Sam Crnic dives into the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, providing his thoughts on how it might swing for all 32 picks.
As the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars continue their fight for the No. 1 overall pick—with each team seeming like a lock to select a quarterback—the other 30 teams head into the 2021 NFL draft with a variety of different options on the table.
With the current climate of COVID-19, this will be the strangest draft in quite some time. Teams will be drafting guys in the first round who haven’t played since 2019. Scouts will be forced to use 2019 tape to assess the talent of a 2021 prospect.
Let’s take an early look at what could happen in this unprecedented first round on April 29, 2021. The draft order is based on the league standings as of the conclusion of Week 14’s Thursday night game.
As always, feel free to contact me on Twitter (@sam_crnic) regarding any draft questions, as I will be more than happy to answer them. On that note, let’s dive in.
1. New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence | QB, Clemson
Picking up a crucial last-second loss against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Jets are still in the driver’s seat of the Trevor Lawrence tank. Representing the best QB prospect in this draft and recent memory, Lawrence at No. 1 is a no-brainer to every single NFL team.
If they land him, how quickly and effectively the Jets build around Lawrence remains the largest question.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Fields | QB, Ohio State
Going head-to-head with Trevor Lawrence as the best QB prospect in the class of 2021 since high school, Justin Fields is the pick for Jacksonville as the Jaguars avoid hopping on the Zach Wilson hype train. Along with his unique combination of arm talent and the ability to take off with his legs, Fields comes out of college as one of the most efficient QBs that college football has ever seen. His career passer rating of 184.7 is second-best in NCAA history behind only Tua Tagovailoa (199.4).
Regardless, Zach Wilson remains a possibility with this pick.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell | OT, Oregon
The first 2020 opt-out off the board, Penei Sewell is one of the most talented tackles to come out of the draft in recent years. Deciding against the risks of COVID-19, Penei sat out this season. He will be ready to protect 2019 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow in good health.
Despite sitting out, Sewell’s dominance over the course of his freshman and sophomore seasons warrants a top 3 pick.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons | LB, Penn. State
Rarely in the top five of the draft, the Cowboys have to make this one count just as they did with the Ezekiel Elliott pick. With a variety of options at different positions of need, Dallas goes with the best inside linebacker in the nation with Micah Parsons.
Another highly-regarded 2020 opt-out, Parsons has already shown desire in joining America’s Team and would create leadership and talent in a defense that desperately needs it.
5. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater | OT, Northwestern
The Los Angeles Chargers are a hot mess. Poorly coached in all three phases, a new coach seems to be needed, but a better supporting cast up front will also be key to give newly-drafted quarterback Justin Herbert the best opportunity to succeed at a high level. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers’ offensive line ranks 27th in pass-blocking efficiency this season.
Bringing in the most versatile offensive lineman in the draft will help the Chargers in this regard. Having experience as a tackle, guard and even center, the only thing holding Rashawn Slater back as the first offensive lineman taken off the board is his lack of length compared to Sewell.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Devonta Smith | WR, Alabama
Lighting up the SEC with superb route running and catching ability, Devonta Smith manages to overthrow LSU opt-out Ja’Marr Chase as WR1 in this mock, coming to an Eagles team deprived of receiver talent.
After drafting Jalen Reagor in 2019 and witnessing an injury-ridden rookie season filled with poor route running, the Eagles take another shot on a wide receiver. Smith becomes the pick over Chase purely based on his spectacular route running ability displayed at Alabama.
7. Carolina Panthers: Zach Wilson | QB, BYU
The highest riser of 2020, Zach Wilson showcases an intriguing combination of raw arm talent and off-script playmaking, making him the prototypical modern QB. At No. 7, the Carolina Panthers don’t need a QB right away, with Teddy Bridgewater having a career year, but they cannot pass on the special product out of BYU.
With a year on the sidelines and former LSU pass coordinator Joe Brady as his offensive coordinator (for now), Wilson has a chance to be the most successful QB out of all the ones selected in the first round.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Kwity Paye | DE, Michigan
Just like the Jets, the Atlanta Falcons have been searching for an impactful edge rusher for quite some time now. Before the season started, I had Gregory Rousseau locked in as the best edge in the class of 2021, but with Rousseau opting out of the season, Paye has taken that spot for now thanks to a productive 2020 campaign.
