Quarterbacks and trades dominate the top-32 picks as Sam Crnic maps out the first round of the 2021 NFL draft in his second mock.
Defined by COVID-19 protocols and the absence of fans, the 2020 NFL season is one game away from its conclusion. Super Bowl 55 is set following Sunday’s conference championship matchups, featuring a duel between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
For the other 30 teams in the league, preparations have already begun for the 2021 NFL draft.
With seven new general managers and seven new head coaches hired since the conclusion of the regular season, this will be an offseason dominated by teams trying to turn over a new page. Regarding the draft, this could lead to a high number of aggressive, franchise-altering decisions in the first round.
In my second mock of the annual draft season, I explore the options for all 32 picks and potential trades that could open up more opportunities for both parties. While you’re here, check out last month’s mock draft as well.
Feel free to contact me on Twitter (@samcrnic) regarding any draft or scouting questions as we get closer to the real deal in April. On that note, let’s dive in.
*Trades are denoted with an asterisk.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence | QB, Clemson
Ending the season on a 15-game losing streak, the Jaguars tanked their way into landing one of the best quarterback prospects in recent memory. This is an obvious choice with QBs Mike Glennon and Gardner Minshew clearly incapable of bringing Jacksonville back to the AFC championship.
Newly-hired head coach Urban Meyer landed his first NFL coaching gig for one reason: to work with Trevor Lawrence. While the talent that Lawrence possesses is undisputed, time will tell if general manager Trent Baalke can build a winning team around him. I did an All-22 film review on Lawrence’s 2019 season with Clemson that explores why scouts have put the “generational” label on the Georgia native.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson | QB, BYU
Regardless of whether the pick is Zach Wilson or Ohio State product Justin Fields, the New York Jets have to take a chance at QB here. Throughout his rookie season, Sam Darnold showed signs of progress from a mechanical and mental processing standpoint, but he severely regressed over the next two seasons. His tenure in New York will forever be defined as one that had special potential but was mired by far too many mistakes.
I have the Jets selecting Wilson instead of once-clear No. 2 QB Fields. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Wilson has the No. 1 ranked passing grade (95.5) and No. 2 offensive grade (95.4) out of all graded college football QBs. Wilson’s potential in arm talent and ball placement is just too great to pass on. With a little bit of refining in footwork and mental processing, Zach can be a force in this league for many years to come. I explored his 2020 All-22 film against Western Kentucky which presented why his extreme rise on the draft board is warranted.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (from Houston via Miami*): Penei Sewell | OT, Oregon
*The Bengals trade their No. 5 overall pick, 2021 third-round pick and 2022 second-round pick to the Dolphins in return for the No. 3 overall pick (originally Houston’s).
After falling from No. 3 to No. 5 with two wins over the final three weeks of the season, the Bengals trade with the Dolphins to secure the best tackle prospect in the draft. Penei Sewell is in a league of his own in regard to physical toughness and agility. He has a strong chance of translating very nicely to the NFL level. Sewell had the best PFF offensive grade (95.8) out of all offensive linemen in 2019. In addition, Penei ranked No. 5 in PFF’s pass protection grade (91.1) and No. 1 in PFF’s run-blocking grade (95.7).
With QB Joe Burrow recovering from a torn ACL, the No. 1 priority in Cincinnati remains to build an offensive line around the face of the franchise. Just like any other team, offensive success starts in the trenches and Penei can be the start of that foundation for the Bengals. I covered Sewell’s 2019 season with All-22 angles, highlighting why he is one of the most revered offensive line prospects in recent memory.
4. Carolina Panthers (via Atlanta Falcons*): Justin Fields | QB, Ohio State
*The Panthers trade their No. 8 overall pick, 2021 second-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick, and 2022 first-round pick for the No. 4 overall pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick.
Giving up most of their 2021 draft ammunition, the Panthers secure a franchise QB in Justin Fields. Positioned at the No. 8 pick, the Panthers decide not to chance missing out on one of the best QBs in the class. Fields has the third-highest PFF career grade (92.0) among draft-eligible QBs and had the best accurate-pass percentage in 2020 (72%).
Carolina will keep offensive coordinator Joe Brady for at least one more season which gives Fields the opportunity to develop under one of the game’s best offensive minds. Already equipped with talented playmakers around him, Justin has the chance to thrive in his rookie year if he wins the starting job.
To get a peek into his elite upside, I dove into Fields’ first season with the Buckeyes as well as his 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal performance against Clemson using All-22 angles.
