Amidst confusing declaration regulations and an uncertain NFL Combine procedure, the 2021 NFL Draft may be the hardest one ever to predict. Despite fewer “All-Star” games than usual, the Reese’s Senior Bowl next week should bring draft stock into focus. With the NFL season almost over, we’ll soon know the exact order for all 32 teams. Prior to that, this latest 4-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft attempts to predict what may happen in April.
As with previous versions of my 4-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, I strive to marry team needs with prospects that fill them. As we progress through free agency and hurdle towards the draft, those needs will inevitably change. Just in the last week, the retirements of Philip Rivers and Drew Brees have altered the priorities for the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. In the last 24 hours, it was announced that Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are also set to part ways.
Do those needs get met in this 4-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft? Read on to find out!
2021 4-round NFL Mock Draft | Round 1
1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
New head coach, new general manager, and new quarterback? It is practically etched in stone that the first selection of the Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville will be a quarterback. The Jaguars require a complete overhaul in 2021. Thankfully, they have a well-stocked war chest to accomplish that in the 2021 NFL Draft. Expect them to address all three levels of defense. Offensively, tight end and offensive line pieces will be a priority to protect their new face of the franchise.
The consensus QB1 of this 2021 NFL Draft class from the moment he exploded on to the college football scene and led Clemson to a National Championship as a true freshman. With arm strength, accuracy, and surprising mobility for a 6'6", 220 pound quarterback, Trevor Lawrence has all the traits to succeed in the NFL.
2) New York Jets: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The New York Jets are a team rich in draft capital and have the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The expectation is that they will move on from former first-round quarterback Sam Darnold in a class packed with talent. With two first-round picks, they should be able to secure starting-caliber quality at positions of need, including wide receiver, running back, cornerback and EDGE alongside the obvious quarterback selection.
The former backup quarterback to Jake Fromm at Georgia saw his stock soar with an impressive 2019 season for Ohio State. With the ability to make all the throws, a ruthless efficiency, and mobility to extend the play, Justin Fields will be right at the top of any quarterback-needy team's board at the 2021 NFL Draft.
3) Miami Dolphins: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Can the Miami Dolphins follow up their impressive 2020 class with another haul in this 4-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft? Thanks to their trade with Houston last offseason, the Dolphins will have two first-round picks and two second-round picks to bolster their roster. It is to be expected that one of the first-round picks will be used on a wide receiver. Despite adding Isaiah Wilson, offensive additions should include further enhancing the offensive line and securing a running back. On the defensive side, they need to address the EDGE position as well as add a safety.
DeVonta Smith led a talented quartet of Alabama wide receivers in 2019 in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Although he lacks the speed of a Henry Ruggs, or the frame of a Jerry Jeudy, Smith combines great catch ability with an elusiveness after the catch to create a playmaking threat. Smith has the skillset to ensure Alabama has two first-round wide receivers for the second straight year.
4) Atlanta Falcons: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
New Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has a primarily offensive background. However, it is the defense that requires the most work ahead of his first year in charge. Expect the Falcons to address multiple defensive areas in the 2021 NFL Draft, including EDGE, defensive tackle, and cornerback. Finding a long-term replacement for Matt Ryan may be seen as an offensive priority. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them address the running back position given Smith's success running the rock in Tennessee.
In becoming the first big name player to opt-out of the 2020 college football season, Caleb Farley has already garnered a lot of attention in the 2021 NFL Draft process. Expect him to receive even more attention in the 2021 NFL Draft as one of the most productive cornerbacks in the class. Size, speed, and ball skills (he came to Virginia Tech as a wide receiver) combine to make him a first-round prospect.
5) Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The season-ending injury to quarterback Joe Burrow highlighted what was already a glaring need for the Cincinnati Bengals. They desperately need to upgrade the offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft, and probably in free agency too. Although there was a defensive overhaul last offseason, the Bengals will look to make upgrades across the board, including cornerback and EDGE.
