The 2021 NFL draft gets underway Thursday night in Cleveland, with the 32 picks of the first round. The scaled-down in-person event marks a departure from last year’s remote draft, but it will still accompanied by coronavirus-related peculiarities and challenges.
This year’s draft class is loaded with offensive talent, highlighted by five quarterbacks who are expected to be taken in the first round.
Follow along for live updates and analysis throughout the night.
Start time: 8 p.m. Eastern
How to watch: ESPN, ABC and NFL Network have nationally televised coverage
How to stream: Live streams are available on services like FuboTV and YouTubeTV, as well as in the ESPN, ABC and NFL apps
7:55 PM: Who are the top prospects in this year’s draft?
The 2021 NFL draft class is all about offense, led by a talented group of quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, the presumptive first overall pick, is considered the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck entered the league in 2012. He is expected to be joined in the first round by four other passers: Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Mac Jones of Alabama.
Florida’s Kyle Pitts is one of the best tight ends to enter the NFL in years, and he could be drafted early along with a trio of talented wide receivers: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. On the defensive side of the ball, the top talents include Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II and linebacker Micah Parsons.
For NFL expert John Clayton’s ranking of the top 50 prospects, click below.
By: John Clayton
7:47 PM: Roger Goodell says NFL finds accusations against Deshaun Watson ‘very concerning’
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a televised interview Thursday evening that the league takes the allegations against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson “very seriously” and finds those accusations “very concerning.”
Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct by women in a series of civil lawsuits. Watson and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have denied the allegations and have been critical of the tactics used by Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for the women. Watson has not been charged with a crime.
“Obviously we take that very seriously,” Goodell said in an interview with ESPN at the site of the NFL draft in Cleveland. “Those are very concerning to us. And so we’re obviously following that and obviously looking at that ourselves. There are important steps that we’ll be taking, obviously, as part of our personal conduct policy. So when we get to that point, we’ll certainly make a decision.”
The NFL is investigating the case and eventually could choose to suspend Watson if the allegations are substantiated. Goodell could face a decision closer to training camp and the 2021 season about whether to put Watson on paid administrative leave via placement on the commissioner’s exempt list.
The Texans so far have not accommodated a request by Watson to be traded.
Watson made his trade request to the Texans before the allegations surfaced. Team officials said at that point they had no plans to trade Watson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection in his four NFL seasons. He signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension last year.
By: Mark Maske
7:45 PM: Panthers, Broncos could remain in the QB market
The Carolina Panthers traded for Sam Darnold. The Denver Broncos traded for Teddy Bridgewater.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that those two teams are out of the running to select a quarterback late in the top 10 of Thursday night’s opening round of the NFL draft.
The Panthers have the eighth overall choice. The Broncos possess the No. 9 pick.
The Panthers added Darnold in a deal earlier this month with the New York Jets. But Carolina has not yet picked up the fifth-year option in Darnold’s rookie contract. The Panthers have until May 3 to do so. That has led to speculation that the Panthers are waiting to see what happens on draft night before making a full commitment to Darnold as their starter.
The Broncos traded Wednesday for Bridgewater, sending a sixth-round pick to the Panthers. According to a person familiar with the situation, Bridgewater is expected to vie for the starting job in Denver but the trade does not necessarily preclude the Broncos from using the ninth selection on a quarterback. The Broncos also have Drew Lock on the roster.
Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson and either Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Justin Fields are expected to be off the board on the first three picks Thursday night. That will leave two of the top five quarterbacks available from the No. 4 selection onward. No one should be surprised if teams trade up for whichever of those quarterbacks remain.
By: Mark Maske
7:42 PM: Analysis from Adam Kilgore, Reporter covering national sports
One draft-related thing to consider amid the sudden Aaron Rodgers drama: It’s frequently noted that the Packers have not used a first-round pick on an offensive player aside from Jordan Love since 2012. But they have acquired an elite wide receiver in Davante Adams, a top left tackle in David Bahktiari, running back Aaron Jones and on-the-rise tight end Robert Tonyan. Regardless of the draft resources allocated, the notion that the Packers haven’t surrounded Rodgers sufficiently isn’t supported by the talent around him. The Love pick may have ticked Rodgers off, but it didn’t prevent the Packers from building a strong offensive roster.
7:40 PM: If the first four picks are QBs, that would be an NFL draft first
If the first four picks of this NFL draft are quarterbacks, that would be a first.
Only twice during the common draft era (dating to 1967) have the first three selections been used on quarterbacks. Jim Plunkett went first, Archie Manning went second and Dan Pastorini went third in 1971. It was Tim Couch first, Donovan McNabb second and Akili Smith third in 1999.
This draft seems certain to at least match that with Trevor Lawrence set to go first to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zach Wilson second to the New York Jets and Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Justin Fields third to the San Francisco 49ers.
What then, will happen with the No. 4 overall selection possessed by the Atlanta Falcons? The Falcons could use the pick to select a quarterback to eventually succeed Matt Ryan. They could trade the choice to a quarterback-needy team looking to move up. The New England Patriots have been mentioned as a possibility. Or the Falcons could break the early run on quarterbacks by keeping the pick and using it on tight end Kyle Pitts or the offensive tackle or wide receiver of their choice.
