Word on the street is that this thing called the NFL Draft is still on for 2021, even if we don’t get the NFL Scouting Combine and some of the college all-star games like the East-West Shrine Bowl like we typically do. Given that news, I figured it would be wise for me to let you in on what I’m thinking about the 2021 NFL Draft and how all the action could unfold in just over two months.
Couple disclaimers that nobody will read: I haven’t scouted all of these guys close enough to have grades on them yet (some I have), so this is very much a mock of what I think could happen and what does seem to make sense given my knowledge of each team’s needs and prototypes at certain positions. Also, I try not to go too trade-heavy in the first mock draft of the year, so there is just one in this mock draft. More coming in my next one, I’m sure.
In advance of you reading my first NFL mock draft, thank you all for hating on me responsibly.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
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It’ll be fascinating to see if Lawrence ends up being the best quarterback from a heralded quarterback class, especially because of how important the landing spot is for a signal caller in the NFL. Lawrence has all the tools and instincts you want at the position, which should be enough to overcome his longer throwing motion and occasionally questionable decision-making. The real question will be if Jacksonville curious assortment of offensive minds in Urban Meyer, Darrell Bevell and Brian Schottenheimer can get the most out of him.
2. New York Jets – BYU QB Zach Wilson
Official reports say the Jets haven’t made up their minds about Sam Darnold just yet, but I have no idea how you possess the No. 2 pick in a draft like this one with the way Darnold has played for the past three years and choose not to use it on a quarterback. Wilson has the elite arm and improvisational ability that teams crave, but his accuracy is also further along than most, especially on high degree of difficulty tosses.
3. *TRADE* Carolina Panthers – Ohio State QB Justin Fields
Ohio State QB Justin Fields – Photo by: USA Today
The Panthers are trying to be aggressive for a quarterback this offseason, but I’m just not sure they’ll end up with one of the top options after missing out on Matt Stafford. So their aggression plays out in the draft, where they get their hopefully next face of the franchise in Justin Fields, who is as talented as any quarterback in the class. Fields will have some adjustments to make coming out of Ohio State’s offense, but his arm, accuracy and athletic ability give him a great chance to succeed, and it sure sounds like he has the mental make-up to lead a franchise in the NFL.
4. Atlanta Falcons – North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
I’ll be honest, I don’t have much certainty about what Atlanta is going to do in this year’s draft at No. 4. Defense is by far the team’s biggest need, so trading down makes the most sense in a weak defensive class. But how often are the Falcons going to be picking in the Top 5? The last time they were, they selected Matt Ryan at No. 3 overall. I think they try to grab their quarterback of the future with Lance at No. 4, picking up one of the most talented players in the class. Lance can get a Pat Mahomes-esque first year on the bench while preparing behind Ryan.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – Oregon OT Penei Sewell
The Bengals seem destined to take the best offensive linemen with this pick, after watching their front five get torn to shreds all season long. Sewell isn’t a finished product, but his tools, demeanor and smarts are some of the best you’ll find for a college offensive tackle. Cincinnati will have to sort out whether Sewell or Jonah Williams moves to the right side next year.
6. Philadelphia Eagles – Florida TE Kyle Pitts
If the Eagles are going to ride with Jalen Hurts at quarterback, they are going to need to get him some more weapons. New head coach Nick Sirianni hails from Indianapolis, where Frank Reich coveted multiple tight ends in the passing game. Pitts is actually more like a big receiver who can play inside or outside with elite ball skills and body control in the air. With Zach Ertz likely moving on from Philly, the Eagles get another weapon to complement Dallas Goedert, Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham.
7. Detroit Lions – LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase
The Lions might be looking at life after free agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay, which would push the position to the top of their needs. That need just so happens to line up with the best available player here too, as Chase’s ability to play inside and outside while separating short or deep is a rare skill set at the college level. He may not have played since 2019 after opting out of the 2020 season, but that one season was one of the most dominant collegiate campaigns we have ever seen by an individual player.
