After finishing the team needs series, it’s time to put out my first Round 1 mock draft of 2021. As always, this is predictive, not what I would do. If you want to tell me how great this mock was, go to @HaydenWinks on Twitter.
1. Jaguars – Clemson QB1 Trevor Lawrence
NBC Sports’ Peter King asked coach Urban Meyer if Lawrence will be the first overall pick, and he responded, “I’d have to say that’s the direction we’re going. I’ll leave that up to the owner when we make that decision official. But I’m certainly not stepping out of line that that’s certainly the direction we’re headed.” Next.
2. Jets – BYU QB2 Zach Wilson
This is almost as big of a lock as Lawrence going first. Wilson has more raw arm talent than Sam Darnold and is the much cheaper option moving forward, but their floors feel similar. As for Darnold, it’s possible that he’s kept in 2021 if his trade value has sunk into the Round 3-5 range. Darnold having a good preseason could be enough to drum up some trade talks.
3. 49ers – North Dakota State QB3 Trey Lance
Ruling out Justin Fields, Mac Jones, or Lance this early would be dumb. All are “scheme fits” because Kyle Shanahan is an elite coach and can win using different archetypes, so that’s not helping the decision either. Lance is my current lean for three reasons: 1) the 49ers are reportedly willing to keep Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021 and Lance stands to benefit from sitting the most, 2) he did the most pre-snap despite being the youngest of the group, and 3) he now has the highest expected draft position per Grinding The Mocks.
4. Falcons – Florida TE1 Kyle Pitts
Matt Ryan’s restructured contract is a sign that 78-year-old owner Arthur Blank and the new regime want to stick with the veteran signal caller for the next few years instead of going through a full rebuild. They’ll certainly be listening to calls for this pick — they have plenty of team needs — but one of those teams in the rookie quarterback market is an in-division rival and a generational prospect is still on the board here. Pitts operates as insurance to Julio Jones’ age and injury history.
5. Bengals – LSU WR1 Ja’Marr Chase
This isn’t a deterrent to selecting Penei Sewell here, but the Bengals true team needs along the offensive line are at guard and center more so than at tackle where first-rounder Jonah Williams and veteran signee Riley Reiff are projected to start. There’s enough depth in the draft along the line to warrant a luxury pass-catcher here, especially when Joe Burrow is lobbying for him. Remember that the NFL Draft doesn’t end in Round 1. Two picks on offensive linemen on Day 2 would solidify the line for 2021 in this scenario.
6. Dolphins – Alabama WR2 DeVonta Smith
Trading back up from No. 12 to No. 6 indicates that there’s a particular pass-catcher or two that the Dolphins are eyeing here. The Alabama connection makes me lean Smith over Chase even if both are available, and I think the Dolphins were okay risking moving back three spots knowing no team drafting in the fourth or fifth slot would be selecting Smith. Like Jerry Jeudy in Denver, Smith can line up in the slot in year one with Will Fuller, DeVante Parker, and Preston Williams manning the outside receiver spots.
7. Patriots (via DET) – Ohio State QB4 Justin Fields
Bill Belichick says get outta here with the racially-driven tropes and trades up for his new franchise quarterback. Cam Newton has been Fields’ mentor for years, and the Patriots have already set up an offense that would play to Fields’ traits as a dual-threat quarterback. His cap-savings rookie contract will allow Belichick to surround him with established veterans. The Lions are a potential trade down team with the QB-needy Panthers and Broncos picking eighth and ninth.
8. Panthers – Oregon OT1 Penei Sewell
It’s curious that ownership and the coaching staff were aggressive in veteran trade talks this offseason but haven’t traded up in the draft thus far despite having options to do so. That’s a potential sign that they aren’t in love with the available rookie quarterbacks and would rather wait until Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson are potentially available in 2022. After striking out at quarterback, the consolation prize for them here is a highly-touted left tackle. A third-round pick for Darnold would make sense as competition for Teddy Bridgewater in this scenario.
9. Football Team (via DEN) – Alabama QB5 Mac Jones
The NFL likes Jones’ quick on-field play more than Twitter does. Anywhere between No. 3 and No. 20 wouldn’t be a surprise at this point, but Jones makes the most sense for a win-now roster with an already maxed out salary cap. Jones’ cheap contract allows Washington to keep their stacked defense together long term, and his best skill (hitting receivers on time right in the chest) fits perfectly with speedsters Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Antonio Gibson. Of course, this paragraph can be copy-pasted under the 49ers, Broncos, or Patriots.
10. Cowboys – Alabama CB1 Patrick Surtain
Corner is very clearly Dallas’ biggest team need, and Surtain is a total stud. In addition to being a sound, instinctive player with experience playing in the NCAA’s most complex defense, Surtain flashed 93rd percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism at his pro day (39-inch vertical at 6’2/208). Trevon Diggs and Surtain lock down this position for Jerry Jones long term.
