The quarterback situation across the NFL is becoming increasingly dire. Free agency and the NFL Draft are getting closer, and the pressure is on 32 teams to build, recover, and sustain success. It sounds like a high-stakes, once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, but in reality, it’s just another NFL offseason soon to begin. As teams gear up for the first player acquisition phase, here’s a 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft to project their intentions beyond that.
Cummings’ 2021 3-round NFL Mock Draft | Round One, Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The Jaguars are the gatekeeper, and as long as Lawrence is their top-rated quarterback — they certainly seemed interested at his pro day on February 12 — then he’ll be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Nothing has changed on that front. Lawrence is athletic, strong-armed, and accurate, and he’s also a calm and collected leader who attracts success.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young
Much like the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets also control their destiny in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. They might receive trade offers for the No. 2 pick, but as long as they don’t see a chance at redemption with Sam Darnold, they’ll stay put and draft a quarterback. In this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, Zach Wilson is the selection.
Current trends depict Zach Wilson as QB2 over Justin Fields. While this isn’t a consensus opinion, it has plenty of merit. Although Wilson doesn’t quite have the top-tier athleticism or arm strength of Fields, he’s confident, electric, and effortlessly natural off-script. Wilson’s instincts for off-platform playmaking are second to none, and that natural ability will go a long way in April.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (projected trade w/ Miami Dolphins): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Now that the Eagles have closed the back cover of the tragedy known as “the Carson Wentz Saga,” they can turn the page to the sequel. Hopefully, it will have a more endearing ending.
At pick No. 6, the Eagles were already in prime position to acquire a quarterback. However, given the higher demand and lower supply for quality quarterbacks this year, the Eagles may be forced to trade up and secure their selection. In this range, the Miami Dolphins are a suitable trade partner, and from the Wentz trade, the Eagles have additional draft capital to offer.
In a projected trade, the Eagles move up to No. 3, giving up the sixth overall pick, the 70th overall pick, and a few high picks in 2021. The prize is worth the price.
Even in the face of recent questions surrounding his ability to scan the field, Justin Fields is an impressive quarterback prospect and an equal contender to the QB2 mantle. Fields is a supreme physical talent with toughness and accuracy downfield. The Eagles don’t represent the ideal starting situation for Fields, but he has the traits to transcend his surroundings.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (projected trade w/ Atlanta Falcons): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Many people — yours truly included — overthought Justin Herbert last offseason. Now, a rookie touchdown record and an Offensive Rookie of the Year award later, Herbert is arguably the top quarterback from the 2020 class. With their quarterback in town, it’s now time for the Los Angeles Chargers to get him some much-needed protection. They should be aggressive in pursuing that.
The Chargers could feasibly stay put at No. 13 and read the board at that juncture. However, this draft represents a rare opportunity to select a blue-chip tackle and one who is familiar with Justin Herbert’s pocket movements and habits.
Penei Sewell has the athleticism, balance, and natural leverage to be a standout offensive lineman. Furthermore, he’s much stronger and more refined than his age would indicate. It’ll cost Los Angeles their 77th pick this year and an additional haul in 2022, but for the protection of their star quarterback, it’s worth it.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
In what seems to be an annual exercise, the Bengals’ roster is depleted and needs more talent. Likewise, Cincinnati’s offensive line is subpar. Even during a typical year, that’s an area of added importance. Yet, with Joe Burrow coming back from a season-ending injury, that takes on added emphasis.
Unfortunately, picking at No. 5, with Penei Sewell gone, the Bengals’ options aren’t numerous. Taking the depth of the 2021 offensive line class into account, the Bengals choose to pass on the blocking unit with this pick and instead select Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
On the surface, picking a tight end in the top five isn’t the best value proposition. However, it’s not brash to say that Pitts is more than a tight end. He’s an athletic nightmare for opposing defenses, with the skills to separate and the playmaking ability to dominate defenders. If they can improve the line, Pitts makes the Bengals’ offense scary.