5. Miami Dolphins (via Bengals*): Ja’Marr Chase | WR, LSU
*The Dolphins trade their No. 3 overall pick to the Bengals in return for the No. 5 overall pick, a 2021 third-round pick, and a 2022 second-round pick.
Miami gets the wide receiver they were targeting at No. 3 while securing extra draft capital.
One of the reasons behind QB Tua Tagovailoa‘s rookie struggles was the lack of talented deep-threat WRs, which presented more of a horizontal-based offense. Grabbing the No. 1 WR in the draft will give Tua and a new offensive coordinator more opportunities to drive the ball downfield.
A 2020 opt-out, Chase remains an elite prospect on the basis of his outstanding 2019 season. According to PFF, Ja’Marr’s 2019 total of 46 catches that went for 15 yards or more is the most in a single season by any college player since 2014. In 2019, Chase had the fifth-best PFF offensive grade (91.1) out of all graded WRs in the nation.
Miami’s offense is immediately upgraded with this selection. I took a look at Chase’s 2019 film to dig into his unique strengths and also a few weaknesses that can be ironed out.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Surtain | CB, Alabama
Passing up on the Heisman-winning WR Devonta Smith, the Eagles address their largest need on the defensive side of the ball. In the 2020 offseason, Philadelphia traded their 2020 third and fifth-round picks for former Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay. While they finally had an answer at CB1, there was no answer on the other side of the field. Throughout the entire 2020 regular season, Slay led all Eagles’ CBs with one interception. The rest of the team’s cornerbacks combined to allow 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions on throws in their direction.
Surtain was the highest-graded defensive back (89.9) in the 2020 college football season according to PFF. In addition, PFF graded the former five-star recruit third among all CBs in coverage (88.6) this season. Regarding coverage snaps played per catch allowed among outside CBs in 2020, Surtain was the third-best at his position with an average of 24.6 cover snaps per catch allowed.
While WR remains a need for the Eagles going forward, taking the best CB in the draft fixes one of their many holes on defense.
7. Detroit Lions: Trey Lance | QB, NDSU
With the news regarding QB Matthew Stafford‘s mutual agreement with the Lions to part ways, Detroit will clearly be in the market for a new franchise QB. Here, the Lions secure their new franchise QB without having to trade up.
Securing a six-year contract with newly-hired head coach Dan Campbell, a culture change is on the way. Along with this comes a new direction at QB for the first time in 12 years. While the Lions most likely would have to trade up to the top-five to secure the likes of Wilson or Fields, Detroit is more than happy to stay put and select Trey Lance. The Minnesota native fits the toughness characteristic that coach Campbell hopes to bring to the Lions and has a lot of potential as both a passer and runner.
Recording 48 total touchdowns to only two turnovers during his tenure at NDSU, Lance has already displayed the ability to keep the ball safe on a consistent basis. In 2019, Lance finished the season with a 90.7 offensive grade and 88.7 passing grade (PFF).
Not having to trade up for Lance while securing more draft capital out of a potential Stafford trade would become the best-case scenario for Detroit. I dove into Trey’s sole 2020 performance with All-22 angles, which presented all of the most desirable traits about his game in addition to the greatest issues that he will need to fix at the next level.
8. Atlanta Falcons (via Panthers*): Kwity Paye | EDGE, Michigan
*The Falcons would trade their No. 4 overall pick and 2022 fifth-round pick to the Panthers for the No. 8 overall pick, a 2021 second-round pick, a 2021 fourth-round pick, and a 2022 first-round pick.
Hiring former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as head coach gives me confidence that the Falcons will retain QB Matt Ryan at least through the 2021 season.
With that in mind, we turn our attention to the defensive side. The Falcons desperately need to find a presence at EDGE. It’s been years since Atlanta has been able to develop a consistent pass rush on a game-to-game basis. After addressing CB with A.J. Terrell in last year’s first round, the defensive line is overdue for an upgrade.
Paye finished 19th in the country with a defensive PFF grade of 86.3 as well as ranking 27th with a pass-rushing PFF grade of 87.1 in only four games of play. Kwity has one of the better blends of power and athleticism in his draft class and can be one of the league’s better edge rushers if developed correctly.
9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley | CB, Virginia Tech
With half of the picks thus far being QB selections, Denver lands one of the best defensive prospects in an important area of need. Despite all of the Broncos’ starting CBs being under contract for next season, the team struggled at the position in 2020 outside of Bryce Callahan. In addition, CB A.J. Bouye is likely to be released from his large contract with minimal cap penalty. By Week 17, the Broncos were playing Nate Hairston and Parnell Motley at cornerback. That’s concerning, to say the least.
