NFL Draft 2021: Day 2 News and Rumors

With just a few hours before Rounds 2 and 3, here's Albert Breer's latest intel from making calls around the league. The Patriots let Mac Jones come to them, the Giants did want DeVonta Smith before the Eagles jumped them, and players to watch on Day 2.
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Another day, another notes column. We’ll look back on Day 1, and forward to Day 2, based on what I’m hearing around the league. Let’s go …

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• The Patriots’ approach to the draft (and the quarterback position in general this offseason): Let the QB come to us. Similarly to how they didn’t make much of a play for their old flame Jimmy Garoppolo, they didn’t get overly aggressive on Thursday night either. One team they’d talked to in the top 10 called them ahead of picking, and their basic response about having an interest in trading up was: “We’re good.” Similarly, when the Giants were on the clock at No. 11, and the Bears were coming up for Justin Fields, the New York brass (helmed by Bill Belichick’s old boss, John Mara, and with a New England-bred head coach, Joe Judge) didn’t get so much as a phone call from Foxboro. And in the end, Alabama’s Mac Jones, a central casting fit for the offense Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weis and Bill O’Brien have run the last 20 years, did, indeed, come to them. Had Jones not slipped to No. 15? I don’t know what the Patriots would’ve done. Maybe they’d have gotten more aggressive on Garoppolo. I don’t know. But it’s a non-issue now.

• Speaking of the Giants, it doesn’t always work out this way, but Eagles GM Howie Roseman’s read was correct: New York would have taken DeVonta Smith with the 11th pick, I’m told. (The Patriots in 2010 are one example of how it doesn’t always go that way. They leapfrogged the Ravens to take Rob Gronkowski that year, but the Ravens had actually failed Gronkowski on his physical. I’d say New England was O.K. with the deal anyway.) The truth on Smith is that, really, the weight issue was the only one teams had about the Heisman winner. He was completely clean overwise. “We asked all the SEC guys who the best player they played against was over the last couple months,” said one rival NFC exec. “All of them, every one, said DeVonta. And the Bama guys all said, ‘He’s the best football player I’ve ever been around.’ ”

• One more thing on that 11th pick. My understanding is the Bears were not the only team calling the Giants. The Vikings and Saints were too. It seems logical that Minnesota was looking to leapfrog the Chargers to get Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater. As for the Saints, the perception around the league was that they were calling up and down the top 15 looking for a corner. Thing is, by the time New York was on the clock, Jaycee Horn was gone to Carolina and Patrick Surtain II was off to Denver. So maybe Sean Payton was taking a swing at another position, like quarterback. Either way, as I heard it, New Orleans wasn’t putting a third first-round pick on the table, like San Francisco did, which probably made it tough for any team that high to contemplate moving back all the way to No. 28. (As such, the Saints never got close to making the massive move up the board that they had explored.)

• The Panthers’ spot was another pivotal one in how the rest of the top 20 played out. Carolina went into the night with three guys in mind: Horn, Oregon OT Penei Sewell and Fields. My sense is that Sewell would’ve been the pick had he been there. And since he wasn’t, really it came down to Horn vs. Fields. Horn, the No. 1 guy on the Panthers’ board as they went on the clock, wound up edging out Fields and a couple others, for a number of reasons. One, they needed a starting corner, and thought Horn could clearly be a No. 1. Two, the receivers in the NFC South only highlighted that need in 2020, and probably would’ve again without reinforcements at the positions, with the team’s third-down defense a legit weakness last year. And three, Horn’s an immediate impact pick, and they didn’t want to force more resources into the quarterback position. So Horn was the pick, and as a bonus, the belief is that, in a nice-guy locker room, Horn will bring a little of the sort of edge that GM Scott Fitterer saw in the secondaries he worked with in Seattle.

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• The Bears did actually call the Cowboys about the 10th pick, and a determining factor for Dallas was how far it was willing to go back. Falling all the way back to No. 20 would have meant falling out of the range to get first a-round-graded player. Trading with the Eagles, though? That brought home a third-round pick and kept the Cowboys inside the top 12—with a shot to land Penn State LB Micah Parsons, who should play a supercharged version of the K.J. Wright role in Dan Quinn’s defense (with some Bruce Irvin-style blitzing mixed in). Parsons gives the team the flexibility to move on from injury-riddled former first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch if it comes to that, and should help the team’s somewhat suspect pass rush. The plan is to be aggressive with him, which plays to his strengths.

• While no one knew the Niners would really pull the trigger on it, it’s long been easy for scouts to see Trey Lance’s fit in a Kyle Shanahan system. And it’s something we mentioned in columns back in the summer and fall—not knowing this would at all be possible. How does that manifest? Lance played a lot under center at North Dakota State, is capable of making plays on the move, can effectively throw to all three levels of the field and is very sharp. In fact, when rumors started circulating on Thursday that Jones might not be the guy, that’s where the gap had supposedly closed, with Lance having shown his football knowhow to the Niners in meetings and at his second pro day. It should be fascinating to see this play out.

• As for Day 2, some teams in the middle Round 2 are making calls about coming up. It’s always hard to tell exactly what they’d come up for. But the smart money says corner is a position to watch. Georgia’s Tyson Campbell and Florida State’s Asante Samuel are still there, as is Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph (a super-talented DB who carries some concerns tying to his off-field life), and after those three there is a sizable dropoff. So someone could come up for one of them.

• Alabama DT Christian Barmore is absolutely a name to watch going into Friday night. He’d been rumored as a possible pick for the Jaguars at either No. 25 or No. 33 in the days leading up to the draft. But character concerns are there and, at least to some teams, the fact that the Ravens passed on him twice—given that Baltimore’s so connected in Tuscaloosa, and that Barmore was widely seen as a top-20 player in the class—is seen as a red flag. So we’ll see if Jacksonville pulls the trigger at the outset tonight.

• Another: Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. I really believe that the Cardinals’ struggle to find a home for Isaiah Simmons, a more freakish version of the versatile Owusu-Koramoah, had an effect on his stock. And to be sure, whoever takes him Friday night will have to have a vision for him. Some believe he could be a Ryan Shazier-type off-ball linebacker. Others think he could play the Patrick Chung role in a New England-style of defense.

• And a third would be Alabama C Landon Dickerson, a really, really good player who’s coming back off an ACL tear he suffered in December. He, Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey and Ohio State’s Josh Myers give center-hungry team some really strong Friday options.

• Finally, two guys that a lot of teams love who I’m surprised are still around: Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore and TCU S Trevon Moehrig. Both are high-character guys, and both carry a lot of potential (Moehrig as a do-everything safety; Moore as a smallish, but lightning quick slot receiver). I’ll be interested to see how long those two have to wait.