After 269 games, we are down to just the Super Bowl left to play in the 2020 NFL season. Now that we know the final spots for 30 of the teams, there is no better time to run through the NFL Draft and see how the first round will shake out. Obviously, everything that we go over in this 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft is just speculation, but being the GM for all 32 teams is just too much fun to pass up.
With the NFL Combine canceled this year, how players show out at the Reese’s Senior Bowl could be enough to move the needle on their draft stock. When doing these mocks drafts, you try to think of a scenario in your head about why a team would be making this move. Or what the impact of another team’s decision affects another. In this 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft, I went for the most significant move possible just to see the ripple effects.
2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Was there ever any doubt? Sure, Urban Meyer still has his roots firmly played in Columbus, Ohio, but I can’t see him passing up on Trevor Lawrence for Justin Fields. Nothing is left to say about Lawrence that hasn’t been said yet, so I will save you from my ramblings and get on to the fun start. Honestly, the second pick the 2021 NFL Draft is where the draft really begins.
2. Carolina Panthers (projected trade w/ Houston Texans): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
We have a lot to unpack here as two trades have taken place. First, how is this Houston’s pick?
Due to the complete failure as an organization, not even hiring Eric Bieniemy will keep Watson in Houston at this point. The leader in the clubhouse is the Jets. New York sends picks #2, #23, and their 2022 first-round pick, and QB Sam Darnold. This all happened well before the draft. Part two is when they are on the clock, and Matt Rhule comes calling.
Given their needs, Houston would be reaching for anyone here outside a QB, so the best option is to trade back and acquire picks. They are in a full rebuild now. The Panthers jump both the Falcons and Lions and send the eighth pick, the 39th, their 2022 first, second, and third pick, and select the QB of the future in Justin Fields.
Did they give up the farm to get him? Yes, but they were bidding against other teams, and you only (hopefully) have one shot at getting your team’s future, and Fields is the clear QB2 in the 2021 NFL Draft.
He has a great arm and can make the far hash throw to the sideline with ease. He worked out of play-action a lot at OSU, and his athletic ceiling is as high as anyone. It’s between Fields and Lance as the best dual-threat QB in this draft.
3. Detroit Lions (projected trade w/ Miami Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
I could see this pick going so many ways. The question is, how much of a gap do the Dolphins believe there is between the top three receivers? If it is small, why would you not trade back and acquire more assets?
The Dolphins are content in letting a WR come to them and execute a trade with the Detroit Lions, who need a QB. But what about Matthew Stafford? It is a well-known fact that Stafford wants out of Detroit. Who needs a QB and has a team that could win now and has a relationship with Stafford? Hello, San Francisco. Rather than trading up to get a QB in the NFL Draft, the 49ers go out and get one of the best arms in the NFL.
Stafford heads to San Francisco and the Lions move up
Before the NFL Draft, the 49ers send the twelfth pick and QB Jimmy Garoppolo for Matthew Stafford. This trade happening before the draft is why Carolina had to spend so much. They needed to lead two QB-needy teams. Now for the pick at hand — after all, this is supposed to be a 2021 First Round Mock Draft.
The Lions send the pick #7, #72, and their 2022 first to Miami in exchange for the #3. With that pick, the Lions take QB Trey Lance out of NDSU.
And already I hear my mentions blowing up from the Zach Wilson crowd. I get it, and I hear you. He is good. But he does not have the ceiling Lance has.
The whole argument that Lance is a one-year player can be applied to Wilson. Watch his 2019 tape and tell me if you see anything close to the guy we saw in 2020 on it. I sure didn’t. That’s why I don’t hold the terrible decision that was the showcase against Central Arkansas against him. The only goal of UCA was not to be his highlight tape, and they did just that.
However, Lance has everything the modern NFL covets. He is not just mobile, he is a dual-threat, and there is a difference. Lance might have the strongest arm in this class as well. The deep accuracy is there, and the far-hash to sideline throws. Sometimes he can hitch one too many times and doesn’t get down. That will change over time.
When you realize he had a 28:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a redshirt sophomore, you can understand his ceiling.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
What do you know, a normal draft pick. The Falcons problem will be finding a way to move Matt Ryan’s massive contract. I don’t know if they will be able to do it and will end up taking the $26 million dead cap hit on the chin in 2022. What this does is allows Zach Wilson to learn under Ryan for a season. Outside of Lawrence and Fields, every QB in the 2021 NFL Draft class could use this treatment.
Wilson’s draft stock rose higher than nearly anyone in 2020. When rolling out, he can make great throws and shows solid ability with deep accuracy. The skill jump from 2019 to 2020 is still shocking. His footwork completely changed; he got his base under him.
There were times where you saw inconsistencies in his placement, but you can’t find a QB that doesn’t have that knock on them. Where Lance is a dual-threat, Wilson is mobile. He can pick up a first down, but several runs he made in college aren’t going to cut it at the next level. Yes, I just went four in a row with QBs to start my 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft for those keeping score at home. I promise I’ll stop.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
For the Bengals, this is the best-case scenario. When they turn in this card, you will be able to hear an audible exhale.
Outside of Lawrence, this is the closest thing to a lock in the 2021 NFL Draft so long as Penei Sewell is still there. The Bengals struggled all season protecting Joe Burrow, and moving forward — their primary goal is to invest in protecting him. That starts now with a tackle who will protect Burrow’s blindside while mauling defenders.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Despite the incredible season DeVonta Smith had, I think the NFL executives will think that he will have to break the mold for him to succeed. Granted, I would do it in a heartbeat, but it comes down to if Miami feels he is a cut above the rest or not.
After spending a first-round pick on TCU’s Jalen Reagor last year, it looks more likely he won’t be the alpha they need, and instead, the Eagles bring in a sure thing. Remember how unbelievable Justin Jefferson was last season? Ja’Marr Chase was better when on the same field.