Originally playing QB in high school, Farley is still relatively new to the CB position through 23 collegiate games. In those 23 games, Caleb recorded six interceptions. He held QBs to a combined passer rating of 26.8 when targeting him in 2019 (PFF).
Over the past two seasons, the Broncos have only produced 33 takeaways. Compare this to another defensive-minded team like the Miami Dolphins, who had 29 in the 2020 season alone. Farley gives head coach Vic Fangio a talented option at CB who has a better chance of producing turnovers.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Rashawn Slater | OT, Northwestern
If you watched the Cowboys at all this year, you’d know that there’s an urgent need in the secondary following the departure of now-Dolphins CB Byron Jones in the 2020 offseason. However, with the top two corners already selected, it wouldn’t be worth it to reach for CB Jaycee Horn at No. 10. Instead, Dallas looks to instead improve its decimated offensive line to prevent another serious injury to QB Dak Prescott.
Rashawn Slater is closer in terms of talent and potential to Sewell than most think and offers an added bonus of being able to play all five offensive line positions at the next level. A lot of scouts downplay Slater’s potential at tackle due to his lack of length, but Rashawn’s tight end-esque athleticism and functional strength will allow him to play at an exceptional level regardless of position in the NFL.
11. New York Giants: Devonta Smith | WR, Alabama
While the Giants have unanswered questions at EDGE and CB opposite of Pro Bowl CB James Bradberry, taking the first Heisman-winning WR since 1991 is simply a no-brainer.
To jumpstart the development of struggling QB Daniel Jones, the Giants need to do better at WR, with their top weapons being Sterling Shepard (54.7 yards per game) and Darius Slayton (46.9 yards per game). Given the current free-agent market of talented WRs like Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin, the Giants might be tempted to pay top dollar for an upgrade at this position before the draft arrives.
If the Giants are smart, they can put money towards other positions and turn their attention towards drafting Devonta Smith, who just put up one of the most impressive receiving seasons in college football history. Over the past two years, Devonta led the nation in receiving yards (3,115) and has only six drops over 291 targets across the past three seasons. New York needs an exciting spark on the offensive side of the ball and Smith fits head coach Joe Judge‘s culture of high character and work ethic.
12. San Francisco 49ers: Micah Parsons | LB, Penn State
In reference to Bucky Brooks’ concern of Parsons regarding immaturity, I have the talented Penn St. linebacker dropping out of the top 10. While the 49ers don’t have a need at inside linebacker with the presence of Fred Warner, they could use some help at outside linebacker which is where I have Parsons slotting in his rookie campaign. Assuming San Francisco stays at a 4-3 defensive front following the departure of newly-hired Jets head coach Robert Saleh, Micah is given a great opportunity to thrive as an off-ball linebacker.
During the two-year span of 2018 to 2019, PFF graded Parsons 91.8 in overall defense (2nd among power 5 LBs), while scoring him with a 92.4 run defense grade (1st) and a 91.4 pass rush grade (1st). In addition, Micah earned a 94.8 run defense grade in 2019, which was the highest by a LB in the PFF era (since 2014).
While LB isn’t the 49ers’ largest priority, the pairing of Parsons and Warner could be the league’s best LB group in the very near future.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw | OT, Virginia Tech
In response to my previous analysis of the Chargers in the first rendition of my mock draft: the Chargers are less of a mess after hiring former Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator Brandon Staley as their next head coach. A defensive coach that is offensive-minded (having been a QB in his playing career), I believe Staley can build a formidable staff around him to not only improve upon a disastrous 2020 season for the defense but continue to grow QB Justin Herbert‘s already terrific development as a player. To address the latter, attacking the offensive line in the draft has to be a major priority.
According to PFF, Christian Darrisaw was the fourth highest-graded player (95.6) in all of college football in 2020. This 95.6 grade made him the highest-graded power five offensive tackle. Darrisaw was also one of the two FBS offensive linemen with 90-plus pass and run blocking grades. The Virginia Tech product has steadily improved in technique and filling out his frame from day one and should be a productive starter in the NFL in no time.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Gregory Rousseau | EDGE, Miami
If not for opting out of the 2020 season, Rousseau likely would’ve been a top 10 pick in the draft. Instead, scouts only have one year of tape regarding Greg’s development as an edge rusher.
Originally playing a WR and safety in high school, Rousseau’s move to edge isn’t something that has not been seen before, but it will remain incredibly hard for scouts to assess how his game translates to the next level with a limited amount of tape. In 2019, Greg recorded 54 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in 13 games. Only Chase Young had more sacks that year.
