As we start to count down the days and hours until NFL draft weekend, we begin to really settle in on our predictions of what might happen when each team goes on the clock. We look back at previous season performances, assess their free agency additions, and try to gather as much information as we can that will give us the best guess—after all, it is just a guess.
One element of predictive mock drafts that we need to be well aware of is the possibility that a team may trade back up into the tail end of the first round if a certain player falls down the draft board.
In 2019 this happened twice: The Washington Football Team and Atlanta Falcons popped back into Round 1 for pass rusher Montez Sweat and offensive tackle Kaleb McGary, respectively. In 2018, the Baltimore Ravens traded back into the first round to the very last pick of the draft where they selected future MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. And in 2017, the Cleveland Browns traded up for tight end David Njoku, the San Francisco 49ers moved up for linebacker Reuben Foster, and the New Orleans Saints traded up for offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk.
Bottom line is, though the night may be coming to a close, you better stay on your toes.
After running countless mock draft simulations of the past few months, I came up with a handful of teams and prospects that we should keep an eye on for trade ups in the final hours of Day 1.
Philadelphia Eagles: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
I recently wrote a predictive mock—you should go read it—where I had the Philadelphia Eagles selecting cornerback Jaycee Horn while wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was still there. The pick could certainly be Waddle, but I wonder if the Eagles will go after the better cornerback talent at the top and take their chance on a wide receiver who might come to them at the top of the second round.
With that in mind, I think the Eagles could also have their eyes on a wide receiver that might have somewhat of a fall in the first round.
For as much as people, and perhaps the league as well, likes former Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, there are some scenarios in which he could take a little slide. If the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, and New York Jets all lean trench upgrades over wide receivers, and if the Tennessee Titans elect to go cornerback instead of wide receiver in Round 1, Bateman could be available in the mid-to-late 20s.
The Eagles currently have pick No. 37 in the early stages of the second round. The jump to move back into round one, even in the middle of the 20s, likely wouldn’t come at a huge price.
Atlanta Falcons: Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia or Jayson Oweh, DE, Penn State
If the Falcons stay at No. 4, they likely won’t be taking an EDGE rusher, despite that being the roster's biggest area of need. Though there are some potential starters at EDGE in this class, there isn’t one with the talent that demands a top-five pick. Now, there is a reality where the Falcons could trade back to the middle of the first round and select an EDGE at a more appropriate spot; that could happen. But if the Falcons stay at No. 4 and select a quarterback or tight end Kyle Pitts or offensive tackle Penei Sewell, look for them to have their eye on some EDGE rusher who might fall down the board to the back end of the first round.
The Falcons have pick No. 35, which is the third pick in the second round. That means they can easily pop back into the first round for a player like Jayson Oweh from Penn State or Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia.
Cincinnati Bengals: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
If it were up to me, I would be taking Sewell with the fifth-overall pick to Cincinnati, if he’s on the board. But there are some who believe the Bengals might and even should take wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase at that spot. If they do, they should have their eye on some offensive tackles who they might be able to go up and get at the back end of the first round.
The Bengals signed Riley Reiff to a one-year deal this offseason, but that shouldn’t stop them from getting another good young offensive tackle opposite Jonah Williams. Teven Jenkins would be perfect as an experienced right tackle, but I’m not sure he slides to the trade-up range. If he gets past the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 23, the Bengals should have their hands on the phone for a deal.
Carolina Panthers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
By bringing in a handful of free agents from other teams, the Carolina Panthers have really freed themselves up for a “best player available” approach for the draft—not just with their first pick at No. 8, but throughout the first few rounds. One area of flexibility they might have achieved is the ability to trade up.
The overwhelming expectation is that the Panthers are going to go with an offensive lineman with their first pick, but cornerback, at least from a long-term perspective, is still something they could address. Caleb Farley would likely have been a top-15 player in the class if he didn’t have the two somewhat concerning back surgeries. He recently said that he’s been cleared for the 2021 season, but where he’ll go in the draft is still unknown.
If Farley gets past the Jets and Steelers at Nos. 23 and 24, respectively, Carolina should be on the prowl to move up and make a big splash with two picks in round one at two big areas of need.
Detroit Lions: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
Cornerback is typically the targeted secondary need for the Detroit Lions when it comes to mock drafts, but safety appears to be the bigger issue for them. The Lions aren’t going to be considering safety at pick No. 7, but with the 41st pick in the draft in the second round, they could be a team that bounces back up into the first round to get the top safety in this class. The target point here is the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 25. Moving from No. 41 ahead of No. 25 will be a steep price, but if the Jaguars don’t take Trevon Moehrig, the Lions could make a deal in the last few picks of the first round to make sure they get a player who can start right away.