Top 5 dark horse wildcard playoff teams right now

New teams that could make the playoffs this year

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Every season in the NFL there is a new field of playoff teams. It is extremely rare for the same exact group of teams to make it two years in a row, especially when it comes to the wild card spots. There are always teams every season that plays far below their expectations while other teams end up being much better than projected. Let’s speculate who some of the dark horse candidates could be this year for the wildcard spots in the playoffs. We will define a dark horse as a team that finished below 500 last season and did not make the playoffs. Here are five teams that fit the criteria.

New England Patriots

It seems a little strange calling the Patriots a dark horse considering how long they dominated the AFC and even the NFL in general but that’s exactly what they are heading into this season. Last season was the first time since 2008 that they missed out on the playoffs. Ironically, they actually won 11 games that year and were only the second team in the modern era to win that many games and not make a postseason appearance. Before 2008, the last time they missed the playoffs was in 2002, which was the first full season for Tom Brady.

Their 7-9 record in 2020 broke their incredible streak of 19 consecutive winning seasons. The last time they had a losing season was when they went 5-11 in the year 2000, which was before the Brady era. All things considered, it’s amazing how quickly they went from annual favorites to win the AFC conference to a team that’s being considered a dark horse team. Losing the greatest quarterback of all time can have that effect.

Quarterback Cam Newton will enter his second season as the starter for the Patriots. It was a roller coaster of a 2020 season for Cam, who dealt with all sorts of adversity including injuries, Covid, and a lack of offensive talent. Despite finishing the season with a losing record, they were really just a couple of plays away from a winning season and being right in the race for a wild card last year. The two plays that really jump out are the fumble against the Bills on a game-winning drive and being stuffed at the goal line on the last play of the game against the Seahawks. That was likely the slim difference between 9-7 and 7-9.

That is still no excuse because the NFL is a game that is often determined by a play or two here and there. The Patriots did not make those plays which are why they finished as a losing team. This year could be a different story as they look to make another postseason run. They will return a bunch of key players on defense who sat out last year because of Covid and also added some offensive weapons in the offseason including Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor.

Defense is a staple in New England and it will be better this year with who they have returning. As for the offense, there is much to be optimistic about with Cam leading the way. He has a ton more talent surrounding him this year, he will finally be fully healthy, and he has had a full year to really learn the system and work with the coaching staff. Even if Cam struggles, they have a rookie in Mac Jones waiting for his opportunity to show what he can do. All things considered, don’t sleep on the Patriots this year.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are another team that is not a traditional dark horse. They finished last season with a very disappointing 6-10 record but the year before that they represented the NFC conference in the Super Bowl. Interestingly, the majority of that roster is still with the team today including most of their key contributors on both offense and defense. The biggest difference between the 2019 and 2020 seasons was the health of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. In 2019 he played a full season of 16 games for the only time in his career while in 2020 he was only able to appear in 6 games. Unfortunately, because of his extensive injury history, 6 games is actually the second-most in a season for his career.

In his full 2019 season, Garoppolo was a good quarterback but was not exactly spectacular. He was more of a “game manager” type but not necessarily a huge difference-maker. It is widely believed that the team won the NFC mostly based on elite defense and their dynamic rushing attack designed by Kyle Shanahan. The massive drop-off in results between 2019 and 2020 is not simply just because Garoppolo was hurt. They had many other injuries as well, especially on the defensive side. It’s also important to note that the backup quarterbacks were an absolute disaster.

Nevertheless, Garoppolo will enter the 2021 season as the starting quarterback again. He will of course hope to stay healthy, something he has rarely been able to do, unfortunately, but will also be looking to get the 49ers back to their dominant 2019 version. If he is unable to do so, they will turn to Trey Lance, who is a very talented rookie that they traded up to draft. It is very possible that he will eventually be a star but just needs some time to develop. If he is ahead of schedule, he may even be an instant upgrade from Garoppolo.

The quarterback situation in San Francisco is fascinating considering all of the different factors. It could really make or break the 49ers this year. As stated before, they still have many of the key players on their roster from that 2019 team including George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Fred Warner, and Nick Bosa. The 49ers are a talented enough team from top to bottom, coaches included, to not only qualify as a wildcard dark horse but a sleeper Super Bowl contender as well.

Carolina Panthers

A team that qualifies as a true dark horse candidate is the Panthers. This is a rebuilding team with the potential to be very competitive this season. They have a ton of young talent that pairs perfectly with their young up-and-coming coaching staff including Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. They finished last season at just 5-11 but the 2021 version has a real chance to far exceed that because of how different the roster will look from players returning from injury to changes in player personnel.

Maybe most important is the return of Christian McCaffrey from injury after playing just 3 games in 2020. He is the most dynamic player in the NFL when healthy and his 2392 total yards in 2019 prove it. Another key factor to their success is the fact they have switched quarterbacks this year from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold, who they acquired from the Jets. Darnold is a real wild card and it will be very interesting to see what he does in this new and much better situation that he is in. He was a very high-rated prospect but never quite worked out with the Jets, but will now have a much better roster and coaching staff with his new team.

Rhule and Brady are a major upgrade from the revolving disaster he was dealing with on the Jets. The weapons available to him on offense will be much better also, starting with McCaffrey and DJ Moore but also including Robby Anderson, with who he previously played and had some success. The Panthers also drafted three very talented rookie weapons in Chuba Hubbard, Terrance Marshall, and Tommy Tremble. Darnold has a real chance to thrive in this ideal situation.

The defense is still going to be a weakness of this team but they are trying to improve on that side of the ball as well. Adding cornerbacks AJ Bouye and Jaycee Horn is a great start to getting better but the unit is still a work in progress. Taking everything into consideration, the Panthers are a true dark horse wildcard contender with a very wide spectrum of possible outcomes this season. They could make the playoffs or could finish towards the bottom of the conference but one thing is for certain, the Panthers are trending in the right direction and are a team to watch.

Denver Broncos

On paper, the Broncos are a team loaded with talent. Unfortunately for them, it did not show up in the wins and losses last season as they finished a disappointing 5-11. Part of that is due to missing some key players like Von Miller but much of it can be credited to the big question mark at quarterback. Drew Lock has yet to prove that he can be a solid starter in the NFL. He has had some flashes of really good but also some long stretches of underachieving. This is why they decided to also bring in Teddy Bridgewater, but ironically his inconsistencies are not too different than those of Lock.