The Vikings recently traded away now-Baltimore Ravens defensive end Yannick Ngakoue for draft picks as well as having DE Danielle Hunter suffer a herniated disk in the same year. Thus, Vikings need to once again develop a consistent pass rush, and taking a chance on Rousseau’s impressive physical tools in spite of his rawness may be worth the gamble. I dove into his 2019 All-22 film back in July, focusing on his strengths and weaknesses as an edge defender.
15. New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts | TE, Florida
Besides the void at QB, the Patriots are in dire need of a talented tight end after getting extremely limited production from the position. Long gone are the days of Rob Gronkowski and Ben Watson to provide mismatches on a weekly basis.
With the top four QBs off the board, New England has to redirect its eyes towards the remaining skill position players and defensive line. Deciding between Jaylen Waddle and Kyle Pitts, the Patriots pick the TE who did not drop a pass in the entire 2020 season. A TE in a WR’s body, Pitts is an instant mismatch at the NFL level and will make life easier for whoever plays QB in New England this year.
Since 2014, Pitts has the most career contested catches by a TE (25). Among draft-eligible players in 2020, he had the third-highest QB passer rating when targeted (146.2). In addition, Kyle had the second-most red-zone touchdowns by a TE (8) in 2020. Pitts can easily go top 10 in the 2021 NFL draft but it’ll depend on how high of a draft pick a team will be willing to spend on a TE.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn | CB, South Carolina
With veteran starting CBs Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick on expiring contracts entering the 2021 offseason, drafting a young CB remains a high priority at the No. 16 pick for Arizona. The son of longtime New Orleans Saints wide receiver Joe Horn, Jaycee looks to contribute to the NFL in the same way his father did but on the opposite side of the field.
Jaycee is one of the more aggressive corners you’ll see on tape. With exceptional length and physicality, the South Carolina product is a perfect fit for an outside CB role.
The younger Horn also has a unique chip on his shoulder. Originally being declined an offer from head coach Kirby Smart and the Georgia football program after a recruiting trip, Jaycee has made Smart regret that decision. In 2020, Jaycee averaged 27.4 coverage snaps per catch allowed; the best rate in college football.
While Horn would have large shoes to fill in Peterson, I have no doubt in my mind he’d be up for that challenge.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | LB, Notre Dame
With the addition of newly-hired defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the Raiders will be switching from a 4-3 Over to a 4-3 Under defensive front. This mimics a 3-4 front, where five defenders can be found at the line of scrimmage. In this defensive scheme, Las Vegas has to find a linebacker who can play man-coverage on TEs, drop back into zone coverage, and become a primary edge rusher at times. While addressing the defensive line is also a possibility here, the Raiders can’t pass on Owusu-Koramoah’s unique skillset as a linebacker.
Having experience with all of these tasks at Notre Dame, I believe Jeremiah would be a home-run pick for the Raiders. With a 2020 PFF coverage grade of 82.3, run defense grade of 75.5, pass rush grade of 75.2, and overall defensive grade of 79.7, Owusu-Koramoah is a versatile LB who doesn’t have a glaring weakness. He and the Raiders are a match made in heaven.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (via Dolphins*): Mac Jones | QB, Alabama
*The Steelers trade their No. 24 overall pick, 2021 fourth-round pick, 2022 second-round pick and 2022 third-round pick to the Dolphins for the No. 18 overall pick.
Pittsburgh pushes back the temptation of an offensive tackle or running back, getting aggressive to address a most important need.
Not risking the chance of the Washington Football Team or Chicago Bears selecting Mac Jones, the Steelers pay a hefty price to move up six picks and select the franchise’s answer to QB Ben Roethlisberger‘s potential retirement. In 2019, the QB room without a healthy Big Ben was massively disappointing, ranking 31st in passing yards and wasting an exceptional defensive season on the way to an 8-8 record.
Based on what the Steelers did on offense in 2020, Jones seems to be a good fit. Alabama stormed through competition on their way to yet another championship with quick throws and deep shots downfield. Pittsburgh has the personnel to do the same thing with Jones in 2021 with the added bonus of being able to run RPOs (run-pass option); a concept that Mac excelled at in Alabama.
Jones had the highest passer rating from a clean pocket out of all power five QBs in 2020 (142.5) as well as also having the highest passer rating under pressure (123.9). His career PFF grade was the highest among draft-eligible QBs (93.9). In 2020 alone, Mac broke the QB record for the highest single-season PFF grade (95.8).
While he’s the least athletic QB of the first-round prospects by quite a wide margin, Jones would be a terrific fit for a team in dire need of a young, talented franchise QB.
