What-if scenarios for the top 10 of the 2021 NFL draft


There’s still three months until the 2021 NFL draft, and anything can happen in that time. Team needs will change, prospect rankings will fluctuate and the direction of many franchises will pivot. Even once we get to draft night, we could be in for some surprises.

We asked our NFL Nation reporters for the teams selecting in the top 10 to look at some off-the-wall scenarios that could happen and might throw their draft plans for a loop. These are what-if situations that teams with high picks will need to consider and be ready for. So after reading what our own Mel Kiper Jr. predicted for each pick, now see what might happen if things go off the rails on draft night. Here are 10 scenarios and how the top-10 teams might approach them, starting with a hefty trade offer for the Jaguars.

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See: Kiper’s mock draftInsider

What would the Jaguars do here if … the Jets offered their two first-round picks (Nos. 2 and 23) and their 2022 first-rounder for No. 1 overall?

They would say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The Jaguars cannot afford to pass on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He’s regarded as one of the best QB prospects since Peyton Manning, and there’s a big gap between him and the other signal-callers available in the draft. New coach Urban Meyer said having the No. 1 pick this year was one of the things that made the Jacksonville job so attractive. Lawrence changes a lot for this team.

Furthermore, owner Shad Khan said this: “What’s evaded the history of the Jags, really, has been a franchise quarterback. And I think what’s unique, certainly, is that we have the ability now to make a choice, and it’s going to define the franchise moving forward.” Jacksonville takes Lawrence and never looks back. — Michael DiRocco

What would the Jets do here if … they committed to Sam Darnold as their starting quarterback for 2021?

They would solicit offers for the No. 2 pick, hoping to move down for extra draft capital. The Jets have nine picks in the first three rounds, and GM Joe Douglas would like to add at least two more. He has a lot of holes to fill, including on offense. If Darnold stays in New York, he needs a better supporting cast, and more draft picks would help the team get there.

But if the Jets can’t find a way to trade down, I’d look for them to take an offensive player to help Darnold, whether it be Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell or a top-rated wide receiver like Alabama’s DeVonta Smith or LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase. — Rich Cimini

What would the Dolphins do here if … the Jets took DeVonta Smith at No. 2?

The Dolphins would likely strongly consider trade-down offers from QB-needy teams in the top 10. A swap, perhaps with the Panthers at No. 8, could return a 2022 first-round pick or multiple second-round picks, giving them more resources to improve a roster that is on the upswing.

If nothing entices them, they’d then likely select tackle Penei Sewell or receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the No. 3 pick. Those moves would either further solidify the offensive line around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or get him a game-changing weapon on the outside. Of course, Smith would be a perfect fit for the Dolphins and Tagovailoa, but there are other options here. — Cameron Wolfe

What would the Falcons do here if … quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson go 1-2-3?

Well, they have a couple of options. First, they could run the piece of paper with tackle Penei Sewell’s name on it up to lock in the pick as fast as they can, securing a building block for the next decade. You can’t go wrong with that decision. Second, they could grab a playmaker to help quarterback Matt Ryan. His contract makes it tough to part with him, so the Falcons might as well help him out as much as they can in this scenario. Those playmakers might include WR DeVonta Smith, WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) or even TE Kyle Pitts (Florida). One of them alongside Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones would give the offense a big boost.

One additional possibility if it came to this: What would the Bengals offer Atlanta to move up one spot and keep Atlanta from taking Sewell? Could the Falcons get some additional draft capital while still getting one of those offensive weapons? — Michael DiRocco

What would the Bengals do here if … they signed offensive tackle Taylor Moton or guard Joe Thuney in free agency in March (and OT Penei Sewell is off the board)?

In this scenario, the Bengals will have plenty more options at No. 5, considering they already helped achieve the top task of protecting quarterback Joe Burrow. If the needs on the offensive line are filled, Cincinnati can look at getting Burrow a big weapon in the passing game such as Ja’Marr Chase. Remember, Chase played at LSU with Burrow. He’s the logical move if free agency and the draft board fall this way.

But the fun pick? How about Florida’s Kyle Pitts? He could take Burrow and the Bengals’ offense to another level and has the potential to be a game-changing tight end for years to come. — Ben Baby

What would the Eagles do here if … wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase are both off the board?

The Eagles certainly need wide receiver help, but there are issues elsewhere, too. Cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) or Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) would be intriguing options. The Eagles struggled to get consistent production out of the CB2 spot behind Darius Slay this season. Slay and Surtain could be a mean one-two punch. Otherwise, Philly is always in the market for offensive and defensive linemen, though it’s unlikely Penei Sewell would fall this far.

And if the Eagles still want to go receiver, Jaylen Waddle — another former teammate of quarterback Jalen Hurts at Alabama — is the exact type of explosive playmaker the Eagles tend to gravitate toward. — Tim McManus

What would the Lions do here if … they trade quarterback Matthew Stafford soon?

The situation opens up some very real possibilities. If the Lions become enamored with quarterbacks Justin Fields or Zach Wilson, they might have to move up from their current spot to land either player. If Detroit stays at No. 7, North Dakota State QB Trey Lance could be a player to watch, especially if the Lions sign a bridge quarterback for him to sit behind and learn from for a year. Lance has an incredible amount of talent but is very young — he’ll be 20 at draft time — so he’s intriguing for a rebuilding team.

Quarterback feels like the way to go for Detroit, but if it doesn’t take one with this pick, a player like Penn State inside linebacker Micah Parsons would help jump-start a sagging defense. — Michael Rothstein

What would the Panthers do here if … a team had already traded up for tight end Kyle Pitts?

Start by looking at the best quarterback on the board. Did Justin Fields or Zach Wilson fall? Carolina will have to evaluate whether Fields, Wilson or Trey Lance — whoever is still available — could be an upgrade on the current Panthers quarterback room of Teddy Bridgewater, P.J. Walker and Will Grier.

Beyond QB, it’s doubtful Penei Sewell would fall that far, and the other offensive tackles aren’t worthy of a top-10 pick. But a linebacker like Micah Parsons could be a good fit. — David Newton

What would the Broncos do here if … Justin Fields or Zach Wilson still hadn’t been picked yet?

Let’s start by saying that we don’t really know what new general manager George Paton thinks of either player — or current QB Drew Lock. And in the new power structure, Paton’s preferences for the position mean everything for what the team does over the next few months. He says he hasn’t evaluated Lock’s work from this past season yet but that he has seen enough to believe Lock can still develop. But he has also said QB play is one of the biggest components in long-term success and that he will consider everything at the position.

So it’s tough to say with certainty right now, because Denver still has some evaluating to do on Lock. But at the end of the day, the Broncos are of course going to give Fields and Wilson each a long look. — Jeff Legwold

What would the Cowboys do here if … no defenders had been picked yet and they could get any on the board?

It’s a simple answer, but they’d take the best available defender. Who that is this far out isn’t yet clear. Cornerback is a big need, so Patrick Surtain II and Caleb Farley would be great options, especially with Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis set to become free agents. The Cowboys feel like they hit on another Alabama corner in last year’s draft, Trevon Diggs, and Surtain has the makeup and feel for the game they crave. And Farley has size, speed and playmaking ability.

The bad news for the Cowboys is there does not appear to be a dominant edge rusher or defensive tackle worth taking at No. 10, and it might be too early for a team like Dallas to go with an off-the-ball linebacker like Micah Parsons, even with questions about Jaylon Smith‘s future. — Todd Archer

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