With the College Football National Championship in the books, it’s officially draft season. The 2021 NFL Draft offers plenty of stars, storylines, and controversy. Betting on the health and development of young men is always a risky business, but several organizations desperately need an injection of youthful energy and leadership.
I’m hoping to release a new mock each week leading up to the NFL draft in…April! Alright, maybe not one every week. That’s too many. However, I still plan on producing consistent coverage leading up to the draft with analysis of team needs and prospects.
Since this is my first mock of the year, it’s extremely rough. I’m just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. If you see anything you love or hate, make sure to let me know about it on Twitter.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars- Trevor Lawrence, QB Clemson
The term “generational talent” gets overused, but Lawrence falls into that category. From defeating Alabama in the National Championship as a freshman to his final game with the Tigers, Lawrence displayed the mobility, arm strength, and pure ability to make his team significantly better. Even without Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, or a terrific offensive line this year, Lawrence became a Heisman finalist and got Clemson to the College Football Playoffs.
While the other quarterbacks in this draft class have their own accomplishments to brag about, Lawrence stands head and shoulders above the rest.
2. New York Jets- Zach Wilson, QB BYU
Sam Darnold is an incredibly talented player, but I’m not confident about his future in New York. Maybe that will change when the Jets announce who their next head coach is, but I don’t see Darnold recovering from the trauma he’s suffered with that organization. The 23-year-old’s best chance at success could start elsewhere in 2021.
As for Wilson, he’s drawn comparisons to Tony Romo. Athletically, a few analysts have compared his explosiveness to Kyler Murray. Obviously, Wilson isn’t as fast and has a more prototypical build (6-3, 210 lbs.), but his ability to extend plays and create downfield is impressive. He’ll need those traits, considering New York is still constructing its offensive line.
3. Miami Dolphins (Via Texans)- Ja’Marr Chase, WR LSU
Third overall is pushing it for a wide receiver, but the Dolphins can’t risk missing out on a game-changer like Chase. During LSU’s championship season, Chase, not Justin Jefferson or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, was the team’s best offensive weapon. He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns, easily winning the Fred Biletnikoff Award.
Miami needs better pass-catchers around Tua Tagovailoa. DeVante Parker is a legitimate top option, and tight end Mike Gesicki looks like a Pro Bowler at times. Injuries and a lack of depth made life difficult for Miami’s skill players this season.
4. Atlanta Falcons- Justin Fields, QB OSU
No, Matt Ryan isn’t going anywhere yet. Unless the Falcons find a way to trade the former MVP, he’s under contract for another three seasons. However, there is an out in Ryan’s deal after 2021. Based on Atlanta’s current trajectory, this team isn’t getting turned around during Ryan’s career.
The Falcons are looking for a new head coach and this team’s best days are behind it. Julio Jones couldn’t shake the injury bug this year, the running game is nonexistent, and the offensive line got pushed around. This team is another two or three years away from fixing things on defense as well.
Fields, who’s drawing comparisons to Dak Prescott, gives Atlanta a long-term plan.
5. Cincinnati Bengals- Penei Sewell, OT Oregon
Outside of Micah Parsons and Patrick Surtain II, the best players left on the board are wide receivers and tackles. After taking Tee Higgins 33rd overall last year, Cincinnati can pass on the receivers and address the offensive line. Protecting Joe Burrow should be Cincinnati’s top priority, especially after how his rookie season ended.
Between Jonah Williams and Sewell, the Bengals will have their bookend tackles for the next decade. However, I wouldn’t rule out Cincinnati trying to fix its struggling defense either. If the Bengals truly believe in Parsons or Surtain, they should pull the trigger.
6. Philadelphia Eagles- DeVonta Smith, WR Alabama
Two wide receivers in the top six? Don’t be so surprised. Travis Fulgham was Philadelphia’s leading receiver this season with 539 yards, despite only appearing in 13 games and playing fewer than 60% of the team’s offensive snaps from Week 12 onwards. Concerns swirl around Smith, mainly stemming from the Heisman candidate’s build. At 6-1, 175 lbs., he looks frail compared to other receiver prospects.
However, Smith hasn’t suffered a significant injury in either of the past two seasons. During that time, he’s amassed 185 receptions, 3,112 yards, and 37 touchdowns with the Crimson Tide. If the Eagles are desperately looking for an electric, proven wide receiver at sixth overall, Smith should be available.
7. Detroit Lions- Jaylen Waddle, WR Alabama
Okay, this is getting out of hand. It’s doubtful that three wide receivers hear their names called in the top-seven selections. However, the Lions need a wide receiver to complement the aging Marvin Jones. Former Pro Bowler Kenny Golladay is a big-name free agent this offseason, putting Detroit in a difficult situation.
