We’re finally here — the NFL regular season has arrived. A fresh new season is in the air, and while it may be different than normal, Pat Mahomes will still be insanely good, Saquon Barkley will make entire defenses miss, and the Jacksonville Jaguars will be the Jacksonville Jaguars. With a new season, a new draft cycle begins. To kick off this cycle and celebrate the launch of the regular season, I’m dropping my first 3-round 2021 NFL mock draft of the year. Please note that the draft order was determined by Las Vegas Odds.
Schulte’s 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft | First Round
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This has been the most common pick of any mock draft, but it makes a lot of sense for a team desperate for a franchise quarterback. Maybe new Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden can get enough out of Gardner Minshew to prevent this spot from happening, but maybe not. There hasn’t been a set rebuild plan for Jacksonville in what seems like forever, but with Lawrence and the capital the team has assembled this offseason, this should be their springboard into the future.
2) Washington Football Team: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Another quarterback has typically been the pick at this spot for Washington, but to me, Sewell makes more sense as the pick here for Washington. The left tackle spot is a major weakness upfront for Washington. Geron Christian and Saahdiq Charles are the two guys competing for that left tackle spot, and neither one are close to Sewell’s level. That position, in a division with Demarcus Lawrence, Brandon Graham, and a newly-returned Aldon Smith, needs to be filled. Dwayne Haskins is a pocket-friendly quarterback, so give him one to throw in.
3) Cincinnati Bengals: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Bengals invested heavily into their defense this offseason, signing DTs D.J. Reader and Mike Daniels, safety Vonn Bell, CBs Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, as well as 4 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft on that side of the ball. However, the team is missing a dynamic pass-rusher on the outside. Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard are both good players, but both of them are approaching the end of their contracts. Neither of them is the dynamic and versatile athlete that Parsons is. Parsons can open up the defensive front and allow Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo to get exotic and creative upfront.
4) Carolina Panthers: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
As much as I love Teddy Bridgewater, he doesn’t seem to be the quarterback of the future in Carolina. Bridgewater’s contract is set up favorably for such a scenario, as Fields can sit behind him for a year and the team can cut Bridgewater for cheap after the following season. Fields will need a season of pro development with the Big Ten’s season being up-in-the-air (at the moment). The Joe Brady system, along with the bevy of talent Carolina has at the skill positions, gives Fields an exciting situation to the beginning of his pro career.
5) Miami Dolphins: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Miami’s defense has taken a few steps forward, especially with the addition of top-flight CB Byron Jones, but the front seven is still a weak spot for the team. With no true top EDGE rusher at this spot, Miami should look to upgrade the linebacker spot. The team dealt Raekwon McMillian and needs a stout presence in the middle of the field. Moses is one of the most talented linebacker prospects in recent memory and would be a franchise defensive cornerstone for the Dolphins.
6) New York Giants: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
With the unfortunate disaster of Deandre Baker’s offseason, the Giants’ corner room took a massive hit. James Bradberry has one spot locked up, but the team is rotating between Corey Ballentine, Sam Beal, Isaac Yiadom, and fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes at the remaining corner spots. The Giants’ passing defense was at the bottom of the league last season and doesn’t project to be much better this season. Farley is a high-upside corner prospect with elite length and strong man coverage ability. He is a great fit for the Patriots-esque scheme Judge and Graham will want to run.
7) Detroit Lions: Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State
One of the Lions’ biggest problems with their scheme has been the pass rush. The secondary can only cover with the heavy man coverage package Detroit implemented last season for so long without a good pass rush. Generating pressure was an issue last season, as Detroit was 28th in pressures generated last year. Marvin Wilson is the top interior pass rusher in this draft class, with length, quickness, and upside to be a difference-maker up front.
8) New York Jets: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
The Jets’ passing game is already lackluster with Adam Gase, but their receiving room currently looks like Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan, and Braxton Berrios with Denzel Mims hurt. The Jets need an alpha outside receiver, regardless of who the future head coach is. Bateman fits that message to a T.
9) Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Patrick Peterson is on the last year of his deal and there’s been a lot of rumblings about him wanting out anyways. Picking this high might force his hand to go play for a contender. Surtain gives the Cardinals another alpha man corner on the outside.
10) Las Vegas Raiders: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Raiders have invested into the surrounding weapons and scheme on offense, but Derek Carr hasn’t been able to deliver for the Raiders. With a long-term investment into Gruden’s contract, he can afford to take on a developmental quarterback who’ll have more upside than what Carr can offer.
11) Los Angeles Chargers: Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
This might be high for the positional-value, as only three centers have ever been drafted in the top-15, but with Mike Pouncey’s injury history as well as heading into the free-agent market this offseason, the Chargers should invest in his replacement. Herbert struggles with interior pressure, meaning that the Chargers can’t afford to skimp out at protecting him there. Humphrey is a lockdown pass-protector in the middle for the Sooners and projects favorably into the NFL.
12) Atlanta Falcons: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
Atlanta invested into Dante Fowler Jr. this offseason but declined former first-round pick Takk McKinley’s 5th-year option, leaving his status with the team TBD. Another year without a breakout and the team will likely decide to move on and draft his replacement. Rousseau is a lengthy and explosive athlete with plenty of upside.
13) Miami Dolphins (via HOU): Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Miami’s passing game should take a step forward with Tua Tagovailoa at the helm, but I’m not sold on their receivers yet. DeVante Parker has had only one good year in the league and turned that into a massive extension this offseason, and Preston Williams is so far unproven at the NFL level. Adding Lynn Bowden Jr. to be their explosive vertical threat in the slot was a great idea, but adding a top threat outside like Chase could take their passing game to the next level.
14) Chicago Bears: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
One thing the Chicago Bears need is an explosive threat. With no QBs at this spot to take over for Mitch Trubisky, adding an explosive threat with Allen Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Ted Ginn would be a wise investment.
15) Denver Broncos: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Garret Bolles is likely on his way out at left tackle, and there isn’t a clear replacement at that spot in Denver yet. While Leatherwood would be expected to start right away, he gets arguably the best offensive line coach in the NFL to help bring him up to speed. Leatherwood and Risner manning the left side of the line would bring major power to that side of Denver’s run game.
16) Cleveland Browns: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
I really like this marriage of player and scheme. The Browns don’t really want to invest in the linebacker position, and “JOK” is a linebacker in name only. He’s a versatile LB/S hybrid with excellent explosiveness and coverage ability. Adding JOK to a safety room with Grant Delpit and newly acquired Ronnie Harrison would allow the Browns to go with multiple safety looks from various alignments.