The 2021 NFL Draft is set to kick off on April 29 and run through May 1 in Cleveland next spring. This is expected to be one of the most highly-anticipated drafts in some time, with a number of potential future superstars expected to be in the field. The New York Jets, who are currently in line for the No. 1 pick, could land a franchise quarterback in Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. If not New York, the Jacksonville Jaguars may also pick first, and will also have quarterback on their mind.
Other teams built to contend could go after signal-callers, like the Indianapolis Colts, who are in playoff contention with aging quarterback Philip Rivers. The Los Angeles Chargers grabbed their franchise QB in Justin Herbert this year; can they use what will be a high pick to add another future star to the roster, or potentially trade down to fill out the roster? Based on the current NFL Draft order, here are our current 2021 NFL Mock Draft projections for all 32 picks of the first round.
2021 NFL Mock Draft:
1. New York Jets — Trevor Lawrence, QB – Clemson
Lawrence has looked the part since he broke onto the scene as the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class. He committed to play for Dabo Swinney in Dec. 2016, as the true heir apparent to Deshaun Watson with the Tigers. He didn’t start from day one for the Tigers, but took over the job a few weeks into his true freshman season, and never looked back.
That year, Lawrence led Clemson to its second national championship under Swinney, in which they trounced Nick Saban and Alabama 44-16. Lawrence hasn’t been perfect throughout his college career. Some early sophomore year inconsistency knocked him out of Heisman contention, though he wound up having an excellent season and led the Tigers back to a national championship berth. This year, he may be the best quarterback in college football, though the games he missed after being diagnosed for COVID-19 will probably keep him from being a Heisman contender down the stretch. Clemson is once again in national title contention though, and Lawrence may go down as one of the most celebrated college quarterbacks ever.
He also looks like he was created in a lab to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. He has the size and arm strength that pro coaches and GMs have always coveted, along with the impressive athleticism to fit the modern game. If the Jets wind up in this spot, Sam Darnold will have to start looking at homes elsewhere. There’s no passing on a prospect like Lawrence.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars — Justin Fields, QB – Ohio State
If the Jets continue to do things like blitz seven on a third-and-long from midfield up four with 13 seconds left, the Jaguars may not be able to jump them for the top pick. Assuming that’s the case, they still have some very intriguing options to fill a long-open hole in the franchise quarterback spot. Justin Fields is a strong favorite though. The Georgia native has been unbelievably efficient throughout his career at Ohio State. Outside of a shaky start against Indiana earlier this year, Fields plays near-perfect football more often than any quarterback in the NFL Draft. He is also incredibly athletic, and based on his transition from Georgia to Ohio State to Heisman contender in about a year’s time, a quick study as well.
3. Cincinnati Bengals — Penei Sewell, OT – Oregon
Year one of the Joe Burrow experience was a promising one for Bengals fans, but the team’s most glaring issue became apparent right away: the team badly needs to rebuild its offensive line. The former LSU signal caller spent his entire 2020 season running for his life, until it caught up with him. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in late November. Hopefully he’ll be back in time to start the 2021 season, though the timeline is unclear so far. Whenever he returns, the Bengals absolutely have to have a new offensive line in place to protect him. At one of the tackle spots, there is no better option than Oregon standout Penei Sewell, one of the best offensive line prospects in recent years. This pick may be as obvious as Lawrence to whichever team lands at No. 1.
4. Dallas Cowboys — Micah Parsons, LB – Penn State
While much has been made of the Dak Prescott injury and the surprising struggles for the Dallas Cowboys offense, it is the defense that is the biggest cause for concern for Jerry Jones and his team. It is hard to pinpoint one biggest area of concern on that side of the ball for America’s Team, but luckily one of the top defensive players in the draft can help at basically all levels. Micah Parsons, who opted out of this college football season, can be a pass rusher, can match up with tight ends in pass coverage, and is an adept run defender. He looks like a potential staple of this defense for years to come.
5. Los Angeles Chargers — Greg Rousseau, DE – Miami
Even with a talent like Joey Bosa, the Chargers have really struggled to get to the quarterback and disrupt opposing passing attacks this year. The team is in the bottom half of the league in sacks and pressure rate on the season, while giving up 24 passing touchdowns, and being 12th in the league in air yards surrendered. Rousseau would make it very hard for teams to consistently focus on doubling Bosa, and could plug right in on a roster that many are going to high expectations for in 2021, even as the team is looking at a bottom five finish this season, thanks to Just Herbert’s breakout rookie season.
