Ducks in the First: 2021 NFL Draft

Alex Heining Editorials

The 2020-2021 Oregon Ducks may not have finished well on the football field, but they certainly are an exorbitantly talented bunch. Several of the Ducks’ best elected to opt-out of the season in favor of preparing for the NFL Draft this April which certainly had a lot to do with the lacking production on the field.

After looking at many, many mock drafts, I am delighted to see how many sites have multiple Ducks going in the first round. 2015 was the last instance of this when Marcus Mariota and Arik Armstead went 2nd and 17th overall respectively. Whether or not that’ll actually happen remains to be seen, but the vote of confidence from the pros is a massive affirmation for Oregon’s program. After giving it some thought, I have a few landing spots of my own for Our Beloved Ducks in the first round that I believe are realistically attainable.

Penei Sewell

It’s not a question of if, but when Sewell goes in the first.

For our superstar tackle we didn’t get the privilege to watch this season, quarterbacks will determine his landing spot in the NFL. The evaluation of Ohio State’s Justin Fields and other first round quarterbacks will play a massive role in whether or not the Jets are willing to move off Sam Darnold, but I don’t think they’ll be able to settle on Sewell over a shiny new quarterback.

Miami already drafted USC’s Austin Jackson last year, and despite being graded at a lowly 52.4 by PFF(Pro Football Focus), it’s understandable given the learning curve at the position in the NFL, and I feel they won’t be ready to pull the trigger on another first round tackle already. That leaves Atlanta, which is where I see Sewell landing at the next level, and not a bad spot at that.

The NFC South does have its fair share of top pass rushers in Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers, so Sewell’s talent will immediately be put to the test at the next level. I’m looking forward to seeing him shine when (I hope) he’s taken fourth overall by Atlanta, but no later than fifth by Cincinnati.

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Jevon Holland

Holland had nine interceptions through two season with the Ducks.

Holland is not quite a surefire first rounder, considering in 2020 Xavier Mckinney and Kyler Dugger weren’t selected until the top of the second, but I believe Holland is worth a first round pick based on his playmaking ability. His takeaway production for the Ducks cannot be overlooked in a stat that’s make-or-break for NFL teams, and that pushes him in my eyes to the early-mid first round, Where the Detroit Lions will have the first realistic crack at drafting Holland.

Detroit ranked 31st in the league in takeaways through 2020. Even after snagging a lockdown cornerback in Jeffrey Okudah last offseason, their secondary production was atrocious without Darius Slay, and Holland could be an instant impact starter. They could elect to go for a quarterback to eventually replace Matthew Stafford, but I feel their defensive play lost them too many games this season for them to take a third or fourth best quarterback over an instant impact playmaker in their young secondary.

Thomas Graham

Graham ended the 2019 season on a high note with the Ducks

Holland and Sewell are the players I find to be more probable first rounders, but some of the experts I’ve found have Thomas Graham being picked up at the end of the first. Given his ranking at the position compared to other options this is certainly more of a longshot. He does have excellent turnover production, but his coverage has been minimally better than what I expect of the average corner headed to the next level.

This selection would require a surge of cornerbacks being selected in the first for it to be more plausible, but then again, cornerback is a position teams have reached for early in recent history (see 2020’s SIX cornerbacks taken in the first round). Cornerback is of course another trial by fire position like offensive tackle, and I worry for how Graham would do if he were put in that position as a late first rounder. Kansas City is a plausible option that benefits both parties given the Chiefs’ minimal needs on offense, and the effectiveness of the defensive line perhaps being able to overshadow a learning curve for Graham on Sundays.

What this all means for the Ducks

The Ducks have earned a presence unlike anything they’ve had before on the national stage, and will be able to sustain it. Oregon now has many potential first rounders on their roster, which will greatly benefit the future recruiting process if more and more standouts start showing up on Sunday football. Kayvon Thibodeaux is the obvious first future prospect that comes to mind, and I’ve projected him in the past to go as high as first overall.

 But only time will tell, let’s just appreciate our program in the moment. We have a lot to be thankful for in Eugene, and a lot to be excited about for the future of Our Beloved Ducks.

Alex Heining
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by: Kevin Cline

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In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

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