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2021 NFL Mock Draft: Round-by-Round Projections
Mock drafts are a lot of fun—no, really. They are my favorite part of this job. Playing matchmaker from team to player. Looking at team building philosophies, connecting intel learned from sources with instincts and a gut feel for what teams will do. It’s a blast, which is probably why I do more mock drafts than most analysts.
Starting today, I’m trying something new. A seven round mock draft with each round released in its own day. That also means each pick—all 259 of them—gets a write-up. So kind of a “day-by-day” mock draft, if you will.
Let’s dive in today with Round 1. The following rounds will begin publishing on Monday, April 5 and concluded with all seven rounds on Monday, April 12.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Pick: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
A lot of space has been used to describe Trevor Lawrence or why the Jacksonville Jaguars should draft him. What’s most important with the 2021 NFL Draft starting in less than a month is that the Jaguars will draft him. It’s locked up at this point with no change coming.
Lawrence is the top quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. He’s talented enough to have pulled Urban Meyer from a great job at Fox Sports into the NFL. And, if given time and solid weapons around him, he has the talent to be a top five NFL quarterback very soon.
2. New York Jets
The Pick: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
What will the New York Jets do? This is a question I’ve asked everyone in the NFL who will entertain the query. The overwhelming answer before the San Francisco 49ers traded up to No. 3 overall was that BYU quarterback Zach Wilson would go in this spot—but to which team was in question.
Now that the 49ers have moved up, it seems locked in that Wilson will be the pick by the New York Jets.
We, of course, can’t rule out the Jets’ brass falling in love with Justin Fields or Trey Lance or Mac Jones—or even deciding to keep Sam Darnold—but I would put the chances of a non-Wilson pick here at around 1 percent.
All signs point to Wilson being the next quarterback of the Jets.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from Miami Dolphins via Houston Texans)
The Pick: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
My mock drafts, unless noted otherwise, are based on what I’m hearing/think teams will do. With the No. 3 overall pick in the first round, I’m hearing the San Francisco 49ers will select Mac Jones.
This isn’t the pick I would make—Ohio State’s Justin Fields would be too tempting here with the knowledge that he can learn behind Jimmy Garoppolo for a season—but sources throughout the NFL believe the 49ers will select Jones.
There is a reason for the appeal. Jones is very accurate, very smart, has enough mobility and has played very well in the SEC and other big games during his 17 career starts.
If Kyle Shanahan is truly the one making this pick, it’s easy to believe he sees in Jones a version of Matt Ryan or Kirk Cousins that he can win with in San Francisco.
4. Atlanta Falcons
The Pick: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
The intrigue surrounding the 2021 NFL draft may start at No. 4 overall this year—at least in the sense that we know quarterbacks will be the first three picks. The Falcons could turn the draft upside down with their selection.
One thing I’m hearing consistently is that four quarterbacks will go in the first four picks. That could mean Atlanta makes a trade here, or it could be a smokescreen as the Falcons try to drum up interest in their pick, but it could also be that they realize the opportunity to select a top quarterback prospect doesn’t come around very often.
Matt Ryan feels locked in for two more years with his recent contract restructuring, but as he enters his age 36 season the Falcons have to be thinking long-term. If Justin Fields—a local prospect—is on the board, the Falcons have to consider it.
Fields is my QB2 in this draft. He’s an accurate, smart thrower with the added bonus of elite athleticism. And his best football is only ahead of him. Forget what you’ve read on Twitter about his ability to work off his first read. Watch him carve up the sophisticated Clemson defense to the tune of six touchdowns and it’ll tell you what you need to know about his ability to play and win from the pocket.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
The Pick: WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
All off-season I heard that the Cincinnati Bengals had homed in on offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the No. 5 overall pick. Then they were able to sign free agent left tackle Riley Reiff in free agency and it all changed.
Reiff is a solid starter; good enough to keep Burrow and his repaired knee up-right. And that allows Cincinnati to give Burrow what he wants—his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase catching touchdowns from him again.
Chase is the best receiver prospect in this class. At 6’0” and 201 pounds he plays with a physicality you simply don’t see from an average-sized receiver. He’s also an elite-level athlete.
