While every team would love to have a good 2021 NFL Draft, some really ‘need’ to get a successful haul of college players when the biggest event of the offseason takes place in Cleveland on Thursday.
There are many who would fit into this category, but here are my top five to look out for over the three-day drafting bonanza, teams who simply must make a significant difference to their rosters – for a variety of reasons…
Live: 2021 Draft Preview
April 29, 2021, 8:00pm
It’s amazing how decimated Philadelphia’s roster has become just three years on from their Super Bowl LII success over the New England Patriots. After reports of in-fighting and power struggles during the 2020 season, general manager Howie Roseman finds himself on a warming seat.
And it’s not just because of office politics. Some of Roseman’s draft choices have been underwhelming in recent years. Since re-assuming control in 2016 – returning from a banishment imposed by head coach Chip Kelly – Roseman has made first-round selections of quarterback Carson Wentz, defensive end Derek Barnett, offensive tackle Andre Dillard and wide receiver Jalen Reagor, the latter while Justin Jefferson was still on the board.
Wentz is now in Indianapolis with the Colts, Barnett has yet to hit the 20 career sacks mark in four seasons, Dillard was benched as a rookie and injured as a sophomore, and Reagor amassed just 396 receiving yards while Jefferson was going for 1,400 in his stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Eagles are coming off a 4-11-1 season and need an influx of talent. They boast an NFL-high 11 picks in this draft, including four of the first 84 selections. Roseman needs to get this one right. His job may depend on it.
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier has done a wonderful job of putting Miami in a position to build a strong roster. And now he has to execute from a position of strength, with the Dolphins owning five of this draft’s opening 81 picks (two first-rounders, two second-rounders and a third-rounder).
This has the potential to be one of the most important drafts in team history. For the Dolphins to truly evaluate last year’s first-round pick – quarterback Tua Tagovailoa – there has to be much more talent placed around him. Miami simply must improve an attack that ranked 22nd in the NFL a year ago.
Tua struggled as a rookie, of that there is no doubt. But he had very little in terms of passing game options and his running backs were, with all due respect, just a bunch of guys. There was no star in the backfield. Any draft where Miami come out with viable passing and running game options has to be deemed a success.
This is a young team – Miami do not have a player aged 30 or over on the roster – coming off a 10-win season. It’s time to kick-start the offense so that A) Miami can reach the playoffs and B) a proper and fair evaluation of Tua can take place.
The Falcons own the fourth overall choice in this draft, but what they do could be as much dictated by finances as it is by football. Atlanta are in such salary cap hell that new general manager Terry Fontenot has admitted the Falcons would “listen to offers” for star receiver Julio Jones if teams started calling him up.
That would save around $9m on this year’s cap. The Falcons are hard up against the league-mandated figure of $182.5m for 2021. Atlanta are $915,000 under at the moment, but have to spend around $9m on this incoming rookie class. And they currently only have 56 players under contract when 90 have to be taken to training camp.
The Falcons need some creative accounting, but they also need young and cheap players. In other words, they need rookies and ones who can contribute right away in 2021. The Falcons are open for business in terms of dealing the number four pick or Julio. Or they could stay put and draft the heir apparent to expensive quarterback Matt Ryan.
It’s all a bit messy in Atlanta at the moment, so these next few days could either stop the bleeding or exacerbate the problems.
New England Patriots
There was much excitement among Patriots fans in March, and rightly so, because Bill Belichick was spending Robert Kraft’s money like it was going out of fashion. But there are still some major holes on an offense that ranked 27th in the NFL last season and 30th in passing.
Even though Cam Newton was re-signed, I think the absolute priority is to find a long-term answer at quarterback and that is going to need to come via a trade. Either a trade into the top 10 on Thursday night in order to grab Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Or a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to bring Jimmy Garoppolo home to Foxborough.
Given his recent form and injury history in California, I think New England should roll the dice on one of the young passers and see if they can settle into another decade-long run of stability at the game’s most important position.
Then New England need to hope good receivers can be found in later rounds. The leading wideouts currently on the roster are Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, who were added to N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers. That’s only a marginal upgrade on a wide receiver unit that caught just four touchdown passes all of last season.
New York Jets
The first order of business for the Jets will be to find first-round picks that they don’t end up trading away – Leonard Williams, Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold are all now playing for other teams.
Jets fans will be hoping that BYU quarterback Zach Wilson – who has been compared to Patrick Mahomes in some ambitious quarters – is the long-term answer under center.
While this could be a franchise-altering draft at the quarterback position, the Jets need to make sure talent is added across the board on this two-win team. General manager Joe Douglas owns 10 picks and five in the first three rounds.
The priority has to be to upgrade the offense that ranked dead last in the NFL a year ago. Their previous top-three quarterback selection (Darnold) had no chance to shine given the dearth of playmaking talent around him and due to a poor offensive line.
The receiving trio of Corey Davis, Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder is solid, if lacking a true star, New York do not possess a franchise running back, tight end is a question mark and the offensive line needs upgrading. That’s all before they address a defense with very little at cornerback. There is work to be done in the ‘Big Apple’.
Watch all three days of the 2021 NFL Draft unfold on Sky Sports NFL, April 29-May 1, starting with live build-up to day one at 8pm on Thursday, April 29 with the first picks expected to be made just after 1am.
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