Justin Rogers | The Detroit News
Welcome to the offseason.
The Super Bowl is in the books and we’re about seven months away from the NFL’s next regular-season game. That means focus quickly will shift to roster building, namely free agency and the draft.
Due to the pandemic, this year’s draft figures to be as tricky to navigate as ever. Some college seasons were canceled, many others abbreviated and a number of top prospects opted out. That limited scouting opportunities, which figures to be further disrupted by the canceling of the scouting combine and elimination of in-person visits.
Still, the draft will go on as normal, scheduled to run from April 29-May 1. With that in mind, we’re here to take an initial stab at the first round. Included our projection is some analysis of the top-10 picks as well as a pair of University of Michigan athletes we see coming off the board in the first round.
► 1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson: Don’t listen to anyone trying to play devil’s advocate with the alternatives. Lawrence has been projected as the No. 1 pick since his freshman year and has done nothing to alter that perception.
Lawrence has a more slender frame, but his skill set is reminiscent of Andrew Luck when he was coming out of Stanford. The Clemson standout is accurate, a good decision-maker and has plus athleticism, giving him dual-threat abilities, both on designed runs and roll outs or simply when his pocket breaks down.
With some decent receiving options and a workhorse back in James Robinson, Lawrence should be able to hit the ground running for new coach Urban Meyer.
► 2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson, QB, BYU: The Jets have a decision to make in the coming weeks, whether to continue to try and build around Sam Darnold or restart the clock at the quarterback position. There’s little question the team has done little to help Darnold succeed, but with two years remaining on his rookie deal and a new coaching staff coming in, hitting reset seems like the better option.
Wilson came out of nowhere this season, completing 73.5% of his passes with 33 touchdowns to just three interceptions, while adding another 10 scores on the ground. With five picks in the top-100 (and maybe more if they trade Darnold), plus a wealth of cap space, the Jets can rapidly rebuild around Wilson.
► 3. Miami Dolphins — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama: If anyone is in position to make a legit run at Deshaun Watson, it’s the Dolphins. With two first-rounders this year, and a young QB in Tua Tagovailoa, that’s the start of a strong return for the Houston quarterback.
Assuming it doesn’t come to fruition, the Dolphins must build a better offense around Tagovailoa. There are three wide receivers at the top of this class, but we’re slotting the Heisman winner first off the board.
Smith is rail thin and could have trouble with press coverage, but there’s little denying his elite route running and open-field abilities.
► 4. Atlanta Falcons — Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State: This will probably be a surprise to some, but Lance’s experience working in a pro-style, run-heavy offense makes him a better schematic fit for new coach Arthur Smith than Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
In this scenario, the Falcons can sit Lance behind Matt Ryan for a season, grooming the rookie on the practice field before having him transition into the starting role in 2022.
Lance was expectational in 2019, throwing 28 touchdowns without an interception. But with only one game in 2020, and making a massive jump in competition, he’ll need the developmental time.
► 5. Cincinnati Bengals — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon: Whether last year’s No. 1 pick, Joe Burrow, is ready for Week 1 is up in the air after the quarterback suffered a torn ACL in November. Regardless, the Bengals need to invest in protecting their franchise passer.
Sewell won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman as a sophomore in 2019. He opted out of the 2020 season, but also has experience at left tackle, capably manning the position as a freshman in 2018. Playing nearly 1,400 snaps in college, he didn’t allow a sack, while also showing the traits of an elite run blocker.
► 6. Philadelphia Eagles — Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU: As a rookie for the Vikings this season, Justin Jefferson caught 88 passes for 1,400 yards. And to think, he wasn’t even the most productive receiver on the LSU team that won the 2019 championship. That honor belongs to Chase, who racked up 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns that year.
We didn’t get a chance to see the encore due to Chase opting out in 2020, but what more do you need to see from the 6-foot-1 receiver. Good route runner? Check. Hands? Solid. Physical? Yep.
Sure, the Eagles invested a first-round pick in the position last year, taking Jalen Reagor 21st overall, and Travis Fulgham had a nice little breakout in 2020, but the team needs more talent on the outside as they appear set to hand the offense’s reins to Jalen Hurts next season.
