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What to Watch for in the 2021 N.F.L. Draft 

Unless the Jets drift from their expected plan of selecting Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick, the suspense starts with San Francisco.

The 49ers’ trade package to the Dolphins included two future first-round picks, a steep price San Francisco felt comfortable paying to add a quarterback. Their current starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, has been sidelined with major injuries, playing in fewer than seven games in two of the last three seasons.

Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are the leading candidates to be picked by the 49ers. While Jones is an accurate pocket passer, Lance and Fields can throw and be effective runners, adding another stress to a defense and expanding Coach Kyle Shanahan’s playbook.

But the 49ers can only pick one of them, leaving a bevy of options for the Atlanta Falcons with the fourth overall pick. Their franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan, 35, is the second-oldest quarterback in the N.F.C. South, and though he arguably has productive seasons ahead of him, Coach Arthur Smith and General Manager Terry Fontenot, who both were hired this winter, may elect to start the line of succession.

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts could also make sense for the Falcons, especially since teams have reportedly tried to gauge their interest in trading the star receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta could swap picks with a team searching for a quarterback and choose from talented players later in the first round.

More than 100 Division I players opted out of the 2020 college football season because of coronavirus concerns. Some of those players are expected to come off the board early, despite not having played a live snap in more than a year.

The Bengals, with the fifth pick, are expected to be the first team to select a player who opted out since the best available non-quarterbacks align with some of the team’s many, many needs. Cincinnati could either bolster its offensive line, which surrendered the third-most sacks in the N.F.L. last season, by drafting Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell. Or it could reunite quarterback Joe Burrow with receiver Ja’Marr Chase, one of his teammates from Louisiana State’s national championship team.

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