6. Philadelphia Eagles — Ja’Marr Chase, WR – LSU
Carson Wentz has certainly disappointed for the Eagles this year, but he hasn’t had much in the way of help this year. Tight end Zach Ertz has missed a lot of time this year, as has Dallas Goedert, rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor, DeSean Jackson, and Alshon Jeffery. Travis Fulgham, who was largely unknown until a few weeks into the season, leads the team with 467 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Even at full strength the group doesn’t instill a ton of confidence.
Luckily for Philly, once again this NFL Draft is pretty stacked with wide receiver talent. Ja’Marr Chase opted out of this season, but was arguably LSU’s best receiver during last year’s national title run, catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has solid size, and is incredibly athletic and strong off the line of scrimmage. Whether its Wentz, Jalen Hurts, or someone else at quarterback for the Eagles, they’ll be thrilled to have Chase split out wide.
7. Carolina Panthers — Kyle Pitts, TE – Florida
It is rare for a tight end to go this high in the NFL Draft, but Kyle Pitts is a rare talent at the position. In seven games, the 6-foot-6, 250 pound pass catcher has 36 grabs for 641 yards and 11 touchdowns, headlined by his season-opening explosion against Ole Miss. He caught eight passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns that day. Carolina has gotten basically nothing from its tight ends this year, with Ian Thomas leading the position with 13 receptions. The wide receiver tandem of D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson has been effective this year. Pitts can put them over the top in 2021, and give Teddy Bridgewater a lot of legitimate weapons to throw to.
8. Atlanta Falcons — Caleb Farley, CB – Virginia Tech
The Atlanta Falcons need players who can prevent big plays, full-stop. Farley may be the most athletic cornerback in the draft, which will certainly help matters when it comes to the NFL Combine, assuming we have some version of it this year. He was among the first star players to opt out of the college football season, but did so with the knowledge that he was firmly in the first round picture of the 2021 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds, with 4.3 speed, he has the traits to hang with the ever-improving ranks of NFL receivers.
9. Miami Dolphins — DeVonta Smith, WR – Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa has been installed as the Miami Dolphins starter, and he’ll likely get some valuable playoff experience this year. Brian Flores has already turned the Dolphins defense into one of the NFL’s best. Now it is time to get Tua some weapons. Smith is a player that he’s already very familiar with. Tua broke onto the scene with a strike down the sideline to a young DeVonta Smith in the national championship against Georgia. Last year, he led a stacked Alabama roster with four potential first-round pick wide receivers with 1,256 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s only gotten better this season, with 1,305 yards and 15 scores in nine games. He should be a Heisman favorite with his play this year, and he very well may play himself into the Top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
10. Denver Broncos — Zach Wilson, QB – BYU
Drew Lock has had moments, but he hasn’t done enough yet to prove that he’s the quarterback of the future for the Broncos. We know that John Elway likes his classic big-armed, dropback passers. Wilson is one of those. He’s made a litany of huge throws for the one-loss BYU Cougars this year, only faltering in the team’s recent loss to Coastal Carolina. Even in that game, he was about one full yard after catch from a game-winning touchdown throw to pull out the big road win. Wilson has shot up the boards of NFL Draft experts this fall. It would be no surprise to see him sneak into the Top 10.
11. Washington Football Team — Trey Lance, QB – North Dakota State
After back-to-back quarterbacks with the top two picks, we have them again here. Lance is the most inexperienced of the bunch, with just one full year as a starter and a showcase game this fall, but he’s shown a rare blend of size, athleticism, and accuracy. Some think he could be in that top tier of QBs with Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. It is hard to fit him in there without much of a 2020 season to see from him there, but it does seem like he’s close to a lock to go in the top half of the first round.
Alex Smith is an incredible story for the Washington Football Team this year, but the team needs to figure out its future at the position after the Dwayne Haskins flameout. Lance may be too exciting a young talent to pass up here.
12. Detroit Lions — Kwity Paye, DL – Michigan
There are few players as raw and athletic as Paye in this Draft. The 6-foot-4, 270 pound edge rusher can play all over the defensive line, a major area of need for the Detroit Lions, which will introduce a new head coach and general manager ahead of next season. He has been a rare bright spot for Jim Harbaugh’s team this year. He’s a powerful player, holding the edge against the run, and has shown solid pass rushing ability over the last two seasons with the Wolverines.
13. Chicago Bears — Samuel Cosmi, OT – Texas
It’s been a while since we’ve had a Texas player on the offensive side of the ball go in the first round. We’ll have to wait a while longer for a skill position player, but Cosmi had an impressive season, even if the Longhorns have largely disappointed once again. He’s played on both sides of the line during his career, allowing Sam Ehlinger to put up impressive numbers over the last few years. It is unclear who he’d be blocking for with the Bears, but with the top four quarterbacks off the board, that is another issue for the front office to figure out. It seems unlikely that they reach for fifth quarterback in the top 15 picks.
