Undrafted – The Network

Ideal Landing Spots for the 2021 Rookies

Ideal landing spots play a huge part in the early success of any rookie coming into the NFL. Yes they make their way to the NFL based on talent but they have controlled where they went. At the Draft anything can happen and it is a very rare occurrence that a rookie will refuse to play for a team.

The last example of this was when Eli Manning was drafted by the (then) San Diego Chargers. It was reported at the time that Eli and his entourage had told the Chargers that he would rather go Law School than play for them. This didn’t stop them selecting him but within an hour he was a Giant. He was swiftly traded for Phillip Rivers drafted 4th by the Giants. The Chargers also received the Giant’s 3rd round pick that year and the next years 1st and 5th. Long term it worked out well for both sides with Eli winning two Super Bowls and Rivers playing for 16 years with the Chargers, not missing a game for the last 14.

Would Eli have been such a success in San Diego? Who knows. What it does illustrate is that team fit is important. I doubt he would have achieved as much at a team he didn’t want to be at . That said Jim Kelly hated the thought of Buffalo but still took them to 4 consecutive Super Bowls. Buy in counts for a lot. A more recent example of a perfect fit can be seen with the Vikings selection of Justin Jefferson. Man did that work out well!

I am going to look at 10 players we will see Drafted next week, giving my opinion regarding where I think they will have the best chance to thrive. I won’t necessarily focus on THE top guy at any position, their skills may override some of the issues with certain Franchises. I’ll look at players where landing spot could mean the difference between a 3 year career or a decade.

The Quarterbacks

This year there are a few teams in search of a Franchise signal caller in the early rounds. I will exclude Jacksonville purely as we all know they’re taking Trevor Lawrence.

Teams after a Quarterback: New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Houston Teans, Pittsburgh Steelers.

Justin Fields – San Francisco 49ers
Justin Fields
(Image CreditThe Mercury News)

I think that the fanfare that has come up around Zach Wilson is actually a great thing for Justin Fields. It should mean he avoids the Jets and every issue that has ruined Sam Darnold’s first few years in the League. Yes Robert Salah is the new man in and there is going to be some element of culture change but that is not going to happen overnight.

Fields needs to go to a team where his athleticism will be used whilst received some element of protection from his O-line. The 49ers offer just this. Fields works very well out of the pocket and will get the chance to do just that whilst he is protected by Trent Williams and co. This spot is perfect, Kyle Shanahan may be the best run game co-ordinator in the league after Greg Roman. He got the 49ers to a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, I think that if they stay fit, he could go one further with Fields.

This is a team that was devastated by injury last year and is not far away from winning it all. Justin Fields is the second best Quarterback in this class and I think that Shanahan has the ability and the squad to turn him into a champion. Of all the Quarterbacks coming out this year and all the possible destinations, this is the match that offers the highest chance of Super Bowl success.

Zach Wilson – Denver Broncos

Whilst the Jets have acquired the 49ers old passing game coordinator, Mike LaFleur, they are a team with so many issues Wilson will have to carry them for the foreseeable. Sam Darnold was asked to do the same thing and look how that turned out. Yes, Robert Salah is not Adam Gase, but he is a first time head coach. Whilst hope is high he can turn around the Jets we will have to wait and see. In the meantime let’s send Zach somewhere he can thrive far quicker.

The Denver Broncos are an interesting team. Only a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance they have definitely taken a few steps backwards. What they do have are some legitimate weapons. What rookie wouldn’t want to throw to Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant who all look like legitimate receivers in the league? The Denver defence is sneaky good as well. What this will mean is that Wilson is not being asked to chase games every week. Denver has a young Offense who could grow with Wilson and could become scary good in a couple of years.

I have been vocal in my stance that Drew Lock is not the answer. He holds this offense back and I think if Wilson could somehow end up in Denver he could unlock its full potential. Plus, how fun would it be to watch Mahomes v the ‘next’ Mahomes twice a year minimum?

Please, please, let’s not waste Zach Wilson on the dumpster fire that is the New York Jets.

The Running Backs

A strong run game is necessary to succeed in the league. Look at how the Steelers fell apart last year because defences knew there was no run game threat (amongst other things). This meant they could play Nickel far more and cover the receivers Big Ben was targeting. Teams like the Titans and the Ravens show how effective a run game can be.

Teams after a Running Back: Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets.

Travis Etienne – Miami Dolphins
Travis Etienne
(Image Credit – The Clemson Insider)

There are a few teams looking for an RB1 for this coming season. None are better positioned to feature such a player and to achieve success than the Dolphins. This team becomes the perfect fit based on how they are built. I expect Etienne to be a Day 2 pick as I only see the Steelers taking a Running Back on Day 1. The Dolphins could go RB at 18 but I think as they also hold the 36th pick they can grab a guy there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Edge go at 18.

Etienne is a 3 down back with fantastic hands, explosiveness and is extremely hard to bring down. He would offer a home-run threat that the Dolphins do not currently have. He is not as heavy as Harris but is slightly shiftier. There were definitely times last year that Tua could have utilised a blue chip back, exactly what Etienne is.

It would take Etienne all of 2 minutes to win the starting job and the job would be his for the next few years. That is unless he breaks down physically. The addition of a player like Etienne should get the Dolphins over the playoff hump. In return Etienne will be in a position to be one of the stars of the team alongside Tua and whichever receiver is taken at 6, Pitts or Chase.

Javonte Williams – Pittsburgh Steelers

Alex’s Draft Profile – Here

I nearly went for the Bills here but this is about personal career development. The Bills are definitely a pass first team who rely on Running Backs almost as an afterthought, especially with Josh Allen and his running ability. The Steelers had no run game last year, it was embarrassing for them.

Williams was an unknown before 2020. That he then managed to turn so many heads whilst sharing a backfield says a lot about how he has come on. He does lack the speed to get to the edge but more than makes up for this with his physical running style that means he often doesn’t need to get that far out. This is a team where he could walk in and be RB1 from day 1. The Steelers in return would be getting a player that would force defences to stay honest and guard the box. The lack of speed doesn’t mean he isn’t good with his hands though.

He blew up this year against the Miami Hurricanes, going off for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns. He brings a 3 down back skill set, something that the Steelers are desperate for. Williams is still improving as well, the scary thing is that we may not have seen the best of him yet. Not something we can necessarily say about Harris and Etienne. The Steelers offer Williams the chance to be the next great Pittsburgh Running Back.

The Wide Receivers

Whilst a run game certainly helps, the way the league has gone the receivers are the stars. Well, next to the Quarterback of course.

Teams after a Wide Receiver: Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs. Yes I know others do as well….

Jaylen Waddle – Carolina Panthers
Jaylen Waddle
(Image Credit – CBS Sports)

Alex’s Draft Profile – Here

This is one that I have been banging the drum about for a while now. Waddle would seamlessly slot into the space vacated by Curtis Samuel as both WR2/3 and returner. With his breakaway, game changing speed, Waddle has the potential to take the Panthers offense to another level. I honestly believe if he lands here that he is a sleeper pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year, if not Rookie of the Year.

Whilst Waddle is not the strongest player, his speed will scare defences. His run-after-the-catch ability is at a level that not many others can achieve. His ceiling to me is a Tyreek Hill level. Slant routes across the field from the slot will bring huge plays more often than not. He will need to show that there are no lingering ankle issues but if he does this man he is going to be fun to watch!

He will be on a team where D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson demand attention from the Defence. It could be a ‘pick your poison’ situation for the Defence. Anderson and Waddle both possess elite speed and you cant double them both. There is also a refreshed Christian McCaffrey to worry about. D.J. Moore is no slouch either. The one concern may be number of targets however I expect Waddle to pass Anderson fairly quickly as WR2. The last time McCaffrey was healthy for a season the WR2 got 105 targets from the Quarterback. Waddle will get OROTY if he gets that much work, mark my words.

Kadarius Toney – Green Bay Packers

Yes I know, the Packers don’t select receivers in the first round. With the Aaron Rodgers era moving towards the end however this could be the year to change that. Linebacker is another big need but there are some fantastic options at the end of round 2 for that. Toney was Florida’s human joystick this year, why not give Aaron Rodgers a go.

The Packers have a legitimate WR1 who would draw attention from Toney meaning that he would have more of a chance to utilise his myriad skills. He has legitimate burner speed evidenced by his 4.38 at his pro day. His body control is second to none and the Packers offense would give him the chance to show off. The Packers scheme guys open often and Toney would be hard for DB’s to stick with, let alone Linebackers.

Toney would not take long to pass Valdez-Scantling and Lazard for WR2. Opposite Adams he would give opposition Defences nightmares. Toney is not a player you want to see at teams such as the Ravens who are run-first. You want to see him on a team who love to pass. The Bills are another option but there Emmanuel Sanders and Gabriel Davis are ahead of Toney. The Packers offer a faster route to regular, meaningful, snaps which is why they get the nod here. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Toney put up 1000 yards if everything goes right in Green Bay for him.

