2021 NFL Mock Draft
Hope springs eternal, unless you’re a fan of the Houston Texans, in which case hope is a pipe dream. In just a few hours, the 2021 NFL Draft will commence, and with an unusually deep crop of quarterbacks, more than a few teams will begin blazing a path towards rousing success or spectacular failure. Below, I take a look at what I believe is most likely to happen in the first – including a couple trades that have the potential to redefine the league for year to come.
1) Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
The NFL’s true beauty lies in its mystery (Thomas Edward Brady’s unprecedented run of dominance aside) and this often extends to the NFL Draft where the projected number one pick is hotly contested until the previous season’s cellar-dweller turns their card in. This, however, is not one of those years. Newly anointed head coach Urban Meyer will look to generational talent Lawrence to spearhead a transformation of one of the NFL’s most downtrodden franchises.
2) New York Jets – QB Zach Wilson, BYU
This pick has been treated as consensus since well before Wilson’s stellar pro day yet still feels slightly uncomfortable. Questions abound about his level of competition in college, a reported weight of just 214 lbs. at his pro day, and his rapid ascension from projected late-round pick to franchise savior. Regardless, the growth he showed in 2020 is undeniable, and his mobility and touch provide him a high floor for a Jets team now sans Sam Darnold. While off-the-field projections are overrated, Wilson’s penchant for the bright lights will certainly play well in New York.
3) San Francisco 49ers (from HOU through MIA) – QB Mac Jones, Alabama
In what still remains unfathomable, Laremy Tunsil’s Twitter password was the first domino in a chain of events that looks to land Kyle Shanahan his quarterback of the future. While Jones has the lowest ceiling of any of the five quarterbacks projected to come off the board in the first ten picks and was buoyed by a wealth of talent at Alabama, he projects to be good enough to operate Shanahan’s offense. With a healthy defense, that level of play should be good enough to make San Francisco a formidable contender in the NFC.
4) Atlanta Falcons – TE/OW Kyle Pitts, Florida
The shallowest position in the NFL – numbering even fewer than true franchise quarterbacks – is tight end. Past Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller, 29 other teams have tight ends that are either unproven for more than a season, athletic with no track record, or simply just not starting caliber. While Atlanta could consider taking either Georgia native Justin Fields or Trey Lance, Kyle Pitts is the pick. After restructuring Matt Ryan’s contract, the Falcons pass on another quarterback and on trading down in favor of the Gator. Less of a tight end and more of an offensive weapon (hence the ‘OW’), Pitts joins Lawrence as one of two truly generational prospects in this draft class.
5) Cincinnati Bengals – WR Ja’Marr Chase, WR
While it may be frowned upon to project franchise malpractice, that’s exactly what I foresee the Bengals doing. The debate of Chase vs. offensive tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon became exacerbated when the Bengals revealed their new jerseys and quarterback Joe Burrow’s fresh ACL surgery scars were on full display. Regardless, the Bengals feel that free agent signing Riley Reiff and third-year tackle Jonah Williams are a pair of serviceable bookends. Unable to pass up on Burrow’s college teammate, they opt to reunite the pair that carried LSU to a national championship and an undefeated season in 2019.
6) Miami Dolphins (from PHI) – OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
Earlier this week, Miami traded away left guard Ereck Flowers to the Washington Football Team and announced plans to move right tackle Robert Hunt to right guard. With Sewell on the board, the Dolphins pounce on a future Pro Bowl tackle to protect sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Miami has undergone an exercise in proper roster construction over the past two seasons and now needs to do everything in their power to determine whether Tagovailoa is indeed their quarterback of the future.
7) New England Patriots (PROJECTED TRADE with Detroit) – QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
The anachronism of a conservative Bill Belichick went out the window the moment Tom Brady flew south and this transformation truly reared its head the moment a rather ugly bow was placed on the Patriots’ 2020 season. Belichick’s Patriots don’t ever plan on picking in the top 15 again, so giving up the 15th overall pick and the 46th overall pick for the 7th overall pick is a small price to pay for a quarterback that is inexplicably sliding. Concerns about Fields not moving past his first read are overblown, and often just a result of him trusting his ability to extend the play and his receiver to get open. His accuracy, mobility, and intangibles will fit perfectly in the offense that New England has constructed during this past offseason. Letting Cam Newton start the first few games of the season as Fields becomes acclimated to the professional game is the most preferable option as the Patriots pounce on their quarterback of the future.
