EDITOR'S NOTE: This mock draft was published before news broke that the Denver Broncos were trading for veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
There are three basic ways to execute a mock draft. It's all about the mindset you have when making the picks. You can fill out the board based on:
- What you think will happen.
- What you think should happen.
- What you hear will happen via reporting and intel from sources.
I've tried to combine all three mentalities for my annual -- my one and only -- mock draft of the year. So, before the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off with Round 1 this Thursday night in Cleveland, Ohio, let's give it a whirl!
CHALK! The one player since Andrew Luck back in 2012 who's most deserving of the tag "consensus No. 1 pick." Anyone other than Lawrence in this spot would go down as one of the biggest stunners in NFL draft history. Lock it up!
Not quite to Lawrence’s level, but the momentum has been steadily growing for weeks toward Wilson becoming the QB of the present and future for the New York Jets. GM Joe Douglas has done nothing to dispel the notion that Wilson is the pick -- and trading Sam Darnold to Carolina was another arrow pointing in this direction. Wilson owned the marquee performance of "Pro Day SZN," with a workout that showcased the immense play-making ability he put on tape at BYU. Wilson will join the growing cast of NFL QBs actively making a pitch to add a category to box scores that tracks WOW plays. The 21-year-old will account for plenty in New York.
People have been in their feelings on this one ever since 49ers GM John Lynch traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 overall during Zach Wilson’s pro day workout -- which Daniel Jeremiah and I were covering live. Buzz started to build moments after the trade that the move was for a QB, but not Trey Lance or Justin Fields. Rather, the buzz suggested it would be Jones heading to San Francisco as the third passer off the board. Make no mistake: Mac is a first-round quarterback, and whether he’s taken at No. 3 or 30 matters very little if he becomes the Niners' starter for the next 15 years. However, to make this trade and this pick, you have to view Jones as an immediate upgrade to Jimmy Garoppolo because this roster is ready to compete for a championship again in 2021.
One of the biggest pivot points in this draft resides right here with the Falcons and first-year GM Terry Fontenot. IF Fontenot believes one of the quarterbacks available at No. 4 is a future 10-to-15 year, Pro Bowl-caliber starting QB, then he MUST make that player the pick. You can’t pass up on a prospect of that level at this position because Fontenot is certainly hoping this is the first and last time he picks in the top 10. He might not get that choice again. Now, in this scenario, we’re saying Lance or Fields does not represent the profile I just laid out for Atlanta, and Fontenot instead decides to go with the top TE in the class, who would undoubtedly be in the conversation as the best wide receiver in this draft if he were classified that way. Pitts has the uncanny ability to separate from corners as a 6-foot-6, 245-pound phenom, but his frame, catch radius and ability to make contested catches doesn’t make that kind of separation a necessity. Aspirin, however, will be a necessity for opposing defensive coordinators as they game plan for this matchup nightmare.
We can certainly make the case for Ja’Marr Chase here, but I think Cincinnati ultimately leans toward protection for Joe Burrow rather than another playmaker. Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins (who just wrapped up an impressive rookie campaign) give the Bengals more than enough talent to compete at WR, but they must protect No. 9 at all costs or none of this talk about playmakers even matters. At some point, Jonah Williams moves off his left tackle post and allows the Bengals to put their best starting five together up front, with Sewell providing Pro Bowl-caliber protection on Burrow’s blind side for the next decade.
Chase is a more athletic version of Dez Bryant, whom the LSU star watched closely growing up. He’s a five-tool wideout with speed, strength, route-running, run-after-catch and contested-catch ability. I’m not even sure that covers the entirety of his skill set. DeVante Parker's production dipped in 2020 and Will Fuller is on a one-year deal. Need meets best player available here.
Is one of the Alabama wide receivers a more realistic pick here? Maybe, considering Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are gone, but the Lions are a real wild card at No. 7. I don’t think there’s a player on the board right now who would be a surprise for a team that has some work to do in building this roster back up. Yes, the Lions have Jared Goff, but it’s his presence for the next couple years that makes this pick of Lance even more plausible. New GM Brad Holmes could choose to ride it out with Goff while continuing to upgrade the roster with four first-round picks over the next two years (one additional first rounder in both 2022 and '23 as part of the trade that sent Matthew Stafford to L.A.) and while Lance readies for his opportunity. This would put the surrounding cast in the best possible spot for whenever Lance’s time comes.