19. Washington Football Team: Alijah Vera-Tucker | OT, USC
Missing out on the top five QBs in the 2021 draft class, there’s absolutely no reason to reach for Florida QB Kyle Trask here. Instead, Washington looks to improve their offensive line after creating one of the league’s most dominant defensive lines last offseason.
When five QBs go in the top 20, talented non-QB prospects usually fall to the second half of the first round. Offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker is a great example of that in this scenario. With the skillset and positional versatility to go in the top 15, the Football Team should be excited to land Vera-Tucker at No. 19 overall. Besides the need at QB, Washington’s offensive line needs serious improvement from both pass protection and run-blocking standpoint. The USC product can contribute at both tackle and guard.
Vera-Tucker allowed a QB pressure on less than 2% of his pass blocking snaps at USC. In 2019, Vera-Tucker had only six pressures allowed on 537 pass plays. With this pick, Washington is one step closer to better QB play and a more efficient run game.
20. Chicago Bears: Jalen Mayfield | OT, Michigan
With an offense that already has a young and talented WR core along with a gifted young running back in David Montgomery, QB and offensive line become the question marks.
Sticking with QB Mitchell Trubisky for at least one more season, the Bears ultimately decide to upgrade their offensive line to further support him. While Chicago can obviously go defense here as well, the Bears’ offense has been too stagnant for too long under head coach Matt Nagy and needs more talent.
I see Chicago passing on Jaylen Waddle despite potentially losing out on star WR Allen Robinson in free agency, as the need at offensive line is just too large.
Jalen Mayfield has the potential to play tackle and guard at the next level. Only a redshirt sophomore, Mayfield is a raw prospect but has phenomenal power at 6-foot-5 and 319-pounds. For how much power he possesses, Jalen is very quick on his feet as well. Mayfield’s career production won’t impress anyone, but his potential at the next level based on his intriguing combination of athleticism and brute strength slides him in the top 20 for me. He goes this high based on future projection rather than past performance.
21. Detroit Lions (via Colts*): Jaylen Waddle | WR, Alabama
*The Lions trade QB Matthew Stafford and a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for the No. 21 overall pick and a 2022 second-round pick.
Already landing the future of the franchise in QB Trey Lance, Detroit has to be ecstatic to turn its former franchise QB into one of the top three WRs in the entire draft.
Waddle can effectively contribute to this offense from day one and can potentially fill the shoes of WR Kenny Golladay and WR Marvin Jones if one or both walks out the door in free agency. Unlike the two teams ahead of them, WR is an obvious point of emphasis for the Lions given the uncertainty around impending free agents resigning with the team in 2021. This is where Dan Campbell can put his own imprint on the team as his first year as head coach.
If not for injuring his ankle towards the middle of his 2020 campaign at Alabama, Waddle would have been guaranteed to go top 10. Before he got hurt in 2020, Waddle led the power five in receiving yards versus single coverage (360) as well as leading in most yards from the slot (467). According to PFF, Waddle has the second-best overall offensive grade (91.6) among SEC WRs over the last three seasons. Waddle’s 2018 campaign ranks as the fifth-highest grade ever given to an SEC WR (89.7) in PFF history (since 2014). Since 2018, Jaylen has the most yards after the catch per reception (10.0) among SEC receivers.
Landing two star-potential players in Lance and Waddle in the first round has to make Detroit the winner of this mock draft.
22. Tennessee Titans: Joseph Ossai | EDGE, Texas
A perfect outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front, the Titans secure one of the draft’s best edge rushers from an athletic and potential standpoint. Finishing 30th in the NFL with only 19 sacks during the 2020 regular season, a pass rusher has to be a priority for Tennessee either through the draft or free agency. That total of 19 sacks tied Tennessee with the 1979 Denver Broncos for the least amount of sacks recorded by a playoff team over a 16-game schedule in NFL history. Given how expensive edge rushers can be when hitting the market, the Titans are best suited to look for one in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.
While Ossai has the athleticism and length to fit into a 4-3 front as a defensive end, his 2020 season showed that he’s best suited in a two-point stance as an outside linebacker. Ossai’s 2020 campaign consisted of 55 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery in only nine games. I covered his 2020 performance against TCU with All-22 angles to give a glimpse of some of the athleticism, technique, and natural strength that generates so much excitement from scouts.
23. New York Jets (via Seattle Seahawks): Jaelan Phillips | EDGE, Miami
Following the hire of Robert Saleh, the Jets address a decade-long need: the pass rush.