8. *TRADE* Miami Dolphins – Alabama WR Devonta Smith
There is a lot still to be determined about the Dolphins this offseason, including whether they decide to stick with Tua Tagovailoa or not. For the purposes of this mock let’s say they do, which means adding weapons for their young quarterback becomes the top offseason priority. How about one he’s familiar with in Smith, who was the Crimson Tide’s best wide receiver for two years in a row despite playing with three other first rounders?
9. Denver Broncos – Alabama CB Patrick Surtain, Jr.
With the exception of Bryce Callahan’s fine play over 10 games, the Broncos’ cornerback contributions in 2020 were abysmal. The most likely to bounce back was A.J. Bouye, but Denver just released him, opening up a massive need at both outside cornerback spots, assuming Callahan returns to the slot in 2021. Surtain isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s scheme versatile, smart, experienced and – critical to a Vic Fangio defense – physical and will tackle.
10. Dallas Cowboys – Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley – Photo by: USA Today
Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis have shown little promise through four seasons and are now free agents, leaving the cornerback spot opposite Trevon Diggs wide open. It’s not the only hole for the Cowboys, but Farley’s upside is tough to pass on, as arguably the most talented cornerback in the 2021 draft. His technique and tackling need to keep improving, but he fits the mold of what Dallas is looking for at the position.
11. New York Giants – Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
Devonta Smith might have been Alabama’s best receiver each of the past two seasons, but a strong argument can be made that Waddle was the most talented. If he’s fully healthy, Waddle’s blazing speed is rare even by NFL standards, and he also possesses the quickness and technique to separate from coverage at all levels of the field. I’m not sure there is anything Waddle can’t do in the NFL, as he showcased elite ability in contested catch situations at Alabama, too. Now the struggle will be finding a quarterback for he and Darius Slayton to grow with.
12. San Francisco 49ers – Alabama QB Mac Jones
This is probably higher than I would take Jones, but the 49ers can’t go all in on Jimmy Garoppolo for this season, not after his recent level of play and his injury history. If San Francisco isn’t going to make a move for an established starter this offseason, they’ve gotta generate a plan for Garoppolo’s eventual replacement in the draft. Kyle Shanahan has always gravitated toward structure quarterbacks, and that’s exactly what Mac Jones is. He may never be a dominant talent at the position, but he’s probably got a better shot at succeeding with Shanahan than anyone else.
13. Los Angeles Chargers – Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw
The Chargers desperately need offensive line help, so either Darrisaw or Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater makes sense here. I wonder if Slater will slide because of his lack of length, while Darrisaw’s hulking frame appeals more to NFL teams. There is no denying the big Virginia Tech left tackle’s power and physicality, the only question will be how he handles NFL-caliber speed rushers on his outside hip at the next level.
14. Minnesota Vikings – Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye
The Vikings have plenty of needs, but they need to improve their pass rush above all else this offseason. Getting Danielle Hunter back should help, but Kwity Paye could be the developing bookend for their franchise player that the Vikings desperately need. Paye has played right around 1,200 snaps in his career, so he’s still learning the position, but he has elite size, power and flexibility for the position. He was one of the few players to give Jedrick Wills any trouble in 2019, and only looked better in 2020.
15. New England Patriots – Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman
The Patriots got away from their prototype at wide receiver when they drafted N’Keal Harry, prioritizing size, speed and athleticism over the ability to play the position. My guess is they’ll get back to their roots and select a play-maker like Bateman, although they may trade down some to do it. Bateman is an elite route runner and one of the more pro-ready receivers in the draft. This might be a bit high for him, but the fit is good, and I think he’ll impress New England during the pre-draft process.
16. Arizona Cardinals – Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater
The Cardinals passed up on several excellent offensive tackle prospects for LB Isaiah Simmons in last year’s draft, and can’t afford to repeat that mistake in 2021. Slater might not have the length or power that teams covet at the position, but in a pass-heavy Cardinals offense that won’t ask him to drive people off the ball, Slater’s athleticism will be an asset for Arizona right away. His excellent 2018 season at right tackle should assuage concern about being able to play opposite left tackle D.J. Humphries.