6. Miami Dolphins (projected trade w/ Philadelphia Eagles): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
This offseason’s first order of business for the Miami Dolphins is to strengthen the supporting cast around 2020 first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa. Even after trading back a few picks, the Dolphins are still in an excellent position to do so.
At No. 6, Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is a tremendous addition. Above all else, the Dolphins need a receiver who can accumulate YAC and separate downfield. As long as his ankle is healthy, Waddle is the perfect fit for this archetype.
Waddle is an elite athlete with unnatural explosiveness both laterally and vertically. He can expand space in the short and intermediate ranges, and he has the vertical extension ability and body control to be a deep threat. Some might see his profile and wonder if he’s just another Henry Ruggs III. He’s not. Waddle was one of the main reasons Ruggs couldn’t produce more with the Crimson Tide.
Waddle brings big plays wherever he lines up, and that’s just what Miami needs.
7. Detroit Lions: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Lions might end up franchise-tagging high-priority free agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay. However, even if they do, they’ll still be sporting a receiving corps that is impossibly barren. Currently, only Geronimo Allison and Quintez Cephus remain under contract from 2020. Golladay undoubtedly makes that unit much better, but the complementary addition of Ja’Marr Chase could take things one step further and turn it into a strength.
Chase is a dense, ultra-competitive receiving threat with good speed, excellent vertical ability, and the sheer alpha mentality to consistently convert in contested situations.
Opinions vary a bit more widely on Chase, but his pure instincts for catching the football are at the top of his class. He also has enough route-running ability and YAC ability to be a complete starter. Across from Golladay, Chase’s presence may spawn slogans reminiscent of a law firm: “Golladay and Chase: A duo you can trust.”
8. Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Panthers are very much in the theoretical Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, and the eighth overall pick would give them a leg up on most teams. However, seeing that they still have their first-round selection in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, we can assume that they failed to acquire Watson in this scenario.
Seeing that quarterback is still a need, the most logical option here is Trey Lance. Lance doesn’t quite have the security or polish as the quarterbacks ranked above him. However, he’s one of the most physically talented quarterbacks to come out in recent memory, and he can be a franchise passer with some development.
9. Denver Broncos: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Micah Parsons’ stock has been quietly slipping since the start of the offseason. The Penn State star has some off-field questions that he’ll have to answer for. However, beyond that, Parsons is an elite athletic talent who could provide a tremendous boost for creative, aggressive defensive coaches. Who do you think of when you envision that archetype? I think of Vic Fangio.
In Vic Fangio’s scheme, Parsons could be an excellent fit. With his explosiveness and 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame, Parsons has the size and range to be a force downfield, as well as traverse the second level. Additionally, given that Parsons has experience as a pass rusher, he also has the versatility to be a threat on the edge.
With Von Miller’s future uncertain and a decision nearing on Bradley Chubb’s fifth-year option, having some under-the-radar security with Parsons is a bonus.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Dallas Cowboys need cornerbacks. But beyond that, the Dallas Cowboys need a playmaker in the form of a tone-setter on defense. Both Patrick Surtain II and Caleb Farley have playmaking instincts, but perhaps no one has more tone-setting ability than Jaycee Horn.
A fiery competitor, Horn has the athleticism and physicality to be an early pick, and he couples that with an endless desire to pester opposing wide receivers. Horn isn’t often mocked above his counterparts, but this pick serves the purpose of showing that it’s possible. And it’s not just for show. Horn has a strong case.
11. New York Giants: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
One can’t help but wonder if the New York Giants are already doomed to eventually part ways with Daniel Jones. An upgrade at quarterback might be what they need most.
However, the Giants have already reaffirmed their confidence in Jones. Likewise, picking at No. 11, behind several other quarterback-needy teams, doesn’t do them any favors. For now, the most realistic move is to support Jones on offense and keep building a strong defense.