8) Carolina Panthers – OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
The Panthers are in an interesting spot; after giving up a second, fourth, and sixth-rounder for Sam Darnold from the Jets, they aren’t married to him by any means. Nonetheless, they do need to see what they have in him, and protecting him (despite having traded away former starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater) is the most sensible option. Their selection of defensive tackle Derrick Brown with the seventh overall pick in 2020 is a further indication of their preference to build from the line of scrimmage outwards. Slater’s floor is a Pro Bowl offensive guard, though I still believe he can play offensive tackle at a high level in the NFL after locking up pass rushers at Northwestern.
9) Denver Broncos – QB Trey Lance, North Dakota State
The recent acquisition of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from the Carolina Panthers matches up flawlessly with the selection of Lance, who could certainly benefit from sitting a season as he started just 17 games for the Bison. While there are concerns about his thin starting resume and ability to hang in an NFL pocket, there’s no denying Lance’s physical tools (including a double-take worthy 1,325 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns in those 17 games). With the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft not named Trevor Lawrence, Denver needs to break the mold of their recent statuesque pocket passer selections under John Elway (Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, & Drew Lock), exhibit patience, and allow Lance’s upside to transform an offense that is just a quarterback away.
10) Dallas Cowboys – CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
The first defensive player not going off the board until the 10th overall pick is a microcosm of where the NFL is – as well as an indictment of the lack of top-end talent in this year’s defensive crop of prospects. As the son of a Pro Bowl cornerback, Surtain’s bloodlines are as strong as his resume which includes CFP national champion, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and a unanimous All-American selection. He would reunite with fellow Alabama alum Trevon Diggs to transform one of Dallas’ weaknesses, pass defense, into a strength.
11) New York Giants – WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
The phrase “thunder and lightning” is most often used in the NFL to describe backfields but it perfectly describes the Giants’ revamped receiving corps. Waddle’s dynamism and electrifying speed will be the lightning to prized free agent acquisition Kenny Golladay’s thunder, relegating incumbent WR1 Darius Slayton to the hailstorm in this tempestuous metaphor. At the end of the day, as long as quarterback Daniel Jones becomes Zeus, Dave Gettleman will have done his job.
12) Philadelphia Eagles (from SF through MIA) – WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
This may be the first time in mock draft history a selection has been made for the sake of a General Manager’s physical safety. If Howie Roseman passes on either Alabama wide receiver, he might have to descend into witness protection because the paucity of patience the Philadelphia fan (phan?) base exhibits will become extinguished. Despite concerns about his reported pro day weight of 170 lbs., the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is an elite route runner with top-notch hands and will immediately become Jalen Hurts’ top target.
13) Los Angeles Chargers – CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
After striking gold with quarterback Justin Herbert in last year’s draft, the Chargers made their off-season mission clear: protect Herbert. Multiple offseason signings on the offensive line allow them to wait on offensive tackle with Sewell & Slater off the board and instead take one of the most dominant corners and possibly the best man coverage corner in the draft. New head coach Brandon Staley was the former Rams defensive coordinator and employed a Cover-2 Man heavy scheme that was heavily reliant on Jalen Ramsey. While Horn is no lock to be the next Ramsey, he certainly projects as the next lockdown cornerback under Staley’s tutelage.
14) Washington Football Team (PROJECTED TRADE with Minnesota) – LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
After watching Parsons slip down the board, the Washington Football Team pounces. Sending the 19th overall pick as well as the 51st overall pick to Minnesota in exchange for the 14th overall pick and the 78th overall pick, Ron Rivera grabs his future defensive centerpiece. Despite off-the-field concerns, Parsons is worth a shot in the middle of the first round thanks to a rare blend of size, speed, and physicality. Washington supplements their elite defensive line with another elite talent in the front seven.
