Photo courtesy of Tom Pennington – Getty Images
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s NFL Draft season. The best NFL moment of the year for devout college football fans, and vice versa for the NFL fans. Whether it be the end of an era, or a new beginning, these prospects are set to have their lifelong dreams finally come true. So what stands between them and their new reality? A single phone call to Roger Goodell from their new general manager.
In this mock draft, I will be giving my projections for just how long that will take for every player slated to go in the first round of the 2021 Draft. Now, I understand that trades are often made on or around Draft Day, but as of right now those are all strictly hypothetical so I’ll stick to the order as-is, as of April 6th. This is version 1.0, and adjustments can (and will) be made in subsequent versions as more information comes out in the days leading up to April 29th.
Without further adieu; Alex Trader’s 2021 NFL Mock Draft 1.0
1. QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) – Jacksonville
This is the single surest pick in this year’s NFL Draft. It seems as though Trevor Lawrence has been destined for this outcome since his showing in the 2018 National Championship game against Alabama. In fact, I’d argue that performance may be the single greatest reason we will see Lawrence off the board.
While I certainly can’t fault the Jags for this pick, I don’t have Lawrence as my QB1 in this draft. I do, however, think that he is one of the two true franchise quarterbacks that we will see in this year’s class, and I can’t think of a better coach to help develop one of the top college prospects that we have seen in a decade.
2. QB Zach Wilson (BYU) – New York (Jets)
With the Jets trading away their 2018 1st-round QB selection for breadcrumbs, this selection is also all but official. For weeks now I have heard from everyone and their mother that Zach Wilson is the 2nd best quarterback in the draft and while I couldn’t disagree more, word around the league is that the draft starts at Pick #3 because the first two are set in stone.
Wilson may have an upside that I’m not giving enough credit to, but his performance at BYU was underwhelming in my eyes, and we saw him struggle in the one “true” test the Cougars faced in 2020. Without a 40 time at his Pro-Day, there’s no way to compare his straight-line speed with those of his dual-threat adversaries, and scouts have brought up character as a potential issue for some teams. As for the Jets, they seem to think they have their guy in Wilson and he may well prove me wrong, but I’m not counting on it.
3. QB Justin Fields (Ohio State) – San Francisco
Now before you write me off from being able to reliably talk about Justin Fields because of his time at Ohio State, hear me out. I’ve seen every snap of Fields’ career, and truly believe that he is the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the 2021 draft class. That’s not to say I think he will go ahead of Lawrence or Wilson, but I could see him being a generational talent at the position.
A 4.3 40 time (with a stumble) and some of the best arm talent not only in college football, but at the next level as well certainly back up my claim. As well as that, Fields will have every opportunity to thrive in the 49ers system I have him projected to fall into. I don’t buy into the “but Ohio State can’t produce NFL quarterbacks” garbage, and to be honest it’s been some of the laziest (and dumbest) scouting thrown out in this cycle.
With all that being said, as with any draft prospect there are no guarantees. There may be an adjustment period into the NFL, but I’d argue that Fields, along with Lawrence, are the two most sure success stories at QB since Andrew Luck came into the league in 2012.
4. TE Kyle Pitts (Florida) – Atlanta
Too fast for linebackers and too big for corners, Kyle Pitts is the biggest matchup nightmare that I’ve seen in a long time. For that reason, I have the Atlanta Falcons scooping him up with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft.
It’s not every day you have a 6’6″, 240 lb tight end who can run a 4.44 40 yard dash. That lightning quick speed paired with his freakish ability to seemingly come down with every ball tossed his way, makes him, for my money, the most impactful non-QB in the draft.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Falcons take a QB should the Niners stray from Fields, but under Matt Ryan whom I believe has a few years of championship level play left in the tank, the team does have some chances to build around him. While the offense is pretty loaded as is with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Todd Gurley, Pitts would be an instant bonus to an already potent unit.
Pitts is a pro-bowler in waiting in my eyes, and him slipping out of the Top-10 would be a huge mistake as he’s as close to a sure thing as you’ll get at the tight end position.
5. OT Penei Sewell (Oregon) – Cincinnati
Speaking of a sure thing, Penei Sewell was getting projections even higher than the five-spot when the Bengals were expected to finish worse. Sewell sat out of the 2020 COVID season, but that hasn’t taken anything from his stock as the best offensive tackle in the class.
Cincinnati is still far from being a complete team, but the bulk of these holes happen to be on the offensive line. Joe Burrow suffered a leg injury midway through the year, and it derailed what was a promising year for the young QB. Despite this, Burrow has reportedly been pushing for management to grab his LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase with this pick. Our Ben Bryant said it best in his mock, “While the Burrow-Chase connection is good, if Cincinnati doesn’t do anything about their o-line it won’t last long.” Sewell is an absolute must for the Bengals if they want any chance in returning to the regular season success they enjoyed throughout the 2010’s.
6. WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) – Miami
I won’t be able to segue all of these selections, but this one works out about as well as possible. Ja’Marr Chase is an elite receiver, and for my money he is the top (true) wideout in this draft. Just over 6’0″ 200 lbs, Chase posted a speedy 4.38 40 at his Pro-Day, and that’s just a small portion of what he can do for an offense. In his 2019 run, he was able to haul in 84 passes for 1780 yards and 20 touchdowns, making his lack of a 2020 season somewhat irrelevant to draft experts.
As for the Dolphins, their 10-6 finish came as somewhat of a shock, and they’ll look to make that final playoff push in 2021. Chase will have the opportunity to step into a quasi Justin Jefferson role in Miami, with little stopping him from coming into Week 1 as the clear 1st option. Will that be enough to push the team over the edge? Only time will tell, but Chase is the right pick given the options so I think it’s fair to expect this choice.
7. Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) – Detroit
Jaylen Waddle isn’t far behind Chase in my receiver rankings, and he just so happens to be the next guy off the board in this mock. Despite a brutal ankle injury in the 2020 season, Waddle fought back against the odds and played (although hobbled) in the National Championship game when there was no real benefit to him in doing so.
That type of team-first attitude, along with his reputation as the most explosive wideout in college football in his time at Alabama will give Jared Goff an apt replacement for Kenny Golladay. There is really nothing stopping Waddle from walking into Detroit and being their clear #1, with only T.J. Hockenson and DeAndre Swift as truly viable options for the new QB.
8. OT Rashawn Slater (Northwestern) – Carolina
Rashawn Slater is a phenomenal player at the tackle position, and would be the #1 OT in most other draft classes. Despite him falling a bit, I doubt he slips past this 8 spot as he has been so highly regarded in this cycle.
As well as Slater’s individual merit, this pick makes every bit of sense for the Carolina Panthers. Trey Lance seems to be out of the picture for the team after trading for Sam Darnold Monday afternoon, and what better way to welcome him than with one of the top lineman in the country. This will be a huge pickup for the Panthers, and with the depth among the WR class this is a no-brainer for me.
9. QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State) – Denver
Full disclosure on this one; I’ve projected Lance to Carolina since the draft order was set, and that trade forced a slight rewrite for a couple of these picks. The result? Denver gets one of the two guys they were looking at as their potential franchise guy. Completely writing off Drew Lock as a bust seems a tad premature, but to act like he’s the guy would be living in a tad bit of delusion.
All that to essentially say, I believe that Justin Fields will be off the board at 3, leaving Trey Lance. Denver adding a beast opposite Von Miller could be huge for a defense that was injury prone last season. I do think the Broncos are a QB (and maybe just a couple solid hits in the latter rounds) from contending for a wild card spot in the AFC. Trey Lance, while I’m not quite as sold as him as others, has the athletic ability to be a guy who won’t lose you games, and may even be able to win you a couple along the way.
10. CB Patrick Surtain II (Alabama) – Dallas
In a draft without a signature defensive prospect, I believe Pat Surtain will come off the board first at the ten spot. Calling Dallas’ 2020 season a dumpster fire would be unfair to dumpster fires. Some of this was due to factors outside their control, most notably the injury suffered by Dak Prescott. Most of the other issues, however, were found on the defensive side of the ball. To be quite frank, the Cowboys secondary was abysmal last year, and Surtain is the best DB in the draft.
Though his dad had 29 interceptions in 7 seasons with the Dolphins, I can’t see Miami reaching on Surtain at 6. The younger Surtain had just 4 interceptions in his 3 years at Alabama, but at 6’2″ 200 lbs he has elite size to be able to cover nearly any assignment he’s given. If he can step in and become that shutdown corner for the Cowboys over time, this team can get back into form, but going anywhere but defense here is a huge misstep for Dallas.
11. WR Devonta Smith (Alabama) – New York (Giants)
I assume this will be one of the more surprising picks in this mock, as many have Smith falling no further than Detroit. I understand the hype, I really do. He was the first WR to bring home the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991, and I’m not discounting that. I do, however, believe both of the wideouts I have mocked ahead of him are more physically gifted, and thus will be able to be more impactful at the next level.
Nonetheless, the Giants will be beyond thrilled to see him available at 11. They were able to bring in Kenny Golladay and John Ross in free-agency, but I don’t think that will be enough help for Daniel Jones. This is a team that almost made the playoffs last year (albeit in the worst division in football), and they have to match the firepower being brought into the East to be able to maintain that competitiveness.
12. CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) – Philadelphia
The 2nd defender off the board is Jaycee Horn, the stud cornerback out of South Carolina. Horn is one of the best cover corners in the draft, and this fit couldn’t make more sense if it tried. Despite the addition of Darius Slay last year, the Eagles secondary was a supreme liability (as well as QB, WR, and much more), so someone like Horn will be huge for a team looking to contend in the NFC Beast.
13. OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) – Los Angeles (Chargers)
14. S Trevon Moehrig (TCU) – Minnesota
15. LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame) – New England
16. CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) – Arizona
I think this could be the section where this 1st round gets a little funky. Due to a couple of unexpected picks, some of the prospects that guys like McShay may have going in this stretch will already be off the board. The biggest (no pun intended) of these being Rashawn Slater, which leads to Christian Darrisaw being taken by the Chargers. LA is in dire need of an offensive line, and I think this is easily the best remaining option. As well as Darrisaw, Caleb Farley will go in this stretch, falling to the Cardinals. There aren’t too many holes left in that Arizona team, but with Patrick Peterson taking a step back in 2020 this is a great option for Kliff Kingsbury.
New England is being slated by many to take a QB, but with Jones the only remaining 1st rounder in my projections, I see them holding off and instead re-upping at the linebacker position. Minnesota, as opposed to Arizona, does have quite a few holes to fill, and they burned the team many times in 2020. Trevon Moehrig is a great pick at the safety position, and though he might be a slight reach at 14 I think this is the right move for the Vikings.
17. OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State) – Las Vegas
18. LB Micah Parsons (Penn State) – Miami
19. WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) – Washington
20. QB Mac Jones (Alabama) – Chicago
Finally we see the wunderkind of this draft off the board. I’ve been very lukewarm on Mac Jones since his stock became a routine topic of conversation, but I do think this is a pick that the Bears have to make. While Jones may not be your QB of the future, he can only improve upon the woes which have plagued an otherwise potential filled roster. The ability to sit a year behind Andy Dalton could be huge for Jones’ development, and this one is a no-brainer for Chicago.
As for the remainder of this run, I think we see a fairly diverse array of selections. The Raiders seemed to have found some answers in their 8-8 2020 campaign, but with Trent Brown’s departure a tackle is a necessity for Jon Gruden’s squad. At 18 & 19, I have the pair of Big Ten selections, and these guys are steals this late in the 1st. Bateman has been overshadowed by Chase, Waddle, and Smith, but he’s the real deal out of Minnesota and Washington could certainly use some talent at the position. Parsons sat out in 2020, but he will fill a hole in Miami’s stout defense, and make them true contenders in the AFC East.
21. EDGE Kwity Paye (Michigan) – Indianapolis
22. CB Greg Newsome II (Northwestern) – Tennessee
23. RB Travis Etienne (Clemson) – New York (Jets)
24. RB Najee Harris (Alabama) – Pittsburgh
Boy oh boy we have our first little run at the tailback position in the 21-24 section of the draft with Travis Etienne and Najee Harris. I think these two have been far and away the best backs on most teams’ boards, so it’s no surprise to see them go to two teams that are in dire need at the position.
The AFC South teams, however, choose to bolster their defensive sides of the ball with Kwity Paye and Greg Newsome. Newsome missed a fair bit of time in 2020, but when he was able to find the field he was as lockdown as they come. Being able to island off a part of the field is a major skill for outside corners, and that’s exactly what Newsome brings. As for Paye, this pick makes a whole lot of sense for a team known historically for dominant fronts such as the one featuring Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Not to say Paye is exactly that, but he’s a good start in building back towards that level of talent.
25. OT Walker Little (Stanford) – Jacksonville
26. EDGE Jaelan Phillips (Miami) – Cleveland
27. EDGE Gregory Rousseau (Miami) – Baltimore
28. CB Asante Samuel Jr. (Florida State) – New Orleans
This is Cleveland’s first time picking 26th since 1964, where they selected Billy Truax. Browns fans are hoping for a better outcome with this pick, as the tight end suffered a torn hamstring in training camp and never played a down for the team.
I have an emphasis on the trenches in this run of the draft, including back-to-back edges coming off the board in Phillips and Rousseau. Jacksonville will be looking to protect their newly drafted franchise-quarterback, and would be more than happy with Little slipping to them at the 25 slot. Asante Samuel Jr. out of FSU is the outlier in this run, and for good reason. A 4.45 40 time and 3 interceptions in 2020 give the Saints a solid replacement for Janoris Jenkins.
29. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU) – Green Bay
30. DL Christian Barmore (Stanford) – Buffalo
31. EDGE Aziz Ojulari (Georgia) – Kansas City
32. EDGE Jayson Oweh (Penn State) – Tampa Bay
In 2020, the Green Bay Packers did the unthinkable by trading up to draft Jordan Love in juxtaposition to getting some help for their Hall-of-Famer Aaron Rodgers. That move brought a wave of rumors that Rodgers would ask to be traded, and those rumors reached their peak after the team’s 31-26 loss in the NFC Championship game. This year, they right the ship and bring in LSU’s other stud wideout Terrace Marshall Jr.
As for the rest of the final four, it’ll be a run on defense for teams that are looking to bolster their already winning rosters. All 3 of these guys are people I have falling due to need in other organizations, so we could see a major player going to one of Kansas City, Buffalo, or Tampa.