner there instead (receiver’s really the only position that’s out of the question there for them). But at the very least, they’ve operated over the last two months like a team getting ready to invest very deeply in the most important position.
From Conor Orr (@ConorOrr): How mad will you be if you lose to @WeakPodcast in the mock draft challenge?
Conor … no comment.
From Ken Mosca (@acegrid): Is Dallas really looking at Surtain?
Ken, I don’t know if the Cowboys like Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II more than they like South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn—but I do know that corner is very much in play for Dallas at No. 10. Surtain may be the safest play of any in the draft, a rock-solid player with NFL bloodlines who, with a little luck, should be a starter in the league for a decade. Horn (also the son of a former NFL star) doesn’t have the airtight tape Surtain does, but he brings more upside.
Really, both guys are top prospects, and if it weren’t for Farley’s back surgery then the Virginia Tech star would be in that mix too.
But I wouldn’t totally rule out the Cowboys’ going offensive line either. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are both 30 and were nicked up last year, and Travis Frederick’s retired. So the idea of taking someone like Rashawn Slater to give Dallas’s once-dominant front an infusion of youth would make some sense, especially when you look at the emphasis the Joneses have put on being strong up front over the years.
From Daniel (@DanielF__18): We have all heard about the top 10 picks about 200 times by now. Enough. Talk about the Giants and what you are hearing about them.
Daniel wants some Giants information and we’re going to give it to him: I believe they could go a number of different directions. Corner and pass-rusher are the two spots that other teams have their eyes on for Dave Gettleman and Joe Judge. Could New York veer off and take another offensive lineman after drafting three (including one with the fourth pick) in 2020? I wouldn’t totally rule it out.
I also think it’s worth noting the number of guys the Giants drafted last year who came from college programs Judge has connections too. As I wrote last April, the team drafted two guys who played for Judge’s old colleague at Bama, Kirby Smart; another who played for his old boss, Nick Saban; and two more guys who played for fellow ex-Saban staffers Mario Cristobal and Will Muschamp. Another had a position coach at UConn (J.B. Grimes) who used to work with Judge, and yet another was coached in college by Giants DL coach Sean Spencer.
It’s something to keep in mind, for sure, in trying to look at what the Giants might or might not do with the 11th pick, with such connections existing to players like Surtain, Horn, Michigan DE Kwity Paye and Georgia DE Azeez Ojulari.
From Matt Sedlacek (@matt_seds): Do you see the Bears giving up everything to get into the top 10 and draft a QB?
Matt, two things on that: One, rival teams believe they are lurking as a potential trade-up team. Two, as of a couple days ago, they hadn’t really started burning the phone lines up on that. So they could be in play, but they haven’t been yet. And they’ve certainly done their homework on the quarterbacks. GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy have seen Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance live.
One question being batted around in NFL circles is whether ownership would sign off on a massive move up the board, which would take moving future assets to pull off. There were questions about the job security of Nagy and Pace in the middle of last season, and the team has been coy about the contract status of the GM and coach. And sometimes, in situations like that, owners will be careful about letting guys sell out in the draft.
From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): Which of the 3 QBs after Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson have the best chance of falling in the draft?
Craig, I think all of them will go in the first 10 picks. If you were asking me to set up ranges right now, I’d put Fields’s range at three to eight, Lance’s range at three to nine, and Jones’s range at three to 15, with Jones probably still most likely to go third.
I think that reflects the truth, which is that this is a very, very strong quarterback class with multiple players worthy of going first overall, and the one who will be standing as a truly generational prospect at the position. Also, I’d add that sometimes a quarterback’s sliding can be a blessing in disguise. Not going at the very top, after all, made Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes available to consistent contenders with a ton of stability in the front office and coaching staff. Guys drafted in front of those two didn’t have that benefit.
From D’Andre Swift’s Burner (@Swift32Burner): Any word on who the Dolphins may be targeting at No. 6? If both Pitts and Chase are gone by the time Miami picks, who could be their top target? Would they trade down if both players are off the board and what’s the interest level in the pick?
D’Andre, here’s my guess on what the Dolphins were thinking when they maneuvered back into the top six after trading out of No. 3 (in what really was a de facto three-team trade)—they’d be able to maintain a better asset than Carolina or Denver were, say, Deshaun Watson to come available, and still have a shot to get a top-shelf playmaker for their offense if that didn’t come to pass. Obviously, Watson’s legal situation has clouded the front end of that, and the back end is muddled with the possibility that the Falcons don’t take a quarterback.
I heard from one team on Monday that had a strong feeling that Miami moved into that spot at No. 6 with two players in mind, and the hope that quarterbacks going 1-2-3-4 would facilitate one of those two falling to them, with a smart part of the trade in the first place being that by giving the pick to the QB-hungry 49ers, the Dolphins ensured that quarterbacks would go 1-2-3. That makes Atlanta, again, the pivot point, assuming those players are Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase. So if the Falcons take Pitts and the Bengals take Chase, then what?
I’m really not sure. The Dolphins could double down on the offensive line, and take a tackle in the first round for the second straight year. Or they could reunite Tua Tagovailoa with Jaylen Waddle, who I’ve heard Miami likes and would be a perfect complement to DeVante Parker (even if the sixth pick may be a tad rich for him). Or they could trade out.
From Mike Durand (@MikeyD_31): What in the world are the Patriots thinking with their pick? It feels like they could do anything in the draft and draft at almost every position. Is trading up for Fields or Jones if they start to fall to picks 10 to 12 realistic for them?
Mike, I think the Patriots just need to get more young, cost-controlled talent on the roster, almost regardless of the position. A failure to draft well created the salary-cap bottleneck they had to manage last year and necessitated the spending spree in March, so they really could go anywhere at No. 15. Even drafting a corner like Horn or a linebacker like Parsons, and trying to get a year ahead at a position of relative strength, or taking a DeVonta Smith at a spot where they just spent in free agency wouldn’t shock me.
As for Fields’s or Jones’s slipping, I don’t know if they’d go all the way up to No. 4 to get either guy. But if they fall to No. 7 or 8, the price becomes a little more affordable, and I feel like that’s where the Patriots could start to think about it. And the idea of something like that is something Belichick himself addressed last week.
“I would say normally something will happen and there could very well be a player there that either you don’t expect to be there or maybe he is a couple spots—maybe at 12, 13—he’s still on the board and you really thought that he’d be gone in the top six, seven picks,” he told the New England media. “And then the question comes: Do you move up and try to get that player that’s fallen a little bit?”
We’ll see if, indeed, that question comes for New England.
More NFL Draft Coverage:
* Breer: 20 Things to Know About the Draft
* Rosenberg: The Unrivaled Arrival of Trevor Lawrence
* Vrentas: MMQB Mock Draft 3.0; 49ers Pick Justin Fields
* Prewitt: What Happens to the Prospects Who Opted Out?