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2021 NFL Mock Draft: Complete first round

A complete first-round Mock Draft following the end of the regular season.

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

With the regular season in the rear view mirror we now turn our attention to the NFL Draft. There’s still a lot unknown about the format it will take, how the scouting combine will proceed (if at all), or whether the world will be in a place where we can have people attend live. But outside of those unknowns we do know what order non-playoff teams will be drafting, and today we dive into who may be selected.

No. 1: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson — Jacksonville Jaguars

The sweepstakes are over, the dust has settled, and the Jaguars have won the prize. Quarterback definitely isn’t Jacksonville’s biggest need, and Gardner Minshew has played pretty well in 2020, but chances like this don’t come along very often.

Lawrence is the most polished, lock No. 1 QB since Andrew Luck entered the league in 2012. The Clemson passer has proven he can work under pressure, make plays, and be the face of a franchise for years to come. The Jaguars are lucky.

No. 2: Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon — New York Jets

There was seemingly no doubt the Jets would end up with Trevor Lawrence for much of the season, but wins took them out of the No. 1 pick conversation. It’s temping to simply shuffle them down a peg and take the next best quarterback, but deep down I think New York know that just taking quarterbacks is like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

Penei Sewell is a safe pick, and he’s ludicrously talented too. At the very least it’ll give the offense some support so they can determine if Sam Darnold has a future, or whether it’ll be time to cut bait in 2021.

No. 3: Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama — Miami Dolphins (via Texans)

The Dolphins are in one of the best positions in the NFL with a luxury almost nobody gets: Being a near-playoff team with a Top 3 pick. At this point Miami has its QB of the future, it has a solid base, now it’s time to get weapons.

Adding Devonta Smith is a dream come true. A receiver so good he’s Heisman worthy, with a history of working with Tua Tagovailoa. The handcuff is cute, but the pick makes too much sense. I think this is a piece of the puzzle that can really take the Dolphins to the next level.

No. 4: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio StateAtlanta Falcons

The Falcons have a lot of needs, especially in the secondary, but it’s important to realize all those comically blown leads also means this team is close as constructed. I don’t think Atlanta is really as bad as their record showed, so the smart move is to solidify the future.

Regime change is on the Falcons’ minds, but it doesn’t need to be immediate. Justin Fields could sit behind Matt Ryan for a year, get used to the NFL and get the development he needs to be ready to take over. It’s a great scenario for everyone involved, and getting a QB of this caliber without needing to trade is too good to pass up.

No. 5: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSUCincinnati Bengals

The Bengals would love to get Sewell or Smith in this spot, but the draft didn’t quite break for them. It’s not like this is a sob story though, because Ja’Marr Chase is a heck of a player who we know has chemistry with Joe Burrow.

Chase totaled 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns with Burrow at LSU in 2019. A.J. Green is getting older (and growing weary of the rebuild), the Bengals need to upgrade their receiving corps, and need to get Burrow more help. This pick fits all those needs.

No. 6: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State — Philadelphia Eagles

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Cotton Bowl Classic - Memphis v Penn State Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Philadelphia needs help in a lot of areas, and while wide receiver might be the biggest area that needs improvement, I don’t have the mock breaking in a way where it’s in the team’s best interest.

Pass rushing is a key need for the Eagles as well, and getting Parsons from their own backyard will help in that regard. Arguably the best pure pass rusher in the class, I don’t think him skipping the 2020 season will really hurt. I think it’s a trap to think Parsons can only excel in a 3-4 base defense, with coordinators getting more creative in using weapons. With a player this good you just take him, and work out how to slot him in later.

No. 7: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama — Detroit Lions

Death. Taxes. The Lions taking first round receivers. I’m sure it’s a bummer that Detroit will have to settle for the third best in the class, but Jaylen Waddle fits what the team likes to do on offense.

A smaller, shiftier wide receiver, Waddle is a playmaker who just needs the ball in his hands to make an impact. That makes him a receiver who can fit with any quarterback, whether that’s Matthew Stafford or someone new.

No. 8: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida — Carolina Panthers

I know there’s an allure to giving Carolina a quarterback here, especially with Zach Wilson still on the board, and Teddy Bridgewater looking like he’s not the guy, but ultimately I think Matt Rhule wants to get players he really believes in, and is willing to wait for them.

Years of Panthers success on offense were dictated by the receiving skills of Greg Olsen. Kyle Pitts has a similar skillset and could quickly become a league-defining tight end, among the best in the league. With the Panthers receivers set, I see this being a way to round out their offense, giving Bridgewater more time to prove if he can be the guy or not.

No. 9: Rashawn Slater, OT, NorthwesternDenver Broncos

Denver is a much better team on paper than a lot of people gave them credit for. Drew Lock is really developing into a nice quarterback, they have pieces on both side of the ball to make plays, but it’s the little things this team lacks that’s hurting them.

