For weeks in the lead-up to this past weekend’s NFL Draft, the much-discussed topic was the 49ers’ quarterback preference for their No. 3 pick, which they recently traded for.
As the opening night of the draft finally came, other headlines took shape (Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay? The return of Tim Tebow?!).
But as the Draft finally began, everything else sank into the background, as over 12.5 million viewers (second-most, ever) tuned into the NFL’s annual spring spectacle, internally creating hopes and dreams based off their favorite team’s first-round selections.
Some stand-out notes on the draft:
— For just the second time in NFL history, five quarterbacks were taken in the draft’s top 15 picks (1999 was the other year).
— This draft also set a record when the first seven picks off the board were offensive players.
There are many takeaways from this draft, but we begin with what I think is the best situation of any of the first-round rookie quarterback destinations…
Trey Lance enters the best situation of any rookie QB. No one likes a brag about, but I’m excited to see Trey Lance land with the 49ers because I thought he was the best choice for San Francisco at pick No. 3, which is why I predicted it in my mock draft.
The North Dakota State quarterback is young, raw and inexperienced, but he has the potential to be far better in the Shanahan scheme than Justin Fields or Mac Jones if he reaches that potential.
Lance does have some accuracy issues, but he’s accurate enough. He’s also athletic with a big arm and has experience leading a run-centric offense with a fullback and tight ends, with a heavy number of under-center snaps (important for a Shanahan offense) and a healthy amount of shotgun ones. Lance is also a great match for the John Elway/Jake Plummer-esque play-action and bootleg passing concepts in this offense, and can even perform designed runs like QB Power. He’s an incredibly unique talent.
Former NFL scout Matt Manocherian also debunked some uneducated theories on Lance’s style of play in his podcast on Friday:
“This isn’t an off-schedule type quarterback,” said Manocherian.
“He very much played on schedule and within the frame of the offense, in what he was asked to do at North Dakota State. Just because you’re un-athletic, doesn’t mean you’re running outside the scheme all the time. And I think that’s the key there. It’s not that Shanahan doesn’t want a quarterback that can run. It’s that he wants a quarterback that is going to fit into the framework of his scheme.”
Some even viewed Lance as the smartest QB in the draft, stating that what North Dakota State asked Lance to do, in terms of pre-snap, was more of a responsibility than any of the other four top rookie quarterbacks had while running their college offense. Some evaluators called him a “savant,” meaning he’s just as much of an intelligent quarterback and football player as he is a burgeoning athletic marvel at the game’s most important position.
Now, Lance will get to learn Kyle Shanahan’s system while Jimmy Garoppolo leads a Super Bowl-ready roster in 2021. It’s the perfect fit.
The Patriots select Mac Jones as QB of the future, and continues to build bully-ball team revolving around running game, defense. Most of the media (including me) had settled on the Patriots trading up for Justin Fields before selecting Mac Jones, but by letting the Bears jump them to select Fields, it seemed as if the Patriots were set on Jones over Fields all along. Former Belichick confidant Michael Lombardi (whose son, Mick, is New England’s WR coach), was pretty adamant that New England didn’t want Fields. We should have listened, but the potential pairing of Belichick with a young and athletic, new-age QB quarterback was an intriguing thought. Heck, that’s what I mocked, and wanted.
But instead, New England waited at No. 15 and let the Alabama pocket passer come to them.
“Mac fits the style of offense that Bill [Belichick] has typically played for the past 20 years with Tom [Brady],” ESPN‘s Louis Riddick said.
“It’s the kind of quarterback that Josh McDaniels is used to coaching from a physical skills perspective. It’s going to work perfectly for them.”
The knocks on Jones in the pre-draft process has been his lack of mobility/athleticism, adequate (at best) arm strength, and his unfair collegiate advantage of playing with Alabama and their seemingly endless supply of NFL first-round talent.
But Jones’ strengths (football intelligence, pocket presence, accuracy, quick release, leadership) seem to place him as a perfect fit for just about any NFL offense, with New England a better fit than others.
Jones was mostly a distributing point-guard out of the shotgun last season, often throwing vertically and mastering the RPO concept, so that’s a bit of a different offense from the under-center, two-tight end scheme that we’ll probably see New England run this season, but Jones should be able to adapt to any scheme, and his traits fit the type of offense that the Patriots ran under Tom Brady in the dynasty’s early years (2001 to 2006), and again in 2018 and 2019.
“Whenever Mac Jones is ready, he’s going to be able to operate the full facilities of the Patriots offense, which Cam Newton was never able to do last year, I don’t care what was around him,” said Boston Sports Journal‘s Greg Bedard via his podcast.
“Mac Jones is probably the most advanced college quarterback in terms of pre-snap, checks, reads, all the mental stuff that goes on at the line of scrimmage. I have not seen or heard of a quarterback as advanced as Mac Jones in terms of what is level of experience is.”
Jones will likely sit behind Cam Newton to begin this season, though.
No matter who starts at quarterback for the Patriots will be leading a smash-mouth, bully-ball football team that has loaded up on the offensive line and tight end positions, as well as in the front seven on defense.
