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Big Cat Country Q&A: Who are the best defensive tackles and tight ends in the 2021 NFL Draft?

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We’ve got a special Q&A today — Nathan Cooper and John Todd from Sports Info Solutions are answering your Jacksonville Jaguars questions about the 2021 NFL Draft.

Nathan Cooper and John Todd and co-authors, editors, and head scouts for The SIS Football Rookie Handbook. You can buy the hard copy or the digital version of the book.

Today we’re talking anything and everything NFL Draft. Let’s get to it!

Peter from Gosport, England

Q: The Jaguars need a tight end. Maybe two. Who are the best tight ends after Kyle Pitts?

A: Pat Freiermuth and Brevin Jordan are our second and third tight ends. We view Freiermuth as the only other true No. 1 starter who can play both Y and H roles, in-line or detached. He’s not a top-tier athlete, but he’s very football smart and his ability to excel in both the run and pass phases gives him a leg up. Brevin Jordan is more of the athletic H/ move tight end. He has great mismatch potential with his speed against linebackers and safeties with his size. He’s also a competitive blocker, but lacks some fundamentals to be an every-down difference maker.

Florian from Hamburg, Germany

Q: Other than Christian Barmore, who is a defensive tackle worth drafting in the first two rounds?

A: Two guys who really stand out are Alim McNeill from North Carolina State and Daviyon Nixon from Iowa. McNeill is our top nose tackle, and he’s a massive presence over centers. He has extremely quick hands to control them from the jump, and he’s versatile as a one- or two-gapper with his anchor strength and ability to disrupt blocking schemes from the interior. He’s more than just a fire hydrant and should fit within multiple defensive schemes. Nixon projects as a 3-technique who is strong and explosive off the line. He shows heavy hands and lateral mobility in the run game and has the body control and power to get pressure on the quarterback against the pass. He’s not a super flashy player, but is good at just about everything. Some other options we’re high on are Tommy Togiai, Levi Onwuzurike, Jay Tufele, and Jaylen Twyman.

Gabe from Chapel Hill, NC

Q: Is Kyle Pitts good enough to trade every pick we have except No. 1 overall?

A: Not sure about all of that, but he is a pretty special talent and that might not be far off from what it would take. He’s as impressive a receiving mismatch as we’ve seen come out in a number of years, but he’s capable enough as an in-line blocker to operate as more than just a big wide receiver. His speed and catch-point savvy require coverage from top secondary defenders, but going defensive back-heavy to counter his presence opens up your rushing attack.

Conversely, his willingness to compete and sufficiently execute in the running game could lead to defenses treating him like a regular tight end with their personnels, but his receiving prowess is usually too much for linebackers and some safeties to handle. That’s the true mismatch headache he offers, beyond just his physical ability. He often lined up as a legitimate X-receiver against top SEC cornerbacks and was still plenty successful, despite being 6’5” 240. He’s a top-five overall prospect for us and should make an inventive coaching staff very happy.

Jacari from Longview, TX

Q: If Najee Harris falls to the second round, would he be worth the No. 33 overall pick in your eyes?

A: From a talent perspective, absolutely. Harris was one of only seven prospects in this class to receive a 7.0 grade or better, which equates to an elite talent and a day-one starter. He almost never left the field despite all of the recruiting talent in Alabama’s running back room waiting for an opportunity. He’s a true three-down difference maker with his ability to catch the ball at multiple levels of the defense, pass protect with sound technique, and of course operate within any running scheme, inside and out. We’re big fans of UNC running back Javonte Williams, too.

James Robinson was a nice find, but we graded him as a future three-down backup in last year’s Handbook and his lower-than-expected finish in our Total Points metric suggests his high counting stats may not have been as impressive as they seem.

Joshua from Callahan, FL

Q: The Jaguars could use another receiver. What is Jaylen Waddle’s ceiling?

A: We grade Jaylen Waddle as an All-Pro player and immediate contributor. He has all the traits you look for in a No. 1 receiver — speed, route running, savvy, tracking ability, and more. He’s not your typical speed receiver who is only going to win on screens or verticals, but he knows how to run the full route tree and can win on all of them.

In his limited 2020, he caught 96% of his on-target passes and that number sits at 94% for his career. He wins off the line, mid-route, and converts at the catch point before being a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. Waddle is a guy who has the traits that make it hard to put a cap on his ceiling. With that said, the Jaguars will have to make a big trade to get Waddle, because he won’t be falling to the bottom of the first round.