Assuming the Panthers are sold on Sam Darnold, keeping him from seeing ghosts again should be a priority. Even if the Panthers view Slater as a guard, I think the pick makes sense here, as the Northwestern product's positional flexibility makes him a candidate to start at any of the five spots and immediately improves the O-line. This draft slot definitely has the makings of a trade-down scenario, as well.
You’re welcome, Broncos fans. In this scenario, one of the best QBs in this draft falls right into Denver’s lap at No. 9. If I’m the 49ers, I’m giving Fields serious consideration at No. 3, but if they go with Mac Jones (as I’ve predicted), Fields could certainly end up here. It’s also quite possible that a team like Chicago or Washington -- or maybe even New England -- leapfrogs Denver to snag the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. But this works out quite nicely for the Broncos, who can stage a real QB competition between Fields and incumbent starter Drew Lock -- which is precisely the scenario George Paton expressed to NFL Network's James Palmer last week. If Fields isn’t the Broncos' guy at QB, then the Cowboys could be out of luck with my next projection, as I could see the Broncos snagging the top corner in this class despite signing Kyle Fuller this offseason.
Surtain is everything you could ever want in a corner: an elite athlete and an absolute technician at the position all wrapped up in a sturdy, long frame. This pick immediately upgrades a defense that was historically bad a season ago -- and pairs Surtain up with his former Alabama teammate Trevon Diggs, whom the Cowboys selected in the second round last year.
The Eagles need some help in the secondary opposite Darius Slay, and with Horn available here, Philly gets one of the elite corners in this class. I gave some serious thought to putting OL Alijah Vera-Tucker in this spot, and it’s possible GM Howie Roseman has a better grade on the USC prospect than Horn, but either choice would help this team.
This choice for the Chargers makes too much sense, so I’m probably wrong. However, what can’t be disputed is the need to build a wall in front of Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert -- just as we discussed at No. 5 with the Bengals and Joe Burrow. The Chargers are replacing four of five from last year’s offensive line, and AVT gives them the tackle/guard flexibility that will allow him to get on the field right away.
This selection, as with any team considering Phillips, will depend on his medical evaluation checking out. Phillips medically retired at UCLA before eventually coming back to football and transferring to Miami, where he became a dominant pass rusher. With a motor that never quits, Phillips has all the tools to be a prolific edge defender in the NFL. I remember watching a play against Florida State where he nearly got to the quarterback before the QB handed it off on a draw play. At this point, Phillips was 7 yards deep in the backfield and, after the handoff, ended up chasing down the running back 22 yards downfield. Yes, it was a chunk play for the offense, but it could have been more, and you never saw a change in speed from Phillips. Love that kind of effort from an elite talent.
Arguably the best defender in this draft, Parsons is a monster talent. A dominant off-ball linebacker with pass-rush potential and playmaking ability at the second level, Parsons is a player the Patriots' defense hasn’t had since Jamie Collins was in his prime. It’s possible Parsons is long gone at this point, as I could see him coming off the board as early as No. 7 to the Lions. If that's the case, would Bill Belichick consider drafting a WR in the first round for the second time in three years, with the Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith available here? That said, the Patriots have had better success with defenders in this range, and Parsons is the pick for me.
Wow! Can you imagine?I DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk AND DeVonta Smith running around in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense with Kyler Murray slinging it all over the field to this crew? Not the most glaring need for the Cardinals, who could certainly entertain the idea of a cornerback here (with Patrick Peterson now in Minnesota) or another upgrade to the offensive line.
Raiders GM Mike Mayock is itchy to get more twitchy off the edge. Terrible play on words aside, Paye fits the bill as a freak athlete with the ability to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. I know Vegas inked Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, but why not take a couple shots at filling the void that’s been there ever since the Khalil Mack trade?
The edge rusher run continues at No. 18 overall with arguably the top pass rusher in this class. Before opting out this past season, Rousseau was second only to Chase Young in FBS sacks back in 2019. He was a little stiff at his pro day, but is still so young at the position that it feels like the ceiling is very high.
One of my favorite players in this entire draft, JOK can do it all. I mean, how many first-round picks do you see run down the field and blow stuff up on kickoff coverage like Owuso-Koramoah did last year? (See: Duke game.) He earned Pro Football Focus' second-highest slot coverage grade. Reminder: We are talking about a linebacker! This is the type of player creative defensive coordinators covet. He'd give the WFT a dynamic playmaker at the second level to match the elite talent up front.
