After the NFL scouting combine last year, a general manager projected the first 10 picks in the 2020 draft, successfully matching the first six players to the teams that selected them. Eight of the players projected to go in the top 10 were selected that early. Nine were selected among the top 11. All were selected among the top 15.
We are six weeks later in the process this year, which normally might help with accuracy, but information on the prospects is also scarcer, thanks to limitations associated with the pandemic. I’ve enlisted another GM and additional high-ranking execs to navigate these challenges and project the first 10 selections in the 2021 draft regardless. Of particular interest: the number of quarterbacks to be selected in the top 10, and specifically which one the San Francisco 49ers are likely to select at No. 3 — Justin Fields, Mac Jones or Trey Lance.
The answers with explanations appear in the projections below. These are projections, not endorsements. Also, the GM and execs consulted here work for teams selecting well outside the top 10.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
GM’s projection: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The Jaguars have all but confirmed they’ll be selecting Lawrence first overall. No projection required. On to the next pick, but first, here’s what a former GM said about Lawrence nearly two years ago, in May 2019: “From what I can see, there is not really much he lacks. He has size, good arm, throws it accurately, he is athletic. I would think at some point he would be the first pick in the draft.” That point is near.
One concern, raised by an evaluator several months ago: Lawrence and so many other prospects from elite programs rarely must function under the duress that is standard at the NFL level, creating misleading impressions about how well their games will transfer.
2. New York Jets
GM’s projection: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The GM and execs felt 99.9 percent sure the Jets would select Wilson despite some of their own reservations. The former NFL player-turned-analyst Merril Hoge, whose son was Wilson’s roommate for two years at BYU, told ESPN that perceptions of Wilson as arrogant are a reflection of competitive confidence. Some who have interacted with Wilson during the draft process said they were impressed. All thought Wilson would be the pick in this slot, although one said he’d select Fields over Wilson without hesitation.