Waddle underwent surgery earlier this season for a fractured ankle, but the injury hasn’t negatively impacted his draft stock. He’s on pace to make a complete recovery in time for training camp. Waddle’s speed and quickness jump off the screen when watching him play, but there’s always the fear that those skills won’t translate to the NFL.
Detroit’s priorities in the upcoming draft could change depending on who they hire as the next head coach. For instance, the franchise trading Matthew Stafford would shake this entire selection up.
8. Carolina Panthers- Micah Parsons, LB PSU
Drafts rarely produce more than two or three first-round inside linebackers. That’s why they’re incredibly valuable. Two years ago, Tampa Bay took Devin White at fifth overall, and Pittsburgh traded up to grab Devin Bush Jr. at tenth. Parsons draws comparisons to Myles Jack, the same player that NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein compared White to.
The last time Carolina took a linebacker in the top-ten, they landed a future Hall of Famer in Luke Kuechly at ninth overall. With Tahir Whitehead playing on an expiring contract, it’s the perfect time for Matt Rhule’s Panthers to snag a defensive centerpiece.
9. Denver Broncos- Patrick Surtain II, CB Alabama
Outside of Bryce Callahan, the Broncos don’t have a cornerback they can consistently trust. Surtain has three years of significant playing time under his belt at Alabama, making him one of the more experienced cornerbacks in the draft. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year has no problem getting in the faces of wide receivers at the line and excels in man coverage.
Unlike Jeffrey Okudah, the top cornerback taken last year, Surtain’s game is based on polish rather than potential. He offers immediate substance instead of a project player who might develop into a star two or three years down the line.
10. Dallas Cowboys- Christian Darrisaw, OT Virginia Tech
The Cowboys have plenty of deficiencies. They could use help at cornerback, defensive end, and safety, but the offensive line and Dak Prescott’s health take priority. Left tackle Tyron Smith is under contract for three more seasons, but the 30-year-old is fading fast. He hasn’t played in more than 13 games in a single season since 2015, and the former All-Pro only appeared in two matchups this year.
Dallas should also consider right tackle La’el Collins’ injury history. The LSU product signed a five-year extension in 2019, but he missed the entire 2020 season. At worst, the Cowboys kick Darrisaw inside to guard until they find a way to move on from Smith. At best, Darrisaw dominates and becomes a stable franchise left tackle for the next decade.
11. New York Giants- Kwity Paye, EDGE Michigan
New York’s best unit this season was the defensive line. Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Leonard Williams dominated. However, Williams was New York’s only player with more than four sacks. The great Giants teams of the late 2000s and early 2010s won because of pass rushes anchored by multiple Pro Bowlers. New York lacks that defensive bite right now.
Even if the Giants re-sign or franchise tag Williams (he’s a pending free agent), they need another complementary edge rusher. Paye is the best defensive lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he might not emerge as an ideal scheme fit for New York.
12. San Francisco 49ers- Caleb Farley, CB Virginia Tech
Richard Sherman’s time with the 49ers is at an end. The future Hall of Fame cornerback only played five games this season, the fewest of his career, and his contract is up. With Sherman hitting the open market, San Francisco needs help in the defensive backfield to support their well-regarded defensive front.
Farley opted-out of the 2020 college football season, leaving scouts with only two years of tape. However, he showed enough during those two seasons to land at CB2 on most pre-combine draft boards. Farley, who joined Virginia Tech as a wide receiver originally, excels in man coverage and should start outside immediately for San Francisco.
13. Los Angeles Chargers- Rashawn Slater, OT Northwestern
Young quarterbacks need weapons to target, but Justin Herbert already has those. Keenan Allen is a top-ten wide receiver, Mike Williams offers a homerun option, and Austin Ekeler is one of the NFL’s best receiving backs. That makes the offensive line a top priority, considering it was an issue even during Philip Rivers’ time with the team.
Trey Pipkins started several games at left tackle this year. That’s not a good thing. Los Angeles’ offensive line is banged up and inconsistent. Luckily, Slater is the most polished offensive line prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. He doesn’t have the same ceiling as Darrisaw or Sewell, but he could play anywhere along the line. If Slater doesn’t work out at tackle, he could excel as an interior lineman, making him a can’t-miss prospect of sorts.
14. Minnesota Vikings- Gregory Rousseau, EDGE Miami
If the Vikings are confident in D.J. Wonnum’s development and his ability to split snaps with Ifeadi Odenigbo alongside a healthy Danielle Hunter, Minnesota could target offensive line help or trade back and take the first safety available. However, Rousseau dominated in 2019, racking up 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Standing at 6-7, 253 lbs., Rousseau has the desired size to line up as a defensive end in the NFL.
