With the first round of the playoffs in the books, and 24 teams now locked into their draft position, our latest first-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft breaks down what teams may be thinking with the college football season now in the rearview mirror. Who could be considering trading up, and where will the top four quarterbacks go off the board?
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2021 First-Round NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
This is really as simple as it gets for the first overall pick. As we get closer to the draft, expect there to be the usual stories that the Jaguars are fielding calls for the pick. However, it would take a lot for the Jaguars to pass up a player discussed in a similar way to Andrew Luck as a prospect.
Jacksonville has seen that their QB answer is not in the building. Therefore, in this mock, they will kick off the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft with Trevor Lawrence.
2. Carolina Panthers (projected trade w/ New York Jets): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
After the first pick is when things could really start to get interesting. If the Jets are committed to sticking with Sam Darnold, then they very well may look to trade out of this spot. They would be giving up on Penei Sewell, but the value of trading back might be better when looking at the overall view of the franchise.
In this 2021 NFL first-round mock draft, the Jets get back two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a little more for the second pick.
The Panthers are the team moving up as they look to secure their QB of the future. Carolina can cut Bridgewater after the 2021 season, giving a player like Justin Fields all the time he needs to get ready to lead this team. The Panthers have plenty of weapons on their offense and invested heavily in the defense last season. Therefore, they can afford to spend valuable assets to come up and get a player like Fields.
Ultimately, the choice between Fields and BYU’s Zach Wilson will come down to organizational preference. My choice here is Fields, but if the Panthers went Wilson, that would not be a massive surprise.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (projected trade w/ Miami): Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Miami Dolphins are in a wonderful position with this pick. They could pick off whichever player tops their board or use this pick to add future assets. Adding a player of Penei Sewell’s caliber would be useful to the Dolphins, but this trade gives them several options. In this scenario, the Dolphins get the Bengals 2022 first-round pick and only have to move back two spots.
This pick is a simple option for the Bengals. They need to protect Joe Burrow, and Sewell is seen by many as the best prospect in the draft not named Trevor Lawrence.
The Bengals have offensive weapons and some solid pieces on defense. Therefore, they have the luxury of paying the price to get Sewell as the first key part of their offensive line. Sewell offers promise as both a run and pass blocker. This selection would be music to the ears of Burrow, Joe Mixon, and the rest of that Bengals offense.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
The Falcons are in a tricky position because you could make the case they need to focus more on their front seven. They spent a first-round pick on A.J. Terrell last year, so going elsewhere could be an option. However, at this stage of the draft, the value is not there for them to draft another position.
Saying that, Caleb Farley is not a bad consolation prize. He offers size and speed, as well as being a playmaker on defense. Pairing Farley and Terrell on the back end allows the Falcons to focus on their front seven in the remainder of the draft.
5. San Francisco 49ers (projected trade w/ Miami): Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
The Dolphins are back at it as they look to trade further back. All three of the consensus first-round wide receivers are still on the board, giving the Dolphins the flexibility to move back. If they have a preference, then they would need to jump here to ensure they got their target. However, assuming they are satisfied with whichever of the three they get, this trade makes too much sense.
The Dolphins would receive two first-round picks and a third-round pick to drop back to the 12th spot. Already they have added two first-rounders in 2022 while still having two first-round picks in 2021.
The 49ers are in an intriguing position. They need to save cap, and they have a QB who can be cut to save over $20 million in cap space. Even if they decide to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo, adding a new QB seems imperative. We have already seen that Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard are not the answer. Zach Wilson has improved his stock considerably in 2020 and now gets to be paired with Kyle Shanahan.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
The Eagles offense needs major help in many places and none more so than on the outside. With Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson both viable candidates to be cut this offseason, the Eagles need more weapons.
Ja’Marr Chase was widely viewed as the best wide receiver coming into the season. The performances of DeVonta Smith have applied pressure, but Chase is an extremely talented outside weapon. Additionally, the success of Justin Jefferson transitioning to the NFL can only help Chase’s stock in the eyes of NFL scouts. Expectations are that Chase will be a first-round pick, and in this 2021 NFL Mock Draft, Chase is the first receiver off the board.
7. Detroit Lions: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Lions need a lot of pieces all over the field, especially on defense. Ample focus was put onto their pass rush last season, but they need to address the middle of the defense. Micah Parsons does that perfectly.
He has played in numerous positions during his football career, settling as a middle linebacker at Penn State. However, he has the ability to do so much from that position. As a former defensive end, he can rush the passer if need be. He has the speed and the skill to be a contributor against both the run and the pass. Putting Parsons in the middle of the Lions defense would be a huge upgrade to the heart of their defense.