And while wide receiver doesn’t rank as the team’s biggest need, Chase is viewed by NFL evaluators as a rare prospect. To have him available at No. 5 overall is too good to pass up.
6. Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia Eagles)
The Pick: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The Miami Dolphins made a calculated move to slide back from No. 3 overall to No. 12 and then trade up on the same day to acquire the No. 6 selection. The Dolphins’ thinking, as I’ve been told by sources around the NFL, is that one of the top pass-catchers are expected to be on the board here—either Chase or Florida’s offensive weapon Kyle Pitts.
Pitts, like Chase, is an elite prospect. Ranked No. 3 overall on my Big Board, he’s a weapon that most defenses aren’t equipped to handle. An added element of that is how a 6’6”, 250-pound tight end with 4.4 speed can create openings for his teammates—Pitts in the middle of the field or running seam routes makes the life of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker much easier.
The Dolphins also need a full season to evaluate Tua Tagovailoa now that he’s healthy and will likely have a full off-season ahead of him. Giving Tua these weapons is one great way to find out if he can elevate the offense.
7. Detroit Lions
The Pick: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
The Lions are a prime trade-back option if the board falls this way. I don’t consider them a quarterback pick based on intel from around the league and a team wanting to jump ahead of the quarterback-needy Carolina Panthers could make a move here. A team like the New England Patriots.
In this mock draft without trades predicted, the Lions fill the biggest need on the roster and get a wide receiver with excellent hands, super-smooth routes and four years of dynamic production at the premier football university.
A trade would maybe be the most ideal option here, but Smith is a very nice prospect and value at the No. 7 overall pick.
8. Carolina Panthers
The Pick: QB Trey Lance, NDSU
This pick may come via a trade up on draft day, but it feels more and more like the Panthers will be able to land a quarterback of the future with either a slight move up the board (even trading up one spot to secure the No. 7 choice) or potentially by holding steady.
Lance is a talented passer with a beautiful deep ball. He’s also been exposed to a lot of pro concepts at NDSU but has largely played in a run-first scheme. He could need a minute to develop in the NFL based on the speed of the game versus what he saw at the FCS level, but his early success could be driven by his athleticism and ability to create big plays.
The Panthers seem hell-bent on adding a successor to Teddy Bridgewater but could also audible and focus on the 2022 class. In that case, an offensive tackle (Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater) are exceptional values here and a need.
9. Denver Broncos
The Pick: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
The Broncos have a first-time general manager (George Paton) and a young roster full of exciting players waiting to break out; which also makes them a tough team to predict at No. 9 overall.
There isn’t a clear-cut need on the board after they signed Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby at cornerback and with Von Miller returning for the 2021 season. That leaves Denver at a “best player available at a need/future need” position. And with Garrett Bolles playing his best football in 2020, that need is a front seven defender.
Micah Parsons is an elite-level athlete with experience playing “stack” linebacker against the run, executing both man and zone coverage, and he’s an accomplished pass-rusher.
For the Broncos’ scheme, head coach Vic Fangio could have his Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman with Parsons in tow.
10. Dallas Cowboys
The Pick: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
The best scheme fit of any defensive player in the draft to a team—but will the Cowboys pass on elite offensive tackle prospects Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater to draft him?
Offensive tackle is not an immediate need in Dallas, but the health of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins makes it something the front office has to be aware of given both missed time in 2020. With Sewell and Slater slipping down the board, the Cowboys’ front office might be compelled to grab their future starter on the left side.
Based on what I’ve heard thus far, I’m sticking with the Surtain pick for now. The word is the Cowboys believe that with a healthy Dak Prescott and healthy offensive line, they’re a Super Bowl contender. Drafting Surtain to shore up the secondary helps them more in 2021 than a left tackle of the future pick.
11. New York Giants
The Pick: WR Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
The New York Giants signed Kenny Golladay in a big free agency move, but general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge believe quarterback Daniel Jones is talented enough to take them on a playoff run. When you have a good young quarterback there are two things you must do—protect him and surround him with weapons.