15) Detroit Lions (PROJECTED TRADE with New England) – OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
The Lions have one of the barest rosters in the NFL and are in a period of transition after shipping off franchise icon Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams. After picking up a mid-second round pick to aid their rebuild, Detroit opts for the top of the second-tier offensive tackles. Whether or not quarterback Jared Goff is in Detroit past this season, Darrisaw will be a mainstay of the offensive line for years to come.
16) Arizona Cardinals – OG Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
After the top two cornerbacks are off the board, the Cardinals opt for the best offensive guard in the draft and plan to fill their holes in the secondary later on. Vera-Tucker is an immovable 6’4” 308 lbs. who shut down pass rushers and also has tackle versatility. As Arizona looks to supplement Kyler Murray’s supporting cast, Vera-Tucker is equipped to handle the intimidating interior pass rushers in the NFL.
17) Las Vegas Raiders – OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
While you never want to draft for need in the NFL, you end up having to do so when you willingly punch a hole in your roster while burning two others right next to it. After moving on from their entire right side of the offensive line, the Raiders need to supplement Derek Carr’s protection. Jenkins isn’t a finished product, but has an attitude GM Mike Mayock & Head Coach Jon Gruden will love and moves extremely well for a player of his size (6’5” & 317 lbs.).
18) Miami Dolphins – DE Jaelen Phillips, Miami
Only once in a blue moon does the first edge rusher come off the board in the second half of the draft, but with the depth at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle, that’s the way things play out. The Dolphins are the beneficiaries of the most talented pass rusher in the class in Phillips, who is an explosive edge rusher with double-digit sack upside. He does have a medical history with concussions that will give teams pause. Miami, though, has two first round picks in 2021 & 2022 and is equipped to take a high upside swing on Phillips.
19) Minnesota Vikings (PROJECTED TRADE with Washington Football Team) – DE Kwity Paye, Michigan
After trading back to four spots in the first round to move up nearly a full round on Day 2, the Vikings still land a quality edge defender in Paye. The Vikings are a defense-first team under head coach Mike Zimmer and uncertainty with defensive end Danielle Hunter’s contract is a serious cause for concern. Paye projects as a high floor edge rusher thanks to his twitchy athleticism and his numerous tackles for loss at Michigan were a result of relentless effort. He also displayed impressive versatility in college as he lined up both inside and outside and pairs well with Hunter now with the potential to lead the defensive line should Hunter leave Minnesota.
20) Chicago Bears – CB Greg Newsome, Northwestern
The Bears are in a precarious spot as a franchise and need help on multiple spots on offense: quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive line. However, none of those positions present the type of value that cornerback does and Newsome fills the void that Kyle Fuller left. Growing up in Chicago and playing at Northwestern, he keeps his instinctual man coverage skills in the same area he’s always played in.
21) Indianapolis Colts – DT Christian Barmore, Alabama
The best of a shallow group of interior defensive lineman, Barmore would pair with DeForest Buckner to give the Colts one of the best tandems of defensive tackles in the league. An already potent Indianapolis defense would be buoyed by the addition of a defensive tackle that while inexperienced (only 12 games as a starter), put up 20 sacks and flashed spurts of dominance.
22) Tennessee Titans – WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
After the departure of wide receivers Corey Davis & Adam Humphries and tight end Jonnu Smith in free agency, Tennessee has 192 targets to replace in 2021. Their wide receiver two is currently Josh Reynolds, which simply won’t cut it for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. At just 5’9”, Moore won’t necessarily replace Davis out wide but will operate as an exciting weapon out of the slot with his reliable hand and thick frame. He’ll also team up with another former Ole Miss wide receiver in A.J. Brown, whose Ole Miss record for receptions in a season Moore broke in just eight games in 2020.