My pals on the Move The Sticks podcast, Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, use the baseball analogy of “hitting doubles” with first-round picks. Ryan Pace swung for the fences with Mitchell Trubisky in 2017 and struck out. Maybe he makes another bold move and trades up for one of this year’s top QBs, but drafting Darrisaw here represents hitting a double for the Bears by upgrading a position of need at tackle and supporting the notion of Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback – apologies if that still stings, Bears fans.
The Titans are completely reshaping their cornerback room following the releases of Malcolm Butler and Adoree' Jackson. Last year’s second-round pick, Kristian Fulton, steps into a more prominent role, and now the selection of the athletic, smart and technically sound Newsome provides Tennessee with a young CB duo to grow with.
Looking at talent alone, Farley should be long gone by the time the Jets are on the clock with their second first-round pick, but his recent back surgery could spook some teams despite reports that he'll be ready for season. Farley told us on Path to the Draft that he’s already back in the weight room and feels better now than he has in years, so perhaps Joe Douglas nabs a cornerstone (literally) of his defense after snagging the franchise quarterback earlier in the round.
The immense need along the offensive line and GM Kevin Colbert’s admission this offseason that the run game must improve would seem to trump the Steelers' recent trend of going defense in the first round. (Offensive guard David DeCastro, selected back in 2012, was the last offensive player taken in Round 1 by Pittsburgh.) Jenkins isn’t a perfect prospect, but a nasty run blocker could be just what the doctor ordered to help bring the rushing attack back to Steelers standards as the team tries to get another year out of veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Moehrig’s versatility is a real value here for the Jags. He’s a safety who could start for some teams as a slot corner. A couple other interesting scenarios would be pairing Trevor Lawrence with his old Clemson teammate, Travis Etienne. The Jaguars found gold with undrafted free agent running back James Robinson last year, but Etienne could provide a home run threat to the offense. I could also see this being one of the few spots in Round 1 where an interior defensive lineman like Christian Barmore could come off the board. Ultimately, Moehrig's ability to play at a high level in a variety of situations makes him a real value in Jacksonville's secondary. He's the top safety in this class, excels playing deep and up in the box for run support. I think he could actually thrive as a top-shelf slot corner, as well.
I could see another edge rusher joining Myles Garrett and the newly signed Jadeveon Clowney, but Collins’ frame and coverage ability might be too much to pass up. Collins’ 96-yard, walk-off pick-six in Tulsa's overtime win over Tulane is a glimpse into his big-play ability. This pick gives the Browns bona fide studs at all three levels of their defense.
Jayson Oweh seems to be a popular choice here for the Ravens -- his athletic ability and potential certainly warrant that consideration -- but look back at Baltimore’s history when drafting edge rushers: Terrell Suggs (10th overall, 2003) set the FBS single-season sack record with 24 back in 2002, Matt Judon (fifth round, 2016) had 20.5 sacks at Grand Valley State in his last season, and Jaylon Ferguson (third round, 2018) finished his time at Louisiana Tech as the FBS career sack leader. Long story short: The Ravens value collegiate pass-rush productivity and believe it translates to the NFL. The fact that Oweh had zero sacks last season makes me believe they would opt for a more proven commodity as a pass rusher. Tryon fits that bill.
The Saints lost Alex Anzalone in free agency, and while Demario Davis has been a revelation on the second level since coming over from the Jets, he's also entering his 10th NFL season. Jamin Davis provides the youthful athleticism the Saints might have hoped they were getting with Kwon Alexander before his injury. The Kentucky LB feels like today’s ideal three-down, sideline-to-sideline, second-level defender.
Credit Bills GM Brandon Beane for building a fantastic roster with a legit superstar at QB in Josh Allen, making this one of the most difficult projections for me to make. I know Buffalo has spent Day 2 capital on running backs in each of the last two drafts, but I like Harris as an upgrade over Devin Singletary and Zach Moss, and he further supports the offense around Allen.
I initially had Radunz going to the Chiefs at No. 31. With the Ravens acquiring this pick in the Orlando Brown trade, I still have Radunz here -- but now, he goes to the Ravens to help fill the void left by Brown’s departure. Win-win!
A luxury pick here for the Bucs, as they attempt to go for two and repeat as Super Bowl champs. Tampa inked Shaq Barrett to an extension and brought JPP back, too, but the supremely athletic Oweh gets a chance to learn from two of the best at the position, while contributing in a rotational role off the edge. Seeing how vital pass rush was in Tampa's playoff run, supporting that aspect of last season’s success seems like a solid move.