NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah answered questions for an hour and a half on Wednesday, previewing the 2021 NFL Draft (April 29-May 1 on NFL Network/ESPN/ABC) during a media Zoom call. As you might expect, he offered insight on some of the juiciest draft scuttlebutt. Here's a look at seven takeaways from the call:
1) Few would argue that Mac Jones is the No. 3 overall talent in the 2021 NFL Draft, but that's where many expect the San Francisco 49ers to take Jones off the board next week. It's a classic question of fit versus ability, and the former Alabama quarterback could be precisely the fit head coach Kyle Shanahan is looking for at the game's most critical position. Arrogance, however, would be too strong a word to attach to such a decision, according to Jeremiah.
"You always hear it's about the Jimmys and Joes, not the Xs and Os. That would be an Xs and Os decision. It is 'I believe so much in the Xs and Os, I need somebody that can just see the game through my eyes and make those decisions.' But I don't call it arrogance," Jeremiah said. "Because I don't know how you argue with him. You watch the tape every week of these teams, and Kyle gets guys more open than anybody else in the league. There's a reason why so many teams are picking off all the guys from his tree to run that offense, because it's the best offense there is."
There's no doubt the 49ers have someone specific in mind, almost certainly a quarterback. You don't move up nine spots from the No. 12 overall pick without a red circle around someone's name. If Jones is indeed Shanahan's guy, the clock of expectations will tick quickly. It has to when the price includes two future first-round picks.
2) Late draft picks, anyone? Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led the NFL Scouting Combine to alter its usual procedures in Indianapolis, there's a dearth of medical information available on prospects, particularly those expected to be available on the draft's final day. Just 150 players went to Indianapolis this year for medical checks, less than half of the usual combine contingent. That uncertainty is likely to generate a buyer's market on late draft picks next week, according to Jeremiah, with clubs showing a willingness to either use those picks to trade up or dump them for future selections.
"Nothing scares a general manager more than not having medical (info)," Jeremiah said. "... Once we get to the back half of the draft, you're literally flying blind on these kids, medically."
Of course, every team looking to dump a late pick has to find a team looking to pick one up, and that won't be an easy search. A robust trade market toward the end of the draft will require some variance in the way clubs view the problem.
3) If you're looking for a trade-up candidate in Round 1, look no further than the Tennessee Titans. The needs, per Jeremiah: cornerback, offensive line, wide receiver. But the availability of one of the draft's elite talents at all those positions is in question at the Titans' selection at No. 22.
"I think they're positioned where they're going to miss out on those top dudes (at those positions)," Jeremiah said. "They might be in a position where, they've got such a good team and they're pretty close, maybe it is in their best interest to move up a little bit. Maybe use some of those other picks to go get that accomplished."
4) How much belief do the Denver Broncos have in 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock at quarterback? If one of the draft's top five quarterbacks slides to their selection at No. 9, a definitive answer could be coming. If non-quarterbacks begin coming off the board with the Falcons' pick at No. 4, Denver could find itself with a chance to take the aforementioned Jones, North Dakota State's Trey Lance or Ohio State's Justin Fields. Any of them would be tempting. Jeremiah said Lock would rank third in a draft day-relative evaluation of those four, behind Lance and Fields but ahead of Jones.
"I couldn't pass up (Lance or Fields) if they were to get there, to No. 9, personally," Jeremiah said ... but if it comes down to Lock or Jones? "I would still dream on what Drew Lock can be, and probably stick with him."
If Denver doesn't go with a quarterback, an offensive lineman at No. 9 to help protect Lock would be strong priority.
5) Elite pass rushers are hard to find, but one who could be hanging around a while longer than initially expected is Miami's Greg Rousseau. His pro day performance didn't help him, and when asked whether an expected late first-round run on pass rushers could be over by the time the Buffalo Bills could address that need at No. 30 overall, Jeremiah mentioned the 2020 opt out. But while Jeremiah believes Rousseau's stock has slipped in some front offices, he's still a believer.
"Rousseau took on a little bit of water after his pro day. I'm sticking with him. I still believe in him, I really like him," Jeremiah said. "But around the league, I think he's someone who'll fall toward the back of (Round) 1, maybe even the top of (Round) 2."
The latter part of the first round definitely shapes up to be fertile ground for pass rushers, whether it includes Rousseau or not. The Chicago Bears (No. 20), Indianapolis Colts (No. 21), New York Jets (No. 23), Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 24), Cleveland Browns (No. 26) and Baltimore Ravens (No. 27) could all use some help at the position. Rousseau's agent certainly isn't expecting his client to be available in Round 2.
6) With quarterbacks and pass catchers expected to comprise plenty of selections early in the draft, elite defensive players figure to get pushed down some. That could set up nicely for the Minnesota Vikings at No. 14, a club in need of help at edge rusher, linebacker and safety. Penn State star Micah Parsons could be there for GM Rick Spielman, which would give the Vikings the draft's top linebacker. Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season, has drawn scouting comparisons to Buccaneers rising star Devin White as a playmaking, off-the-ball 'backer. Minnesota could also land the best pass rusher in the draft at that point, or a surefire offensive lineman.
"(USC's) Alijah Vera-Tucker is one of my favorite players in the whole draft. He can plan darn near anywhere. I think he's going to be an All-Pro guard. He can hold up at tackle if you wanted him to. You want to get better along that offensive line? I think he's one of the cleanest, safest picks in the whole draft," Jeremiah said. "The Vikings are going to have the pick of the litter at some of these positions, and they're in a really good spot."
7) On the heels of NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport's report that New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman is considering trading back from the No. 11 overall pick of the draft, Jeremiah will believe it when he sees it. Gettleman's drafting history certainly suggests an aversion to first-round trade-backs -- as Rapoport acknowledged, he's never done it in eight drafts.
"I think we'll see a right turn in a NASCAR race before we see Dave Gettleman trade back," Jeremiah said. "So I don't see that happening."
"(Paye would) give them a little bit more juice, kind of a fastball off the edge," Jeremiah said.