What makes the 2021 NFL Draft so unique? From generational talent to quarterbacks in-demand

The 2021 NFL Draft takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, next week as college football’s leading players will realise their professional dreams as their names are called over three days from Thursday April 29.

There is much to get excited about and I’m not even talking about the Los Angeles Rams’ Draft House in Malibu Beach, which is the height of opulence and glamour! This draft has the potential to be one of the most intriguing and talked-about offseason events in years.

And here’s why…

Generational talent at the top

Pick up any draft preview magazine in any offseason and you will find dozens upon dozens of profiles on the prospects. And one thing that tends to happen a great deal is that the young player will draw a ‘pro comparison’ to a current star already in the league.

That has not been easy to do for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has been described as a generational talent and who is the sure-fire first overall pick heading to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Rather than being compared to a current NFL passer, Lawrence is being measured up against the great John Elway, who won two Super Bowls during a Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos. Lawrence has been tabbed as an NFL superstar since he was in high school and now he will get the chance to prove himself on the biggest stage of all. He comes into the NFL with expectations already sky high and with the task of becoming Jacksonville’s first true franchise quarterback since the late 1990s. No pressure, kid!

The annual lottery becomes even more of a gamble

A normal build-up to an NFL Draft will see scouts, general managers and coaches pore over every inch of game film from the previous season. Couple that with extensive on-field drills and off-field interviews at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis every February and you get a good idea of who you are picking.

And even then, the success rate of players taken in the first round hovers around the 50 per cent mark, if that! This year’s Draft comes on the back of no NFL Combine and several big-name players opting out of the 2020 season – both due to Covid-19.

That means there is much less film upon which to judge a star receiver like Ja’Marr Chase, of LSU, who sat out the 2020 season. The same can be said for first-round quarterbacks in Trey Lance (North Dakota State) and Mac Jones (Alabama), both of whom started just 17 games in college.

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said: “More than any year I’ve been doing this, this draft is a mystery.”

And Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich told me just last week: “We’re in a good place but this has been a tougher process, there’s no doubt. We don’t have as much personal interaction with them and we don’t get to see them up close on the field. We’ve been Zooming players and getting to know them in other ways.”

A run on quarterbacks

We are expecting an historic run on quarterbacks in this 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is expected to go to the Jaguars with the number one pick and the New York Jets, having offloaded 2018 top three pick Sam Darnold to Carolina, are widely thought to be taking Zach Wilson, a dynamic and exciting young quarterback out of Brigham Young University.

We don’t know which quarterback remaining on the board will be favoured by the San Francisco 49ers, but we know they will be taking a passer. You don’t trade up from the 12th overall pick to number three (as San Francisco did with Miami) to take a running back!

Whether it be Jones or Justin Fields out of Ohio State, that young man will come in carrying a heavy load knowing the Niners gave up three first-round draft picks (2021, 2022 and 2023) and a third-round pick to get him.

When the Niners call the name of their quarterback, it will mark just the third time in NFL history that the top three picks in a draft have been passers. In 1971, Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning and Dan Pastorini came off the board. In 1999, it was Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith. The fact that Plunkett, Manning and McNabb were the only real successes out of that group, you can see the risks of taking a quarterback so high in any draft. We’re back to that 50 per cent success rate!

The draft starts at four

That’s not the time you should set your alarm clocks for. I mean that the real intrigue in this draft will be at number four when the Atlanta Falcons are on the clock and ready to make their pick.

Will the Falcons be tempted to join the quarterback draft party – five are expected to go in round one – in a bid to find the long-term replacement for Matt Ryan, who turns 36 in mid-May? The word on the street is that owner Arthur Blank is infatuated with Lance, but his team is also in salary cap trouble and needs a bunch of younger and cheaper players.

That could make the Falcons a prime trade target for quarterback-hungry teams like the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. What the Falcons do here is going to be fascinating and we know that every NFL Draft features multiple big trades in round one.

I personally think the Falcons need to fill multiple holes and Ryan is good enough for another four or five years. I think they should trade down and pick up more picks along the way.

The year of the offense

Since the modern era of the NFL (from the start of the Super Bowls in 1967) there has never been a draft where a defensive player was not taken in the top 10 picks. There is a chance that happens in 2021.

It’s very possible when you think that all five quarterbacks slated for round one could go in the top 10 and then you add in quality wide receivers like Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), DeVonta Smith (Alabama), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) and a difference-making and scary tight end in Kyle Pitts, out of Florida.

Add in a man being tabbed as having Hall of Fame potential at tackle in Oregon’s Penei Sewell and you could see all offense in the top 10, especially with this being a good class for additional offensive line prospects.

The best defenders in this draft look like being Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. Both may have to wait a little while to hear their names called next Thursday night. It’s not fair but it emphasises the importance of the quarterback position. Mac Jones is ranked as low as the 25th overall player on many draft boards but it would be an absolute shocker if he were to slide out of the top 10.

For updates on the Draft, be sure to follow along at skysports.com/nfl and on Twitter @SkySportsNFL.

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