In a perfect world the Broncos would trade down a little with a team wanting a quarterback jumping up, but for the sake of this exercise I have they staying put and drafting a rangy, reliable offensive tackle to help fix their line. Rashawn Slater is an athletic, excellent tackle who won’t be a sexy pick, but it’ll be the right one.

No. 10: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia TechDallas Cowboys

Dallas wasn’t bad against the pass, in fact, far from it — but this is a need meets BPA pick that can’t be ignored. The Cowboys are facing massive turnover in their secondary this offseason, and are in dire need of help. That help comes in the form of the best defensive back taken.

Caleb Farley has speed, strength, excellent football IQ and an ability to make plays. Virginia Tech were confident enough to give him little help, and still he excelled. The NFC East will be a mess for a while, but Farley is a difference maker who could turn the tide.

No. 11: Kwity Paye, DT, Michigan — New York Giants

This might be the safest, most obvious pick of the first round outside of Trevor Lawrence going to Jacksonville. The Giants need an elite defensive tackle to round out their burgeoning defense, and general manager Dave Gettleman has an endless love of big tackles.

Kwity Paye had the power to hold the middle, and the skills to get into the backfield. He’s not dissimilar to Kawann Short, who Gettleman drafted in Carolina and quickly became of of their best defensive players. Paye has even more upside, and could be an anchor on the line for a long, long time.

No. 12: Zach Wilson, QB, BYUSan Francisco 49ers Boca Raton Bowl - BYU v Central Florida Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

It’s been so tempting to give Zach Wilson to numerous teams before, but here we are. The 49ers are at a crossroads. They’re a year removed from being one of the best teams in the NFL, and 2020 really derailed everything.

That also means there’s an opportunity here, much like Atlanta, to draft higher than they probably deserve. It’s unclear if Jimmy Garoppolo can stay healthy enough to be a franchise player, but if anyone can unlock Wilson in the NFL it’s Kyle Shanahan. The foundation is in place to make him succeed, now it’s time to execute.

No. 13: Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State — Los Angeles Chargers

This was supposed to be a full rebuilding year for Los Angeles. Very little was expected, and 2020 was mostly about getting Justin Herbert reps, and making him feel comfortable. However, nobody expected Herbert to be as good as he was this season, which pushes the priority completely on protecting Herbert.

Los Angeles really needs a tackle more than a guard, but the talent isn’t quite there. Wyatt Davis is versatile enough to play along the line, and helps solidify the middle. I know this is early for a guard, but Davis is worth it.

No. 14: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama — Minnesota Vikings

Goodness, where do we begin on this one? The Vikings need a lot of help on defense. In fact, they need a lot of help everywhere — but with questionable options on the OL I have them addressing the mammoth problems with the secondary.

Minnesota gutted its secondary for seemingly no reason, allowing talented players to walk and hurting the team in the process. Patrick Surtain II has the pedigree, and the talent to start fixing those issues.

No. 15: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama — New England Patriots

I have this being my obligatory draft “shocker.”

I know everyone has Trey Lance ranked higher, but I can’t shake the feeling that a late-career Bill Belichick won’t be that interested in taking on a project QB, especially with someone as reliable as Mac Jones available.

The ceiling is definitely lower, but he’s a safe, proven commodity. The Patriots have no quarterback to speak of at this point, and there’s a scenario here where Jones can start from Day 1. It’s not like the Patriots to take a QB early, but these are weird times.

No. 16: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC — Arizona Cardinals

Similar to the Chargers, the Cardinals would probably rather a tackle be on the board. There’s a good chance they go defense here, but we know Arizona is an offensive team first, and that’s where the priority is.

Alijah Vera-Tucker will hold the middle, protect Kyler Murray, and solidify the base. This team has sizzle, now this is a beef.

No. 17: Gregory Rousseau, EDGE, Miami — Las Vegas Raiders

It’s unheard of to have one of the best pure pass rushers in the draft go this low. That’s not a testament to Gregory Rousseau’s talent, but rather that other teams have bigger fish to fry.

Rousseau has the athleticism and speed we know Jon Gruden craves out of players, and he’s versatile enough to help across the board. A solid addition for a team that ranked 29th in sacks.

No. 18: Trey Smith, OG, Tennessee — Miami Dolphins

I’m a big time believer in Tua Tagovailoa, and don’t fully get why anyone is doubting him. At this point it’s all about putting gas on the fire, and after getting a top-tier receiver, now Miami can turn to helping the line and adding some protection.

This could easily be a tackle, like Christian Darrishaw or Jalen Mayfield, but ultimately I think this big, road-grading guard offers a little more top-end talent, something Miami needs.

No. 19: Christian Darrishaw, OT, Virginia Tech — Washington Football Team

Do you know who’ll quarterback this team in 2021? I sure don’t. Let that be a future problem.

Ron Rivera is a risk-averse head coach (despite his “Riverboat Ron” billing), and to that end I think Washington takes an excellent, unremarkable player who simply makes their team better.

No. 20: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan — Chicago Bears

I have a hard time really knowing what the future holds for the Bears. Just when you think you have Mitchell Trubisky figured out, he wows you, then lets you down, then wows you again.

