A Way Too Early Look at the Draft: AFC North + East
It’s never too early to look ahead to the draft, and that is exactly what we’re going to be doing today. The upcoming 2021 draft class is shaping up to be loaded with talent at every position and is going to be a great time for teams to stock up on talent. Whether it is a worse team building up their roster or a Super Bowl contender that is one piece away, we are going to go through each division and see who they can (realistically) hope falls to them.
Jevon Holland, FS, Oregon
With the whole Earl Thomas debacle, the Ravens need a playmaker on the back end. Chuck Clark is a very solid safety, but he is more of a box player. Deshon Elliott is going to be a great player for the Ravens in real life, but he is currently related below 70 overall in Madden. I expect Baltimore to pick in the mid-late first round, where Holland is projected to be selected. Their season hasn’t exactly started off with a bang, but the hope is that they will be able to right the ship and play the way the Ravens are supposed to.
Jevon Holland is an explosive playmaker at the safety position. While he is no Ed Reed, who else is? He is a very good safety that excels in coverage but can also be a heat seeking missile when tracking down ball carriers. The Ravens run a little bit of everything on defense, so his versatile skillset would fit in well. He can play man against slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs, but is best playing deep. He also could be used well in their aggressive blitzing scheme, allowing him to make plays in the backfield relatively often. This would be a very good pickup for the Ravens and would give them one of the strongest secondaries.
Some other needs are edge rusher, interior offensive line, and wide receiver. There could very well be good options on the board when they pick, but Holland fits very well. Jimmy Smith will likely start the season at free safety, but he is more of a placeholder than a long-term solution.
Alex Leatherwood, OL, Alabama
The Bengals have their quarterback of the future in Joe Burrow and just paid Joe Mixon, but those two can’t do everything on their own. They have some good weapons at receiver, but Mixon and Burrow can’t do much behind a weak offensive line. Alex Leatherwood is a very athletic offensive lineman who could play any position on the line well. Jonah Williams is going to be a good offensive tackle, and Leatherwood would provide the Bengals with their “swing-tackle” who can match up at tackle or guard depending on the opponent.
Cincinnati is a hard team to project going into season one. We have seen some great highs and lows from their new coach, but expectations are high. They have a multitude of tools to play with on offense, as well as some good young players on defense. This is one of those teams that depends on how well they are used. If Joe Burrow can continue to be utilized the way he was during his Heisman season at LSU, I have no doubt that the Bengals will see success.
This team could use another linebacker, but they have some solid young project players to invest in. The Bengals lack a receiving threat at tight end, but the offensive line is a more pressing need. They also have some older veterans such as Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins that can be replaced as well. Based on their season so far, they could play themselves into a position to select Penei Sewell out of Oregon, who may be the best offensive line prospect in recent memory. The guy is a phenomenal player (I think he didn’t give up a sack in his Oregon Ducks career), and would be a star left tackle for the Bengals for a decade. Hopefully, the Bengals can turn themselves around though.
(He will also help with that deep passing attack)
Wyatt Davis, OL, Ohio State
Unlike others, I am not ready to give up on Baker Mayfield just yet. In a better system this year, he has an opportunity to show the league why he was the number one overall draft pick. The Browns have a very solid roster and have the luxury of picking pretty much any position in the draft, but why not give their young quarterback better protection just like the other team in Ohio has. Cleveland has a multitude of options on offense, but Baker needs time in the pocket to hit them.
The Browns have shown their willingness to invest in the offensive line after selecting Jedrick Wills, and have the opportunity to turn it into a strength rather than a weakness with this pick. They could potentially use another cornerback or safety, but they have young players at those positions who have played well.
Cleveland could end up picking anywhere in the first round. Much like with the Bengals, we have seen him beat (or come close to beating) top players, as well as lose to lower-tier users. Perhaps a new child could be the motivation he needs to finally get over the hump? The Browns have been playing very well, and Davis would help them pound the rock the way they want to.
Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Ben Roethlisberger is returning this year, but at the age of 38. He could play another year or two, but it is time for the Steelers to start preparing his replacement. Lance is a very unique prospect, playing at FCS NDSU. However, Carson Wentz proved that is not a barrier to success. Lance didn’t throw a single interception is his lone season as a starter and was an electric playmaker through the air and the ground, and the Steelers user could likely use him well. He is very accurate and has a strong arm. The only question marks are his competition level he played against and if one season is enough to make someone worth a high pick at quarterback. Recently, Mitch Trubisky was a top pick after only playing one full season, and we have all seen how that has gone. Would Lance be more like Trubisky or Wentz?
Trey Lance could go pretty much anywhere in the first round, and the Steelers could pick anywhere in the first round. We have seen success from their new coach, but projecting this year is difficult given the differences in the game.