An explosive athlete who’s effective in both the run and pass game, the Falcons may have finally found their answer at edge.
9. Miami Dolphins (via Houston Texans): Ja’Marr Chase | WR, LSU
While the reuniting of Alabama teammates Jaylen Waddle and Tua Tagovailoa seems tempting, the Dolphins can’t pass on Ja’Marr Chase. Pairing him alongside Devante Parker, Chan Gailey gets a second star WR to work with.
Setting the single-season SEC record in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2019, Chase would’ve been the No. 1 WR off the board if it wasn’t for opting out of his junior season following LSU’s championship run. As I broke down in detail, he has all of the tools to become a star at the next level.
10. Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II | CB, Alabama
The best corner in this draft, Patrick Surtain II looks to achieve the kind of success his dad (Patrick Surtain) enjoyed while playing for the Dolphins and Chiefs, making three Pro Bowls.
Combining great ball skills and a suffocating aggressive nature, Surtain II has everything it takes to succeed in the NFL. Going offense in the first two rounds of last year’s draft, the Broncos go defense this time around, getting themselves a steal at a position of need.
11. Washington Football Team: Trey Lance | QB, North Dakota State
With the sudden emergence of Zach Wilson taking over the QB3 spot, the Washington Football Team should be ecstatic to land Trey Lance here. Deciding against Dwayne Haskins as the future of the franchise, Washington has to get another QB in the offseason to compete alongside Alex Smith.
12. Detroit Lions: Jaylen Waddle | WR, Alabama
Facing big needs on both sides of the ball, Detroit must take the top guy left on the board at this spot, regardless of position. Here, it happens to be a WR, which very well could be a big hole for Detroit with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Marvin Hall all set to hit free agency.
Waddle showed a lot of promise alongside Devonta Smith with Alabama in 2020, but a season-ending ankle injury ended his hopes of going top 10. If healthy, Waddle brings a lot of juice and speed to a team deprived of both.
13. Chicago Bears: Alijah Vera-Tucker | OG, USC
What the Chicago Bears really need here is a quarterback, but they simply cannot afford to pass on better talent at another position to reach for Alabama’s Mac Jones, who I have as QB5 by a wide margin behind the top-four prospects that have already gone off the board by this point. There’s a chance they could trade up come April 29, but if they don’t, expect the next best option to be addressing the offensive line.
Mitchell Trubisky‘s lack of development was partially to blame on the abysmal line in front of him. Alijah Vera-Tucker is having a fantastic season for the Trojans and should be considered IOL1 for now.
14. San Francisco 49ers: Caleb Farley | CB, Virginia Tech
With needs at offensive line and quarterback but no worthy values at this spot, the San Francisco 49ers decide to take the best available defensive back on the board. Originally thought of as a top 10 pick, Caleb Farley’s value may drop due to opting out of the 2020 season.
If the 49ers don’t trade up and get one of the top four QBs in the first round, cornerback may be their next priority due to how many of their own CBs could potentially leave in 2021 free agency. Emmanuel Moseley, Jason Verrett, Jamar Taylor, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams and Richard Sherman are all about to become free agents.
15. New England Patriots: Greg Rousseau | DE, Miami
While most (if not all) mock drafts have the Patriots taking an offensive skill position at No. 16, I don’t see them passing on Greg Rousseau if he is available here. Exploding onto the scene in 2019 as a freakish athlete and dynamic pass rusher, Rousseau would have been a top 10 pick if not opting out of the 2020 season.
A short resume of games played as an edge will hurt Rousseau, but with all of the physical tools required to be an elite pass rusher, Bill Belichick should have fun with this one.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Kyle Pitts | TE, Florida
One of the most exciting players of the 2020 season, Kyle Pitts comes to the already-talented Cardinals offense led by DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray. With the TE problem unaddressed so far in Arizona, Pitts brings the pass-catching ability of a WR and the frame of a TE to become an instant red-zone threat.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Wyatt Davis | OG, Ohio State
Able to secure a steal in Patrick Queen a year ago, the Ravens might have another multi-talented player fall to them in 2021. Coming off of poor offensive line play in 2020, Baltimore has to address this issue in either the draft or free agency.
