Every team wants to do well in every draft, but the event usually means more to some franchises than it does to others. Circumstances vary each year -- some organizations have made a conscious choice to focus on prospects over free agents, others have generally understocked rosters or opportunities to land key franchise building blocks -- but various teams have a lot riding on this particular offseason function.
Below are the seven teams who most need to succeed at the 2021 NFL Draft:
First-round picks in 2021: Nos. 1 and 25
Total picks: 10
Here's a list of players drafted by the Jaguars with a top-10 pick between 2011 and '17:
- QB Blaine Gabbert (No. 10 overall in 2011)
- WR Justin Blackmon (No. 5 overall in 2012)
- OL Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall in 2013)
- QB Blake Bortles (No. 3 overall in 2014)
- DE Dante Fowler Jr. (No. 3 overall in 2015)
- CB Jalen Ramsey (No. 5 overall in 2016)
- RB Leonard Fournette (No. 4 overall in 2017)
None of them remain on the team, and -- with the exception of Ramsey -- all were disappointments during their time on Florida's First Coast. I think the Jags will finally break this run of bad luck when they take Trevor Lawrence first overall this year. Still, with the number of holes to fill on this roster, the Jags must do a better job with every pick here than they have in the recent past if they are to construct a solid foundation for new head coach Urban Meyer.
First-round pick in 2021: No. 3
Total picks in 2021 NFL Draft: 9
Barring an absolute shocker, the 49ers will be selecting a quarterback at No. 3 overall after climbing nine spots in a trade with Miami. When choosing the signal-caller who will succeed/replace Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco MUST get it right, seeing as how the team doesn't have a first-round choice in 2022 or '23 as a result of the compensation given to the Dolphins in the move up. So while this team is still just one season removed from reaching the Super Bowl, and the roster was good enough even before free agency for me to name them as the likeliest group to go from worst to first next season, this draft is shaping up as a monumental one for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Beyond quarterback, it would also be good to add in the secondary, along the defensive line and at guard.
First-round picks in 2021: Nos. 2 and 23
Total picks: 9
Since being hired during the summer of 2019, after the Jets had already shaped their roster for that season, general manager Joe Douglas has spent much of his time cleaning up the mess left behind by his predecessor. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made so far, thanks in part to an underwhelming 2020, in terms of personnel acquisition. So even after upgrading at receiver (with Corey Davis) and on the defensive line (with Sheldon Rankins and Carl Lawson) in free agency this year, Douglas still has plenty of work remaining, including along the offensive line. While rookie LT Mekhi Becton showed great promise in Year 1, the Jets' O-line ranked 29th on Pro Football Focus' year-end list. Douglas will also need to find depth across the board. Of course, the biggest question of all is how to handle the No. 2 overall pick. Will he stick with Sam Darnold at quarterback or link his fate to rookie Zach Wilson?
First-round pick in 2021: No. 20
Total picks: 8
The seats under GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy can't get any hotter coming off a second consecutive 8-8 season. Things would get a little cooler for the pair if the Bears could find a potential franchise quarterback in the draft to develop behind veteran stopgap Andy Dalton. Let's not forget the Bears also need help at cornerback after releasing Kyle Fuller, and adding along the defensive line is imperative, too. Which brings us to Chicago's first overall pick. On one hand, the fact that it is currently set at No. 20 will make finding that job-saving QB a considerable challenge. On the other hand, this will be the Bears' first first-round choice in three years, following 2018's trade for Khalil Mack. One player who might be worth exploring is Caleb Farley, who I think has the potential to be the best corner in this class.
First-round picks in 2021: No. 15
Total picks in 2021 NFL Draft: 10
The end of the Tom Brady era last year played a huge part in the Patriots missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. I know the team's perpetual success under Brady and Bill Belichick, along with a penchant for trading down, led to them routinely drafting lower in recent years. In fact, if New England stays at No. 15, this will be the highest pick the team has made since just before that ill-fated 2008 season, when the Pats selected Jerod Mayo 10th overall. But they've been their own worst enemy, as well, in recent drafts; perhaps their most accomplished draftee over the past two years is punter Jake Bailey, a 2019 fifth-rounder who was first-team All-Pro last season. Let's see if Dave Ziegler -- promoted to replace Nick Caserio, who left for the Texans, as New England's personnel chief -- can help further improve a team forced to embark on a heavy free-agent spending spree to fill roster holes. (It doesn't help that New England's third-round pick was taken away this year as a consequence for filming the Bengals' sideline in 2019.)
First-round pick in 2021: No. 12
Total picks in 2021 NFL Draft: 11
Eagles GM Howie Roseman is a realist -- he seems to be well aware that his roster is past its 2017 peak. Philadelphia's trade down with Miami in this year's draft -- which netted an extra first-rounder in 2022 -- also suggests he knows the rebuilding work won't all be done this year. If Carson Wentz hits his play-time incentives with the Colts, the 2022 choice Philly acquired from Indy in exchange for the QB should become a first-rounder, as well, giving the Eagles plenty of ammunition to secure a quarterback if things don't work out with Jalen Hurts this season.
That said, it would make sense this April to do as much as possible to help Hurts succeed -- and coming off a season in which Philadelphia receivers ranked 28th in the NFL in catches and 29th in receiving yards, with stalwart tight end Zach Ertz likely headed out of town, it will be crucial to find better playmakers in the draft. That, unfortunately, has been difficult for this team, which must break a recent trend of whiffing on receiver prospects (like Nelson Agholor, who had his best pro season after leaving Philly, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has 14 catches and 254 receiving yards in his career thus far; the jury is still out on Jalen Reagor after an injury-marred rookie campaign). Philadelphia should also think about finding someone to develop behind veteran corner Darius Slay.
First-round pick in 2021: None
Total picks: 8
Setting aside quarterback Deshaun Watson's legal situation, Nick Caserio undertook a monster challenge when he became Houston's general manager. The Texans have one of the worst rosters in the NFL and a glaring dearth of draft capital -- they currently have just ONE selection within the top 100 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft (No. 67 overall). And while I remain hopeful that 2019 fifth-rounder Charles Omenihu will continue to develop at defensive end, the fact remains that Houston hasn't drafted a truly impactful non-specialist on Day 3 since center Ben Jones in 2012. This is one area where the team must make serious improvements -- ideally, that will start with finding a couple of potential keepers this year.