The biggest event of the NFL offseason takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, over three days this week as the leading college football players will hear their names called by the league's 32 teams.
The NFL Draft – which will take place from Thursday April 29 to Saturday May 1 - is a time of great hope and excitement for fans, but there can be nervousness for the teams as they try to assess if top college players can make the leap to the game's highest level. While many can, there are also a great number who fail to produce the goods in the NFL.
The NFL Draft is so often called a lottery but even more so this year with scouts, general managers and coaches unable to run the rule over prospects up close and personal at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A number of high-profile stars also opted out of the 2020 college football season, meaning there is limited tape for the scouts to study. NFL Network Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah states: "More than any year I've been doing this… this draft is a mystery."
Mystery, intrigue and high drama will be guaranteed in Cleveland later this week. So, let's dig into the highly-anticipated event that will, once again, feature vaccinated fans and prospects in the host city after last year's virtual affair featured Bill Belichick's dog, Kliff Kingsbury's house and picks being made from the basement of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
What's the format?
The NFL Draft will take place over seven rounds. The opening round begins on Thursday night and into Friday morning (1am start) with the Jacksonville Jaguars – the team with the worst record from last season – on the clock. They are widely expected to take Clemson's superstar quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. The picks are then made in ascending order – worst picks first and the Super Bowl champion picks last. There will be a shuffling of team positions via trades and this has already happened with the San Francisco 49ers trading for Miami's third overall pick. A selection Miami held from a previous trade with the Houston Texans. Day two begins at midnight on Friday with the selections for rounds two and three. The final day – rounds four through seven – will begin at 5pm on Saturday.
All about the picks
Due to previous wheeling and dealing, four teams have multiple first-round picks. Jacksonville select first and 25th, the New York Jets second and 23rd, the Miami Dolphins sixth and 18th and the Baltimore Ravens 27th and 31st. As a result of their previous transactions, Houston, Seattle, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams do not own a first-round pick this year. With 259 picks set to be made over three days, the Philadelphia Eagles currently have the most selections with 11. Dallas, Jacksonville, NY Jets, Green Bay, New England and Minnesota are next with 10 each. Seattle will have to use their selections wisely as they have a league-low three.
Quarterbacks at the top
Five quarterbacks are set to be picked in round one of the 2021 NFL Draft with three widely tabbed to go with the first three selections. That would mark only the third time in league history that has happened, with the other times being 1971 and 1999. Lawrence's arrival into the NFL has been anticipated for years and he is already being compared to Hall of Fame legend John Elway. Zach Wilson, out of Brigham Young University, is widely expected to be picked by the New York Jets at number two. Then the real intrigue begins at three. Will the 49ers opt for Alabama's Mac Jones, Ohio State's Justin Fields or North Dakota State's Trey Lance, the young man who held more Pro Day workouts (two) than he threw interceptions in college (one). There is likely to be such a scramble for these quarterbacks that all five could be off the board before the top 10 is rounded out. That doesn't mean each of them will be a stunning success in the NFL. Even recent history suggests some will fail at the next level. The 2018 NFL Draft also saw five quarterbacks taken in round one – Baker Mayfield (Cleveland), Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Josh Allen (Buffalo), Josh Rosen (Arizona) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore). While some are obvious hits, there are also misses in that list – the Jets have moved on from Darnold within three years, trading him to Carolina. And Rosen is already on his fourth NFL team!
In drafts that have taken place in the Super Bowl era (since 1967), there has never been a time where the entire top 10 was made up of offensive players. That could happen this year because this class is also loaded with elite wide receivers and a couple of very unique difference-makers at other offensive positions. Let's assume the five quarterbacks mentioned above go in the top 10, then add in elite receivers such as LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, and the Alabama pairing of Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Florida is churning out a matchup nightmare at tight end in Kyle Pitts and Orgeon is serving up a potential All-Pro offensive tackle in Penai Sewell. That doesn't leave much room for the top defenders on the board, such as Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. Those two, in particular, are mouth-watering talents. They just may have to wait a while to hear their names called.
All eyes on Atlanta
Given that we strongly expect quarterbacks to be taken by the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers; the first real twist in this year's draft story could come at the number four spot with the Atlanta Falcons on the clock. What will the Falcons do? Will they also join the quarterback gold rush and draft the eventual replacement for 35-year-old Pro Bowler Matt Ryan? Will they draft him a star offensive weapon such as Pitts or Chase? Or will they be open for business and trade down, allowing a quarterback-hungry team to move up to a position where they can strike for a signal-caller. Given the multiple needs of the Falcons and their salary cap troubles, the latter makes the most sense. And Ryan is good enough to win with for another five years.
SKY SPORTS NFL
You can follow the NFL Draft all the way through the weekend on the Sky Sports NFL Channel. There will be a special NFL Draft Show from 8pm on Thursday night where I will be joined by special guests such as Brian Baldinger, Jeff Reinebold, Josh Norman, Will Blackmon and Vince Young. Within that three-hour show, you will also hear from Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, super-agent Leigh Steinberg, multiple draft prospects and current NFL stars such as Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, Kansas City Chiefs first-rounder from a year ago, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Tennessee linebacker Rashaan Evans, long-time NFL quarterback Josh McCown and our very own Buffalo Bills defensive end, Efe Obada. I will then hand over to the red carpet event at the NFL Draft from 11pm before the Jags make that all-important first pick at 1am on Friday.
NFL Game Pass
NFL fans in the UK have the exciting opportunity to access all the coverage of the 2021 NFL Draft live and on-demand with NFL Game Pass.
With NFL Game Pass, you can catch every single pick of the NFL Draft live and on-demand. At a low price of £7.99 you can see every pick as it happens, in one of the most exciting weekends of the NFL year.
- Watch all the picks live as they come through, with full day coverage from Thursday to Saturday
- NFL Network Coverage 24/7 providing all the analysis of every pick
- Draft Round 1 in 40', available on Friday morning which shows the highlights of the first round in a condensed 40 minutes
- Draft Rounds 2 & 3 in 40', available on Saturday morning which shows the highlights of rounds 2 and 3 in a condensed 40 minutes
- Draft in 40', available on Sunday morning which shows the highlights of the full draft, in a condensed 40 minutes
- Selection of VOD content around the Draft, including Path to the Draft, Move the Sticks, Around the NFL, Mock Draft Live and much more!