14. San Francisco 49ers — Patrick Surtain II, CB – Alabama
The son of the former NFL standout, Surtain II has been a shutdown cornerback for most of his Alabama career. The last few seasons have seen the Crimson Tide get into more than a few shootouts, but he’s helped eliminate his side of the field in Nick Saban’s defense, against most opponents. The Niners have a number of needs after an injury-riddled season, and cornerback could become a major one with Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams potentially leaving in free agency. If Surtain falls this far, it is hard to pass him up.
15. Arizona Cardinals — Jaycee Horn, CB – South Carolina
Another physical, athletic cornerback in a pretty strong draft for them, Horn was a major bright spot for a struggling Will Muschamp defense over the last few years. As long as the duo of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are in Arizona, we’re going to see plenty of Cardinals shootouts over the next few years. The team may not have Patrick Peterson for much longer, so getting help in the secondary is important this year.
16. New England Patriots — Jaylen Waddle, WR – Alabama
The last two seasons have shown just how dire the need is at wide receiver for the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick has rarely gone big at the position, the Randy Moss acquisition years ago aside, but he did take N’Keal Harry a few years ago, a selection that really hasn’t worked out. Waddle is recovering from a serious ankle injury that may keep him out for a while, but he’s one of the most explosive players in the country when healthy. Tom Brady’s down 2019, and Cam Newton’s struggles this year show that it has long been time for Belichick to grab that explosive playmaker the Patriots are missing.
17. Baltimore Ravens — Carlos Basham Jr., DL – Wake Forest
It would make sense for the Ravens to target more help for Lamar Jackson in the first round, and the team is among the best in the NFL Draft every year, so a trade down could definitely be in the cards. With Chase, Smith, and Waddle off the board, if Baltimore stays at No. 17, I like them to add some more talent up front on the defensive side. Basham is a raw, super athletic player who can play inside and out on the defensive front. The Ravens are the perfect franchise to turn the Demon Deacon into a demon at the NFL level as well.
18. Las Vegas Raiders — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB – Notre Dame
If we know one thing about the Raiders’ drafting strategy, is that they are always watching when Clemson is involved. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has been a stalwart for Notre Dame for a few seasons now, but played his best ball in the huge Fighting Irish win against the Tigers earlier this year. He’s a do-it-all player at the second-level of the Notre Dame defense, and can do everything asked at the linebacker spot, whether it is drop back in coverage or make disruptive plays in the backfield. He sounds like exactly the type of player that the Raiders have targeted under Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden.
19. New York Giants — Christian Darrisaw, OT – Virginia Tech
Darrisaw has been a fast riser this year, turning into a star at the position for the Hokies during the course of the season. He has elite NFL size, and would be a huge asset to the running game once Saquon Barkley returns as well. Offensive line has been a huge issue for the Giants for years now, and Darrisaw may have one of the highest ceilings among the offensive line players in the 2021 NFL Draft.
20. Minnesota Vikings — Patrick Jones II, DE – Pitt
The strong Vikings defense of the last few years has really come back to the pack in 2020. The team has struggled mightily in getting after opposing quarterbacks. The team is in the bottom 10 in sacks and quarterback pressures this season. Jones is one of the main members of a strong Pitt front, with a nose for the quarterback and a variety of strong pass rush moves that could translate well to the pros. He should fit into Mike Zimmer’s defensive schemes very well.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Christian Barmore, DL – Alabama
Alabama is a defensive line factor, and Christian Barmore is a rock solid player who can line up all across the defensive line. He’s a strong run defender, and is starting to show more of a pass rush ability from the inside, which is invaluable for an interior lineman. He is also still raw, currently in his first year as a starter. Tampa Bay could use a refresh of talent on the defensive line, as Ndamukong Suh turns 34 at the end of the season.
22. Miami Dolphins — Rashawn Slater, OL – Northwestern
The Miami Dolphins have quickly built an impressive roster, but they could still use some serious help for Tua Tagovailoa up front. He’s excelled at both tackle and guard in college, and ESPN’s Todd McShay, who has Slater in his Top 15 prospects, believes he could ultimately play center. That kind of athleticism and versatility always serves a prospect well.
23. Indianapolis Colts — Mac Jones, QB – Alabama
Where so many quarterbacks transfer, Mac Jones waited his turn, filling in for Tua Tagovailoa after his season-ending injury last season. He held off freshman Bryce Young in the preseason, and has absolutely exploded to the top of the sport in his first full year as starter. It helps that he has an incredible supporting cast and coaching staff around him, but Jones looks the part of star quarterback, and could find himself in another good situation with the Colts. Indy has one of the NFL’s better defenses, and has been putting together some solid offensive pieces. He could sit behind Philip Rivers or Jacoby Brissett for a year and get the chance to develop, though if he keeps thriving as we approach the College Football Playoff, some may see him as a day one starter.
