If you blink we’ll be at the 2021 NFL Draft. With the festivities fast approaching, all 32 teams are in the thick of putting the finishing touches on their plan of attack for when commissioner Roger Goodell announces that they are on the clock. Of course, this is hardly an easy process and one that many within various organizations have been working on for months if not years. Really, this three-day period is a culmination of all that scouting. What’s the goal? It’s naturally to bring in blue-clip players to your organization, especially at positions of need. But that’s easier said than done, which is why it’s super important to have a plan in place for when the madness unfolds.
On top of keeping you up to date with all the latest happenings with the 2021 draft, we here at CBS Sports have put our heads together to try and help out all 32 teams by creating a blueprint on how each team could put together the perfect draft this year (How nice are we?!). Below, you’ll find the first step of each of those plans along with the links that’ll take you the rest of the way.
Note: This post will be updated as teams’ perfect plans roll out.
Step 1: Add a dynamic receiver for Lamar Jackson
“This has been a need for Baltimore for quite some time as they have not had a thousand-yard receiver since Mike Wallace in 2016. While the club does have some solid weapons for Jackson — tight end Mark Andrews, running back J.K. Dobbins, and receiver Marquise Brown — the Ravens are still lacking that dynamic weapon that can take the passing attack up a notch. They took some swings to try and address the need in free agency but struck out on the likes of Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster. They did bring in Sammy Watkins, but his presence alone likely doesn’t get this unit over the hump. Because they couldn’t find a No. 1 pass-catcher in free agency, it puts more emphasis on drafting a player with that potential at the draft.
“At No. 27 overall, the big three at receiver in LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and the Alabama duo of DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are likely unattainable. That said, they could be in the mix for that second-tier of receivers either with that first-round pick or somewhere on Day 2. That’s where Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Elijah Moore out of Ole Miss, and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman are all projected to come off the board. While they may not be as polished as Chase, Smith, or Waddle, this is still a pretty deep class at receiver with some intriguing talent that can be had outside of the first round. Personally, Moore would be a fascinating pairing in the Ravens system and would immediately add some playmaking ability to this offense. Whoever the pick is, however, they need to have a Dobbins-like impact in 2021.”
To read the rest of Tyler Sullivan’s plan for the Ravens, click here.
Step 1: Take prospect who makes instant impact at No. 30
“The Bills are in win-now mode. Win-Super Bowl-now mode. Because of that, even though they’re picking in the back end of Round 1, they’re decidedly in the market for an instant-impact rookie. But after taking a quick glance at the roster, it’s challenging to find room for such a first-year player. However, there’s no stipulation that an instant-impact rookie needs to be a focal point of the offense or defense. Buffalo has a top-of-the-AFC roster right now. The goal in this draft — particularly at pick 30 — is to find someone who can supplement the offense or defense to make it a Super Bowl-champion roster.
“And that could be one of the following: a corner — preferably long and athletic — to push Levi Wallace for the starting job opposite Tre’Davious White or a pass-rushing specialist on the outside to add to the group of Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, A.J. Epenesa, Efe Obada, and Darryl Johnson.”
To read the rest of Chris Trapasso’s plan for the Bills, click here.
Step 1: Trade up for a franchise QB
“To be clear, this would depend on which QBs are available, and where. In our mind, it would not be smart, for example, to mortgage all kinds of future picks to go as high as No. 4 for Mac Jones. But let’s say Justin Fields or Trey Lance slips into the back half of the top 10. There’s no reason Chicago shouldn’t be on the phone attempting to move up.
“Yes, general manager Ryan Pace is still trying to overcome his biggest personnel blunder, a trade up for a supposed franchise QB. But fear of reliving the Mitchell Trubisky experiment should not stop a desperate front office from doing the thing most likely to revitalize the team (and the current regime’s job security): moving up to secure a top QB prospect.