If one of these two Broncos quarterbacks can find a way to blossom into a better version of themselves then the Broncos can be a legitimate playoff threat. They are loaded at the offensive skill positions including Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and Noah Fant. They still have a very solid defense lead by superstar Von Miller and a stingy secondary anchored by Justin Simmons. This roster is built to win now if an answer can emerge at quarterback. They have the potential to be a team with double-digit wins and that makes them a dark horse for a wildcard this year.

Los Angeles Chargers

Not enough can be said about how good Justin Herbert was last year in his rookie season. Passing for 4336 yards and 31 touchdowns highlighted one best of the best rookie seasons ever. Herbert is what makes the Chargers a dark horse for a wild card this year. If he can repeat what he did last year, or possibly be even better than the Chargers need to be taken seriously as a contender this year. They did win just seven games last season but, more importantly, they actually finished the season on a four-game winning streak which included beating all three of the other teams in their division. This gives a great reason to be optimistic about the upcoming campaign.

Besides Herbert bursting onto the scene, the Chargers have a lot of good complimentary pieces as well. They have solid weapons on offense including Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler while also using this offseason to improve their offensive line and focus on protecting their young superstar quarterback. Their defense, lead by Joey Bosa, is well above average and they will be getting a huge boost this season with the return of Derwin James. He is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the entire NFL and is an absolute game-changer when he is healthy.

In conclusion, if the rookie year of Herbert was not a fluke and he actually is the real deal then the Chargers definitely have a shot to make the playoffs this year. Those chances improve even more if Derwin looks like himself upon returning. Though not impossible, it is still unlikely that they will beat out the Chiefs in the divisional race this year but don’t count them out of the wild card race.

Top preview for each NFC West team in minicamp

What to watch for as the NFL season approaches

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

As the NFL offseason continues to roll on and the regular season quickly approaches, teams will head to training camp and begin their real practice and preparation. Camp for each team will include new faces in both the roster and coaching staff as well as new strategies and philosophies to implement with hopes of a successful campaign in the upcoming season. All of the changes and other storylines from the offseason now become a reality as players begin to report to the team facilities.

The NFC West is a division with four very solid teams heading into this season. All of them have expectations this year to at least making the playoffs and high hopes of a deep run with aspirations of a Super Bowl. There were plenty of headlines surrounding all four of these teams throughout the offseason. Let’s take a look at each team and the key storylines as they head to training camp.

Seattle Seahawks

After an excellent season including twelve wins and a playoff appearance, one would think that the Seahawks would be positive and optimistic heading into the offseason. Unfortunately for them, this was not the case for their superstar quarterback Russell Wilson. He was reportedly very unhappy with the organization and its decision-making processes. In particular, he felt that he was not being included enough in major decisions such as game strategy and personnel changes. He was upset by this, and so much so that there were heavy rumors going around that he wanted to be traded away from Seattle.

Luckily for the Seahawks, they were able to get together with Wilson and hash out their issues. It appears that he is satisfied with whatever conclusion was reached behind closed doors and is now ready to get to work. Wilson is easily a top-five quarterback in the entire NFL and with the weapons available to him on their offensive roster, the Seahawks are a very dangerous team and a true contender in the NFC Conference.

This offense is absolutely loaded and one of the best in the league on paper. The real question is going to be their defense. They were poor last year and didn’t do much to improve on that side of the ball. In the 2020 season, they ranked 11th worst in total yards allowed per game with 380.6 and 2nd worst in passing yards allowed per game with 285. They will need to be better than that but as long as Russell Wilson is playing quarterback with the offensive weapons he has at his disposal, the Seahawks have a shot to win any game.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams made the biggest move in the entire NFL offseason when they traded away Jared Goff and draft picks in exchange for Matthew Stafford. It is uncommon for a team as successful as the Rams have been over the last few seasons to make such a sudden change at quarterback but that’s exactly what they did. Goff was not bad for the Rams last season but he definitely wasn’t great either. His 3952 passing yards ranked 14th and his 20 touchdown passes ranked 19th, which are both acceptable but not exactly impressive. The bigger problem was his 13 interceptions which was the second-highest total in the NFL.

Goff played to a total QBR of 58.5 which ranked an uninspiring 23rd in the league. The Rams are a very good team at every other position group besides quarterback and even had the number one ranked defense last season. They believe that with an upgrade at quarterback they would become a real Super Bowl contender. This is why they traded for Stafford, a quarterback who is seven years older than Goff. They are fully committed to being a win-now team and sold off their future to prove it.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how Stafford does with his new team. He has spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions so far but now has the luxury of a better roster and coaching staff than he’s ever had before. His talent has never been a question and he has a bunch of excellent seasons to demonstrate that. The only thing missing from his career has been sustained winning and postseason success. The Rams are taking a gamble that his shortcomings were simply a product of being a stud on a bad team and that he will shine bright in a more favorable situation.

Arizona Cardinals

After finishing the 2020 season at an even 8-8 record and just barely missing out on the playoffs, the Cardinals are approaching this upcoming season with a ton of optimism. They appear to have found their quarterback with young star Kyler Murray, who is one of the best dual threats in the entire NFL. He has developed nicely so far and there is good reason to believe that with another year of experience he will be an even better player this upcoming year. The organization is fully committed to his growth and has made sure to surround him with as many weapons as possible.

The biggest thing they did for Murray was trade for DeAndre Hopkins last season, who is a top-three wide receiver in the league. They continued to improve the offensive weapons this offseason by acquiring wide receiver AJ Green and running back James Conner. The Cardinals were already the 6th ranked offense last year averaging 384.6 yards per game and with these new additions to compliment the growth of Murray, they can climb even higher than that.

Another huge addition to this team for the upcoming season is veteran pass rusher JJ Watt. He will definitely help them on the defensive side, which they do need, but it’s his leadership that may be his most valuable asset. Everything is trending in the right direction for Arizona and they should be feeling very excited heading to camp this year. Watch out for the Cardinals because they could be the biggest sleeper in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the 49ers are just one season removed from a Super Bowl appearance. In fact, if not for one missed throw by Jimmy Garoppolo they probably would have won that game. Unfortunately, he missed almost all of last year due to injury, playing in just six games. This has been an ongoing problem for Garoppolo. He just can’t seem to stay healthy and even when he is, his statistics are not at all jaw-dropping anyway. It seems like the 49ers have seen enough because they decided to trade all the way up to the third pick in the NFL Draft to select quarterback Trey Lance.