Jason from Jacksonville, FL

Q: Ja’Marr Chase vs. DeVonta Smith: Who’s the better receiver?

A: We have Chase ahead of Smith. Smith is a better route runner, but Chase has a few more elite traits. He’s dominant and savvy with the ball in the air and more physically dynamic after the catch. He definitely has a sturdier build, as well, and he’s younger. They both played in historic offenses with elite quarterbacks and other talent around them, but Chase’s record-breaking season felt slightly less scheme-dependent and more self-manufactured than Smith’s from an individual talent perspective (Smith had 29 receptions on screens in 2020 compared to Chase’s five in 2019, for example). Nothing against Smith, he’s right there in that top group, but we prefer the physical traits of Chase and Waddle a bit more.

James from Albany, GA

Q: Looking at the Jaguars roster, what is the biggest need other than quarterback and defensive line?

A: It’s hard to look much further than offensive tackle as a big need. At SIS, we track a stat called Blown Blocks, which essentially counts the number of times a blocker is overpowered by the defender which forces a negative consequence for the offense. Left tackle Cam Robinson is set to be a free agent, but in 2020, he had the third-most blown blocks with 43 — 33 in pass pro and 10 in the run game. The player with the most blown blocks in 2020? Right tackle Jawaan Taylor with 46. Both were in the top-20 of blown blocks in 2019, as well.

It’s hard to have good quarterback play or even get positive plays from the offense when you’re getting such inconsistent protection from your tackles. Assuming Trevor Lawrence comes to Jacksonville, he’ll need protection up front. Some fringe Day 1 into Day 2 names to keep an eye out for in the Draft are Liam Eichenberg, Samuel Cosmi, Jalen Mayfield, and Dillon Radunz.

Cris from Harrisburg, PA

Q: Teams love trading for the first pick in the second round. The Jaguars have that pick. What’s the value of that pick on paper? How much would the Jaguars realistically get if they trade away that pick?

A: There’s always a lot of talk going into Day 2 about the 33rd pick being shopped, but going back to 2010, the 33rd pick has only been a part of a draft-day trade twice (2015 and 2017), though in 2017, it was actually traded on Day 1. The only true trade of #33 came in 2015 when the Giants traded a 2nd (#40), 4th (#108), and 7th (#245) to Tennessee to jump up to #33 and select Landon Collins.

According to the old Jimmy Johnson Trade Value Chart, that trade is nearly identical to the value you’d expect to receive for #33, so it’s possible that’s about what the return would be. If a team is wanting to trade from the mid-40s or 50 to get all the way up to 33, it’s possible the high-end could be flipping second-round picks with an additional third round pick added in, depending on the amount of draft capital that team has.

Michael from Jacksonville, FL

Q: What position group do you believe to be the easiest transition from college to pros?

A: It’s a tough transition from college to the NFL no matter the position and we could theoretically talk about the pros and cons of every position, but to keep things short, I’d probably say running back. Assuming you have the size to hold up at the next level, not much changes otherwise. Sure, if a back has rarely been in pass pro or hasn’t run much of a route tree in college, he’ll obviously have a learning curve when moving onto the NFL, but again, that’s something that can be said about every position.

It’s rare to find many prospects in a given year consistently doing everything asked of them in college that they’ll be doing in the NFL. As long as he has the size and speed required of the position, that’s the most likely position that’ll translate. You could probably argue some of the trench positions could be a somewhat easy transition as well, but there’s always a physical and mental learning curve there with how much faster things move at the pro level.

Steve from Jacksonville, FL

Q: I heard someone say Trevor Lawrence isn’t worth the No. 1 overall pick. Should that person be banned from ever talking about football again?

A: We’ll leave the hot takes to others and just say that Trevor Lawrence is tied for the highest grade in this year’s SIS Rookie Handbook with Oregon OT Penei Sewell, he plays the most important position in professional sports, he’s been ordained as the top pick since his freshman year and done nothing for the Jaguars to believe otherwise, and I’m not sure Urban Meyer takes the job if he didn’t have Lawrence sitting there for the taking. He could improve his ability to read defenses, as Clemson’s offense often only required half-field progressions, but his accuracy, mobility, arm strength, experience, and leadership add up to an easy selection with the first overall pick.

Congrats, Jacksonville.


Nathan Cooper and John Todd are Football Operations Associates for Sports Info Solutions and co-authors, editors, and head scouts for The SIS Football Rookie Handbook. You can buy the hard copy or the digital version of the book. Find them on Amazon here.