“But they already paid Andy Dalton and assured him a starting job (!), you say. To that, we say: Who cares? And to the Bears, we say: Do you care about winning? If so, the smart thing, regardless of whether Dalton starts and even plays well in 2021, is to take a bigger swing at the most important position. If it means giving up a 2022 first-rounder (or more) to get Fields or Lance in the building, so be it.”
To read the rest of Cody Benjamin’s plan for the Bears, click here.
Step 1: Add at least two offensive linemen, including a Day One starter
“This seems like a no-brainer at this point, but it can’t be emphasized enough. Even if the Bengals’ front was just average for Burrow in 2020, there’d still be reason to invest in the trenches. But it was horrendous, and that means that a one-year deal for Riley Reiff to play right tackle is not going to cut it. Reiff may start the year opposite Jonah Williams as a bookend, and he may help, but Cincy’s No. 1 goal in the draft should be injecting at least one other new starter into its O-line.
“Notice that this says at least two linemen. If the Bengals end up spending nearly half their picks on blockers, that shouldn’t be criticized. Who, among Cincy’s current starting line (Williams, Reiff, Michael Jordan, Billy Price, Xavier Su’a-Filo), inspires unblemished confidence in 2021, let alone for years to come? Obviously quality matters as much as quantity here, but if there’s one area that can’t be overcorrected on this team, it’s the unit charged with keeping the star QB upright.
“If it’s not Penei Sewell at No. 5 or Rashawn Slater in a slight move down (or, heck, as a surprise at No. 5), then tackle or guard must be addressed in the second round, as well as later.”
To read the rest of Cody Benjamin’s plan for the Bengals, click here.
Step 1: Take best player available at No. 26 overall
“Cleveland entered the offseason with a few needs but they have been able to address those through free agency. The Browns are largely in a position to take the best player available at No. 26 overall. The decision-making may be skewed towards a handful of positions such as edge rusher, cornerback, defensive tackle, linebacker and wide receiver, but that leaves EVP and GM Andrew Berry significant room to add a key contributor.”
To read the rest of Josh Edwards’ plan for the Browns, click here.
Step 1: Do not trade up!
“So, you’ve heard Jerry Jones is reportedly infatuated with Pitts.
“The spoiler here is — news flash — everyone is. That not only includes those who sit at No. 4 through No. 10 in the draft, presuming the top three select quarterbacks as expected, but also the teams directly behind the Cowboys who have a shot at trading up to take him. And while that would make sense for a team like the New York Giants, Washington Football Team or Philadelphia Eagles (who I’ve noted could still move back into the top 10 after trading with the Dolphins to slide down), the Cowboys must refrain from getting caught in that tornado, Dorothy, because the yellow brick road will inevitably lead them to a handful of primo options if they simply stay put. Additionally, after seeing Lamb go to Dallas in 2020, is it difficult to consider the other three NFC East teams would be juiced to keep Pitts out of North Texas? Only six spots separate the Cowboys from the top three seats, but there are more than six elite players who’ll still be on the board. Follow the arithmetic and you’ll see the science here, as the variables line up perfectly for Dallas to be anything but antsy when things get underway on April 29.”
To read the rest of Patrik Walker’s plan for the Cowboys, click here.
Step 1: Trade down from No. 7, get more picks
“Having six picks this year just isn’t going to work for the Lions, who need to acquire more assets in order to help Goff out as best they can. Here’s the only issue with trading down — the Lions are in prime position to draft one of the big three wide receivers at No. 7, an impact pass catcher for Goff in year one with his new team.
“There’s a good chance the Dolphins will take Ja’Marr Chase at No. 6, but the LSU wide receiver could be waiting at No. 7 if Miami doesn’t take him. What does Detroit do in this situation? Take the best wide receiver in the draft and have a game changer for the next decade or listen to trade offers for the pick?
“In a quarterback-needy draft where two of the top-five signal callers could be available at No. 7, the Lions should take the best offer and try to move back and stockpile picks. Quite a few teams will be interested in that real estate, namely the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and Washington Football Team. Detroit should take the best offer possible and load up on draft picks to make some noise later in this draft.