11. Giants – Northwestern OT2 Rashawn Slater
Daniel Jones’ 2021 performance will determine if GM David Gettleman is sticking around next offseason, so I’m leaning offense here in general. Jones has enough pass-catchers to have success, but RT Nate Solder and the interior offensive line are worth upgrading. Slater has positional versatility and is even ranked as the No. 1 offensive tackle on some NFL team’s draft boards.
12. Eagles – Alabama WR3 Jaylen Waddle
There are plenty of avenues to where one of the consensus top-three receivers fall to 12th overall. That’s what happens here with Waddle, who sits atop of this stacked slot receiver class because of his lightning speed and physicality with the ball in the air. As a bonus, Waddle and Jalen Hurts played together at Alabama in 2018. Philly will certainly be in the corner market, too.
13. Chargers – USC OT3 Alijah Vera-Tucker
Los Angeles has three offensive line spots filled with quality starters, but left tackle and guard are wide open. Vera-Tucker played left tackle as a Trojan and is the top-ranked guard by those who view him inside at the next level. The Chargers are getting a long-term starter here regardless of where that is.
14. Vikings – Michigan EDGE1 Kwity Paye
When asked about Minnesota’s No. 28 adjusted pass rush after last season, coach Mike Zimmer said, “A priority for me is that we continue to get more pass rushers.” They haven’t done that via free agency and easily could be the first team to select an edge rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft. Paye has the highest expected draft position (16) at the position after showing 87th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism at his pro day.
15. Lions (via NE) – South Carolina CB2 Jaycee Horn
The Lions were dead last in passing EPA in 2020 while primarily playing man coverage, something new DC Aaron Glenn is likely to bring with him from New Orleans. 2020 first-rounder Jeff Okudah and Horn excelled in man coverage in college, and Horn just showed off 97th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism at his pro day. He’s in the CB1 conversation with Surtain and Farley. Speaking of…
16. Cardinals – Virginia Tech CB3 Caleb Farley
If Arizona wants to continue playing a lot of Cover 1 man defense and blitz at top-five rates, they desperately need to find top-end corners. Veteran CB Patrick Peterson signed with the Vikings and Robert Alford was re-signed cheaply after two injury-filled seasons. Farley would be the CB1 immediately as long as his medicals check out. He’ll be rushing back into training camp this year after his second back procedure, otherwise he’d be a potential top-12 pick.
17. Raiders – Oklahoma State OT4 Teven Jenkins
Trading Trent Brown back to the Patriots leaves the Raiders with a hole at right tackle, and Jenkins is comfortably the top right tackle in the class. His physicality and on-field nastiness are exactly what coach Jon Gruden looks for, and Jenkins’ 90th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism has him locked into Round 1 now.
18. Dolphins – Miami EDGE2 Jaelan Phillips
Miami intimidates at the line of scrimmage with swarming standup edge rushers and a blitz-heavy attack, but they don’t have a high-upside pass rusher on the roster. Phillips is just that. He was the No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school and showcased 95th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism at his pro day. The Dolphins were willing to take on a similar injury risk with Tua Tagovailoa, and they’ve been the closest NFL team to Phillips since transferring to the Miami Hurricanes.
19. Broncos (via WAS) – Penn State LB1 Micah Parsons
Trading down and still landing Parsons would be a massive win for the Broncos if they aren’t sold on any of the top quarterback prospects. After retaining most of their talent this offseason, Denver has few holes on the roster, but one of them is off-ball linebacker. Parsons would start next to Alexander Johnson this year and become the long-term LB1 for coach Vic Fangio with Johnson playing on the franchise tag. The only concern with Parsons is the reported off-field incidents.
20. Bears – Virginia Tech OT5 Christian Darrisaw
The Bears declined their option on RT Bobby Massie this offseason and LT Charles Leno is in the final year of his contract. Keeping Andy Dalton upright and getting an outlier performance from the defense is the only way GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy are keeping their jobs past the 2021 season. Darrisaw is Grinding The Mock’s OT3 if Vera-Tucker is considered a guard.
21. Colts – Texas OT6 Samuel Cosmi
Indy has two top-100 picks and two massive needs at left tackle and at edge rusher, and they’ll have quality options at both positions at this spot. Cosmi’s Power 5 experience and 98th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism have nearly cemented him inside of Round 1.
22. Titans – Florida WR4 Kadarius Toney
Despite an iffy college profile (67th percentile Adjusted Production), Toney keeps getting buzzed as a first-round pick; Daniel Jeremiah (23rd overall), Dane Brugler (28th), and Grinding The Mocks (34th) all have him pegged right in this range. After losing Corey Davis to free agency, the Titans are missing the second highest percentage of their targets from last year’s roster (48%) per John Daigle. Toney would be the lightning to A.J. Brown’s thunder.