17. Las Vegas Raiders – Alabama DT Christian Barmore
Alabama DT Christian Barmore – Photo by: USA Today
The Raiders defense needs help almost everywhere, but they also just need highly drafted players and coveted free agent signings to simply step up this season. They’ve addressed almost every position group on defense in recent drafts or in free agency, but defensive tackle remains a mess. Barmore is still developing, but I haven’t studied a defensive tackle with more ability in this year’s class yet, if there is one. His College Football Playoff tape has too many impressive reps to ignore.
18. Miami Dolphins – Oklahoma State OT Teven Jenkins
Jenkins is exactly the type of punishing finisher the Dolphins are hoping to add to their offensive line this offseason, allowing them to kick Robert Hunt inside and keep Austin Jackson at left tackle. Jenkins may not be an elite athlete at right tackle, but his hands are vice grips, his punch is deadly and he plays with elite body control and physicality. Some NFL teams could see Jenkins potential as even higher at guard, but I would definitely try him out at offensive tackle first, given how impressive his 2020 tape is there.
19. Washington Football Team – Penn State LB Micah Parsons
I know you’re all wondering why Parsons is still on the board. To be honest, I thought about leaving him off of this first round mock entirely, but somebody probably takes a swing at him before the end of day one. The reality is that Parsons has a lengthy list of character concerns that I think, combined with not being on the field in 2020 and playing a devalued position, will work against his draft stock pretty heavily. I’m not sure if Washington will have him on their board or not, but Parsons would certainly fill a major need, as The Football Team desperately needs to upgrade the second level of their defense, especially in a Ron Rivera-scheme.
20. Chicago Bears – Georgia EDGE Azeez Ojulari
I’m excited to really study Ojulari in the coming days, as he came out of nowhere to be in the conversation for the best edge defender in the 2020 class. Ultimately he may end up off the board by this point in the draft, but if he isn’t I would expect the Bears to pounce on him. They could really use a bookend for Khalil Mack, and Ojulari looks like a player with his best ball ahead of him thanks to his development this season and some excellent traits as a cornering pass rusher.
21. Indianapolis Colts – Florida WR Kadarius Toney
I think the Colts will find their quarterback in free agency or via a trade, so the next step will be putting an offense around them. With Michael Pittman entrenched at one receiver spot, the Colts could use another young weapon to build their passing attack around, and I’m not sure Parris Campbell is going to become that guy. In the Colts’ horizontal passing scheme, guys who can create after the catch should be coveted, and Toney is as good as anyone in the draft with the ball in his hands.
I’m not sure what to think of Rousseau, who did his best pass-rushing in 2019 from an inside alignment, then opted out of the 2020 season. He’s really raw and underdeveloped as an edge rusher, but length and flexibility like Rousseau’s don’t come around every day. Rousseau is going to be a risky pick no matter where he comes off the board, but that’s the story with most of these edge defenders. It seems like a leap Tennessee is going to have to make after watching their abysmal pass rush in 2020.
23. New York Jets – South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
New head coach Robert Saleh is going to be looking for tone-setters at the cornerback position, something the Jets haven’t had in a long time. Horn is an aggressive and physical press-man corner who showed improved ball skills this past season to elevate his stock into the round 1 range. This would be a home run second pick for Jets GM Joe Douglas after picking up his QB of the future at No. 2 overall.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Alabama OT Alex Leatherwood
I’m not a big fan of Leatherwood after watching his struggles at the Senior Bowl, but everything about him screams Steelers’ first-round pick. He’s a hulking offensive lineman who can move defensive linemen off the ball in the run game, a mentality it seems Pittsburgh is trying to get back to. I just worry about the ease with which I’ve seen some rushers corner on Leatherwood, as he has a propensity to short-set and rely heavily on his punch to stop cornering pass rushers, rather than his feet.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Texas OT Sam Cosmi
The bad reps can look really bad for Cosmi, but I still think he’s one of the better raw talents at the position in the class. Can Jacksonville coach him up to take over for Cam Robinson at left tackle this season? It’s a need for the Jaguars, especially with a new franchise quarterback coming to town. They’d be wise to address offensive tackle with a sure thing in free agency, but if they don’t Cosmi may be their best bet.