Wyatt Davis is a physical mauler of men in the trenches and would fit the Baltimore persona immediately. With such a reliance on their offensive line to deliver lanes in their run-heavy offense, Davis has to be the pick here.
18. Las Vegas Raiders: Azeez Ojulari | DE, Georgia
Having a monster redshirt sophomore season for Georgia, Azeez Ojulari may be a top 15 pick when it’s all said and done. The bigger role he’s received in college, the better and more effective he’s become. Needing immediate help in the trenches, Azeez provides alignment versatility and a refined toolbox for a young and struggling defense.
Mike Mayock is quickly forming a very formidable defensive line in Las Vegas.
19. New York Giants: Jaycee Horn | CB, South Carolina
One of my favorite prospects of the draft, the New York Giants are pairing up James Bradberry with another very talented perimeter corner. Jaycee, the son of former pro-bowler Joe Horn, has the length and aggressive nature required to be an instant star in New York’s secondary.
With culture as the main priority in Joe Judge’s control, Horn will fit in just nicely.
20. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Darrisaw | OT, Virginia Tech
With both of the elite guard prospects already off the board, the Minnesota Vikings go with their next best option along the offensive line in Christian Darrisaw. Making a name for himself so far in 2020, I can see Darrisaw jumping to the top 15 of this draft if his play remains consistent with what’s already on tape.
An effective run blocker with quick feet, Darrisaw fits the Vikings wide zone offense perfectly.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jaelan Phillips | DE, Miami
With Shaquil Barrett potentially leaving in free agency, the Buccaneers may need to land another pass rusher. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can easily go with CB or another tackle after drafting Tristan Wirfs in 2020, Philips gives the most value at this point of the draft. The former 5-star prospect had a rocky start to his collegiate career but has found a niche once transferring to Miami.
Unable to stay healthy at UCLA, his 2020 season has been nothing short of spectacular. Expect Phillips’ stock to keep rising as April comes closer.
22. Miami Dolphins: Zaven Collins | LB, Tulsa
While I’m not the only one to put Zaven Collins in this slot, I love the potential of this kid’s athleticism and versatility in Brian Flores‘ heavy disguise defensive scheme. Not only can he align outside as an edge threat, but he can also work back inside and drop into coverage when needed.
I would watch this prospect closely, as Collins could easily be already off the board once the No. 22 pick is on the clock.
23. Indianapolis Colts: Jalen Mayfield | OT, Michigan
A powerful blocker with the mentality of putting defenders in the dirt, Jalen Mayfield is still young and offers a lot of upside to upgrade an open spot at left tackle due to the aging Anthony Castonzo. In order to protect their 39-year-old QB in Philip Rivers – or whoever is under center next year – Mayfield has to be the pick.
Even though he’s played right tackle for most of his career, I can see Indianapolis switching around the offensive line to fit in Mayfield.
24. Tennessee Titans: Jay Tufele | DL, USC
Yet another 2020 opt-out, Tufele could slip in the first round to an interior defensive line needy team. With former USC DL Jurrell Casey leaving in the 2020 offseason, Tufele would have large shoes to fill. Regardless, the Titans could use more talent at the defensive forefront, with Tufele representing a perfect fit.
Paired up with the much-improved Jeffery Simmons, the Titans DL could be a force to be reckoned with.
25. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Teven Jenkins | OT, Oklahoma State
One of the most impressive offensive linemen on tape this year, Teven Jenkins called it quits on the 2020 season a week ago. While this isn’t the edge, CB or WR talent the Jets so desperately need, the Jets still need plenty of OL help, and Jenkins is a versatile lineman with a lot of nastiness to his game.