Athletic, strong, and dominant, Penei Sewell has everything that you want in an offensive tackle and then some. Equally as impressive in pass blocking or run blocking, Sewell is not only the best offensive tackle in this 2021 NFL Draft class, but also the best offensive tackle prospect in a number of years.
6) Philadelphia Eagles: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Is Jalen Hurts the future of the Philadelphia Eagles' franchise? If the front office believes he is, then their first-round pick will almost certainly be a wide receiver. If they don't, they will be a contender for one of the "top four" quarterbacks. Their other needs are predominantly defensive. As a result, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a cornerback, linebacker, and even a pass rusher added during the 2021 NFL Draft.
A perfect blend of size, strength, and sideline-to-sideline speed make Micah Parsons the most dangerous linebacker prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. Parsons' high school experience playing defensive end shows in his ability to get after the quarterback, and he is also highly skilled in pass coverage. Parsons tackling ability shows on the stats sheet, twice leading Penn State in tackles.
7) Detroit Lions: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Detroit Lions have a new quarterback, trading longtime staple Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff. Yet, that doesn't mean they won't strike if one is available early on. Wide receiver figures to be a key offensive need (though new general manager Brad Holmes has a history of drafting running backs). On the defensive side, head coach Dan Campbell has spoken at length about the safety class so it wouldn't be a surprise they draft one. However, the defense has multiple needs, including defensive tackle and linebacker.
Prior to this college football season, many experts were pondering which quarterback might make a Joe Burrow-esque rise. That quarterback is Zach Wilson. He may not have faced the quality of opposition that some quarterbacks in this 2021 NFL Draft class have faced, but the 'Mormon Manziel' has demonstrated the ability to make every throw in the NFL book. He combines that with excellent mobility to provide a true dual threat at the position.
8) Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The apparently aggressive pursuit of every available quarterback would suggest the Carolina Panthers are not sold on Teddy Bridgewater as the face of the franchise. As a result, they're a leading contender for one of the "top four" quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Whoever starts under center will need some additional protection. Defensively, they have needs at cornerback and linebacker which will be a consideration in this four-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
A playmaking quarterback who can get the job done by air or by land. Trey Lance has an impressive array of throws in his repertoire but can make magic with his legs when required. The quality of the opposition he has faced is the big question mark against his 2021 NFL Draft stock, but North Dakota State alum Carson Wentz has proven that Bison quarterbacks can succeed in the NFL.
9) Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The development of Garett Bolles through this season has been impressive, but I expect the Denver Broncos to still address the offensive-tackle position in the 2021 NFL Draft. They neglected the offensive line last year and it would be foolish to do so again. The offensive line might not be their prime concern, however, with multiple defensive needs, including cornerback, linebacker, and EDGE.
Patrick Surtain Jr. has all the ingredients to emulate his father's success in the NFL. Surtain Sr. was the 44th selection of the Miami Dolphins in 1998, and there’‘s every reason to suspect that Surtain Jr. will be drafted considerably above that in the 2021 NFL Draft. Surtain Jr. combines prototypical size, good ball skills, and an ability to create turnovers in various ways to rank as one of the best cornerbacks in the class.
10) Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
With Dak Prescott signed to a new mega-money contract, the Dallas Cowboys need to ensure they put him in a position to succeed. That should mainly consist of upgrading all levels of what was a terrible defense in 2020. As a result, expect there to be additions at cornerback, safety, defensive tackle, and EDGE. They may also be in the offensive tackle market either in the 2021 NFL Draft or free-agency.
If you define cornerback play purely on interception numbers alone, then Jaycee Horn probably isn't on your radar as a first-round pick. However, Horn led South Carolina in pass breaks ups in 2019 and in doing so, showcased the ball skills he presumably inherited from his former NFL wide receiver father. At 6'1", Horn has the size that NFL teams covet, as well as the fluidity in his movements to succeed at the next level.
