This is by far the strangest offseason we’ve had to deal with. From a pandemic to opt-outs, we’re looking at an unprecedented lack of scouting information on prospects this NFL Draft season. Therefore, in some cases, we need to rely on older tape or project players in ways we aren’t quite used to. This, of course, makes the draft more difficult to predict. That doesn’t mean we won’t try, however, in this First Round NFL Mock Draft.
We could be facing an offseason with a never-before-seen number of trades as teams try to rebuild and stock up on future picks, hoping the next offseason is more stable. On the other hand, we could see an offseason with next to no trades. Teams may be unwilling to spend draft capital to move up to select players with incomplete profiles by normal team standards.
Assuming that second scenario, we’re going to do this First Round NFL Mock Draft without trades. Instead, we’ll use the team needs and rankings we’re using in our own Mock Draft Simulator — where you can run your own mock draft after reading this one!
2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
You don’t end up with the first pick in the draft without having plenty of holes. The Jaguars aren’t as big of a mess as they’d seem from their draft slot. However, it’s pretty obvious they’ve got a need for a new quarterback.
If not for that need, they would most likely spend the pick on someone like Penei Sewell, as there are no pass rushers or other non-quarterbacks that could be worth that number one overall consideration in the 2021 NFL Draft. There isn’t a lot of mystery with the first pick in the draft this year. And I don’t think it’s necessary to try to create one in this First Round NFL Mock Draft where it doesn’t exist.
Trevor Lawrence comes in pre-packaged with a strong arm, athleticism to spare, and the calm demeanor on a football field to lead a franchise. He is quick to process and decisive to pull the trigger on accurate downfield passes to carve up the field. Lawrence is adept at creating something from nothing, and there are times the Jaguars will need that as they build around him.
2. New York Jets: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
While uncertainty around the team’s plans at quarterback persists, we’re operating under the assumption that either Sam Darnold returns as the signal-caller for the Jets or this pick is not included in a trade. In either of those cases, it comes down to whether a QB is the pickup, an elite talent like Penei Sewell is the best option, or the team tries to continue building off their previous picks.
Ja’Marr Chase isn’t the same level of elite-tier athlete as Denzel Mims or Breshad Perriman are. However, his all-around skill set allows the team to give their QB a primary target and use the rest of their weapons in more suitable, specialized roles.
Chase can be used anywhere in any role. Adding him to a receiving corps more composed of role players not only puts an elite talent in a starting role, but it also gives those around him more freedom to do what they do best, rather than trying to fill in for roles that don’t suit them.
This kind of improvement to a team like the Jets can have an elevating effect for the rest of the roster in a way I don’t think someone like Sewell does. The team just picked Mekhi Becton last year, and he’s looking strong so far.
3. Miami Dolphins: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Miami Dolphins are one of the true wild cards of the 2021 NFL Draft, as there are many ways this could pan out. There are rumors the team isn’t sold on Tua Tagovailoa. The team’s inability to keep their QB protected or to provide weapons that will keep the offense moving are concerns as well.
The only thread tying them together is that it’s all offense. Brian Flores really has the team coming together on the defensive side of the ball. This gives them the freedom to start putting the offense together however they please.
While fans seem to be gravitating toward a receiver here, I opted to pull in the 2021 NFL Draft’s top offensive lineman instead. This First Round NFL Mock Draft gives Penei Sewell an optimum landing spot.
Sewell is a true blindside protector who has been compared to greats like Orlando Pace. This would lock in Sewell on the left side and Austin Jackson on the right, giving the Dolphins a pair of bookends to anchor their line with as they build around Tua. With a blue chip draft pick, you need a blue chip player, and Sewell is simply that.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan
The most likely trade-down candidate, the Falcons are sitting in a prime spot for many picks they could make. However, they are just as likely to land a few picks later if they can find the right asking price.
The team could always take one of the remaining three quarterbacks if new head coach Arthur Smith feels the team needs to move away from Matt Ryan. They could also load up on offensive weapons (one of their deepest areas already) and give Ryan even more tools to work with. Their true needs on defense feel like a reach this early, making this a tough pick to decide with no trades.
While we presently have Kwity Paye ranked outside our top ten, he is the top-ranked defensive lineman on the board and second-ranked defensive player. The only player ranked higher is a cornerback, and I couldn’t see the Falcons going to the same well a second year in a row.
Eschewing higher-rated receivers, quarterbacks, and a tight end, I feel taking a supremely athletic player like Paye in this First Round NFL Mock Draft. Developing him into something special is the best move the franchise can make in this instance.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Aside from a quarterback, the only position I can see a team in the top ten trading up for is an offensive tackle. More specifically, Oregon’s Penei Sewell.
A team like the Bengals got to see the promise in number one overall pick Joe Burrow just long enough for him to suffer a season-ending injury that put their season on ice. While the defense certainly has needs at every level, the offensive line should be Cincinnati’s chief concern.
If they’re unable to find a trade partner to move up or are unwilling, and Sewell doesn’t fall, then I expect the Bengals to take a long hard look at this talented tackle class. While Christian Darrisaw and Alijah Vera-Tucker provide their own types of upside, I think taking a player like Rashawn Slater gives the team the best chance to succeed. At least in the short term he does, while they’re still finding the type of offense they want to put on the field around Burrow.
