In this 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft, I will not predict what each general manager will do. Instead, it will be a team-building practice as we explore how each team should view the 2021 NFL Draft. Trades will not be occurring in this mock as that is a whole other equation that deserves its own article. As the teams currently sit, this is what I would do with each selection in the first round.
2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft | Round 1, Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This pick needs no analysis. Blah blah blah, Trevor Lawrence is the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, blah blah blah. Next.
In all seriousness, the Jaguars can not completely fumble this selection. Even if Urban Meyer has an affinity for Zach Wilson or Justin Fields, there is a reason every man, woman, and child has Lawrence as the No. 1 overall player in the 2021 NFL Draft.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Jets told us precisely what they were doing with this selection when Sam Darnold was traded to the Panthers — they are drafting a quarterback. There is an argument for Fields or even Trey Lance here, but Zach Wilson‘s tools and skill set are too great to pass up. I believe Wilson has one of the highest ceilings in the draft class.
Lawrence is the safest pick, but New York may be selecting the best QB in the class when all is said and done. His ability to thrive outside of structure is second to none, similar to Patrick Mahomes. Now, I am not claiming Wilson will be or is Mahomes, but he does possess that innate gunslinger mentality and arm talent that creates big-time plays.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from HOU via MIA): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Listen 9ers’ nation, Justin Fields is the pick here. I do not want to see any more of the “Mac Jones is more pro-ready” talk. Even if that were true, Fields doesn’t need to start right away behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Let the veteran start until the trade deadline, win a few games, let Fields master the playbook, then ship Garoppolo out in return for some of the draft capital that was traded away to land Fields in the first place.
Imagine George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, and Fields in the same offense. Now imagine the same thing, but with Jones under center. Not as scary, right?
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Here is where the draft begins in my eyes. As much as I would love to take Lance here in this First Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, Matt Ryan’s contract is immovable for at least two seasons. Allowing the franchise’s future to acclimate to the NFL speed is a luxury many do not have, but Atlanta is in win-now mode. Although Ryan is on the wrong side of his prime, players can produce quality play well into their 30s in today’s NFL.
Thus, the Falcons draft the best non-QB player on the board. Kyle Pitts is the definition of a mismatch nightmare. He can start inline and fly past linebackers and safeties, slide in the slot and bully smaller cornerbacks, or even face the opposition’s finest corner outside and make the contested catch. Typically, tight ends in the first round are reaches, but labeling Pitts as just a tight end is a disservice.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Yes, Joe Burrow’s knee looked rough in the most recent pictures from the Bengals 2021 uniform reveal. And yes, the offensive line is far from outstanding heading into next season. Nevertheless, Ja’Marr Chase is the pick at No. 5. I am not even going to mention the obvious LSU connection between Burrow and Chase.
Going from a serviceable player to an elite player is a difference of a few ugly snaps each game on the offensive line. It is 20-30 snaps for receivers where the elite player is drawing defenses to his side, making tough catches, and getting open.
To further prove this, Justin Herbert was behind one of the best o-lines in the nation at Oregon. Why did he look like a completely different player with the Chargers? He had Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler to throw to. Don’t overcomplicate it.
6. Miami Dolphins (from PHI): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The above explanation stays true here. The Dolphins already added Will Fuller in free agency to pair with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. You can never have too many weapons. Although Penei Sewell would answer questions upfront, selecting DeVonta Smith will allow the organization to evaluate if Tua Tagovailoa is the QB of the future in Miami.
7. Detroit Lions: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Penei Sewell slide ends here. Sorry Detriot, but you are the favorites to own the No. 2 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft — behind only the Texans, of course. However, that is why I do not have the Lions taking a QB at seven. One of Sam Howell or Spencer Rattler will be available next year, and both are better prospects than Lance or Jones.
Head coach Dan Campbell wants kneecap biters on his team, and Sewell fits that description on the field. He is a generational talent at the position with excellent athletic tools coupled with imposing play strength. Adding Sewell to Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Logan Stenberg, and Frank Ragnow launches the Lions’ offensive line into the “greatest in the league” conversation.
8. Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Trey Lance finally comes off the board as the Panthers draft their new face of the franchise. The former Bison is uber-talented but is raw in terms of the mental aspect of the game. Turning 21 just a few months before the start of the season, Lance is young with only one year of starting experience under his belt.