Lance is an incredible athlete with a ton of potential. He is a very exciting prospect but he just doesn’t have much experience even at the college level. Most scouts believe that he will blossom into a star but there’s no telling how long that process could take. That makes the quarterback situation in San Francisco a very interesting one. It’s likely that they will start the season with Garoppolo but at any time they could make the switch to Lance. This is one of the most intriguing storylines in the league, especially considering the potential of the 49ers team as a whole.

When they won the NFC Conference just two seasons ago, they had arguably the best defense in the entire NFL. The large majority of that unit will be back and healthy for the 2021 season. They also have one of the best rushing attacks in the league under the Kyle Shanahan system and solid offensive weapons across the board as well. All of these factors combined to make the 49ers a fascinating team with a wide spectrum of expectations. Mostly depending on how the quarterback scenario plays out, they may not be better than their 6 wins last year but could potentially be a Super Bowl team like they were two years ago.

Reflection on the career of Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is the GOAT of WRs

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Jerry Rice is an absolute legend of the NFL. He is clearly the best wide receiver to ever play the game. His production paired with his longevity are unmatched and his numbers are a class above the rest. When debating who is the GOAT at each position in the NFL, it is a matter of opinion with more than one “right” answer. The exception to this is at wide receiver because it is not an opinion that Rice is the GOAT WR, it’s a straight fact. He is clearly better than anyone else to ever do it without any question when everything is factored in. Let’s take a look back at the legendary career of Jerry Rice.

Statistics

The list of impressive stats is endless for Rice. His career 1549 receptions for 22,895 receiving yards and 197 receiving touchdowns are all the most of all time by a wide margin. He is ahead of second place by 117 receptions, 5403 yards, and 41 touchdowns. He was the receiving yards and touchdowns leader in the NFL in six separate seasons and was in the top five in 11 seasons. He was also in the top five in receptions in nine seasons.

His career bests are just as impressive as the cumulative totals. His 1848 receiving yards in one season is the third-most in NFL history, and his 22 receiving touchdowns rank second-best ever. It’s also important to remember that the majority of his work came in the late 1980s and the 1990s, so it was in an era before the high-flying passing attacks took over the game. It’s crazy to think that his numbers realistically could have been even higher if he played in the modern style of football. Regardless, his numbers are still off the charts and stand high above the rest.

Awards

In his 20 seasons in the NFL, Rice made the Pro Bowl 13 times, was selected as a First-Team All-Pro 10 times, and was a member of the All-Rookie Team in his first season in 1985. He was awarded the AP Offensive Player of the Year Award twice and is listed on the Pro Football Hall of Fame All-Decade teams for both the 1980s and the 1990s. He helped the San Francisco 49ers win three Super Bowls and was selected as the MVP of the game for one of them. Rice put together one of the most decorated careers in the history of the NFL.

Longevity

One of the things that make the career of Jerry Rice so special is how long he was able to perform at such a high level. For example, in his 18th season in the league and at 40 years old he put up a quite impressive stat line of 92 receptions for 1211 yards and 7 touchdowns. For almost any other player in history, this would be considered a career year or at least one in the middle of their prime. For Rice, in comparison to his own peak, this is when he was past his prime and nearing the final days of his long career.

The total package of the career of Jerry Rice is one that is unmatched to this point and won’t be surpassed any time in the near future, if ever. His dominance of the league compared to the style of the era he played in will probably never be replicated. Add in the fact that he played at an extremely high level that spanned three different decades and it is made clear that this is a truly one-of-a-kind player. Rice is the GOAT WR by a very wide margin and that is not going to change any time soon.

Most likely teams to go worst to first in their divisions

Who can flip the script?

By: Daniel Racz

Every year at least one team comes out of nowhere and earns a division title after having a terrible record the year prior. Last year it was the Washington Football Team, who went from the second overall pick to win the NFC East. In 2018, both the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans rebounded from last-place finishes in 2017. The precedent for a rapid turnaround has been in the National Football League for decades, and it persists to this day.

Most teams that take a massive leap forward undergo some massive change in the offseason, whether it be new personnel, coaching staff, or unpredictable development from a key player. This year, there are a few prime candidates to make playoff births after lackluster finishes, and both have new quarterbacks. 

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers made the Super Bowl in 2019, so fans had lofty expectations for them in 2020. Sadly, San Fransisco did not live up to the hype. Early, season-ending injuries to Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas hurt the team. Quarterback Jimmy Garropolo, running back Raheem Mostert, tight end George Kittle, and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel could not piece together complete seasons, but all of the team’s weapons looked great when on the field.

Garropolo’s future with the team remains uncertain. In one of the biggest blockbuster trades in recent memory, the 49ers gave up three 1st round picks and additional compensation for the right to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with the third pick in the NFL draft. Shanahan previously worked with Matt Ryan and Jimmy G, so the mobility that Lance brings to the table may be emphasized in the revamped Shanahan offense. 

The 49ers finished in fourth place in the NFC West, so they will face an easier schedule than the rest of their division. San Francisco managed to win six games with a barebones roster, so a healthy weapons group and a dynamic quarterback could lead to an eleven or twelve-win roster. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

After a trainwreck of a 2020 season, the Jaguars cleaned house. They fired Doug Marrone and hired decorated former college head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer’s tenures with Ohio State and Florida are synonymous with success. He won national titles for both programs, so many Jaguars fans are hoping for the same success in Jacksonville.

Urban takes over a roster that is not in the worst shape. The Jaguars had the first pick in the 2021 draft and took generational talent, Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence is perhaps the most hyped-up prospect at any position since Andrew Luck. It is fitting that Luck is the only number one pick, rookie quarterback to take his team to the playoffs in year one. If Lawrence is indeed the prospect that many believe him to be, a playoff berth is in the range of outcomes.

