Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson expected to kick off normalized 2021 NFL Draft


CLEVELAND, April 29 (UPI) — Dozens of college football stars will become instant millionaires and achieve lifelong dreams at the 2021 NFL Draft, which returns to its typical live format starting at 8 p.m. EDT on Thursday in Cleveland.

A dozen top football prospects and 50,000 fans per day are allowed to attend the three-day event, which runs through Saturday.

The draft is set within a 2.5 million-square-foot perimeter on the shores of Lake Erie. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will take the stage and call out the names of draftees and greet some prospects with hugs and handshakes.

The normalized format is a contrast from last year’s unique virtual draft. COVID-19 forced all prospects from the 2020 NFL Draft to listen for their names from home when they were drafted. Goodell announced the picks from the basement of his home in Bronxville, N.Y.

Most draft prospects will remain at home this year, but the NFL plans to offer fans a spectacle similar to what they saw before the pandemic.

“We know that the pandemic is still out there, and that guides our every move,” NFL executive vice president of club business and league events Peter O’Reilly told reporters Friday during a conference call. “But [we] also want to be able to point to brighter days ahead.”

The second and third rounds of the draft will begin at 7 p.m. EDT Friday. Rounds four through seven start at noon EDT Saturday. Draft coverage airs on ESPN, ESPN2, ABC and NFL Network.

A total of 259 players are expected to be picked in the seven-round draft.

Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is the projected top pick in this year’s draft, according to most betting websites and mock drafts.

Lawrence is among the dozen prospects who will be in Cleveland. Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, another projected first-round pick, was scheduled to attend the draft, but tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and will watch from his North Carolina home.

While Lawrence pretty much knows when he will be drafted, Farley and other prospects are uncertain when their names will come up.

The lack of a typical NFL scouting combine, 2020 college football season opt outs, injury histories and NFL team concerns about players’ physical and mental attributes all contribute to the unknowns of the 2021 NFL Draft.

The difference between an early first round pick salary to that of a later pick is millions of dollars.

Expected contracts, impact of slip

Top 5 picks in the first round of the last three NFL drafts received four-year contracts worth an average of about $31.9 million. Bottom 5 picks in the first round of the same drafts received four-year pacts worth an average of $10.5 million.

Those first-round pacts all feature a team option for a fifth year, while later-round pacts don’t have fifth-year options. The total contract value drops by millions as each round goes by.

The last three No. 1 overall picks — quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield — averaged about $34.7 million in total value for their rookie contracts.

Lawrence is expected to receive a contract in the $35 million range, according to projections compiled by Spotrac.

Lawrence’s rookie deal is projected to be less valuable than Burrow’s pact due to COVID-19’s impact on the NFL salary cap, which decreased by nearly $16 million from 2020 to 2021. In a normal year, he would expect a deal in the $37 to $40 million range.

Top 5 Best bets

1. Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence

2. New York Jets — Zach Wilson

3. San Francisco 49ers — Mac Jones

4. Atlanta Falcons — Kyle Pitts

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Ja’Marr Chase

How to watch

What: 2021 NFL Draft

When: Thursday through Saturday

Where: Cleveland

TV: Round 1 at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday on ESPN, ABC, NFL Network; Rounds 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. EDT Friday on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network; Rounds 4 through 7 at noon EDT Saturday on ABC, ESPN, NFL Network


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