Round One | Picks 17-32
17. Las Vegas Raiders: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Caleb Farley is arguably the best cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, Farley also has the highest chance of falling among the top three cornerbacks. Farley doesn’t have the name recognition or pedigree of Surtain, and unlike Horn, he doesn’t have a stellar 2020 season to fall back on and fuel his ascension. Farley opted out, and he has an injury history. Those factors alone might make NFL teams less bullish on his projection.
Still, picking Farley here is a much better cornerback selection than last year for the Las Vegas Raiders. Last year, the Raiders selected 24-year-old Damon Arnette with the 19th pick. They’ll remedy that selection somewhat with Farley’s addition.
Farley has the length, youth, and athleticism that Arnette lacks. His addition on the outside should provide the Raiders some flexibility with their ill-advised first-rounder from 2020 while forging a strong duo in Farley and Trayvon Mullen. Farley and Mullen on the outside, with Arnette in the slot, could be an excellent combination under new coordinator Gus Bradley.
18. Miami Dolphins: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
With a weapon already in tow, the Miami Dolphins can now turn their attention to the offensive line. Questions are surrounding how the group will settle in the future, and the Dolphins shouldn’t settle for what they have. With Tua Tagovailoa’s development at stake, investing in the offensive line is a smart venture, and at No. 18, Rashawn Slater constitutes a dream scenario.
Although Slater opted out of the 2020 season, his draft stock remained strong. He’s a nimble, athletic lineman with good hand precision, urgency, and versatility. His length doesn’t inspire as much confidence. Nevertheless, Slater could be a potential starter at all five positions. That flexibility will allow the Dolphins to proceed with freedom on the line.
19. Washington Football Team: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Part of this is experimental. Personally, I’m not on board with the Washington Football Team selecting Mac Jones at No. 19. But ultimately, it’s still a possibility. If it happens, can they acquire enough talent to support him in the later rounds?
Regardless of one’s opinion on Jones, there’s a reason he’s in the discussion here. Jones played exceptionally well in his lone year as a starter at Alabama, displaying poise, good arm talent with accuracy, quick processing skills, and awareness in the pocket.
Jones isn’t the most athletic player, but he’s not quite in NFL shape at the moment. With further refinement of his frame, he could draw out more functional athleticism. Even so, he already has high-level distributor potential.
20. Chicago Bears: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC
The Bears are in quarterback limbo. However, that fact alone doesn’t excuse a reach at quarterback here. There is no available quarterback worth picking this early, so it’s up to Chicago to use restraint and instead maximize value by addressing the offensive line. Players like Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are starting to fall out of favor as merely serviceable options, and on the interior, there’s room for improvement as well.
At this point, drafting a lineman like Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC is a good move for the Bears. Vera-Tucker is a stout, versatile blocker who has experience at both tackle and guard. He had a great year at tackle in 2020, but with his fast hands and proactivity when seeking to provide help, he projects well as a guard. At the very least, Vera-Tucker provides the Bears with flexibility as they rework their line, and he can be a solid starter at several spots.
21. Indianapolis Colts: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
The retirement of Anthony Castonzo opened up tackle as a significant need for the Colts, but the recent addition of Carson Wentz via trade only compounds the need for security on the offensive line. Wentz has been a very good quarterback before, and Indianapolis has the coaching and the weapons necessary to support his rebound. All they need beyond that is a stable offensive line, and a tackle at No. 21 can get them that.
By virtue of the luck of the board, the Colts get a franchise left tackle with this pick. Virginia Tech blocker Christian Darrisaw has all the tools necessary to be a high-level starter for a decade or more.
At 6-foot-5, 314 pounds, he has the requisite size, and on tape, he’s a superb athlete who thrives in the open field. He’s also an intense, physical, aggressive blocker who doesn’t hesitate to impose his will. Darrisaw does need to refine his lateral footwork and hand placement, but for the Colts, he’s the right investment at the right time.
22. Tennessee Titans: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
It’s incredibly tempting to pick an edge rusher here, but the recent news regarding 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson demands attention. Recently, Titans general manager Jon Robinson said that Wilson “was not the same player we evaluated” during the 2020 season.