The Jaguars also play in the NFL’s worst division. With the Texans set to implode without Deshaun Watson, they will contend for the NFL’s top pick. The Titans lost most of their weapons, so a path to mediocrity is foreseeable. The Colts did not make any significant additions, and they need to take on the Carson Wentz reclamation project. The Jaguars may not be the most talented team, but they only need to piece together a half-decent season to win their division. 

How the Arizona Cardinals will win the NFC West

Arizona will win the NFC West in 2021

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

The 8-8 Arizona Cardinals were in the playoff hunt for part of the 2020 season. This is true even though head coach Kliff Kingsbury was 3-9 against the NFC West, including a 0-4 record against Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams. 

The Cardinals started 2-0 in the West, only to end on a four-game losing streak in the division. 

They were 5-2 before ending the season on a 3-6 bender.

There were a few reasons for the losing streak:

  1. Wide receiver Christian Kirk looked the part of the number two wide receiver until the final eight games. In the last eight, he managed a paltry 22 receptions, 234 yards, and zero touchdowns.
  2. Quarterback Kyler Murray got injured in Week 11 against the Seattle Seahawks. After that, the offense scores 30 plus points only once the rest of the season.
  3. Linebacker Chandler Jones incurred a bicep injury in Week 5.  He ended his season with 11 total tackles and one sack. Without Jones, the Cardinals’ defense gave up close to 28 points a game on the road.

There is also the possibility that Kingsbury’s offensive prowess is over-rated, but that could be an overstatement as the offense worked for the first half of the season.

But this year the Cardinals will not only reverse their fortunes within their division, but win the NFC West outright.

At first glance, it seems like an improbable statement. The NFC West is the most competitive division in the NFL. But it is possible, and here is why:

QUARTERBACK KYLER MURRAY

Murray showed improvement until his Week 11 injury. He finished the season with a completion percentage that was 2.8% better than the previous year.  He threw for six more touchdowns and had 40 more rushing attempts.  The rushing attempts elevated his rushing touchdowns by seven compared to last year. 

WIDE RECEIVER DEANDRE HOPKINS

There is no doubt the addition of Hopkins boosted the offense. Hopkins finished the season with a career-high 71.9% catch rate.  He was targeted 160 times and had six touchdowns.

This being his second year with Murray should make the pairing that much more formidable and the duo should put up huge numbers in 2021. 

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION

This might be the most important reason the Cardinals are set to win the division this year.  Their free agency acquisitions are more of a “win-now” mentality than let’s rebuild for the future.

Although they lost both Patrick Peterson and Kenyan Drake in free agency, they gained players (who, if they remain healthy) will help them win now.

  • Running back James Conner
  • Wide receiver AJ Green
  • Defensive end JJ Watt
  • Cornerback Malcolm Butler
  • Kicker Matt Prater

And yes, the NFC West did make some splash acquisitions. The Los Angeles Rams acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford for the win-now mentality.  The San Francisco 49ers obtained Trey Lance for the future, and well, the Seattle Seahawks attempted to upgrade their defense, with cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Pierre Desire and defensive end Aldon Smith. 

THE SCHEDULE

Depending on your “go-to” source, the Cardinals either have the fourth most difficult schedule or the 13th.  If you go by the Cbssports.com strength of schedule, the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks will face a harder schedule than the Cardinals. 

CARDINALS 2021 SCHEDULE

WEEK 1 @ TENNESSEE TITANS

WEEK 2 v MINNESOTA VIKINGS

WEEK 3 @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

WEEK 4 @ LOS ANGELES RAMS

WEEK 5 v SAN FRANCISCO NINERS

WEEK 6 @ CLEVELAND BROWNS

WEEK 7 v HOUSTON TEXANS

WEEK 8 v GREEN BAY PACKERS

WEEK 9 @ SAN FRANCISCO NINERS

WEEK 10 v CAROLINA PANTHERS

WEEK 11 @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

WEEK 12—NOV 28 BYE WEEK

WEEK 13 @ CHICAGO  BEARS

WEEK 14 v LOS ANGELES RAMS

WEEK 15 @ DETROIT LIONS

WEEK 16 v INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

WEEK 17 @ DALLAS COWBOYS

WEEK 18 v SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

WINNING THE NFC WEST

This is Kingsbury show me year.  His team has to improve against the West foes, including the zero wins against the Rams.  The Niners will have the slew of players that were injured back; the question remains it Trey Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo under center this season.  The Seahawks are, well, the Seahawks, doing little to appease quarterback Russell Wilson’s concerns; they remain who we thought they were until proven otherwise.

The path through the NFC West appears to go through California.  If the Cardinals can break even with their NFC West rivals, there is no reason they cannot overtake the NFC West championship belt (and if there isn’t one, there should be).

 

Post NFL draft Winner and loser from each division

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

In every endeavor, there is a winner and a loser.  The repercussions from the 2021 NFL Draft are no different.  Of course, who won and who lost is all subjective until the playing actually starts.  But some teams did do better than others, and here they are.

AFC EAST

WINNERS: MIAMI DOLPHINS

It remains to be seen whether letting Ryan Fitzpatrick go handing the team completely over to Tua Tagovailoa was the right move.  However, the Dolphins did little wrong elsewhere. 

Drafting Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle should help settle Tagovailoa and the offense.  But having the sixth-ranked scoring defense return in a division that has to deal with quarterback Josh Allen and newly arrived gunslinger Zach Wilson just seems good business.

LOSERS: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Yes, the Patriots are loaded up from their spending spree in free agency, including returning quarterback Cam Newton. 

Drafting their presumptive franchise quarterback, Mac Jones feels right.  But now the Patriots have two quarterbacks with diametrically opposite skill sets. 

So what do you do? It could work, and of course, you never count the Patriots out, but….

AFC WEST

WINNERS: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers solidified and added depth to their offensive line.  They added Larry Roundtree in the sixth round, who may prove what the Chargers offense needs behind Austin Ekeler to round out what was already a very good offense.

LOSERS: DENVER BRONCOS

If the Broncos passed up their chance to draft a franchise quarterback because they know something we don’t, my apologies.  But under current conditions, it appears to be an omission that will come to bite them in the ass.

AFC NORTH

WINNERS: BALTIMORE RAVENS

In two of the past three drafts, the Ravens have taken a wide receiver.  It has not helped.  The third time is the charm?  Rashod Bateman has the skill set to be WR1 in the Ravens offense (albeit a low bar), but if he can help the Ravens pass/run ratio become more equitable, it is a win.