“If Chase is available at No. 7, we can’t fault the Lions for taking him and getting Goff his No. 1 wideout either. Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams just aren’t going to cut it.”
To read the rest of Jeff Kerr’s plan for the Lions, click here.
Green Bay Packers
Step 1: Don’t mess up the first-round pick
“First things first, the Packers can’t mess up their first pick. This “advice” is more than obvious, but we all know what happened last year. The first-round pick of quarterback Jordan Love upset not only fans, but Rodgers as well, and that uneasiness between the franchise and their star quarterback has even carried into the offseason. This first-round pick feels very important for the Packers. It’s a decision that could jump-start what could be a very successful 2021 campaign, or leave fans once again wanting more.
“The positions the Packers should probably be looking at with the No. 29 overall pick are interior defensive lineman, linebacker, cornerback, offensive lineman or even wide receiver. In looking at our CBS NFL mock drafts, the Packers should be able to get a steal with their first pick. Former Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley could fall that far due to a recent minor surgery despite once being considered the best corner in the draft. Wide receivers Elijah Moore or Rondale Moore could be solid picks or maybe even linebacker Zaven Collins. Again, hitting on your first-round pick should be an easy goal to meet for the Packers, but it just feels necessary to state the obvious after looking at last year’s draft selection.”
To read the rest of Jordan Dajani’s plan for the Packers, click here.
Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders:
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Rams
Step 1: Ja’Marr Chase or bust
“Miami was in prime position to select Chase with the No. 3 overall pick, but it didn’t need to select Chase that high. The Dolphins traded down to No. 12 and added two first-round picks from the San Francisco 49ers, then used one of them to trade back up No. 6 in the hopes of selecting Chase (basically adding a first-round pick to move down three spots).
“Grier read the draft board. The top three picks are going to be quarterbacks and if the Atlanta Falcons trade out of No. 4, there’s an excellent chance the fourth pick will be a quarterback as well (even if Atlanta stays at No. 4, a wide receiver shouldn’t be in the cards for the Falcons). That leaves the Cincinnati Bengals as the only team standing in the way of the Dolphins’ pursuit of Chase. Cincinnati could draft Chase and pair him with franchise quarterback Joe Burrow again, but the Bengals need to protect their asset and improve the offensive line (tight end Kyle Pitts is also a potential play there).
“The Dolphins just need to sit at No. 6 and dwell on the excellent odds Chase is going to be there. Pairing Chase with Devante Parker, Will Fuller, and Preston Williams gives Miami one of the top wide receiver units in the NFL — including a No. 1 in Chase that can make Tagovailoa a star for a decade.
“Chase is the best wide receiver in this draft with the potential to change a game every time he comes down with a catch. He is just what the Dolphins need.”
To read the rest of Jeff Kerr’s plan for the Dolphins, click here.
Step 1: Add a QB early (and consider getting aggressive to do it)
“The Vikings have made it clear they stand by Kirk Cousins entering 2021, especially after extending him prior to 2020 and then witnessing a solid rebound from the veteran down the stretch. But let’s be honest: Who, in or outside that building, believes with conviction that Cousins is the guy to get this team over the hump in the next two years?
“Cousins is not a bad QB, but he’s also representative of who the Vikings have been for a while: Steady enough to avoid bottoming out, good enough to make playoff runs, but rarely special enough to go the distance. If general manager Rick Spielman got a solid offer for him right now, and could save $46 million ($11M now, $35M in 2022) by dealing him, he’d almost assuredly think about it.
“That’s where the rubber meets the road: With or without Cousins, either in 2021 or beyond, the Vikings have to be thinking about their future at QB. With a top 15 pick (No. 14) and six (!) third- or fourth-round picks this year, they’re well positioned to make either a small or big jump up the board if a top prospect is within reach. And there’s no doubt that sacrificing some mid-rounders — and, heck, even a future first to go with them — would be worth it if it meant putting a talent like Trey Lance or Justin Fields in purple.