When Howie Roseman seemingly chose Carson Wentz over Doug Pederson, he knew he had to get him weapons. Chase is phenomenal at the catch point and has ridiculous body control in the air. His route tree is diverse and has strong hands. Rather than just a speedster, Chase has the whole package as goes off as the WR1 in the first round of my 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
7. Miami Dolphins (projected trade w/ Detroit Lions): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
See Miami, I had a plan the entire time. Not only do the Dolphins add an extra third-rounder and a first in 2022, but they also get the WR they wanted from the start.
Even when the entire world knew DeVonta Smith was getting the ball, he was still putting up nearly 200 yards a game. He broke nearly every SEC record and became the first WR since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman. To pair him up with former Alabama teammate and QB Tua Tagovailoa is the dream scenario. Especially for a team who just went 10-6.
8. Houston Texans (projected trade w/ Carolina Panthers): Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
After trading Deshaun Watson, the Texans are now in full rebuild mode. Not only did they get back into the draft, but they end up with four first-round picks over the next two seasons, plus Darnold, who I believe can still be a good QB with the right coach. Imagine if they do manage to hire Eric Bieniemy and what that could do for his future?
Houston has a ton of holes on its roster, and they start the rebuild by getting the best cover corner in the 2021 NFL Draft in Patrick Surtain II. He brings size (6’2″) and spent his entire career being tested and shutting down the best the SEC had to offer. His stats are so low simply because teams completely ignored whatever WR he was guarding.
If you trade Watson, you better get enough to rebuild your roster. This is a good start.
9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Denver has several needs and questions surrounding who they will pick. There is a loud portion of the fanbase who believes they should move on from Drew Lock. I don’t believe they do this, and he gets another year and also gets Courtland Sutton back.
The Broncos need help on defense, and Caleb Farley fits every trait that Vic Fangio wants in his cornerbacks. Farley is a long, physical corner who has the athleticism necessary to go against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert twice a year.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Watching Surtain and Farley go off the board is nearly the worst-case scenario for Dallas. However, Micah Parsons is a solid pivot option.
While at Penn State, Parsons played all over the field, everything from defensive end to middle linebacker. Parsons has the size, physicality, and athleticism to wreak havoc in the NFL. Sean Lee likely needs to retire, and Leighton Vander Esch is a consistent injury risk at this point. They need at least one linebacker who they can count on moving forward.
11. New York Giants: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
Dave Gettleman could go several ways with this pick. If this 2021 NFL Mock Draft went past the first round, I would be addressing the receiver help they need.
Snagging Kwity Paye here is a win for the Giants. Paye is arguably the best edge rusher in the 2021 NFL Draft class and has a monster 6-foot-4, 271-pound frame to go with it.
12. Detroit Lions (projected trade w/ San Francisco 49ers): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
If you are going to get your QB of the future, you better make sure he has someone to throw to on gamedays.
Both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones will be free agents in 2021, and I would expect them to do whatever they can to bring back Golladay. Jaylen Waddle might be the most explosive and dynamic player in this entire draft.
Waddle destroys angles and has a speed that will rival Tyreek Hill on any day. If there is a player who could potentially outrun a Trey Lance throw, it is Waddle. Even though they lose Stafford, entering the 2021 season with Lance, Waddle, Golladay, Swift, and Hockenson makes this a force to be reckoned with and a fantasy gold mine.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
There is enough smoke coming out of NFL circles to think Slater is being viewed as the best tackle in this class by several teams. The Chargers have their QB for the next decade, and to make that happen, he needs protecting.
The Chargers need help on the offensive line at every spot except maybe right tackle with Bryan Bulaga. If someone does not trade ahead of Los Angeles to snag Slater, the Chargers get themselves perhaps the gem of the first round in this 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami (FL)
After sitting out this season, Rousseau has been largely forgotten about but might be the best edge rusher in the whole 2021 NFL Draft class. The Vikings need to get better at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Their 23 sacks in 2020 were the third-fewest in franchise history.
Minnesota’s defense could look quite different next year after free agency takes its toll with players like Anthony Harris, Eric Wilson, and Ifeadi Odenigbo set to hit the open market. Even Harrison Smith could be lost due to cap constraints. The best way to hide gaps in the defense is getting pressure up front — Rousseau can do just that for the Vikings.
15. New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
I feel I need to explain things here. I am in no way making this selection in my 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft under the thinking of “New England and its tight end usage.” I’m not trying to conjure up images of Rob Gronkowski and thinking that is who they are. It’s not. I just can not honestly see a way Kyle Pitts goes any later than this. New England is his absolute floor.
He is going here because of how devoid of any talent this offense has in terms of pass catchers. N’Keal Harry has not lived up to expectations, and their best WR was a UDFA from NC State. In my opinion, Pitts might be the most athletic player in this entire class on either side of the ball.
He is a mismatch for whoever has the misfortune of lining against him and someone like Bill Belichick can have a field day scheming. I could have gone Mac Jones here as well because it’s obvious the Cam Newton experiment failed.
If my whole trade scenarios don’t happen, and odds are they don’t, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kyle Pitts go at number five to Cincinnati if Sewell goes to the Jets. Watch the 49ers find a way to snag him to pair with George Kittle. That’s what fuels the nightmares of defensive coordinators.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Arizona needs to get better on the perimeter especially given the wide receiver talent they have to face six games a year. Patrick Peterson struggled at times down the stretch and will be a free agent in 2021. However, he is a likely candidate to get a tag rather than be allowed to walk.
Jaycee Horn walks in as the immediate heir apparent. He has a great blend of size, length, and athletic ability to be the team’s CB1 moving forward. In terms of fit and need, this selection is one of the best in my 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft.