As the final Thursday in April beckons us from afar, we still lay at the mercy of Father Time. Each day that we move closer to the 2021 NFL Draft, the time seems to move slower. However, with each bit of information we get, the picture gets clearer. The first two picks are all but made, and the 49ers are guaranteed to take a quarterback at No. 3 — just a matter of which one. The Atlanta Falcons are the most pivotal selection this year. They’ll determine how the rest of the draft goes down. How does your team do in this 3-Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft?
Valdovinos’ 3-Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft | Round 1, Picks 1-16
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
As mock drafts have been doing for the past year, Trevor Lawrence continues to be the expected first overall pick. Should Urban Meyer make a different selection here, it would be the draft’s craziest plot twist in more than a decade. Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect, definitively, since Andrew Luck and has a bid as the greatest quarterback prospect in NFL history. Size, speed, arm strength, accuracy, development, etc. Lawrence checks every box.
There are minor concerns because no prospect is perfect, but it’s easy to see Trevor Lawrence coming in and being a top-12-to-15 quarterback from the jump, with the potential to be the best quarterback in the league at some point in his career. He’s an obvious start to this 3-Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
While Zach Wilson going second overall isn’t as much a lock as Lawrence going first is, it’s still a safe bet to make. Wilson took the country by storm this year, leading his BYU Cougars to nine straight wins to open the season. Wilson was making gaudy plays week in and week out. It seems like multiple times a night, he escapes pressure, buys time, and places a ball perfectly down the field.
His aggression and his backyard style of football are reminiscent of Patrick Mahomes at times. However, I think he’s the riskiest of the top quarterback prospects. I’m a believer in Joe Douglas, though, and we’ll see how the selection plays out for the Jets.
3. San Francisco 49ers (from HOU via MIA): Trey Lance, QB, NDSU
This selection is the most anticipated in the entire 2021 NFL Draft. Some believe that Kyle Shanahan wants Justin Fields due to their connection through the QB Collective (Shanahan’s QB development program). Others think it could be Mac Jones, thanks to some national media member’s calling their shot early. I, however, subscribe to a different theory.
Kyle Shanahan grew up in the business of football; he knows the value of information. After dealing with a physically average and limited quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, he moves into the top three to swing for the fences. Trey Lance lands in San Francisco, Garoppolo plays one more season in San Francisco, and Lance takes over after this year. In my eyes, Lance has the best tools in the class. Kyle Shanahan is salivating at the opportunity to mold this limitless ball of clay in his vision.
4. Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Atlanta had their eyes on Lance and would have selected him had he fell to them. Instead, they pivot to the top player on their board, Kyle Pitts. Whether you want to label him a receiver or tight end, we can all agree that Pitts is a weapon. The Florida TE is dominant at the catch point with his 6’6″ frame and 86-inch wingspan and as athletic as a wide receiver running a 4.44 40-yard dash. It’s unlikely Julio Jones remains in Atlanta for much longer.
The addition of Pitts eases the pain of losing the long-time franchise weapon. The Falcons are much better than this selection indicates and have the requisite talent to contend for a Wild Card in the NFC. I was a fan of the Arthur Smith hiring, and I believe he could get this team in order, especially with a new weapon like Pitts.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
If I was making the pick, there’s no question I’d be picking Penei Sewell. However, signs seem to point towards the Bengals re-uniting Joe Burrow with his top college weapon Ja’Marr Chase. Chase was the leading receiver in college football as a sophomore on the LSU team that won the National Championship. Chase is an alpha at the catch point who excels at winning contested catches down the field. He provides some YAC ability and projects as a chain mover.
Chase’s playstyle is a bit redundant to Tee Higgins, who Cincinnati took 33rd overall in last year’s draft, but the Bengals think this can elevate their offense. Joe Burrow gets another weapon, but Cincinnati must focus on the offensive line on Day 2 of this 3-Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft.
6. Miami Dolphins (via PHI): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
The Dolphins also choose between a former Biletnikoff winner and the best offensive lineman in the class. The Dolphins decided to follow Cincinnati’s steps and pair their perceived franchise quarterback with his former college receiver.
Tua Tagovailoa and DeVonta Smith burst onto the scene when they connected for the game-winning touchdown in the National Championship as true freshmen. Now, they’ll work together in the NFL, trying to lead a talented Dolphins team into consistent contention in the AFC.
7. Washington Football Team (via DET): Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Proposed trade: Washington sends picks #19, 51, 124, a 2022 1st and 3rd to Detroit for pick #7.
Multiple sources have said that Washington is interested in moving up for a quarterback. Justin Fields fits the physical thresholds Ron Rivera wants in a quarterback. Big frame, strong arm, outstanding running ability.
Fields also portrays the type of person Rivera expects of his players. He is an elite leader, a player willing to put his body on the line to win for his team; he is someone his teammates rally around.
Fields falls to No. 7 here, and Washington gives Detroit a package of picks for their rebuild. Fields will compete with Ryan Fitzpatrick to be the team’s Week 1 starter and take over when Rivera feels he’s the team’s best.
