EDITOR'S NOTE: This mock draft was updated following the Kansas City Chiefs' acquisition of Orlando Brown in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens.
If the great Charles Dickens were still with us today, he would probably write a novel about the NFL draft. (OK, maybe not, but please roll with me here.)
His story would probably revolve around a grumpy old man who reads NFL mock drafts and complains about them.
"Every idiot that goes about writing mock drafts should be boiled in his own pudding," the character might say.
But then one night, three spirits would appear to show the curmudgeon the light. One would be the "Ghost of Things that SHOULD Be", a second the "Ghost of Things that WOULD Be" and finally the "Ghost of Things that COULD Be."
The first spirit would explain that mock drafts are usually not a vision of what the writer believes each team should do. The apparition would explain that these projections are not meant to indicate there is but only one player at each pick that is the correct one for the team to select.
The second specter appears to explain that any prediction, whether attempting to forecast football game results, economic activity or the weather, is modelled on past events. Therefore, mock drafts are attempting to show what would be -- if teams followed patterns from previous years. The kindly presence will then explain that there are always variations between past and future events -- so no mock draft will be 100 percent accurate.
The third ghost will then come to the aged football fan, explaining that mock drafts represent only one of many different scenarios that could unfold on draft weekend given each franchise's player evaluations and short- and long-term needs.
After hearing the guidance of the ghosts, our ill-tempered protagonist sings a new tune, exclaiming that he will "honor mock drafts in my heart, and try to keep them there all offseason! I will know that mock drafts are not what SHOULD or WOULD be, but only what COULD be!"
Please enjoy the following seven-round mock in that vein. Keep in mind that this projection does not benefit from the 11th-hour information that will trickle out leading up to Round 1. It does offer some scenarios as food for thought, and gives a general road map on where players might fall.
Want to create your own mock for the 2021 NFL Draft? Check out PFF’s draft simulator to play out countless scenarios for every team spanning all seven rounds.
The Jaguars will soon have their new franchise quarterback. Lawrence probably already has a real estate agent scoping out properties in Jacksonville. Urban Meyer used free agency to re-shape the roster with new veteran talent and now must add young depth around his star passer.
Wilson's athleticism, precision throwing from the pocket and on the run, and confident attitude will make him a "much-watch" NFL player in no time.
It's easy to see why 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would appreciate Jones' efficiency, intelligence and decision-making. However, I don't think the 49ers' choice is that clear-cut. Trey Lance and Justin Fields are both just as capable of operating an NFL offense and both possess plus athleticism. This decision may go down to the wire.
I wouldn't blame the Falcons for selecting Trey Lance here as the team's future starter. However, adding Pitts' supreme receiving talents to those of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley may be too much for GM Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith to pass up. I'm sure veteran quarterback Matt Ryan would agree.
The Bengals should not overthink this pick. Joe Burrow got hurt in the pocket last year. The offensive line has been a sore spot for years. Just pick Sewell, and let the 2020 No. 1 pick safely distribute the ball to his receivers.
After accepting San Francisco's enticing offer for the third overall pick, the Dolphins traded back into the top six because they wanted a shot at Kyle Pitts or Ja'Marr Chase. Remember when Tua Tagovailoa was dropping bombs to DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs at Alabama? Well, now Chase joins DeVante Parker in receiving those gifts.
General Manager George Paton wants his guy at quarterback and will be willing to give up a third-round pick this year and a second-round selection in 2022 to prevent other teams from leapfrogging him to land Fields. The former Bulldog and Buckeye will be a strong leader for the Broncos and create plays from the pocket and on the move that drive defenses crazy.
Chicago can't stand pat if it wants to become a Super Bowl contender. Andy Dalton was a nice pickup for the 2021 season, but finding a true playmaker at the position is the only way the Bears can climb the NFL power rankings. They'll trade their first- and third-round picks this year (Nos. 20 and 83) and next year's first-rounder to move up -- much like Kansas City did for Patrick Mahomes and Houston did for Deshaun Watson four years ago.
The Lions would rather trade their pick to Denver than New England (or other interested parties) because they'd stay in the top 10, allowing them to select the tough linebacker new head coach Dan Campbell desires in the middle of his defense.
Surtain joins his former Alabama teammate, Trevon Diggs, on the outside of the Cowboys' defense. Just put him on the line of scrimmage and let him work his magic with supreme physicality and ball skills.
Paye dropped to 261 pounds for his pro day, allowing general manager Dave Gettleman to envision the former Wolverine standing up in the Giants' defense. His agility and strength are perfect for winning and setting the edge.
Another physical corner, Horn solidified his spot in the top dozen picks with an outstanding display of athleticism at his pro day (4.40 40-yard dash, 41.5-inch vertical leap). The Eagles need multiple cornerbacks, and will likely pick two in the first three or four rounds.