Slater is one of those players you’ve probably heard talk of moving inside. However, I think his natural spot is at tackle, and he should be allowed to show that at the next level. It’s a dangerous division for linemen, but he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber prospect.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Some teams just get all of the luck in drafts with no trades, and the Eagles are one such beneficiary in this one. Two of the top wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft fall right into the Eagles’ lap in this First Round NFL Mock Draft and the team can choose between them.
Now that Carson Wentz has been traded to the Indianapolis Colts, Jalen Hurts looks like the starter in 2021. So why not bring in two guys he’s already familiar with and pick between them?
While I personally have Jaylen Waddle rated one spot higher on my board, his injury history and the issues the Eagles had to deal with a season ago in that area lead me to think they’ll go with Waddle’s teammate, DeVonta Smith. The Heisman winner was a tricky eval as he’s clearly got ‘it’ on tape but comes to the NFL with a very uncommon, lanky frame that you almost never see.
That kind of physical profile makes it a difficult evaluation since there are so few successful players to compare to. In addition, it’s difficult to determine if injury concerns due to his lean frame are valid.
With so many unknowns, it’s always best to go back to the tape. And quite frankly, there’s simply no reason on tape to value Smith any lower than this. He’s a phenomenal prospect and a great athlete, with the speed and explosiveness to challenge NFL cover men. His route running can give even experienced corners fits.
7. Detroit Lions: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Like the Eagles, the Lions end up with an embarrassment of riches to choose from in my First Round NFL Mock Draft with no teams trading up to land their quarterback and others with question marks not yet moving on. Likewise, falling outside of the top five means the Lions aren’t reaching nearly as far for a defender if they try to fix that side of the ball.
In this specific scenario, with three of the top four quarterbacks remaining, I would expect the team to try to trade down a spot or two with Carolina or Denver to try to get some extra late-round picks. But, since we’re not making trades this time, we won’t do that.
Justin Fields was in contention to be the number one overall pick at the start of the season, challenging Trevor Lawrence for that top spot. Since then, he’s fallen behind BYU’s Zach Wilson for some, including in our own rankings. I have him rated higher, however, so he’s the pick I would make for Detroit.
Fields’ ability to extend plays and work outside of structure has some poor moments. However, it’s largely a positive to his game, and that’s crucial in today’s NFL. He also throws the best deep ball of this class. With the Lions in a full rebuild, they’re going to have to rely on the occasional big play to save the day. Those are the kinds of moments Fields can truly deliver.
8. Carolina Panthers: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
Another beneficiary of a draft with little movement in trades is the Carolina Panthers, who would likely end up with a top quarterback option in that scenario. With the top tackles gone and the top defenders still rated a few picks below this, the Panthers are lucky not only to have the players available to them that are there, but it also makes this a relatively easy decision.
Zach Wilson doesn’t get enough appreciation for just how athletic he is on the field and how well he can work outside of the pocket. Though probably not as pro-ready as he’s sometimes described, Wilson can win with his arm and legs well enough that he should be off and running quickly as a rookie. With a couple of talented pass catchers to throw to, Wilson should help the Panthers get back into contention in the NFC South.
9. Denver Broncos: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
Drew Lock is a divisive player already in his short career. Some believe he’s the next face of the franchise, and others think the team will move on from him as soon as possible.
In this scenario, we’re going to avoid that question entirely as the only QB left in the top four is Trey Lance. While Lance’s ability to work outside the pocket is incredible, it’s a huge question how well he can work inside. That forces us to look at the defensive side of the ball in this First Round NFL Mock Draft. We’ve got two linebackers and three corners to choose from as our top five defenders on the board.
Caleb Farley has the size to contend with any receiver in the NFL and the type of projected athletic profile that should make any defensive coordinator happy. The 2021 NFL Draft has a lot of questionable players due to profile, injury, or opting out. For many who opted out, we’ve seen others take their spots in rankings and watched their stock fall with no current tape to point to.
That isn’t the case, however, with Caleb Farley. Farley has been considered a near-consensus top-two cornerback in the class for over a year. The opt-out may lengthen his time to acclimate to the NFL, but it’s unlikely to impact his ceiling as a top-tier cover man. To this end, that’s what Denver is banking on.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys’ secondary has been a need for as long as I can remember. Even when they had solid players in place, there was always some uncertainty about contract status or bigger needs elsewhere. It’s tough to find a bigger need now, but the defensive options for Dallas are strong for where they’re picking, and two of the best options left are corners.
Like Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain has been a top cornerback on many boards for quite some time. While his ball skills could use some polish, Surtain’s length and athleticism make him a dangerous option outside.
If the Cowboys can manufacture even a little bit of a pass rush, Surtain is the clearest option for this pick. South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn was an option here as well. However, I think Jerry Jones is one of the NFL’s decision-makers who will hold opting out against the prospects.
11. New York Giants: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami
While there are still holes to fill on the offensive line, particularly along the interior, the Giants have to concentrate on that defense. That is, if they want to be taken seriously in what is currently the weakest division in football. That means addressing the pass rush, addressing the secondary, and providing help in the middle to make teams uncomfortable.
While Gregory Rousseau has fallen quite a bit from his original projection as a consensus top-10 guy, I still like his projected athletic profile and downright dominant moments from his 2019 tape. Any player who can disrupt an offense immediately will find a spot on an NFL squad.
The G-Men have to like what they saw from his 15.5 sack season in 2019. Rousseau is huge for an edge. Yet, he still shows off the explosiveness and bend that he can combine with his size and length to be a terror off the edge.