► 7. Detroit Lions — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: Whether the Lions re-sign Kenny Golladay or not, they’re going to need more receiving talent for quarterback Jared Goff. Sure, the defense also needs all kinds of attention, but Waddle represents the best player still on the board.
It was a somewhat disappointing year for the Alabama pass-catcher, who missed several games with a broken ankle. His push to come back and play in the national title game speaks to his passion for the game, which likely will resonate with Detroit’s new decision-makers.
In terms of production, the numbers are staggering. For his college career, he averaged 18.9 yards per reception, scoring 17 touchdowns in 34 games. Waddle’s calling card is speed, something the Lions lack across the board.
► 8. Carolina Panthers — Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: It’s not a secret that Ohio State has never produced a quality NFL starting quarterback, but Field shouldn’t be judged by those past failures because none that have come before him have been as talented.
Fields possess a strong arm, is accurate and has the ability to make plays with his feet and and outside the pocket. In three seasons, split between Ohio State and Georgia, he completed better than 68% of his throws with seven times more touchdowns than picks.
Perhaps the biggest concern is his patience, and willingness to progress through his reads, but that’s something coach Matt Rhule and wunderkind coordinator Joe Brady should be able to develop.
► 9. Denver Broncos — Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech: The Broncos’ starting cornerbacks, Bryce Callahan and A.J. Bouye, are good players, but Callahan is injury-prone and Bouye is coming off a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy and has a bloated contract with no guaranteed money remaining, making him a potential cap casualty.
A converted quarterback with just two seasons of experience at corner, Farley wasted little time flashing his ball skills at his new position, recording six interceptions and defending 19 total passes in his first 23 games as a defender.
He opted out of the 2020 season, but at 6-foot-2, he also brings prototypical size and length to the position, which he uses to lock down receivers in man coverage.
► 10. Dallas Cowboys — Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama: After losing top cornerback Byron Jones in free agency, the Cowboys were one of seven teams to allow a passer rating against over 100.0 last season. Trevon Diggs showed some promise as a rookie, and selecting Surtain offers an opportunity to pair him with his college teammate in the back end of the defense.
The son of a three-time Pro Bowl corner, Surtain allowed just 21 receptions on the 48 plays where he was targeted in coverage last season. Known for his advanced technique, that should ease his transition to the next level.
► 11. New York Giants — Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
► 12. San Francisco 49ers — Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
► 13. Los Angeles Chargers — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
► 14. Minnesota Vikings — Gregory Rousseau, edge, Miami (Fla.)
► 15. New England Patriots — Kwity Paye, edge, Michigan: Paye is a solidly built, toolsy edge defender who has the size (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) to be a solid run defender out of the box and the ability to develop into an effective pass rusher, with the ability to slide inside in obvious passing situations.
His knack for fulfill his assignment, playing with good fundamental technique and consistent effort draws a favorable comparison to Trey Flowers, the Lions defensive end who established himself playing his first four seasons in New England.
► 16. Arizona Cardinals — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
► 17. Las Vegas Raiders — Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
► 18. Miami Dolphins — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
► 19. Washington Football Team — Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
► 20. Chicago Bears — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
► 21. Indianapolis Colts — Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
► 22. Tennessee Titans — Azeez Ojulari, edge, Georgia
► 23. New York Jets — Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
► 24. Pittsburgh Steelers — Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
► 25. Jacksonville Jaguars — Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
► 26. Cleveland Browns — Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
► 27. Baltimore Ravens — Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
► 28. New Orleans Saints — Joseph Ossai, edge, Texas
► 29. Green Bay Packers — Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
► 30. Buffalo Bills — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
► 31. Kansas City Chiefs — Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan: Both of the Chiefs’ offensive tackles are a year away from free agency, and the team also has an immediate need at guard. Despite some early experience protecting the blindside at Michigan, Mayfield projects better to the right side, where his power can be better utilized. A year to develop his technique would be beneficial, while the path to early playing time as an interior lineman would also exist.
► 32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jayson Oweh, edge, Penn State