Minnesota tried to pair Hunter with another star by acquiring Yannick Ngakoue before the 2020 season. Unfortunately, Hunter was never healthy, and the plan fell apart. With Ngakoue in Baltimore, the Vikings could take another pass at finding a Pro Bowl replacement for Everson Griffen.
15. New England Patriots- Trey Lance, QB North Dakota St.
Lance is an interesting prospect. He entered 2020 as the consensus third-best quarterback in college football. However, the North Dakota State Bison only played one game this season, which essentially served as an exhibition for Lance and other draft prospects. With that game months in the rear-view mirror and Wilson making a lot of noise, Lance’s stock is in limbo.
In 2019, Lance threw for 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He takes care of the football, but that doesn’t entirely overshadow some of his inaccurate throws. While a desperate team might throw Lance in by Week 2 or 3, a smart team would give him some time to adjust.
The Patriots aren’t winning the AFC East next season. At best, they’ll probably finish 7-9 or improve to 9-7. If Bill Belichick signs a veteran quarterback on a one-year deal again, Lance could eventually inherit the team.
16. Arizona Cardinals- Jaycee Horn, CB South Carolina
Patrick Peterson is a shell of his former All-Pro self. The future Hall of Famer is a free agent this offseason. With Dre Kirkpatrick also hitting the market, Arizona is strapped for cornerback help. Picking in the middle of the first round, Arizona won’t get a shot at most of the blue-chip players available, but Horn has enough positive traits to believe he’ll develop into a starter.
I also considered giving Arizona Kyle Pitts at this place since he’s one of the few blue-chip players remaining. However, the Cardinals need to balance their roster and not solely focus on fortifying the offense. In this situation, Arizona opts for need over talent.
17. Las Vegas Raiders- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB Notre Dame
Speaking of a team in need, the Raiders stunk on defense this season. Cory Littleton was supposed to help Las Vegas develop its over-the-middle pass coverage, but the free agent signing hasn’t worked out as planned. Littleton had the worst year of his three seasons as a full-time starter. Nick Kwiatkoski was a bright spot at times for that linebacking corps, but it wasn’t enough.
Outside of Parsons, Owusu-Koramoah is by far the best linebacker available in the 2021 NFL Draft. Some teams won’t like his size, he weighs significantly less than Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons did last year, but Owusu-Koramoah makes up for that with incredible range and versatility. His football IQ and leadership skills are off the charts.
18. Miami Dolphins- Zaven Collins, LB Tulsa
Miami used the third overall pick on Chase, but Brian Flores decides to fortify the defense at No. 18. With Travis Etienne and Najee Harris still on the board, this might seem insane. Dolphins fans haven’t sensed hope at the running back position since Jay Ajayi’s only breakout season in 2016. Before that, the franchise experienced some success with Lamar Miller and Reggie Bush.
However, using the 18th overall pick on Collins is Miami’s best option. The Dolphins already have a stable of versatile linebackers led by Kyle Van Noy, but there’s significant room for improvement. The 6-4, 260 lbs. Collins produced 54 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two defensive touchdowns during his junior season at Tulsa. Passing on him is not a smart idea.
19. Washington Football Team- Jalen Mayfield, OT Michigan
Ron Rivera’s team will have an answer at quarterback before the NFL Draft. At least, they’ll know if they need to add a new signal-caller. Before Alex Smith decides his future, I have Washington solidifying the offensive line with Mayfield. We didn’t get to see much from the young tackle because of Michigan’s condensed schedule this year, but there’s plenty of untapped potential in his game.
Washington’s ultimate decision on adding another lineman could stem from their evaluation of Cornelius Lucas. Lucas started eight games for Washington at left tackle this season. Center Chase Roullier, right guard Brandon Scherff, and right tackle Morgan Moses give Washington a solid foundation to continue building around.
20. Chicago Bears- Wyatt Davis, OL OSU
Davis lines up at right guard for the Buckeyes. He brings plenty of power at the point of attack and mauls defenders in the running game, but there are limitations to his play. Unlike some of the interior offensive linemen that appear later in the draft, Davis can’t play all three spots along the interior line. He’s locked in at an interior bruiser, which might make him unworthy of a top-20 selection.
Chicago needs someone to start opposite of Cody Whitehair. As the Bears enter a period of uncertainty with their quarterback, fixing the offensive line should become a priority. Rebuilds begin in the trenches, and even though they made the playoffs this year, the Bears aren’t built for deep postseason runs.
