The 2021 NFL Draft marked the long-awaited opportunity for many prospects while also depicting the harsh reality for some who have been in the league already.
After all, when you’re a quarterback for a team who drafts a first-round signal-caller, a linebacker on a team who selects a high-end linebacker or a tight end on a team that drafts a generational tight end, well, the end for you could very well be near.
That’s the case for these 10 players:
Cam Newton, New England Patriots quarterback
The Patriots used their No. 15 overall pick to draft Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones. Jones widely is regarded as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the class while his former coach even believes he could be ready to start Week 1. So, while Patriots head coach Bill Belichick tabbed Newton as the starter heading into the season even after the selection, it certainly shouldn’t be a sign of long-term confidence for the Newton camp.
Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears quarterback
Chicago traded up for Ohio State prospect Justin Fields clearly signaling the signal-caller is the long-term plan behind center. Dalton signed a one-year deal with the Bears this offseason and, despite Chicago’s QB1 tweet earlier this offseason, Fields should be thrown into the fire rather quickly… especially since head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are fighting to keep their jobs.
Dallas Cowboys linebackers Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylen Smith
The Cowboys had Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons fall to them at No. 12 overall even after trading back. And while the Cowboys had bigger defensive needs — cornerback, safety — owner Jerry Jones noted Parsons was the highest-ranked defensive player on Dallas’ big board. They doubled down and grabbed LSU linebacker Jabari Cox in the fourth round, as well. So, it clearly puts Vander Esch and Smith on notice. Vander Esch has missed 13 games over the past two seasons while Smith took a massive step backward in 2020. It’s almost definite one will not be with the Cowboys next season, and perhaps Dallas signaled who that will be by declining Vander Esch’s fifth-year option.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback
Garoppolo knew his fate hung in the balance as soon as the 49ers traded up for the No. 3 overall pick in March. San Francisco used it to select quarterback Trey Lance, whose long-term potential has tantalized those around the league. The 49ers seem to have dug their feet into the fact they won’t trade Garoppolo this offseason, and whether that proves true or not, it doesn’t guarantee he’ll be the starter past Week 6 if he struggles, gets hurt, or if head coach Kyle Shanahan simply pulls the plug.
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos running back
Gordon probably was left feeling pretty good with Phillip Lindsay, who he shared the backfield with, signing elsewhere in free agency. Unfortunately for Gordon, the Broncos used a second-rounder on North Carolina product Javonte Williams. It’s also worth nothing how the Broncos could save approximately $7 million if Gordon is traded before the season.
Jamison Crowder, New York Jets receiver
The Jets followed up a great first round by spending a second-round pick on Ole Miss wideout Elijah Moore. Moore, who plays the slot much like Crowder, was highly regarded and even was thought to be someone who could be selected in the first round. Crowder, entering the final year of his contract, could save the Jets $10 million if he is traded or released.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons tight end
The Falcons traded for Hurst, a first-rounder in 2018, last season with the Baltimore Ravens, but even after a career year Atlanta couldn’t pass on drafting Kyle Pitts No. 4 overall. Pitts has been said to have the traits as a generational tight end, though he jumps off the page more as a pass-catcher than run blocker. Even still, Hurst had his fifth-year option declined by the Falcons before Monday’s deadline.
Arizona Cardinals receivers Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella
The Cardinals spent a second-round pick on a wideout for the third time in four years with Purdue receiver Rondale Moore. Kirk, you may recall, was a second-rounder in 2018 while Isabella was a second-rounder in 2019. The reality is, though, Arizona now has a bit of a logjam at the position with obvious No. 1 DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Moore, Kirk and Isabella. Not to mention Larry Fitzgerald remains unsigned, and if Fitzgerald wants to play, the Cardinals already have expressed they will have a spot for him.