In a division historically known for its defense, adding edge Odafe Oweh to their top-ranked defense is a bonus.

LOSERS: PITTSBURGH STEELERS

It could all work out; after all, tight end Pat Freiermuth is known for his blocking skill set.  But the offense, which finished last season 32nd in rushing yards per game (84.4) and yards per attempt (3.6) per teamrankings.com, needed to improve the 31st ranked run-blocking offensive line.

Fun fact Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 676 more rushing yards than the entire Steelers team in 2020.

AFC SOUTH

WINNERS: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

With the number one pick and nine total picks, the Jaguars got their franchise quarterback and seemingly faster on offense. 

There was really nowhere to go but up.

LOSERS: HOUSTON TEXANS

They could not have won this.  The Texans needed a lot.  Their first pick was not until round three, and they managed only five total picks.  Thanks to Bill O’Brien, the Texans did good with what they were given, but winning wasn’t an option.

NFC WEST

LOSERS: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks had the 30th ranked defense in passing yards last season.  They lost Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in free agency.  And they only had three picks in this year’s draft. 

Their first pick was a wide receiver, D’Wayne Eskridge.

WINNERS: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It may be more accurate to say winner Trey Lance.  Going to a team that, but for injuries, is a playoff contender is a win. 

Now Kyle Shanahan has the quarterback of his dreams, and the 49ers are back in playoff contention.

Can we just acknowledge that this might be the most competitive division in the NFL?

NFC EAST

This was the hardest division to project a loser because basically, they all got what they needed.  However, it must be done.

LOSERS: WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Depending on Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, okay, I get it.  But not getting a quarterback for the future may prove costly.

WINNERS: NEW YORK GIANTS

It remains to be seen if stockpiling 2022 NFL Draft picks will win the day.  Not getting offensive line help for quarterback Daniel Jones may hurt this season.

NFC SOUTH

LOSERS: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints needed a cornerback.  Their first two picks were defensive end and linebacker.  There is also the questionable acquisition of quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round. 

It all seems so muddled. 

WINNERS: ATLANTA FALCONS

Taking arguably the best player on the board seems like a smart choice.  Adding him to an already prolific offense is a no-brainer.  Picking up much-needed help in a secondary that allowed 293.6 passing yards per game, check.

NFC NORTH

LOSERS: GREEN BAY PACKERS

I don’t know if further pissing off your reigning MVP quarterback counts as a loss, but it should.

WINNERS: CHICAGO BEARS Jumping up to #11 to pick up the second-best quarterback in the draft is a w

Landing Spots for All 5 of the Top QB Prospects

Who will Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, Lance and Jones play for in 2021?

by Michael Obermuller

The lead-up to the NFL Draft is a sports process like no other. The speculation, the intrigue, the misinformation and strategy used by different franchises and general managers. Considering the diverse crop of quarterback talent available in 2021, this offseason has been as wild as ever. I mean, just look at this curveball from Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer a few days before draft night.

Trevor Lawrence has been the consensus number one pick for what feels like years, and Jags owner Shad Khan has seemed pretty intent on marketing the rebirth of the franchise around the Clemson star, so why then is Meyer still choosing between three players at No. 1 overall?

It could just be due diligence from a first year NFL head coach, or maybe Lawrence to Jacksonville isn’t as much of a lock as most people thought. After all, there is certainly no reason to play mind-games with opposing GM’s when you’re the one picking first. Yet here we are left with this mysterious quote.

Don’t you worry though, I’ve seen through all the GM mumbo jumbo of the past few months and I’m confident in saying that I have figured out where each quarterback will end up — I think. Either way, I’ll give it a whirl, starting with the aforementioned Jaguars.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (No. 1)

I know, after all that in the introduction, I’m still predicting T-Law to DUVAL? That’s right, because if Meyer wants to pull off the most shocking move in recent draft memory, he can do it without my blessing. There are a couple important things to note here though. One, Meyer is not considering Mac Jones or Trey Lance in the top spot. Could this have an influence on other franchises behind him? Urban was a premier college recruiter for a long time after all. Or perhaps he has yet to gain the respect of his fellow NFL peers, and his opinion means very little to them. Two, the former Ohio State HC and program director is likely passing on his former QB, Justin Fields. Meyer actually ranked the quarterbacks in a preseason show in June of 2020, with Lawrence first in his ranks and Fields second. His reasoning at the time was this;

[Lawrence] played one more year. That was it. The one thing I’ll say about Justin Fields because I’m very close to the situation, any concerns about him being a throwing quarterback are gone now. He’s developed, he’s outstanding.

– Urban Meyer, FOX College Football

The Jags could certainly throw a wrench in the entire draft by taking either Zach Wilson or Fields, which would probably send Lawrence to New York at No. 2, but it’s highly unlikely and I’m not buying it. Size, accuracy, speed, raw ability, intelligence, drive — Lawrence is the consensus number one for a reason. I’m not saying that he’s guaranteed to be the most successful NFL product, he’s not, but he is the safe bet for Jacksonville. For the sake of all our sanities, let’s move on and assume this sticks.

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson (No. 2)

GM Joe Douglas and the New York Jets have traded 2018 first round pick Sam Darnold, so yes they are 100 percent taking a quarterback at two (for those who haven’t been paying attention). They have been linked to the BYU Cougars signal-caller more and more since Week 17, and I personally don’t see this changing on Thursday night. Wilson checks all the boxes for the Jets. He is an accurate passer and a competitive winner (albeit against lesser competition), known for his on-the-fly decision-making and pocket presence as well as an arm that throws just as far on the move as it does standing upright. Wilson has drawn recent comparisons to Patrick Mahomes for some of these intangible traits, but there’s a contingent of fans that still have doubts that scouts and GM’s are once again sleeping on in-your-face talent.

If Fields can translate his OSU skillset to the pros, it wouldn’t be the first time that the best and brightest NFL minds in the game are totally wrong. I mean he did run a 4.44 forty with a 70.2 completion percentage in 2020. For the record, as you’ll see throughout this article, Fields is my personal QB1 in this class, but that doesn’t mean he appeals to the teams picking in the top three.