23. Jets – Northwestern CB4 Greg Newsome
Coach Robert Salah is bringing a Cover 3 defense to New York, and Newsome is the corner who has the most experience playing off-coverage. After a 70th percentile Adjusted SPARQ performance at his pro day that included a 4.38 forty and 40-inch vertical, Newsome is knocking on the door of a Round 1 selection.
24. Steelers – Alabama RB1 Najee Harris
Harris is ranked 21st overall by Daniel Jeremiah, 24th overall by Dane Brugler, and 26th by Grinding The Mocks. If a running back is going in the first round this year, my money is on Harris, who profiles as a 300-plus touch back with decent agility for a big fella. The Steelers running back depth chart is lacking, and Harris could be viewed as a crutch to aging Ben Roethlisberger.
25. Jaguars – TCU SS1 Trevon Moehrig
Jacksonville signed FS Rayshawn Jenkins to fill in as the deep safety in new DC Joe Cullen’s single-high scheme, but strong safety remains a need with ex-UDFA Andrew Wingard projected to start. Moehrig is widely considered the top safety in the class with an expected draft position of 27th overall.
26. Browns – Georgia EDGE3 Azeez Ojulari
Cleveland is an analytically-driven organization that’s likely to value younger prospects from big schools at valuable positions more than other NFL teams. Ojulari checks all of those boxes in addition to filling a team need as the long-term EDGE2 next to Myles Garrett. The Browns have been flirting with edge rushers since GM Andrew Berry showed up.
27. Ravens – Penn State EDGE4 Jayson Oweh
The Ravens lost Yannick Ngakoue, Matthew Judon, and Jihad Ward to free agency this offseason. Oweh is a 99th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athlete with the tools to develop into a top-tier edge rusher. It will take some time, however. He didn’t record a sack in 2020, although his tackles for loss numbers pass my model’s production thresholds.
28. Saints – Notre Dame LB2 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
New Orleans is looking for 33-year-old Demario Davis’ long-term replacement and 2021 sidekick. The defense looked really good the few weeks when they had both Davis and Kwon Alexander last year. More speed in the box would go a long way in their two-high defense, and Owusu-Koramoah is a superb athlete with coverage upside.
29. Packers – Kentucky LB3 Jamin Davis
Green Bay let LB Christian Kirksey go this offseason, and opposing offenses had the highest neutral run rate against the Packers last year because they couldn’t stop the run. Davis is an early declare who picked up 102 tackles across 10 games as a junior. His extremely impressive pro day (4.49 forty, 42 vert) makes me lean him over Tulsa’s Zaven Collins late in Round 1. I think Davis will be mocked more often as a Day 1 selection in April (43rd in Grinding The Mocks currently).
30. Bills – Miami EDGE5 Gregory Rousseau
The Bills were 23rd in pressure rate last season despite blitzing at the ninth-highest rate. The veteran duo of 33-year-old Jerry Hughes and 34-year-old Mario Addison has a very low ceiling, and 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa is a total wild card after a rookie year consisting of just rotational snaps. Rousseau was viewed as the EDGE1 before his forgettable pro day. He might slide now.
31. Chiefs – Alabama OT7 Alex Leatherwood
It’s no secret that Kansas City needs a starting left tackle, plus they can use upgrades at center, right guard, and right tackle. Leatherwood’s College Football Playoff experience and 89th percentile Adjusted SPARQ athleticism keep him in the Round 1 mix, even if some project him as a guard long term.
32. Bucs – Alabama DT1 Christian Barmore
Tampa Bay doesn’t have many needs, and this pick shows that. Barmore is a best player available pick and would operate as a rotational three-technique next to 34-year-old Ndamukong Suh and 30-year-old William Gholston. The rich get richer here.
Other Round 1 Candidates
LB Zaven Collins: Not convinced his pro day was good enough as a non-Power 5 prospect.
RB Travis Etienne: A top-32 player for Grinding The Mocks, Dane Brugler, and Daniel Jeremiah.
DT Levi Onwuzurike: A high-quality mover that should be getting mocked higher in April.
WR Rashod Bateman: Analytics Twitter likes him more than those with ties to the NFL.
WR Terrace Marshall: In the WR4 mix but may miss the Round 1 cut because of WR supply.
C Landon Dickerson: Easily can sneak in if his injury history gets cleared. Wild card prospect.
OT Liam Eichenberg: Likely a Day 2 starter without the Round 1 athleticism.
OT Jalen Mayfield: A below-average pro day likely pushes him to guard and into Day 2.
RB Javonte Williams: There’s not much of a gap between him and the top two RBs, if at all.
WR Elijah Moore: Seemingly well-liked by everyone, but size likely keeps him out of Round 1.
TE Pat Freiermuth: After Brevin Jordan’s pro day bust, he should be the consensus TE2.
EDGE Joseph Ossai: A crazy athlete (41.5 vert) from Texas with iffy the sack production.