Take a deep breath, football fans. The never-ending pre-NFL Draft period is basically over. Smoke screens and overreactions to pro days are soon to be in the rearview mirror.

The 2021 NFL Draft figures once again to be a chance for the SEC to flex its muscles. Even though the top 2 picks in the draft likely won’t come from the SEC, nobody will be surprised when the conference leads the way in Round 1 picks and overall picks. Again.

But beyond that, there are actual questions and intriguing storylines to follow this weekend when the NFL Draft commences on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

So let’s make some SEC-related predictions.

1. Mac Jones goes No. 3 overall and instantly sets the internet ablaze

Another prediction? “Justin Fields” will be trending within minutes of this pick becoming official.

Jones will instantly become the polarizing NFL player with a full army of people rooting for him to fail. What those people will ignore was just how good he was at reading coverages, sliding up in the pocket and letting his receivers make plays. You know, the things Kyle Shanahan wants in a quarterback. And to get that on a rookie deal would be incredibly valuable given where their current roster is just over a year removed from an NFC title.

Draft Twitter will melt down with Jones at No. 3. That’s fine. As much as I like Fields’ potential, I won’t be one of those people saying Jones at No. 3 is destined to age horribly.

2. Kyle Pitts is drafted before Ja’Marr Chase … but both are picked in the top 6

Part of me thinks that a team with an established tight end will just be like “ya know what? We can’t pass on Pitts.” I’ll applaud them. I’m no longer holding out hope that the 49ers decide that pairing Pitts with George Kittle would be diabolical. But I think that’s how transcendent Pitts is as a prospect. My guess is the Falcons keep No. 4 and take Pitts, who would return to the city where he became a physical marvel this time last year.

And Chase, as much as it would bum me out not to see him with Joe Burrow, shouldn’t get past the Dolphins at 6. I have a feeling the Bengals either trade back within the top 10, or they take Penei Sewell to solidify Burrow’s blind side. But if that gave us Chase catching passes from Tua Tagovailoa, that’d be a win, too.

Speaking of Chase …

3. A record 5 SEC receivers are drafted in Round 1

Last year tied an SEC record with 3 receivers draft in the first round. This year? I expect 3 SEC receivers off the board in the first 12 picks and at least 5 by the time Round 1 is over. The 3 locks are Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. The 3 non-top 15 picks who could easily be Round 1 guys are Terrace Marshall, Elijah Moore and Kadarius Toney. My guess is that 2 of those 3 guys will come off the board Thursday.

Hence, the 5 wideouts. That’d be a stunning turn of events for the SEC compared to the vast majority of the 21st century.

I’ve referenced why I think the SEC’s offensive rebranding is evident in the draft. With Kyle Pitts and Mac Jones, the SEC could easily have 7-8 passing game prospects (receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks) come off the board in Round 1. From 1990-2019, there was only 1 year with more than 3 such players drafted from the SEC in Round 1. In 2020, that number was 5.

Here’s a wild thought. If 5 SEC receivers come off the board in Round 1, it’ll be 8 for the 2020s decade. In the entire 2010s, that number was 7.

Welcome to the new age.

4. Jamin Davis’ pre-draft hype is legit and he’s picked in Round 1

Davis is like the girl in the late-90s teen movie who takes off her glasses and instantly becomes the most popular girl in school. With Davis, it’s like he did his Pro Day shirtless and scouts saw his 8-pack alongside his 42-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump and 4.41-second 40. Now, Davis is the most popular Round 1 riser.

I mean, the dude is 6-3, 234 pounds:

And it’s not like Davis is some raw, under-developed prospect. He was elite in 2020 at the inside linebacker position with 102 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3 interceptions (1 for a score), 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and a blocked kick. He can cover in space and he can get to the quarterback. At that size, he’s an ideal modern inside linebacker. He makes a ton of sense in a draft that’s somewhat limited at top-end linebacker talent. Once Micah Parsons comes off the board, it’s officially time to start the Davis watch.

5. Kellen Mond will come off the board in Round 2, and SEC Twitter won’t approve

A couple of weeks ago, I outlined why I thought Mond’s rising draft stock was a product of the quarterback market. With so much emphasis on potentially 5 quarterbacks in the top 10, that secondary market was going to benefit a guy like Mond, who has excelled during the pre-draft process following the best season of his up-and-down college career.

The NFL quarterback market is also all over the place because so many teams seem to be in transition at the position. That’s why the demand for someone like Mond, who could at least be an NFL backup with some potential upside, could be the move for one of those teams.

Still, SEC Twitter won’t like that. They won’t hear any of the Dak Prescott comps, some of which are legit and some are a bit off. Mond now feels like a boom or bust prospect if he’s picked in Round 2. I tend to think while he could absolutely go to the right situation and eventually become an NFL starter, I won’t bet on Mond getting that second big contract after he never became that game-changing player at Texas A&M.

Mond’s play always yielded a variety of opinions while he was at A&M, so why would now be any different?

6. Kyle Trask is going to fall into Day 3, and I’ll shake my head in disapproval

I’m not saying Trask should come off the board Thursday, even though Peter King reported he could be the 6th quarterback selected in Round 1. I don’t think even the front end of Round 2 is totally wise for drafting Trask unless there’s a plan in place to give him a year or 2 to develop behind someone. Trask, just as he did at Florida, needs time to be able to develop a rapport with his receivers and master those anticipation routes.

But if and when he falls past Round 3, I’ll be appropriately annoyed.

Yes, it helped Trask that he had weapons around him. The guy still led the No. 1 passing offense in America at an extremely high-pressure place. No, he doesn’t have the physical traits or precision of the guys in the perceived top 5 quarterbacks. And physically, he’s not on Mond’s level. It would’ve helped if Trask didn’t collapse without his top weapons in the Cotton Bowl.

Still, though. I thought Trask did an exceptional job improving his footwork, reading coverages and becoming a star this past year. I’d love to see a team like Washington get him at 51 (after hopefully adding a receiver to complement Terry McLaurin in Round 1) so that he can sit behind a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick. Pittsburgh at 55 or maybe even staying in the Sunshine State with Tampa at No. 64 would be ideal spots for Trask.

I’m just bracing for a fall that lasts way too long.

7. Nick Bolton and Eric Stokes will go to smart, title-contending teams in Round 2

I think if there are 2 non-Round 1 guys from the SEC who I think will succeed long-term, it’s Bolton and Stokes. I think both former 3-star recruits should’ve been household names nationally.

Bolton would be getting much different buzz if he were simply 6-2 instead of 5-11. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in incredible closing speed. He was consistently the best player on the field for Mizzou over a 2-year stretch, and he was such an invaluable piece of Ryan Walters’ defense. SEC fans know that. Front offices might know that. At least they should. I’d love to see a contender trade up into one of those first 10 picks in the second round to get Bolton.

Stokes, on the other hand, might be in position to last until the latter half of the second round. Even after a prolific, All-SEC season combined with a blistering 4.25-second 40 at his Pro Day, it wouldn’t surprise me if Stokes was outside of the top 4 corners selected. Fine. Let him go to a team like Tennessee or New England, where he could play alongside Stephon Gilmore, who is entering a contract year.

And for anyone who says Stokes doesn’t have the physicality to play corner on the outside, well, this:

Whoever lands both Bolton and Stokes will get my stamp of approval.

8. The replies to Georgia’s awkward brag tweet about Jamie Newman getting drafted will be electric

I’m legitimately fascinated by how Georgia handles this Newman deal. My guess is that the team’s official Twitter account will take the high road and we’ll get some sort of “developed here” hashtag even though Newman opted out before he ever played a game for the Dawgs.

We’ll see a lot of sarcastic replies like “Georgia legend” or “I’ll never forget the Newman era.” Dare I say, Georgia and Florida fans will be both be all over the mentions to that tweet once Newman is selected.

The Wake Forest transfer’s decision to sit out 2020 and declare for the NFL Draft is still puzzling, at least in terms of his development. Newman can throw the deep ball, and the dude looks the part in shorts. That we know. But did he develop in the intermediate passing game? Did he show the ability to read defenses better? Those are 2 questions he didn’t get to answer this past year.

I honestly have no idea where Newman could go. Anywhere from Rounds 3-7 could happen.

If he goes ahead of Trask, though? I give up.

9. The SEC ties its pre-2020 record for Round 1 picks with 12

Last year, it broke the modern NFL Draft era (since 1994) record for top-10 picks with 6. I don’t see that being broken this year unless something really weird happens like Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn go in the top 10. There’s absolutely a path for the SEC to tie that mark of 6. It would mean Jones, Pitts, Chase, Waddle, Smith and Surtain going in the top 10. I probably wouldn’t bet on that to happen, though.

I don’t think the SEC will break its 2020 record for first-round picks, either, but I do think it’ll tie the previous record, which was 12 (the ACC did it in 2006 and the SEC matched in 2013 and 2017). The SEC shattered that in 2020 with 15 players selected in the first round. That’s probably not getting touched anytime soon.

In addition to those aforementioned 7 players coming off the board, we’d need to see 8 selections from this group, all of whom have shown up in Round 1 in various mocks:

  • Elijah Moore, Ole Miss WR
  • Terrace Marshall, LSU WR
  • Kadarius Toney, Florida WR
  • Najee Harris, Alabama RB
  • Christian Barmore, Alabama DT
  • Landon Dickerson, Alabama C
  • Alex Leatherwood, Alabama OL
  • Jamin Davis, Kentucky LB
  • Azeez Ojulari, Georgia DL
  • Nick Bolton, Mizzou LB

More likely than seeing 8 of those prospects selected on Thursday would be half of that group (5). With those 7 aforementioned Round 1 locks, that’s how the SEC gets to that previous record of 12.

10. The SEC will again win the NFL Draft title for the 15th consecutive year

Hey, I didn’t say these were “bold” predictions.