2021 NFL Draft: Most likely to…

Everyone has hope.

That is one of the biggest reasons why the NFL Draft has become as popular as it is today. If your favorite team is already good, you feel that you can land a nice luxury piece in the draft that’ll help you stay at the top for the next couple of seasons. If your team is average, you feel that if you can add the right pieces in the draft that you’ll soon be in line to compete. And if your team is bad, the draft offers all of the hope in the world as you believe a handful of picks made in the draft can help create a nucleus of what will soon become a competitive squad.

Drafts in other sports seem to just appear out of nowhere on the actual day they are held, but there’s no hiding the NFL Draft as the coverage dominates ESPN, NFL Network, talk radio, podcasts, articles, nearly everything and every way you consume sports content.

While the 32 NFL teams have a plan going into each season’s draft, even they don’t have a firm grasp as to how things are going to play out and who they are going to land with each of their picks. Between their own trades, other team’s trades, surprise selections and players falling farther than expected, the NFL Draft has become a must-see spectacle due in large part to all of the unknown.

And then there are people like me (and I’m sure plenty of you that are reading this) that feel we have a good grasp on team’s needs and the prospects they may be interested in, so we do mock drafts and “best-fit” articles to help us pass the time and attempt to predict the future, when in actuality, you’ll likely be lucky to correctly predict five or six of your mock draft selections.

So for the purpose of this article, let’s take you back in time to your high school days. Remember when the yearbook would come out and you’d read the “most likely to…” section? Well that’s what this article is, just geared towards the 2021 NFL Draft.

Here are some of my educated guesses, but feel free to play along and let me know your nominations either on Twitter or in the comments below!

Most likely to… be selected No. 2 overall

Zach Wilson

The Jets have several directions they can go with the No. 2 overall pick, but in the event they don’t address the quarterback position in free agency, which I don’t expect them to, my money would be on New York selecting its next signal caller with the No. 2 overall selection. While Justin Fields is a common player mocked to New York in this position, I’m personally giving Wilson the nod here as I think he offers more as a pure passer than Fields, while still possessing the ability to create with his legs when needed. I’m personally not writing off Sam Darnold as a competent QB in the league, keep in mind he’s only 23 years old, but when your general manager is telling the media that he’ll answer phone calls for his current starting quarterback, that tells me he won’t be the quarterback much longer.

Most likely to… trade into the top 10

Los Angeles Chargers

While my latest mock draft has the Carolina Panthers trading up to No. 3, I’m not counting them in this prediction since they currently own a top-10 pick. So with that being said, my prediction is that the Los Angeles Chargers trade into the top 10 in an attempt to select Florida tight end, Kyle Pitts. It’s looking like Hunter Henry will be signing elsewhere in free agency, and with Pitts appearing to be one of the highest-rated tight end prospects in NFL Draft history, moving into the top 10 to secure a complete game changer in Pitts will give Justin Herbert a young stud to develop with as the Chargers attempt to become one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses.

Most likely to… be the biggest first-round bust

Justin Fields

This one’s always tough because you typically feel pretty strong about the first 32 players you anticipate coming off the board, but the draft has proven over and over that there’s truly no such thing as a “sure thing” and there’s at least a handful of guys that will either go down as busts, or at the very least, failed to live up to expectations. So if I have to pick one guy that’ll flame out, I’m going with Fields. The transition from the college game to the NFL is more significant at the quarterback position than nearly any other position on the field, and with Fields already having the tendency to need to see his receivers open before he throws to them, I’d anticipate him struggling early on. I would say that he may be able to bail himself out of otherwise bad situations due to his ability to create with his legs, but that’s only going to take him so far. These issues could also potentially be magnified if he’s asked to start from day one. So while I’m not completely writing off Fields’ potential as a quality NFL quarterback, I am chalking him up as the most likely first-round bust.

Most likely to… be the best late-round sleeper

D’Wayne Eskridge

He’s only 5’9″ and he didn’t face the best competition at Western Michigan, but Eskridge possesses game-breaking speed and should carve out a nice role as a slot receiver at the next level. He may struggle early in his career with aggressive press coverage, but if he can overcome this and not let it become a consistent issue, he has the tools required to stick around in the league for a long time. He’s better at contested-catch situations than you’d think, considering his size, as he seems to player bigger than your typical 5’9″ receiver. Eskridge is an RPO slant-catching machine with 4.3 speed that allows him to create after the catch. Pay attention to where Eskridge lands as he’ll be an interesting player to monitor over the next few years.

Most likely to… be the first running back selected

Najee Harris

This has essentially become a three-horse race as Harris, Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams all seem to have a realistic chance of being the first running back selected. While I personally think it’s between Harris and Etienne, I’m going to give the edge to Harris due to his unique ability as both a bruising runner and effectiveness as a pass catcher. At 6’2″, 230 lbs, Harris doesn’t fit the typical mold of a pass-catching back, but it’s actually one of the biggest strengths to his game as he combined for 70 receptions for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air over his last two seasons at Alabama. I expect Harris to come off the board at some point between the Dolphins second first-round pick (No. 18) and their first second-round pick (No. 36). How’s that for a confusing sentence?

Most likely to… be the first defensive player selected

Caleb Farley

We don’t have an elite pass-rush prospect like Chase Young or a sure-fire, top-10 cornerback like Jeff Okudah in this year’s draft, so it’s truly anyone’s guess as to who will be the first defender off the board. However, I do think it’ll be a cornerback, and I think it’ll come down between Patrick Surtain and Farley, with Farley being my official pick. I predict this year’s top 10 to be filled primarily with players on the offensive side of the ball, and in the event the draft order remains as is in the top 10, I think Denver is the first team that would realistically select a defensive player. With cornerback being one of the team’s most-pressing needs, I think Farley fits Denver’s scheme a bit better than Surtain, so he gets the nod from me.

Most likely to… slip in the first round

Micah Parsons

Otherwise known as the Aaron Rodgers award after he was rumored to potentially go No. 1 overall back in the 2005 NFL Draft but slipped to Green Bay at No. 24. I’ve seen Parsons mocked as high as No. 3 overall earlier this offseason, but as time has passed and mock drafters are getting a better idea of how the draft is projected to play out, Parson appears to be on the slide. I don’t think the slide is a talent issue, or even a character issue as some analysts believe, but more so due to the fact that the position of linebacker isn’t valued nearly as high in today’s NFL. Additionally, there are some pretty solid options at the position outside of Parsons, so teams may not view him as the can’t-miss prospect that several believed he was. He’s still a first rounder, but he may just have to wait a littler longer than he hopes to hear his name called.

Be sure to check out the latest episodes of the Loaded Box Podcast as we’ve been breaking down a handful of players in each episode. So far we’ve covered QB’s (Lawrence/Trask/Lance), RB’s (Harris/Carter/Gainwell/Hubbard/Sermon & WR’s (Smith/Marshall/Bateman/Moore/Williams)!

Ben Morgan is a co-host and blogger for the Loaded Box Podcast. Check out his article archive and find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook

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