Teven Jenkins over the last two seasons at Oklahoma State
🔸 582 pass-blocking snaps
🔸 11 QB pressures allowed
🔸 0 sacks pic.twitter.com/pr3efLnset
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 3, 2020
Jenkins generates quite a pop off the snap that will remind Jets fans of watching Mekhi Becton force defenders away from the play and into the ground. With quick feet at six-foot-six, 320-pounds and the ability to finish defenders into the dirt, Jenkins would be a mirror image of Becton at the opposite tackle spot. George Fant has been decent, but with this move, Joe Douglas decides to set his sights higher than that. The Jets can cut Fant after this season and save $7.4 million in cap room while taking on only $2 million in dead money.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Los Angeles Rams): Elijah Molden | CB, Washington
With a tough choice between Georgia CB Eric Stokes and Molden, the Jacksonville Jaguars go with the nickel corner from Washington. One of the best corners on film, Elijah opted back into the 2020 and impressed many with his play. While some say his best position is base safety at the NFL level, I love his potential at slot corner regardless of the defensive scheme.
Posting Pro Football Focus’s second-highest coverage grade in 2019, Molden’s exceptional combination of quickness and ball awareness moves him into the first round.
27. Cleveland Browns: Joseph Ossai | DE, Texas
A versatile edge rusher who can be placed at the WILL (weakside linebacker) as well, Joseph Ossai could be a great addition for a Browns team that has Myles Garrett penciled in on the other side of the line. Already posting career highs in sacks (5.5) and tackle-for-losses (15.5), Joseph is still a relatively raw prospect who could easily find himself drafted in the late first round.
Once in the NFL, Ossai’s love for the game and unique physical build will give him the potential to become a star.
28. Buffalo Bills: Trey Smith | OG, Tennessee
As dominant and bruising off the ball as you’d want your guard to be, Smith would be a great addition for a Bills team who seemingly have no surefire answer at LG or RG. Bouncing back from a blood clot scare in 2018, Trey impressed in 2019 as well as 2020, consistently helping his team in the pass and run game.
While the Bills look to be losing a couple of key defensive pieces in 2021, addressing guard is crucial to help Josh Allen sustain his ascension to stardom.
29. Green Bay Packers: Rashod Bateman | WR, Minnesota
Coming off last year’s first-round pick of QB Jordan Love, the Green Bay Packers need to address the position they have failed to in all of 2020: wide receiver. Rashod Bateman, as fluid and smooth as it gets when it comes to route running, would be a great addition for another Aaron Rodgers late-career championship run.
A dependable WR in contested catch situations, Bateman can easily go top 20 depending on who’s willing to grab a WR that early.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Landon Dickerson | OG/OC, Alabama
With experience at guard and center, Landon Dickerson could be plugged in immediately to the Kansas City Chiefs’ struggling offensive line unit. A powerful and mobile transfer from Florida State, Landon is extremely skilled with his hands and explosive off the snap.
Plus, the physical tone he creates in the trenches has led to a risen draft stock that could put him in the final stages of the first round.
31. New Orleans Saints: Mac Jones | QB, Alabama
Towards the end of the 2019 season, Alabama fans were in denial of Mac Jones’ ability as QB. Fast forward to 2020, and Jones has led Alabama to an undefeated record, posting historic stats in the process. As many call Jones a clear-cut Heisman candidate, I’m of the belief that he will not last past the New Orleans Saints in the draft.
With Drew Brees nearing retirement and Taysom Hill showing more signs of a TE than a QB, New Orleans needs to think about their next step at the quarterback position. With a great situation to place him into, the Saints can develop Jones into one of the better pocket QBs in the league. Surrounded by the same stellar offensive line and skill position core that Brees has worked with, Mac would be destined for success in Louisiana.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers: Samuel Cosmi | OT, Texas
The once-terrific Pittsburgh offensive line is slowly aging away. Most notably, LT Alejandro Villanueva is a pending free agent in 2021. While going RB here seems to be the preferred option for many Pittsburgh fans, the Steelers have proven they are adept and drafting and developing talented skill position players in the later rounds, so they do not have to force it in this spot.
Samuel Cosmi has the makings of an instant starter. Depending on how the draft goes, he could even go in the top 20. If he manages to last this long, the Steelers will have to push off their RB interest for another day.
Stay tuned for additional mock drafts featuring multiple rounds as we get closer and closer to April.
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