The Giants got the protection right last year with Andrew Thomas; now they can get another weapon for Jones in the speediest, most electric receiver prospect in the draft class.
Waddle can win from the slot, on the outside and can be a dangerous return man given his speed, start-stop ability and vision in the open field. He’s also a perfect complement to the big, physical Golladay.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers)
The Pick: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
A surprise slide for Slater, who I believe is a top 10 player in the class and arguably the best overall offensive lineman. The Philadelphia Eagles will happily end his slide.
Slater has experience at left tackle and excelled there before opting out of the 2020 season. There may be some teams who see him at 6’4 1/8” and think he’s a guard—and the Eagles could be one of those teams—but I believe he’s an NFL tackle.
In Philadelphia, Slater could be the answer at left tackle given the lack of proof thus far that Andre Dillard is the guy. He could also be the future answer at right guard where Brandon Brooks was the subject of trade talks before he restructured his deal.
The ability to play all five positions on the line—at least one team I’ve spoken to has Slater as the top center in the class—is intriguing and valuable. And for an offensive line that was banged up and underperforming last year, Slater would bring consistency from Day 1.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
The Pick: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
The Los Angeles Chargers will sprint to the podium if Penei Sewell is available at No. 13 overall.
The best left tackle in the class finds himself reunited with his former quarterback, Justin Herbert, and immediately makes the Chargers a better, more well-rounded team.
Sewell is being over-evaluated at this stage of the process. He started the 2021 draft process as the top tackle, opted out due to Covid-19, and somehow has seen his stock slip. It’s hard to understand, but some team will be very lucky to find him available later than he should be.
14. Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: EDGE Jaelan Phillips, Miami
The Vikings just miss out on the top offensive tackles but find the best pass-rusher in the class on the board. One year after missing in a trade to acquire Yannick Ngakoue, Mike Zimmer gets his power rusher opposite Danielle Hunter—or maybe even his replacement.
Jaelan Phillips was a five-star recruit when he signed with UCLA, but concussions (reportedly four of them) caused him to miss all but four games of the 2018 season. He ultimately retired from football and missed the 2019 season before transfering to Miami and enjoying a breakout 2020 season.
Phillips, if there weren’t any medical questions, would be a top 10 player in this class. If the Vikings’ doctors sign off on his medical history—and those medical checks are happening next weekend in Indianapolis—then he’s an exceptional value at No. 14 overall.
15. New England Patriots
The Pick: CB Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
The future of Stephon Gilmore is in question in New England, so Bill Belichick finds a suitable replacement in big, physical South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.
Horn is an exceptional player who seems to have fallen out of favor with the Twitter crowd but is my No. 2 ranked cornerback and a player I’ve heard NFL teams mention as a potential surprise pick in the top 10.
His ball skills, toughness, and physical style of play are all exactly what Belichick likes in a cornerback; not to mention his length and speed profile making him an ideal man coverage starter.
16. Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: LB Jamin Davis, Kentucky
One of my favorite players in the entire class falls to a beautiful situation for his talents.
Jamin Davis is a three-down difference maker at linebacker. My comparison for his game has been Darius Leonard, and that’s the type of role he could play in Arizona alongside Isaiah Simmons and Jordan Hicks in a replacement situation with Haason Reddick now a Carolina Panther.
Davis can play any of the three linebacker positions and produced at Kentucky in all three phases (run, pass, blitz) defensively. And as Hicks nears the end of his run in Arizona, Davis is primed to replace him as an every-down ‘backer.
17. Las Vegas Raiders
The Pick: S Trevon Moehrig, TCU
The middle of the field will be a problem for the Las Vegas Raiders until they hit on the players acquired to fix it.
TCU defender Trevon Moehrig is the best safety in this class as a talented centerfielder with the versatility to play match-up coverage across the board. And when you have to deal with Patrick Mahomes II and Justin Herbert four times a year, you need all the versatile coverage weapons you can get.
Pass-rusher, especially on the interior, could be a consideration here but it feels like secondary is the team’s focus based on conversations with NFL sources.