The Jets’ edge talent in 2020 consisted of Tarell Basham, Jordan Jenkins, Bryce Huff and Frankie Luvu. In a 4-3 defensive front, New York doesn’t have a single true answer at the 5-tech position, an essential piece of Saleh’s defense. There must be serious upgrades made at this position in both free agency and the upcoming draft.
Phillips immediately plugs into one of the 5-tech edge roles on the defensive line with the potential to also rush from the interior. The California native split snaps between outside linebacker and defensive end in 2020, giving him some of the best versatility in the 2021 edge draft class.
A former five-star high school recruit, Phillips transferred from UCLA to Miami after two disastrous injury-riddled seasons. Phillips was originally advised to retire in 2018 after suffering three concussions in two seasons and being the victim of a car accident that resulted in three removed bones. Giving football one more chance, Jaelan soon transferred to Miami and gained nearly 50 pounds to get back into football shape. This bet on football paid off as Phillips recorded 45 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and one interception in his lone 10-game season with the Hurricanes. In nine of those 10 games, Phillips had three or more QB pressures.
With this pick, the Jets have a dynamic pass rusher and run stuffer who is built to become even better at the next level.
24. Miami Dolphins (via Steelers*): Zaven Collins | LB, Tulsa
*The Dolphins trade their No. 18 overall pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the No. 24 overall pick, a 2021 fourth-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, and a 2022 third-round pick.
Making their second trade-down of the first round, Miami is absolutely loaded with ammo at this point. Here, trading back with a QB-needy team like the Steelers allows the Dolphins to grab extra draft picks and still be positioned to address a need at No. 24 overall.
A former quarterback and safety in high school, Collins leaves Tulsa as the 2020 national defensive player of the year. Zaven possesses a unique combination of speed and athleticism that allows him to cover a lot of ground in a linebacker role. At 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, Collins can be paired alongside LB Kyle Van Noy to be used in a variety of ways. Whether that be rushing the passer or dropping into coverage, Zaven is a perfect chess piece for head coach Brian Flores‘ Belichick-esque defense that features many different looks.
Awarded both the Bednarik and the Bronko Nagurski trophies (both being national defensive player of the year honors), Collins played like and was recognized as one of the nation’s best defensive players in 2020. According to PFF, Collins was the highest-graded LB this season (91.1). In addition, Zaven had the highest PFF coverage grade by a LB in the PFF era (93.7).
Miami secures key play-makers on both sides of the field despite trading back with each first-round pick.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): Teven Jenkins | OT, Oklahoma State
Instead of overpaying offensive tackle Cam Robinson in a free agent market deprived of true talent at the position, the Jaguars are able to put their money into other positions while drafting a replacement for Robinson in Teven Jenkins.
Teven has played both left and right tackle in his collegiate career with the added bonus of being able to play guard as well. This gives Jacksonville options while trying to figure out how they will protect newly-drafted QB Trevor Lawrence. Jenkins is an absolute mauler at 6-foot-6 320-pounds and has the physical tools to become one of the best offensive tackles (if not the best) in the entire draft.
Jenkins hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 11 of 2018. That’s 778 pass-block snaps without a single sack. Over the past two seasons, Jenkins has only allowed 11 QB pressures in 582 pass-blocking snaps (1.9% rate). Teven was also the third highest-graded offensive tackle in the 2020 season (92.0) according to PFF. I would keep an eye on the Kansas native in the upcoming Senior Bowl as he could raise eyebrows with his play on a national stage.
By drafting two crucial offensive positions early on in the draft, newly-hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is given a lot of talented tools to work with.
26. Cleveland Browns: Nick Bolton | LB, Missouri
One of the hardest-hitting linebackers in the country, the selection of Bolton signals that general manager Andrew Berry is coming through with his promise on making defense the largest priority in the 2021 offseason.
A first-year starter, Bolton has steadily improved since day one. Originally committing to Washington going into his senior year of high school, Bolton was pressured into shutting down his recruitment before he could even complete his high school campaign. Rejecting this request, Washington soon parted ways with the heralded linebacker and he soon decided on Missouri.
Severely doubted throughout many points of his football career, Nick has a chip on his shoulder and has a lot of potential at the next level. The only returning linebacker in the power five with a 90-plus PFF grade in 2019, Bolton was one of two LBs to also record an 80-or-higher grade in both coverage and run-defense that year. In addition, no SEC LB had as many run stops as Bolton in 2019 (26).
Losing LB Joe Schobert to the Jaguars a year ago, the Browns failed to regain the same production in the 2020 regular season. Bolton fits in as a middle linebacker to Clevelands’ 4-3 alignment and could be an instant difference-maker in 2021.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Azeez Ojulari | EDGE, Georgia
Potentially losing outside linebackers Matthew Judon and/or Yannick Ngakoue to free agency, Azeez Ojulari is a perfect replacement.