Robinson then said that Wilson will “have to make a determination on whether he wants to play pro football.” This comes after a rookie season in which Wilson violated protocols twice and was charged with a DUI.
There’s always a chance that Wilson and the Titans smooth things over. Yet, just one year into his career, that’s not how you want a general manager to talk about a player. If Tennessee ends the Wilson experiment early, they’ll need a new starter at right tackle on the offensive line.
One player who’d be comfortable in that position early is Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins. This might be a bit high for Jenkins, but he’s been getting first-round buzz recently. Jenkins is a powerful, physical blocker who’s hard to move, and he’d fit what the Titans are looking for in their linemen.
23. New York Jets: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
Things might be starting to look up for the New York Jets. A superb staff has assembled beneath new head coach Robert Saleh, and Zach Wilson is an excellent fit for Mike LaFleur’s offense.
With their franchise quarterback now in tow, the Jets have some flexibility regarding how they approach the rest of their picks, which should be best player available all the way down. At this juncture, one could argue that player is Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu.
Melifonwu has experienced a meteoric rise since the start of the offseason. He flashed several times during the season. However, it wasn’t until scouts got a look at his tape that they realized just how athletic, physical, and disruptive he was.
Melifonwu has unnatural explosiveness and fluidity for his 6-foot-3, 213-pound frame, and his closing speed/length combination can be lethal in the NFL. He’s the quintessential Robert Saleh cornerback, and he’s an excellent piece to build around on defense.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The needs keep piling up for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but one of the more underrated areas of concern is wide receiver. JuJu Smith-Schuster will almost certainly not be retained in free agency, and the only holdovers are Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington. All three of those receivers have starting experience, but by the same virtue, all three are lacking in certain areas and underwhelm as a collective unit.
Adding a glue guy like Rashod Bateman to an unstable receiving group could be what the Steelers need. Bateman has good size and athleticism, but beyond that, he’s one of the best route runners in the 2021 NFL Draft. Additionally, he has excellent toughness, instincts, and proactivity at the catch point.
For an aging Ben Roethlisberger, Bateman provides the possibility of another year of survival. And for Roethlisberger’s eventual successor, Bateman delivers a steady and reliable No. 1 receiver.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
Much like the Jets, the Jaguars’ early selection gives them the flexibility to use their later first-round pick on the best player available. With plenty of needs and no more pressure to find the franchise guy, the Jaguars can simply add talent from this point out. And with the No. 25 pick in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is an excellent addition.
Owusu-Koramoah rests near the boundary of linebackers and safeties when it comes to size and usage, and that’s opened up a debate regarding what his role will be at the next level. To me, his versatility is what makes him such an exciting prospect.
Don’t try and find a concrete role to slot him into. Instead, figure out how to maximize his skill set situationally. Owusu-Koramoah has the instincts and explosive athleticism to be a threat all over the field, and his ability to always be near the ball translates at every level.
26. Cleveland Browns: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
It’s nice to see the Browns picking this late, but it’s essential for them not to get complacent. They were knocking on the door in 2020, but to improve further, they’ll have to solidify their defense. Their linebacker group was significantly lacking in 2020, and adding a versatile, instinctive, productive player like Zaven Collins could smooth things over.
Standing at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Collins is a massive player who couples his size with a high football IQ and tremendous proactive physicality. Collins isn’t quite an elite athlete, but he still moves well for his size and offers impressive playmaking utility against both the run and the pass. Additionally, with his size and speed downfield, he can be a catalyst as a situational edge rusher, something else that the Browns need on their defense.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
Surprised? Don’t be. Amon-Ra St. Brown has fallen under the radar in a strong receiving class, but he’s most definitely worthy of first-round consideration in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Ravens need reliable, well-rounded receiving talent, and at the 27th pick in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, St. Brown might be the best fit remaining.
Terrace Marshall Jr. offers a better athletic profile and more size, but St. Brown is an authoritative target who has the speed and agility to get yards after the catch while also possessing the body control and vertical ability to make plays downfield. He would immediately give Baltimore’s receiving corps a steady constant, and he’d look good making plays in purple and gold.
At the moment, he profiles as more of a Day 2 pick. Nevertheless, if he tests well at his pro day, there isn’t much on tape stopping him from ascending up the board.