24. Tennessee Titans — Rashad Weaver, DE – Pitt
The Titans’ pass rush has been exposed in recent weeks. Weaver is a plug-and-play late first round option for Mike Vrabel’s defense. He has 14.5 tackles for loss this year, good for second in the FBS, and is eighth with 7.5 sacks on the season. He’s been a constant presence in opposing backfields all year, and has shown full recovery from the 2019 injury that held him out for the entire season.
25. New York Jets — Travis Etienne, RB – Clemson
Teams with as many needs as the New York Jets probably shouldn’t go running back in the first round, but it is an easier sell with the team taking Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick. Etienne is also the rare running back talent who does everything asked of star players at the position. We’ve seen those kinds of players re-enter the first round conversation in recent years. The Jets run game, which has relied on the ageless Frank Gore this season, is also among the worst in football. Etienne can’t fix that on his own, but he’d give Lawrence and whomever replaces Adam Gase a familiar, explosive weapon ready to play at this level on day one.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars — Wyatt Davis, OG – Ohio State
Justin Fields gets one of his top Ohio State teammates up front, in Wyatt Davis. The Buckeye star is a tenacious run blocker, and didn’t allow a pressure on Fields in 2019. He’ll be a big asset for the young duo of Fields and James Robinson in the backfield, and be another centerpiece of the young offense the Jaguars hope to build in this upcoming iteration of the team.
27. Cleveland Browns — Trevon Moehrig, S – TCU
The Cleveland Browns follow up the franchise’s best season in recent memory by grabbing a true ballhawk at the safety in position. His two interceptions during the 2020 season give him a total of seven for his career with the Horned Frogs, along with 28 pass deflections, 11 of which have come in just nine games this season. As a sophomore in 2019, Pro Football Focus had him as the highest-graded safety at the FBS level.
28. Buffalo Bills — Nick Bolton, LB – Missouri
The Bills need help up the middle of the defense this season, and Missouri’s Nick Bolton has been as solid as anyone at the inside linebacker spot during the 2020 season. He’s an instinctive defender, with solid coverage skills and the ability to fill and meet ball carriers over and over in the run game. Bolton has 80 total tackles in eight games for Mizzou, with seven tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. He’s all over the field every week in SEC play.
29. Green Bay Packers — Rondale Moore, WR – Purdue
Davante Adams may be the best wide receiver in the NFL at this point. After him, the Packers rely on a combination of low round and undrafted players, like Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and breakout tight end Robert Tonyan. Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur have gotten a lot out of that group, but Rodgers made no secret of his wish that the team had gotten some help at wide receiver in the loaded 2020 NFL Draft, rather than take quarterback Jordan Love. Now that Rodgers is back playing at his MVP form, the Packers could finally look to help him out a bit, taking the dynamic Moore, who is one of college football’s best players when healthy. The things he’d be able to do in this offense, with LaFleur’s ability to scheme guys open, would be extremely exciting.
30. Kansas City Chiefs — Shaun Wade, CB – Ohio State
Wade falls a bit after a shaky start to Ohio State’s 2020 season, but he projects as the latest in a long line of first-round cornerbacks from the Buckeyes. He’s incredibly talented, but still looked to be adjusting to playing on the outside to start the season, after manning the slot in 2019, with Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette still in the Ohio State secondary. He’s a bit of a work in progress in that regard, but could be a steal if he slides this fall. The Chiefs can always use secondary help, with how many shootouts they get in, and how late they’ve drafted over the last few years.
31. New Orleans Saints — Pat Freiermuth, TE – Penn State
Jared Cook has been serviceable for the Saints at tight end this year, with 313 yards and a team-high five touchdown receptions, but the team hasn’t had a really dynamic option at the position in years. Freiermuth has been on the first-round trajectory since last season, and looks like the type of big target who can both dominate in the red zone and improve enough as a blocker that he can aid in the run game. Whether it is Drew Brees, Taysom Hill, Jameis Winston, or another quarterback completely next year, Freiermuth would be a big asset.
32. Pittsburgh Steelers — Kyle Trask, QB – Florida
Ben Roethlisberger is still winning games, but he’s shown his age this year, and is still banged up more often than not. It would be no surprise if he retires after the season, especially if he can help guide the Steelers on a deep playoff run. The Steelers have some solid offensive weapons, and Kyle Trask is currently putting up huge numbers in that kind of dynamic offense with multiple serious threats. The Heisman candidate could be the sixth quarterback selected in the first round.
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