With three games left to play in the 2020 NFL campaign, most teams around the league and fans have turned their attention to the 2021 draft, which will be held April 29 through May 1 in Cleveland.
Next week, draft season kicks off in full force with the Senior Bowl. The scouting process will be different this year since the combine will be held virtually next month because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but scouts and talent evaluators still have plenty of work to do over the next three months.
Prospects will have the opportunity to impress decision-makers at all-star games, interviews and pro day workouts. The perception of certain players will change as draft boards morph based on new information.
Some teams may go away from their biggest area of need or take a prospect not considered the top name at a particular position. While picking potential surprises, we'll stay within the realm of the first round (or the highest pick each team has) since those are the most important selections.
The draft never goes according to plan, so don't be surprised when an unexpected name or two pops up along the way.
Arizona Cardinals: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
The Arizona Cardinals might not prioritize adding another wide receiver in the draft given their needs elsewhere, especially at cornerback.
But this is a team now built around Kliff Kingsbury's vision and quarterback Kyler Murray.
Sure, the Cardinals already have DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella on their roster. However, Larry Fitzgerald is a free agent, and he might decide to retire. The Cardinals employed more 10 personnel (one running back and four wide receivers) than any other offense this season, per Sharp Football's Warren Sharp.
Alabama's Jaylen Waddle is a dynamic playmaker in space and is deadly with his ability to create separation, although an ankle injury slowed him over the second half of this past season. His quickness and explosion would add a completely different wrinkle to the Cardinals offense.
Atlanta Falcons: QB Zach Wilson, Brigham Young
Matt Ryan isn't the long-term answer for the Atlanta Falcons under center anymore, and they could take his heir apparent with the fourth overall pick. However, Ryan figures to remain their starter in 2021, largely because of his contract.
Even if the Falcons trade Ryan with a post-June 1 designation, they'll eat $35.8 million in dead cap hits over the next two years. New head coach Arthur Smith also intimated the team will move forward with Ryan.
"We're gonna play to Matt's strengths..." Smith told reporters. "But I'm obviously, looking forward to getting in there and coaching Matt when the time comes."
Still, the Falcons have to seriously entertain taking a long-term approach with the No. 4 pick. BYU's Zach Wilson has an argument as the second-best quarterback prospect in the class and eventually could be Ryan's successor.
Baltimore Ravens: C Landon Dickerson, Alabama
The potential pairing of the Baltimore Ravens and Alabama center Landon Dickerson is less surprising because of need or quality of prospect and far more about his current medical standing.
Despite leading the NFL in rushing for the second straight season, the Ravens desperately need to improve their offensive interior. Matt Skura, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Patrick Mekari didn't get the job done at center.