ESPN’s early 2021 NFL mock draft has Cardinals taking wide receiver
Even ESPN’s headline admitted: It’s early.
But that doesn’t make it any less fun to try to predict what will happen in the 2021 NFL Draft, and ESPN’s Todd McShay did just that. His mock draft, released on Wednesday, tried to predict different teams’ 2021 selections, which is complicated not just by the fact that it’s only August but also by the fact that at least some of the nation’s college football teams won’t even play this year.
OK, OK, but enough of the caveats.
McShay has the Cardinals picking 10th overall and taking Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith.
Before he decided to return to Tuscaloosa for his senior year, Smith was generating first-round buzz last fall. It isn’t easy to make 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 scores when A) your star QB misses a chunk of the season, and B) your wide receiver room also includes Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. But Smith did it, thanks in part to his explosive burst off the line, crisp route running, sneaky speed and excellent hands.
This is a bold prediction, but not outlandish. The sensibility in the Cardinals taking a wide receiver in 2021 will largely depend on how this season goes for players like 2019 picks Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson.
Isabella was taken with a second-round pick the Cardinals got in the Josh Rosen trade, but he only had 189 yards and 13 targets his rookie season. Butler was a fourth-round pick but missed his entire rookie year with an injury. Johnson had 42 targets for 21 catches and 187 yards, almost exactly the same number as his teammate Isabella. Johnson was a sixth-round pick.
So if the Cardinals can’t get top-4-receiver production out of one or more players in that trio, the receiver options begin to look thinner. Elite wideout and recent trade acquisition DeAndre Hopkins and third-year pro Christian Kirk are a good start, but Larry Fitzgerald’s years are likely numbered. The Cardinals’ depth at wide receiver, in other words, is a bit of a wild card.
In McShay’s mock, Smith is the third receiver off the board. LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase goes fifth overall to Miami and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman is selected seventh overall to Detroit.