21. Indianapolis Colts- Kadarius Toney, WR Florida
T.Y. Hilton made a minimal impact in Indianapolis’ recent loss to the Buffalo Bills. The 31-year-old receiver is two years removed from his last 1,000-yard season, and he’s only averaged 50.5 yards per game since the start of 2019. Hilton led the Colts in receiving yards this season, followed by restricted free agent Zach Pascal and rookie second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr.
I’m a firm believer in Pittman, but the Colts still need another receiving option to boost their arsenal. With head coach Frank Reich openly welcoming Philip Rivers back for another year, the Colts can ignore their future problems at quarterback and focus on immediately adding a versatile playmaker.
22. Tennessee Titans- Joseph Ossai, EDGE Texas
The Titans thought they solved their edge rusher problem when they signed former All-Pro Vic Beasley in the offseason. He only played five games with the team before Tennessee cut the Clemson product. Jadeveon Clowney offered another potential solution, but he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 10. The former Pro Bowler is a free agent this spring.
Ossai offers a permanent 3-4 outside linebacker to complement Harold Landry. In his junior season at Texas, Ossai amassed 55 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks in nine games. He has the necessary size and power to make an immediate impact in the NFL. However, the All-Pro ceiling isn’t there. Then again, this is a light class for game-wrecking edge rushers.
23. New York Jets (Via Seahawks)- Najee Harris, RB Alabama
Taking a running back in the first round isn’t always the smartest decision, but Harris and Etienne are tremendous prospects with plenty of tape to back them up. Like Etienne, Harris spent all four years in college, amassing 3,419 yards from scrimmage and 50 total touchdowns over the past two seasons. While Harris recorded fewer yards as a receiver than Etienne, he’s just as good of a pass cather.
New York needs a new running back heading into 2021. Frank Gore led the team with 653 rushing yards this season, and the Jets don’t want the 37-year-old filling that role again. Between Harris and 2020 fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine, the Jets could have their backfield of the future.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers- Liam Eichenberg, OT Notre Dame
Pittsburgh should prioritize the offensive line this year. Two of the team’s top three selections should deal with protecting Ben Roethlisberger or revitalizing a dead running game. Alejandro Villanueva thrived at left tackle in the past. Unfortunately, he’s gotten pushed around this year and is a pending free agent. Pittsburgh’s starting right tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor, hasn’t performed much better.
Eichenberg isn’t a standout athletically compared to some tackles in this class, and his punches need some work. However, he represents good value at 24th overall for a Steelers team entering an offensive rebuilding period. If the Notre Dame product hears his name called earlier, expect the Steelers to check out Texas’ Samuel Cosmi and Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (Via Rams)- Kyle Pitts, TE Florida
Despite getting Lawrence first overall and having three picks in the top 45 last year, Jacksonville has significant holes to fill. Ideally, the Jaguars draft and offensive lineman here. Despite taking Jawaan Taylor 35th overall in 2019 and Cam Robinson 34th in 2017, Jacksonville doesn’t have strong tackle play. However, the allure of Pitts might be too much for Jacksonville to pass up.
At 6-6, 246 lbs., Pitts represents the modern tight end. He’s not going to block anyone into the turf, but he’s a mismatch for almost every defense he faces. At best, he could turn into the next Darren Waller. Even if Pitts never reaches that lofty peak, he could still develop into a player like Jordan Reed, who peaked as a top-five tight end in the mid-2010s.
26. Cleveland Browns- Eric Stokes, CB Georgia
Stokes rocketed up draft boards in his final season at Georgia. The junior intercepted four passes and scored two defensive touchdowns in only nine games. However, Stokes comes with some concerns. He’s not nearly as polished as the three cornerbacks already taken in this mock. Stokes sometimes gets blown out of plays and can’t recover. I’m hesitant about his ability to cover elite threats in the NFL.
Cleveland already has a pair of young, developing cornerbacks in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Ward rebounded nicely in 2020 following a disappointing 2019 season, but he consistently misses several games each year. Williams disappointed as a rookie and hasn’t played a snap this season because of injuries. Stokes could either stabilize this group or add more mediocrity to it.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Travis Etienne, RB Clemson
Ronald Jones finally got it right in 2020. The former second-round pick struggled in his first two seasons before averaging 5.1 yards per carry and nearly 70 yards per game in 2020. The 23-year-old is incredibly talented, but he still struggles in pass protection and wasn’t involved in the passing game this season. With Jones hitting free agency in 2022 and Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy departing this offseason, Tampa Bay might go for the ultimate upgrade.
