Interested in the 2021 NFL draft?

The 2020 NFL season is in the books, and now the time has arrived for one of the most popular nights on the American calendar. The NFL Draft. For a number of franchises, the draft is a time of renewed hope. An opportunity to hit the reset button.

The fortunes of a franchise can hinge on a good draft class, or perhaps even a single draft pick. Like Quarterback Peyton Manning for the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 or Cornerback Richard Sherman for the Seattle Seahawks in 2011.

There are differing opinions about when exactly the NFL Draft became such must-watch TV. There are some that feel it is the 1983 Draft which saw 6 QB’s selected in the first round. 3 of whom, John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino, went on to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

This was the first draft in which fans were allowed to attend the event in person. But perhaps more notoriously, the draft is remembered for first overall pick, Stanford University’s Elway, refusing to play for the team that selected him, the Baltimore Colts.

Elway instead opted to play for baseball outfit, the New York Yankees, unless the Colts traded him. Faced with the prospect of losing their pick for nothing, the Colts caved in and traded Elway to the Denver Broncos.

The lead up to the draft was also filled with rumours about University of Pittsburgh prospect Dan Marino. A story was doing the rounds amongst team execs that Marino was using drugs. The rumours proved to be untrue, but that didn’t stop numerous franchises passing on Marino, who was eventually drafted 27th overall by the Miami Dolphins. All in all, 5 QB’s were selected ahead of Marino, including Elway and Kelly. The source of the rumours has never been uncovered.

The second draft to capture the public’s imagination was the 1994 draft. That draft was memorable because of the war of words that broke out live on TV between ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr and Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Tobin, over the Colts selection of Linebacker Trev Alberts.

Right before we go on, some simple facts you need to know about the NFL Draft:

  • The team with the worst record has the first pick. The reasoning is that the worst team gets the best player in College Football. The second-worst team gets the second pick and so on. The Super Bowl Champions pick last.
  • The higher a player is drafted, the more money he is eligible to earn on his rookie contract.
  • Players can only negotiate a contract with the team that drafts them unless a trade can be agreed to.
  • Only players that are at least 3 years removed from high school are eligible to enter the NFL Draft.
  • There are seven rounds in the draft. Each team gets a single pick in each round. The picking order of the draft is the same for each round.
  • Teams are able to trade draft picks with other teams, so it’s possible for a franchise to have more than one pick in a particular round.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, with a record of 1 win and 15 losses, currently hold the first overall draft pick. There isn’t too much doubt in most people’s minds about who the Jaguars will select. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson University has had NFL scouts excited since he was in high school. But it was the 2019 College Football National Championship game that alerted the American footballing public to the talents of the Cartersville native.

Lawrence torched the University of Alabama defense by throwing for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns, as the Tigers won their second National Championship in 3 years. Besides winning the National Championship, Lawrence led Clemson to 3 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championships, as well as receiving the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and ACC Player of the Year.

After Trevor Lawrence, the draft selection enters muddy waters. As many as 5 Quarterbacks could be selected in the Top 10. Zach Wilson (Brigham Young University), Justin Fields (Ohio State University), Trey Lance (North Dakota State University), and Mac Jones (University of Alabama).

The New York Jets have the second overall pick, and just like the Jaguars, are expected to select a Quarterback after shipping starting QB Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. With Lawrence off the board, the Jets are likely to pick between Wilson and Fields. The San Francisco 49ers traded up for the third selection, after their QB Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ankle sprain, and will probably pick whoever the Jets decide not to.

University of Oregon Offensive Tackle Penei Sewell is also expected to be selected in the Top 5. Whilst Wide Receivers Ja’marr Chase (Louisiana State University) and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith (Alabama) will be in high demand.

Tight End Kyle Pitts from the University of Florida is an absolute beast and will be a good bet to elevate the offense of whichever team drafts him. Pitts teammate Quarterback Kyle Trask is expected to be a late first-round selection, or at the latest, an early second-round pick.

On the defensive side, Alabama Cornerback Patrick Surtain and Penn State University Linebacker Micah Parsons are expected to round up the Top 10.

But until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reads out an athlete’s name and the team that has drafted them, everything is pure speculation. You just never know what a franchise GM is going to do.

In the 2000 draft, 30 teams decided that Tom Brady wasn’t the quarterback of the future for them. The New England Patriots would eventually select Brady 199th overall in the sixth round. He didn’t turn out too bad.

In 2005, Aaron Rodgers sat uncomfortably in the Green Room as a team after team prolonged his ordeal in front of millions of viewers until the Green Bay Packers finally put him out of his misery.

But there is a flip side to the draft. As in life, there are no guarantees of success. Trevor Lawrence’s chances of a successful career in Jacksonville depend on a number of factors. How good will his offensive line be? Will he have reliable receivers? Will he be able to read defenses? Will he have a good relationship with the coaching staff? Can he stay injury-free?

NFL history is full of players who didn’t live up to the hype due to a variety of factors. Ryan Leaf was selected second overall, behind Peyton Manning, by the San Diego Chargers in the 1998 draft. But due to a combination of ill-discipline and injuries, Leaf was released by the Chargers in 2001 and was retired altogether by 2004.

Peyton Manning, on the other hand, had a 20-year career, won the Super Bowl with 2 different franchises, and enjoyed an epic rivalry with Tom Brady.

Whatever happens, when Goodell steps up and says, “ With the first pick of the 2021 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select……..”, it will be the beginning of a renewed sense of hope, or dreams being shattered.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or on Facebook.

Sizwe Luthayi