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NFL Draft Preview: Flagship Offseason Event Sets Tone for 2021 Season

NFL Draft

Whether it be a certified superstar or a late-round surprise package, the NFL Draft is a spectacle like no other.

The process of selecting players from the college system to play for, and become the future of, the NFL can be likened to a day’s fishing. Somedays you cast the net and bring in the biggest and best fish the water has to offer and sometimes your net comes back with nothing but seaweed and unwanted extras. It’s a lottery where stars can be born from nowhere and future hall of famers get drafted right before our very eyes.

Of course, teams do their due diligence in terms of scouting and getting to know the players. Putting them through rigorous testing and unsettling interviews to test their nerve; but the true value of their pick won’t be known until their man takes to the field. When the Lombardi Trophy gets held aloft in February each year, it is the end of a long winding journey that starts from the Draft – It is the flagship event of the off-season and sets the wheels in motion for the beginning of the following season.

NFL Draft

The value of the first overall pick cannot be overstated. To be front in line and have first pick at this pool of talent coming through the ranks is the very basis of the NFL’s parity model – Giving the worst teams from the previous season the best chance to steady the ship and rebuild towards winning ways. The Cleveland Browns were the laughingstock of the NFL for almost two decades. Between 2016 and 2017 they went an embarrassing 1-31 over the course of two seasons. They were a franchise in despair and looked light years away from winning more than a couple games a season. Fast forward to 2021 and the Browns are a solid playoff team. Back-to-back first overall picks saw them select Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield, respectively. Two players who were key elements to the success that has been seen in Cleveland over the last year. The basis of long-term success in the NFL starts with the draft where teams can build the foundations of a championship winning squad with an injection of youth and cheap contracts.

The 2021 NFL Draft will see a return to the traditional order of ceremonies following last year’s virtual draft. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hosted last year’s event from his ever-impressive mancave, but this year he’ll be back on stage, in Cleveland, getting booed by the masses and announcing picks. The top end of the draft, as it often does, is providing much intrigue for experts and fans alike. The consensus agreement, of course, is that Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence will be the first player off the board when Jacksonville select him at number one overall. The number two pick is expected to be BYU’s Zach Wilson – another unanimous opinion across all outlets.

NFL DRaft

The intrigue begins from the number three pick onwards where the San Francisco 49ers traded up to in a deal made with the Miami Dolphins. Many were surprised by San Fran’s move, which has saw them leapfrog other potential QB landing spots in Denver and Carolina. The 49ers are expected to take a Quarterback; but who? Will it be Mac Jones of Alabama or Trey Lance of NDSU? Recent reports have suggested that the 49ers have narrowed it down to those two prospects. It is an interesting move from a team just one season removed from a Super Bowl appearance and who also have Jimmy Garoppolo on their books.

Moving further down the pecking order and the debates start to take place on “wants over needs”. It is widely assumed that Kyle Pitts, the Tight End from Florida will be the first pass-catcher off the board – but where will he end up? Will it be Atlanta at pick number four where they already boast a variety of offensive weapons or will it be a short trip to Miami for Pitts as he turns pro? The Cincinnati Bengals, who pick at number five overall, need to protect Joe Burrow. It’s as simple as that – but when receivers like Chase, Smith, and Waddle are there for the taking, will the Bengals front office struggle with their wants before their needs?

GAINESVILLE, FL – OCTOBER 3: Kyle Pitts #84 of the Florida Gators celebrates after a play against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 3, 2020 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Evan Lepak/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

There lies within this draft the potential for five QB’s to be taken in the top ten picks, albeit a few trades would likely need to take place. That would be an NFL record if that were to happen and would place tremendous spotlight on the 2021 season as the year of the rookie QB.

An abundance of talent is available in the first round and throughout the entire weekend; and as always, the NFL Draft promises to throw up all the twists and turns it usually does. Whether it’s Trevor Lawrence or a random sixth-round pick, the fate of 259 young men is about to change forever and their lifelong dreams accomplished. This weekend will be one of celebration and joy for teams and players alike as they look towards building a long-lasting connection and a career that will hopefully bring a Super Bowl ring.

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Michael Lavery writes on behalf of the Irish NFL Show who are in partnership with Pundit Arena. Tune into their Sunday, Monday and Thursday shows every week on Facebook.