While Ojulari’s lack of length may restrict him to an off-ball linebacker at the NFL level to some scouts, I think the Georgia product can still be a very productive pass rusher in a 3-4 alignment. The grandson of a Nigerian prince, Azeez brings leadership and a hard work ethic to a Ravens culture that is filled with the same type of players. Not only was Azeez a great pass rusher at Georgia, but he was also effective in the run game as well as dropping back into coverage.
Ojulari has a great combination of athleticism and effort which translates very well to the NFL format. In 2020, Ojulari had the fourth-highest pressure rate in college football at 20.7%. In addition, Azeez had the third-highest overall PFF grade out of all returning SEC edge defenders (78.0).
With this pick, the Ravens find a replacement for the likely loss of either Judon or Ngakoue.
28. New Orleans Saints: Kadarius Toney | WR, Florida
The fan-favorite of many around the draft community, Kadarius Toney would be an instant play-maker for the highly-creative Saints offense – potentially post-Drew Brees.
Losing out on the top five QBs in the draft class, the Saints are basically forced into going with either Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill at QB for the 2021 season due to their outrageous salary cap deficit preventing them from making a move for a viable NFL option. Without Brees at QB for the first time in 15 years, New Orleans will be eyeing the draft for special athletes to give the offense more life.
Toney is the definition of an athlete. Playing both track and football in high school, the Alabama native played QB in his junior and senior seasons of high school. In those two seasons, Toney combined for 6,498 passing yards and 1,790 rushing yards with 100 total touchdowns.
At Florida, Toney settled into his role at WR. Primarily manning the slot but capable of playing from anywhere, Kadarius recorded 70 receptions for 984 yards (14.1 per reception) and 10 receiving touchdowns his senior year. Toney added an extra 161 yards plus a touchdown through the run game which added up to 1,145 scrimmage yards for 11 total touchdowns. In addition, Toney was third in the nation with nine touchdown grabs out of the slot.
One of the most electric players in college football, Kadarius could easily go in the top 20 to a team in dire need of offensive playmakers, but he slides into the hands of Sean Payton here, a potentially beautiful fit.
29. Green Bay Packers: Rashod Bateman | WR, Minnesota
If the NFC Conference Championship didn’t show it enough, the Packers have a serious issue at cornerback outside of Jaire Alexander. Cornerback will be a top priority for Green Bay in this slot.
However, there’s a chance Aaron Rodgers won’t be around in 2021, which puts the spotlight on the Packers’ 2020 first-round pick, QB Jordan Love. With no CB on the board that has a first-round grade, the Packers decide to go with the best player available on the offensive side of the ball to help out either Love or Rodgers.
While Bateman can play more than just the slot at the next level, his deliberate smoothness and agility off the line of scrimmage as a route runner will allow him to create separation out of the slot on a consistent basis at the NFL level. In 2020, Green Bay struggled at times without a true slot.
Bateman tied for second-best in the nation in 2019 with a 90% first down rate on slant routes. When lining up outside in 2019, Rashod had the highest yards per route at 3.6. In addition, Bateman had the second-most touchdowns caught within two yards of the sideline in 2019 with nine.
Despite playing only five games in 2020, Bateman was just as electric as he was in 2019. Bateman averaged 93.7 receiving yards per game in 2019, and was right in the same neighborhood with 94.4 in 2020.
Drafting Bateman at pick No. 30 gives Green Bay a young and exciting play-maker who has some of the highest potential out of any WR in the 2021 draft class. A WR trio of Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and Rashod Bateman would be more than enough to support the development of a potential change at QB.
30. Buffalo Bills: Wyatt Davis | OG, Ohio State
Coming off a demoralizing loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Conference Championship, the Bills immediately turn their focus towards a 2021 offseason that will feature many important decisions as they attempt to remain one of the AFC’s top competitors.
Despite LB Matt Milano‘s contract expiring, I believe the Bills will bring him back based on how integral he was to their playoff run. Thus, Buffalo turns their focus towards the offensive line which needs serious work on the interior. Needing to replace Brian Winters and with starter Cody Ford coming off a season-ending knee injury, the Bills decide to give star QB Josh Allen more help upfront by drafting Wyatt Davis.
The Ohio State product is one of the most impressive interior linemen in the draft, boasting a physically-imposing style of play that pops off the tape. Throughout his collegiate career, Davis only allowed four sacks and one QB hit over 865 pass-block snaps. In 2019, Davis had 459 pass-block snaps with a total of zero sacks allowed.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Travis Etienne | RB, Clemson
One of the most stacked offensive units in the NFL adds the best running back in the 2021 NFL draft.