26. Cleveland Browns – Penn State EDGE Jayson Oweh
Penn State EDGE Jayson Oweh – Photo by: USA Today
The Browns don’t have many holes, especially if they believe Mack Wilson and Jacob Phillips are their linebackers of the future. They do need to find more pass rushers this offseason, and Oweh profiles as one of the top options in this year’s class. I’m not overly impressed with Oweh’s tape or his production at Penn State, but he definitely improved this past year and has the explosiveness that makes you think he could be a late bloomer in the NFL. The Browns can afford to let him take his time if they make a move in free agency as expected.
27. Baltimore Ravens – USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker
The Ravens’ ability to maintain an elite rushing attack despite just average interior offensive line talent is a testimony to their scheme, but at some point they just need better players to put the whole thing over the top. Vera-Tucker’s ability to kick to tackle last season proved his positional versatility, but he’s probably at his best on the inside where his power can be more of an asset.
28. New Orleans Saints – Florida State CB Asante Samuel, Jr.
The Saints could see some significant changes to their secondary this offseason, which might make a bookend starter across from Marshon Lattimore a possibility. Samuel is a smaller cornerback, but he has press experience and is one of the more explosive and fluid corners in the class. The Saints have overlooked size concerns in pursuit of other great traits before, and it sure appears Samuel has the things New Orleans has always coveted, especially considering Lattimore’s propensity to travel with the opposing team’s true No. 1 receiver will leave Samuel with some more favorable match-ups to begin his career.
29. Green Bay Packers – Purdue WR Rondale Moore
I have no idea whether the Packers are finally going to address their lack of depth at wide receiver or not, but I know they have been lacking a true slot who can create with the ball in his hands for quite some time now. I’m not sold on Moore as an elite receiver prospect like some are, but I think his skill set could work perfectly in the right offense. Watching Matt LaFleur’s team last season, a post-catch weapon like this is what their offense really could have used in the NFC Championship Game.
30. Buffalo Bills – Clemson RB Travis Etienne
The Bills have offensive and defensive line concerns, but I’m just not sure Round 1 of the 2021 draft is going to have the answers they are looking for. I really think they’d like to be more threatening on all three downs from the running back position, and a home run threat and explosive receiving option like Etienne will do the trick. I know all about spending a first-round pick on a running back not exactly being an optimal use of resources, so a trade back could be in the cards, too.
31. Kansas City Chiefs – Tulsa LB Zaven Collins
The Chiefs are one of the most blitz-happy teams in the NFL, and adding a threat like Collins to their front seven will make them even more deadly. There’s the potential for a hulking linebacker like Collins to play on the edge at times too, but where the Chiefs really need him is right in the middle of their defense on the second level, where their linebackers have been underachieving for years. If Collins can bring the splash plays (four sacks, four picks in 2020) he provided at Tulsa, the Chiefs defense will be noticeably improved in 2021.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Alabama RB Najee Harris
Alabama RB Najee Harris – Photo by: USA Today
I’m not saying this is what the Bucs SHOULD do, I’m just saying that if the first round falls this way, I could easily see them taking Harris in the first round. He checks every box they care about at the position with rare receiving skills, route-running, catch radius and tackle-breaking ability for a running back. Harris may not have elite speed, but everything else about him screams three-down, feature running back.
Yes, the Bucs need to develop talent on the defensive line, but it’s a very weak defensive tackle class and the value isn’t there at edge defender in this mock, with most of the top talents already off the board. Most likely the Bucs trade back from this pick, but if they stay put, Harris would fill a huge hole for the low cost the team prefers to have in a feature back. With Leonard Fournette likely gone in free agency and Ronald Jones II heading that direction after next season, drafting Harris makes sense on paper, even if isn’t the most high value position to prioritize in Round 1.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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