Every week we edge closer to the finale of the 2020 NFL season. We’ve reached the part of the season where mock drafts start to feel more and more accurate, and we’re starting to get a better idea of how the draft board will fall. Obviously, until NFL Draft day, everything is speculation and educated guessing, but those guesses are getting more solid as we inch closer to late April. Where do top prospects get selected in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft?
As always, I did this mock intending to make the best predictions of what teams will do come draft day, not necessarily what I would do if I were making the selections.
If you want to run your own mock draft simulation, make sure to check out PFN’s Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator.
2021 3-round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
No reason to be contrarian here. The Jaguars are looking for their franchise quarterback, and Trevor Lawrence is arguably the best quarterback prospect in NFL history. Lawrence possesses elite physical tools with a top-tier football acumen. Lawrence is the most polished and developed passer to enter the draft since Andrew Luck, and Lawrence has superior mobility.
The Jaguars already have a quality offensive nucleus in place and a new coach in Urban Meyer. As long as they can hire the correct GM, their quarterback play from Lawrence should make them contenders in the AFC South in year one. Lawrence is that good. The Jaguars make the easiest decision in NFL Draft history.
2. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade w/ New York Jets): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Based on the information we currently have, it seems like Jets GM Joe Douglas and newly hired head coach Robert Saleh would rather trade out of the number two pick and collect more assets than take a quarterback. A full-scale bidding war will ensue once the trade becomes officially available, and the 49ers have the means and ability to pull it off.
A San Francisco team that is just one year removed from a Super Bowl berth is in a prime position to mortgage future assets in exchange for a quarterback perfect for Kyle Shanahan’s offense. They also have a solid relationship with the Jets’ new head coach.
In this trade, the 49ers get the second overall pick and use it on Fields. Meanwhile, the Jets net the 12th and 43rd selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, San Francisco’s first and third-round selections in 2022, and edge rusher Dee Ford. In Ford, Saleh gets a capable and experienced pass rusher that his roster currently lacks.
The 49ers are risking it all on Fields hitting, but it’s a calculated risk that they’ve set themselves up perfectly to take. San Francisco already has the offensive firepower and defensive strength to compete for a playoff spot. The limitations of its quarterback have bottled up the offense. With Justin Fields, those limitations wash away. This team is a Super Bowl contender in year one with rookie Justin Fields.
3. Miami Dolphins: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Dolphins should consider a QB here if they think one of Zach Wilson or Trey Lance is a better player than Tua Tagovailoa. However, if they’re unsure, then taking the best player available is always the correct choice. Miami’s offensive line, while better than expected, is still far from perfect.
It could make sense to take Sewell and have him play right tackle, the blind side of Tagovailoa. But, should Miami choose to play the best player at left tackle, leaving Sewell at his natural position, they must decide what to do with Austin Jackson and the right tackle position.
Regardless of what Miami decides to do with him, Penei Sewell is the obvious selection. He’s the best player on the board at three, and it’s not even close. He’s dominant at the point of attack and displays remarkable flexibility for a player who measures 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds. The projection is easy, and the need for the offensive line is there. Miami takes the best possible value with their first selection in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
It’s gonna be next to impossible for the Falcons to move Matt Ryan this year or maybe even next season. That being said, with a new head coach in Arthur Smith and a new GM coming in, they may take advantage of this top-5 draft pick and select the top quarterback available. In this three-round NFL Mock Draft, that quarterback is BYU’s Zach Wilson.
Wilson is excellent at making plays out of structure, and his ball placement down the field is jaw-dropping. He’s the smallest of the top 2021 quarterbacks but still possesses impressive physical abilities. Drafting Wilson and letting him sit behind Matt Ryan for a year or two could be the ideal scenario for both Wilson and Atlanta. If he can learn how to win from the pocket and only make plays out of structure when needed, he’ll be a dangerous quarterback in the NFL.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Bengals have needs across the roster, and none are more significant than the need to add overall talent. With Penei Sewell off the board, this selection became substantially more difficult. It’s easy to imagine that franchise quarterback Joe Burrow will be in the ear of the Bengals’ front office and coaching staff advocating for his number one target from his Heisman campaign at LSU.
