Now that the peak of NFL free agency has come and gone, our first post-free agency 2021 NFL First Round Mock Draft takes a look at where teams now reside. With a number of players like Kenny Golladay, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith all finding new homes, how will the roster changes impact the 2021 NFL Draft? How drastically have team needs changed over the past week, and what impact have pro days had on this year’s draft class?
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First Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft | Round One
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The easiest pick in this 2021 NFL First Round Mock Draft. I am sure some teams will inquire about the cost of the No. 1 overall pick, but there is very little chance that Urban Meyer lets this one go. Trevor Lawrence will be a Jaguar.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
BYU’s Zach Wilson has seen a similar meteoric rise on draft boards as Joe Burrow did in 2020. Earlier this month, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic helped cement Wilson in the upper echelon of QB prospects by reporting that some college coaches called his talent “freaky” before comparing him to the likes of Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes.
On top of those high praises, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah has said that Wilson’s build, athleticism, and natural motion remind him of Aaron Rodgers. Wilson, Mahomes, and Rodgers are some impressive comparisons. If Wilson can deliver on these high expectations, this will be a slam dunk pick for the New York Jets. Additionally, if Wilson really is the pick here, expect to see Sam Darnold on a new team in 2021.
3. Carolina Panthers (projected trade with the Miami Dolphins): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Miami Dolphins have been quiet during free agency, but the QB situation is less murky. Tua Tagovailoa is likely to be their starting QB in 2021. In fact, head coach Brian Flores recently had this to say on the subject of his rookie QB.
“Look, Tua and I had lunch yesterday. We talk about his family, and I think a lot of that development is about building relationships. He’s doing well, he’s confident, I’m confident in him, and I’m looking forward to this offseason.”
While this is not to say that there isn’t a chance the team makes a move for Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, it looks more and more likely they stick with the No. 5 overall pick from 2020. If that is the case, Dolphins GM Chris Grier will probably shop this pick to a QB-hungry team willing to overpay for one of the top rookies in this class.
As a result, Carolina makes the move to jump ahead of the Atlanta Falcons to take Ohio State’s Justin Fields. In this 2021 NFL First Round Mock Draft, Grier continues to add to his plethora of draft picks, and the Panthers add their next franchise QB.
Fields’ draft stock has been on the rise over the last week thanks to a video he posted on social media where he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash. He also promises to run in the 4.3s when Ohio State has its pro day on March 30. Just for context, one of the best mobile QBs in the league, Deshaun Watson, ran a 4.66 at his pro day.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Atlanta Falcons expect to take a QB heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Matt Ryan is 35 years old, and with a new regime in place, the organization needs to start looking toward the future. Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers change all that by sniping Fields at No. 3.
Now, instead of moving on from Ryan, the team decides to invest in protecting him. Penei Sewell is the best offensive line prospect in this draft. Yes, Rashawn Slater had an impressive pro day, and he can bench press a ton, but Sewell is a generational talent. I know Falcons fans will hate the idea of drafting another offensive lineman in the first round, but it is the move that makes the most sense here.
5. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade with the Cincinnati Bengals): Trey Lance, QB, NDSU
This is a nightmare scenario for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals selecting an offensive lineman has been the assumption most have had since watching Joe Burrow go down with a gruesome injury last season. Unfortunately, their top target (Sewell) is taken by the Falcons.
So, instead of drafting Slater this high, they do the most sensible thing and trade back with a team looking for a QB. Moving back a few spots gives them additional draft capital in both 2021 and 2022.
The San Francisco 49ers jump ahead of some of the other teams that could have an interest in a QB (Denver, Detroit) to take North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Personally, I think this might be high for Lance. Yet, in a strong QB market, all players at the position will likely see a boost in where they are selected. Former NFL scout Steve Verderosa put it best when discussing Lance:
“There’s just not enough football for me to put this guy in the first round or even the second round. I have him in the third round based on what I watched on tape. […] The only way you get good at playing football is by playing football. You can’t get experience if you don’t play. It’s invaluable when you have it.”
Lance has only completed a pass attempt in 18 college games, declaring as a redshirt sophomore after only playing in one game in 2020. He is inexperienced and raw. However, this would be the best spot for him. Getting to sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo for a year and learn under Kyle Shanahan is ideal for the dual-threat QB.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Eagles are in the best spot possible here. With four QBs taken in the top five, the way the board falls leaves the Eagles with their pick of WR prospects. Now that Carson Wentz has been traded, they could be in the market for another QB to compete with Jalen Hurts. However, I don’t think that is the case. They should give Hurts the chance to be their main guy for at least a year.
Another option could be TE/WR Kyle Pitts. With Zach Ertz still on the roster for the time being, the Eagles elect to take the first wide receiver off the board. Ja’Marr Chase is arguably the best WR available in this draft. You could make a case for Alabama’s DeVonta Smith here as well, but I think the Eagles take the upside and size of Chase over Smith.
7. Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Detroit Lions seem to be happy moving forward with Jared Goff at QB. So, instead of looking at another QB or defensive help, the Lions decide to bring in weapons for Goff. Landing the Heisman Trophy winner in DeVonta Smith gives them a legit game-breaker on the perimeter. Kenny Golladay is now a New York Giant, and Smith should easily slide in as the WR1 for the Lions.
