Quarterbacks, SEC Dominance and College Reunion Rankings: NFL Draft Day 1 Recap
Fans. Boos. Hugs. Bill Belichick outscheming everyone, seemingly with little effort. We’re back.
Based on how Thursday began, the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft looked like it would be complete madness. By my count, there were four teams seriously considering trading into the top 10 at some point on Thursday. Andy Dalton was not the future of the Bears, New Orleans was interested in Mac Jones (and only Mac Jones, apparently), and the Patriots were looking at both Jones and Justin Fields. After it became clear that Atlanta would not send Julio Jones to Baltimore, they had their eyes on one of the top three receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. That would also require a trade.
In addition to the drama with draft participants, the Packers dropped early Thursday afternoon that Aaron Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay. Oh and by the way, Tim Tebow might be coming out of retirement to play tight end for Urban Meyer. “What a day,” I said to myself at 1:48 p.m.
Surprisingly, the night turned out to be less chaotic than anticipated. Trevor Lawrence to Jacksonville. Zach Wilson to the Jets. Trey Lance to San Francisco, which would have been a surprise had there not been such momentum in the last week. There were a couple of twists and turns, but overall it was not the first round I would have predicted Thursday afternoon.
Here are five thoughts on the day, including my very insightful and completely subjective ranking of the college reunions that will be happening this fall:
Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks
It was the first time three quarterbacks were selected to start the draft since 1999. Five were selected with the first 15 picks. Despite a gazillion hours of media coverage spent on these five, their landing spots all still have intriguing elements.
Trevor Lawrence → Jaguars
The best quarterback-running back duo in college football over the last few years isn’t done just yet. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne will team up under Urban Meyer’s new offense in Jacksonville. They’re going to need some protection, but Jacksonville has several day two-picks to make that happen.
Zach Wilson → Jets
Zach Wilson’s move across the country to the Big Apple was not a surprise (although WOW this is going to be a culture shock for him). It was instead that the Jets traded up to the 14th spot to grab USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, demonstrating they are serious about providing Wilson with better protection than Sam Darnold had.
Trey Lance → 49ers
Mel Kiper called him the most fascinating player he’s ever studied because there are so many unanswered questions. Lance has only 17 career college starts, and they were at the FCS level, but the ceiling for him is so high. Kyle Shanahan loves designed runs for his quarterback, and who better to do that than Trey Lance.
Justin Fields → Bears
The Chicago Bears’ front office made a personnel decision that makes sense. This should not be news, but as a Chicago resident, I can tell you it somehow is. The Bears traded up from the 20th spot to grab the Giants’ No. 11 pick and chose the former Ohio State quarterback. He’s had issues with holding onto the ball too long, so it will be interesting to see how he fares behind a currently dismal offensive line that did Mitch Trubisky zero favors.
Mac Jones → Patriots
Bill Belichick might lose battles, but he will never lose a war. How did Mac Jones, a Heisman finalist and member of his best friend Nick Saban’s squad fall to No. 15 after weeks of saying he would not fall out of the top 10? As has been previously discussed everywhere at all times, Mac Jones is not a mobile quarterback. But neither was Tom Brady. Belichick apparently has a type. Let's see he can make it work again.
Has anyone checked on the Big XII?
Breaking news here. If you want to play professional football, go to Alabama. The SEC led the draft with 12 picks last night. Half of them were from Alabama. By now, we are familiar with this storyline. Over the last five years, the SEC has had at least nine first-round draft picks each year. Next in line is the Big Ten with seven in three of the last five years. In total, the SEC has 58 first-round picks since 2017. The Big Ten has 30.
Speaking of the Big Ten, Northwestern had the same number of first-round picks as Ohio State and Michigan combined. Rashawn Slater went 13th overall to the Chargers, and Greg Newsome II went 26th overall to Cleveland. Northwestern had previously had only two first round picks in the last 37 years. They matched that tonight, and it is the first time ever that the Wildcats have had two first round picks in the same year.
The ACC was in the third spot on Thursday night with six first-round selections, followed by the PAC-12’s three and three from G5 teams. Trey Lance was the sole FCS selection on night one.
Notice a glaring omission here? Where is the Big XII? They had zero players drafted in the first round for the first time since the conference was created in 1996. They are the first Power Five conference to be shut out of the first round since the Big East in 2005.
Coaches like Nick Saban and Ryan Day, who are already making massive strides in Texas, will certainly use this in recruiting. Yes, Texas and Oklahoma are still Texas and Oklahoma, but this episode does not help Steve Sarkisian or Lincoln Riley's cause.
Running backs continue to fly under the radar
For all of the attention we give running backs in college, it’s funny how little we talk about them come draft time. In the last three years, only four first round picks have been running backs.
As recently as a decade ago, securing a franchise running back was seemingly almost as important as selecting the quarterback that you wanted as the future of your program. Don’t get me wrong, Najee Harris and Travis Etienne will excel at the next level, just the lack of attention given to this position once again signals the move toward the idea that you can turn a third or fourth-round pick into your star ball carrier.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah - LB, Notre Dame
There was a rush on linebackers with five chosen on Thursday, but somehow last year’s Butkus Award winner, who ESPN said had a 97% chance of being chosen in the first round, did not have his name called. JOK was maybe going to go to the Raiders. Then the Football Team. Then the Giants. Then the Saints. Then the Ravens. To whoever ends up taking him - you may get the steal of the draft.
Landon Dickerson, C - Alabama
Dickerson has had injury issues, but he’s the type of guy any GM or coach should want on their team. At 6’6” and 333 pounds, he is massive, plays to the whistle and flattens defensive linemen. We learned during Alabama’s pro day that he can also cartwheel quite well, a sign that his ACL recovery is going swimmingly.
Christian Barmore - DT, Alabama
While there was plenty of edge rusher action, Thursday was not really a night for defensive line players. The only defensive end taken was Payton Turner out of Houston who is headed to New Orleans. Barmore is the best defensive tackle available and will likely be called early on Friday.
College reunion rankings
#1: Mac Jones and Damien Harris in New England
These two overlapped at Alabama, and Jones told Boston.com that he and Harris are “pretty much best friends.” There is nothing else to say here.
#2: Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne in Jacksonville
There are going to be many road trips from Clemson to Jacksonville in the next couple of years. As previously stated, they’re going to need some blocking help here, but watching an Urban offense with these two will be exciting.
#3: Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase in Cincinnati
This should be #1 because this duo was absolutely unstoppable in 2019, but this is Lawrence and Etienne’s problem on steroids. In order to get the ball to Chase, Burrow needs more than .2 seconds to get rid of it. I’m not sure he gets that with Cincy’s offensive line.
#4: Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle in Miami
I wanted a “2nd and 26” play reunion between Tua and DeVonta Smith. I guess this will have to do.
#5: Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith in Philadelphia
I am not entirely sure how this is going to play out, but I am entirely sure that I have little confidence in the Eagles. How effective will Hurts be given his very limited experience? How effective will Smith be given his size? For all of its faults, the NFC East has some stout defenses, especially after the Cowboys drafted Micah Parsons on Thursday.