There were no surprises in the first three picks on Thursday night.
The 2021 NFL Draft got underway on Thursday night with all 32 first-round picks being made. The top three draft choices were all used on quarterbacks as the Jacksonville Jaguars took Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall, the New York Jets picked BYU’s Zach Wilson No. 2, and the San Francisco 49ers snagged North Dakota State’s Trey Lance at No. 3.
While there was some speculation about what the Niners would do at No. 3, the first two picks had pretty much been set in stone since the Jets traded Sam Darnold (who they took third overall in 2018) to the Carolina Panthers earlier this offseason, thereby punching that Wilson’s ticket to the Big Apple as their first draft pick of the Robert Saleh era.
New Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer and his Jaguars have likely gotten themselves a superstar in Lawrence, who is viewed by many to be one of the best quarterback prospects since Andrew Luck. It was the right pick and kudos to Meyer and company for not overthinking and botching this one.
Minshew Mania, while a lot of fun, has likely seen it’s last days in Jacksonville, as Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew II is likely to either backup Lawrence—who is expected to be the Day 1 starter—or head for greener pastures where he might have a shot at fighting for a starter’s role.
While they didn’t overthink at No. 1, Meyer and his staff really dropped the ball on their next pick at No. 25 overall. The Jags found a diamond in the rough last year in undrafted running back James Robinson: he went for 1,070 rushing yards in 2020 and served as the lone bright spot on the one-win team.
They supplemented the rook by signing solid veteran Carlos Hyde in the offseason. Unfortunately for Lawrence and the Duval faithful, the Jaguars decided to triple-down at the position, drafting Lawrence’s Clemson teammate running back Travis Etienne at No. 25 when the team’s offensive line needs are clear and obvious.
Despite landing the consensus best player in the draft the Jaguars are still not expected to have much in the way of success during the 2021 season, as evidenced by their +800 NFL odds to win their division on 888sport. The Jets seem to be in an even worse position, boasting +1,600 NFL odds to win their division.
The Jets got their guy in Wilson, who was pretty close to being the consensus second best signal caller in this draft class. While he is second, there is apparently quite a chasm between him and Lawrence in terms of skill and NFL readiness. The Jets also don’t have quite as much talent at the skill positions to help the rookie QB when compared with Jacksonville.
Nonetheless, new head coach Saleh got his guy, and considering his defensive prowess as a coach, it would be reasonable to expect that Gang Green defensive unit to make positive strides in his first year. A solid defense can be a big help for rookie QBs considering it’s a lot less pressure when you’re playing from ahead rather than coming from behind.
The Niners, who traded three first round picks and a third-rounder to the Miami Dolphins to acquire the No. 3 pick, are in a completely different situation. They took Lance, who is much less of a sure-thing than the other two: his floor is far below theirs, but his ceiling exceeds theirs as well.
At 6’4” and 226 pounds, Lance is a specimen with a cannon for an arm who has shown an ability to read defenses with impressive quickness. He’s also mature, so he won’t bristle at sitting behind Jimmy Garapolo for a year while head coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff develop the 20-year-old.
With a litany of elite skill players, a decent-to-solid offensive line, and one of the best defenses in football (when healthy), Lance will be in by far the best position of any of the top three picks when he does finally become the starter, whether that’s late this season, next season, or the year after.
With Jimmy G at the controls, the Niners are still a realistic Super Bowl contender, sitting seventh on 888sport with +1,200 odds to win the Super Bowl next year. However, with Garoppolo under center, we have reservations about how far the Niners can go, so we’d steer clear of those odds this season. They could be a seriously serious contender in 2022 if Lance is ready to take the reins, though.