3. San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones (No. 3)

Is the infamous “smokescreen tactic” being utilized by Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and the San Francisco 49ers? It’s quite possible, in fact Joe Douglas and the Jets could be using it too for all we know. If Fields truly is the quarterback with the most upside potential, it would make sense that every GM behind the Jaguars is trying to keep Meyer off their trail by talking up Wilson, Jones and Lance. At the same time, it seems even more likely that the NFL brass are once again scared off by an Ohio State product who has been labeled as a runner that struggles with his progressional reads. If Lawrence and Wilson do indeed go one-two, Fields should be the pick at three in my opinion, but he may not be according to reports.

There’s something fishy about this developing story, because Jones and Lance couldn’t be more different as prospects. I can’t deny that Mac Jones makes sense as Shanahan’s favorite option. The Niners HC has highlighted his on-field and NFL-ready intelligence, citing that the Alabama product is the win-now choice for a team that was in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Jones is also the most similar to the quarterbacks that have flourished in Shanahan’s system in the past (Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo). Lance on the other hand makes me scratch my head. He’s from a small program that did not play against NFL-type talent, he’s not game-ready by most estimations, and he’s athletic rather than accurate or experienced. The fact that San Francisco is torn between these two, but not interested in the player that is pretty much the combination of both (Fields) is odd to say the least. For these reasons, I do think there’s a chance that the 49ers are under-selling Fields on purpose, but I’ll begrudgingly stick with Jones here anyway because of how well he fits the Shanahan mold.

4. TRADE — Denver Broncos: Trey Lance (No. 4)

Some have the Atlanta Falcons taking Lance at four, but in the end I think Arthur Smith’s new offense stands pat with the reliability of Matty Ice for a couple more seasons and trades down to reconstruct this roster from the inside out. That process may not start with an inexperienced QB, but it could begin with a haul of present and future draft picks. The next question is their trade partner, and although it has not been mentioned as much as a New England or Washington Football Team, the Denver Broncos are my under-the-radar candidate to make the jump from ninth to fourth. George Paton is taking over as GM for the Broncos, and he may try and make a splash in his first NFL Draft having the final say.

Everything about Paton’s thinking for his first draft screams Lance to me. It’s unexpected, out-of-the-box, and hopefully solves the problem that John Elway failed at for years in the same position — finding a franchise quarterback. Drew Lock has yet to display any qualities that separate him from the rest of the league, so I expect Paton to jump at the opportunity to bring in someone that can compete not only with Lock, but long-term with division rivals like Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Of course, the Broncos could also go with Fields here, but I’m sticking with my theme that this inexplicable stigma drops my QB1 down to QB5. I also like the fit for Lance in Denver. He played at North Dakota State, a similar climate, and his build and physicality as a runner bear some resemblance to Elway himself. Although I’m sure Broncos fans would also take his Josh Allen comp.

5. Detroit Lions: Justin Fields (No. 7)

So where oh where will Mr. Fields land? No he won’t fall out of the top 10, and I don’t expect the Cincinnati Bengals or Miami Dolphins to trade down either when they can grab the players they covet most (Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase by all reports) at five and six. That leaves the Detroit Lions, who could choose to trade down with the Patriots or the highest bidder, but honestly why would they? The Lions roster moves have signaled a total overhaul rebuild under the new regime of Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes, and they already have enough future draft capital from the Matthew Stafford trade where they don’t need more first round picks. They need a franchise quarterback. The wrinkle that you may point out is that they also received back Jared Goff and his contract in that same deal. Let’s be honest though, Goff is a placeholder in Detroit at best. At worst, he’s a cap casualty after 2022 (when cutting him would only cost $10 million). So why not accelerate the process if Justin Fields falls into your lap?

A player with as much potential as Fields could be a dream for Holmes at No. 7 in his first NFL Draft, and the young QB could even learn under Goff as a rookie before jumpining into the NFL head-first. He can truly do it all; whether it’s his accuracy as a passer or his agility as a runner, his escapability in the pocket or strong arm on the run, his competitiveness as an premier athlete or his confidence in primetime games. I’m not sure why every team is insistent on looking past Fields, and maybe it all is a smokescreen and he goes top three, but it just feels like the NFL scouts and decision-makers are talking themselves into passing on another superstar.

Pros and Cons For Panthers Drafting a QB in round one

After trading for Darnold, should Carolina double-down at QB?

by Michael Obermuller

Just one season into a three-year deal with Teddy Bridgewater, the Carolina Panthers have traded three draft picks (including a 2022 second rounder) for Sam Darnold. This time, Matt Rhule and Joe Brady finally got their quarterback of the future — or did they?

From multiple reports, the Panthers may not be totally “out” on drafting a QB just yet. General manager Scott Fitterer knows just how crucial it is to get this position right, and he’ll bring in as many players as it takes to do it. Darnold is the presumed starter based on potential as of now, but statistically, he was far less efficient than Bridgewater in 2020.

QB, Year (Team)Games StartedCompletion %Yards/GameTDsINTsRating
Sam Darnold, 2020 (Jets)1259.6%184.091172.7
Teddy Bridgewater, 2020 (Panthers)1569.1%248.9151192.1

Of course, Darnold was in Adam Gase’s system last season, a system that many blame for his failures, but maybe neither signal-caller deserves the job outright after a combined record of 6-21 a few months ago.

That’s Carolina’s mindset, but should they sacrifice even more draft capital and cap space on the position when they’ve already used so much? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Panthers drafting another QB in 2021.

