How to watch the 2021 NFL draft
By Emmanuel Morgan
The guessing will soon be over.
After months of projections and rumors, the NFL draft begins with the first round today, and with it comes a chance for all 32 teams to add new talent to their rosters. The coronavirus pandemic altered this year’s player evaluation process, but the end result will remain the same: More than 200 college players will formally be welcomed into the league during the three-day spectacle. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What time is the draft?
The first round of the NFL draft starts today at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
ESPN, ABC and NFL Network will broadcast the event. It can be streamed through services like Hulu, Sling TV, fuboTV and the ESPN and NFL apps.
Where is the draft?
Unlike in 2020, it won’t be held in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement. The league will convene in Cleveland this season for a hybrid model — some remote segments, some in-person — after COVID-19 forced the league last year to conduct the ceremonies virtually.
Thirteen prospects will be on site to hug a vaccinated Goodell, if they so choose, after he calls their names. Others, including the presumed No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, a quarterback out of Clemson, will participate remotely. The NFL also organized in-person musical performances and other events for fans in attendance.
What’s the first-round draft order?
For the first 14 weeks of the 2020 season, the New York Jets were winless and seemed poised to inherit the No. 1 overall pick. But after winning two of their final three games, they forfeited that right and handed it to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost every game after winning their season opener.
The San Francisco 49ers leapt nine spots when they acquired the third overall pick through a trade last month with the Miami Dolphins, who then traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 6 pick. The Baltimore Ravens also reshuffled the order when they received the No. 31 pick from the Kansas City Chiefs in a trade package that included offensive tackle Orlando Brown.
Kansas City, along with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams, does not have a first-round pick because of previous trades. The Jaguars, Jets, Dolphins and Ravens each have two.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars; 2. New York Jets; 3. San Francisco 49ers; 4. Atlanta Falcons; 5. Cincinnati Bengals; 6. Miami Dolphins; 7. Detroit Lions; 8. Carolina Panthers; 9. Denver Broncos; 10. Dallas Cowboys; 11. New York Giants; 12. Philadelphia Eagles; 13. Los Angeles Chargers; 14. Minnesota Vikings; 15. New England Patriots; 16. Arizona Cardinals; 17. Las Vegas Raiders; 18. Miami Dolphins; 19. Washington Football Team; 20. Chicago Bears; 21. Indianapolis Colts; 22. Tennessee Titans; 23. New York Jets; 24. Pittsburgh Steelers; 25. Jacksonville Jaguars; 26. Cleveland Browns; 27. Baltimore Ravens; 28. New Orleans Saints; 29. Green Bay Packers; 30. Buffalo Bills; 31. Baltimore Ravens; 32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Who will be picked No. 1?
All signs point to the Jaguars’ selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. In three seasons as a starter, he led the Tigers to two national title games, winning after the 2018 season, and three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances. He lost only two games in his college career.
Lawrence declined the NFL’s invitation to attend the draft in person and instead will watch with his wife, Marissa, and family at their home near Clemson, South Carolina. Along with newly hired coach Urban Meyer, Lawrence will be charged with improving a franchise that has historically struggled to win. Since 2008, the Jaguars have finished above .500 only once.
If everyone knows who will be picked first, where is the drama?
Unless the Jets drift from their expected plan of selecting Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick, the suspense starts with San Francisco.
The 49ers’ trade package to the Dolphins included two future first-round picks, a steep price San Francisco felt comfortable paying to add a quarterback. Their current starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, has been sidelined with major injuries, playing in fewer than seven games in two of the past three seasons.
Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are the leading candidates to be picked by the 49ers. While Jones is an accurate pocket passer, Lance and Fields can throw and be effective runners, adding another stress to a defense and expanding coach Kyle Shanahan’s playbook.
But the 49ers can pick only one of them, leaving a bevy of options for the Atlanta Falcons with the fourth overall pick. Their franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, 35, is the second-oldest quarterback in the NFC South, and although he arguably has productive seasons ahead of him, coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot, who both were hired this winter, may elect to start the line of succession.
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts could also make sense for the Falcons, especially since teams have reportedly tried to gauge their interest in trading star receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta could swap picks with a team searching for a quarterback and choose from talented players later in the first round.
What about players who opted out of their college seasons?
More than 100 Division I players opted out of the 2020 college football season because of coronavirus concerns. Some of those players are expected to come off the board early, despite not having played a live snap in more than a year.
The Bengals, with the fifth pick, are expected to be the first team to select a player who opted out since the best available non-quarterbacks align with some of the team’s many, many needs. Cincinnati could either bolster its offensive line, which surrendered the third-most sacks in the NFL last season, by drafting Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell. Or it could reunite quarterback Joe Burrow with receiver Ja’Marr Chase, one of his teammates from Louisiana State’s national championship team.
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater are also projected first-round selections who opted out of the 2020 season.