As we write this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, we’re approaching the second half of the NFL’s perception cycle. In the offseason, teams experience optimism in the absence of resistance. But as the season arrives and progresses, certain teams receive sobering reminders of how far they still have to go, and the present gets less and less endearing. By the halfway point, we know who most of these teams are, save for the few who toil in the middle.
In this mock draft, 32 teams turn an eye to the future, with the hopes that their perception of progress can eventually become a reality. Not every team will succeed right away — that’s true of any NFL Draft. But with these selections, they’ll give it their best shot.[sv slug=mocksim]
Cummings’ 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
1. New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The New York Jets remain winless on the year, and while general manager Joe Douglas poured some cold water on the “hard reset” talk, this Jets team has all the qualities of the destabilizing remains of a failed experiment that will eventually, inevitably dissolve. Every week, they not only lose but find themselves outmatched, out-classed, and out-worked, and at some point, ownership has to recognize that, for the sake of the culture, they need to start over.
A lot depends on picking the right coach in the ensuing rebuild, but the Jets don’t need much of a discussion on who their next quarterback will be. They’ll be in a position to select Trevor Lawrence in the coming NFL Draft, and that’s an opportunity they simply can’t pass up. Lawrence is the most complete quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, and with his physical talent and gift for making the hardest throws, he can make the Jets better, regardless of the infrastructure around him.
2. New York Giants: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
New York, New York. The city so nice they named it twice. “Football purgatory” is the other name. The two teams in New York are a combined 1-15 through eight games each, and while Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman have refused to acknowledge the possibility of picking a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, if they stay at No. 2 overall, it’s a choice that must be considered.
For all his potential, Daniel Jones has not taken a large step up this year; his persistent turnover woes remain, and as a passer, he’s noticeably inconsistent and late on a lot of throws. In the NFL, teams need to recognize their mistakes early at quarterback. While the book might not be closed on Jones yet, Justin Fields is a quarterback with an infinitely better outlook, possessing the athletic ability, arm talent, and natural feel to succeed where Jones has failed.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in an awkward spot, with the Giants unexpectedly picking a quarterback. They could opt to select one of Trey Lance or Zach Wilson, but the No. 3 pick seems a little rich. Quarterbacks haven’t gone 1-2-3 in the NFL Draft since 1999. Why? Because not only does the value dip at QB, but there’s also superior value at other positions.
This pick is a prime example of that, as the Jacksonville Jaguars opt to instead solidify their support group if they can’t pick their franchise quarterback altogether. With Cam Robinson likely leaving in free agency, the Jaguars will need a new starter at tackle, and Penei Sewell is far and away the best option available in the 2021 NFL Draft.
4. Miami Dolphins (via HOU): Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
We’ve known from the start that Brian Flores loves versatility from his defensive players, and Miami’s dominant win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8 was proof of that. Using a myriad of creative blitz packages, Flores kept Jared Goff guessing and prevented him from getting comfortable.
If there’s one player in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft Flores would beg and plead for, it’s Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. A linebacker-edge hybrid, Parsons might literally be the perfect player to match with Flores. He has the athleticism and motor to be a productive off-ball linebacker, but at the same time, his explosiveness and experience as an edge rusher also allow him to be a menace as a pass rusher.
5. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
It’s been a sobering year for the Dallas Cowboys, who find themselves at 2-6, now quickly sliding to the depths of the dreadful NFC East. A lot depends on Dak Prescott’s future for the Cowboys in 2021, but right now, one thing we can quantify is the state of the defense. It’s bad, and Dallas needs to invest more high-end capital to improve.
Trevon Diggs appears to be slowly finding his groove as a playmaker for Dallas, but the Cowboys could use a true CB1 to take pressure off of Diggs and help him develop further. Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II has proven himself to deserve this distinction in 2020. Surtain is a good athlete for his 6-foot-2 frame, and with his physical foundation, he also brings outstanding instincts, ball skills, and awareness on the boundary.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
What good is a 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft without at least one mind-boggling surprise? The goal of a mock draft is to capture the essence of a draft’s unpredictability, after all, and it doesn’t get much less predictable than the edge position in the 2021 class.
It’s anyone’s guess who NFL scouts wind up seeing as EDGE1 by year’s end, but in my opinion, Michigan’s Kwity Paye has a good chance to ascend to the draft’s highest ranks. It’s hard to pinpoint what Paye doesn’t have as a prospect: He’s well-sized at 6-foot-4, 272, he has good length, he’s strong, he’s explosive, he has a relentless motor, and to top it off, he has historic agility numbers for a defensive end, which can help him navigate the pocket and get blockers off-balance.
It’s too early to definitively say that Paye will wind up even in the top-15, but he has as good a chance as any to pace his position. He’s off to a torrid start in 2020 with 2.0 sacks and 16 pressures through two games, and if the Falcons are looking for an established presence on the edge with their first-round pick, Paye arguably checks the most boxes.
7. Washington Football Team: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Zach Wilson has been the biggest riser in the draft process in 2020, and that race hasn’t been close. Every week, Wilson adds “wow” throws to his resume, but he’s not just a highlight factory; Wilson also has plenty of the trademark traits that accompany franchise quarterbacks, such as off-script ability, arm talent, accuracy, poise, and quick processing.
Washington has the choice of Wilson and Trey Lance at this juncture, and while either one is excellent value addition, Wilson brings something that will be particularly important for Washington. After watching Dwayne Haskins struggle to execute at a basic level early in 2020, Washington will want a quarterback who can be a smooth operator from day one. That’s Zach Wilson personified.
8. Los Angeles Chargers: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Until he gets back onto the field, there will be speculation on whether Jaylen Waddle’s ankle injury will impact his long-term explosiveness or not. But if his recovery goes smoothly, then his status as the most dynamic offensive skill player in the 2021 NFL Draft shouldn’t be in danger.