By: Mark Maske
7:30 PM: Will the 49ers trade Jimmy Garoppolo?
As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to draft a replacement for Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, many in and around the league continue to wonder whether the Niners will trade Garoppolo during this NFL draft.
The New England Patriots, Garoppolo’s original NFL team, are mentioned frequently as a potential trade partner for the 49ers if there is going to be a deal in the coming days.
The Patriots and 49ers have a record of 24-8 in Garoppolo’s 32 NFL starts. The Niners have gone 22-8 in Garoppolo’s starts and reached the Super Bowl in the 2019 season with Garoppolo as their quarterback. But he has been plagued by injuries and played only six games last season. The 49ers are poised to move on, having traded a king’s ransom of draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for Thursday night’s No. 3 overall pick.
The 49ers have been left to choose from among Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields for that No. 3 selection. The issue is whether the Niners will keep Garoppolo for one more season as a temporary starter.
One major issue is Garoppolo’s contract, which contains a no-trade clause and is to pay him approximately $25 million for the 2021 season. So he will have plenty of input in deciding his next NFL destination.
By: Mark Maske
7:20 PM: Tim Tebow, mulling an NFL comeback, works out for Jaguars as tight end
Tim Tebow is contemplating a potential NFL comeback and had a recent workout with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a tight end, according to a person familiar with the situation.
No decision has been made yet on whether Tebow, 33, will be signed by the Jaguars, according to that person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue remains unresolved. If the Jaguars sign Tebow, the move would reunite him with Coach Urban Meyer, formerly Tebow’s coach in college at the University of Florida. Tebow won the Heisman Trophy in 2007.
Tebow was a quarterback when he last played in the NFL for the Denver Broncos in 2010 and 2011 and for the New York Jets in 2012.
By: Mark Maske
7:15 PM: Teams faced challenges to evaluate draft-eligible players
Teams faced player-evaluation challenges to prepare for this NFL draft. The 2020 college football season included some players opting out and some schools playing abbreviated schedules. New York Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman suggested last week that some of the college players who had opted out were less than impressive at their pro day workouts for NFL scouts.
“There were a few of those opt-out guys that showed up looking like me,” he said during a news conference. “So that wasn’t real good for them.”
The league canceled this year’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, forcing teams to evaluate players at their on-campus pro days. Teams’ interviews with players were conducted remotely.
“It’s maybe a little bit less information than we normally have,” New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said during a recent video conference call with reporters. “But all teams are working with the same general information. Each team is going to have to make its own decision on that. But, yeah, the evaluation’s definitely different. We’ve had a lot of conversations about it.”
The combine is particularly valuable for teams to gather medical information on the more than 300 players usually in attendance. This year, with no combine, about 150 players were invited to Indianapolis for in-person medical evaluations.
“The math doesn’t work out when you look at the number of picks [and] you look at the number of physicals,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a draft analyst for NFL Network.
By: Mark Maske
7:05 PM: Aaron Rodgers is unhappy with Packers, tells team he might not return
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s reigning MVP, remains disgruntled with the Green Bay Packers and has told team officials it is possible that he will not return to the organization for the 2021 season, according to people familiar with the situation.
The standoff between Rodgers, 37, and the Packers returned to prominence Thursday as the opening of the NFL draft neared. Rodgers has been displeased about the team’s decision to use a first-round draft choice last year on quarterback Jordan Love and has expressed reservations throughout the offseason about his future with the organization.
The Packers consistently have said they remain committed to Rodgers and expect him to remain their quarterback in the upcoming season. They rebuffed a trade inquiry Wednesday night by the San Francisco 49ers, according to a person familiar with those deliberations.
By: Mark Maske and Nicki Jhabvala
7:01 PM: The draft is (sort of) back to normal this year, with a live event in Cleveland
Beginning Thursday night, the league will conduct a second straight pandemic-altered NFL draft. The NFL, like the rest of the country, is taking steps back toward its pre-coronavirus routine but still needs to find ways to compensate for the fact that it’s not there yet. This draft will reflect that.
According to the league, a maximum of 50,000 fans per day will be allowed to attend the three-day draft and its accompanying events, held outdoors and spread over an approximately 2.5-million-square-foot “campus” in downtown Cleveland. Protocols involving mask-wearing, distancing and sanitizing will be strictly enforced, NFL officials said, and certain areas will be reserved for vaccinated individuals.
“We have every confidence in the protocols and the guidance that we continue to get,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of club business and league events, said during a conference call with reporters last week.
According to the NFL, 12 players are scheduled to attend the draft (down from 13 after cornerback Caleb Farley reportedly tested positive this week for the coronavirus) and at least 45 more are lined up to participate remotely. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been vaccinated, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who said the commissioner’s draft-night interactions with jubilant players will be “brief” and “unscripted.” So, apparently, let the onstage hugs resume.
“Sometimes it is spontaneous and it’s part of the draft,” McCarthy said. “But we think that we’ll be in a good place on that front.”
By: Mark Maske