As we head into the middle of December, there’s no better time to release my initial first-round 2021 NFL mock draft.
In this mock, the Jets do what everyone thinks they should do. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson and North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance end up in some surprising places. The Eagles, Cardinals, Patriots, and other teams add weapons, while the Steelers add a bulldozer. It’s a mock draft like any other, only more so, and it’s full of surprises, except at the top. There are no real surprises at the top.
Tanier’s First Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft | Picks 1-10
1. New York Jets: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
The Jets can’t expect Lawrence to be the solution. But they must make him part of the solution. Lawrence has the talent to quickly develop into an upper-echelon NFL starter, the improvisational skills to survive while his team assembles the pieces around him, and the big-game experience to the New York limelight. All the Jets need is a much, much better head coach than Adam Gase. And more on the offensive line than Mekhi Becton. And some upgrades at wide receiver. Also, at least two running backs. And an entire defense. And the organizational patience and competence to prioritize and fill all of those needs.
Come to think of it, Lawrence will probably be rooting for the Jets harder than anyone in America over the last few weeks. And not because he wants to play for them.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
The Jaguars are the Florida Man version of the Jets. They need to part ways with head coach Doug Marrone, who is currently starting Mike Glennon over Gardner Minshew, perhaps to ensure that he gets fired. Once the org chart is upgraded, they can go about building an almost entirely new team, starting at quarterback.
As impressive as Fields is, he gives off some “Ohio State Quarterback Prospect” vibes. Yes, program scouting is lazy scouting, and Fields looks better than Dwayne Haskins, Terrelle Pryor, Cardale Jones, Craig Krenzel, Bobby Hoying, and all the other Buckeyes quarterbacks swirling around in my brain. But it can be hard to spot a product of the system/program when it comes to that particular system/program.
Fields appears to have taken a huge step forward as a decision-maker this season, and there’s no denying the tools. He’s not the can’t-miss prospect some tout him as, but he has far too much potential for the Jaguars to pass up.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, T, Oregon
Joe Burrow absorbed 32 sacks in 10 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Protecting Burrow is the Bengals top priority moving forward, and Sewell is the best tackle prospect in the 2021 class. Sewell has the athleticism to rival Buccaneers star rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs, looks great on the hoof when blocking for screens, and possesses a nasty finish. He’s a technically raw lean-and-lunge type, but with his rare tools and ornery style, Sewell can help Burrow stay upright and healthy for the next decade and lands in Cincinnati in this 2021 first-round NFL mock draft.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Gregory Rousseau, DT, Miami
Let’s add some physicality to the Cowboys defense. Because if we don’t, it will explode in a cloud of fluff like an infant’s pillow in a commercial dryer.
Gregory Rousseau is more an all-purpose defensive end than a pure edge rusher. Think Trey Flowers or Arik Armstead: a long-armed disruptor who can be as effective head-up on a tackle or tight end as he is streaking off the edge. The Cowboys have had bad luck with one-dimensional edge rushers in past drafts (Taco Charlton, Randy Gregory) but have fared better with bigger, more tenacious defenders (Tank Lawrence). With Rousseau lined up opposite Lawrence, the Cowboys will generate plenty of pass rush without getting gouged against the run. Well, they’ll still get gouged against the run sometimes. But it won’t be Rousseau’s fault.
5. Los Angeles Chargers: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech
With Justin Herbert locked in as the quarterback of the future, the Chargers can go into “best available athlete” mode. Or, since they are the Chargers, “hope the best available athlete isn’t injured in a freak scuba diving accident two days after we draft him” mode.
Farley is the complete package at cornerback. He’s effective in zone or man coverage, reads routes in front of him well, gets great position on downfield throws, has great ball skills, and is a step-up tackler who can dislodge the football. With Casey Hayward nearing the end of the line, Farley can step in and help Derwin James anchor the Chargers secondary. If James ever gets healthy, that is.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
If I ran the Eagles, I would take Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with this pick. But Howie Roseman runs the Eagles (for now), and Roseman never drafts linebackers. Ever. Why would he, when the Eagles can run Nate Gerry out there every year and hope he magically transforms into Derrick Brooks?
Ja’Marr Chase is a tremendous receiver, of course: a cross between Allen Robinson and a smaller DeAndre Hopkins with great hands, contested catch ability, concentration, and toughness, plus the ability to generate some rugged yards after the catch. He’ll really help whoever is quarterbacking the Eagles next year. And whoever is coaching them. And whoever is running the personnel department. You get the idea.
7. Carolina Panthers: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
The Panthers just don’t feel like the Panthers without Luke Kuechly, do they? Well, that’s an easy problem to solve. Parsons is a classic “Mike” (or “Micah?”) linebacker: an effective downhill attacker with a knack for slipping away from blocks and heavy hands to rip loose the football, and is an ideal fir in Carolina in the first round of this 2021 NFL mock draft.
Opponents averaged 115 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry through the first 12 games against the Panthers’ defense. Parsons can cut those numbers down and give the Panthers pass rush a jolt as a blitzer as well.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
Despite a recent Taysom Hill-aided blip of relative competence, the Falcons defense is terrible. It has been terrible for years. Falcons fans are sick of hearing about how terrible it is. You are sick of reading about how terrible it is. I am sick of writing about how terrible it is. So let’s cut right to the part where we select a defender for them in the first round of my 2021 NFL mock draft. Sound good? Sounds good.
Michigan edge rusher Kwity Paye is often mocked to the Falcons, but the team has an awful track record with edge rushers (Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley), so let’s do them a favor and give them a sure thing for the back end of their defense. Patrick Surtain II, son of the Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback of the early 2000s, is versatile enough to play man or zone, slot or wide. He’s quick-footed with smooth hips and great ball skills, and he’s a sure tackler on plays in front of him.
No one player can fix the Falcons defense, but Surtain can help it start heading in the right direction.
9. Miami Dolphins (from Houston Texans): Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, and a healthy Preston Williams constitute a pretty good wide receiver corps. But the Dolphins aren’t settling for “pretty good” anymore! This leftover pick from the Laremy Tunsil trade back in 1997 (whoops, it was 2019. It just seems like the Texans have been trading away first-round picks for 25 years) gives the Dolphins a chance to turbocharge their offense and jumpstart Tua Tagovailoa’s growth from “game-managing prospect” to “actual elite quarterback.”
Rashod Bateman has a fine release, can be very crafty at the top of his stem, and possesses the tools of an elite route runner. He also has the contact balance of a running back after the catch, so he’ll be able to generate some YAC. He’s the type of receiver who can quickly develop into an AJ Brown type: perfect for a young quarterback seeking a reliable go-to target to call his own.
10. Denver Broncos: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Shaun Wade has struggled to adjust to a starting role on the outside after playing the slot behind Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette last year, and he has been beaten a few times when trying to jump double moves. But my gut tells me that scouts will forgive the over-aggressive/inexperienced mistakes and focus on Wade’s 6-foot-1 stature, long arms, smooth athleticism, willingness to put a lick on receivers, and ball-hungry approach.
The Broncos are thin at cornerback, and they cannot blame injuries at that position like they can at receiver and edge rusher. They could try to replace Drew Lock with this pick, but that would require John Elway to quickly admit a mistake, which ain’t happening. Wade fills a need, and that’s how Elway approaches the draft and why Wade is the pick here to round out the top 10 in my first-round 2021 NFL mock draft.