DiCecco's Draft Notes: Future Stars, And Sleepers
As the 2021 NFL Draft draws near, the Carolina Panthers suddenly represent the great unknown with the No. 8 pick following the Sam Darnold trade. The trade not only has a direct impact on the Eagles but could also incite a domino effect on draft night.
The direction Carolina ultimately chooses to go will certainly be discussed at length in the coming weeks, as it likely takes another position player out of the mix for the Eagles. I offered my own scenario and listed six unheralded prospects who have the potential to make waves at the next level.
Any hope of the Panthers selecting a quarterback at No. 8 was all but dashed the moment they acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets in exchange for a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft and a second-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2022.
Before to the Darnold acquisition, I had the Panthers selecting North Dakota State's Trey Lance. Now, instead of reshaping the offense with prime draft capital, perhaps head coach Matt Rhule and team brass will be inclined to add a blue-chip defensive prospect to bolster an uninspiring unit. A premier cornerback, such as Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn, would be enticing, as would an explosive second-level player like Micah Parsons. Should Carolina stick with the preconceived offensive theme, both of the Alabama wide receivers could feasibly be in play. Simply stated, Carolina has options – which is bad news for the Eagles.
Assuming that you believe the Panthers will turn their attention to defensive prospects, adding pro-ready cover man Patrick Surtain to a secondary that already features rookie sensation Jeremy Chinn, makes a great deal of sense. Bear in mind: newly signed cornerback A.J. Bouye will miss the first two games of the 2021 season, 2020 fourth-rounder Troy Pride Jr. finished his rookie season on injured reserve with a hip injury, and Donte Jackson is best equipped to play inside.
So, if that's truly the direction Carolina chooses to go, for the Eagles it could very well come down to Jaycee Horn, Rashawn Slater, or Kwity Paye. Of the trio, Horn appears to be the most logical fit on paper and would serve as an ideal complement to Darius Slay. His aggressiveness, tenacity, and overall fluidity remind me a bit of Jalen Ramsey. The cornerback position has been a revolving door for the Eagles for the past decade. It’s time the franchise acknowledges the error of its ways and capitalizes on the opportunity to acquire a young cornerstone to build around.
Don't Sleep On 'Em
Those who have followed me over the years know that every year I list a handful of intriguing late-round prospects who have flown under the radar throughout the pre-draft process. If the Eagles intend on utilizing all 11 picks later this month, there is sure to be some enticing value finds throughout the latter stages of draft weekend.
Elijah Mitchell, RB, Louisiana Lafayette: Powerful between-the-tackles runner with nimble feet, patience, and vision. Becoming increasingly more comfortable as a pass-catcher. Doesn’t possess flashy, breakaway speed or have a particular dominant trait, but has little tread on his tires and could provide depth and carve out a role in short-yardage situations.
Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas: Explosive, twitchy, dangerous after the catch. Tremendously productive senior campaign (74-1,190-19) and flashed big-play potential every week. The biggest knock on Darden is his slight build (5-9, 174), though he would represent a far more dynamic slot option compared to Greg Ward.
Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State: Scissor-sharp route runner who collected 139 receptions for 2,554 and 25 touchdowns between the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Like Darden, Johnson will be forced to work predominantly out of the slot due to his size (5-10, 180). However, Johnson runs a diverse route tree, demonstrates the spatial awareness to find soft spots in zone, and is fearless in traffic.
Jimmy Morrissey, C, Pittsburgh: Experienced (47 starts), intelligent, and tough, albeit undersized. Morrissey reminds me a bit of Jason Kelce and will likely come off the board at a similar spot.
Tarron Jackson, EDGE, Coastal Carolina: While he doesn’t boast prototypical length, Jackson is a powerfully built edge rusher who wins with hand usage and tenacity. He isn’t equipped for a starting role anytime soon, however, as he must learn to consistently play with proper pad level and develop his play strength and fluidity. I view him as an impactful rotational pass rusher at the next level.
Thomas Graham, CB, Oregon: Scrappy CB with exceptional short-area burst and closing speed who is at his best facing the action. Plays with anticipation but lacks make-up speed and length. Looks most comfortable in confined spaces.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.