The Cornerbacks

The Buccaneers showed us in Super Bowl that pressure on the Quarterback is paramount. One way to help the Front 7 get to the Quarterback is to have a shut down secondary. Coverage sacks aplenty should follow if this can be achieved.

Teams after a Cornerback: Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks

Eric Stokes – Chicago Bears
Eric Stokes
(Image Credit – 247 Sports)

There are a consensus top 3 Corners, Surtain, Horn and Farley. These three are good enough to let their skills talk and should be able to combat potentially initially poor fits. Stokes has a couple of issues that may need ironing out, mainly how handsy he is. He also possesses some issues with flipping his hips.

One way to counter the need for an individual to take on too much is to be part of a strong Defence that can limit the amount of times a player is attacked early in his career. The Chicago defence is historically strong and this iteration is no different. Players such as Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Akiem Hicks ensure that opposition Quarterbacks are constantly under duress.

Stokes should have the opportunity to work his way into a starting role as the season progresses. Desmond Trufant shouldn’t be too hard to displace and Stokes having time to acclimatise is a god thing. He therefore gets time to work with NFL coaches to combat his issues and if he does this he has a chance to develop into a long term starter for the Bears.

Greg Newsome II – New Orleans Saints

Greg Newsome is getting some late first round consideration this year and a team like the Saints offers a good opportunity for instant game time. Currently their starting Left Corner is a Safety, C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Newsome should be able to slot straight into a starting role and if his play over his time in college is anything to go by, he should excel.

He has a bit of a injury history that may worry some teams. If he can shake that though he has all the skills to be a high level starter in the league. The Saints have developed Marshon Lattimore on one side and if they can have the same success with Newsome there is no reason he cannot go on to become a corner at the same level as Lattimore. The sky is the limit for Newsome.

Newsome has fantastic footwork, excellent length and a high football IQ. With Winston at Quarterback there may well be times that the Defence has to get him out of trouble. Newsome is used to being the leader of the secondary and the Saints are such a well run team that I only see good things in his future were he to be drafted there.

The Safeties

Teams after a Safety: Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Football Team

Jevon Holland – Baltimore Ravens
Jevon Holland
(Image Credit – University of Oregon Athletics)

The Ravens ask a lot of their secondary. Although they blitz at a level far above the league average, their sack rate doesn’t always reflect that. What they do ask is that their secondary is able to stick to offensive players and to hit them hard when needed. Being on a team where the secondary is the star is one way for a player to get into the limelight and to stay there. Just ask Marlon Humphrey.

Holland is an explosive safety who could also slide to corner when needed. He is outstanding in coverage, flips his hips well, times his plays well and has great hands for an interception. The Ravens have Tavon Young as their slot corner however he has had a hard time staying healthy. Jevon Holland could be a Pro Bowl level player on the Ravens if he gets the chance.

Going to a team where he is allowed to play physical football will benefit Holland the most. He may be the most versatile Safety in the Draft and that versatility is likely to be his strength at the next level. It will allow him to do more than many other safeties that he competes with. That is how you become an all time great.

Ar’Darius Washington – Washington Football Team

Washington, the player, has been overshadowed by his team mate Trevon Moehrig during the Draft process. Although he is a smaller player than Moehrig, Washington has an eye for the ball. He has a knack for breaking on routes at the ideal time, illustrated by 5 interceptions in his 2019 season. He has smooth transitions, and an explosive burst to the ball. His tracking of the ball in the air and his ball skills are also fantastic.

The major concern is Washington’s size. He is short and under the ideal weight teams look for in a Safety. Whilst he may not fit as a true Safety at the next level I see him playing as an excellent Nickel corner, capable of sticking with players underneath and disrupting routes and passes, much like Tavon Young does for the Ravens when healthy. It is a player such as this that Washington should model himself on.

Washington (the football team) have and all star front 4 and a solid linebacking core. Their secondary could use some help. Kamren Curl was a pleasant surprise at year at Free Safety but it remains to be seen how Landon Collins recovery from injury goes. Cover for him and very little competition for the Nickel slot role could amount to Washington (the player) seeing the field more often than expected. His versatility also makes a route to a starting role easier for him. He will rely on his anticipation skills to get ahead of receivers to balls as he is not the strongest.

A likely Day 3 pick, he could be the next late round surprise in the Washington Secondary.

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