New England’s picks from Round 2 to 4 (Alabama DT Christian Barmore, EDGE Ronnie Perkins, RB Rhamondre Stevenson) seem to fit a certain style of football the Patriots are looking to get back to.
Belichick had to give up two fourth-round picks to move up for Barmore, who was the only interior defensive lineman with a first-round grade on most draft boards.
Perkins was a classic “best player available” pick, and Stevenson will fill the “thumper” running back role last occupied by LeGarrette Blount in 2016.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job for the Patriots in camp will be leading a tough, hungry football team that has been created by Belichick’s aggressive offseason and vision.
Justin Fields will need to embrace the “savior” role as the Bears’ QB. Fields is a fascinating prospect. Standing as a 6-foot-3, 230-pound, 4.4-speed guy, he also has a rocket arm and pin-point accuracy.
It wouldn’t even be fair to call the Bears a quarterback purgatory because their main problem is developing/finding quarterbacks to begin with.
But even if their trade-up to No. 11 (giving up a future first-round pick in the process) was partially an act fo desperation for GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, I still think it was the right move, as Fields possess all the necessary skills to elevate the Bears’ offense, as long as the offense is schemed to his traits.
“Theoretically, that’s the same offense [in Chicago] as Andy Reid runs,” said Greg Cosell via the Ross Tucker Podcast.
“It’s the same playbook. We saw how well-defined that offense has worked for Patrick Mahomes. And Justin Fields is a high-level traits quarterback. So if you can really define the reads, the throws, through the use of personnel, formation, route concepts, based on your understanding of anticipating coverages, then I think it’s a really good spot for Justin Fields…To me, I think you should line the kid up on Day 1 and let him play.”
The issue in Chicago is the Bears lack of offensive weapons. They have an OK tight end group, but their top two wide receivers are Allen Robinson (who is reluctantly on the franchise tag) and Darnell Mooney. Not a disaster by any means, because Robinson is a solid X-receiver who is deserving of a big contract, but the Bears should look to improve their pass-catching core while building around the young Fields. Adding Marquise Goodwin recently was a good start, but they need more.
Fields will have heavy pressure to succeed right away from Nagy and Pace, considering their job status, and possibly the fan base, too.
He should start over Andy Dalton right off the bat, but Chicago should also be careful with his progression as a NFL QB.
Regardless of what they do, Fields possesses a ton of mental and physical toughness, and should be up for the challenge.
To me, the Bears made the right call to move up for him.
Giants, Panthers were my favorite draft classes. Several teams, including the Dolphins, Jets, Patriots and Ravens, had stellar draft classes at first glance, in my opinion. Still, reactionary draft grades and takes are always just a means for content rather than a true prognostication, because the truth is, none of us know how any of these players will turn out. We’ll have to see it play out. That being said, I absolutely love what the Giants and Panthers did over the weekend.
By trading with the Bears and acquiring another first-round pick for 2022, the Giants still came away with a stellar class of players (Florida WR Kadarius Toney, Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari, UCF CB Aaron Robinson) that will help the development of the team.
The Giants pass-catching group is still pretty barren so adding a shifty, do-it-all slot playmaker like Toney should work wonders for QB Daniel Jones, and compliment recently-signed X-receiver Kenny Golladay nicely.
On defense, GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge seem to be building up a Belichick-style, 3-4 defense with big boys up front, and a stellar defensive back field.
Ojulari was a solid Round-2 pick, as he should provide value as a stand-up edge rusher in their scheme.
With James Bradberry at outside cornerback, and the versatile Logan Ryan in the slot along with Adoree Jackson, the Giants again added to the group by selecting Robinson in Round 3, who can play both on the perimeter and in the nickel spot.
It was a good value pick that solidifies a defensive backfield that already has Xavier McKinney and Jabrill Peppers at safety
The Giants are building a hell of a defense.
In Carolina, the Panthers did their best to add talent to both sides of the ball.
I do prefer Patrick Surtain II to Jaycee Horn, but in reality, both are lengthy, press-man cornerbacks who are virtually slam-dunk picks.
Carolina knows they need to build up a defense that has needed help outside of EDGE Brian Burns and safety Jeremy Chinn. Horn should work well opposite A.J. Bouye, giving the Panthers a nasty and effective 1-2 punch at cornerback.
The Panthers also made one of the great value picks in the draft by scooping up Iowa defensive lineman Daviyon Nixon in Round 5. Nixon was a Round 2 or 3 guy on many draft boards, but ended up falling over the weekend. He’ll be a three-technique or nose-tackle type for a team that needed some nastiness up front.
He should work well next to Derrick Brown, the defensive tackle Carolina picked in Round 1 last spring.
On offense, the Panthers added Terrace Marshall Jr. in Round 2 as a big slot WR capable of working the seams and making tough catches via his ball-tracking skills. And in Round 3, they finally added an offensive tackle.
Both the Panthers and Giants project as .500 teams in 2021, but each could surprise many, thanks to what they’ve done this offseason. They’re both building solid teams, and defenses in particular.