The Bengals’ need for a receiver is there, especially with A.J. Green likely departing. They took Tee Higgins in the second round of last year’s draft, and both Higgins and Chase have similar skill sets. Cincinnati needs to add speed to its receiving corps over anything, and the value for Ja’Marr Chase here isn’t great, but it’s hard to see them taking any other wide receiver here.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
I know most Philadelphia fans are wondering why DeVonta Smith isn’t the selection here. Unfortunately, expecting Howie Roseman to make the logical pick never works out. Smith is an outlier as a receiver prospect. No player with his 175-pound frame has ever gone on to be an elite NFL receiver, and it’s hard to warrant using a top-10 selection against such odds. Instead, Roseman selects the player with NFL pedigree in his name.
Patrick Surtain II possesses arguably the highest ceiling of any defender in the 2021 draft class. The son of a former All-Pro, he uses an elite football IQ to dissect plays and remain calm and collected at all times. He has above-average length and would do well in a system where he can play one side of the ball instead of shadowing one receiver in man coverage for a majority of the game. Pairing him with someone like Darius Slay Jr. allows Surtain to do just that.
7. Detroit Lions: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
It feels more likely that Matthew Stafford will not be in Detroit for much longer. This will be the Lions’ fourth head coach since drafting Matthew Stafford, sixth if you count interim coaches. He’s at the point of his career where he expects to be contending for a championship, not leading another rebuild. Whether or not Detroit moves Stafford this offseason, they should heavily consider selecting a QB with the seventh selection.
Trey Lance is the last quarterback off the board in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, but that shouldn’t lead you to believe he’s the worst. As far as physical traits go, Lance may be the most gifted. He’s a smooth runner with a cannon for a right arm. He has displayed elite ball placement on film, and he takes care of the football. Whether Lance is starting Week 1 of his rookie season or sitting behind Stafford, it will be a favorable position for the Lions’ new head coach.
8. Carolina Panthers: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
It’s hard to guess where the NFL is going to take elite tight end prospects. In 2017 we saw O.J. Howard, then looked at as an elite prospect, fall to the 19th overall pick. Meanwhile, in 2019, T.J. Hockenson was selected in the top 10. The NFL’s value for the position is impossible to gauge leading up to the draft.
Kyle Pitts is a better prospect than both Howard and Hockenson coming out. He’s an elite receiver standing at 6-foot-6, likely running a sub-4.6, and plays the position like a wide receiver. He’s not a dominant blocker, but if you’re asking him to block often, then you’re using him wrong.
The Panthers had a jaw-dropping 204 total yards produced by their tight ends in 2020. Pitts provides the size they desperately lack in the receiving game and will be entering his second or third season in the NFL when Carolina finds their quarterback of the future. Panthers fans might want a cornerback or tackle here, but Pitts is unquestionably the best player available.
9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
John Elway is no longer making all the decisions for the Broncos, and whether that’s a good or bad thing, they should manage to take a quality talent with the ninth overall selection. The Broncos have done a lot to build up their offense, so I’d expect their defense to be the priority early. Any position on the defense should be considered here, and taking the best available player is always the correct route. That player is Caleb Farley.
Farley is an athletic freak with superior length and great ball skills. His ability to close is elite, and his great ball skills make him an interception and deflection machine. In two years at Virginia Tech, he registered 6 interceptions and 19 pass deflections. That was as a true freshman and sophomore as well. The Broncos get a high upside corner to pair with Michael Ojemudia to form one of the most athletic and young cornerback duos in the NFL.
10. Miami Dolphins (projected trade w/ Dallas Cowboys): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Cowboys were hoping one of the top two cornerbacks would be here at 10, but unfortunately, both were off the board. Their immediate reaction should be to locate a trade partner somewhere in the teens. With both Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith still on the board, Miami makes the most sense. Not only is their current quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, a former teammate of both, but they have the capital to move up and the need at WR to warrant a move.
In this trade, the Dolphins move up eight spots to the 10th overall pick and use it on Heisman winner Smith. They also receive a fifth-round selection in 2022 from Dallas. The Cowboys received the 18th and 36th selections in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft and a third-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft via Miami.
In this 3-round NFL Mock Draft, the Dolphins select Smith over his teammate Waddle. Miami needs an alpha receiver, someone to go to when they need to move the chains. Sure-handed and a polished route runner, DeVonta Smith fits the role perfectly. Tua and Smith won a title together. Could they win a Super Bowl as well?
11. New York Giants: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
On film, Micah Parsons is the best defender in the 2021 NFL Draft. Talent-wise, he’s good enough to be selected in the first five to 10 selections. Unfortunately, multiple analysts have mentioned concerns about his maturity and how NFL teams feel about the person, not just the prospect. These concerns could see a draft day slide for Parsons, but it’s hard to gauge just how much.