“The Vikings already have other long-term building blocks in place: Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Irv Smith Jr. make a rock-solid trio of weapons. On defense, guys like Tomlinson, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks can still contribute for the long haul. The biggest missing X factor is a game-changing signal-caller — a true, dynamic face of the franchise. A lower-risk swing would be acceptable (Davis Mills or Kellen Mond in a move back into the second?). But a first-round splash would bring the most juice, not to mention hope for 2022 and beyond.”
To read the rest of Cody Benjamin’s plan for the Vikings, click here.
New England Patriots
Step 1: Find the next franchise quarterback
“This is the need for the New England Patriots, but they can attack this in a multitude of ways. So long as they come away with some potential of having a quarterback that can lead the franchise for the foreseeable future, there really should be no qualms about how they go about it.
“If the San Francisco 49ers are willing to lower their asking price for Jimmy Garoppolo after taking a prospect at No. 3, that could be an avenue worth exploring for Bill Belichick. If the Patriots are bullish enough and like a prospect enough that they want to leap into the top 10, that’s another option, albeit the most expensive one. The team could also check in on the likes of Teddy Bridgewater or simply hold at No. 15 overall and see what falls to them at that spot. Another — and likely less popular — option could be to wait until Day 2 and target that next tier of signal-callers like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond or Florida’s Kyle Trask and develop them over the 2021 season with Cam Newton at the helm in preparations of either one of them possibly taking the baton in 2022. As I said, there are multiple roads that can lead New England to a quarterback, and as long as it’s successful it shouldn’t matter which route they take.”
To read the rest of Tyler Sullivan’s plan for the Patriots, click here.
New Orleans Saints
New York Giants
Step 1: Take a blue-chip prospect at No. 11
“If I were at the helm, I’d take a BPA-adjusted approach with my draft picks. While I’d be searching for the best player available, I would put a priority on concepts such as positional scarcity and positional value (namely, will this player be able to make a big impact on what actually matters — moving the ball via the pass and stopping the pass). This means running backs and interior defensive linemen who can’t rush the passer would be out of the first-round conversation for me. In the 2021 class, the likelihood of anywhere from three to five quarterbacks being selected before No. 11 increases the likelihood of a blue-chip player who fits the criteria above being available when they’re on the clock.
“The position most likely to have a blue chip available at No. 11 is wide receiver and it helps that a pair of teams (Cowboys, Broncos) picking ahead of the Giants are less likely to draft a receiver given the draft capital they’ve recently invested in the position.”
To read the rest of Dan Schneier’s plan for the Giants, click here.
New York Jets
Step 1: Get your quarterback
“No decision that Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh will make during their respective tenures with the Jets is more important than this one. New York knows Trevor Lawrence will be off the board after the Jaguars make him the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. That means the Jets can choose Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or Mac Jones to be their quarterback of the future.
“Nearly every recent media report indicates Wilson will be their choice. He’s the No. 2 overall prospect in our rankings here at CBS Sports, and the No. 2 quarterback (and No. 4 overall player) at both ESPN and The Athletic.
“As a player, his skill set makes sense for new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s offense. Wilson has the mobility to make the play-action, bootleg system work at a high level, and he has the requisite accuracy on intermediate throws to take advantage of the openings the system creates. His improvisation ability will serve him well in the event the Jets don’t use the draft to upgrade the offensive line in front of him, which still needs quite a bit of work to get to the point where it is a strength. And as they surround him with more and more playmakers, Wilson will be able to take advantage of that gift to create big plays rather than escape negative ones.
“(While Wilson seems the likely pick, the Jets should be sure to do their requisite diligence on Fields, Lance, and Jones. They each have their own merits, and just because reports indicate one guy is the guy, doesn’t mean he’ll end up being the guy on draft day.)”