The Buccaneers made a mistake taking Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third-round last year. Once we get beyond that, drafting Etienne becomes easier. This team can win during Tom Brady’s two-year contract, which means they can’t pull any punches. Running backs aren’t great long-term investments, but Etienne gives Tampa Bay’s offense an elite pass-catching back with power and burst. The short-term benefits outweigh the long-term risks.
28. Baltimore Ravens- Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL USC
Vera-Tucker played left tackle for the Trojans this season, but most analysts view him as a guard prospect. Regardless, Vera-Tucker’s experience outside only adds a level of versatility and intrigue to his draft stock. The Ravens are a perfect fit for this multi-positional offensive lineman.
Baltimore risks losing D.J. Fluker and center Matt Skura in free agency. Those blows come after Marshal Yanda retired a year ago and Ronnie Stanley suffered a season-ending injury. The Ravens invested picks in Bradley Bozeman, Tyre Phillips, and Ben Powers over the past several years, but none of them possess the same ceiling as Vera-Tucker.
29. New Orleans Saints- Nick Bolton, LB Missouri
New Orleans already addressed their linebacking corps last year by taking Zack Baun in the third round. However, Sean Payton’s team might revisit the position since Alex Anzalone and Craig Robertson are pending free agents. With multiple other starters and role players hitting the open market, New Orleans doesn’t have the money to re-sign everyone, making drafting well a priority.
Bolton made a name for himself over his past two seasons at Missouri. During that time, he tallied 198 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, and 12 passes defensed. Bolton is a heavy hitter and viable zone defender. Playing alongside Demario Davis could hide some of Bolton’s flaws and allow him time to adjust to the NFL.
I’ll also point out that the Saints have an embarrassment of riches across the board. They could trade away all of their picks and still make the playoffs next year.
30. Buffalo Bills- Alex Leatherwood, OT Alabama
I originally had Clemson’s Derion Kendrick going to Buffalo here, but the star corner is returning to Death Valley for his senior season. I still wanted to give Buffalo a corner to replace the Josh Norman/Levi Wallace combo in the starting lineup, but there’s a steep drop after Eric Stokes. Shaun Wade is available, but he put up a lot of negative tape this year. The Bills could also use a linebacker to replace free agent Matt Milano, but that position also gets dicey after Bolton.
Instead of fortifying their defense, the Bills take a shot on Leatherwood. While he played left tackle at Alabama, Leatherwood could move to right tackle in place of pending free agent Daryl Williams.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Buffalo go after an interior defensive lineman here. Christian Barmore, Daviyon Nixon, Jay Tufele, and Jaylen Twyman are all still on the board.
31. Green Bay Packers- Terrace Marshall Jr., WR LSU
Maybe it’s time the Packers finally listen to Aaron Rodgers. The 37-year-old led Green Bay to a 13-3 record while propelling Davante Adams to All-Pro heights, but the team’s wide receiver depth remains suspect. Adams missed two games in 2020, and he hasn’t played in all 16 games since 2016. With the Pro Bowler sidelined, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling become Rodgers’ top receiving threats. That’s not good enough.
At 6-3, 200 lbs., Marshall offers a physical complement to Adams. While he never produced eye-popping numbers on par with Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson, Marshall averaged over 100 yards per game this past season. As Rodgers approaches 40, the Packers should surround him with more offensive weapons (see Tampa Bay and Brady).
32. Kansas City Chiefs- Samuel Cosmi, OT Texas
The Chiefs could always use help on defense, but the best defensive backs and linebackers are already gone. Andy Reid’s team decides to fortify the offensive line here with a plug and play right tackle. Kansas City faces the possibility of losing Dan Kilgore, Kelechi Osemele, Austin Reiter, Mike Remmers, and Andrew Wylie to free agency. With up to five offensive linemen departing, the Chiefs can’t pass up drafting replacements.
Kansas City’s stud right tackle Mitchell Schwartz missed most of this season with a bad back. However, the 31-year-old’s return shouldn’t scare the Chiefs away from taking a tackle. Cosmi could spend some time at guard as a rookie and serve as insurance if Schwartz doesn’t fully recover. I should also point out that both of the team’s offensive tackles are free agents after the 2021 season, and they’re in line for huge paydays.
I wouldn’t rule out Kansas City taking a long look at Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey either. However, tackle is the higher value position, and Cosmi is the better prospect.
Christian Barmore, DT Alabama
Rashon Bateman, WR Minnesota
Creed Humphrey, IOL Oklahoma
Mac Jones, QB Alabama
Daviyon Nixon, DL Iowa
Asante Samuel Jr., CB Florida St.
Jay Tufele, DL USC
Jaylen Twyman, DL Pittsburgh
Shaun Wade, CB OSU