Another NFL season in the books, another Super Bowl title for Tom Brady. If you’re a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, you can use this time of mourning to try ignoring the Super Bowl-related agony and look ahead to the future. And with plenty of uncertainty on the horizon, especially when it comes to the salary cap, drafting this year is especially important.
There’s plenty of scouting and analyzing to do over the next 81 days until the 2021 NFL draft, and free agency will change plenty of team needs once the new league year begins, of course. That’s before mentioning potential quarterback trades involving Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and others. With the information we do have available, though, we’ll do our best to project the first round right now as things stand immediately after the Super Bowl.
And, after hitting on seven first rounders last year, we’re feeling good heading into 2021.
Don’t overthink this one. Lawrence is regarded as the best quarterback prospect in the draft since Andrew Luck, and the Jaguars desperately need a franchise QB. Urban Meyer will get his guy.
The Jets are where the real intrigue could begin in this draft. A lot of folks like BYU’s Zach Wilson here, and New York could swerve everyone and take an elite offensive lineman like Oregon’s Penei Sewell. But for now, we’ll stick with the (likely) second-highest rated prospect to start off the Saleh-LaFleur era.
Building a great roster around Tua Tagovailoa is essential for Miami this offseason. Taking an elite receiver prospect here is tempting, but Sewell has long been touted as this class’s best offensive line talent. He didn’t play this year and the Dolphins did spend plenty of draft capital on the offensive line a year ago, but the opportunity to snag a prospect like this is too good to pass up.
This pick is probably a bold one in many eyes. Quarterback is a common expectation for Atlanta, but if new coach Arthur Smith thinks he can win with Matt Ryan (and I believe he can), building around him will be key. The Falcons were the worst team against the pass in 2020, allowing 293.6 yards per game through the air, so they add some help on the outside with the best cornerback in the draft.
The last first-round pick from Northwestern was in the 2005 draft, and if Slater goes fifth overall it would be the second-highest pick ever for a Northwestern player. The Bengals need to shore up the protection for Joe Burrow more than anything. Thus, they get the next best lineman on the board. That said, plenty of Bengals supporters also seem, based on my research, to be fans of grabbing a pass catcher here if Sewell is gone.
It sounds like Carson Wentz is on the move, making Jalen Hurts the quarterback of the present in Philadelphia (we’ll worry about the future later). The Eagles need a better corps of offensive weapons, so it makes sense to take the best wide receiver prospect. Chase sat out the 2020 season, but don’t forget about how special he was in LSU’s 2019 national championship run.
A quarterback is excruciatingly tempting here, but new incumbent starter Jared Goff has huge dead cap hits the next two years and, frankly, the Lions will probably be picking near the top of the draft again in 2022. Waddle missed plenty of time this year due to injury, but his speed and explosion make him a weapon all over the field. That’s valuable, especially if Detroit can’t bring back Kenny Golloday.
It’s hard to pick between Lance and Wilson, but we’ll side with the FCS national champion for now. His showcase game didn’t look all that special in terms of his stats this fall, but his lone season as a starter in Fargo did more than enough to entice the NFL. Carolina would get a good athlete with a well-rounded game. He’s a one-year wonder, but has massive potential.
Denver had a quality defense this season, but there’s no denying it could upgrade on the outside. He plays the ball well and was the latest in long line of good cornerbacks for Virginia Tech before opting out of 2020. Edge rusher is also in the cards for Denver here.
A second Hokie in a row comes off the board because the Cowboys need to address issues along the offensive line. Dallas’s line isn’t nearly the beast it was half a decade ago, and its lack of depth was exposed consistently this past season. The Cowboys could address tackle or an interior lineman here, and we went with a player who has more positional value.
Pitts is already better than Evan Engram, so the Giants can take care of adding a reliable pass rusher and saving money when Engram becomes a free agent next year in one fell swoop. He’s got great size, strength and hands, and was one of the most impressive players in the SEC this year. Pitts is a pass catcher who can help Daniel Jones continue to develop.
It’s hard to imagine Wilson falls to 12 without someone trading up to get him first, but we don’t do trades in our mock drafts. Jimmy Garoppolo is likely living on borrowed time in the Bay, and Wilson is a prospect who can make every throw you ask of him. The level of competition he faced in 2020 isn’t as big of a hindrance as his quality of play is a positive.
Admittedly, at this point in the process, this feels like a reach. But the Chargers need to address the offensive line in front of Justin Herbert, and Cosmi has an acceptable pedigree after a productive career at Texas. An interior lineman or trade back to get better value at tackle could be an option.
Minnesota had the fifth fewest sacks in the NFL this season, and there’s a dearth of talent on the edge for Mike Zimmer’s defense. He said recently he needs to improve the Vikings’ defense, and what better way to do that than to add pass-rush talent? Rousseau produced at a high level in 2019 before opting out in 2020, and he fits the hyper-athletic edge type Zimmer likes, even though the Vikings don’t often take pass rushers this high.
You can’t go wrong with any pick for New England, considering the Patriots have as many holes as any team in the league. There will be a lot of intrigue surrounding quarterbacks at this spot, but Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels are desperate for a reliable, dynamic receiver. Smith has a small frame for NFL standards, but the Heisman winner’s playmaking ability is unquestionable.