Many expect Los Angeles to select a left tackle, but the Chargers might believe Trey Pipkins (or a rookie picked later) can get the job done. Smith has the strong hands, body control, intelligence and quickness to excel in the slot in 2021 while Keenan Allen and Mike Williams work outside. Then, if Williams leaves as a free agent after the season, Smith can move outside if necessary.
Slater will be a very good left tackle in the NFL, but his 6-foot-4 1/4 frame and 33-inch arms might keep him out of the top dozen selections. Tristan Wirfs fell out of the top 10 last year for similar reasons. Will teams learn that lesson and pick Slater earlier? If not, the Vikings will gladly snap him up and plug him in as Kirk Cousins' blind-side protector.
Last month, I projected this pairing, anticipating the departure of Julian Edelman. Now that Edelman has announced his retirement, Waddle's placement in the slot -- and as a returner -- makes even more sense.
On the rise throughout the pre-draft process, Newsome might end up being the third cornerback selected, due to Caleb Farley's health concerns. Arizona should appreciate the Northwestern product's excellent overall skill set, making him a viable replacement for the departed Patrick Peterson.
The Raiders plug in Jenkins at right tackle, where he can use his strength and nasty attitude to replace free-agent disappointment Trent Brown.
Phillips stays in Miami for at least another four to five years, bolstering an edge group in need of help with Shaq Lawson outta town. Phillips is the total package -- the only reason he could be available here (or later) is his medical history.
Ron Rivera brought a familiar face over from the Panthers in Curtis Samuel, and now adds another explosive, versatile weapon in Toney. Toney's ability to work from the slot or outside will allow him and Samuel to confuse defenses, making Terry McLaurin even more effective. New quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly approves.
The value of Darrisaw is too strong for the Panthers to pass up, even if they think 2019 second-round pick Greg Little can play left tackle. To give new quarterback Sam Darnold the best chance at success, they need to find the best five linemen available to them.
Farley's back procedure might cause him to fall down draft boards a bit, but his size and athleticism on the outside will drive the Packers to offer up the 29th overall pick and two late-fourth-round selections for the Colts' slot. This would be the fourth straight year General Manager Brian Gutekunst has traded up in the first round (Jaire Alexander, 2018; Darnell Savage, 2019; Jordan Love, 2020).
Tennessee coaches could utilize Collins at outside linebacker because of his athleticism, or he could play inside because of his bulk. Either way, they get a strong player who is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.
The Jets get a real backfield threat in Harris, who proved himself a playmaker whether searching for holes between the tackles or grabbing passes in the flat. Zach Wilson will love having this guy on his side.
Humphrey has everything a team would want in a center: He has strong hands (from his wrestling days), is athletic enough to move in space as well as provide plus pass protection, and will be the leader of the line. The Steelers need that sort of guy to replace the retired Maurkice Pouncey.
The Jaguars placed the franchise tag on Cam Robinson, but Vera-Tucker could still compete for the starting left tackle job in 2021. Even if Robinson stays in place, AVT will at least play the important sixth-man role in 2021 before slipping into a starting job at tackle or guard in 2022.
The recent release of Sheldon Richardson made the defensive tackle spot an even bigger need for the Browns. Onwuzurike's game is a nice combination of Richardson's and that of Larry Ogunjobi, who departed via free agency. Onwuzurike's quickness off the snap is excellent, and he can also utilize his low center of gravity to hold the line in the run game.
Bateman is a versatile receiver able to play the slot or outside, complementing former first-rounder Marquise Brown, 2020 third-round selection Devin Duvernay and veteran free-agent signee Sammy Watkins.
The Saints are thin at linebacker. JOK steps in on the outside, lining up against slot receivers and providing a big pop against outside runs.
Even after moving down via trade, the Colts land the replacement for long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Eichenberg is viewed as a guard by some, but GM Chris Ballard may have different thoughts; after all, right tackle Braden Smith was projected as an interior linemen when Ballard selected him in the second round in 2018.
The addition of Kyle Pitts earlier begs for a strong move on defense, if the team is to compete for the NFC South title in 2021. Although the former Nittany Lion did not have a sack last season, he did produce five the previous year. He can (and will) get to the quarterback.
Yet another Friday trade in the NFL makes the two teams involved very happy. Orlando Brown finds a team desperately in need of a left tackle and the Ravens move up 27 spots in addition to receiving a third- (No. 94) and fourth-round (No. 136) selection (plus a fifth in 2022). Leatherwood should have no issues playing on the right side for the Ravens, and his experience at guard and left tackle could prove valuable if injuries hit Baltimore's line again this season.
Rousseau's an excellent fit for Tampa Bay because he can play the five-technique to give veterans William Gholston and Ndamukong Suh a breather. He can also stand up at times, which would address a need for Tampa in 2022 if Jason Pierre-Paul were to move on in free agency. Suh and Gholston are also scheduled to be free agents after this season, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs select front-seven defenders with their first two picks.