The 2021 NFL draft is nigh, blessed clarity awaiting as screens of smoke dissipate and the San Francisco 49ers finally go on the clock (the Jags and NYJ already turned in their cards, right?) to end weeks of mystery and speculation … all in hopes that we’re alive Sunday – after S.F. coach Kyle Shanahan cast doubt upon that, too – to hyperanalyze the Niners’ decisions and those of the league’s 31 other teams. But first, one final stab at projecting the first round, one that’s already been shuffled a few times – four teams have already executed trades giving them multiple Round 1 selections, the Ravens doing so Friday – and seems sure to undergo a few more alterations by the time Thursday night wraps up.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
His name has pretty much been penciled in here for three years … it was just a matter of determining which team would sufficiently implode at just the right time to get him. (Nice job, Jags … bad job, Jets.) Largely viewed as a generational prospect, Lawrence appears to have everything it takes to deliver exactly what this moribund franchise needs: Wins in the standings and fans in the seats.
2. New York Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
He was never a threat to dethrone Lawrence at No. 1, but good luck finding a passer who generated more pre-draft buzz by virtue of his pro day and transcendent throws from his breakout 2020 season that have (dubiously) drawn comparisons to Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. GM Joe Douglas unloaded unfortunate Sam Darnold to make way for Wilson, but now the rebooting organization must do a better job supporting its new face of the franchise than it did its previous one.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Houston Texans via Miami Dolphins) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Alabama’s Mac Jones has seemingly been linked to the Niners ever since they traded up to this spot last month. But Lance is the kind of talent who spurs an organization to part with three first-round picks based on his exceptional potential … something that would be hard to say about Jones. A smart player who protects the ball and can make plays outside the structure of an offense, the next question would become how long it would take Lance – he’s played one game since the 2019 season ended – to displace Jimmy Garoppolo, who took this club to the Super Bowl to end the 2019 season.