Here at No. 11 in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, defense is a better fit on the board, and Kwity Paye is the pick. Paye is 6-foot-4, 272 pounds, but he has explosive burst, incredible change-of-direction capacity, and a red-hot motor. He has the potential to be a terror off the edge for New York, and he also has enough size and power to shift inside as far as the three-technique on a situational basis.
12. San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Well, this worked out well for the San Francisco 49ers. Cornerback is one of the most pressing needs for the 49ers this offseason. All of their starters are set to hit the market, and only one — Jason Verrett — should experience some resistance from the 49ers’ camp.
There will undoubtedly be a need for more talent on the boundary when the NFL Draft comes around. At No. 12 in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, Patrick Surtain II is one of the best potential options. Surtain had a productive career with the Alabama Crimson Tide, and he has the necessary length, footwork, physicality, and ball skills to be an early starter with upside.
The 49ers promoted linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to replace Robert Saleh as defensive coordinator. Given Ryans’ experience under Saleh, it’s likely he carries over some of the same philosophies. In that scheme, Surtain has lots of potential.
13. Atlanta Falcons (projected trade w/ Los Angeles Chargers): Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
The Falcons managed to acquire a few extra picks by trading down from No. 4 to No. 13 in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft. Now, the real work begins. If the Falcons stick with Matt Ryan in the short-term, they can focus their early picks on rebuilding their defense, which has dramatically depreciated since Atlanta’s Super Bowl berth.
At No. 13, it makes sense to address the defensive line, and Gregory Rousseau is an exciting fit in Dean Pees’ defense. Pees loves to use multiple fronts to churn up different kinds of blitzes, and Rousseau has a ton of upside as a versatile chess piece on the defensive line. He’s an incredibly long physical specimen, and although he’s not particularly fast or flexible, his motor and burst allow him to produce from a variety of alignments.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
The Minnesota Vikings’ defense struggled mightily in 2020, and the defensive line was near the heart of that underperformance. The Vikings were ineffective in clogging running lanes. In the passing game, inconsistent pressure helped opposing quarterbacks stay on target. Improving the defensive line is one of Minnesota’s most important tasks in 2021, and at No. 14, Christian Barmore is an underrated option.
As noted by others, Barmore’s meteoric rise late in his collegiate career mirrors that of past Alabama linemen like Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. Barmore has the size, explosiveness, and heavy-handed style to be just as disruptive in the NFL. For the Vikings, he’d be an immediate upgrade on the interior and reinvigorate a position group that desperately needs added talent.
15. New England Patriots: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
It didn’t take long for New England’s offense to devolve once Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay. On the line, David Andrews and Joe Thuney are impending free agents. Jarrett Stidham is the only holdover quarterback on the roster, no longer benefitting from the mystery of potential.
Additionally, the team’s receiving corps features a mix of underwhelming young players and veterans past their prime. At pick No. 15, there’s only so much New England can do to smooth things over.
Mac Jones is an option, but New England has enough cap space to pursue a quarterback in free agency and add to the weapons in the draft. Because Jones is a common selection for Bill Belichick’s squad, let’s divert course and add to the receiving room here.
DeVonta Smith is an excellent pick and a particularly strong fit for the Patriots. Yes, he’s undersized. However, his play style translates to instant production, and he’s a safe projection, even at his weight.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
The Arizona Cardinals got their long-awaited breakout from former first-round pick Haason Reddick in 2020. However, Reddick may ultimately take that breakout and leverage it to acquire a lucrative contract elsewhere. With Chander Jones’ long-term future uncertain on the other side, it makes sense for the Cardinals to pursue an edge rusher with this pick.
At No. 16 in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, Georgia edge defender Azeez Ojulari is a tantalizing fit. Like Reddick, Ojulari is an undersized rusher, but he offers similar burst and torso flexibility off the line, and his motor always runs hot.