18. Miami Dolphins
The Pick: EDGE Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Previous Pick: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The Dolphins grabbed an elite offensive weapon earlier in the round and now hit on the best speed-rusher in the class with Georgia’s explosive Azeez Ojulari.
A first-step nightmare for offensive tackles, Ojulari might debut as a situational pass-rusher but has the tools to become a very good three-down player in the mold of a Harold Landry-type outside linebacker.
The Dolphins could look at offensive line and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise here—same with running back—but a 10-6 team is likely looking for players who can put them over the top. Ojulari’s skillset can do that.
19. Washington Football Team
The Pick: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Finding a highly rated offensive tackle on the board at No. 19 overall is a huge boost for the Washington Football Team.
Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw most often projects as a rookie right tackle, but I’ve seen enough athleticism in his tape to believe he can hang on the left side early on in a scheme that will get the ball out quick and give him some help as he acclimates.
Most importantly, Darrisaw will give Washington a left tackle of the future to build around once they do land their long-term quarterback answer.
20. Chicago Bears
The Pick: OT Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
No quarterback on the board is a value—plus they have QB1 Andy Dalton—so the Bears address a current and future need with the versatile Alijah Vera-Tucker.
A guard by trade, Vera-Tucker slide outside to left tackle in 2020 and was arguably the most impressive offensive lineman in the entire nation. He's showed the quick feet and hands needed to survive on the outside in the pros if the Bears opted to keep him there.
Otherwise, he is a high-floor/high-ceiling guard prospect with immediate starting ability.
21. Indianapolis Colts
The Pick: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
This is a really good roster outside of a question mark at left tackle and uncertainty about the quarterback who struggled in 2020 after being an MVP candidate not that long ago.
The Colts can’t do anything at pick No. 21 to add certainty to the Carson Wentz-situation and there isn’t a left tackle of value at this spot with Darrisaw and Vera-Tucker coming off the board previously. So it’s onto the next biggest need. Pass-rusher.
Paye is a powerful end with the hand skills and burst to be an instant-impact as a situational/role rusher. He has the body type to develop into a full three-down player very soon.
And in a deep offensive tackle class, look for Chris Ballard to work his scouting magic in Round 2.
22. Tennessee Titans
The Pick: WR Kadarius Toney, Florida
While not the pick some Tennessee Titans fans want, with Kadarius Toney on the board the front office might not have a choice.
Toney is exactly what Mike Vrabel and his coaching staff have wanted for three years now—an electric playmaker at wide receiver who can line up in the slot and outside and be a yards-after-catch producer.
A.J. Brown is a certified star at wide receiver, but with Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith leaving in free agency there is a gap as the second option in this offense. Toney can be that as Ryan Tannehill’s new threat.
23. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
The Pick: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
Previous Pick: QB Zach Wilson, BYU
Caleb Farley was being mentioned as a potential top 10 pick a month ago. Then reports surfaced that he was having a back spasm issue cleaned up via a microdiscectomy. Concerns about Farley’s injury history—he’s also had a knee injury in the past—could push him to the early 20s.
On the field, Farley is special. He’s the fastest corner in the class on the field and has excellent ball skills. As long as the Jets are comfortable with his injury history, they would be grabbing a starting cornerback and potential Pro Bowl type player much later than he should be projected.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: RB Najee Harris, Alabama
Sometimes picks are very obvious; so much so that we might avoid predicting them because they seem boring.
But if Najee Harris is on the board for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it makes too much sense to not happen.
The Steelers have made multiple comments about getting back to the run game, and to date there isn’t a running back on the roster who can realistically carry the load as RB1. Harris can do that, plus be an excellent threat out of the backfield as a receiver.
And while he doesn’t have Le’Veon Bell’s shiftiness in space, he’s exactly the type of back Pittsburg needs to replace how valuable Bell was to the offense.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Los Angeles Rams)
The Pick: S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame
Previous Pick: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
This pick is all about value. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is one of the best defenders in this class but questions about his NFL position push him down the board.
Urban Meyer will understand the value of a difference maker in match-up situations on defense; and that’s what Owusu-Koramoah brings to the table. At the Notre Dame pro day he worked out at defensive line, linebacker and safety at 221 pounds to show off his versatility.
