There’s little drama to what will likely happen at the top of the NFL Draft on April 30. Three of the top four picks in the draft will be made by teams with no long-term answer at the quarterback position.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets pick first and second, followed by the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins just took quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the first-round last year, so they’re likely to go in a different direct. Then, the Atlanta Falcons pick fourth. The team still has veteran Matt Ryan under contract, but with a new front office and coach and an ugly salary cap situation,
There are three potential franchise quarterbacks to choose from, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, and BYU’s Zach Wilson. Lawrence has long been considered the likely top pick, but there are at least some rumors that the Jaguars could go with the fast-rising Wilson. Whatever order they go in, don’t expect those three players last past the top four picks – even if a different team trades into the top four to get one of them.
But this draft has much more talent than just quarterbacks. Here are five impact players to watch for on draft day.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama wide receiver: Smith has everything teams want in a No. 1 receiver – size, speed, athleticism, and precise route running. He won the Heisman Trophy, the first non-quarterback to win the award since 2015, after catching 117 passes for more than 1,800 yards for Alabama. Over the last two seasons, he’s had more than 3,000 yards receiving and 37 touchdowns.
Don’t expect Smith to last past the Dolphins at the third spot in the draft. The Dolphins nearly made the playoffs a season ago with Tagovailoa learning on the job. They also ended up with the third pick thanks to a past trade with Houston for Kenny Stills and Laremy Tunsil. Thanks to that trade, they can pair Tagovailoa with his former college teammate and a desperately needed go-to receiver.
Penei Sewell, Oregon offensive tackle: Sewell was the first sophomore ever to win the Outland Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the country. He was dominant at Oregon, and will easily be the first offensive lineman off the board in the draft.
He won’t get picked over any of the top three quarterbacks by teams with needs at that position, but Miami at No. 3 and Cincinnati at No. 5 both have young franchise quarterbacks they need to protect better. The Eagles and Lions at Nos. 6 and 7 also had bad offensive lines last season and would likely jump at the chance to draft Sewell.
Micah Parsons, Penn State linebacker: Taking a star linebacker from Penn State, a university with a history of producing great ones, is never a bad idea in the draft. Parsons is the only sophomore in Big 10 history to win the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award. He is an exceptional pass rusher, but he’s also an every-down linebacker who could make an impact right away in the NFL.
He had 57 solo tackles, five sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and five passes defensed last season. Parsons probably would be considered by any team picking sixth or later. The Lions with a new coach in Dan Campbell anxious to establish an … uh … hard-nosed identity might be a good spot for Parsons to land.
Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech defensive back: Farley opted out of the 2020 NCAA season, but had a strong 2019. He had 20 tackles (14 solo), four interceptions, and 12 pass breakups. He also has good size at 6-foot-2 to go up and defend the league’s bigger and more physical receivers.
He’s the top-rated defensive back in most mock drafts. The Lions made a mistake in picking a corner too high last season when they took Jeff Okudah third overall only to watch him struggle as a rookie. But after the Lions, Carolina, Denver, and Cowboys are all teams that need to make big improvements on their defenses.
Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau, Miami defensive ends: Rousseau had 15.5 sacks in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season. His opt out opened up a chance for Phillips to play more. He responded with 8 sacks and an interception. Now, both are first round NFL prospects who will likely go somewhere in the 8-15 range in the first round.
The Panters, Cowboys, Cardinals, Patriots, and Vikings all pick in that range and all could use upgrades on their defensive lines.