23) New York Jets (from SEA) – LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
With so many needs, the Jets are in a position to take the best player available in Owusu-Koramoah. He played everywhere at Notre Dame, with reps in the slot, in coverage, as a linebacker, and with his hand in the dirt. The positive spin on his versatility is that he is a flexible chess piece while the negative spin is the dreaded ‘tweener’ label that leaves him positionless. New head coach Robert Saleh will be able to take advantage of Owusu-Koramoah’s versatility as the Jets’ defense takes a significant step forward in 2021.
24) Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
While many have penciled in Alabama running back Najee Harris’ name into this spot, the Steelers will have options to address the run game in later rounds and it would be a poor use of capital to take a running back in the first round. Instead, the Steelers take Farley who would arguably be the top cornerback in the draft if not for his injury history (torn ACL in 2017) and recent back procedure in March of 2021. Despite the injury concerns, Farley has shown to be a physical corner with outstanding ball skills and an All-Pro ceiling, making him a worthy risk at the back end of the first round.
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from LAR) – TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
The Jaguars should be drafting with one goal in mind: help Trevor Lawrence. The second-tier offensive tackle depth will be there at pick #33 in the second round, so the Jaguars nab one of only two tight ends in this draft who can start from day one. Freiermuth will serve as a dependable intermediate pass catcher over the middle for Lawrence while opening up holes for James Robinson on the edge. After failing to address the position in free agency, this pick fills one of the biggest holes left on Jacksonville’s roster.
26) Cleveland Browns – LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa
The Browns have assembled one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, and don’t have many pressing needs. With wide receiver and cornerback having plenty of depth in the mid-rounds, Cleveland selects one of the best athletes in this draft in Collins. The Browns’ linebacking corps needs more athleticism, and the reigning Bronco Nagurski trophy award winner is a supreme athlete who is a stud in both coverage and rushing the passer.
27) Baltimore Ravens – WR Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
The Ravens wide receiver room is currently a whole lot of speed, both young (Marquise Brown & Devin Duvernay) and old (Sammy Watkins). Bateman may not be a burner (although his reported 4.41 40-yard dash at his pro day is nothing to scoff at) but makes his money as a savvy route runner with great ball skills and a compact frame. Bateman will aid in opening up the offense for Baltimore and provide Lamar Jackson a reliable down the field target who can win contested catches.
28) New Orleans Saints – DT Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
The Saints are in an odd place as a franchise and are looking to stay competitive in their first year PDB (post Drew Brees). It’s possible they look to trade down but with no suitors, they opt for the top defensive tackle on their board. While Onwuzurike may not have superb pass rushing upside, he’s proven to be a disruptive player in the run game and constantly penetrated backfields and consumed double teams at Washington.
29) Green Bay Packers – LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky
Despite the incessant clamoring from Packers fans to draft a wide receiver in the first round (and rightfully so), Green Bay has a certain way of doing things – the last time they selected a wide receiver in the first round was 2002. Drafting the best player on the board in Davis would make a lot of sense, and add speed to a 3-4 scheme that needs more of a sideline-to-sideline presence.
30) Buffalo Bills – DE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Buffalo has been searching for a pass-rush partner for Jerry Hughes for what seems like most of Hughes’ eight-year tenure with the team, and accomplishes this with the selection of Ojulari. Viewed by some scouts (such as The Athletic’s Dane Brugler) as the top edge rusher in the class, Ojulari will need to add weight to his 6’2” 249 lb. frame to hold up against NFL offensive tackles. However, his production in the SEC was fantastic and his pass rush moves are already advanced for his age & experience.
31) Baltimore Ravens (from KC) – OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas
After trading tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs for a package that included this pick, the Ravens are back on the lock and need to solve their hole at right tackle. While Cosmi may not have the ceiling of other tackles, he is the best run blocker on the board and has shown enough in pass-blocking to project as an immediate impact tackle with the potential to be an above-average right tackle in the future.
32) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
When you return all 22 starters from a Super Bowl-winning team, you have the luxury of taking swings on high upside players with little regard for their floor. Oweh is an absolutely extraordinary athlete for the position who only started eight games in his college career and had zero sacks in seven games last season. A work in progress, Oweh will have the opportunity to learn from Shaquille Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, and potentially take over for one of them in 2022.
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