11) New York Giants: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Will the New York Giants stick by Daniel Jones? They have struggled offensively without star running back Saquon Barkley in 2020 and Jones has failed to provide an offensive spark. There could be offensive improvements coming in this 4 round 2021 NFL mock draft. Although I find it unlikely they use a second consecutive first-round pick on an offensive tackle, that has to be a consideration given the struggles along the offensive line. Cornerback, EDGE and linebacker remain realistic defensive possibilities.
The phrase 'athletic freak' gets distributed to the stars of college football more and more frequently, but there is no better way to describe Kwity Paye. At 6-foot-4, 277 pounds, he can allegedly run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. A reported personal record of 30 reps on the bench press is a testament to his strength. He may be a raw talent, but Paye has already proven he can be productive at Michigan and will likely be one of the first EDGE players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
12) Detroit Lions: Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Louisiana State
The 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner, Ja'Marr Chase led the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns as a sophomore. Chase is a genuine deep threat due to a combination of phenomenal catching skill and ability to play taller than his 6'0" frame. Tough to take down with the ball in his hands, he should be a playmaker in the NFL.
13) Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OG, Northwestern
Justin Herbert has excelled in his rookie season, and one of the main priorities for the Los Angeles Chargers will be to upgrade his protection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Keenan Allen has been his most targeted receiver and it would be wise for the Chargers to provide some additional weaponry to prevent the offense from becoming too predictable. Cornerback will be their primary defensive need in the 2021 NFL Draft, although they could use an addition at linebacker.
A strong, competitive , offensive lineman who held his own against Chase Young last season. Some analysts rate Rashawn Slater as the best offensive tackle in the class. At 6'3" there will be questions about his position in the NFL. However, there is no reason why he can't be a starter early in his NFL career. Equally competent against the run or in pass protection which should increase his value.
14) Minnesota Vikings: Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
Although rookie Justin Jefferson has been impressive alongside Adam Thielen for the Minnesota Vikings, they lack depth at the wide receiver position. The interior offensive line is also a position group that could use an upgrade. Defensively, they lack any sort of pass-rushing depth, so EDGE will be a priority. Anthony Harris is set to become a free agent, meaning there's also a need at safety. However, the biggest question ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft is whether they try to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Quick, strong and athletic, Azeez Ojulari has all the physical tools to be a successful pass rusher in the NFL. He has been productive in his career at Georgia, but this year has seen him go from being an under-the-radar prospect to a player that seems destined to be a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
15) New England Patriots: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Although the New England Patriots have placed more emphasis on a rushing attack in recent years, the glaringly obvious lack of depth in the wide-receiver room has been detrimental to the offense. They should add pass catchers in the 2021 NFL Draft regardless of whether that is in the form of a wide receiver or tight end -- perhaps both. If an elite quarterback prospect is still available when they select, the Patriots have to strike. Neither Cam Newton nor Jarrett Stidham is the future of the franchise.
Jaylen Waddle has had to wait for his opportunity to shine behind Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, but even with those two to compete for playing time within 2019, there were reasons to believe that Waddle can be an explosive, game-changing playmaker at the next level. Incredible speed and catch ability, combined with the ability to make a man miss in the open field, Waddle could easily be WR1 by the time the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off.
16) Arizona Cardinals: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
With a number of offensive linemen set to hit free agency at the end of the year, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Arizona Cardinals address the offensive line early in the 2021 NFL Draft. Although the defense has shown improvement from last year following a defensive-minded 2020 class, there are needs at EDGE -- even after signing J.J. Watt -- and cornerback to consider in this 4 round 2021 NFL mock draft.
Christian Darrisaw may have elevated his stock higher than any other offensive tackle in this talented 2021 NFL Draft class. At 6-foot-5 5 and 314 pounds, Darrisaw has the size and strength to play left tackle in the NFL. He is strong in pass protection and has incredible athleticism to excel as a run blocker. Virginia Tech has been one of the most potent offenses in college football this year and Darrisaw has been a pivotal part of their success.