Though the Steelers coach runs a heavy under center offense, Lance could still be used well. He can scramble to extend plays, as well as adding flexibility in the run game. Maybe this is the year we see some new tricks from the Steelers?
The Steelers could use some speed at running back or wide receiver, but that speed is useless without someone to get the ball to them. They also need a new cornerback to solidify their great defense, and I could see them drafting a guy like Tyson Campbell or Eric Stokes from Georgia.
Lance would be a perfect fit for the Steelers, as their coach is well known for never missing a read, much like the former Bison passer.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
If the Bills are all in on Josh Allen, they need to surround him with weapons. Stefon Diggs is a great start and is a very good do-it-all kind of receiver, but Cole Beasley and John Brown are getting up there in age behind him. Bateman is more of a possession receiver, which complements the finesse playstyle of Diggs. He’s the kind of guy you look to on third down to just out-muscle a defender and make the catch to move the chains. Though he’s not the same player as Adam Thielen, Bateman would create a similar one-two punch with Diggs.
Personally, I’m not super high on Josh Allen. But if Buffalo is, they need someone who can play with him well. They currently have a bunch of shifty route runners, but the addition of a big receiver who can catch some of Allen’s more errant throws would suit them well. He has a tendency to overthrow in any given direction, and Rashod Bateman’s frame would accommodate that well.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but I would compare Bateman to Dez Bryant. He’s no burner, but he can run good routes and catch the ball very well. I was tempted to pick Kyle Pitts for the Bills as well, but they seem content with their talent at tight end as of now. No slight to the Bills coach, but he is in a division with three of the best coaches in the league. This division is going to test his skills and grit. He could very well end up with a good record, but division games are going to be difficult. However, this is a perfect situation for the Bills to prove to PML that they are a contender.
Sam Cosmi, OT, Texas
This pick was too easy to make, come on. The Dolphins don’t have the most complete roster, but their coach knows how to adapt. They are going to run the ball, and have a solid stable of running backs with Matt Breida and Jordan Howard. They could use another wide receiver, but the offensive line is pretty rough. You can’t throw to any receivers if the pass rush gets home every play. Given that the Dolphins new coach has the same Alma Mater as Cosmi, this pick is a slam dunk.
Cosmi is a very talented offensive tackle with the skillset to play guard if needed. He is rated as the second-best offensive tackle behind Penei Sewell via tankathon.com (ironic for me, right?) Honestly, this Dolphins roster can use help anywhere they can get it. Protecting Tua will be a priority, but this team will end up out-playing their talent level. I can see them being a playoff team, especially with the new playoff format.
The Dolphins have been outplaying their current talent level, but are going to need to improve their line if they want to be able to compete at a higher level. This is a great start and would give Tua the protection he needs and would help open up holes for their running backs.
New England Patriots
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
This Patriots team is going to run the ball, and they are going to do it at a high level. Chuba Hubbard has proven for multiple years that he is capable of carrying the rock 30 times a game if needed, without losing any steam. He is a tough running back who can do a little bit of everything. He is fast, strong, and a good enough threat as a receiver. We’ve seen what this coach has done with Tony Brooks-James in the past, and Hubbard would be a massive upgrade as a player.
Cam Newton is not going to be around forever, but there are no viable options that will be around late in the first round, when the Patriots will likely pick. They need any kind of offensive threat, so I’m tempted to pick tight end Kyle Pitts or one of the many receivers, but this is going to be a team that is dedicated to the run.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this pick. Sony Michel is a solid player, but Hubbard would elevate an elite rushing attack’s game to a new level. Perhaps this pick could change after their private trade talks become public… could the Patriots be targeting a new running back? Or maybe it is a speed receiver. Whoever it is, they are going to make an impact.
New York Jets
Walker Little, OT, Stanford
Plainly put, this team’s offensive line is abysmal. We know that it ultimately won’t matter and that the Jets will easily overcome it due to their coaching, but it never hurts to build the roster. Little is a refined blocker with quick feet and strong hands. Maybe I’m just pessimistic, but it feels like it likely won’t matter who the Jets draft since their coaching will be streets ahead of every other team. They tackle well and read block better than anyone.
They could use another skill player, but this team will probably take a 60 overall undrafted rookie to MVP status despite a bit of a weak roster. Sam Darnold will probably look like the reincarnation of Tom Brady and Le’Veon Bell will look like Barry Sanders.
Walker Little would give the Jets a strong tackle duo with he and Mekhi Becton. In the NFL this year, Becton has been a phenomenal player as a rookie, despite the Jets’ horrible lack of success.
It looks like the Jets aren’t going to be tanking this year.
(Most of this article was written before games started. If you read this article and think “oh, I’m gonna @ bacon because his prediction stinks”. Breathe. It’s gonna be okay. It’s just an article.)