Wide receiver is shaping up to be the premier position after an early look at the 2021 draft class.
John Schmeelk: Fact - Last year's wide receiver class was phenomenal, and this year's class might be better. One could argue that Ja'Marr Chase, and maybe even Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith are better than any of the receivers in last year's class. This class also runs deep. The Athletic's draft guru, Dane Brugler, has 16 wide receivers in his Top 100 going into the Senior Bowl. There could be at least one high level receiver available in the second round of the draft. It is just a matter of picking the right player.
Dan Salomone: Fiction - This is the NFL. It's all about the quarterbacks, and the roller coaster ride of who is No. 2 behind Clemon's Trevor Lawrence will pick up speed between now and April 29 in Cleveland, Ohio. It changed week to week throughout the 2020 college football season, and the same will happen as NFL teams dig deeper and deeper.
Lance Medow: Fact - As has been the case over the last several years, there's a great deal of depth at wide receiver. So if teams want to wait until the later part of the first round or early in the second round, they likely won't be disappointed. Just look at the Senior Bowl roster. Florida's Kadarius Toney, Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell of Clemson, Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace, Nico Collins of Michigan, Houston's Marquez Stevenson and Frank Darby of Arizona State are some notable names to watch. Perhaps the most electric player of them all, Alabama's DeVonta Smith is there, but won't be playing because of a finger injury.
Teams will take fewer chances in the draft because of the lack of a traditional combine.
John Schmeelk: Fact - It may have less to do with the lack of a traditional combine than many schools refusing to allow scouts to visit last season. Teams should still get sufficient medical information but it may be a bit more difficult to judge the players' personalities and off-field profiles. There will be no in-person interviews at the combine and scouts will have less exposure to people on campus to get a good feel for what these players are all about, regardless of what they put on tape. You can figure teams take fewer chances on players who might have some off-field questions.
Dan Salomone: Fact - There is a lot of hoopla every draft season, but at the end of the day, it boils down to game film and medical checks. By now, the world is used to Zoom calls, so the lack of the traditional in-person interview should not be a major issue. But the biggest thing about the combine is not what happens in the 40-yard dash; it's about what takes place in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium during the medical exams.
Lance Medow: Fact - I think the lack of a traditional combine is just one factor why teams will take fewer chances. Several players in this year's draft class opted out and didn't play at all in 2020, many conferences had shortened seasons and NFL scouts/executives didn't do as much traveling as they've done in the past. Teams will have the opportunity to evaluate players at some of the pro days but, the colleges can effectively control those settings for their players. When you put these factors together, teams will likely rely on more reliable information, sometimes gathered from previous seasons. It doesn't mean they'll be unwilling to take chances on potential in the late rounds, but teams won't be itching to take a chance on a player with a small sample size of tape or questions connected to his health and/or measurements.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently updated his ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Senior Bowl benefits quarterbacks the most.
John Schmeelk: Fiction - There isn't necessarily any position the Senior Bowl helps the most. If anything, it may be a little more difficult to judge quarterbacks because they are in new systems and throwing to players with whom they do not have great chemistry. You can, however, learn a lot from seeing how quickly quarterbacks can absorb a new offense in only a few days. It's most enjoyable watching the 1-on-1 sessions between the wide receivers and defensive backs, and the offensive and defensive linemen. You learn a lot about them athletically and how they are going to handle top competition heading into the NFL.
Dan Salomone: Fiction - Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy talked about this exact subject on our “Giants Huddle” podcast. The Senior Bowl is a chance for NFL decision-makers to see up close how prospects can translate to the professional level and it has been especially helpful for quarterbacks as of late. Daniel Jones (2019 Senior Bowl MVP), Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, and Justin Herbert were seen as mid-Day 1 picks, at best, until they went to Mobile and became high selections. At the same time, it doesn't just apply to the signal-callers.
"The quarterbacks really can help themselves," Nagy said. "I think the big guys can certainly, too. Those 1-on-1 pass rush [drills], I think if defensive linemen put together about three or four good rushes in the week, that's about all they need to do because then you've got defensive line coaches around the league, if they see it once or twice, they think they can get that out of the guy consistently. So those guys can always benefit. I really think all of them can. If you've got a corner that comes down here and locks guys up in 1-on-1s or a receiver that just gets open consistently like the group last year did or Deebo Samuel did the year before, all of them can [move up draft boards]."
Lance Medow: Fiction - No particular position has a distinct advantage over the others when it comes to the Senior Bowl. Each unit has an opportunity to showcase its skills during individual drills and to interact with league executives and coaches. Players such as Daniel Jones and Justin Herbert have helped their causes in recent years but you can say the same thing about guys such as pass rusher Montez Sweat and wide receiver Deebo Samuel. As an aside, Alabama QB Mac Jones likely has an advantage over several other quarterbacks – Justin Field, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, for example - who aren't eligible for this year's Senior Bowl because Jones has an first-hand opportunity to impress NFL teams during the week.
There will be less movement in free agency around the NFL this year.
John Schmeelk: Fact - With the salary cap likely dropping this season, there just won't be a lot of money available for teams to spend. Teams will likely prioritize keeping their own players, which means there might not be as much movement as we have seen in the past. The counter is that a depressed market could make a player more likely to sign below street value, one-year deals with eye toward free agency in 2022. This scenario could spark some activity as players prioritize fit and winning over familiarity. However it goes, 2021 is going to be one of the more unique free agency periods we have seen in a long time.
Dan Salomone: Fiction - The headlines that quarterbacks have made around the NFL this week alone has set the stage for yet another intriguing free agency period. The salary cap is uncertain right now, but it will affect every team the same way once it is set. In other words, it's all relative. Teams will adapt.
Lance Medow: Fiction - Last off-season, there was a lot of chatter that perhaps there would be less player movement because free agents couldn't visit teams and take physicals - and that theory turned out to be only a fun, speculative talking point. Why should we think any differently this year? Yes, the salary cap could dip, but several teams are carrying over cap space from last season and most teams plan accordingly. All it takes is one team to be interested in a player for him to move.