Cases FOR Drafting a QB

  • The Player they Want Most is Available at No. 8 Overall
    • The word around the NFL is that Carolina wants Justin Fields, and their scouting would certainly back that up. Based on Albert Breer’s tweet above, the Panthers have shown heavy attendance at both of Fields’ two Pro Day events.
    • This would also make sense in concurrence with the Darnold trade. Supposedly, the Panthers previously tried to move up to either second or third overall, but the New York Jets decided not to budge from two, and the San Francisco 49ers beat them to the punch at three.
    • Reports have the Panthers less high on Mac Jones and Trey Lance, so the Darnold deal may have been insurance in the event that Fields is gone at eight. If a QB you LOVE is still on the board, you draft him, that’s Football 101 (especially if there’s no QB prospect you like in 2022).
  • Potential Ceiling
    • Every team evaluates players differently. For example, the New York Jets new braintrust clearly evaluated Darnold differently than the Carolina Panthers, being that they believe a rookie has a higher ceiling than the former third overall pick in 2018.
    • Having said that, Carolina would not have traded for Darnold unless they thought he had more potential than Bridgewater. They should only consider drafting a QB if they truly believe he has a higher potential than both Sam and Teddy.
    • The stats above could support this theory alone, but it’ll also have to do with age, dual-threat ability, scheme fit, mentality and different raw skills like arm strength. A prospect like Fields would beat out the two veterans in almost every measurable category.
  • Can Never Have Enough QBs
    • This is the “multiple darts” argument, but it’s unlikely that Carolina would ever enter the 2021 season with three quarterbacks.
    • They could draft a QB at eight, then trade Bridgewater to a team like the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, or New England Patriots.

Case AGAINST Drafting a QB

  • Top QBs Are Gone Early
    • I know, duh, but I’m including this to point out that Carolina CANNOT and SHOULD NOT trade up for a quarterback. They already gave up three picks to get Darnold, and this rebuilding franchise still needs help elsewhere if they plan on succeeding long-term.
    • Most draft analysts have all five of the main QB prospects being drafted in the top 10, and some have them going one through five (or at least top seven). This may be out of the Panthers hands.
  • Darnold’s Upside
    • Although Bridgewater could theoretically outplay Darnold, I don’t think there’s an argument to keep Teddy over a rookie past 2022, so let’s focus on Sam here.
    • The latest NYJ disappointment is just 24 years old in June, and he’s had an odd start to his career. Whether due to injury or his baffling bout with mono, Darnold has yet to play a full season. This could be looked at as a con for the USC product, or it could mean that the best is yet to come.
  • Change of Scenery Could “Unlock” Darnold
    • The Jets also didn’t do Darnold any favors, hiring Gase to mentor him after one failed campaign with Todd Bowles and Jeremy Bates. Panthers OC Joe Brady is considered to be one of the brightest young minds in the game, which could act as a catalyst for Sam.
    • A skill-position core of Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and David Moore also trumps anything the Jets ever armed Darnold with.
    • Even offensive line play was better in Carolina last season. Darnold had a pressure percentage of 27.3 compared to Bridgewater’s 19.8. Sam was also hit the same amount of times (38) as Teddy in three less starts, and was actually hurried once more than him despite the difference in games.
  • Available Cap Space & Draft Capital vs. Roster Needs
    • As I just pointed out, the Jets never put a quality roster around Darnold, so would it be wise for Carolina to do the same, even if they start a rookie QB?
    • Bridgewater currently has a cap hit of $22.9 million-plus this year ($20 million dead cap hit), and Darnold has a hit of $4.77 million. They have ALREADY picked up Sam’s fifth year option for 2022, which is another $18.85 million, and assuming they cannot deal Teddy, they’ll incure a $5 million dead cap hit when they release him next offseason. An eighth overall pick would add about $3.75 million this year and $4.7 million in 2022.
    • After the Darnold trade, the Panthers have seven draft picks in 2021, and five picks in 2022.
    • Carolina’s defense ranked 18th in points allowed last season. Their offensive line also ranked 18th according to Pro Football Focus. They even lost playmakers like Curtis Samuel and Mike Davis this offseason. They cannot afford to spend $31 million-plus and four total draft picks (including a first and second) on three QBs in 2021 when this roster is far from perfect.

The Verdict

I think it’s pretty obvious that the Panthers should give Darnold the opportunity in 2021. For better or for worse, they made their bed when they pounced on the Jets trade proposal. The only way they draft a QB is if they find a second trade partner for Bridgewater, which is possible, but I doubt they get much back in this scenario (besides cap relief). With the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers set up to be the powerhouse of the division for at least one more season, it’s probably smarter to add another layer of foundation around the quarterback position this draft. Then, after seeing what you have in Darnold, you can re-evaluate the situation in 2022.

Top Draft Targets for Eagles First Round Pick

After trading back, what are the Eagles planning in Round One?

By Michael Obermuller

Right in the middle of quarterback Zach Wilson’s Pro Day last Friday, the Miami Dolphins decided steal some headlines when they traded the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers. Of course, minutes later they made another deal, this time with the Philadelphia Eagles. When the dust settled, the new draft order looked like this:

Philadelphia now sits 12th in round one, as they were able to take advantage of Miami’s urge to trade down, but not too far down. The three-team deal also netted the Eagles an extra 2022 first rounder, something they desperately needed to rebuild their cap-stricken roster.

As for the three anticipated draft picks in question, the Eagles pick is without a doubt the hardest to figure, and not just because it’s further down in the order. The Niners have already stated their intention to draft a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. The Dolphins are expected to take one of the top wide receivers at No. 6, or possibly receiving tight end Kyle Pitts out of Florida. Philadelphia on the other hand, has the benefit of mystery on their side.

With many holes to fill, here are the top first round draft targets for Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.

3. Rashawn Slater, OT/G (Northwestern)

During their Super Bowl run, the Eagles offensive line was their greatest strength. Their rushing attacking plowed through the New England Patriots towards a championship, but it broke down after the 2017-18 season. Players like Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson are aging harshly, and injuries on the O-line have killed Philly in recent years. Rashawn Slater could be the perfect solution to this problem.

The former Northwestern Wildcat tackle is known for his versatility. Many draft scouts are projecting him as a guard in the NFL because of his size, or even a center if need be, but some still have him as a smaller tackle that relies on his athleticism and agility. The point is, Slater is intelligent enough to play pretty much anywhere on an offensive line, a major asset for a team like the Eagles that constantly has blockers miss time.

To start, Slater could help out on the left side, and possibly surpass failed first rounder Andre Dillard at left tackle, or fill-in Isaac Seumalo at left guard. Neither deserve a starting job in 2021.

2. Micah Parsons, LB (Penn State)

The top linebacker in the draft may not fall to No. 12, but if he does the Eagles should jump on the opportunity to grab him. Their linebacker core has been pretty terrible the last couple of seasons, mixing and matching journeymen like Nate Gerry, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards and more. No offense to any of these hard-workers who have fought their way up, but none have the talent of Micah Parsons.