In an effort to lead Tampa Bay back to the Super Bowl for a second year in a row, general manager Jason Licht arms Brady with a running back who is sufficient in both the run and pass game. From the very start, it seemed as though Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette weren’t the long-term answers at RB. Etienne has the makings of an elite back in the league who would plug-in as an instant starter in 2021 and project to carry the load for years to come.
A player who could’ve easily foregone the 2020 season for last year’s NFL draft, Travis took a bet on himself and won, massively increasing his draft stock by showcasing elite passing game value. He averaged career-highs of 49.0 receiving yards and 4.0 receptions per game, pushing himself up to 1,021 receiving yards from 2019-20, most among all RBs in the nation over that span. No other player at the position even hit 800 receiving yards over that span.
Since 2019, Etienne leads all RBs with 134 missed tackles forced. Travis is also No. 1 in ACC history in points scored (468) and career rushing yards (4,952).
If Tampa can manage to resign free agent WR Chris Godwin along with drafting Etienne at No. 31, the Buccaneers may find themselves competing for a championship once again in 2021.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Daviyon Nixon | IDL, Iowa
The Chiefs don’t really have any particular dire needs to address on the offensive side this early in the draft. They could go interior offensive line at this spot – likely their only potential issue on offense – but it’s a deep class at that position, so it would be much smarter to save that for later. It seems as though the Chiefs will have the opportunity to comfortably select whoever they find the best player available on the defensive side of the ball.
I think Kansas City’s best bet is to further improve its defensive line and take the best interior defensive lineman in the draft class. While it’s certainly up for debate as to who that player is, Daviyon Nixon is my choice at the No. 32 selection. Against the Browns, the Chiefs’ defensive line allowed some explosive running plays that allowed Cleveland to stay in the game. In the regular season, Kansas City ranked 31st in run defense DVOA.
Standing at 6-foot-3, 305-pounds, Nixon can easily create havoc in the run game if gap-sound. During his 2020 campaign, Daviyon recorded 45 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, one interception, one touchdown, and one forced fumble. His game took a large jump over the previous year and he has the athleticism and quickness to continue progressing if developed correctly.
Stay tuned for next month’s mock draft with the finalized draft order as we get closer and closer to April.
As good as Rashod Bateman is, it’d be really dumb for the Packers to take him since their greatest needs are at OL, DL, and ILB. Taking DE Daviyon Nixon, whom the Chiefs took at #32, or drafting OT Samuel Cosmi, C Creed Humphrey, or DE Levi Onwuzurike, would have been better draft picks.
I would HATE the Phillips pick. With his injury history, he’s too risky to use a 1st round pick on. Even more importantly, in taking him, you’re making the same mistake McCagnan made, i.e., drafting defense and not building around the QB. The pick on #23 and #34 HAVE to be offense. They should be an IOL and a WR or TE or RB or at worst, a RT.
The Jets’ defense is already pretty good and has more pieces in place than the offense. The offense has been severely neglected and what picks were used on offense prior to Becton and Mims have pretty much all been busts. The Jets’ offense has not been at an NFL level in a long time.
There is not one blue chip DE/Edge rusher in this draft class. Thus, it would be foolish in the extreme to waste a 1st round pick on one, especially an oft-injured player. That’s a MAJOR reach imo. Next year’s draft class is supposed to be very good and deep at DE/Edge. We have two #1 draft picks next year. THAT is the draft where the Jets should draft a DE early. They can sign a FA DE this year and give Zuniga and Huff a chance. If JD wants, he can take a flier on a DE in the late 3rd round or 4th round, but imo, ALL the early picks should go to the offense.
IMO the first 4 picks should go something like this:
23. IOL (Wyatt Davis or Vera Tucker or Creed Humphrey) or WR (Rashod Bateman or Kadarius Toney)
34. IOL (Trey Smith or Alex Leatherwood) or WR(terrace Marshall Jr. or Rondale Moore) or TE (Brevin Jordan)
66. RB (Kenneth Gainwell or Javonte Williams or Michael Carter)
91. OL or DE or CB
At any rate, imo, the Jets should come out of the first 4 picks with a new QB, an IOL, either a WR or TE, and a RB.
It’s either Fields or Wilson first because I doubt Watson is getting traded. It’s the easy pick. I love your pick of Phillips with the 23rd. There was some buzz about the Saints trading the 28th pick for Darnold and a day-2 pick. It would be sweet to nab Toney there.