Every year, football fans go nuts over draft grades, and way-too-early NFL mock drafts. Truthfully, we shouldn’t be grading draft classes until at least a few years after the drafts actually happen, but these articles draw a ton of clicks every single time, so how could we as journalists possibly resist? But to that end, I’ll do all of you one better. Rather than looking way too early at the immediate future, I’m going about fifteen years down the road. In this article, I’ll be taking a way, way, way too early look into the future of each first-round pick. I’m locking these in now, so if I’m totally off-base in fifteen years, feel free to tell me how wrong I was. Opinions never change, after all.
1. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
I don’t think Trevor Lawrence has the capacity to be a bust, quite honestly. His floor as a quarterback is just far too high, and barring factors like injuries and self-inflicted wounds like not caring about football, I don’t see a path for him where he isn’t at least an okay quarterback. And for the first couple years of his pro career, I think that’s exactly what he’ll be. I’m not a huge Urban Meyer believer, but realizing the full potential of a prospect like Trevor Lawrence is a tantalizing prospect for any coach. Lawrence and Jacksonville right the ship by 2024, and away we go. I see true greatness in Sunshine’s future.
Prediction: Hall of Famer, possible top-15 quarterback all-time
2. Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets
Wilson’s future is far murkier than that of Lawrence, specifically because of the style of football he plays. I have no doubts that Wilson can be a talented quarterback at the pro level, but I struggle to consider him ready for the pro level just yet. It’s not that Wilson has a choice, though. He’s going to start for the Jets from day one, whether he’s ready or not. Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas have done a great job setting Wilson up for immediate success. If I were a betting man, I’d take him as a sleeper Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, but I wouldn’t count on it. Following that, I’m not sure how he’ll react once teams have a lot of tape on him.
Prediction: Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback, but he’s definitely boom or bust
3. Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers
If you read my final mock draft, you’ve definitely seen how much I love this pick. Lance opens up so many doors for San Francisco’s offensive playbook, both with his arm and his legs. Kyle Shanahan is going to love having him in the backfield, and he’ll certainly be able to do more with Lance than he ever did with Garoppolo or Matt Ryan when he was in Atlanta. Lance isn’t ready quite yet, which is why I can’t pencil him in as an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate, but I’d expect him to take the league by storm once Shanahan has finished grooming him.
Prediction: Possible Hall of Famer, at least a Pro Bowl quarterback
4. Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts is perhaps the most talented tight end prospect since the turn of the millennium. During draft season, multiple analysts said that he looks like he was born to catch passes in the NFL when you turn on his tape, or something akin to that statement. Pitts, along with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, help to make the Falcons one of the most fun passing offenses in football. But in the far future, once Matt Ryan is retired and Pitts remains in Atlanta, I can’t help but think he might flounder there for quite some time.
Prediction: One of the league’s most fun players for years to come, but his team might fail him
5. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
While I fear for the future of Joe Burrow, that’s not who this section of the article is about. The Bengals selected Burrow’s college buddy, Ja’Marr Chase, over tackle Penei Sewell in the draft, and for their sake, Chase had better be as good as advertised. The LSU product dominated the SEC at just nineteen years old, racking up over 1,700 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns in 2019. His opt-out in 2020 certainly didn’t affect his draft stock, and I think it may have actually helped him quite a bit, health and rest-wise. He could become one of the league’s top receivers, if his quarterback is standing upright long enough to deliver him the ball.
Prediction: Consistent 1,000 yard receiver, pending the health of Joe Burrow
6. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
This is a weird one. Waddle, much like many have described Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, is a “field-tilter.” Whether or not he actually gets the ball doesn’t matter, because his speed is such a factor that defenses have to pay attention to him, just because of the threat that they might get burned. The problem here is that with receivers like Hill and Waddle, there’s only a select few quarterbacks who can truly take advantage of their game-breaking speed. Simply put, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and his railgun-level arm, and the Dolphins…don’t. I struggle to see how Tua Tagovailoa can capitalize on the talent of Waddle to the degree that he deserves.
Prediction: A wide range of outcomes here, but at the very least he’ll be fun to watch
7. Penei Sewell, OT, Detroit Lions
Dan Campbell and the Lions must have been absolutely thrilled when the draft’s best tackle prospect, and maybe best player, fell to them at No. 7 overall. I have absolute faith in Penei Sewell at the NFL level, and much like Trevor Lawrence, I don’t see a path for him being a bust that doesn’t include serious injuries, which even I cannot predict. To me, Sewell is one of the class’s surest picks, and in 2038 or so, when everyone else has retired, he’ll still be in the league, holding down the left side of the line.
Prediction: Sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer, perhaps the best player in the class when all is said and done
8. Jaycee Horn, CB, Carolina Panthers
I’m worried about Jaycee Horn as a pro, for a couple of reasons. First, I think his scheme fit with the Panthers is just a little bit off. Horn excels as a man-to-man style pest of a cornerback, pushing a receiver’s buttons until finally they snap and do something excessively stupid. The Panthers play a lot of zone coverage, which nullifies so much of what Horn is best at. Second, I think he sometimes gets a little bit too handsy for his own good, and while that can be cleaned up, it’s such a vital part of the way he plays. Horn has massive potential, but I fear that Carolina isn’t the best place for that to be realized.
Prediction: Murky, for sure, but maybe he thrives in a different scheme