Round One | Picks 23-32
23. New York Jets: Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
After taking a playmaker on offense earlier in this First Round NFL Mock Draft, the Jets have to take a look at either the offensive line or the other side of the ball with their second pick. Except for maybe their interior defensive line, New York could use someone at pretty much any defensive position.
Ifeatu Melifonwu may not be the most popular name in mocks, but I feel like that is changing after his Senior Bowl performance. It will shoot up even higher if he tests at Syracuse’s Pro Day.
Melifonwu is a superb athlete across the board. His size and athletic traits make him difficult to deal with for opposing receivers. However, it’s his understanding of coverages and how to adjust to the man he’s covering that allows him to take advantage of his natural gifts.
24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Despite their record, the Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious needs on both sides of the ball. Their most pressing needs, however, are on offense. You can take your pick as to what they need. I would have liked to improve the offensive line or add a speedy and athletic deep threat to stretch the field. However, I went a different route instead in this First Round NFL Mock Draft.
If there was any team that could use a bruiser, it’s the Steelers. Najee Harris provides that battering ram that the team could use to take back some of its old identity provided they build their offense post-Roethlisberger similar to how the Titans did with Derrick Henry. If so, I think this could be quite an offense to contend with. The AFC North has always been a tough division, and the last thing the Steelers can do is become soft.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
After the easiest of calls was made to draft Trevor Lawrence first overall, the Jaguars need to come up with a meaningful way to spend their second pick. The 2021 NFL Draft is a tricky one to navigate. Yet, with needs all over the field on both sides of the ball, I felt like taking a chance that the Jaguars could build something fresh around Lawrence.
Normally, building around a new QB doesn’t involve taking a running back. However, with Darrell Bevell in Jacksonville, I think this puts the team in a unique position. Bevell showed in Detroit that he can work with a receiving back that can play all three downs. If Travis Etienne can stay healthier than D’Andre Swift did in Detroit, he could help take over the AFC South alongside his college teammate.
26. Cleveland Browns: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
The Cleveland Browns rode that Baker Mayfield wave into the playoffs. After so long, it had to feel good. Browns fans probably aren’t used to having to wait so long on draft night for their team to make a selection. Nevertheless, they end up in a good spot in this First Round NFL Mock Draft.
The team has needs all over their defense, but the two biggest ones are at linebacker and safety. To remedy those ills, the team can take someone like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and in some ways, kill two birds with one stone.
JOK is an off-ball linebacker that can play safety, a hybrid type of role that has become fairly common in the NFL’s heavy passing days. Whether you think he’s primarily a safety or primarily a linebacker, JOK can take over a role in that Cleveland defense that takes advantage of the havoc guys like Myles Garrett can cause up front. This is no Jabrill Peppers situation, folks. The Browns are a lot better coached than they used to be.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Orlando Brown’s request for a trade made this pick a bit of a difficult one. While Baltimore needs some receivers and could have used an edge rusher on defense, it’s difficult with a passer like Lamar Jackson to make the offense work without bookend tackles. As such, it leaped right up to the top of the team’s needs for me. Therefore, it made the choice between a speedy playmaking receiver and a brawler tackle much easier.
Alex Leatherwood is a strange one, as he was once considered the second-best tackle in the class. Yet, he has since slipped somewhat. The strange part is that it really isn’t through any action of his own but rather the strength of the class.
He reportedly had a poor showing during some of the Senior Bowl practices, but his tape is top-notch. Moving on from Orlando Brown to Alex Leatherwood ought to give Ravens fans something to be excited about.
28. New Orleans Saints: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Drew Brees’ retirement was always going to happen eventually. Still, it shakes the landscape of the NFC South. While the ideal solution would be to take a quarterback and move on from Brees, there simply isn’t a QB I’d take with this pick. Instead, we’re looking for playmakers on both offense and defense, preferably at skill positions.
Rashod Bateman is one of the best pound-for-pound athletes in the 2021 NFL Draft. He recently posted a 41-inch vertical. Frankly, he may outperform that with the brighter lights of his pro day. His level of athletic ability should remind Saints fans of someone like Brandin Cooks. Likely, the usage will also be similar.
Bateman has some injury concerns that need to be vetted. Yet, he’s a consummate competitor and crazy-level athlete. He isn’t exactly easy to defend on game day.
29. Green Bay Packers: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
The whole “Packers need to take a WR” thing has become a bit of a running gag. It does remain one of their chief needs, though, and was the primary consideration for this pick. As it was, the board was empty by the time Green Bay was on the clock. So, they’ve got to look at other needs. By other needs, we’re of course talking about that defense.
While there were pass rushers that could have helped, I still think the Packers’ pass rush will be alright. Instead, I looked at adding one of the best defenders left on the board to their front seven.
Nick Bolton is one of the top linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft. I expect him to fit neatly into the Packers’ athletic tendencies without that being the sole draw to his style of play. He’s a smart, savvy linebacker who provides value on passing downs. Second-level pass coverage is something that is currently lacking from the Packers a bit.
30. Buffalo Bills: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
There’s plenty of argument to be had for which need is second or third for the Buffalo Bills. Whether it be a receiving tight end who can stretch the field or some help with their back seven. Their primary need, however, is set — pass rusher.
The 2021 NFL Draft has some good pass rushers but few elite talents. With Buffalo picking at 30th overall, it puts them in prime position to grab whichever top pass rusher is still on the board without overspending or reaching for talent.
At 6’5” and 253 pounds, Joseph Ossai is a stand-up rusher who spends much of his time in the backfield for Texas. While his sack numbers aren’t superb, he’s a terror for opposing running games. Ossai has the athletic upside to develop into a real monster in the NFL.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
If we were to put the Kansas City Chiefs’ top five needs in order just based on the Super Bowl, it would just be the five offensive line positions from outside in. If we look at the whole season, it likely ends up fairly similar.
They could use a linebacker or pass rusher. However, if we’re totally real, there aren’t many scenarios I can see where this team looks at the draft and doesn’t jump at the best offensive lineman left on the board.
Teven Jenkins is a huge, lengthy tackle with some developmental upside. Ideally, he’d be worked into an offense slowly. The Chiefs, however, may want to throw him right to the wolves to get him that game experience.
Jenkins is not the most athletic tackle in the draft. While that may mean he moves inside to guard, I think he can make his living as a powerful right tackle in an offense that has enough creativity to avoid setting him up for too many one-on-one speed rushes.
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
What to get someone who has everything? Succession plans, that’s what. Tampa Bay will have to plan for the eventual loss of Tom Brady, Jason Pierre-Paul, and others that helped the team win a Super Bowl in 2020.
They can do so on both sides of the ball. If Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr.’s selections were any indication, they have a fair handle on how to identify talent.
Jalen Mayfield isn’t as well-known as some of the other top tackles in this class, which still surprises me. He has the size and athleticism that teams love on the line. Almost every pass rusher he faced the last two years of his college career is either already on an NFL roster or headed to them this season.
If Mayfield is still available at the 32nd overall pick, he could end up being the steal of the draft. That rarely happens for the team that just won the Super Bowl.
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