Waddle’s like a light switch; one second he’s there, and the next, he isn’t. Consequently, it seems fitting that he’s drafted here by the team that represents electricity. With Waddle, Justin Herbert will have another dynamic deep threat, with whom he can continue to light up the stat sheets and lead Los Angeles into the next era.
9. New England Patriots: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Bill Belichick has stuck by Cam Newton’s side even as the former MVP has struggled, and for now, it seems like Belichick is intent on seeing out the year with Newton as his guy. But while Newton hasn’t had a very good supporting cast to work with, he himself has also struggled to execute as a passer, and it seems like his one-year stint with the Patriots won’t be extended by any measure.
Subsequently, New England may be looking for a signal-caller yet again in the 2021 offseason. But this time, it’s different; they’ll likely be picking high enough to get a passer with franchise potential without having to shell out assets in a trade. Trey Lance is an excellent get at No. 9; Lance’s uneven one-game showing may bump him below the surging Zach Wilson, but athletically, he has the highest upside of any quarterback in the 2021 class, and his leadership and competitive fire compounds his potential.
10. Minnesota Vikings: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
It’s always nice when a team can couple two needs into one player, and that’s what the Minnesota Vikings are able to do here. The Vikings need more talent all across their line, and both on the edge and on the interior, they’ve underwhelmed in terms of disruption.
Gregory Rousseau is still very raw and tools-based, and after opting out in 2020, he won’t have any recent progression on tape. But Rousseau is still a rare physical specimen, possessing an outrageously long 6-foot-7, 265-pound frame. On the edge, his length and power can be a big mismatch against less imposing tackles, and he can also rush on the interior, where his athleticism will supersede the blockers he’ll face. His versatility and upside should be enough for the Vikings to make the call.
11. Cincinnati Bengals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
If you had to name-drop a challenger for Zach Wilson’s title of “biggest riser” this year, South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn would likely be a popular choice. Horn has been one of the best coverage players in the nation in 2020, using his combination of athleticism, size, and physicality to neutralize SEC receivers week in and week out.
Even so, Horn continues to be overlooked in a relatively top-heavy cornerback class. He may not hail from one of the blue-blood teams, but Horn has every trait needed to succeed at the NFL level. He’s athletic, he’s tough, and he’s nuanced with his hands, hips, and feet, and that complete ascending profile may elevate him over others with less tape.
12. Carolina Panthers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Caleb Farley opted out for the 2020 college football season, and while his opt-out does make him susceptible to falling behind 2020 risers like Horn, Farley should still go off the board comfortably within the margins of the top-15.
Farley ended his collegiate career on a high note in 2019, notching four interceptions and 12 pass deflections. In the process, he showcased an uncommon mix of 6-foot-2, 207-pound size, and elite functional athleticism. Regardless of his lack of recent production, Farley has the skill set to be a lockdown cornerback in the NFL, and Carolina will very much enjoy adding to their athletic defensive arsenal.
13. Detroit Lions: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
That’s right; the second linebacker off the board in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft isn’t Alabama’s Dylan Moses. Instead, it’s SEC rival and Missouri Tigers standout Nick Bolton. One could make a case that Bolton has been the best linebacker in the country so far this year. He’s averaging over ten total tackles per game, and he’s a menace for opposing defenses both against the run and the pass.
Bolton doesn’t have the imposing size that Moses has, but Bolton is still an elite athlete with impressive range, and at 6-foot-0, 232, he’s far from small. He reminds me a bit of a Devin Bush type of player. Bush had similar size concerns, but he supplemented that with uncanny instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed. Bolton has the same kind of makeup, so don’t be surprised if he goes earlier in than expected.
14. Denver Broncos: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
The Denver Broncos will graciously accept the linebacker consolation prize of Dylan Moses with the 14th overall pick. This is a steal in terms of value, and Moses has the combination of size and athleticism to surely develop into a defensive mainstay for Vic Fangio’s squad.
With that being said, it’s important to address why Moses, a near-constant top-ten projection, slid in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft. While Bolton has been a steady constant this year, Moses has been inconsistent week-to-week, experiencing mishaps as a tackler and in coverage. He still shows flashes that will warrant a first-round selection, and he may reach his peak again before the season concludes, but as of now, his performance doesn’t have the solidity that comes with top-ten picks.
15. San Francisco 49ers: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
The 49ers will have the tough task of building back to Super Bowl contention in the 2021 offseason, and while injuries make it tough to evaluate the team in earnest at the moment, one position where they can surely improve is cornerback. While Jason Verrett has mounted a long-awaited emergence, players like Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon are losing their luster and might not have long-term futures with the team.
The cornerback position might be in line for a high-priority investment in 2021, and at the 15th overall pick, Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade provides good value. Although he’s been up-and-down through two games as an outside cornerback for the Buckeyes, his 6-foot-1 size combined with his athleticism provides inspiring developmental potential. Additionally, if he develops on the boundary and gains confidence, he’d give San Francisco valuable versatility.
16. Miami Dolphins: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Since my job security depends on pleasing a company predominantly run by Dolphins fans, I won’t entertain the notion of selecting Tua Tagovailoa’s replacement here. Tagovailoa had a rough debut outing, but it was his first NFL start. Tagovailoa should improve as he gets more comfortable, and one way to expedite that process in 2021 is to add to his supporting cast.
The equation is simple for Miami at this pick. There are several exciting wide receiver prospects on the board, but DeVonta Smith is one that not only compliments the Dolphins’ current weapons well, but also has pre-existing chemistry with Tagovailoa. Smith’s elite route running ability and general reliability should serve him well early and often. To put it into a mathematic expression: Alabama quarterback + Alabama wide receiver = Prosperity.