He faced FCS competition which will ding him, but he also played with FCS talent around him. If Carolina can play to his strengths and harness his physical ability, Lance may reach a ceiling close to that of Wilson.
9. Denver Broncos: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
This pick comes with a significant caveat. Micah Parsons has some off-field concerns that might drop him down the draft. If the Broncos feel they would be reaching on Parsons in terms of where other teams view him, they should look elsewhere.
That said, the Penn State linebacker is quite possibly the top defensive player in the class. He isn’t the most fluid LB in coverage — that spot is reserved for a Golden Domer later in this 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft — but he is the most explosive. His run-defense and pass-rush capability are second to none from the position. He also fits seamlessly into Vic Fangio’s defense which deploys two linebackers on nearly every play.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys’ offense is elite as long as Dak Prescott is healthy. Their most pressing needs are on the defensive side of the ball, specifically at cornerback. Trevon Diggs showed flashes last season and Jourdan Lewis has his moments, but they are the two best CBs on Dallas’ roster. Patrick Surtain II is CB1 in the class and will start on Day 1.
His testing numbers at Alabama’s Pro Day were not jaw-dropping but are more than enough to excel at the next level. There is a case for Jaycee Horn here, but new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn ran a multitude of coverages last year, and Horn’s skill set is best in a predominantly press-man role.
11. New York Giants: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The G-Men would love to acquire another receiver to pair with Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard, but their most significant need is along the offensive line. Drafting for need is not the smartest endeavor in the NFL Draft as needs change very quickly. Still, some analysts view Rashawn Slater as the best OL in 2021, so the Giants can draft both for need and value.
Slater’s arm length has many pigeon-holing him inside, but I believe he is more than capable of sticking at either bookend. If New York wishes to keep Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart as the starting tackles, Slater can kick inside, but drafting an interior lineman this high won’t give you a great return on investment.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (from SF via MIA): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Fly, Eagles, Fly. Jalen Hurts is the new starting quarterback, but who is he throwing to? I believe in Jalen Reagor. Additionally, Travis Fulgham was a fantasy superstar last season, and John Hightower and Quez Watkins are budding deep threats. On the other hand, none are proven entities in the NFL, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is seemingly in the dog pound.
Subsequently, the Eagles select Jaylen Waddle and hope his injuries are behind him. When healthy and on the field, Waddle is dynamic as any other receiver. He has received the Tyreek Hill comparison quite a bit, and while he does possess similar qualities, no one is Tyreek Hill. Waddle has the twitch and deep speed to burn any corner at the line or downfield. Expect Hurts to looks his way early and often in 2021.
13. Los Angles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
If you view the Chargers’ offensive from center to right tackle, it’s solid. Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler handle the interior while a hopefully healthy Bryan Bulaga anchors right tackle. However, once you begin to turn your head to the left, it becomes pretty ugly. Oday Aboushi is the projected starting left guard with Trey Pipkins at left tackle.
Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw can take over the LT position in Year 1. He dominated ACC defenders in 2020, displaying his immense strength. He overextends himself on occasion and must enhance his footwork, but Darrisaw is a dependable all-around prospect.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC
While I wanted to take Horn here, the Vikings have more urgent matters on the o-line. Alijah Vera-Tucker exhibited his versatility throughout his USC career. In fact, center is the only position we have not seen AVT play at the collegiate level. This matters as there is not a single position I wouldn’t want to upgrade upfront for Minnesota.
Mike Zimmer can plug and play Vera-Tucker wherever he desires and feel comfortable in his decision.
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
In real life, the Patriots will likely have to trade up for a QB in the 2021 NFL Draft. Luckily for them, in my 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft, they stay pat and capture their signal-caller. Cam Newton will presumably start the 2021 season, and if he doesn’t play up to par, Mac Jones can take the reigns as soon as the 2022 season.
No, the former Alabama passer is not going to be the next Tom Brady. That expectation is too lofty for any QB, even Mahomes. Still, Jones boasts the tools to be productive in the NFL. His athleticism is nothing to write home about, but his accuracy and timing is Kirk Cousins-esque — YOU LIKE THAT? Yeah, but I don’t love it.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph prefers to run an aggressive 3-4 defense to combat explosive offenses. Jaycee Horn has the physical mentality coaches long for in a CB1. He gets into receivers’ faces and forces them to work for every yard downfield. If Joseph reigns in Horn’s penalty-inviting style of play, NFC West offenses will need to gameplan away from his side of the field.