What to Watch for in the 2021 N.F.L. Draft

The guessing will soon be over.

After months of projections and rumors, the N.F.L. draft begins with the first round on Thursday, and with it comes a chance for all 32 teams to add new talent to their rosters. The coronavirus pandemic altered this year’s player evaluation process, but the end result will remain the same: More than 200 college players will formally be welcomed into the league during the three-day spectacle. Here’s what you need to know about it.

What time is the draft?

The first round of the N.F.L. draft starts Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

ESPN, ABC and NFL Network will broadcast the event. It can be streamed through services like Hulu, Sling TV, fuboTV and the ESPN and N.F.L. apps.

Where is the draft?

Unlike in 2020, it won’t be held in N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement. The league. will convene in Cleveland this season for a hybrid model — some remote segments, some in-person — after Covid-19 forced the league last year to conduct the ceremonies virtually.

Thirteen prospects will be on site to hug a vaccinated Goodell, if they so choose, after he calls their names. Others, including the presumed No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, a quarterback out of Clemson, will participate remotely. The N.F.L. also organized in-person musical performances and other events for fans in attendance.

What’s the first round draft order?

For the first 14 weeks of the 2020 season, the Jets were winless and seemed poised to inherit the No. 1 overall pick. But after winning two of their last three games, they forfeited that right and handed it to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost every game after the season opener.

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The San Francisco 49ers leapt nine spots when they acquired the third overall pick through a trade last month with the Miami Dolphins, who then traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 6 pick. The Baltimore Ravens also reshuffled the order when they received the No. 31 pick from Kansas City in a trade package that included offensive tackle Orlando Brown.

Kansas City, along with the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams, does not have a first-round pick because of previous trades. The Jaguars, Jets, Dolphins and Ravens each have two.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

2. New York Jets

3. San Francisco 49ers

4. Atlanta Falcons

5. Cincinnati Bengals

6. Miami Dolphins

7. Detroit Lions

8. Carolina Panthers

9. Denver Broncos

10. Dallas Cowboys

11. New York Giants

12. Philadelphia Eagles

13. Los Angeles Chargers

14. Minnesota Vikings

15. New England Patriots

16. Arizona Cardinals

17. Las Vegas Raiders

18. Miami Dolphins

19. Washington Football Team

20. Chicago Bears

21. Indianapolis Colts

22. Tennessee Titans

23. New York Jets

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

26. Cleveland Browns

27. Baltimore Ravens

28. New Orleans Saints

29. Green Bay Packers

30. Buffalo Bills

31. Baltimore Ravens

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who will be picked No. 1?

All signs point to the Jaguars selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. In three seasons as a starter, he led the Tigers to two national title games, winning after the 2018 season, and three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances. He lost only two games in his career at the South Carolina school.

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Lawrence declined the N.F.L.’s invitation to attend the draft in person and instead will watch with his wife, Marissa, and family at their home near Clemson. Along with the newly hired Coach Urban Meyer, he will be charged with improving a franchise that has historically struggled to win. Since 2008, the Jaguars have finished above .500 only once.

If everyone knows who will be picked first, where is the drama?

Unless the Jets drift from their expected plan of selecting Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick, the suspense starts with San Francisco

The 49ers’ trade package to the Dolphins included two future first-round picks, a steep price San Francisco felt comfortable paying to add a quarterback. Their current starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, has been sidelined with major injuries, playing in fewer than seven games in two of the last three seasons.

Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are the leading candidates to be picked by the 49ers. While Jones is an accurate pocket passer, Lance and Fields can throw and be effective runners, adding another stress to a defense and expanding Coach Kyle Shanahan’s playbook.

But the 49ers can only pick one of them, leaving a bevy of options for the Atlanta Falcons with the fourth overall pick. Their franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, 35, is the second-oldest quarterback in the N.F.C. South, and though he arguably has productive seasons ahead of him, Coach Arthur Smith and General Manager Terry Fontenot, who both were hired this winter, may elect to start the line of succession.

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Florida tight end Kyle Pitts could also make sense for the Falcons, especially since teams have reportedly tried to gauge their interest in trading the star receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta could swap picks with a team searching for a quarterback and choose from talented players later in the first round.

What about players who opted out of their college seasons?

More than 100 Division I players opted out of the 2020 college football season because of coronavirus concerns. Some of those players are expected to come off the board early, despite not having played a live snap in more than a year.

The Bengals, with the fifth pick, are expected to be the first team to select a player who opted out since the best available non-quarterbacks align with some of the team’s many, many needs. Cincinnati could either bolster its offensive line, which surrendered the third-most sacks in the N.F.L. last season, by drafting Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell. Or it could reunite quarterback Joe Burrow with receiver Ja’Marr Chase, one of his teammates from Louisiana State’s national championship team.

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Northwestern offensive lineman Rashawn Slater are also projected first-round selections who opted out of the 2020 season.

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