8. Miami Dolphins (projected trade with Carolina): Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Miami Dolphins knew that trading down was a risk. However, it was a well-calculated risk because they still have one of the top WR prospects available to them at No. 8 overall. In 2020, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle only played six games because of an ankle injury. In those six games, he caught 28 passes for 591 yards and 4 touchdowns. Before his injury last year, he was averaging an absurd 21.1 yards per reception.
Miami brought in another quick-twitch WR in free agency, signing Will Fuller to a one-year deal. Imagine having Fuller and Waddle (who is arguably the fastest WR in this draft) running down the sidelines.
It would be a dream scenario for a QB desperate to prove he is capable of throwing the ball deep downfield. Hopefully, Miami lets Tua air it out this year. If they do, Waddle and Fuller will prove to be one of the best one-two pairings in the NFL.
9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley makes a lot of sense for the Denver Broncos here at No. 9. Reports surfaced on Monday that Caleb Farley will be undergoing surgery, but it is still too early to say if that will be a factor in him sliding down draft boards. For now, I’m slotting him to the Broncos at 9, but this could change if his medical checkups reveal a more serious issue.
Keep in mind, the Broncos could be in the QB market, but it is too early to give up on Drew Lock. Injuries hampered what could have been a promising 2020 season. If 2021 doesn’t work out, I can see Denver looking for a new play-caller under center.
However, for now, Vic Fangio uses this pick to bring in Farley, making this defense all that much more terrifying. Denver could also go safety here with the departure of Kareem Jackson, but there will be options in the later rounds at that position.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Okay, hear me out. The Dallas Cowboys need to work on their defense. However, like CeeDee Lamb falling to them last year, there is no way they can pass up the upside of Florida’s Kyle Pitts here at 10.
In his most recent mock, Mel Kiper Jr. said that in all his years of scouting players, he has never had a tight end rated this high, calling Pitts a combination of receiver and tight end.
Pitts is a 6-foot-6, 246-pound matchup nightmare. As a junior in college, he had 43 catches, 770 yards, and 12 touchdowns in just 8 games.
Dallas needs a CB. That much is certain, but they could get one in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft with guys like Tyson Campbell and Kelvin Joseph possibly still available. Just imagine an offense with Lamb, Pitts, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott, Blake Jarwin, and Dak Prescott. As long as the offensive line stays healthy, that combination should excite Cowboys fans.
11. New York Giants: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Giants filled a huge need at WR during free agency by signing Kenny Golladay. Now, they need to focus on putting together an effective offensive line.
Sewell is already gone, so they take the next best OT in Rashawn Slater. New York took Andrew Thomas No. 4 overall last year, but he has yet to develop into the player the Giants need him to be.
Slater’s athleticism allows him to play multiple positions on the offensive line, which will give the Giants some insurance if Thomas does not have a strong sophomore season. Protecting Daniel Jones should be the team’s top priority in 2021. Hopefully, if Jones has more time in the pocket, he will fumble the ball a little less.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (projected trade with San Francisco): Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
When trading back, the Bengals knew that they would have options for their offensive line. I am sure they would have preferred to grab Slater here, but Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw is no consolation prize. Darrisaw has been mocked anywhere from the No. 5 overall pick to 24.
After watching hours of film on him, I find it hard to believe he falls that far from the top 10. Darrisaw is a left tackle and will pair well with the Bengals’ most recent free-agent signing, Riley Reiff, at right tackle.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Los Angeles Chargers have been busy this offseason. They’ve added offensive line help with Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, and Oday Aboushi while re-signing cornerback Michael Davis and getting tight end help with Jared Cook.
In this 2021 NFL First Round Mock Draft, the Chargers continue to add to their secondary. After releasing Casey Hayward, the Chargers add Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II to try and replace him. Surtain is in contention for CB1 in the 2021 NFL Draft and could be a potential steal for Los Angeles at 13.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
The Minnesota Vikings need to find some help on the defensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft. With a lack of free-agent signings and Danielle Hunter‘s future with the team up in the air, the Vikings bring in Miami’s Gregory Rousseau in hopes of getting some sort of pressure on opposing QBs.
Rousseau had 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 2019, but he did not play in 2020. Nevertheless, he is an immediate upgrade over whatever Minnesota currently has.
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The New England Patriots have already been crowned the “winners” of free agency. They were the most aggressive team, signing several free agents to big contracts. Re-signing QB Cam Newton, however, is arguably their biggest signing. Newton looked terrible in 2020, but the Patriots still brought him back for another go-around, this time with a plethora of weapons around him.
In this 2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft, they decide to bring in Newton’s “eventual” replacement in Alabama’s Mac Jones. Jones threw for 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns while tossing a mere 4 interceptions last season. If Newton’s struggles continue into 2021, expect Jones to take over sooner rather than later.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
The Arizona Cardinals lost starting CB Patrick Peterson to free agency. With Peterson’s departure, the Cardinals have four cornerbacks on the roster, only one of whom played more than 48 snaps last year. Bringing in South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn gives them a starting CB from the get-go.
PFN’s NFL Draft Analyst Ian Cummings had this to say about the potential of Horn:
“Lockdown cornerbacks are in short supply, and in general, even the term itself is over-used. But Jaycee Horn, while not yet at that level, has some of the defining traits of a lockdown cornerback. He’s athletic, he’s lengthy, and he’s incredibly proactive when it comes to disrupting the pass catcher and the pass itself.”