8. New York Jets (from trade w/ Panthers): Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
Whether the Jets make this move and take Rashawn Slater depends on how big they feel the gap is from Sewell to Slater. If their view of Sewell is that he is a bonafide marquee talent, they should stick at two and take him. However, if they feel Slater can be somewhere close, this move makes a lot of sense.
Slater has plenty of athleticism and versatility, which are highly desirable traits. While he goes off the board as the second tackle in this first-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, the likes of Daniel Jeremiah had Slater over Sewell as recently as November.
9. Chicago Bears (projected trade w/ Denver): Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Broncos are in a fascinating spot. If they feel that Drew Lock is not their QB of the future, they may look to stay in this spot and draft a new QB. However, if there is a team willing to come up and offer them future picks for the 10th pick, they should consider it. Dropping back 10 spots will not significantly reduce the talent available to them defensively.
In this first-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft, that is exactly what they do. In the process, they pick up the Bears’ first-round pick in 2022 and a late-round pick in 2021.
The Bears are in no-mans land with their quarterback situation. Realistically, they cannot cut Nick Foles without adding $3.7 million in dead money to their 2021 salary cap. Therefore, why not keep Nick Foles around and have him be the veteran presence for your rookie QB? After playing just one season at North Dakota State, Trey Lance is somewhat of an unknown. However, the upside is there, and the Bears could immediately replace Mitchell Trubisky, who is set to leave as a free agent.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys’ secondary has been widely highlighted because of their poor play this season. The stand out contributor has been Trevon Diggs. Yes, he allowed five touchdowns in coverage, but his 54.8 completion percentage allowed is among the top 25 at the position this season. Now the Cowboys have the opportunity to pair Diggs with his old teammate.
Patrick Surtain II has not been targeted much this season, but when he was he stood up well, making some key plays.
11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Giants could continue to develop their defense, but the opportunity to add a number one receiver for Daniel Jones should be too tempting. Jaylen Waddle is seen by many as the second-best receiver out of Alabama, but he is also viewed as the one with the most upside.
One concern will be that Waddle’s 2020 season ended in a devastating injury. However, with sure-handed receivers like Sterling Shepard under contract until 2023, adding someone with the game-breaking ability of Waddle might be hard for the Giants to pass up.
12. Miami Dolphins (from trade w/ San Francisco): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
As long as the Dolphins are happy with any of Chase, Waddle, or DeVonta Smith, then they will have a huge smile on their face if the actual draft turns out like this first-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft. The Dolphins have dropped from three to 12, picked up two future first-round picks, and still got a number one receiver for Tua Tagovailoa. Smith is coming into the NFL Draft as the first wide receiver to win the Heisman in over two decades.
There is no denying that Smith is talented; the numbers and the film demonstrate that. However, perhaps the biggest plus here is that Smith will come straight into the NFL with past knowledge of his new QB. That rapport can take time to build, but Smith has the opportunity to be an immediate contributor.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
This is another one of those picks where it just makes too much sense. The only real debate was whether to go for Alijah Vera-Tucker or Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw was a big riser in 2020, with his size, length, and movement all solid. He still has upside for the Chargers to develop, and he could be a perfect partner for Herbert moving forward.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Kwity Paye, EDGE, Michigan
The Vikings need to focus on their offensive and defensive lines early in this draft. However, their defense has been the bigger issue in the 2020 season, so if they can find a good value at pass rusher, they should take it.
Kwity Paye is going off the board in some mocks are early as the top 10. Therefore, getting a player with his explosiveness and pass rushing ability at pick 14 in this first-round 2021 NFL Mock Draft makes this an easy selection.
15. New England Patriots: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
The Patriots really struggled at the tight end position in 2020. The Patriots’ tight end position had a lower TE volume share than anyone else in the league at eight percent. Getting a talent like Kyle Pitts would automatically upgrade the position.
For many, a top-tier QB should be the Patriots’ main target, but without some more weapons drafting a QB would still leave him limited options to throw to. If the Patriots dive into free agency at the receiver and tight end positions, then perhaps we see them get aggressive for one of the QBs here.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
The Cardinals have a tough decision to make this offseason with Chandler Jones. The Cardinals could open up $15.5 million in cap space by cutting Jones. With just 33 contracted players and $25 million in cap space, the temptation will be there.
If they do cut Jones, Jayson Oweh presents an extremely athletic option to replace Jones. If they decide to keep Jones, then Oweh has the opportunity to see how one of the best does it and learn from a player who has had plenty of success.