ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay published his first mock draft of the 2021 NFL draft cycle on Wednesday, which is exactly what all football fans need after the Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences announced they're delaying football until the spring. The remaining Power 5 conferences could follow suit in the coming days. Draft season is already here, folks.
McShay's mock draft was a mix of chalk and surprises. Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson) was the first pick to the Jaguars, which almost every draft analyst assumes is a lock at this point. Lawrence is a franchise-changing quarterback prospect and whoever owns the first overall pick is going to take him. You can safely move on to the second pick, which is where McShay's first major curveball came.
At No. 2 overall, McShay has the Washington Football Team selecting Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Surtain is a surefire first-round pick but it isn't a slamdunk that he's the top cornerback in this year's draft class, let alone a top-five player overall. Instead, that distinction should go to Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who McShay has off the board at the third and fourth overall picks to the Bengals and Panthers respectively.
As for the Bears, McShay is one of many who are buying into the quarterback narrative. Chicago is expected to be one of the teams on the shortlist of clubs targeting a passer in Round 1 next April (assuming the draft is in April). In this mock, McShay sends the Bears Trey Lance, the North Dakota State star who enjoyed a 41-touchdown, zero-turnover season as a passer and runner in 2019.
"Lance is big, athletic and tough, and he absolutely dominated the FCS last season," McShay wrote of the Bears' pick at No. 14 overall. "He threw zero interceptions on nearly 300 pass attempts in 2019 and offered dual-threat production, rushing for 50-plus yards in nine of his 16 games. The Bears need a guy they can build around, and they can't afford to whiff this time around.
"Chicago's thoughts on Mitchell Trubisky were made clear when it didn't give him his fifth-year option and signed a soon-to-be 32-year-old Foles who is coming off an injury-plagued, poor 2019 season. Lance is a third-year sophomore with some questions still to be answered -- including whether he'd want to declare for the draft at all -- but the Bears would love to get this talented signal-caller in the middle of the first round based on his ceiling."
Lance will be a fascinating player to monitor over the next few months. He, unlike some of the other top prospects from bigger programs, needs another season of tape to solidify his grade as an early first-round pick. It doesn't look like he's going to get it.
Lance is making a jump from a lower level of competition at the game's most complex position. He only has 288 pass attempts on his collegiate resume. Compare that to Trubisky, who entered the NFL with 386 college pass attempts and was considered inexperienced and raw during the 2017 draft cycle.
Can Ryan Pace (or whoever is the Bears' general manager during the 2021 draft) roll the dice on another quarterback who has just one season as a starter? It seems like an easy answer (which is 'No' in case you're wondering).
Buckle up. It's going to be an extremely long draft season with dozens and dozens of mock drafts between now and April. Players like Lance will move up and down the first round, and pundits will cycle through names for the Bears' first-rounder like Chicago's gone through kickers in recent years.