With a month left before the 2021 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers made a blockbuster deal for the No. 3 overall pick and the Miami Dolphins traded back into the top 10, dramatically altering the landscape in the race for the top quarterbacks.
Where will the pieces fall? Here are The Baltimore Sun’s latest projections for the first round, which begins April 29 in Cleveland:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
There won’t be any drama with this pick. With Lawrence under center and three more selections in the top 50, the rebuilding Jaguars can be competitive quickly in a winnable AFC South.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
General manager Joe Douglas and new coach Robert Saleh get the chance to start fresh with a new quarterback, with 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold likely leaving in a trade. Having a player like Wilson — who seemed to lock up the No. 2 spot with an impressive pro day — on a rookie deal will help New York build a better roster over the next few seasons.
3. San Francisco 49ers (via Dolphins, via Texans): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The 49ers shook up the draft with a massive trade from No. 12 to No. 3, sending two future first-round picks to the Dolphins to complete the deal. There’s no question that San Francisco is targeting a quarterback with this move, despite all the reassurances that Jimmy Garoppolo is still in the team’s plans. Who that quarterback winds up being is anyone’s guess, but Fields offers the highest upside of the three candidates because of his athleticism, arm strength and poise.
4. **PROJECTED TRADE** Denver Broncos (via Falcons): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Broncos have talent all over the roster, but there’s a clear hole at quarterback after Drew Lock rated as one of the league’s worst at the position in 2020. Denver should be able to beat Carolina’s offer to jump to this spot, considering a trade between the division rival Panthers and Falcons is unlikely. With coach Vic Fangio building an impressive defense, Lance can help the team become an AFC contender — if he reaches the tremendous potential he showed in a dominant 17 games at the FCS level.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Bengals have an interesting choice here: take the stud tackle who can be a cornerstone of the offensive line for years or give quarterback Joe Burrow a game-changing weapon. Picking Pitts over Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell or one of the top receivers is a gamble, but the Florida star is the type of matchup nightmare that could take the Bengals offense to the next level.
6. Miami Dolphins (via Eagles): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
After trading down and then back up, the Dolphins have plenty of options. Miami is relying on a lot of young faces on the offensive line, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a star quality tackle, especially if last year’s first-round pick Austin Jackson doesn’t pan out. Sewell is considered a can’t-miss prospect with All-Pro potential.
7. Detroit Lions: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The departure of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency leaves a gaping hole at receiver. If new quarterback Jared Goff has any hope of succeeding, he’ll need another weapon on the outside. Thanks to the shake-up at the top of the draft, the best receiver falls to the Lions, helping kick-start a new era under coach Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes.
8. Carolina Panthers: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Panthers haven’t tried to hide their desire for a quarterback to replace Teddy Bridgewater, making a strong push to acquire Matthew Stafford before he was dealt to the Rams. Jones is a tier below the top four quarterbacks in this class, but he spent time with Carolina coach Matt Rhule at the Senior Bowl and could succeed quickly with an impressive group of weapons.
9. Atlanta Falcons (via Broncos): Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
If they stay at No. 4, the Falcons have a good chance to draft quarterback Matt Ryan’s successor. But with Ryan and receiver Julio Jones still playing at a high level, Atlanta can make a push to win now with new coach Arthur Smith. Hitting on a few picks this year is essential, and Surtain would be an immediate upgrade for one of the league’s worst defenses.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
As tempting as it might be to improve the offense, the Cowboys can’t afford to ignore their holes on defense. Help at all levels is needed, but the secondary is the most glaring spot after the loss of cornerback Chidobe Awuzie. Horn’s stock has risen considerably since the start of the 2020 season, with some even arguing for him to be the top cornerback in this class.
11. New York Giants: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Giants made a big splash in free agency by signing receiver Kenny Golladay, eliminating one of their biggest needs. They also appear to be content rolling with their young offensive linemen. Parsons, one of the freakiest athletes in this draft, can be a game-changing player at the second level of the defense and give the pass rush a boost it so desperately needs.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (via Dolphins, via 49ers): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
It’s Jalen Hurts’ team now after Carson Wentz was traded to the Colts, and that means the Eagles should be thinking about upgrading the talent around him. Smith, Hurts’ former teammate at Alabama, just finished one of the the best seasons in college football history, becoming the first receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in 29 years. His production should trump any concerns about his slender 6-1, 170-pound frame.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Chargers upgraded their offensive line in free agency by adding center Corey Linsley and guard/tackle Matt Feiler, but the left side could still use some reinforcements. Slater allowed just five pressures over 11 games in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, and should be a solid starter with his combination of strength and athleticism.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
While this class of edge rushers lacks a bona fide star, the Vikings shouldn’t hesitate to take their favorite of the bunch. Paye is an explosive athlete who could help a struggling pass rush, especially if Minnesota looks to trade disgruntled star Danielle Hunter.
