Just like that, the NFL regular season is over. But a whole new chapter opens as we now know the first 18 NFL draft picks in 2021. There are plenty of quarterback-hungry teams. Could one of those teams trade up? How many QBs will go in the first round? Where will some of the top receiving prospects land? I answer all of your questions with my third 2021 first-round NFL mock draft.
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2021 First-Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Don’t overthink this. The Jaguars made it a point of getting the No. 1 pick for the sole purpose of drafting Lawrence. He is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and can do all the things a franchise quarterback needs to do. By the looks of it, he will be calling Jacksonville home.
2. New York Jets: QB Justin Fields, Ohio State
This feels like the right move for both the Jets and Sam Darnold. While Darnold has shown flashes, the roster has never been talented enough for him to make any sort of strides, and the team traded away nearly all its assets throughout 2021 to indicate a full rebuild is in session. Justin Fields is the presumptive No. 2 QB in this class and would give the Jets a fresh start as they hope to get things right this time around.
3. Washington Football Team (projected trade w/ Miami): QB Zach Wilson, BYU
Time for the first trade of my 2021 first-round NFL mock draft and this is the spot in the top five that will be the most sought after. The Dolphins can afford to move down due to not needing a quarterback, and they can use that to their advantage to gain more assets.
Now to the pick. Zach Wilson is my favorite quarterback in this draft. He has the arm of Josh Allen, the big-play ability of Patrick Mahomes, and solid scrambling ability. He is what I like to call a rich man’s Ryan Tannehill: great athleticism and an even better arm.
This also feels like the perfect spot for him. He’d be playing for a well-respected coach and have a great defense on the other side of the ball going forward. Many have made the Mahomes comparison when it comes to Wilson, and who did Mahomes sit behind for a year? Alex Smith. It’s almost too perfect.
4. Atlanta Falcons: CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
The Falcons’ defense was bad, especially their pass defense. They led the NFL in passing yards allowed and were arguably the main reason for all the heartbreaking losses and huge blown leads.
Caleb Farley is the best cornerback in this draft. His ability to stick to his assignment and be a real shutdown corner would be a big step forward for Atlanta’s defense.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Penei Sewell, Oregon
The injury that ended Joe Burrow’s season is the 2020 Bengals offensive line in a nutshell. Burrow was brutalized throughout every game he played. If the Bengals want him to be their franchise quarterback for the next decade, they have to keep him upright.
Penei Sewell would be the immediate starter and take some of the stress off of Burrow, giving him more time to make plays and show why he was the No. 1 overall pick.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: LB Micah Parsons, Penn State
The Eagles are a mess on both sides of the ball, and I wouldn’t argue with a receiver being taken here. That said, their situation at linebacker is abysmal. Micah Parsons is a guy that they can use in the MIKE or SAM linebacker role while also utilizing his speed off the edge. He very well may be the best defensive prospect in the class, and the Eagles land him in my first-round 2021 NFL mock draft.
7. Detroit Lions: EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami (FL)
The Lions’ front seven was the biggest problem of their defense. They had the fifth-fewest sacks in the league (24), and their rush defense was taken advantage of all season. Rousseau would give the Lions a legitimate presence off the edge, which could contain outside runs while also giving some relief to the secondary by getting pressure on the quarterback.
8. Carolina Panthers: TE Kyle Pitts, Florida
The Panthers were a pleasant surprise offensively this season, but the lack of skill at tight end was blatant. Kyle Pitts emerged as the best tight end in the nation, and giving the Panthers a playmaking tight end would take some of the load off Christian McCaffrey and give the offense more versatility.
9. Denver Broncos: OT Rashawn Slater, Northwestern
The Broncos have a very good roster, but unfortunately, they were the victim of the injury bug in 2020. Among those who missed time were quarterback Drew Lock following a hit he took in Pittsburgh. Rashawn Slater on the opposite side of Garett Bolles, who took big strides forward throughout the season, would give Denver a very sustainable offensive line.
10. Dallas Cowboys: DT Jay Tufele, USC
The Cowboys’ run defense was the second-worst in the NFL in 2020, and their defensive line as a whole was a big disappointment. Tufele has the size to play the 3-technique and the speed to line up outside in the 5-technique. That versatility could serve Dallas well, and they land a guy who could be a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in my first-round 2021 NFL mock draft.
11. New York Giants: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama
The Giants’ defense helped get them in position to contend for the NFC East championship, but they were still a 6-10 football team in large part because they threw the fewest touchdowns in the league. DeVonta Smith has the vertical speed and big-play ability to open up the middle of the field while also being able to make plays from the slot. He would be a great addition to aid Daniel Jones.
12. San Francisco 49ers: OG Wyatt Davis, Ohio State
A lot of people expect the 49ers to pursue a quarterback in this draft, but once they are healthy, they will be in win-now mode and more than likely pursue a veteran quarterback. Interior offensive line is a clear need, and Davis has the rawest talent and maybe the highest football IQ among guards in the draft.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: OT Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech
Justin Herbert had a remarkable rookie year, but he was also under pressure and running around more than the Chargers would like. Putting Darrisaw on either side of the line would show instant results and help Herbert do even more with more time to throw.
14. Minnesota Vikings: CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
To put it simply, the Vikings need to fix their secondary. They gave up the second-most passes of 20 or more yards (63), and they lack any sort of elite talent at cornerback. Patrick Surtain would be an immediate upgrade and one of the most impactful picks of my 2021 NFL mock draft.
15. New England Patriots: WR Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
When Damiere Byrd is your top target, you have a serious problem. While I could see New England taking a quarterback here, or even trying to move up, they could also pursue a proven veteran to pick up where they left off pre-2020. Ja’Marr Chase would be the immediate WR1 for whoever is throwing to him.
16. Arizona Cardinals: EDGE Kwity Paye, Michigan
The Cardinals vastly improved their defense in 2020, but they still need help in the pass rush. Kwity Paye had four sacks in four games played this season, and has 16.5 in his last 16 games. He can be put in the middle of the line or spread outside coming off the edge, and that type of versatility is what the Cardinals defense needs.