8. Carolina Panthers: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
The Panthers traded for Sam Darnold recently and will move forward with dreams of him being their long-term answer at quarterback. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is a bright, innovative offensive mind. Investing in Darnold by drafting the best offensive lineman in the class makes sense, especially given how Darnold can fall apart under pressure.
I have never been much of a Darnold believer, but even I’m impressed with the offensive talent the Panthers have put around him. There are no excuses for Darnold moving forward with how the Panthers have put together the unit for him. Penei Sewell possesses dominant play strength and flexibility in both his hips and ankles. He never played a college football game in his twenties, and yet, is still the top tackle in this class.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (via Denver): Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
Proposed trade: Philadelphia sends picks #12, 84, and a 2022 3rd to Denver for the #9 pick.
The Eagles were able to add draft capital by moving from the sixth pick to the 12th pick via Miami. They also gained selections from the Colts in the Carson Wentz trade. They use the No. 12 pick and the third-rounder from the Colts, as well as a third next year, to move ahead of Dallas and ensure they get their choice of cornerbacks before the Cowboys inevitably take one.
Given Howie Roseman’s affinity for talented man-coverage cornerbacks, like Darius Slay, I’d expect that corner to be Jaycee Horn. Horn and Slay could be one of the top cornerback duos in Year 1, as both can shadow opposing No. 1 receivers. Slay gets the help he didn’t have last year.
10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
The Cowboys brought in Dan Quinn to whip their defense into shape. However, he needs some talent to do that. After taking Trevon Diggs in the Round 2 last year, the Cowboys now take his college teammate Patrick Surtain II.
The heavy Cover 3 that Dan Quinn loves running will be an excellent fit for Surtain. His length, ball skills, and instincts will translate well. In a division that just added Kenny Golladay and Curtis Samuel, the Cowboys know they need a cornerback here.
The offense is more than talented enough to produce 30 points a game. Field a competent defense and the Cowboys are legitimate NFC contenders. Dallas should be the current favorite to win the NFC East, but it won’t come uncontested. They add a much-needed defensive piece with Surtain.
11. New York Giants: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
The Giants, after signing Golladay, still elect to surround Daniel Jones with talent and take Jaylen Waddle with the 11th selection in this 3-Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft. Waddle is the most electric player in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s a threat to score whenever he touches the ball and has the versatility to win from the slot or on the boundary, and can even produce as a rusher.
He’ll function as a deep threat and as a YAC monster in the NFL, and the Tyreek Hill comparisons are warranted. The Giants know the NFC East will be hotly contested this year and need all the firepower they can get.
12. Denver Broncos (through SF from MIA via PHI): Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Ok, yes, this one is weird. On the other hand, there’s definite smoke surrounding the Denver Broncos and their interest in Najee Harris. The Broncos added several quality defensive free agents. Meanwhile, they continue to build their offense through the draft. Harris joins a young skill-position group that includes Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and K.J. Hamler.
When Drew Lock inevitably struggles on occasion, Harris could provide a bell-cow back to rely on for tough, consistent yards. Denver wasn’t able to get one of the top quarterbacks in the class, so they elect to move back and net assets that can be used for a future move up.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern
The Chargers know they must invest in Justin Herbert, and staying to take Rashawn Slater here is the best way to do it.
Some view Slater as the best tackle in the class, and he has the versatility to play anywhere on the offensive line. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t get the opportunity to try for the starting left tackle job as a rookie. He’s the most technically developed lineman in the class, and he’s an elite athlete. Average arms and play strength limit his ceiling, in my opinion, but he easily projects as a top-10-to-12 tackle in the NFL.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Greg Newsome, CB, Northwestern
With the upsetting news surrounding Jeff Gladney, the door is open for Mike Zimmer to draft a cornerback in the first round once again. Greg Newsome is an experienced and productive cornerback out of Northwestern and doesn’t possess the same medical concerns surrounding Caleb Farley. He has garnered comparisons to Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander — slightly undersized but a feisty competitor with an alpha mentality.
Newsome could shine in Zimmer’s defense. The Vikings add a talented defensive back to a defense that struggled last year,
15. New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
If people want to continue comparing Mac Jones to Tom Brady, I’ll take it to the next level. The Patriots went out and retooled their offense for the 2021 season and can draft Jones to pair with Cam Newton as an insurance policy for each other.
If Cam’s passing woes continue with a newly stocked receiving unit, New England can move to Jones to provide a more rounded and dynamic offense. Then, should Jones start to falter with the pressure on, Newton can enter with playoff experience and a rushing threat that functions as an equalizer.
Miami employed a similar strategy last year with Tua and FitzMagic; it wouldn’t shock me to see Bill create his own variation.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami FL
A player the NFL seems to be higher on than I, Gregory Rousseau has a chance to be the first defender taken. The Cardinals were hoping Najee Harris made it here, but alas, they’ll opt to draft another tweener defensive player.
Guys like Haason Reddick and Isaiah Simmons blurred the lines between positions but provided dominant athletic profiles. Rousseau fits this same mold and would offer a running partner for Chandler Jones. Given his frame, Rousseau projects similarly to a player like Calais Campbell, who was excellent in Arizona.