For the Giants, it makes a lot of sense to take a risk on Parsons. The Giants contended for the NFC East title this past year and are headed in the right direction under head coach Joe Judge. General manager David Gettleman showed in 2019 that he’s willing to take chances on players like Parsons. He traded up into the first round to select Deandre Baker, who had similar concerns surrounding him.
Blake Martinez is a quality middle linebacker for the G-Men. However, they still lack overall talent and athletic ability on the unit. On top of that, the Giants also lack pass rushing from the edges. Parsons can slot in as the strong-side outside linebacker, making plays at the line of scrimmage and rushing the passer as an elite blitzer.
12. New York Jets (projected trade w/ San Francisco 49ers): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Joe Douglas, someone I hold in high regard, is now leading the Jets. Whether they take Justin Fields with the second overall selection or trade back, expect them to find value throughout their 2021 draft class. Here they move back, collect more assets for their rebuild, and still find great value at a position of need.
With 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims looking like the Jets’ “X” receiver of the future and Jamison Crowder holding down the slot, they add the most talented member to play the “Z.”
Jaylen Waddle is an elite athlete with special movement skills and a more polished receiver than many give him credit for. Some draft analysts think Waddle will be the best receiver of the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Jets manage to get him in a trade back in this 3-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft. Joe Douglas invests in Sam Darnold with this pick and, if Darnold doesn’t work out, they’ll be in a great position to land one of the top quarterbacks in 2022.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
A consensus on OT2 is nonexistent. Some believe it’s Rashawn Slater, while others think it’s Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, and some, including myself, have Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech in that spot. The Chargers can’t go wrong with any of these players.
They all bring different strengths, and all would be a starter from day one. Investing in Justin Herbert is the team’s only chance for sustained success, and they can’t afford to waste away his career as they did with Philip Rivers.
Slater is an athletic tackle with the best technique in the 2021 class. His ceiling is lower than that of a Christian Darrisaw, but Slater performed better against Chase Young than any other tackle in the country. He’s also versatile enough to play any position on the offensive line and still be a Pro Bowl-level player. Regardless of where the Chargers play Slater, he’ll be keeping Justin Herbert off the ground.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
This is the same selection I made in a previous mock because the pick makes so much sense. The Vikings lack defensive line talent, both on the interior and the edge. Danielle Hunter is a superstar, but he can’t do it alone. Pairing him with arguably the top edge rusher in the class makes a ton of sense. The player talent at defensive tackle isn’t great here, and there’s rarely a reason to take a guard like Wyatt Davis over an impact pass rusher like Kwity Paye.
Paye is an elite physical specimen measuring 6-foot-4, 271 pounds. He expects to dominate the NFL Combine, and the bend and burst he’ll display in Indianapolis are also evident on tape. A tone-setting run defender, he has the traits to be a consistent and effective pass rusher. He may never be a guy who registers 12 sacks a season, but he consistently disrupts the quarterback, and that’s all a team can ask.
15. New England Patriots: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC
Should the Patriots take a talented receiver like Rondale Moore or Rashod Bateman here? Probably. Will they? Probably not. Instead, they’ll worry about their inability to pass later and build along the trenches. Vera-Tucker makes sense here because he’s the most versatile offensive lineman in the class.
He’s played significant snaps at right guard, left guard, and left tackle. His smooth feet and aggressive hands make him a capable tackle, while his anchor allows him to succeed at guard as well.
In New England, with Joe Thuney likely leaving, they have a hole at left guard. However, I’d expect Michael Onwenu to slide in from his right tackle spot to guard. That leaves the right tackle spot open for Vera-Tucker to start from the first day of camp. Pairing them together would give the Patriots and young and exceptionally talented right side of the offensive line for the foreseeable future.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
Opinions on Gregory Rousseau vary from analyst to analyst. Some believe he’s one of the five or 10 best players in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Others don’t think he’s worthy of a top-50 selection. Some things are undeniable. Rousseau’s production as a sophomore, his impressive length, and athletic ability are all well above average.
Unfortunately, his tape left a lot to be desired, and he chose to opt out of the season. The NFL team that takes him must understand the risk that comes with a player like this. Should Rousseau put it all together and be a dominant player opposite Chandler Jones, the Cardinals could have one of the most potent pass rushes in the NFL.