To read the rest of Jared Dubin’s plan for the Jets, click here.
Step 1: Draft one of the big three wide receivers at No. 12
“This isn’t difficult. If the Eagles have the opportunity to draft Ja’Marr Chase (who likely won’t be there), DeVonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle with the No. 12 pick, they should rush to the podium to select that game-changing wide receiver they desperately need.
“Philadelphia could actually be in a position to select Smith or Waddle. The Eagles can’t go wrong with either player. Both wideouts would automatically become the top pass-catching option in Sirianni’s offense, opening up opportunities for Jalen Reagor to shine in his second season. Waddle can stretch the field and give the Eagles a dimension to their offense the franchise hasn’t seen since DeSean Jackson was scoring long touchdowns in his first stint with the team. Smith’s speed is also an asset many teams covet, as he can separate from defenders at a whim.
“The Eagles don’t have many proven options at wide receiver. Adding Smith or Waddle makes this offense instantly better — and gives Hurts a chance to shine in his prove-it year as the team’s starting quarterback.”
To read the rest of Jeff Kerr’s plan for the Eagles, click here.
Step 1: Get a featured back
“While no team solely relies on one running back anymore, it’s no secret that Mike Tomlin likes having a featured running back who can close out a game. Tomlin had the luxury of having Le’Veon Bell on his team during the 2010s, and the result was four consecutive playoff berths that included a trip to the AFC title game in 2016.
“The Steelers are expected to find their next featured running back in either the first or the second round. With the 24th overall pick, Pittsburgh should be in position to draft either Alabama’s Najee Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne, or North Carolina’s Javonte Williams. Harris and Williams are bruisers, while the versatile Etienne would be a more natural fit inside new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense. Depending on what the Dolphins and Jets (owners of the 18th and 23rd selections, respectively) do with their picks, the Steelers could possibly have their choice of all three backs when they are on the clock.
“The Steelers will also have several good options if they choose to wait until the second round to take a running back. Oklahoma’s Rhamondre Stevenson, North Carolina’s Michael Carter and Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell are among the top running back prospects who may still be available when the Steelers are on the clock with the 55th pick. And if Pittsburgh wants until the third round, Ohio State’s Trey Sermon and Jaret Patterson might be available with the 87th overall pick. But given how big of a need this is, don’t expect the Steelers to wait too long to solidify their running back position.”
To read the rest of Bryan DeArdo’s plan for the Steelers, click here.
San Francisco 49ers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Washington Football Team
Step 1: Don’t reach for a quarterback
“Realistically, Fitzpatrick, Allen and Heinicke are not the future under center for Washington, but that doesn’t mean this team has to mortgage the future to move up in the first round or take a quarterback at No. 19 overall. The San Francisco 49ers made a big decision by trading up to No. 3 overall, which has to make the other teams considering quarterbacks in the first round feel antsy. The Atlanta Falcons at No. 4 overall could trade down, but it would take a king’s ransom for them to do so. At least five quarterbacks are expected to go in the first round, and it’s very possible the first four picks of the draft could all be signal-callers. Washington should not throw its hat into the ring with teams like potentially the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots to trade up into that top five range. This means that Washington likely won’t take a quarterback with their first-round pick — and that’s completely fine. Washington should do their due diligence on players like Davis Mills out of Stanford, Kellen Mond from Texas A&M and Jamie Newman out of Georgia, but I do wonder where that rookie quarterback would immediately fit in with Rivera. He has his two former Carolina Panthers quarterbacks who both earned extensions this offseason. Allen was clearly Rivera’s favorite before he was injured, and then Heinicke quickly became a fan favorite by proving he could be competitive in the playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The success of Washington’s 2021 NFL Draft does not hinge on the team taking a quarterback or not, but making an aggressive move in the first round is not the play this year.”
To read the rest of Jordan Dajani’s plan for Washington, click here.