15. New England Patriots: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Patriots were surprisingly active early in free agency, improving at wide receiver, tight end and along the offensive and defensive lines. But adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne shouldn’t prohibit New England from trying to add a game-changing receiver. The speedy Waddle provides a yard-after-catch threat the Patriots have been sorely lacking.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The Cardinals will be happy to take whichever cornerback ends up falling to No. 16 after losing Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick from what was a mediocre secondary in 2020. Farley has some injury concerns after another back surgery but was one of the nation’s top corners in 2019.
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT/G, USC
The Raiders overhauled their offensive line, trading away right tackle Trent Brown, center Rodney Hudson and guard Gabe Jackson in a matter of weeks. Vera-Tucker would help fill one of those holes as Las Vegas revamps its roster ahead of coach Jon Gruden’s fourth season.
18. Miami Dolphins: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
Oweh didn’t record a sack for the Nittany Lions in 2020, but there just aren’t many 6-5, 257-pound athletes who can run a 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, bench press 225 pounds 21 times and leap 39.5 inches. The Dolphins could use that kind of skill set to add some burst to a young defensive line.
19. Washington Football Team: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
With the addition of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Curtis Samuel and cornerback William Jackson III in free agency, Washington is in a good position to defend its surprising NFC East title. Adding a playmaker like JOK, who can excel at both safety and linebacker, could help the defense make a leap from good to great.
20. Chicago Bears: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Unless the Bears find a way to leap into the top five to draft a quarterback, it appears it’s Andy Dalton or bust in 2021. That shouldn’t stop the team from upgrading the offense, which needs to prepare for the eventual departure of franchise-tagged wide receiver Allen Robinson.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
Anthony Castonzo’s retirement opened up a big hole at left tackle, and the Colts couldn’t secure star Trent Williams in free agency to fill it. Fortunately for Indianapolis, this draft is deep at the position. Darrisaw was PFF’s second-highest-graded tackle in the Power Five in 2020.
22. Tennessee Titans: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
The loss of receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith is a big blow to an offense that turns to coordinator Todd Downing after Arthur Smith took over the Falcons. For Ryan Tannehill to remain the efficient quarterback he’s been the past two seasons, the Titans need another playmaker opposite A.J. Brown. Toney is a tough cover who can also add some speed to the return game.
23. New York Jets (via Seahawks): Jaelan Phillips, EDGE, Miami
The addition of Carl Lawson in free agency will help, but the Jets could still use another edge rusher as they build their roster under a defensive-minded coach. Phillips has an unsettling injury history, but was one of the most productive players in the country in 2020 and impressed scouts at his pro day.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
Losing Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and Matt Feiler creates some holes on the offensive line, which becomes even more important when protecting a 39-year-old quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Jenkins is a mauler in the running game, something the Steelers need to fix after abandoning it completely last season.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams): Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
The signing of Rayshawn Jenkins shouldn’t prevent the Jaguars from adding a safety, and none are rated as highly as Moehrig. The TCU star led all college safeties in pass breakups in each of the past two seasons, according to PFF.
26. Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Linebacker remains a weak spot for an otherwise strong defense, which added safety John Johnson III in free agency to help solidify a leaky secondary. Collins has the size, length and athleticism to make his presence felt inside, outside and in coverage and could provide some pass-rushing help as a blitzer.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The Ravens said goodbye to Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, leaving Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee to start at outside linebacker. They could use an infusion of young talent at the position, and Ojulari is a quick and bendy prospect who can get into the backfield in a hurry and, crucially for the Ravens, drop into coverage (77 coverage snaps, according to PFF). What Ojulari lacks in size and length (6-2, 240 pounds) he makes up for with heavy hands and a quick first step.
28. New Orleans Saints: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
After the departure of Janoris Jenkins, the Saints are thin at corner behind Marshon Lattimore and don’t have the cap space to add one. Newsome solidified his status as a first-round pick with strong testing numbers at his pro day after a standout junior season.
29. Green Bay Packers: Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
The calls for a wide receiver will continue, but the Packers offense has been just fine with Davante Adams as the only legitimate threat. Plus, there will be an opportunity to add a quality receiver later in the draft. Here, Green Bay gets a high-energy tackling machine to fix one of the weakest spots on its defense.
30. Buffalo Bills: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
Rousseau might have the biggest range of outcomes among potential first-round picks, with some evaluators placing him at the top of the edge class and others rating him as a Day 2 selection. Buffalo needs to give its pass rush a shot in the arm after not getting much from its edge rushers outside of Jerry Hughes last season.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
The Chiefs cutting starting tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher makes it a near certainty they take an offensive lineman with this pick — unless they fall in love with one of the best players available. Cosmi is experienced and durable after starting three seasons for the Longhorns at both left and right tackle.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The defending champions brought back Chris Godwin, Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamakong Suh and Leonard Fournette, leaving few holes on the roster. That leaves this pick a bit of a mystery, but if Barmore winds up falling to the bottom of the first round, Tampa Bay shouldn’t hesitate to bolster its formidable front-seven and groom a replacement for Suh.