The Penn State Nittany Lion is an explosive playmaker with a unique style about him. He’ll likely become a MIKE-backer in the NFL, but he has the speed and awareness to play any linebacking position. With Gerry gone, Philadelphia is projecting a starting LB crew of Edwards, Singleton and Genard Avery. Parsons has the ability to slot in above any of these players on the depth chart, accumulating 109 total tackles in 2019 (14 for a loss) with 5.0 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Honorable Mention: Jaycee Horn, CB (South Carolina)

Roseman could also stand to improve on his secondary. He traded for Darius Slay last offseason, and also signed safety Anthony Harris earlier this month, but this group is not complete. Assuming Patrick Surtain II is gone, Jaycee Horn may be the next best cornerback available (Caleb Farley and Greg Newsome II might also be options). The South Carolina alum is an aggressive press-coverage CB that is not afraid to mix things up with the opposing wide receiver. He would fit right in with Philly fans.

1. DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama)

This could also be teammate Jaylen Waddle depending on what other teams do (or even Rashod Bateman if there’s a run on the position), but the Eagles still need a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver more than anything else. DeVonta Smith is a pure route runner with sticky hands, a dream draft pick for any NFL quarterback. As a younger passer throwing to a combination of Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward Jr. and JJ Arcega-Whiteside — Jalen Hurts would be thrilled.

Alshon Jeffery was finally let go this free agency period, and DeSean Jackson has moved on as well. This wide receiving core has a lack of talent and experience. They could at least add one of those two in Smith or Waddle, the Alabama tandem that tore up college defenses. DeVonta had over 1,800 receiving yards in 2020, on 117 receptions. The speedy Waddle only played half the games, but totaled 591 yards off 28 catches.

Top Draft Targets for 49ers

Is Jimmy Garoppolo the long-term answer at quarterback?

By: Mike Obermuller

The San Francisco 49ers franchise has not had the best year and change since losing the Super Bowl in February of 2020. The injury bug came back during the 2020 season after its momentary respite (the Niners had been hit hard by injuries the previous two seasons before their NFC Championship run). Then, after going from first to worst in the NFC West with a 6-10 record, the capper was losing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and a large chunk of their staff to the New York Jets. Passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur and offensive line coach John Benton were amongst the notable coaching losses.

NFL free agency has come with mixed results as well. Here are some of the more important ins and outs for the Niners this March:

Re-SignedAdditionsLossesUnsigned
Trent Williams, LTAlex Mack, CSolomon Thomas, DLRichard Sherman, CB
Jaquiski Tartt, SSamson Ebukam, OLBKendrick Bourne, WRTevin Coleman, RB
Jason Verrett, CBTavon Wilson, DBKerry Hyder, DEJerick McKinnon, RB
Jeff Wilson Jr., RBZach Kerr, DTAhkello Witherspoon, CBJordan Reed, TE
Emmanuel Moseley, CBRonald Blair, DENick Mullens, QB
D.J. Jones, DTBen Garland, C/G

After their most recent moves, San Francisco should have a little less than $18 million in cap space, and a total of nine draft picks to work with in filling what holes they have left. The biggest questions marks are undoubtedly still at quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and guard.

As you can see, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have much more room to operate in the 2021 NFL Draft than they did a year ago. Here are a few players that the 49ers may target in the first couple rounds.

4. Wyatt Davis, G (Ohio State)

The fourth ranked offensive guard on WalterFootball, Wyatt Davis, excelled as a run blocker in college. The 6’4″ Buckeye helped pave the way for Trey Sermon and Master Teague III last season, but was less reliable in pass protection. This fits the Niners M.O. though. Shanahan loves to pound the ball on the ground, and assuming San Francisco keeps all their picks, they may be able to grab Davis with that third round selection.

If another team nabs Davis, a secondary option might be Notre Dame guard, Aaron Banks, another interior lineman that loves to creates gaps for his running backs.

3. Greg Newsome II, CB (Northwestern)

The Niners definitely need a cornerback to replace Richard Sherman. Rather than signing one, they should get younger at the position and build through the draft. That second rounder could definitely nab a quality corner like Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern. Newsome is 6’1″ 190 pounds, and he’s known for his intelligence and toughness as a shut-down corner in college. He had some injury issues during his time at Northwestern, but his 2020 stats were really impressive. Off 34 coverage targets, Newsome only allowed 12 catches and 93 yards through the air. Here’s the Wildcat in action.

2. DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama)

San Francisco could also use another offensive weapon, especially if they stick with Jimmy Garroppolo at quarterback. Early mock drafts had wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase going in the top five, but that ludricrous notion has since gone with the wind. Wide receivers rarely get drafted that high, even ones that are as skilled as Smith and Chase, and the fact is even franchises that want them may have the option to trade down and draft them anyway. One team that may be in the market for a wide-out is the Miami Dolphins, who currently sit third in the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions may also be in the mix at this position (number six and seven in the order), but both teams have other needs as well.

The 2020 Heisman Trophy winner has dropped below Chase in positional ranks due to his size (and some analysts also have Jaylen Waddle ahead of Smith). That means he could fall to 12 overall, which would make the perfect fit alongside Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel in this young wide receiver core. Smith is thought to be the best pure route runner in the draft, with incredible hands and effortless talent. That sounds like a Shanahan scheme fit that could drive opposing teams mad (considering they already have to guard excellent route runners like Aiyuk and Samuel).

1. Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)

The 49ers could also go all in on a quarterback in the first round. Some analysts have Trey Lance getting selected as high as number four overall now, as the typical quarterback hype gains more and more steam heading towards draft night. The North Dakota State QB has been compared to Josh Allen due to his physical attributes, but his lack of experience against top talent may be a concern for some NFL teams. San Francisco has also been tied to Justin Fields in mocks, but at number 12 it seems even less likely they get their hands on the Ohio State star.

Whether it’s Lance or Fields, the Niners would probably have to trade up to get their guy if they choose this route, costing themselves future draft capital. This doesn’t appear to be an issue for Lynch though. The GM has been very active in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes this offseason, and Deshaun would cost just as much (or more) as it would take to move up in the first round.

So is Garoppolo the long-term answer in San Francisco? The 49ers brass definitely don’t seem to think so, begging the question, who does?

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