Arizona is going to be a lot of fun to mock for this year, because it’s an already solid roster that could go in any number of directions. Adding some strength to the Cardinals’ front seven is where we’re going because Barmore has game-wrecker potential, which he displayed in the National Championship Game. An edge rusher, offensive lineman or wide receiver could all fit at 16, too.
Mike Mayock and the Raiders could use help at every level of the defense, and there are talented players they could take across the board. Paye is an athletic specimen who has become the apple of Draft Twitter’s eye (for many folks in that circle, anyway). The Draft Network profiles him as a best fit for an even front, which syncs up with what the Raiders run.
The Dolphins have already done work to protect Tua in this mock draft, now we have them getting a weapon for the second-year quarterback. Toney is built for the slot, but he’s got great speed and explosion that should make him a constant big-play threat. Adding Toney to the pair of Devante Parker and Mike Gesicki actually gives Miami a formidable trio in the passing game.
Alex Smith is not the long-term guy at quarterback for Washington, and Taylor Heinecke probably isn’t, either. But while a stable passer is needed in Washington, a quality receiver paired with Terry McLaurin is also a necessary add this offseason. Bateman wowed at Minnesota, and has both the skill set and physicality to play a meaningful role Day 1.
It doesn’t matter who the Bears trot out at quarterback in 2021, if they don’t have better protection it will be a disaster. AVT offers positional flexibility after playing left tackle at USC this season, and he’s a physical blocker, too. Chicago needs as much talent in the trenches as possible.
The Colts probably aren’t getting their quarterback of the future at good value here. With that in mind, there are a couple different directions they could reasonably go, but continuing to buildup the already strong defense is a wise move. He’s a physical player going after the ball and could be a great replacement for free agent Xavier Rhodes on the outside.
Tennessee has to figure out a way rush the passer effectively. The Jadeveon Clowney experiment was a total failure, so Jon Robinson and the front office need to figure something else out. Ojulari is a good athlete who still needs to refine his pass rush skills, but he can line up in various spots to help generate pressure.
Justin Fields (or whichever quarterback the Jets take) will need some help at the skill positions, a group that is bereft of talent right now. They added a talented receiver last year in Denzel Mims, now they can add a tough running back with great agility who can make plays as a runner and in the passing game. Travis Etienne would also fit here.
The Steelers were good protecting the quarterback last season, finishing first in the league in adjusted sack rate. But left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is a 32-year-old free agent and right tackle Chukwuma Okafor graded out as a mediocre player per PFF. Protecting Ben Roethlisberger and whoever replaces him needs to be paramount for Pittsburgh.
Jenkins has some injury concerns, but the Jaguars need to shore up their offensive line and protect Trevor Lawrence. He’s a powerful player in a large frame (6-foot-6, 320 pounds) with experience inside and outside, in case Jacksonville likes him as a guard instead of a tackle.
Adding quality athletes to the defense should be a major focal point for the Browns this offseason. JOK isn’t especially big for an NFL linebacker, but he has excellent speed and burst, with the ability to cover in space. He’s a smart player who has noticeably improved with time and would add vital team speed for Cleveland.
Did you see how disastrous Baltimore’s snapping was this season? There were multiple games in which the Ravens were hamstrung by the fact they simply couldn’t get the ball to Lamar Jackson to start the play. Humphrey is a gigantic man with a mean streak as a blocker. The All-Big 12 honoree is exceptionally powerful and would add even more life to the Baltimore run game.
Few, if any, players in college football were more exciting than Rondale Moore over the past couple seasons. He’s small, but has remarkable physical attributes. Moore has great explosion and run-after-the-catch abilities, and you can use him in a multitude of ways on both offense and special teams. There is a red flag due to durability concerns, though.
Both Stokes and Tyson Campbell, a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, could be in play here, but a tackle like Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield should also be in play. Stokes is a speedster on the outside who has developed good ball skills, although there are areas of refinement still needed in his game. This selection may depend on how Green Bay likes its other cornerback options heading into the draft and whether or not it can be patient with Stokes.
Matt Milano is a free agent this offseason, and after a sensational 2020 he’s in store for a big payday. If he leaves in free agency, a quality linebacker next to Tremaine Edmunds is a major need in Western New York. Enter Collins, a do-it-all linebacker from Tulsa who was the biggest contributor to the Golden Hurricane’s elite defense.
If there weren’t a ton of medical concerns, IOL Landon Dickerson from Alabama would probably be the pick here. But the Chiefs also have to figure out some things at tackle since the future is up in the air for both Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. Mayfield has a lot of positive attributes, specifically including his mobility, which is great in an offense with a quarterback who thrives outside of structure. There’s plenty of refining to do with this one-year wonder, though.
The Buccaneers want to keep all of their studs, but with a ton of pending free agents it will be a challenge to do so. One of those standouts that could be on the way out is edge rusher Shaq Barrett, as much as Tampa Bay wants to bring him back. Ossai hit his stride in his final season at Texas, constantly beating up Big 12 protection. He’s a physical pass rusher with a mean streak that fits the Buccaneers’ style.