28. New Orleans Saints: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU
The Saints know how to wiggle around a bit when it comes to cap space, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to free up enough financial flexibility to re-sign free safety Marcus Williams. Williams is set to command a high price on the open market, and with him gone, the Saints will need a new rangy piece on the back end to complete their perpetually productive secondary.
With the 28th pick, TCU’s Trevon Moehrig is excellent value, and he fits the Saints’ specific needs well. Standing at 6-foot-2 with a frame over 200 pounds, Moehrig has the necessary size to be a tackling threat downfield. He couples that size with excellent athleticism, which he uses at all levels of the field — especially deep, where he has the tracking ability and length to be a disruptive player in coverage.
29. Green Bay Packers: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Aside from Davante Adams, who’s just the full package, the Green Bay Packers’ receiving corps leaves a lot to be desired in the short and intermediate ranges. The only three receivers under contract for 2021 besides Adams are Devin Funchess, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
All three of those receivers are big-bodied players who don’t exactly specialize in churning out run-after-catch yards. It’s time for the Packers to bring back something they haven’t had since Randall Cobb, and they can do that by drafting Kadarius Toney.
At 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, with arms just over 30 inches, Toney isn’t an imposing physical threat. This limits his ability to convert downfield with size. However, for what Toney lacks in that department, he compensates tenfold with his ability to attain separation and create after the catch.
Toney is a twitchy, sudden player, and he uses that suddenness and explosiveness out of his breaks to peel off of defenders. In open space, he has elite elusiveness and contact balance. He fits perfectly into a Packers’ offense that could use his versatility and playmaking potential.
30. Buffalo Bills: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
Two years ago, the Buffalo Bills rode their elite defense to a playoff berth. Now, it’s the offense that returns as a feared unit, while the defense requires improvement at every level. On the front line, the Bills need more of a pass-rushing presence. On the second level, the Bills may need to replace Matt Milano, who intends to test free agency. In the secondary, the Bills need a high-level starter at cornerback opposite Tre’Davious White.
Most of the worthwhile first-round cornerbacks are gone at this point, but one option who’s flown under the radar so far this offseason is available: Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II.
Newsome is a bit underweight for his size, but he’s a long, athletic cornerback who’s also smart, disruptive, and dynamic with his movement. He’ll need to stay healthy in the NFL, but if he can do that, he immediately brings Buffalo’s secondary a step back toward its 2019 level.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
Everyone wants to pick an offensive lineman for the Chiefs after their Super Bowl performance. Let’s mix things up a bit. We know that a large part of the Chiefs’ offensive line woes were the result of injuries.
We also know that the 2021 NFL Draft is relatively deep at the offensive line, so it’s entirely prudent for the Chiefs to bypass the line here and instead use their first-round pick on a more scarce position. With Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Taco Charlton all hitting free agency, adding another pass-rushing threat across from Frank Clark could be of benefit.
Hailing from Texas, Joseph Ossai gives Kansas City the boost they need to keep things going on defense. After switching from off-ball linebacker to EDGE in 2020, Ossai saw his production skyrocket.
He was already known to be long and athletic. However, in 2020, he coupled those physical traits with a ferocious motor off the line and combative hand usage. He’s still relatively raw, but all the tools are there for Ossai to produce in the NFL. Feeding off of the play of Clark and Chris Jones, Ossai’s emergence might come sooner rather than later.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Alright, let’s pack it in. Tampa Bay has next year’s Super Bowl, too.
That may or may not be a dramatized representation of your reaction to this pick — unless you’re a Buccaneers fan. Then you’re getting your finger size measured for your next ring.
For most teams, a running back isn’t going to take you over the edge. However, the Buccaneers are different. They don’t have many needs to begin with, and they reportedly plan on bringing most of their high-profile free agents back this offseason.
Watching the Super Bowl, one of the only things that eluded the Buccaneers was a complete running back, who could both grind out tough yards and make waves as a receiver. Najee Harris is the complete running back the Buccaneers need.
Harris is a big, physical player, but he also has elite explosiveness, impeccable natural receiving ability, and excellent vision at the line. He can tack on two more years to Tom Brady’s career and provide Tampa with the balance they seek.