For now, I think Chicago banks on him being the guy for just a little longer. Part of that evaluation process involves getting him more protection, and Jalen Mayfield is a guy who can really help.

No. 21: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State — Jacksonville Jaguars (via Rams)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Young quarterbacks need tight ends.

With Trevor Lawrence locked down, Pat Freiermuth seems like an amazing option here. He’s such a talented blocker that it’s easy to confuse him with a sixth offensive lineman, and the dude can catch when needed. That provided a hell of a lot of safety for a rookie QB, and someone who he can grow, and rely on.

No. 22: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue — Indianapolis Colts

Nebraska v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Rondale Moore definitely doesn’t have ideal size, but the Colts are used to working around that with T.Y. Hilton. This pick hinges entirely on whether Indianapolis brings back their top receiver, but even if they do, I think Moore is a solid pick.

A small, shifty receiver — he’s able to find gaps and make big plays, just like Hilton. This is a case where the team match could be all the difference, and I see Indianapolis being able to use him.

No. 23: Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri — Cleveland Browns

The Browns are back in the playoffs, and that’s glorious. The one thing this team still lacks is consistency. Sure, there’s a lot of excitement on both sides of the ball, but that tends to wax and wane from game to game.

Nick Bolton is the kind of player who will help solidify the defense, and allow players around him to shine. That’s a characteristic often underrated.

No. 24: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre DameBaltimore Ravens

I don’t know where Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will end up in the NFL. Will he be a linebacker? Will he move to safety? It doesn’t really matter in the long run, as long as he goes to a team willing to embrace his talent.

Perhaps nobody is better suited to finding a place for him to play than the Ravens, who are less concerned with archetypes, as they are making plays. Owusu-Koramoah makes plays by the bunches, and I think that will be enough to get him into the first round. Heck, if he had a more solidified size I think he’d go Top 10.

No. 25: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama — Tennessee Titans

The Titans are the best playoff team without a pass rush. Christian Barmore doesn’t exactly solve that problem, but he makes everyone’s line on the line easier.

Tennessee doesn’t really have a lot of needs outside of the defensive line, so let’s sort this out quickly.

No. 26: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota — New York Jets (via Seahawks)

I’m applying a lot of the same logic here as I did the No. 2 pick. My money is on the Jets taking one more year under a new coach to evaluate Sam Darnold, and to do that effectively, he needs weapons.

Bateman is one of those guys who doesn’t burst off the screen with every play, but you see how many ways he can excel in the NFL. He’s similar to Michael Thomas in that way, and that’s a hell of a compliment.

No. 27: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady won’t last forever. In fact, he might not last another full season, depending on who you ask. There’s no doubt we’ve hit the twilight years of No. 12’s career, which means it’s time to have a plan in place once he’s gone.

Tampa Bay is still firmly in “win now” mode, but that doesn’t mean they should ignore the future. Trey Lance is a little raw, but if he can find his way in the NFL the sky is the limit. Give him a season to sit behind Brady and learn the NFL, and if that turns into a couple of years, you still know the future is secure.

No. 28: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson — Pittsburgh Steelers

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It’s so bizarre to see a Steelers team in the playoffs without a ground game identity. Pittsburgh has tried, and failed a few different experiments since saying goodbye to Le’Veon Bell, and now it’s time to fix the issue.

Travis Etienne isn’t the classic, bruising Steeler running back we’re used to, but we saw what the team was able to do with DeAngelo Williams as his career winded down. Etienne has elite speed at the position, and an ability to make plays from the backfield. Pittsburgh needs that.

No. 29: Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson — New Orleans Saints

New Orleans may be living on borrowed time when it comes to quarterback, but this is too low to take a risk and the team is still too good. Getting a cornerback like Derion Kendrick helps keep the Saints competitive in the division, and shut down the next generation of quarterbacks entering the NFC South.

No. 30: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas — Buffalo Bills

At this point Buffalo is simply looking for the last pieces of the puzzle. They have the quarterback, the talent all over the roster, and getting some future protection for Josh Allen has to be the priority.

Samuel Cosmi might not have elite athleticism, but he’s incredibly smart. When you have an athletic quarterback like Allen you don’t need raw power, as much as you need someone who won’t make mistakes.

No. 31: Jevon Holland, S, Oregon — Green Bay Packers

Holland is a little difficult to project at the next level, but what he has can’t be taught: An innate ability to local, and play the ball in the air — paired with a willingness to take part in run defense.

A bit of a Swiss Army Knife player, Holland projects well into the Packers’ defense.

No. 32: Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama — Kansas City Chiefs

I cannot believe I’m having four guards go in the first round, but here we are. This is a talented position in 2021, loaded with good players, and I think the Chiefs have a knack for just getting great picks.

At a listed 6’4, 350, Brown is simply a monster of a man. He’ll eat up a lot of space, and time on the offensive line. When you have players like Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire they just need that time to get an edge. I think this is a sound, solid pick by a team already dominating.