Put him on the field and let him thrive. Much like Myles Jack, JOK can have a huge role in the NFL.
26. Cleveland Browns
The Pick: EDGE Jayson Oweh, Penn State
What can speed do for you? Well it can enhance your pass rush, that’s for sure.
Jayson Oweh’s 4.36 speed at 6’5” and 257 pounds is unreal. And yes, detractors will point out he didn’t have a sack in 2020, but he produced just fine in 2019 in a “normal” season.
Coaches also have to believe that they can harness Oweh’s raw ability and get the best of him. It will help, too, that Myles Garrett is there to help Oweh learn the tools of the trade.
27. Baltimore Ravens
The Pick: WR Terrace Marshall, LSU
Dear Eric DeCosta,
Please give Lamar Jackson a big-bodied wide receiver who is an effective route-runner.
Terrace Marshall is a 6’3”, 210-pounder who blazed a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the LSU pro day and has produced for two years at high levels with an elite quarterback (Joe Burrow, 2019) and without one (2020).
That’s the type of skillset Jackson needs to expand his strike zone as a thrower.
28. New Orleans Saints
The Pick: CB Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
I wanted to surprise everyone with a quarterback pick here, but can’t pull the trigger yet. I do think the Saints will look hard in Round 2, but this is too early for Kyle Trask or the other passers.
Instead, the Saints get a cornerback who frustrated every good quarterback he faced in 2020. Newsome has the length and instincts to be a big-time problem for opposing NFL passers, too. His timing and range in coverage could make him an early starter and high-caliber player.
29. Green Bay Packers
The Pick: WR Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
They finally do it. The Green Bay Packers draft a wide receiver in the first round. And oh boy, he’s a good one.
Moore is an aggressive, fiery receiver who makes up for his lack of size (5’8 5/8”, 185 lbs) with elite speed and quickness. He’s fearless, which may work against him in the NFL at times, and will be an immediate impact on underneath and go routes with his special speed.
Unfortunately, the Packers will probably draft a developmental offensive lineman here and force Aaron Rodgers to leave after the 2021 season.
30. Buffalo Bills
The Pick: RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
I believe the Bills would be all over Elijah Moore if he were available, but with the board not falling that direction they instead fix the running game and add a speedy threat in the passing game with Clemson’s Travis Etienne.
I’ve been an Etienne critic as he needs to be in a scheme that allows him to run off-tackle and work in space. The Bills will let him do that operating off RPO carries and quick tosses from a running threat at quarterback in Josh Allen.
If defenses are keying on Allen, Etienne’s speed will be a big-time problem in Buffalo.
31. Kansas City Chiefs
The Pick: OT Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
A right tackle for the most part in college, Teven Jenkins told me last month that he’s comfortable playing on the left side. That’s music to the ears of the Kansas City Chiefs, who couldn’t reel in a free agent left tackle.
Jenkins is a powerful run blocker and mean finisher when he gets his hands on a defender. He also has the size and length to be effective cutting off the backside on all those beautiful Patrick Mahomes rollout passes.
Brett Veach could always surprise us with a wide receiver pick here, but Jenkins feels like a match of need and value they can’t ignore.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Pick: EDGE Joseph Ossai, Texas
The Buccaneers return all 22 starters from the Super Bowl, which means this is a roster with few actual needs. Instead, general manager Jason Licht will look to bolster positions—like edge-rusher—where there could be a future need.
Texas’ pass-rusher Joseph Ossai had a brilliant first season getting after the quarterback in 2020, but his relative lack of experience coming off the edge could work against him when NFL teams view the tape. One scout told me Ossai is a “try-hard”, which should be a good thing but wasn’t meant as one. The word is that he’s more of a motor and effort player than someone who wins with athleticism.
Hopefully his pro day workout quieted those critics after he broad jumped 11-feet and posted a 41.5-inch vertical jump to go with a 4.63-second run in the 40-yard dash.
Come back for Round 2 of the seven-round mock draft on Monday, April 5!