The 2021 NFL Draft will commence just over a month from now on April 29. The top crop of quarterbacks -- consisting of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance -- will be at the center of all conversations leading up to the event. Each possesses the physical tools necessary to become starting-caliber QBs at the professional level, and other than Lawrence, nobody in the general public has any concrete information about where they will be selected.
Which is just how the teams making those picks like it. We are unlikely to receive much clarity in that regard as every franchise picking in the first round attempts to mask their true intentions behind media rumors and conjecture.
That does not make it any less notable that ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., perhaps the foremost mock draft authority in sports media, has those four signal-callers going 1-4 in the draft in his latest predictions.
Much of the above segment is dedicated to Kiper explaining why he likes Mac Jones going to the Patriots, which flies in the face of yesterday's rumors that New England could be in the running to trade up for Fields or Lance should they fall far enough. But in Kiper's version of the draft, they wouldn't even have a chance to do that because the top four are gone by the time the Bengals are on the clock at No. 5.
The first two picks are easy enough. Lawrence is going to the Jaguars and that's that. The Jets haven't made any official declaration about the status of Sam Darnold, but with a new head coach, the timing will never be better to hit the total reset button by taking Wilson. After that, it gets interesting.
Kiper has the Panthers trading with the Dolphins for the No. 3 pick to take Fields. This would not really surprise anyone. The Dolphins have Tua Tagovailoa on the roster and can move down within the top-10 without losing out on a chance to nab a talented receiver, which should be priority No. 1 for the team this offseason. Carolina has been in the QB upgrade market all offseason. Matt Rhule is only two years removed from his college days, and Fields has a resume of success at that level matched only by the presumptive top overall pick Lawrence.
Then Kiper has the Falcons taking their QB of the future in Lance at No. 4. This possibility grew less likely last week when Atlanta restructured Matt Ryan's contract to spread out his cap hit. As it stands right now, Ryan will be on the roster until the 2023 offseason unless the Falcons want to incur a dead cap hit of $40 million in the 2022 offseason by getting rid of their longtime quarterback. Lance is definitely a project prospect who will need time to adjust to the NFL game, even if his physical gifts are more than ready for the big leagues, but taking a QB at No. 4 overall and benching him for two years is not exactly an optimal use of resources.
Even with those lingering doubts, it all seems feasible. A top-flight quarterback is the most valuable commodity in sports and this crop of prospects is stronger than most years. Each one has their flaws that could prove to be their downfall, but the draft is all about potential, and these QBs have that in spades. It's also far easier to overlook a potential quarterback's flaws because if they pan out, it's a problem the franchise does not have to fix for maybe a decade. No other position comes with that kind of payoff.
Four straight quarterbacks to kick off the draft is bold. But Kiper knows his stuff.